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

Nordstrom, Saks Off Fifth Announce They Are Leaving San Francisco

The three locations are the latest retail chain stores to leave the city

High-end department stores Nordstrom and Saks Off Fifth became the latest retail stores to vacate San Francisco on Tuesday, with the 3 large locations representing over 500,000 square feet of retail space expected to be completely vacated by the early fall.

For several years, large chains and small businesses alike have been leaving San Francisco, either closing permanently or relocating operations outside the city. In the case of small businesses, some have left the area entirely, moving out of state or to other areas in the state. For the last few years, for example, Walgreens has closed more and more stores in the city due to the massive amount of crime within its stores. Higher-end stores 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.

While crime has been cited as the main reason for many going, high rent costs, a lack of customers coming in due to the concurrent office exodus from the city, the homeless crisis keeping many away from parts of the city, and the overall decline of retail have all played a factor in the high number of businesses leaving. On Tuesday, all of those factors caused both Nordstrom and Saks Off Fifth to leave as well.

Nordstrom will be closing both of their San Francisco locations, one in Westfield Mall and the other, a Nordstrom Rack, in the downtown area. Both will wait until their leases are up, with the downtown Nordstrom rack closing on July 1st and the mall location on August 31st. While the closures could be looked into as part of the overall decline of retail, the company proved this to be false by announcing 5 new locations to be opened up across the state, including 4 ringing the Bay Area.

They also specifically noted the worsening conditions for the stores in the city, stating in an e-mail that “the dynamics of the downtown San Francisco market have changed dramatically over the past several years, impacting customer foot traffic to our stores and our ability to operate successfully.”

The Westfield mall also released a statement about the closure, noting in a statement that “the planned closure underscores the deteriorating situation in Downtown San Francisco. 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. We have expressed serious concerns to city leaders for many years and urged the city to find solutions to the key issues and lack of enforcement against rampant criminal activity.”

Saks, meanwhile, announced that their Saks Off 5th location on Market Street is due to close this fall after more than 8 years in the city. The Saks off 5th, located right by the Nordstrom Rack location, will be the only location closing in the area, with other Saks Off 5th locations in Petaluma, Milpitas, and Livermore remaining open, and the Saks 5th Avenue location in San Francisco also remaining open for now.

“We are committed to offering support and assistance to our team impacted by the closing. Eligible associates will receive appropriate employment separation packages and transfer opportunities will be explored where feasible.”

Nordstrom, Saks Off Fifth to leave city by the Fall

City officials were disappointed by  the decision of the retailers, noting that they were increasing police presence at the locations where the stores are leaving and that other public safety measures had been enacted in recent years. However, the multitude of problems proved to be too much for the companies in the end.

“The City worked with Westfield to approve an office allocation and plan to reduce Nordstrom’s square footage and bring in additional office uses to the property,” said the Mayor’s office. “This plan made it through the Planning Commission but no further steps were taken on this plan,” said the spokesperson. “Westfield then began speaking about other options for redevelopment. The City has been eager to get a concrete plan from them that we could explore, however, they never brought us anything for review.”

However, security and safety experts have pointed out that not enough is still being done, with more businesses likely to leave soon as more leases come up for renewal.

“More big name stores left. This isn’t really a surprise anymore,” explained Bay Area security consultant and former policeman Frank Ma to the Globe on Tuesday. “The city just keeps refusing to do what is needed to be done. Get more officers, increase the number of prosecutions, and give economic incentives for these businesses to stay. Right now they are just not getting any.”

“It’s getting to the point where I am giving security consults to the same locations now. One place I did last week I had also swept through just before COVID in 2020 and then again in 2018. Another place I did at the exact same time in 2022 and 2021. All for new businesses coming in. That’s the turnaround in some places now. And those are the lucky ones, as many retail spaces are empty.”

Office space vacancy alone is around 30% across the city.

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Board This Train at Night, Wake Up in San Francisco

Luxury overnight rail line planned for summer 2024

The last time an overnight train connected Los Angeles and San Francisco was 55 years ago.

A Newport Beach-based startup wants to turn back the clock with its version of a “hotel train.”

The luxury overnight train could soon provide a new way to travel between San Francisco and L.A., if Dreamstar Lines Inc. can get its plans approved by California rail lines.

The idea for the privately run night train would function as an almost railway red-eye, but with comfortable accommodations so people could get a full night’s sleep before waking up at their destination, said Dreamstar Chief Executive Jake Vollebregt. If the small company’s plan moves forward, he said the new trains could be running by the summer of 2024.

