San Franciscans love complaining about how terrible San Francisco has become. We’ll bond about the high cost of rent, the homeless problem, and how we’re planning to leave the city because the techies ruined it. “I’ve been here forever, got here four years ago . . . it was totally different then, of course.”
I’ve lived in San Francisco since 1987. Not quite a native—I was born in Korea— but long enough to have deeper roots than many. Very few people I know from my high school days remain, forced out by exorbitant rents and cost of living. Who, in the 1980s and 1990s, expected that they’d need to become a software engineer to afford living in their own city? Not many, it turns out. So, we imported them. Most tech workers are from other parts of the country, if not the world. They come for the high-paying jobs and for the lifestyle, including the ultra-progressive values, that San Francisco represents. I don’t blame them. San Francisco, on a good day, is an amazing city. But it’s seeing fewer and fewer good days.
With the recent Covid-19 shutdown, San Francisco is much quieter. No more bustling North Beach restaurants serving up sloppy shots of Fernet Branca, no large conferences at the Moscone Center, no hanging out with friends. San Francisco “flattened the curve,” recording only 49 deaths to date. Yet, just a few days ago, the opening of barbershops and nail salons, originally set for June 29, was delayed indefinitely. As businesses of all sizes flounder, and unemployment has risen from 2 percent to 13 percent, many key issues challenging San Francisco have gotten worse.
One of those issues is homelessness, a topic the city was always myopic about and which its leaders are working to keep under wraps. The shutdowns have compounded this issue to an enormous extent by keeping it largely out of the public eye. It only takes a quick drive through parts of the city to see how much worse it has gotten in just a few months. The National Homeless Information Project estimated the 2019 homeless population of San Francisco at greater than 17,000. The San Francisco Examiner reports that homeless tents set up in the Tenderloin district have increased 300 percent since January. It would be no great stretch of the imagination to guess that the current homeless population of San Francisco exceeds 30,000—3 percent of the city’s total population.
The policies San Francisco put into place during the pandemic have likely contributed to this increase. In addition to giving out free tents, the city has offered to put homeless people up in hotel rooms, paid for by tax dollars. Some of the city’s new tenants are receiving free deliveries of alcohol, hypodermic needles, and methadone as a matter of “compassion,” while reports of overdoses and violence mount.
Mayor London Breed campaigned, as all San Francisco politicians do, on a platform of compassion and tolerance for the homeless. But voting patterns reflect the politics of residents who have no intention of staying here long-term. As long-term residents are forced out and transient workers have been brought in, the politics of San Francisco have become even more lopsided, having gone from 75 percent voting Democrat in the 2000 election to a record-high 84.5 percent in 2016. Newcomers are increasingly driving policies, while the voice of the native San Franciscan becomes isolated. It’s easy to tolerate aggressive panhandling and open drug use if one plans to stay in San Francisco only temporarily. It’s hard to care about long-term planning if owning property is out of reach. Too many potential homeowners have been priced out of the city.
When stay-at-home orders are finally lifted, lawmakers will have to deal with the consequences of their policies enabling homelessness and drug abuse. Even those who want to take common-sense measures will face pushback from peers worried about the political costs. And few Democrats in this heavily blue city will dare challenge incumbent mayor Breed. San Francisco has virtue-signaled itself into a hole.
Looking at a $1.5 billion budget deficit over the next two years, the City by the Bay is hemorrhaging people and revenue. Some of its biggest employers are letting employees work remotely from anywhere in the world; others are moving their headquarters out of San Francisco entirely. Thousands of tech jobs have been lost in recent weeks. A third of the city’s residents report that they’re considering leaving, and thousands already have done so. Those departing cite issues like homelessness and crime as factors for their departure.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, there may be up to five new tax hikes on the ballot this November to help fill the gap. These include increasing taxes on high-earning CEOs, a payroll tax on stock-based compensation, and a gross receipts tax that would increase taxes for hotels and restaurants—the businesses hit hardest by the shutdowns. The city seems focused on getting rid of not only its residents, but its most successful businesses, too.
Busy decriminalizing everything from shoplifting to drug use, San Francisco’s lawmakers don’t seem to realize that the city may soon be left gutted of its residents and its most successful industries. Better policies and leadership could have prevented this situation. Instead, San Francisco ignored its everyday citizens, who want safe streets, and took its cues from a wealthy, hyper-progressive itinerant class. The results haven’t been pretty.