A little over 9 percent of San Franciscans voted for Donald Trump. I wasn’t one of them, but I understand why people did. It was their way of sending a message to Washington, loud and clear: Strip it down, smarten up, stop wasting our money, and get your priorities straight. Whether Trump is up for the challenge of changing Washington’s ways is another story. Many campaign promises have seemingly fallen by the wayside: Locking up Hillary Clinton; building a wall on Mexico’s dime; “forcing” companies to do all their manufacturing in America. His battle cry of “drain the swamp” also rings hollow as he fills his cabinet with former Goldman Sachs executives and smarmy career politicians. Perhaps he meant, “drain the swamp and rescue the swamp animals.” He will be the first president without a dog in the White House, after all.
Still, voters sent a strong message to Washington by electing Trump, and it’s the same message San Franciscans sent in the November 2016 election by turning down every measure that would have added more bureaucracy to a city already so bloated it’s sinking faster than the Millennium Tower. The fact that voters rejected oversight for Mayor Ed Lee’s administration was in no way an endorsement of the job he’s doing — Lee is arguably the least popular mayor in San Francisco’s history — nor was it necessarily a rejection of the more progressive side of the Board of Supervisors. It was a collective message to everyone at City Hall: Strip it down, smarten up, stop wasting our money, and get your priorities straight.
A resounding 65 percent of San Franciscans said no to Measure K, which would have increased the city sales tax by 0.75 percent to raise $50 million for homeless services and $100 million for transportation annually. Evidently politicians thought the residents of an iconic city now almost as famous for homeless encampments as the Golden Gate Bridge wanted to throw more money at the problem. Ditto for the aging, notoriously unreliable transportation system. Boy, were the politicians off. What San Franciscans want is for city leaders to fix things with the money they have. Currently, that’s a whopping $9.6 billion, yet despite having a budget bigger than some small countries, San Francisco is expected to face a $119 million deficit for fiscal 2017-18. In five years that will balloon to $848 million, thanks to skyrocketing pension costs and several massive infrastructure projects.
The ever out of touch Mayor Lee actually counted on that sales tax hike passing — in fact, the $9.6 billion budget passed in July assumed it would. The financial “shortfall” has caused Lee to scale back on some of his grand plans to tackle homelessness. Apparently the $241 million we’re spending now is not enough (that’s $84 million more than when Lee took office in 2011). As for Muni, its budget will soon top $1 billion. Those huge numbers make for a very angry constituency as they dodge “LeeVille” shantytowns and step over feces while dashing to catch an overcrowded bus that’s inevitably broken down or running behind. No, San Franciscans aren’t in any mood to give City Hall more money when the quality of life in San Francisco, one of the richest cities in the world, is frankly pretty dismal.
On a recent visit to the Bryant Street U-Haul, I witnessed several homeless kids shooting up in broad daylight in front of tents that stretched as far as the eye could see. In my more than two decades living in San Francisco I’ve never seen such a mess, and I’m not alone. According to a report by the city controller’s office, calls to 311 about used syringes discarded on the streets are up 41 percent since the last fiscal year. In District 2 they surged 73 percent and in District 3 they’re up 33 percent. Reports of feces have increased citywide by 39 percent, with District 2 and District 3 seeing increases of 43 percent and 68 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, the Board of Supervisors seems more interested in making City College free to everyone and keeping San Francisco’s sanctuary city status intact after president-elect Trump vowed to deport undocumented immigrants who have criminal records. Trump also promised to strip all federal funding from sanctuary cities, which could mean a loss of $1 billion a year for San Francisco.
Termed-out supervisor David Campos, who came from Guatemala to the United States illegally with his parents as a child, wants $5 million for legal representation of undocumented immigrants facing deportation — I assume that includes the ones with criminal records. Campos would like to hand $2.6 million to the public defender’s office to hire 10 attorneys, 5 paralegals, and 2 legal clerks. Another $2 million would go to community legal groups for 13 attorneys and 6 education and outreach staff and to provide for office space and “administration costs.” The remaining $400,000 would pay for a hotline and provide emergency legal representation in cases resulting from immigration raids. But with the projected rising deficits and the failure of the tax increase ballot measure, the potential loss of $1 billion in federal funds could be catastrophic.
Even in a liberal city like San Francisco, I can’t be the only one who thinks this is nuts. As Campos left City Hall still passionately ranting about help for undocumented immigrants, it dawned on me that I’ve never heard him — or anyone else, for that matter — passionately ranting about help for homeless veterans. It seems to me that any spare millions should go to help those who fought for our country before those who broke the law to get here. Those who broke the law to get here and then committed violent crimes should be booted back to wherever they came from. But that’s just me. Definitely not the mayor, who announced he would fund only half the new homeless services he budgeted for with those now nonexistent sales tax proceeds while granting Campos his wish of providing millions for the legal defense of undocumented immigrants.
Over the past few years, I’ve noticed the letters I get from readers taking a decidedly distressed and negative tone. They write about the homeless, about the neighborhoods they love being littered with needles, feces, and potholes; the crumbling public school system, the congestion from traffic and construction, and the crime. Recently, a Marina resident detailed his frustration with the epidemic of vehicle break-ins. “Our cars have been broken into 23 times as a resident of SF,” he wrote, “17 of those 23 break-ins have occurred since July 2013 in a four-block radius of our home.” He addressed the letter to SFPD, Mayor Ed Lee, and the Board of Supervisors. Are you listening, civil servants? San Francisco’s neighborhoods are falling apart at the seams. Time to strip it down, smarten up, stop wasting our money, and get your priorities straight. Number one should be cleaning up this city, and that means putting all your energy into dealing with the homeless crisis. And is it really worth losing $1 billion in federal funding to make a point from your high horse? Just remember, he who gets on the high horse has a long way to fall.