“I think it would represent a renewal of rail,” Vollebregt said. “For those travelers who have had enough of the security checks and the waiting and the delays [on airlines], we’ll be appealing to them.”

Dreamstar hopes to tap into just a small portion of the massive market for travel between two of California’s largest cities.

Travel between L.A. and San Francisco has become one of the nation’s busiest flight routes, according to recent statistics from OAG Aviation. More than 250,000 airplane seats a month fly between the two cities, OAG data show; Dreamstar plans to provide private rooms for about 65 people per trip — far less than a commercial flight.

Vollebregt said Dreamstar’s service would be “more like a private jet company than a big airline,” focused on the specialized niche of “upscale, overnight, hotel train service.” Its night trains would travel in each direction, departing around 10 p.m. and arriving the next day around 8 a.m., Vollebregt said.

The five or six sleeping cars would offer three types of private rooms: single roomettes, executive-class double bedrooms or first-class staterooms — the latter two having private bathrooms — and a car for drinks, dessert and continental breakfast, he said. The trains would have multiple stops in both L.A. and San Francisco, startup officials said, and a stop and crew-change point in San Luis Obispo.

One-way tickets would cost about $300, $600 and $1,000, depending on the tier of room, which Vollebregt said is higher than typical airfare, but below other North American sleeper trains.

An overnight passenger train — Southern Pacific’s LARK — ran between the two influential California cities for about two decades beginning in the 1940s, but the service ended in 1968. Amtrak in the 1980s began operating an overnight train from Sacramento to L.A. that stopped in Oakland, but it lasted only two years.

Amtrak currently offers a variety of long-distance travel across California during the day, but none direct from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The Coast Starlight connects L.A. to Oakland and Emeryville, while the San Joaquin route goes from the same Bay Area stops to Bakersfield, but requires a separate bus trip to get to L.A.

“For day trips, travelers have limited options for morning arrivals in either direction or flying up the night before,” Vollebregt said. “Why not a night train so travelers can sleep and wake up at their destination?”

He said the “gold standard” for the concept is based on Japan’s well-run railway system, which he called “very prompt and comfortable and very affordable.” He hopes his team can bring that concept to California, and eventually expand between other metropolitan areas.

But the next step, Vollebregt said, is getting approval and support from necessary stakeholders and railway operators, which includes Union Pacific, which owns most of the Coast Line route the train hopes to use, as well as Metrolink in Southern California and Caltrain closer to San Francisco.

Officials from both Union Pacific and Metrolink confirmed they are in talks with Dreamstar representatives, but neither has reached any type of agreement yet. It wasn’t immediately clear if talks had started with Caltrain.

“The biggest challenge is getting buy-in from the agencies and the private companies that own the lines and the terminals,” Vollebregt said. He is hopeful to begin services in the summer of 2024, but said “it depends on how quickly our partners are willing to move.”

Scott Johnson, a spokesperson for Metrolink, said Dreamstar representatives had recently “presented very high-level plans for the proposed service.”

“More in-depth details and analysis would be needed for the service to move forward,” Johnson said in a statement.

Vollebregt admits there are still a lot of questions about the venture, including how scalable and sustainable it would be as a business, as well as nailing down the physical infrastructure and logistics. But he said Dreamstar has spent years researching the feasibility and is confident in its current plans.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

A look at homicides in SF this year, in light of Cash App founder Bob Lee’s stabbing death

Because this is a high-profile case, the police department is giving Cash App founder Bob Lee’s case a lot of attention. But what about the other homicides this year?

There have been 13 reported homicides in San Francisco so far, according to police records.

The latest one, which has received the most attention, took place on April 4. The victim, Bob Lee, a tech executive. It remains unsolved.

To be fair to the families, we took a closer look at the other 12 cases.

INTERACTIVE: Take a look at the ABC7 Neighborhood Safety Tracker

Gavin Boston, a 40-year-old security guard, was killed on Jan. 4 just outside the Japan Center Mall. Two teenage boys, 14 and 15, were arrested in connection to the killing that came as Boston escorted one of them out of the mall.

Police have been able to solve two other homicide cases this year. One took place in the Excelsior District in January, the other in the Hunters Point neighborhood in February. Two people were arrested for those two separate crimes.

Three more murders occurred in March, but the victims remain unidentified.

Another homicide on April 1 in the Tenderloin also remains open and active.

Judy Solem and Don Carr’s son, Samuel St. Pierre, is not one of the 2023 homicides. The 32-year-old was shot and killed on June 19, 2022 in the Marina District while visiting San Francisco. A surveillance camera captured the suspect’s car yet no one has been arrested. There is a $50,000 reward for any information.

