The Corner


San Francisco, Cont.

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge (Robert Galbraith/Reuters)

My Impromptus column today is headed “How populists talk, &c.” The Louisiana senator John Kennedy delivered a spectacular example of populist rhetoric. It would have made Huey Long, the Kingfish, blush (or beam). My column also touches on Tom Brady, Dolly Parton, Shirley Jones, and other greats.

Among them, William F. Buckley Jr.

Speaking of NR past, a reader writes,

Remember the late, great William A. Rusher? Of course you do. [WAR was for many years the publisher of this magazine.] He retired to San Francisco, which was a major surprise to many of us conservatives, for some of the reasons you identify. I can’t exactly remember his response, but it was something like: It’s a great city, and if you don’t like where I live, that’s too bad for you.

The reader was responding to my Impromptus of Wednesday, which leads with California, and with San Francisco, in particular. I was penning a lament, really. It was half ode, half cry of despair.

I’d like to publish a long letter, very informative, very interesting. Thanks to all who have written, and read.

Dear Jay,

I appreciated your article today. I don’t know how many readers you have in San Francisco, or the last time you visited, so I thought you might be interested in some on-the-ground perspective.

My wife and I have lived in the City for 21 years (we are originally from the East Coast). One peculiarity of being here is the fascination that the rest of the country has with the conditions of the place — I have for years regularly received inquiries from family members and friends about reports in the media that the City is falling apart. As you might expect, the reality is more complex.

I have always regarded San Francisco as reasonably well run: The services I expect to get from a municipal government are generally effective; the people who run big operations like the airport and the Public Utilities Commission are professional and competent; the infrastructure (with a few glaring exceptions) is in good shape. The Presidio, the Marin Headlands, Golden Gate Park — all likely as you remember them, if not better (and absolutely vital during the lockdowns).

The current mayor, London Breed, is unquestionably liberal, but like her predecessors, including Gavin Newsom, she is quite practical about what it takes to run the City (and consequently is regarded with suspicion by progressives). Day-to-day existence is not a struggle against dystopia. I rarely encounter homeless people, and I don’t have to step over hypodermics or human excrement, nor do I fear for my safety. I am generally unconcerned that my daughter, a senior at a Catholic high school, frequently moves around the City on her own. Of course, there are neighborhoods where conditions are far worse — whole blocks where the sidewalks are lined with tents. I don’t mean to imply that we don’t have some appalling problems. The urban ills seem more pronounced, I think, because of the city’s compact geography.

But: 25 years of economic prosperity and an influx of new, often affluent residents have allowed San Francisco to indulge itself, and now the cracks are showing. Progressives have long dominated the Board of Supervisors, various commissions, and the school board; and now the DA’s office and the criminal-justice infrastructure. Correlation is not causation, and it is not clear how many of the things that grab the headlines — the rising rates of theft, or the number of people living on the streets — directly result from progressive policy prescriptions. But it is evident that these people are fantastically unsuited to the task of governing.

My observation is that they respond to two things — the loudest progressive voices, regardless of the degree of irrationality; and the wants of the public employees’ unions that help get them elected. Consequently, we get initiatives that are often as incoherent as they are ineffective, and virtue signaling rather than genuine efforts to solve problems. We cannot address the shortage of housing, or the persistence of homelessness, or the fact that in 2020 the number of people in the City who died of drug overdoses was over three times the number who died of COVID. But the Board of Supervisors recently found time to condemn Mark Zuckerberg’s 2015 donation of $75 million to the City’s general hospital (without offering to return the donation), to approve a ban on natural-gas hookups in future home construction (a climate indulgence), and to vote to dip into the City’s reserves to award raises to City employees (despite a massive looming budget deficit).

Let me interrupt the letter in order to ask, “What about that Zuckerberg thing?” Here is a news article, for those interested: “San Francisco board rebukes naming hospital for Facebook CEO.”

Anyway, our reader continues,

As you noted in your article, the school board is wallowing in wokeness even as schools remain closed with no plan for opening — a reminder of why San Francisco has long had a rate of private-school attendance that is among the highest in the nation. Meanwhile, during each election cycle we’re asked to vote on additional taxes — which we keep approving, even with no apparent enhancement in the services for which we are paying.

If there is a limit, it may be determined by the fact that the goose that has laid the golden eggs may have finally had enough. Much has been made of the exodus of tech companies that no longer see the need to put up with the taxes, the challenging business environment, and progressive contempt; and the flight of middle-class and even moderately affluent families is an old story. How much of this is just hype won’t be known for some time, at least until after the pandemic ends. Perhaps it is overly optimistic to believe that these trends (and the accompanying drop in tax revenues) may finally get the attention of the political class.

Thanks for your work!

And for yours.


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