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My 2019 wish list for a cleaner, safer, saner San Francisco

For more than half a decade, I’ve written about the problems plaguing San Francisco. Once considered the Bay Area’s urban jewel, San Francisco now attracts media outlets like The New York Times, CNN, and the BBC, their reporters led by frustrated video vigilantes on tours of streets lined with human waste, used needles, passed out meth zombies, and million dollar homes. Sadly, many of my predictions proved prescient. I said coddling the homeless wouldn’t work (it hasn’t), Lyft and Uber would create more traffic than they helped (they have), and London Breed — though refreshing and charismatic — wasn’t the right person to lead the city during such challenging times (she isn’t). As we head into 2019, I’ve done some wishful thinking on how San Francisco can turn itself around, and maybe (just maybe) reclaim some of its former glory.


One of my broken records has been the lack of a universal tracking system for the homeless, something many other “less techie” cities implemented long ago. For example, Salt Lake City, Utah, by recording every time a person receives services, reduced chronic homelessness by 91 percent in a single decade.

Finally, San Francisco has ONE (Online Navigation and Entry System), which will track the health, housing, jail time, and counseling history of every homeless individual (the old method spanned multiple databases across multiple agencies, none of which communicated, allowing people to easily fall through the cracks). Once a person registers at a shelter or walk-in center and answers a series of questions, outreach workers can log in to an app and view data in real time.

While this is a great leap forward, the city still lacks two huge components to truly solve the homeless crisis: an audit of all city agencies and nonprofits that receive money as part of the multimillion-dollar Homeless Industrial Complex (District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani is spearheading that effort), and a crackdown on the sale and public use of drugs like heroin and meth. As the city holds itself accountable, it needs to also hold individuals accountable for criminal behavior. Currently, the police arrest dealers only to have judges quickly release them. With no fear of consequences, they’re back on the same corner the next day. It’s time to hold judges accountable, too.


In November 2017, I wrote a column advocating for a limit on ride-hail vehicles via digital versions of taxi medallions, noting that almost every car I see has a sticker for Lyft, Uber, or both, and that traffic was out of control. One year later, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority released a study that found traffic congestion in the city has indeed worsened from 2010 to 2016, and attributed half the slowdown to the rise of ride-hails. In August of 2018, New York City became the nation’s first city to halt new vehicle licenses for ride-hail services and cap the number of current for-hire vehicles (they also plan to set a minimum pay rate for drivers).

Back in Sacramento, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which regulates Uber and Lyft, remains silent, while policy wonk Senator Scott Wiener tweets that rogue scooter startups like Lime and Bird are the best way to cut down on car congestion (tell that to your grandmother). In fact, none of California’s legislators has said a peep about the havoc Lyft and Uber are reeking on San Francisco traffic. Meanwhile, both companies are headed for Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) in 2019, where bankers say Uber could be worth as much as $120 billion (despite slowing growth in the third quarter and a $1.1 billion loss on revenue of $2.95 billion. I smell dotcom bomb 2.0 coming, but that’s a whole other column). The pressure to make money as a public company is only going to force more ride-hail vehicles onto San Francisco streets. The city needs to stop kowtowing to Lyft, Uber, and the CPUC and implement digital medallions before those IPOs create an even bigger traffic nightmare.


When Mayor London Breed took office, she promised a cleaner city in 90 days, and recently she told the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit that she fulfilled her promise. In November, the unit revisited 20 of the dirtiest blocks from their original January 2018 survey and found that the number of needles did decrease by 39 percent; however, the amount of human feces increased by 67 percent. Also, 311 data reflects a rise in complaints concerning trash, human waste, and used syringes in Breed’s first three months as mayor. My recommendation: It’s time to fire Mohammed Nuru, who has served as director of San Francisco Public Works since the late Mayor Ed Lee appointed him in 2011 (prior to that he spent 11 years as the deputy director). Nuru oversees more than 1,200 people (including the new “poop patrol”) and a $223 million annual operating budget to keep the city clean. His Twitter handle, @MrCleanSF, shows Nuru is either delusional or the most arrogant person holding office in San Francisco (and that’s a long list). Nuru should change his Twitter handle to @MrFilthSF — and Breed should make her first big move as mayor by kicking him to the curb.


In June 2005, Napolean Brown, brother of Mayor London Breed, pushed 25-year-old Lenties White from a getaway car on the Golden Gate Bridge after the armed robbery of Johnny Rockets on Chestnut Street, causing her to be struck and killed by an oncoming vehicle. Breed admits she testified as an alibi witness for her brother, telling investigators he was asleep on their grandmother’s couch the night of the crimes. Brown was convicted of manslaughter, robbery, and other charges and sentenced to 42 years. He later received two years’ extra time for heroin possession while incarcerated. Brown, who now expresses remorse, has served less than half his sentence. Recently Breed wrote a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown asking for her brother’s release, blaming his criminal past on a rough childhood. The victim’s family, needless to say, is incensed.

The bottom line: plenty of people have rough childhoods and don’t commit heinous criminal acts. If Mayor Breed thinks her brother deserves leniency, how can we trust her to get tough on other drugs users and dealers? With San Francisco at an unprecedented breaking point — in large part because of drugs — this blunder displays a level of tone deafness that calls her judgment and her ability to lead into question.

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