In response to: How San Francisco Became a Failed City By Nellie Bowles
If you have been beguiled by Nellie Bowles’ account of life in San Francisco I would like to offer a reality check.
“.. San Francisco voters decided to turn their district attorney, Chesa Boudin, out of office. They did it because he didn’t seem to care that he was making the citizens of our city miserable in service of an ideology that made sense everywhere but in reality. It’s not just about Boudin, though. There is a sense that, on everything from housing to schools, San Francisco has lost the plot — that progressive leaders here have been LARPing left-wing values instead of working to create a livable city. And many San Franciscans have had enough.” How San Francisco Became a Failed City By Nellie Bowles. The Atlantic. 6/8/22
Ms. Bowles’ description is a gross mis-characterization of what actually happened. San Francisco voters narrowly voted to recall Boudin by a 55% to 45% margin in a campaign where only 25.8% of registered voters returned their ballots. Further, the recall supporters raised 7.2 million dollars, most of it from right wing billionaires, in a campaign that highlighted dis-information, lies and fear-mongering targeting the Chinese-American community. This was not a victory for the people of San Francisco.
As Chesa Boudin said on election night, “People are angry, they’re frustrated and I want to be very clear about what happened tonight. The right-wing billionaires outspent us three to one.”
And what was Boudin’s great failing, his great sin? He dared to say that the police would be held accountable if they broke the law. The idea that the police would be held accountable infuriated the powerful San Francisco Police Officers Association (POA). Conservatives, especially some billionaire Republicans were angry that Boudin wanted to reform the criminal justice system. City Hall didn’t want Boudin because he was independent. Mayor London Breed endorsed Boudin’s opponent in the general election. Nobody wanted Boudin but the voters. A recall campaign was started before he had been in office for two months. It obviously wasn’t Boudin’s effect on the City that got him into trouble. There hadn’t been time for there to be any effect.
Can you imagine the power this man, Chesa Boudin, is reputed to have? Before he could even settle on his staffing and get his policies implemented, “he was making the citizens of our city miserable,” according to Ms. Bowles. Single-handedly, this incredibly powerful man was causing misery and making people feel unsafe throughout San Francisco.
There have been some noticeable changes in San Francisco since the pandemic began. I have witnessed the unhappiness over a lack of police presence, lack of police response to crimes, concerns over safety, and the decline in the quality of life in San Francisco. The pandemic has resulted in lay-offs, remote work, and small businesses closing, all of which have impacted service workers more than office workers. The poor and minority communities have suffered the most.
After the pandemic, the biggest change for the Chinese community has been the advent of Donald Trump. Trump has given permission for people to be racist. The rise in anti-Asian hate crimes in San Francisco coincides with the election of Trump and his trumpeting of the “Chinese virus” and other anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican slurs. It has nothing to do with Chesa Boudin being elected D.A.
Since the election of Trump there have been increased concerns over safety in the Chinese community and in the west side neighborhoods, the Richmond and the Sunset. Property crimes and assaults have increased. That said, incidents involving Asian-Americans are not always hate crimes, but often robberies or random violence committed by mentally ill individuals. Auto break-ins have seen the biggest increase in numbers but auto-break-ins don’t distinguish by ethnicity or neighborhood. It’s true the perception of a lack of safety is worrying people, but not enough to stop my neighbors from going about their business. I see many little, old Chinese ladies riding the 31 Balboa bus by themselves or walking to Safeway to do their shopping.
About a year after Boudin was elected, I was getting a haircut at a salon in the Sunset when I overheard a customer telling his hair stylist, “If we can just get rid of that Chesa Boudin everything will be better.” “Yes, you are right,” she replied.” They were both Chinese. Boudin had been in office less than a year when the word in the Chinese community was that getting rid of Boudin would solve all problems. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so sad.