“The car pulled up,” Carr said. “He went over. They had some brief conversation through the driver’s side. He backed up and they shot him twice.”

Between 2000 and 2008, San Francisco investigators had an abysmal record when solving homicides and arresting suspects. But in 2009 and the following years, the clearance rate improved, reaching a high in 2018 of 96 percent. By 2021, the last year this data is available, the solved-case rate was 75 percent.

Why? It may be due to staffing levels.

There were 2,306 sworn officers in 2018, when the clearance rate was so high. In 2021, that number went down to 2,129.

“I’m sure they’re overwhelmed and doing all they can but you put yourself in our shoes. You are never going to think it’s enough until it’s solved, said Carr.

Is San Francisco’s violent crime as “horrific” as tech execs claim? Data shows the City by the Bay has problems like many others across the country. But the statistics don’t support the claims many are putting online. Go here for the full report.

Click here to read the full article at ABC News

Reparations for Black Californians Could Top $800 Billion

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — It could cost California more than $800 billion to compensate Black residents for generations of over-policing, disproportionate incarceration and housing discrimination, economists have told a state panel considering reparations.

The preliminary estimate is more than 2.5 times California’s $300 billion annual budget, and does not include a recommended $1 million per older Black resident for health disparities that have shortened their average life span. Nor does the figure count compensating people for property unjustly taken by the government or devaluing Black businesses, two other harms the task force says the state perpetuated.

Black residents may not receive cash payments anytime soon, if ever, because the state may never adopt the calculations. The reparations task force met Wednesday to discuss the numbers and can vote to adopt the suggestions or come up with its own figures. The proposed calculations and figures come from a consulting team of five economists and policy experts.

“We’ve got to go in with an open mind and come up with some creative ways to deal with this,” said Assembly member Reggie Jones-Sawyer. He’s one of two lawmakers on the task force responsible for mustering support from state legislators and Gov. Gavin Newsom.

In an interview prior to the meeting, Jones-Sawyer said he needed to consult budget analysts and others before deciding whether the scale of payments is feasible.

The estimates aren’t new. They came up in a September presentation as the consulting team sought guidance on whether to calculate damages using a national or California-specific model.

But the task force must now settle on a cash amount as it nears a July 1 deadline to recommend to lawmakers how California can atone for its role in perpetuating racist systems that continue to undermine Black people. The final decision rests with the state government.

For those who support reparations, the staggering $800 billion estimate underscores the long-lasting harm Black Americans have endured, even in a state that never officially endorsed slavery.

Several people who gave public comment Wednesday spoke of the urgent need to pay Black Americans for all that was taken from them.

“My family came from the South because they were running for their lives, they were fearful of being lynched, just for voting,” said Charlton Curry of Sacramento, California, who discusses reparations on his Big C Sports podcast.

“Cash payments are necessary. Money talks,” he said, noting that white people benefited from free U.S. government land through the 1862 Homestead Act, and Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II and Jewish Holocaust victims received reparations.

Critics pin their opposition partly on the fact that California was never a slave state and say current taxpayers should not be responsible for damage linked to events that germinated hundreds of years ago.

Bob Woodson, a prominent Black conservative, calls reparations impractical, controversial and counterproductive.

“No amount of money could ever ‘make right’ the evil of slavery, and it is insulting to suggest that it could,” he said in an email to The Associated Press, adding that Black communities relied on faith and family to build thriving communities following slavery. “Some of these communities only began coming apart after we lost sight of these values, which also hold the key to these communities’ restoration.”

Financial redress is just one part of the package being considered. Other proposals include paying incarcerated inmates market value for their labor, establishing free wellness centers and planting more trees in Black communities, banning cash bail, and adopting a K-12 Black studies curriculum.

Reparations talks are stalled at the federal level, but the idea flourished in California as well as U.S. cities and counties following the death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police. Newsom signed legislation in 2020 creating the reparations task force.

An advisory committee in San Francisco has recommended $5 million payouts, as well as guaranteed income of at least $97,000 and personal debt forgiveness for qualifying individuals. Supervisors expressed general support, but stopped short of endorsing specific proposals. They’ll take up the issue later this year.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday said from Ghana that she and President Joe Biden support a reparations study, but the president has so far sidestepped calls from advocates to create a federal commission.

The statewide estimate includes $246 billion to compensate eligible Black Californians whose neighborhoods were subjected to aggressive policing and prosecution in the “war on drugs” from 1970 to 2020. That would translate to nearly $125,000 for every person who qualifies.

