By Doug Wyllie
Standing at a distance—and not even a particularly great distance at that—an objective outside observer might surmise that the political “powers that be” in San Francisco are intentionally trying to drive their city and its citizens off the edge of a tall cliff.
San Francisco’s current descent into the abyss began nearly three decades ago—during the time when now-Governor Gavin Newsom was mayor—but things began getting really, really bad in 2019. That’s when Chesa Boudin—backed by liberal-billionaire-mega-donor George Soros—won election to the office of District Attorney.
With Boudin in the prosecutor’s office came wholesale, systemic, permissiveness of rampant quality-of-life crimes—”little things” like defecation, fornication, and habitation in public spaces—which in turn coincided with (if not directly led to) dramatic increases in more serious crimes like burglary, robbery, and violent assault.
According to the New York Post, murders were up more than 36% in both 2021 and 2022 over 2019.
According to Fox News, assault, larceny, robbery, and vehicle thefts were all up from 2020 to 2022.
According to anyone with eyes, the volume of litter, discarded needles, human waste, general disarray, and unbridled mayhem on the streets is up immeasurably.
Boudin has since been ousted from office—in a 2022 recall that saw a greater voter turnout than the election that ushered him into office—but his short time in “power” has had long-lasting and potentially permanent ramifications.
Many residents—some with generational roots in the City by the Bay—are frantically selling their homes as real estate values suffer serious depreciation. According to RealEstateAgents.com, median home prices in the San Francisco / Oakland market are dropping faster than any other measured market in the country, and according to Redfin.com, home sale prices declined 8.7% in June 2023 alone.
Unsurprisingly, businesses also are fleeing the city in alarming numbers, taking with them their substantial tax contribution to the city’s coffers. According to data released by CBRE, the vacancy rate for office space in San Francisco hit 31.6% in Q2 2023, up from 29.4% in Q1, which was up from 27.6% in Q4 2022.
The heart of the downtown commercial sector—including Market Street, Union Square, and the Financial District—has seen a massive exodus in recent years. Whole swaths of streets—once-vibrant with unique eateries and retail shops—are now desolate, desperate-looking wastelands.
According to San Francisco Standard, roughly 203 retailers were open for business in the area immediately surrounding Union Square in 2019. By May 2023, only 107—or just over half—remain in business. Major nationwide retailers like Anthropologie, Banana Republic, Nordstrom, Old Navy, and Walgreens, have all closed San Francisco locations. Westfield—which owns the city’s largest shopping mall of more than 70 stores—said it would stop paying its $558 million mortgage and surrender the property to lenders.
San Francisco was once among the best places to dine in the country, but a mounting feeling of unease has kept people from venturing out to the city’s countless top-tier restaurants forcing, some world-famous places have had to shutter their doors.
According to SF Gate, Alioto’s Waterside Café—a Fisherman’s Wharf destination for both tourists and locals—boarded up after 97 years in business. Benkyodo—a legendary confectioner in Japantown—closed this year after 115 years in business. Roosevelt Tamale Parlor—wedged between the Mission and Potrero Hill—closed after more than 100 years in business.
These are all trailing indicators of things gone horribly wrong. One leading indicator that things might get that way is electing to public office people who facilitate such a decline—and San Franciscans have that nailed.
Enter, Brooke Jenkins
Of the 11 members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, not one is a Republican, a Libertarian, or Independent—each is a card-carrying Democrat. So is Mayor London Breed, Treasurer José Cisneros, Sheriff Paul Miyamoto, and of course, Public Defender Manohar Raju.
After Boudin got booted from office in June 2022, Mayor Breed appointed Brooke Jenkins in his stead—she went on to secure the position by popular vote in a special general election several months later.
In her very brief year-plus time in office, Jenkins has made some rather dubious prosecutorial decisions.
According to KPIX-TV News, Jenkins filed charges of misdemeanor battery against a 71-year-old business owner after video of him a spraying homeless person with water from a garden hose went “viral” on the Internet. Interestingly, the “victim” declined to file charges on their own behalf, but Jenkins said “the alleged battery of an unhoused member of our community is completely unacceptable.”
According to KTVU-TV News, Jenkins decided to drop charges against a homeless man wielding a metal pipe who allegedly unleashed a brutal attack on a former fire commissioner in the upscale Marina District. The assault left the 53-year-old man with a fractured skull and broken jaw, but Jenkins chose to charge the pipe-attack victim, saying that the older man had instigated the incident by spraying homeless people in the area with “Bear Repellant” repeatedly over several months.
Most recently, Jenkins dropped charges against two people accused of carjacking and driving the stolen vehicle over a 50-foot cliff in the Castro District—an act akin to stunt car drivers in the final scene in Thelma & Louise.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the pair—identified as 36-year-old Kevin Nelson and 31-year-old Jennifer Bonham—had reportedly carjacked a man’s Lincoln sedan after striking and injuring him with their skateboards. As the owner of the car spoke to police arriving at the scene of the carjacking, it became apparent that the vehicle was the same as the one reported to have launched off an embankment a few blocks away.
A home security camera captured the crash on video, revealing that three female pedestrians had descended and exited a set of stairs less than a minute before the stolen vehicle vaulted over the ledge above and crashed upside-down on the sidewalk.
Get another gander at the photo atop this page. It’s a set of three ‘screen grabs’ from the security camera footage. At left, the three young women are seen casually sauntering into the crosswalk, at center is the car flying through the air, and at right the car sits in a mangled mess.
Those three women escaped great bodily injury by 45 seconds and 15 feet.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the District Attorney’s Office said that charges against Nelson and Bonham—including carjacking, conspiracy, reckless driving, and vehicle theft—were dropped “pending further investigation and witness availability.”
That’s totally incongruous with known facts in the case and defies rational explanation—except for the fact that it perfectly exemplifies and illustrates the broken criminal justice system in San Francisco.
There are plenty of bad—even illegal—things occurring every day in Fog City that probably don’t rise to the level of grand prosecutorial assertiveness. There is only so much time in the day, and only so many people available to do the work of investigating, filing charges, showing up for court, and whatnot.
However, carjacking a vehicle in broad daylight, launching said vehicle down an embankment, and crashing it violently on the sidewalk below is probably not one of those things to “let slide”—pun very much intended.
A City Lost and in Ruin
In the late 19th Century, San Francisco became known as the “Paris of the West.” Around the middle of the 20th Century, columnist Herb Caen called it Baghdad by the Bay. Today, it may as well be called District 4 of Panem.
In her book Music & Politics in San Francisco, college professor and prolific author Leta Miller wrote that after the 1906 earthquake, “the city center was in ruins, the town’s utilities were disabled, its financial institutions dysfunctional, its political infrastructure discredited by graft, its cultural institutions deprived of their homes, and its inhabitants scattered…”
Miller added rather tersely, “San Francisco was in sorry shape indeed.”
Precisely the same can be said of that once-great city some one-hundred-and-twenty-something years later as the voters continue to put individuals into the role of “prosecutor” who are better suited to something entirely different—like perhaps stunt car driving.