It may surprise you to learn that in progressive San Francisco, where a Republican can’t get elected to the Board of Supervisors, there is a sizable contingent of Trump supporters. Who can doubt that many of them are members of the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD). We may have a Black police chief and a Black Mayor, but racism and a lack of accountability has been systemic in the SFPD for decades, to the point of requiring federal intervention.
The Collaborative Reform Initiative comprises 272 recommendations made to the SFPD in a 2016 U.S. Justice Department report. … In the past year, over 120 reforms reached “substantial compliance,” and the total number implemented and compliant has crept up this summer to 193 … The reforms cover five categories: use of force, bias, community policing, accountability, and recruitment, hiring and retention.” — Eleni Balakrishnan 7/22/21, Mission Local
The San Francisco Police Department’s latest data, from the first quarter of 2022, shows that extreme racial disparities persist regarding how police stop, search and use force on civilians. Force is 15 times more likely to be used against Black San Franciscans than whites. Black residents are 10 times more likely to be arrested, and five times more likely to be stopped by police. These disparities are practically unchanged since the SFPD began reporting force and arrest disparities in 2016 and disparities in police stops in 2018. … (Police) Commissioner James Byrne noted that the SFPD’s total number of arrests, which dropped off in 2020, had never returned to pre-pandemic levels. This, he said, supported anecdotal rumors that the police are not arresting people committing crimes. — Mission Local 9/9/22.
Over 56,000 people in San Francisco voted for Trump in 2020, 10% of registered voters, and he won more than 25% in the Sunset and Richmond districts. Concerns for personal safety and the safety of property can be exploited to further the agenda of a law and order regime that will be welcomed by a frightened populace.
Previously we have seen special interests, dark money and right wingers attempt to buy our elections, but they failed. Now, they are actually gaining ground and obtaining success. Even in San Francisco, Donald Trump gained more voters in 2020 than he did in 2016. That was a telling sign and should serve as an alarm to anyone who cares about our democracy. If any of us think that the Jan. 6, 2021, attack can only happen in Washington D.C., they are gravely mistaken. The right wingers have been and will continue to come at us, and they are back for more this November. In fact, they will keep coming to San Francisco until they destroy our democracy. — Connie Chan, District 1 Supervisor, San Francisco, September 2022.
In the real world, there was a public health crisis and Boudin was doing what he could to keep people out of our overcrowded and understaffed jails. Complicating the situation, many of the alleged perpetrators were teenagers and younger. Not to repeat myself, but one of the reasons we needed Chesa Boudin’s proposed reforms was that we have a problem with police misconduct in San Francisco. Lawsuits over police shootings and beatings have cost the City millions of dollars.
“The city of San Francisco will pay $700,000 to settle a lawsuit over the brutal beating of a Black manby a baton-wielding police officer who now faces criminal assault charges.” — by Nicholas Iovino courthousenews.com, 1/28/22
Officers in California have killed nearly 1,000 people in six years… In 2021 California’s law enforcement agencies recorded 628 use-of-force incidents resulting in 233 people shot and 149 killed Latino and Black Californians were again vastly over represented in use-of-force incidents last year… — Police use of force remains constant, by Raheem Hossenini and Joshua Sharp, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/4/22
The San Francisco Police Commission will hear Sept. 7 the latest data on traffic stops, searches, and use of force by race — and the reports show that Black people are still stopped and searched far more than white people. In the first quarter of 2022, 23 percent of the people stopped by the cops were Black. According to the latest Census data, just 5.7 percent of San Francisco residents are Black. The Census data shows that 51 percent of the city is white; 35 percent of the traffic stops involved white people. So Black people are about five times more likely to be stopped by the cops than white people…The commission will also discuss, in closed session, yet another lawsuit against the city that shows the ongoing cost of police violence. In July, 2018, according to the complaint, Susan Bell was engaged in peaceful civil disobedience during a demonstration in front of Immigration Control and Enforcement headquarters in San Francisco. From the suit: “As police officers in riot gear approached, Ms. Bell sat silently and waited… making every effort to appear as non-threatening as possible.… To Ms. Bell’s surprise, [SFPD] officers immediately commenced a violent takedown on Ms. Bell and put her in an arm bar.” She was then handcuffed for 30 minutes, in what she describes as intense pain, and taken to the hospital, where she had to have surgery for torn ligaments. — by Tim Redmond, 48 Hills, 9/4/2022
Brooke Jenkins, a former assistant D.A. and friend of Mayor London Breed, quit the D.A.’s office to help lead the recall effort. Ms. Jenkins is now D.A., appointed by Mayor Breed. Jenkins portrays herself as a tough-on-crime, law and order person.
