Brawls, Theft, Drugs: How Rampant Crime Turned Westfield Mall into a Symbol of San Francisco’s Decline

The air outside the Westfield San Francisco Centre mall smelled like pot when Chuck Mahon and his girlfriend took a walking tour of downtown in late May. The streets were dirty. Homeless people used drugs openly and relieved themselves under blankets.

Inside, unruly teens roamed the mall — Mahon wondered where their parents were. Retail staffers were so focused on security that they had little time for real customers.

“Ugh. Westfield should be shuttered,” Mahon wrote in a Google review. “It’s time as an energetic center of fine retail in SF is long passed. Dated, understaffed. A haven for homeless and disruptive youth.”

This isn’t the way Mahon remembers the mall and the surrounding area.

Mahon, who lives in Cincinnati, summered in San Francisco when he was younger, and the nine-story mall with its elegant spiral escalators and upscale shops was always a popular destination. “It was very vibrant. It was very safe. It was a very welcoming kind of urban environment,” Mahon said. 

His experience last month was anything but. “Not San Francisco’s finest hour,” Mahon said of his most recent visit downtown.

Mahon’s experience at the mall was not unique. A National Review analysis of San Francisco Department of Emergency Management data shows that crime and disorder in and around the mall have been a consistent and growing problem. Over just the last three years, authorities have been called to the mall more than 5,000 times for a variety of reasons, from shoplifting and purse-snatchings to reports of assaults, people with knives and guns, mentally disturbed people in crisis, and indecent exposure.

The data show that reports of thefts are an almost daily occurrence at the mall. Fights are common, and there have been dozens of reported burglaries.

On average, there are more than five calls for service to the mall every day. And calls to the mall are increasing as the disorder downtown worsens.

A few weeks before Mahone’s visit, Nordstrom announced it was shuttering its Westfield Centre store, a long-time anchor of the mall, along with a Nordstrom Rack store nearby.

In an email to employees, a Nordstrom executive danced around the reasons, citing the changing “dynamics of the downtown San Francisco market.”

The owner of the mall, a Paris-based multinational real-estate firm, was more blunt: Rising crime and deteriorating downtown conditions are driving tourists, shoppers, and businesses away. “A growing number of retailers and businesses are leaving the area due to the unsafe conditions for customers, retailers, and employees, coupled with the fact that these significant issues are preventing an economic recovery of the area,” a mall spokesman said in May.

A little over a month later, the mall’s owner announced that it had ceased making payments on its $558 million loan and that it, too, was leaving the city.

The data obtained by National Review show that the mall is increasingly dealing with the same day-to-day degradation and lawlessness that has plagued downtown San Francisco generally. Online reviewers have called the mall a “No-go” and complained about “rampant theft,” shuttered restrooms, and “so much homeless and poverty” outside that you “need to look over your shoulder all the time.”

Last month, Abimael Garcia, who manages the mall’s janitors, told the San Francisco Standard that his workers are increasingly finding human waste in the elevators, in part because the restrooms are often closed due to sanitation issues and drug use.

“It’s like twice a week now. It used to be once a month,” he told the online outlet.

Attempts to reach Westfield corporate leaders for comment were unsuccessful. When reached on the phone, the mall’s general manager declined to comment for this story. Security staffers reached on the phone also declined to comment.

“I think there are obviously safety concerns at the Westfield mall . . . as evidenced by the number of calls for service,” said Matt Dorsey, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, who is proposing a charter amendment to mandate increased police staffing. 

He told National Review that the uncertainty swirling around the Westfield mall is the result of a “convergence of a lot of things,” including changing retail patterns related to the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the “addiction-driven lawlessness” that has been driving residents, office workers, shoppers, and tourists away from downtown.

“In a city like San Francisco the chickens come to roost in terms of fewer conventions wanting to come here, fewer people wanting to shop here, fewer workers wanting to come back to the office,” Dorsey said. “Street conditions and safety are a factor in people not wanting to commute downtown.”

Shoplifting, Fights, and Broken Windows

Opened in 1988 as the San Francisco Shopping Centre, the Westfield mall was for decades a jewel in San Francisco’s posh downtown retail scene. It was once one of the top-performing shopping malls in the nation.

But the property has fallen victim to the same post-Covid disorder that has become common in the progressive city. The Department of Emergency Management data show the quickening drip, drip, drip of crimes and disturbances that have helped to drive businesses and customers from the mall and the surrounding area.

According to the data, which National Review obtained via a public-records request, emergency responders received 5,049 calls for service at or around the Westfield mall from May 19, 2020, to May 3, 2023 — an average of more than five calls per day in the roughly three-year period.

Many of the calls were for seemingly minor things — officers were called to more than 300 alarms, there were more than 800 calls requesting officers to pass through the area to increase their presence, there were hundreds of calls involving administrative duties, and there were handfuls of calls for things like parking violations and people lying on the sidewalk. But many of the calls involved more serious crimes and allegations.

During the three-year period, there were 452 petty-theft calls, 140 grand-theft calls, and 293 calls for “citizen holding a prisoner” — a particularly menacing-sounding term that usually means that a loss-prevention officer is detaining a suspected shoplifter.

Police were also called to more than 170 reported fights, 99 reports of assault or battery, 68 reported burglaries, 51 calls of a mentally disturbed person in crisis, and eight reported cases of indecent exposure.

Authorities were called to 26 reports of a person with a knife, 13 calls of a person with a gun, 17 strong-arm robberies, and three reports of shots fired, the data show. 

Not all of the calls panned out — some could not be substantiated, some were canceled before officers arrived, and in some cases the suspects fled — but many of them did.

And the calls for service are increasing. There were 1,902 calls last year, up from 1,596 in 2021. Data from before May 2020 was not available.

This year, San Francisco authorities are on pace to receive more than 2,700 calls for service in and around the mall, the data show.

Authorities received 265 calls for service in February, 243 in March, and 247 in April —  three of the top four busiest months for calls to the mall during the three-year period. In October, authorities received 317 calls for service to the mall, the busiest recent month.

To get a better sense of what mall employees and customers are experiencing, National Review obtained San Francisco Police Department case summaries of incidents at and around the mall from the last week of April. Most involved theft and shoplifting.

On the last Wednesday in April, about a week before Nordstrom announced it was leaving, a man shoplifting from the mall pulled a knife on a store employee who was pursuing him. The summary did not name the store the man was stealing from. 

