San Francisco residents denounce city decline

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Caitlin Foster fell in love with the people and beauty of San Francisco and moved to the city a dozen years ago. But after repeatedly cleaning up used needles, other drug paraphernalia, and human excrement outside the bar she runs, and too many encounters with armed people in crisis, her affection for the city has grown. is deteriorated.

“It was a goal to live here, but now I’m here and I’m like, ‘Where am I going to move now? I’m done with that, ”said Foster, who runs Noir Lounge in trendy Hayes Valley.

A series of headline-grabbing crime stories – crowds of people smashing windows and grabbing luxury handbags in the downtown Union Square shopping district and daytime shootings in the Haight-Ashbury tourist district – has only exacerbated a general feeling of vulnerability. Residents are waking up to news of attacks on elderly people of Asian descent, broken-in restaurants and boarded up storefronts in the city’s once bustling downtown core.

San Franciscans pride themselves on their liberal political leanings and generously endorse tax measures for schools and the homeless. They accept that dirty streets, tent camps and petty crime are the price to pay for living in an urban wonderland.

But the frustration felt by Foster, who moved from Seattle in search of more sun, is growing among residents who now see a city in decline. There are signs that the city famous for its tolerance is losing patience.

The pandemic has emptied parts of San Francisco and highlighted some of its drawbacks: human and canine feces spread out on sidewalks, house and vehicle break-ins, overflowing trash cans and a laissez-faire approach from the authorities. for brazen drug trafficking. Parents were in despair as public schools remained closed for most of the past year as neighboring districts welcomed children into the classroom.

Meanwhile, residents and visitors alike flock to scenes of lawlessness and misery. Steps from the Opera House and Symphony Hall, drug dealers carry translucent bags filled with crystalline rocks or stand in front of the main branch of the public library, flashing wads of cash while peddling heroin and methamphetamine.

“There is a widespread feeling that things are on the wrong track in San Francisco,” said Patrick Wolff, 53, a retired professional chess player from the Boston area who has lived in the city since 2005.

In civic frustration, the San Franciscans will vote in June on whether to recall District Attorney Chesa Boudin, a former public defender elected in 2019 who critics say is too lenient on crime. His supporters say there is no upsurge in crime and that corporate wage theft is a more pressing problem than that of a San Francisco woman finally arrested after stealing more than $ 40,000 in goods to a target in 120 visits. She was released by a judge and re-arrested on suspicion of shoplifting after she failed to show up to get her court-ordered ankle monitor.

“Where is the progress? If you say you’re progressive, let’s get the homeless off the streets and give them mental health care, ”said Brian Cassanego, a native of San Francisco and owner of the salon where Foster works. He moved to wine country five months ago, tired of seeing drug dealers selling drugs with impunity and worrying that his wife would be out alone at night.

The day before her move, Cassanego went out to walk her dogs and saw a man who “looked like a zombie,” with his pants down to his knees and bleeding where a syringe was stuck on his hip. A woman screamed nearby in shock.

“I went upstairs and said to my wife, ‘We’re leaving now! This town is over! ‘ “, did he declare.

Reports of theft – shoplifting from a person or business – increased almost 17% to over 28,000 from the same period last year. Requests to clean dirty streets and sidewalks make up the majority of calls to 311, the city’s service line.

Overall, however, crime has been on a downward trend for years. More than 45,000 incidents have been reported so far this year, up from last year when most people were locked indoors, but below the roughly 60,000 complaints from previous years.

San Francisco’s high-profile issues have served as fodder for the conservative media. Former President Donald Trump intervened again recently, issuing a statement saying the National Guard should be sent to San Francisco to deter armed robberies.

Elected officials say they are grappling with deep societal pains common to all major American cities.

A high percentage of about 8,000 homeless people in San Francisco are struggling with chronic addiction or severe mental illness, usually both. Some people are raging in the streets naked and in need of medical help. Last year, 712 people died from drug overdoses, compared with 257 people who died from COVID-19.

LeAnn Corpus, an administrative assistant who enjoys figure skating, avoids downtown skating rinks and won’t take her 8-year-old son there after dark due to all the drug use. Yet the city’s urban ills have seeped into its Portola neighborhood, far from the city center.

A homeless man set up a makeshift tent in front of his house using a bicycle and a bed sheet, and relieved himself on the sidewalk. She called the police, who arrived after two hours and evacuated him, but at her aunt’s house, a homeless man camped in the backyard for six months despite attempts to get authorities from the expel.

“This city just doesn’t feel the same,” said Corpus, a third-generation native.

San Francisco residents who are generally uncomfortable with government surveillance installed security cameras and locks to prevent break-ins, and they began to look at strangers with suspicion.

The other night, Joya Pramanik’s husband spotted someone wearing a ski mask on an otherwise hot evening on their quiet street. She was worried the masked man was up to nothing good – and it pains her to say so, because what she loves about San Francisco is her easy embrace of all types of characters.

Pramanik, a project manager who left India for the United States as a teenager, applauded the failure of Trump’s re-election bid, but said she realized too late that Democratic activists had hijacked his city.

“If I say I want the laws to be enforced, I’m a racist,” she said. “I’m like ‘No, I’m not a racist. There’s a reason I live in San Francisco.’”

Last year, Wolff, the retired chess player, helped start a new political organization that aims to elect local officials focused on solving pressing problems. San Francisco families will elect Democrats, but this is being organized outside the city’s powerful Democratic Party establishment, he said.

Wolff hopes to change a civic mindset that no longer expects much in terms of basic public services.

In trendy Hayes Valley, for example, business owners tired of seeing trash strewn about and the city doing nothing to fix the problem have banded together to rent closed bins from a private company, Jennifer Laska said, president of the neighborhood association. After the lease expired, the association managed to get the city to agree to purchase and install new public trash cans designed to keep garbage inside and looters out.

It was four months ago.

“We still have a hard time buying the trash,” Laska said.

In the Marina, an affluent neighborhood with stunning views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, dozens of residents recently hired private security after an increase in auto burglaries.

Lloyd Silverstein, a native of San Francisco and president of the Hayes Valley Merchants Association, said companies are considering hiring security guards and installing high-definition security cameras. He rejects the idea that any city official is responsible for the situation, and he is optimistic the city will recover.

“We’ve been through big earthquakes and lows and a lot of stuff, but we’ve got a pretty good rebound attitude. We have problems, but we will solve them, ”he said. ” This could take a while. “


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