Following the mayor’s political playbook, District Attorney Brooke Jenkins yesterday announced that she was going to reject a number of existing plea bargains in drug cases and seek more jail time for the sale of relatively small amounts of narcotics. The decision flies in the face of a half-century or more of data on the impacts of the “War on Drugs” and the carceral approach to a public health issue. It also makes no sense in San Francisco right now, when there is no room in the jails and no evidence that more arrests of small-time sellers will have any impact on fentanyl overdoses. It might very well lead to more deportations of people who are victims themselves. In fact, Jenkins is about to create a huge mess in the local criminal-justice system. — Tim Redmond, 48 hills 8/4/22
The DA (Boudin) has filed charges in about 80 percent of felony drug sales and possession for sales cases presented to our office by police,” Marshall (from the D. A.’s office) pointed out. After all, he could prosecute people only if the police arrested them, and arrest rates had plummeted under his tenure. So how could that be his fault? But why had arrest rates plummeted? The pandemic was one reason. But maybe it was also because the D.A. said from the beginning that he would not prioritize the prosecution of lower-level offenses. Police officers generally don’t arrest people they know the D.A. won’t charge. — Nellie Bowles
And there you have it. Police officers simply decide not to arrest someone committing a crime. No need for judge, jury or D.A. There is actually a desperate need for reform at the SFPD but it’s not because low-level drug dealers aren’t being arrested or charged.
My neighbor was sitting in his car in front of the now closed Cliff House when he saw a guy systematically breaking car windows, looking for valuables. He saw two SFPD officers sitting in a car nearby and went up to them. “Aren’t you going to do something?” “No, what’s the point, he won’t be charged.” Many on the west side have experienced the same indifference on the part of the police.
You may be wondering how Brooke Jenkins supported herself for the year after her resignation, before she was appointed the new D.A.
All of the following quotations (italicized) are from “Brooke Jenkins’ $100K came to light with this document. Here’s what else it shows,” by Susie Neilson, SF Chronicle Aug. 11, 2022.
“San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins is under scrutiny after disclosing she was paid more than $100,000 by a nonprofit organization linked to the recall campaign of her predecessor and former boss, Chesa Boudin — a campaign for which she was the most prominent spokesperson… The forms show Jenkins made at least $120,000 in total as a “consultant” from three nonprofit organizations in the 12 months prior to her assuming the D.A. role in July.”
One of the non-profits, Global:SF is dedicated to furthering corporations and corporate profits. From their website, “Global:SF is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to paving the way for international companies to locate, invest, and grow in the San Francisco Bay Area while helping locally-based companies expand into global markets.” What is their interest in recalling Boudin and supporting Jenkins? Is Chesa Boudin bad for corporate profits or is Global:SF just currying favor with Mayor London Breed?
Darlene Chiu Bryant, the nonprofit’s (Global:SF) executive director, served on the Edwin M. Lee Democratic Club with Safer SF Without Boudin co-chair Mary Jung, according to her professional profile; both women also served on Breed’s transition team in 2018. The Ed Lee Democratic Club endorsed the recall and also received $3,000 from Neighbors for a Better San Francisco Advocacy in 2022.
Another of the non-profits is Sister’s Circle Women Support Network, “supporting women of all colors, faiths and ethnicities” in the city, particularly those who are recovering from drug use, unhoused or “coming out of incarceration … Jung, the recall campaign chair, is on the board of directors of Sister’s Circle, according to the organization’s website and Facebook page.