Two days later, on Friday, a man assaulted a store employee who tried to stop him from stealing. Again, the name of the store was not released.

On the last Saturday in April, San Francisco police officers were called to the mall for a fight, they tangled with a 27-year-old trespasser who refused to leave, they arrested two men accused of assaulting a woman outside, and they arrested a 45-year-old man who was breaking store windows in the area, according to the case summaries.

Dorsey, with the Board of Supervisors, said that when Whole Foods closed its downtown store in April, it was “directly and 100% attributable with retail theft and addiction-driven behavioral health issues where there was a real safety concern.” The mall’s predicament, on the other hand, is the result of a variety of overlapping issues, including changing shopping habits and the pandemic.

“While we can acknowledge there are other factors at work that are contributing to business closures,” he said, “we have to be honest that there are public safety and street-cleanliness concerns that are factors within our control, and our city has to do a better job of solving those problems.”

‘Simply Too Dangerous’

While big cities across the country were pummeled by the Covid-19 pandemic, no city seems to have been hit harder, or recovered more slowly, than San Francisco.

At the outset of the pandemic, tech workers stopped coming to downtown offices and tourists stayed away, ceding the streets and sidewalks to vagrants in the grips of addiction and mental illness. Homeless camps flourished. Thieves and drug users faced few repercussions from progressive-minded criminal-justice leaders who were determined to keep them out of jail.

Retail workers stopped reporting thefts to police, knowing that nothing was likely to happen. In March, CNN crew members had the back window of their rental car smashed and their bags stolen while they were at city hall reporting on rising crime. Last week, a Good Morning America reporter in San Francisco who went to cover the Westfield mall announcement was advised not to do an early-morning live-shot outside the mall because “it is simply too dangerous to be there at this hour.”

The crime and vagrancy has kept workers and tourists away, leading to concerns that San Francisco could be in an endless “doom loop.”

Nordstrom and the firm that owns the Westland mall are not alone in their decision to flee downtown San Francisco. More than two dozen stores have either closed or announced their intention to close in recent years, including: Whole Foods, Banana Republic, Saks Off Fifth, Office Depot, the Disney Store, AT&T, and several Amazon Go, CVS, and Walgreens stores.  

In early June, the owner of two of San Francisco’s largest downtown hotels announced it was stopping mortgage payments and going into foreclosure on its properties to reduce its exposure to the troubled city.

Elon Musk tweeted recently that downtown San Francisco feels “post-apocalyptic.”

The progressive city’s permissive attitude toward drug use and decisions by leaders to prioritize free housing over shelter and treatment has helped to turn San Francisco into a magnet for criminals, addicts, and the mentally ill. At the same time, the city’s land-use policies and building fees — along with a general lack of space — have made San Francisco one of the hardest cities in the world for constructing new housing.  

Ricci Wynne, a former San Francisco drug dealer who is now an activist calling for reform in the city, said the situation downtown is getting worse.

“The more department stores and other places that close down, the more the ones still remaining become targets of theft, loitering, drug use, and overall unsafe condition,” he said.

One recent news analysis showed that San Francisco is last among 63 large American cities in regard to the return of post-pandemic activity downtown. The analysis of cell-phone data showed that activity in downtown San Francisco is only at 29 percent of its 2019 level, according to a report by the San Francisco’s ABC affiliate this month.

Wynne agreed that there is no one cause of the downtown disorder. He pointed at Proposition 47, passed by voters in 2014, which decreased penalties for several nonviolent offenses, including drug use and theft. Under the law, criminals caught stealing items worth less than $950 face only a misdemeanor.

Dorsey suggested that  Prop 47 could be amended so that repeat offenders face greater consequences. Pandemic-era efforts to help the homeless also had the unintended effect of encouraging more homelessness downtown, Wynne said.

“They were giving out free hotel rooms, giving out all of these things [to homeless people],” he said. “In essence, what that did is it made more people flock here, and then when they got here they realized they could steal things.”

Dorsey also pointed at what he described as a “particularly acute police-staffing crisis” in the city. “We should have close to 2,200 police officers, and right now we’ve got about 1,500 and change,” he said. It’s a national “crisis that everybody saw coming” since a large cohort of police officers hired in the 1990s is reaching retirement age.

“I think if we have a fully staffed police department, then we will have people arrested for engaging in retail theft,” Dorsey said. “When you have a chronically understaffed police department in a city that’s getting 80,000 911 calls that are Priority A calls, you don’t have the luxury of policing things like public drug use, street-level drug dealing, or retail theft.”  

‘It Was a Wonderful Place to Go’

Inside the Westfield mall, almost half of the retailers and food-court vendors that were operating at the beginning of the pandemic have also left. The mall’s Cinemark movie theater is shuttering this week, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Sandra Green, a Bay Area resident who grew up shopping with her mom downtown, said she was last at the mall earlier this year. She called it “eerie.”

“It’s sad that everybody’s leaving. It was a wonderful place to go,” she said.

“My mom would take us down there all the time,” Green said of downtown. “I never felt scared or I had to worry about some of the stuff that’s going on now.”

While shopping malls, a fixture of 1980s retail and culture, have struggled for decades, Westfield’s owner said the San Francisco mall’s performance is an outlier in its portfolio.

While sales at Westfield Centre in San Francisco have dropped from $455 million in 2019 to $298 million last year, sales are up 66 percent at Westfield Valley Fair in nearby San Jose, and sales are up over 20 percent at the company’s other flagship stores.

Foot traffic at the San Francisco mall has dropped about 43 percent, from 9.7 million visits in 2019 to 5.6 million last year.

In response to Westfield’s announcement that it is pulling out of the city, Mayor London Breed said the news was “something that has been coming for some time.” She was seemingly critical of the owners, saying “they did not have a long-term commitment to San Francisco.”

“With new management, we will have an opportunity to pursue a new vision for this space that focuses on what the future of Downtown San Francisco can be,” she said.

“The public safety resources we’ve dedicated to the area, including ambassadors and police officers, remain in place,” she added. “The stores are still part of our Downtown experience and we will continue to support this area to make it clean, safe, and inviting for everyone.”

Click here to read the full article in the National Review

How Do Fisherman’s Wharf Tourists and Merchants Feel After Shooting Near Pier 39?