The numbers are approximate, based on modeling and population estimates. The economists also included $569 billion to make up for the discriminatory practice of redlining in housing loans. That would amount to about $223,000 per eligible resident from 1933 to 1977. The $569 billion is considered a maximum and assumes all 2.5 million Californians who identify as Black would be eligible.

But they won’t all be. People must meet residency and other requirements for monetary compensation. They also must be descendants of enslaved and freed Black people in the U.S. as of the 19th century, which leaves out Black immigrants.

Click here to read the full article in AP News

San Francisco Reparations Committee Admits $5 Million Payment Has No Basis

‘The Committee’s credibility sunk to a new low today’

The San Francisco reparations committee announced on Tuesday that the controversial one time payment of $5 million per black resident’ reparations figure proposed in January has not mathematical basis, and is instead based on “what could represent a significant enough investment.”

In the last few years following the George Floyd incident, reparations proposals for African-Americans have popped up across the United States. Statewide, a Reparations Task Force was approved by the Legislature and Governor in the summer of 2020 and has been meeting ever since to create a recommendation on what reparations could be for Californians whose ancestors were slaves in the US before 1865. Last year, the task force limited the reparation proposal to descendants of slaves only instead of all black Californians, called for reparations to be given despite California being a free-state since it’s inception, and estimated that $569 billion is owed to black Californians.

With a looming deadline, the Task Force is struggling on eligibility requirements, compensation calculation, and numerous other issues. May have noted that even if a recommendation is formulated, there will be numerous legislative challenges, legal challenges, and other hurdles that would likely end any future reparations plans.

However, while the Reparations Task Force has been working on a statewide proposal, San Francisco formed their own committee, the San Francisco African American Reparations Advisory Committee. Since being founded in 2020, the Committee has worked on what citywide reparations could possibly look like. As of Wednesday, the Committee currently defines those eligible in the city as being 18 or older, being listed as black or African-American on public documents for at least the past decades, and two or more of the following:

  • Having been born or migrating to the city between 1940 and 1996 as well as showing proof of at least 13 years of residency
  • Having been incarcerated due to the war on drugs or being the direct descendant of someone who was
  • Being a descendant of someone who was enslaved before 1865
  • Having been displaced between 1954 and 1973 or being a descendant of someone who did
  • Being part of a marginalized group who experienced lending discrimination in the city between 1937 and 1968 or in formerly redlined communities within the city between 1968 and 2008

While housing funds, job creation, and other benefits have been discussed as reparations within the city, the Committee recommended a controversial one-time $5 million payment per qualified black resident in January. The figure generated widespread criticism in San Francisco and across the country, with the Committee defending the figure by saying that the payment “would compensate the affected population for the decades of harms that they have experienced and will redress the economic and opportunity losses that black San Franciscans have endured, collectively, as the result of both intentional decisions and unintended harms perpetuated by City policy.”

Opponents pressed Committee members on how the figure was formulated and on what metrics they were using. Many compared it to the state plan and how open they were being with their process.

“The Task Force’s initial ‘$569 billion’ figure at least tried to show their work,” said legal adviser Richard Weaver to the Globe on Wednesday. “They based it on the housing wealth gap and how much black residents lost in the past due to different polices. Flawed? Very much so. Passable in the Legislature? Not with California’s budget. Laughable? Yes. But they at least showed how they came up with it.  They showed their work.”

“San Francisco on the other hand has been shady. It’s good that they nailed down who exactly would be eligible in the proposal, but they never said how they arrived at that $5 million figure. It always seemed like too round a figure.”

“There wasn’t a math formula”

The figure was immediately lambasted, with local lawmakers explaining that the city did not have the money for such a reparations plan and would have to severely cut into city services or raise taxes to make it happen. However, the estimated figure remained. After weeks of demands by city residents, Committee Chairman Eric McDonnell finally revealed how the figure was calculated on Tuesday. According to McDonnell, it wasn’t.

“There wasn’t a math formula,” said McDonnell in a Washington Post interview. “It was a journey for the committee towards what could represent a significant enough investment in families to put them on this path to economic well-being, growth and vitality that chattel slavery and all the policies that flowed from it destroyed.”

The remark brought considerable outrage on Tuesday and Wednesday. While committee members attempted to defend it, saying that a price tag couldn’t be put on the horrors of slavery and discrimination, many simply noted that there was no justification behind the figure and failed  to even try to give a basic estimate overview.

“This is just a bunch of like-minded people who got in the room and came up with a number,” said San Francisco Republican Party Chairman John Dennis. “You’ll notice in that report, there was no justification for the number, no analysis provided. This was an opportunity to do some serious work and they blew it.”

Others noted on Wednesday that support for reparations in the city has begun to evaporate even more as a result.

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe