My last three columns garnered correspondence from residents all over the city. From a formerly homeless man who wrote the most touching letter I’ve received on the topic, to insiders at DPW who offered even more evidence of their director’s incompetence, here’s a sampling of those emails and handwritten notes — and some updates on the topics.
“Lawmakers still largely ignoring Uber and Lyft traffic nightmare,” March 2019
Many of you agreed it was shocking that San Francisco allowed, as one reader called them, “illegal taxi scabs” to skirt laws, avoid regulations, and flood the streets with vehicles. Last month, a study by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority confirmed the traffic nightmare, finding that rideshares accounted for two-thirds of a 62 percent increase in congestion in San Francisco over the past six years. A few of you questioned whether Uber and Lyft were being blamed unfairly (“What about all the construction and increased population?”), but the study says without Uber and Lyft their models estimate traffic congestion would have increased by just 22 percent. Other eye-popping numbers include how many of the 50,000 drivers in San Francisco commute from other places (70 percent) and the fact they spend up to 30 percent of their days in empty cars searching for passengers.
Thus far, San Francisco officials have shown zero interest in limiting the number of rideshare vehicles as New York has done (which would involve taking regulatory control from the California Public Utilities Commission), instead settling on a small “net fare tax” (which, of course, Uber and Lyft will pass on to riders). Mayor London Breed said the tax would “mitigate congestion, fund public transportation and create safe streets for all,” but why add money for public transit when, as the study points out, between 43 and 61 percent of Uber and Lyft trips substitute for transit (and walking and biking) or wouldn’t have been made at all in the absence of rideshares? And how will a tax mitigate traffic or make the streets safer if 50,000 drivers still circle the city like sharks in chum-infested waters, committing the majority of traffic violations during millions of trips? The tax also doesn’t address how little drivers make after paying Uber and Lyft their cuts and covering expenses for their vehicles ($10 an hour or less), or the fact many of them put in 15 to 16 hour days and sleep in their cars, meaning they’re drowsy while driving in a city most are unfamiliar with in the first place.
“It’s time for Mayor Breed to sweep DPW boss to the curb,” April 2019
While many readers couldn’t understand why Mohammed Nuru, director of the Department of Public Works, hasn’t been fired, one lengthy, handwritten, anonymous letter, obviously from inside the agency, mentioned another more personal reason — “He dated London Breed” (several other DPW sources also said they were aware of this, and one even hinted it may not be a thing of the past). The letter also mentioned other messy Nuru scandals — from “creating the Fix It Department for current girlfriend Sandra Zuniga” after she didn’t get a managerial position within DPW, to hiring Jonathan Gumwalk, who “took the fall for him at SLUG,” and Nuru’s current attempts to “promote him to a higher position” (multiple DPW sources corroborated these allegations as well).
I also heard from veteran DPW truck drivers Pete Whitcomb and James Long, who blew the whistle on Nuru for safety violations as far back as 2014, including failure to properly secure loads when transporting garbage across town to the dump. After a report last February by the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit in which Nuru claimed he was unaware the practice was illegal (it actually violates state law), workplace safety watchdog Cal/OSHA launched its own investigation. But Whitcomb says nothing has changed, even showing me photographs and videos of overloaded vehicles (in one, a San Francisco police officer actually helps DPW workers pile more trash onto an already teeming truck). At the time of this writing, Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee had scheduled a public hearing for May 23, where he planned to question Nuru, saying he was especially concerned that Nuru was unaware of state laws governing his vehicles.
“Real reason to stop navigation centers: They don’t work.” May 2019
Last month’s column on the abysmal 14 percent success rate of navigation centers in finding permanent housing for the homeless generated the most letters, and not one supported the Coalition on Homelessness, a group of media savvy “advocates” led by Jennifer Friedenbach who wield far too much power over city officials. That didn’t stop the Coalition from accusing me of being a “homeless hater” and setting up a Twitter account called “The Real SF Marina” asking members to post their positive homeless stories and photos (there were five followers at last count, and not one actually lived in the neighborhood).
The most touching letter I received came from a man who, after a series of devastating financial and personal events, became homeless in San Francisco. “There is such a thing as a Homeless Industrial Complex, a series of institutions which I think stand to gain from and live off the homeless demographic,” he wrote. “The system lacks accountability, key performance indicators, the right mindset, and a completely different vision. It creates a dark and extreme codependence that weakens the character of people. I can recall maybe 4 or 5 homeless friends who did not need to die, but did because the system failed them.”
A preliminary summary of January’s one-night street count released last month showed that, despite spending millions of dollars and creating hundreds of new shelters beds, San Francisco’s homeless population has increased 17 percent since 2017. “I’m really disappointed in these numbers . . . I can make no excuses. These numbers are bad, and we have to own that,” said Jeff Kositsky, director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. I’ve been calling for Kositsky’s dismissal for some time now, but Breed continues to stick by him. “We’ve helped 1,200 people out of homelessness since I came into office. We have made progress,” the always-campaigning Breed said. I’m no math genius, but if, as the city’s own data suggests, “for every one person who exits homelessness three fall into it,” and the overall numbers have increased by 17 percent, I wouldn’t call that progress.
If San Francisco is serious about solving its homeless crisis, its leaders need to think outside the box, or the city — or the state. This month I’ll be visiting Community First Village near Austin, Tex., where I will take a tour and interview founder Alan Graham. Community First is a 51-acre master planned development that provides affordable, permanent housing for chronically homeless men and women. They house 40 percent of Austin’s homeless population, and have an 86 percent success rate. I’ll report on my experience at Community First in the July issue.
Thanks for reading and for your intelligent, passionate letters. I appreciate every single one, regardless whether you agree with me.
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