Dinner service was humming Sunday night at Epic Steak and Waterbar — two restaurants that sit side by side on San Francisco’s busy waterfront — when suddenly the wait staff heard a peal of sirens, and saw police cars barreling down the street.

Officers were chasing the perpetrators of a car-to-car gun battle along the Embarcadero, with occupants of two vehicles shooting at each other and careening down the roadway for 1½ miles, leaving four bystanders injured. Within hours, police had two people in custody, one of whom they arrested and identified as 33-year-old Lee Haywood, of Pittsburg. Police Chief Bill Scott described the episode as targeted and isolated; city leaders expressed shock and called for more law enforcement.

But criminologists and business owners advised people not to panic, saying a rare burst of gunfire conveys little about crime patterns in the neighborhood. The Embarcadero spans San Francisco’s Central Police District, which has seen two homicides and a slight uptick in burglaries — from 307 at this time last year, to 345 this year as of June 11 — though police records show other forms of crime are dropping, including assaults.

“It was just a bizarre, crazy, unfortunate incident,” said Pete Sittnick, managing partner at Epic Steak and Waterbar, whose phone began buzzing Sunday night when his employees saw the police swarming outside. By Tuesday morning, Sittnick and other business owners were trying to quell fears of crime sweeping into a vibrant tourist destination.

Managing popular opinion seems particularly important as San Francisco struggles to attract visitors and their dollars, and overcome a “doom loop” narrative that predicts the city will continue unraveling. Fisherman’s Wharf, with its restaurants and cruise terminals and sourdough shops, could be a locus of San Francisco’s economic recovery.

Rare acts of violence can still create a sense of “spiraling disorder,” said Stanford law Professor Robert Weisberg, who understands why elected officials might press for more police even as they try to reassure constituents that nothing has changed. Sunday’s rolling gunfire exchange was one in a string of incidents, coming on the heels of a mass shooting in the Mission District, and coinciding with a ramped-up effort to suppress open-air drug use and dealing downtown. 

While “there’s no necessary connection” between the “intentional violent crime” and ongoing street misery, people tend to conflate these things, Weisberg said. A concentrated police presence in areas hit by crime might be the best salve for public perception, he added, acknowledging, nonetheless, that it would be “hard to sustain.”

Yet on Tuesday, as people flocked back to Fisherman’s Wharf for gelato and bread bowls, most tourists who spoke with The Chronicle seemed unfazed or said they were unaware of Sunday’s gun battle. 

“It’s kind of the wrong place, wrong time, wasn’t it?” said Lyndsey Barr, 62, who was visiting from New Zealand with her husband, Graham Barr. Lyndsey Barr, who works as a caregiver in Wellington, said New Zealand is also grappling with gun violence. 

Ray Periera and Nathalie Nicor, both of Tampa, Fla., said they had contemplated moving to San Francisco for job opportunities. One high-profile crime wasn’t enough to dissuade them.

“I grew up in New York, Brooklyn, in the hood,” said Periera, 64, suggesting that San Francisco isn’t the only city with problems.

Brenton Parsons, 41, and his son, Dashiell Parsons, 14, of Minneapolis, who also were visiting San Francisco for the first time, had heard about the mayhem on Sunday.

“It was mildly scary,” said the elder Parsons, adding that people living elsewhere conceive of San Francisco as a city burdened by a host of issues, such as car break-ins and drug use. “But I think if you’re a seasoned traveler, you can look past that stuff and understand that there’s more to the story,” he said. “There’s car break-ins in every city in the United States.”

Over at Pier 39, closer to where the shooting took place, people were thronging in the outdoor marketplace and, by some accounts, seemed to be unbothered by the weekend’s events.

“After it happened, there were some people that (left) the pier,” said Bob Partrite, COO of Simco Restaurants, the company overseeing six restaurants along Pier 39, including the Eagle Cafe and Fog Harbor Fish House. “But there was also an influx of people coming onto the pier (and) the restaurants remained busy until closing.”

Partrite, who has worked for Simco for 28 years, said it was the first shooting he’d ever heard of to hit “close to home,” though he saw it as part of a national surge in gun violence, not a sign that San Francisco is starting to fray.  

Sue Muzzin, vice president of public relations and a spokesperson for Pier 39, believes the violence on Sunday evening deterred visitors on Monday, though it will take several days to assess the full impact. She emphasized that the assailants were not driving on Pier 39 property, though the Embarcadero is nearby.

“The safety of our employees and visitors are paramount to us, and our 24-hour security team continues to make Pier 39 a secure and friendly environment,” Muzzin said.

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

Senator Wiener Admits Psychedelic Drug Decriminalization Bill May Not Pass

Support for SB 58 has been declining throughout the year

Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) admitted at a virtual event this week that his bill to decriminalize some psychedelic drugs would have a hard time passing the Assembly in the coming months. His bill needs to pass two tough Committees and a growing number of lawmakers are not on board with the bill.

First introduced in December of last year, Senate Bill 58 by Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) proposed to decriminalize plant-based and other natural hallucinogens such as psilocybin (magic mushrooms), dimethyltryptamine (psychedelic drug DMT), ibogaine (psychedelic substance), and mescaline (psychedelic hallucinogen). In addition, law enforcement would be unable to charge those holding the drugs with a criminal penalty while also still being completely illegal for minors.

SB 58 also would remove bans on having psilocybin or psilocyn spores that can produce mushrooms, and on having drug paraphernalia associated with all decriminalized drugs. Specific limits outlined by the bill include up to 2 grams of DMT, 15 grams of Ibogaine, and 2 grams of Psilocybin.

The bill is a significantly pared down version of SB 519, first introduced in January 2021 by Weiner that would not only have legalized the psychedelics in SB 58, but also would have included synthetic hallucinogens such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), ketamine (“dissociative anesthetic”), and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, ecstasy, molly). However, the bill was amended heavily in 2021 and 2022, removing ketamine, peyote derivatives of decriminalized mescaline, and other troubling parts for legislators and opposition groups, including law enforcement agencies. Despite the amendments, the bill was still gutted in August, removing everything but a single study on the use of the remaining drugs. In March, it was finally passed by the Senate Public Safety Committee, with the bill then moving directly to a Senate vote in May.