Somehow it doesn’t seem quite right that a non-profit supporting women, “particularly those who are recovering from drug use, unhoused or “coming out of incarceration,” should be spending money on the recall.
The organization that attracted the most controversy for Jenkins was the third nonprofit, Neighbors for
a Better San Francisco, from which she reported more than $100,000 in income. Neighbors for a Better San Francisco is a 501c-3 organization advocating for good governance and improved public safety. It’s related to but distinct from the similarly named Neighbors for a Better San Francisco Advocacy, a political action committee that spent millions on the Boudin recall effort. Jenkins was a key part of this effort, regularly appearing in advertisements and messaging campaigns and media statements. The two groups were formed on the same day, share the same address in San Rafael, and are supported by the right-of-center San Francisco billionaire William Oberndorf, who is on the board of each group.
For the record, Jenkin denies she was paid for her work on the recall and says the money was for non-profit consulting work. Here is an update on Jenkins from a recent community meeting:
“ One audience member asked for reassurance that some 10 San Francisco police officers facing charges from prior DA Chesa Boudin would still be prosecuted. Some officers face charges for destruction of evidence, while others have been charged in killings of unarmed civilians …In November, 2020, District Attorney Chesa Boudin filed manslaughter charges against Samayoa, the first time a San Francisco police officer has faced criminal charges for an on-the-job shooting…. Jenkins did not respond directly…“Any cop that has broken the law will be prosecuted,” Jenkins said. “If we can prove that case, we move forward.”It was unclear from her response how she plans to move forward with the specific, currently pending cases against San Francisco police officers — all of which are reportedly being reviewed or have been delayed since Jenkins took office. Jenkins has also fired or demoted all of the prosecutors who were previously working on those cases.” — by Eleni Balakrishnan 9/7/22, Mission Local
Part of the recall effort was a blitz of TV ads where the “volunteers” for the recall campaign actually turned out to be paid staffers.
“A woman identified as “Andrea Shorter, Safer SF Without Boudin” appears in the ad (urging the recall of Boudin), and says, “I didn’t support the Newsom recall, but this is different.” This is the same Andrea Shorter whom the campaign is paying $8,000, twice every month according to campaign filings, for a staggering $16,000 monthly salary. Nice work if you can get it! Shorter is generally identified as “spokesperson” for the recall campaign… We also hear from Mary Jung, identified in the ad as “Former Chair, San Francisco Democratic Party.” … She says in the ad that, “Chesa’s failure has resulted in an increase in crime against Asian Americans.” That leaves out some important context, namely that Mary Jung is also the treasurer of the recall campaign, according to their filings.“ — Recall Chesa Boudin Campaign Releases First TV Ad, Featuring Paid Campaign Staff by Joe Kukura, Sfist.com, 11/18/2021
Among the largest donors to pro-recall committees include several real estate interest groups, such as the California Association of Realtors and the National Association of Realtors, the S.F. Chamber of Commerce, and tech investors such as Initialized Capital founder Garry Tan and former PayPal executive David Sacks. — Susie Neilson, 6/6/22, SF Chronicle
“Over the past two years, (William) Oberndorf has been the biggest donor to the Neighbors for a Better San Francisco super PAC, which has spent just over $1.8 million on pushing the Boudin recall, of which over $900,000 came from Oberndorf … While he has stylized himself — in both his public comments and donation history — as an anti-Trump Republican, he still donated millions of dollars to congressional Republicans in the Donald Trump era, most notably Mitch McConnell’s fund for Republican Senate candidates.…Over the years, the billionaire continued to sink six figures into different ballot measures, including $100,000 in 2006 to fight a universal prekindergarten program,
paid for by taxing people who make over $400,000 a year.” — by Eric Ting, SFGATE 4/8/2022
Is this the medicine Ms. Bowles thinks San Francisco needs; Mitch McConnell “law and order” Republican policies? Just like we’ve had for decades past with the prison/industrial complex and the lack of mental health and drug addiction treatments for the incarcerated. The failed war on drugs and Draconian sentences for African-American and Latino men convicted of minor drug offenses have resulted in overcrowded, unhealthy, understaffed prisons and broken families. And yes, constant recidivism. San Francisco needs change. Reforming the police and the criminal justice system and investigating corruption at City Hall are good places to start.
