I ran into an old friend that other day, at a store where we were buying a legal product that could have put us in prison not that long ago, and they asked if I was going to write about the Atlantic story that my friend—and many others I know—was said was making them somewhere between furious and sick.
I am furious and sick, too, and I’m so, so tired of having to respond to these national media attacks on San Francisco that all follow the exact same, ridiculous narrative: The progressives have taken the city so far to the left that it is now a total failure, and a demonstration that progressive policies will do nothing but destroy cities.
Here’s Nellie Bowles in The Atlantic:
San Franciscans tricked themselves into believing that progressive politics required blocking new construction and shunning the immigrants who came to town to code. We tricked ourselves into thinking psychosis and addiction on the sidewalk were just part of the city’s diversity, even as the homelessness and the housing prices drove out the city’s actual diversity. Now residents are coming to their senses. The recalls mean there’s a limit to how far we will let the decay of this great city go. And thank God.
I don’t know which San Franciscans Bowles, who has a background covering the technology industry, is talking about, but it’s not anyone I know.
It’s not any of the tens of thousands of people who make up a progressive movement in the city.
And it starts with the fundamentally flawed premise that “progressives” —the people with those crazy left-wing ideas—have actually had control over city policy in the past decade.
As I have pointed out repeatedly, San Francisco has a strong-mayor system; the mayor controls the budget, appoints at least a majority of all the major commissions, and has the power to fill vacancies in any elective office.
The only real check on the mayor’s power is the district-elected Board of Supes, but it takes eight votes to override a veto, the supervisors by law can’t interfere in department operations, and if the mayor decides not to spend money on the supes priorities, then the money doesn’t get spent.
And yet, nobody is blaming Mayor London Breed, who appoints a majority of the Police Commission and hires the chief, for crime problems. (At least, not until now, that may be changing: When Breed appoints a new DA, and the problems continue, she’s going to own the issue.)
The other day I walked by Millennium Tower. Once a symbol of the push to transform our funky town into a big city, it’s a gleaming 58-story skyscraper in the heart of San Francisco, and it’s been sinking into the ground—more than a foot since it was finished in 2009. A group of men in hard hats was just standing there, staring up at it. The metaphor is obvious, but San Francisco has never been a subtle city.
Excuse me: The Leaning Tower of Soma was approved by a mayoral-dominated Planning Commission, and the construction scheme that failed was approved by the mayor’s Department of Building Inspection.
The corruption that has the FBI crawling all over City Hall involves the mayor, or people appointed by mayors.
And there hasn’t been a remotely progressive mayor in San Francisco since the 1980s.
So those far-left progressives that Bowles complains about haven’t had the authority to put in place the policies she things are ruining the city.
More important, and this is most infuriates me: Bowles seems to want a city that is lovely and nice for rich people.
She waxes lovely and nostalgic about the beauty of her hometown:
The cliffs, the stairs, the cold clean air, the low-slung beauty of the Sunset, the cafés tucked along narrow streets, then Golden Gate Park drawing you down from the middle of the city all the way to the beach. It’s so goddamn whimsical and inspiring and temperate; so full of redwoods and wild parrots and the smell of weed and sourdough, brightly painted homes and backyard chickens, lines for the oyster bar and gorgeous men in chaps at the leather festival.
But she doesn’t mention the dominance of the real-estate and finance industries, which controlled the city for decades, or the tech industry, that does now.
And she doesn’t talk about what it’s like for people who can’t afford to go to the oyster bar.
The policies of the past 20 years, under mayors Gavin Newsom and Ed Lee, were driven by speculators, developers, and tech companies, and they helped cause the economic inequality that has made homelessness so endemic.
Progressives have never been against housing; we’ve been against offices that create a demand for new housing when developers own’t build affordable housing. We have been against development that creates only amenities for the rich and nothing for anyone else.
People who are not rich suffered tremendously under the policies of the pro-developer and pro-tech-industry mayors, and they continue to suffer today. People who are not rich have suffered tremendously under the criminal justice system that Chesa Boudin challenged. As far as I can tell, Bowles has no solution to homelessness and poverty, except to put more people in jail.
The reason the city has all of these problems has a lot more to do with the “moderates” who have run it than the progressives who have tried to fix it.
I emailed Bowles to ask about the story. I haven’t heard back.
I don’t know how many times I am going to have to keep saying this; the national and local news media don’t seem to be listening.