In late May, the bill managed to pass the Senate, but due to a growing number of lawmakers opposing the bill, it only passed 21-16. The historical problems of similar past bills in the Assembly, combined with more lawmakers scrutinizing SB 58, have greatly increased the odds of the bill managing to get out of the Assembly at all, with Senator Wiener finally noting the challenges ahead at a  Psychedelic and Entheogen Academic Council (PEAC) event on Wednesday.

Concern grows over SB58 chances of passing Assembly

“It’s not guaranteed to pass in the Assembly,” Wiener said on Wednesday. “But we’re going to try the very best we can. Part of the complication, is that the measure has been referred to a second Assembly policy committee before it potentially moves to Appropriations and then the floor. It may clear the Public Safety Committee when it goes before that panel on June 27, but its fate is less certain in the Health Committee after that,” he said.

“That is a very hard committee for us. And so I cannot guarantee that we’re going to be able to get a majority of the votes in that committee. We barely got it out by the skin of our teeth last year, and the committee is probably a little less favorable this year. It’s very uncertain what’s going to happen in the Assembly. We’re just going to do our very best to try to move forward.”

“There’s a variety of reasons why people express concerns. I also have colleagues who, despite those concerns, have been willing to listen, meet with our veterans, meet with experts and really think it through and ultimately support the bill. But it’s always been a tough pill.”

Even if it passes the Assembly, Wiener also said that it would still be up in the air, as Governor Gavin Newsom has not publicly said if he would vote on the bill or not.

“It’s unclear to me as the governor is not expressing any opinion pro or con,” added Wiener.

Opponents of the bill have, conversely, grown more optimistic that the bill would be voted down once again due to the growing discontent of the bill, with many hoping that it won’t even reach Newsom by the end of the session in August.

“We’re seeing more and more people in the Assembly question SB 58,” former police officer and current drug counselor Marty Ribera told the Globe Friday. “Many are open to the idea, especially of helping veterans, but want to see a pilot program first or something similar to show there are no major risks and that it can be done safely.”

“Because, as I’ve said before, there is still a long road ahead. It needs to get past the Assembly Committees, which is hard. Than the Assembly itself, also hard. The Governor, who is 50/50 at this point and may not want to risk signing that. Than legal challenges to it. And then pushing it to a statewide vote, which means it would be halted until then. It’s a rocky road, and even Wiener is having doubts that it can make it now.”

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Hotel Owners Start to Write Off San Francisco as Business Nosedives

City’s lodging business has been squeezed by crime and other quality-of-life issues

San Francisco’s once thriving hotel market is suffering its worst stretch in at least 15 years, pummeled by the same forces that have emptied out the city’s office towers and closed many retail stores.

Hotel owners in New York and Los Angeles are filling nearly as many rooms this year as they did in 2019, according to hotel-data firm STR. Their revenue per available room exceeds what it was before the pandemic.

But in San Francisco, hotels are still struggling badly in both occupancy and room rates compared with before the pandemic. Revenue per available room was nearly 23% lower in April compared with the same month in 2019. 

The city’s lodging business has been squeezed by crime and other quality-of-life issues that have kept many convention bookers away. Tech companies’ embrace of remote work also undercuts business travel to the city and hotel activity. 

Now, a growing number of San Francisco hoteliers are signaling they may be ready to give up. In recent months, the owner of the city’s Huntington Hotel sold the property after facing foreclosure and the Yotel San Francisco hotel sold in a foreclosure auction. Club Quarters San Francisco, which has been in default on its loan since 2020, may also be headed to foreclosure, according to data company Trepp.

Other lodging properties in the city are also vulnerable. More than 20 additional San Francisco hotels are facing loans due in the next two years, according to data company CoStar.

Click here to read the full article in the Wall Street Journal

‘Targeted and isolated’ Mass Shooting in S.F.’s Mission District Wounds 9

San Francisco police were seeking answers Saturday to a “targeted and isolated” shooting in the Mission District the night before in which nine people were injured during a community block party.

The victims of the mass shooting, which occurred just after 9 p.m. Friday near 24th Street and Treat Avenue, were transported to local hospitals.

“We can confirm there are 9 shooting victims — all are expected to survive their injuries,” SFPD said on social media. “At this time, the incident appears to be targeted and isolated. There is no known threat to the public at this time.”

At a news conference at the scene, police spokesperson Eve Laokwansathitaya said the shooting occurred during a street party. She said no arrests had been made. She said she could not comment on whether there was more than one shooter or whether the shooting occurred from a car. 

Three blocks on 24th Street were cordoned off with crime scene tape as investigators scoured the scene. A large group of investigators stood in front of a tent set up outside the Dying Breed clothing store, which had the block party Friday night at the time of the shooting. The store specializes in local clothing designs, graffiti supplies and parties and events.

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

The Left Gaslights Us on San Francisco’s Problems

Primitive projection has become all too frequently a substitute for political debate in this country.

Elon Musk lived in San Francisco until late 2021, when California’s lockdown policies, a serious uptick in crime rates, and a general decline in the quality of life prompted him to move Tesla to Texas.

He hasn’t regretted the decision. He recently commented on a Twitter feed about eleven major San Francisco retailers, including Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Whole Foods, closing their stores this year alone. “So many stores shuttered in downtown SF. Feels post-apocalyptic,” he tweeted. “The philosophy that led to this bleak outcome will be the end of civilization if extended to the world.”

Musk’s comments have prompted a backlash from progressives, who claim he has it all wrong about San Francisco. Last month, in the wake of the murder of Cash App founder Bob Lee, it was discovered that he was killed by someone he knew, not as part of a random act of violence. Miguel Almaguer, the local correspondent for NBC, reported that “San Francisco leaders fired back at Musk,” insisting that “the tragedy that unfolded could have happened anywhere.”

Indeed, San Francisco district attorney Brooke Jenkins lashed out at Musk for calling the city’s crime “horrific.” She said Musk’s tweets were “reckless and irresponsible” and “served to mislead the world and their perceptions of San Francisco.”

Just for the record: San Francisco lost 7.5 percent of its population between April 2020 and July 2022, a rate of decline unprecedented among major U.S. cities, including Detroit in its worst days.

Lee Ohanian, an economist at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, has calculated that San Franciscans face about a 1-in-16 chance each year of being a victim of property or violent crime. That makes it “more dangerous than 98 percent of US cities, both small and large. To put this in perspective, Compton, California, the infamous home of drug gang turf wars, and which today remains more dangerous than 90 percent of all US cities, is almost twice as safe as San Francisco.”