It may not have been so clear until now, but San Franciscans have been losing patience with the city’s leadership for a long time. Nothing did more to alienate them over the years than how the progressive leaders managed the city’s housing crisis.” — Nellie Bowles
Ms. Bowles seems to have gone into her own realm of magical thinking; she thinks the progressives are to blame for the ills of San Francisco. If we can just get rid of them, everything will be all right. They stop housing being built with all their petty regulations and their ineffectual polices get in the way of business.
Contrary to Ms. Bowles’ assertion, it is not the progressives who are responsible for San Francisco’s current plight. The real power in San Francisco emanates from the Mayor’s office. The Board of Supervisors, while progressive in terms of civil and human rights, has never had a progressive voting majority and is generally compliant to the Mayor’s will. To go against the Mayor is to go against the Democratic Party machine and Supervisors are acutely aware of that. A good case in point is the recent sale of City College land. You go along to get along.
“The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday gave final approval to the 1,100-unit Balboa Reservoir development, rejecting an appeal filed by City College of San Francisco community members. Supervisors voted in favor of the project’s environmental impact report, zoning changes, a development agreement and $11.4 million sale of publicly-owned land to developers. … Some industry experts have estimated the sale price is well below market value.” — By Ida Mojadad, 8/12/20, San Francisco Examiner
We have had progressive Supervisors in San Francisco but never in a majority on the Board of Supervisors. That wouldn’t be tolerated. Christina Olague, a senior and housing rights advocate, served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 2012. She was an honest, thoughtful voice representing the people of San Francisco. The powers-that-be made short work of that. Appointed to the Board by Mayor Lee, she soon proved too independent so she had to go. She had voted to allow Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi to remain in office when the Mayor wanted him out. Mirkarimi was a progressive and was not the preferred candidate of Lee and company. He was too independent.
The Supervisors do what they can to try and put some restrictions on real estate developers but they can’t do much to stop this runaway train. By the way, did you know that 40,000 residential units are sitting empty in San Francisco? Investors have purchased them but left them empty. Progressive Supervisors are trying to get an empty residence tax passed to fund social programs. We’ll see how that goes in November.
Today we are reaping what was sown when Gavin Newsom became mayor in 2004. Newsom and Mark Buell, a real estate developer who also served as the first Director of Economic Development for San Francisco, had big plans for the City. Basically, the idea was to “activate” every square inch of San Francisco, encourage high-tech businesses to locate here by giving them tax breaks, and flood the city with well-paid high-tech workers. This program, inevitably, resulted in gentrification and the displacement of poor people. There is no money to be made from poor people in rent controlled apartments. The emphasis was not on building affordable housing or preserving community. The real money is in commercial real estate and high-rise condos.
Mayor Ed Lee, appointed by Mayor Newsom when he resigned to run for governor, continued the Newsom agenda. After Lee, we got London Breed, the hand-picked candidate of Ron Conway, venture capitalist, self-appointed power broker and political fixer at City Hall. It was Conway who sponsored Breed’s run for Supervisor. “He donated nearly $600,000 to San Francisco races in 2012…” (Ron Conway says he’s too busy to get involved in SF’s mayor race; Trisha Thadani, Rachel Swan, San Francisco Chronicle, March 3, 2018.) Breed’s outspent opponent was the progressive incumbent, Christina Olague.
