More & more empty storefronts. Everywhere!” One Marina Times reader added that note when sending us a response to our quality of life survey (“Speak up, Northside,” June 2019). In fact, quite a few of the people who mailed us their hard copies of the survey appended notes and comments and even full letters. The message came through quite clearly: San Franciscans care about their city — both in its current condition and what it becomes tomorrow — and there is widespread dissatisfaction with the state of the city.
The Marina Times quality of life survey came about as a way to capture actual feedback from residents about the city. We wanted to go beyond what politicians are saying you think, what marketers are telling you to think, and what the occasional anecdote suggests you think. The survey, conducted in June, asked about a wide variety of issues to find out which were serious concerns of residents. We also asked about the city’s elected officials and agencies responsible for addressing problems, and the level of confidence in the city to get the job done. Responses came in via traditional mail, email, and our website. We received responses from across the city, but most of the submissions were from residents of Districts 2 and 3. Though the top concerns of our readers will not shock anyone, there were some surprises along the way in other categories.
We asked people to rank nine different issues on a scale of 1–5, indicating which was a top concern to them (1) all the way down to being of little concern (5). The three issues with the lowest score, thus representing the biggest problems, are homelessness (with an average rank of 1.73), public safety (1.85), and street/sidewalk cleanliness (1.89). Those three issues are also closely related to the overall quality of life that has attracted so much negative attention to the city in recent years. As one reader wrote, “The number of mentally ill is out of control.” At its core, despite your feelings about other things (such as cost of living or the state of the economy), when you walk down the street to go to the store or work or the park, are you constantly coming across these symptoms of what seem to be a failing system?
Readers also indicated that the health of businesses was a fairly high concern, with an average rating of 2.01, followed by property crime (which might surprise some with its 2.17 rating), and the ever-hot water-cooler topic the cost of housing (2.19). Even further down the list were transportation (2.38), specifically public transportation (2.43), and, finally, public schools (2.56).
Crime and cleanliness are not just topics of discussion for San Franciscans and their out-of-town guests; the state of San Francisco’s streets is a national topic — even a political weapon wielded by critics of local politicians. Earlier this year, while locked in a government shutdown battle with congressional Democrats, President Donald Trump tweeted that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was irrational and a “Radical Democrat” who is “so petrified of the ‘lefties’ in her party that she has lost control…And by the way, clean up the streets in San Francisco, they are disgusting!”
That naturally led a number of commentators to point out that the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives is not responsible for street maintenance in San Francisco or any other city. So we asked readers who is responsible and how they would rate that person’s performance.
The San Francisco Department of Public Works came in for some knocks about the disruption caused by the large number of street construction projects across the city. With all of the street repairs and upgrades going on, one reader couldn’t help expressing frustration over the sorry state of so many areas: “We should file a class action lawsuit against the city for all the potholes. Between Bay and Union there are 40 potholes on Laguna.” Another complained about “no follow-up even when reported (2 yrs ago).” Still another: “Get rid of Uber and Lyft. They clog the streets.”
But those comments aside, readers ranked DPW roughly in the middle between bad and good, not too far from others we asked them to rank.
If you read social media commentary and catch the occasional complaint from a friend, you might conclude that San Francisco is deeply politically polarized. A couple comments from survey respondents support that. One person wrote both that “Aaron Peskin is the BEST” and that Mayor London Breed is a “Greedy B—- worrying about her own pocketbook”; meanwhile, another opined that “The screaming liberals are killing our fair city!”
But when we asked people to rank the mayor, despite a few outliers indicated by the above comments, Breed was ranked as basically O.K. — in other words, she earned an average rating of 2.56 on a scale of 1–5, with 1 being bad and 5 being good. Similarly, people ranked their own supervisor somewhat middling as well at 2.77 (and, again, most of those were ranking District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani or District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin).
In that same section, we also asked for your ratings for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) and how well City Hall is functioning; just like the ratings for the mayor, supervisors, and DPW, they came in roughly in the middle with SFMTA rating 2.53 and City Hall getting 2.48.
Those are not the scores one would expect if they were being blamed for the city’s major problems. A look at our last category suggests how Northsiders really feel about this.
MONEY AND A PLAN
To try to get beyond personal feelings toward certain politicians or public talking points, we also asked about residents’ attitudes toward the city’s ability and will to solve problems. Again on a 1–5 scale, with 1 being negative and 5 being positive, we asked whether San Francisco has the leadership needed to solve the identified problems (readers gave it an average response of 2.0), whether leaders have a plan to do so (2.31), whether people are optimistic about the future (2.66), and whether the city has the funding necessary to solve the problems (3.78).
Those responses point toward some doubt about the ability of the city’s leadership to address issues, despite those earlier O.K. rankings for political leaders. But that final number stands out: Northsiders are saying that the city has the financial resources to deal with its problems; it’s not a matter of money or taxes or fees, it’s a matter of political will.
Many of the comments people added to their surveys demonstrated that no matter how they felt about various issues, individuals, and agencies, they care about the city and want it to solve its problems.
Thanks to everyone who participated in our first quality of life survey. We will track these issues throughout the year, and we will also ask you for ongoing feedback so that we may share it with city leaders and other residents of San Francisco.
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