If that doesn’t sound like civilization being threatened, I don’t know what does.

Because of this record, the Left is pulling out all the stops in trying to distract attention from the damage San Francisco’s progressive policies have caused. Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, had the gall to author last year in the San Francisco Chronicle an article headlined “Soft-on-crime liberalism isn’t fueling San Francisco’s drug crisis. Libertarianism is.”

This is what is called the politics of projection — accusing others of one’s own flaws — and it’s being used by the Left everywhere, from explaining how inequality has grown under President Biden to accusing Republicans of opposing energy development by voting against the Green New Deal.

A 2019 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that projection confuses virtually every aspect of our politics. It makes us assume a greater degree of consensus on the big moral questions than there really is. When that consensus is shown to be an illusion, it generates more hostility as “people project their own polarization onto others.”

Sadly, the more radical someone’s politics are, the more radical they imagine everybody else’s politics to be.

Of course, projection is practiced on both the left and right sides of the spectrum. Donald Trump’s penchant for attacking his opponents by projecting onto them his own personal attributes and self-assessments has been a consistent trope of his rhetoric.

Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times calls Trump a “master of projection” and noted that many Trumpian projections were uncannily predictive of his future actions as president. Examples include his roundly criticizing Mitt Romney for failing to release his tax returns and berating Barack Obama for watching too much TV in the White House and playing too much golf.

“Trump tells other people that they are what he is,” Lance Dodes, a retired assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, noted in 2019. “It’s a common enough defense mechanism in early childhood, but as an adult, using it all the time, it is what we would call primitive.”

Primitive projection has become all too frequently a substitute for political debate in this country. When I began appearing on cable TV shows in the 1990s, most guests debated me by trying to make logical arguments. Over the years, the amount of commentary of the “insult comic” variety grew. There also grew to be fewer debates — almost all cable shows now feature only one guest at a time or a completely like-minded panel.

These trends have gone hand in hand with a collapse of confidence in the media. Edelman, the world’s largest public-relations firm, conducts an annual survey on trust and credibility. In 2021, it found that less than half of Americans said they trusted the mainstream media, and 56 percent of Americans said they agreed with the following statement: “Journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations.”

Click here to read the full article in the National Review

S.F. and Oakland are Eyeing Big Deficits. Why Not San Jose?

The South Bay city is reporting a $35.3 million surplus

Some of the Bay Area’s largest cities are facing truly eye-popping budget deficits.

San Francisco is projecting a $290 million shortfall. Oakland, short by $177 million, isn’t faring much better. But down south, the outlook is a bit sunnier. San Jose is reporting a $35.3 million surplus.

Why such a divergence?

Economists and budget officials attribute the disparity to San Francisco and Oakland’s heavy reliance on tax revenues that are still recovering sluggishly from the pandemic’s economic gut punch. The cities blame the down year on a mixture of poorly performing key revenue streams and the drying up of federal pandemic-related funding.

San Jose, on the other hand, has come away generally unscathed by leaning on a tax base that’s largely weathered negative financial forces. Worth noting: The surplus in the FY2023-24 budget remains small when compared to its $5.2 billion total budget — less than 1%.

“We’re in a positive position,” city budget director Jim Shannon said. “It’s not like we’ve got money to burn, by any means.”

Key to the large discrepancy between the cities is the real estate transfer tax, levied when a property changes hands.

That tax pool for Oakland peaked during FY2021-22 at $138.4 million but is expected to only reach $110.4 million for the coming FY2023-24. In San Francisco, the difference is starker. In 2021, the city brought in over $500 million from the tax, while this upcoming year it’s expecting less than half of that figure.

Both cities have blamed high-interest rates and work-from-home trends as the reason for these gloomy outlooks — part of what some are fearing could result in a “doom loop” for the downtown cores, where a dwindling tax base could spur serious cuts to essential services and spark an existential economic crisis.

But in San Jose, the city only collects a small amount of this tax and is projected to receive $22 million this coming year. That’s an increase of $2 million compared to 2021.

Sales tax is also playing a role. San Francisco is expecting a meager $14 million increase compared to 2021, bringing the city to $202 million this coming year. Oakland is experiencing a similarly small bump over the same time period, a $5 million increase totaling $104 million.

But San Jose — somewhat of an outlier — is projected to receive a whopping $50 million more in sales tax than it did in 2021, a total of $336 million.

Jeff Bellisario, executive director of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, said the geographic makeup of the three cities’ economies may play a role.

“San Jose’s economy is not nearly as concentrated in the downtown area when compared to San Francisco and Oakland,” Bellisario wrote in an email. “With a slow return to the office and higher commercial vacancy rates in S.F. and Oakland, we’ve seen sales tax revenues decline in those areas along with business-related taxes.”

Oakland officials also say the transient occupancy tax, which hotel guests pay, still hasn’t made a full recovery since before the pandemic. Revenues are expected to increase this coming year by about $6 million from 2021 — totaling $22 million. But that’s still behind a high of $25.9 million in 2018.

All three of the cities have experienced nearly identical population decreases — around 0.5% and 0.6% between 2021 and 2022 — according to California’s Finance Department. And, even with its nearly one million residents, San Jose has dropped out of the top 10 most populous cities in the country.

As for pandemic-related funding infusions — which includes the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) — Oakland has already used all of the $188 million it received from the federal government to plug up previous shortfalls it was facing since 2020.

In San Francisco, nearly $250 million in reimbursements for COVID-19 expenses was expected from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But now, the city said it will likely only get $23.4 million because of delays.

In San Jose, the picture is a bit more hazy.

Click here to read the full article in the Mercury News

S.F. is Still On Edge Over Shoplifting. Can Downtown Businesses Stop Thieves Without Risking Lives?

At a Metro PCS store near City Hall in San Francisco, clerk Maria Gonzalez said shoplifters invade at least twice a week, at times jumping over the counter to swipe phones, cords and anything else they can snatch.

Sometimes they wear hoodies and masks, but other times, “they just come in like they are.” If the thieves get too close or act aggressively, she said, employees like her have no choice but to pepper-spray them. A lone security guard patrols a stretch of Market Street where her store is, funded by area merchants, she said — but it’s not enough.

“We tell them to get out, but they’re going to take what they’re going to take,” Gonzalez said. “More than anything, I feel scared for my life.”

Once again — after a Walgreens guard shot and killed an unarmed man who had allegedly shoplifted, and after a nearby Whole Foods closed, citing theft as a significant reason — San Francisco store owners, employees and guards say they are grappling with a difficult question: In a city struggling with a high rate of property crime, what is the best way to deter petty theft?

Do you confront people suspected of shoplifting or do you steer clear, knowing such interactions can escalate from a minor, often desperate crime to an encounter that can be dangerous for both parties?

Relatives of the 24-year-old man killed outside the downtown Walgreens on April 27, Banko Brown, say the tragedy has shown that merchants shouldn’t hire gun-carrying guards. The fatal shooting prompted a change in policy for the guards at the store, the San Francisco Standard reported, who were told shortly before the incident to confront shoplifters; afterward, they were ordered to stand down and leave their firearms at home.  

On an earnings call earlier this year, a Walgreens corporate executive said the company had seen a slight reduction in “shrink,” the loss of inventory attributed to employee theft, shoplifting, fraud, or other factors. During the call, Walgreens CFO James Kehoe said the company was moving from using security guards to hiring off duty law enforcement officers to guard stores because the security companies Walgreens was using had “proven to be largely ineffective.”

Many merchants, meanwhile, say they remain in a no-win situation, not wanting to resort to violence to stop shoplifters but also loathe to rack up thousands of dollars in losses while sending a message to would-be thieves that they have free reign.

“Merchants are completely fed up with having their businesses vandalized, or being robbed over and over,” said Ryen Motzek, president of the Mission Merchants Association. “But that still doesn’t justify taking a human life.”

He said many businesses defend themselves “because the police can’t. And the response might not be a well-trained response. It creates ugliness all around, this loop of dysfunction. I don’t see anybody winning.”

Many specifics about Brown’s death remain unclear. District Attorney Brooke Jenkins initially declined to prosecute the guard, Michael Earl-Wayne Anthony, saying evidence showed he acted in self-defense. But as outrage grew over the decision, Jenkins backtracked and said she might still file charges. She has refused to release video of the fatal encounter, saying it would be unethical to do so because the case is under investigation.

Meanwhile, the controversy ignited by Brown’s killing has served to intensify the debate about the role of security guards in San Francisco. 

After the shooting Supervisor Dean Preston introduced legislation seeking to amend the city’s police code to clarify that guards are not to unholster their weapons unless there is an actual and specific threat to a person. The current police code says guards may draw their handgun if there is an actual and specific threat “to person and/or property.”

The first responsibility of a private guard, industry leaders and experts said in interviews, is to minimize risk and loss. But doing that — by physically intervening with a shoplifter, if necessary — can be fraught, and is sometimes barred by policy. Guards don’t know whether a person they suspect is shoplifting might be under the influence of drugs, struggling with mental health issues or carrying a hidden weapon.

In 2021, a video of a man on a bicycle stuffing goods into a trash bag at a San Francisco Walgreens went viral, in part because viewers were shocked no one tried to stop the thief. The man was later arrested and sentenced to 16 months in jail for a series of thefts in the city. But similar videos of open shoplifting have become fairly routine. 

“It can be very dangerous,” said Tom Wong, CEO of Red Dragon Private Security, referring to attempts to stop people they suspect are stealing. In the past year, a security guard was shot dead in Japantown, allegedly by a 15-year-old boy he had escorted out of the neighborhood mall, and another was stabbed at a Walgreens on Powell Street.

Wong’s strategy is simple: “Find the least confrontational approach, the least amount of force needed to get that person out of the store.”

In a perfect world, Wong said, after a security guard spots a shoplifter, he or she would make their presence known, and order the shoplifter to put the item back and leave the store. If the shoplifter refused, then the security guard would summon other store employees, and warn the shoplifter if they didn’t leave they would be arrested for theft. 

If a security guard’s client wants a guard to do more than just be a visible deterrent to shoplifters, they might then actually detain a thief, he said.

Under state law, security guards have the power to enact a “citizens arrest,” but no more. When actually detaining a suspect, a guard is required under state rules to tell the suspect of the intention to arrest them, the cause, and the security guard or private security officer’s authority to make a citizen’s arrest, according to a training manual on the website of the state’s Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, which regulates California security guards.

The manual also notes security guards should never touch a suspect “except when they are protecting a citizen, protecting their employer’s property, in self-defense, or when necessary to use reasonable force in effecting an arrest.”  

Ideally, Wong and others said, a security guard tries to resolve the situation with words first — and only reaches for a baton, TASER or pepper spray if that doesn’t work. A gun should be a last resort, and only in situations where there is “an imminent threat” to the life of the security guard or others.

Security guards in California must be 18 or older, pass a federal background check. They must also complete a 32-hour training course, and if they want to carry firearms, pass a separate firearms training course that includes qualification at a firing range and a written exam. If they want to carry a baton or pepper spray, they must obtain separate permits for those weapons — and undergo additional training. That compares to police officers who must pass a rigorous police academy — 34 weeks in San Francisco, followed by a 16-week field training program.

Michael Spearman, who runs the Bay Area-based Archangel Solutions security company for CEOs, celebrities and Fortune 50 companies, said giving a gun to anyone with less than excellent training raises potential for trouble.

“You give a guy a hammer, and everything looks like a nail after a while,” he said. “When you’re dealing with angry people, desperate people stealing things or the mentally ill — actually any confrontation — if they are trained correctly in de-escalation, a guard will know what to do. If they’re not, it doesn’t work. 

“Look, police officers get hundreds of hours of training,” he said. “And you’re asking a security guard to get a week or so of training and a gun course and then expect them to do the same job? It’s not practical.”

In interviews in the past week, several security guards in downtown San Francisco said they focused on de-escalation in their jobs. They said they preferred not to be armed because, as one put it, “someone could wrestle the gun from me, and if I have to use it, I don’t want a death on my hands.”

The guards said they weren’t authorized to speak publicly, and The Chronicle granted them anonymity in accordance with its confidential-sources policy.

“The trick is to closely study people when they walk in, see the trouble before it happens, and then go up and politely engage to stop it,” said one guard at a major downtown store.

As she spoke, she nodded at a man walking by in ragged clothes with a bulging backpack under his jacket, mumbling to himself as he eyed merchandise. “Like that guy,” she said. “I will be polite and respectful, but make sure I keep an eye on him.”