There are big issues that provide the context for the San Francisco where Boudin came to power. Four major factors are at work; 1. the drug addiction and fentanyl and opioid overdose crisis, 2. homelessness, 3. lack of treatment and facilities for the mentally ill, 4. the pandemic. None of these were actually caused by the government of San Francisco and all of them are beyond the ability of San Francisco to solve on its own. If San Francisco is a failed city, California is a failed state and America is a failed nation.
More people die in San Francisco from drug overdoses than from COVID.
“Four of the largest U.S. corporations have agreed to pay roughly $26 billion to settle a tsunami of lawsuits linked to claims that their business practices helped fuel the deadly opioid crisis”. — NPR 2/25/2022
A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Walgreens can be held responsible for contributing to San Francisco’s opioid crisis for over-dispensing highly addictive drugs for years without proper oversight and failing to identify and report suspicious orders as required by law…U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer ruled that for 15 years, Walgreens dispensed hundreds of thousands of pills, eventually contributing to the city’s hospitals being overwhelmed with opioid patients, libraries being forced to close because of syringe-clogged toilets, and syringes littering children’s playgrounds in San Francisco. — PBS Newshour, 8/10/2022
Chesa Boudin is not responsible for San Francisco’s overdose crisis and drug problems just as he’s not responsible for Trump’s racist rhetoric. The City’s failure to address the overdose crisis goes back at least to the beginning of the fentanyl epidemic a decade ago. It is ridiculous to think Boudin could do anything except recommend diversion for minor drug crimes. It’s not even his decision in any case; it’s up to the judge.
Boudin wanted to “…break the cycle of recidivism” by addressing the social causes of crime — poverty, addiction, mental-health issues Boudin was selling revolution, and San Francisco was ready. In theory” — Nellie Bowles. “Addressing the social causes of crime — poverty, addiction, mental-health issues,” is revolutionary? What are the alternatives? What we have now, relying on incarceration and punishment?
On a separate but related topic, if you haven’t heard, we have a problem with corruption at City Hall. Another reason why we needed Chesa Boudin. And another reason why he had to go. Mohammed Nuru, former head of the San Francisco Public Works Department, lost his job for his part in a bribery and corruption scandal. According to the San Francisco Chronicle,
“Nuru was arrested and charged by federal officials last year for an alleged attempt to bribe a San Francisco airport commissioner, in a probe that lifted the curtain on the city’s sprawling pay-to-play and corruption scheme. Eleven defendants have been charged to date, including multiple department heads, contractors and business executives. In a separate but related investigation, officials with the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office found that Recology had overcharged city ratepayers $94.5 million over the past four years by failing to account for revenue it would already receive. A settlement announced last month will require the waste company to reimburse its customers and pay a $7 million penalty to the city.” — S.F. corruption scandal: Another Recology exec faces charges of bribing Mohammed Nuru by Megan Cassidy, April 15, 2021 (Nuru was recently sentenced to seven years in prison)
“The San Francisco political corruption case against two former city officials that stemmed from a wide-sweeping FBI investigation into a Chinatown gangster has ended in a pair of plea deals. The San Francisco Examiner learned Tuesday that the case against former Human Rights Commission staffer Zula Jones and ex-political consultant Keith Jackson will not move forward to trial after years of delays.Jones pleaded no contest to felony bribery in late February, while Jackson, a former school board member, pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor counts related to making a campaign contribution in excess of $500 and in someone else’s name. Jones, Jackson and a third defendant were accused of soliciting bribes from an undercover FBI agent in 2012 to retire the campaign debt of the then-newly elected Mayor Ed Lee in exchange for political access and favors. Jones once allegedly told the agent, “you got to pay to play here.” By Michael Barba, Apr 2, 2019, San Francisco Examiner
The sad truth is, despite being a bastion of LGBTQ civil rights and an asylum city, San Francisco has been anything but progressive in creating and maintaining a livable city, a place where community comes first. When I first came to San Francisco in 1978 no one had any problem finding a place to live. Rentals were plentiful. If San Francisco is a failed city it’s not because progressives have been in charge.