Across California, clearance rates for petty larcenies — thefts without the use of force or threat of force — have fallen substantially over the past three decades, records show. In 2019, police across the state solved about 9% of such crimes. In San Francisco, police have solved roughly 3.6% of larcenies reported in 2023, a slight increase from the same time last year.

Some law enforcement officials say shop owners and security guards have been hamstrung by local and state policies that have reduced punishment for nonviolent offenders, and emboldened them as a result. The argument is rejected by progressives who say petty theft is often driven by poverty and inequality, and favor rehabilitation over incarceration.

“If they’re not going to prosecute (the shoplifters) why are you putting yourself at risk?” asked Art Acevedo, a former head of the Major Cities Chiefs Association who has led police departments in Texas, Florida and Colorado.

Some shopkeepers say shoplifting is just part of doing business in San Francisco. Mohsen Ali Mused — who keeps a machete, pepper spray and a baseball bat behind the counter of his Tenderloin Market and Deli —  said he doesn’t employ guards despite losing what he estimates to be thousands of dollars in merchandise to shoplifting every month. He said he’s got the weapons in case someone tries to rob him — not for dealing with shoplifters.

“I’m the owner, like the Godfather, and I know how to talk to them,” he said as he cheerfully greeted a mix of well-dressed and ragged customers coming in the door. “Seventy percent of those people who want to steal probably don’t have their brains working right. They’re hungry, they’re desperate.”

He said sometimes when people ask him for food, it gives it to them. “It’s the right thing to do,” he added.

Sherilyn Adams, head of the San Francisco nonprofit that in 2019 opened the nation’s first homeless shelter for trans youth like Banko Brown, said the problem of unhoused people shoplifting won’t end until there are enough drug rehab, aid and housing programs for street dwellers.

“It’s poverty. People would not have to steal food and basic needs if things were readily available to them, said Adams, executive director of Larkin Street Youth Services.  

Not every homeless person shoplifts, of course. But Adams acknowledged that some of those boosting from stores do it to get money for drugs or alcohol.

Shoplifted goods are sold everyday by housed and unhoused people alike.  

Those selling the goods have little fear of being punished. They generally say they boost and sell for survival.

“Panhandling doesn’t get me enough for my food and drugs,” said Antonio Ortega, 33, as he spread out his latest haul of spices, coloring markers and socks on Turk Street. “You think I like shoplifting? Hell no. But most of us doing it are doing bare essentials to get by.”

He said he often gets questioned by security guards, “but they can’t do anything, really.”

“It’s brutal out here,” he added, explaining that he needs to boost to buy food and drugs.  

James McGee, 41, lives outside and is a regular at the Tenderloin Market and Deli. He said he shoplifts food, mostly sweet snacks to ease the craving for heroin and meth. But one place he leaves alone is Mused’s.

“Moh is a really good guy, and if I’m really hungry he’ll give me chips, soda, things like that,” he said, grinning while holding up a bag of popcorn. “Moh gave me this. He understands. All he asks is that you be clean and don’t disrespect the store. 

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

San Francisco Collapse: More Store Closures, Lawlessness, Drugs, Homeless

‘If anybody believes that crimes are down and San Francisco is safe, I have a bridge in San Francisco to sell to them’

“After repeated break-in attempts over the last year, and more broken windows than we can count, we recently made the tough decision to close down the High Road Bike Shop,” reads the message of the electric bike store’s website. “We are currently selling all of our existing inventory at 30%-50% off.”

Another retail outlet closes in San Francisco. And San Francisco’s office vacancy rate is 30%.

“Before High Road Bike Co. opened there, it was Acote. It also closed due to theft,” a San Francisco friend told the Globe Wednesday. Acote was a French clothing store.

“Across the street, consumer tech store B8ta closed indefinitely after staff were robbed at gunpoint in February,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported in 2021.

And now, in the same location, the Hayes Valley bike shop closes after rain and crime, but owner is ‘not giving up on S.F’ the Chronicle reports.

“Months of rain, an overall economic downturn, and repeated break-in attempts ultimately led to the decision to close the shop,” said owner Chris Callaway. There were “more broken windows than we can count” at the store at 597 Hayes St., he said.

“Crime was a factor, but Callaway believes months of storms depressing customer traffic sealed the store’s fate.”

The Globe just reported that T-Mobile’s flagship store at 1 Stockton Street and Williams-Sonoma at 340 Post will be closing soon.

After only 7 months, Australian furniture retailer Coco Republic’s SF flagship announced its closure.

The Globe reported:

Walgreens has closed more and more stores in the city due to the massive amount of crime within its stores. Higher-end stores like Cotopaxi have also cited break-ins and crime as major reasons for leaving. And just within the last two months, all Amazon Go storesAnthropologie, several high-end Union square stores, and the flagship Whole Foods store have all announced that their doors will be closing, along with multiple non-chain stores throughout the city. Less than a week ago, both Nordstrom and Saks Off 5th announced the closure of 3 main locations in the city.

This is so sad, and so avoidable. And residents want to know why Mayor London Breed, the City Council and County Board of Supervisors are allowing the city to degenerate and collapse. San Francisco is plagued by lawlessness, violent crime, homelessness, open drug use and the police budget was cut more than $120 million in 2020. The Mayor made the announcement that the $120 million would be spent “addressing disparities in the Black community.”

How did that work out? And where exactly did $120 million go?

Our San Francisco friend also reported how homeless have been ripping off Whole Foods:

“I have been shopping at Whole Foods on Franklin and California since the one on Market and 8th closed. I had never seen any homeless in this Pacific Heights Whole Foods before. But, now, whenever I go there, I see homeless people hanging out in the upper parking lot on Franklin and California and also inside the store. Recently, I saw them at the hot food station using their hands to pick up food and walking away with liquors.”

Here someone posted about it on Twitter:

I got a jolt at the Pac Height Whole Foods Sat when a junkie brushed past me, grabbed a bottle of whisky, and breezed out of the store. An employee and security guard were five feet away. “That guy just stole some alcohol!”, I said. “We know”, they said, doing nothing.

The other Whole Foods announced its closure in April. Our friend explained:

“I have been patronizing Whole Foods on Market and 8th street 3-4 times a week since its opening in March 2022 and become well-acquainted with their store staff, security guards, and their regular patrons (the paying ones and the free loaders).

Whenever I was in the store, I always witnessed brazen shoplifting and verbal and physical abuses on the store employees  which led the store to cut its operating hours.

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Are the Bay Area’s Largest Downtowns Caught in a Doom Loop?

Stock declines wipe out billions of dollars of paper gains meant for big-ticket expenses

On a recent gloomy afternoon in downtown San Francisco, a handful of tourists waiting to board the city’s famous cable cars watched paramedics strap a barefoot man, moaning and writhing in the throes of an apparent mental health crisis, onto a gurney. As he was loaded into a flashing ambulance, another man frantically shouted obscenities toward police officers at the scene.

Just across the street, Amy Hahn was finishing dress shopping at the Nordstrom store in the Westfield mall. She planned to make a beeline to the nearest BART station. “I am wary of being out in that area,” said Hahn, 26. “I like to minimize that.”

Nordstrom confirmed last week it plans to close the flagship store this summer, along with the nearby Nordstrom Rack — two of the most prominent department stores in the heart of the city. The company cited the changing “dynamics” of downtown, a thinly veiled reference to the perception that crime and homelessness are out of control.

Police data may show otherwise — violent crime has actually fallen in San Francisco in recent years, though property crimes have spiked. And unlike most of the rest of the Bay Area, the city’s homeless population dipped slightly in 2022, according to the latest count. Still, there’s no doubt that San Francisco’s downtown is in crisis.

It’s not the only one. All three of the Bay Area’s largest cities are staring down huge setbacks to their efforts to revitalize urban cores hollowed out by a once-in-a-generation pandemic.

Last month, the Oakland A’s announced the team was decamping for Las Vegas, throwing into flux the city’s plans to redevelop Howard Terminal at the Port of Oakland. The team is leaving behind a $12 billion proposal for a gleaming waterfront stadium with new housing and retail at the site. In San Jose, Google recently announced it was reassessing the timeline for its sprawling Downtown West project, which city officials hope will add homes, shopping and office space for thousands of workers.

Factors cited in the decline of these Bay Area downtowns are numerous: crime, homelessness, income inequality, remote work, online shopping, housing shortages and poor transit alternatives. As the region emerges from the pandemic, an existential question has emerged: Are these challenges the beginning of a “doom loop” that effectively transforms downtowns into ghost towns? Or will the Bay reimagine its relationship with its city centers?

In San Francisco, officials concede a string of high-profile violent attacks, pockets of open-air drug dealing and other safety and quality of life concerns have hampered the city’s recovery after thousands of workers emptied out of downtown offices.

“Public safety is the number one issue I hear about from residents and small businesses every day,” Mayor London Breed said when announcing a measure to increase police overtime in March.

In Oakland too, business owners cite crime as the primary culprit for the challenges facing downtown.

“We get break-ins, four or five businesses every single night in Oakland,” said Ali Albasiery, the owner of a ShopRite grocery. “People are fed up. Some stores are closing up early because of this craziness going on.”

Albasiery said former customers now do their shopping in Pleasanton or Dublin because they’re afraid their cars will be broken into if they come to Oakland. Business owners are afraid to make claims against their insurance because they’re worried they’ll get booted off their policies.

“Businesses are hurting really bad,” Albasiery said. “It’s almost like the Wild West.”

In San Jose on Thursday, Mayor Matt Mahan walked through downtown and met with local businesses alongside law enforcement to emphasize his plans to double the rate at which new police officers are hired. Like other Bay Area mayors, he’s also prioritized building more homeless shelters, increasing access to treatment centers and cracking down on encampments.

“If people don’t feel safe, it’s hard to convince them that anything else matters,” Mahan said.

Officials in San Jose have wrestled with how to reinvigorate the downtown core for decades. In 2021, the city scored a major victory when it approved Google’s plans to build a massive 80-acre master-planned neighborhood near the SAP Center and Diridon Station.

But the development was cast into uncertainty in February when, on the heels of moves to cut jobs and slash office space amid growing economic unease, the tech giant said it was “assessing how to best move forward with Downtown West.”

While the company says it’s committed to the multi-decade project — planned for 4,000 homes and office space for up to 20,000 workers — the news is raising fresh concerns about San Jose’s downtown aspirations.

Bryan Garrett, the longtime owner of Cafe Rosalena near the site of the planned project, said many local business owners are worried Google won’t follow through on its promise to revitalize the sleepy western half of downtown. “For lease” signs continue to pop up nearby along The Alameda, a portion of the historic El Camino Real road that the city has long targeted for redevelopment.

“It would give much-need life to a city with no soul,” Garrett said.

Regionally, plans to revitalize downtowns are as wide-ranging as the challenges. Various local officials, advocacy groups and business interests have pushed for more mixed-use housing, better access to transit, adding bike lanes, removing freeways and increasing green spaces.

The hope is to prevent a dreaded economic “doom loop,” which could happen like this: Office buildings remain empty. Thus, stores and restaurants that used to serve downtown workers continue to shutter. Property and sales taxes then plummet. Forced to slash essential services, cities fail to get a handle on homelessness and crime, causing even more people to avoid city centers. The vicious cycle feeds on itself.

To stave off that fate, city leaders must imagine new ways to make downtowns places where people want to spend their time, said Gary Dillabough, a developer behind many large commercial buildings in San Jose. He suggested transforming vacant offices into museums, technology centers or even indoor farms.

“You can let the wind blow you, or you can create your own weather,” Dillabough said.

Across the Bay Area, cities are taking the first steps to do so.

In Oakland, Mayor Shen Thao said the city is moving forward with other redevelopment opportunities for Howard Terminal — even without the A’s. Just this week, a company that crafts creative works spaces signed a deal to manage three floors and recruit new tenants to the iconic Tribune Tower building downtown.

“I don’t believe this city is defined by Major League Baseball,” Thao said last month. “We are working really hard to ensure that (future) developers can be fast-tracked if the development makes sense to the city.”

In San Francisco, a program called “Vacant to Vibrant” is offering grants to lure local pop-ups downtown. And new rules, approved last week by the city’s planning commission, could make it easier to convert empty commercial buildings to housing and allow more uses for vacant retail space in Union Square, San Francisco’s central shopping hub now plagued with boarded-up storefronts.

Mayor Mahan is proposing a similar grant program for downtown San Jose. City officials there are also encouraging commercial-to-residential conversions, though developers say such projects remain a difficult and expensive proposition.

Click here to read the full article at The Mercury News