Just how awful is San Francisco? Conservatives routinely deride the city for its politics, and especially for its most prominent elected official, Nancy Pelosi. However, a new report from the local NBC affiliate underscores how objectively awful the city has become. In the words of one expert who consulted on the city’s maintenance, its core areas rank worse in terms of public health than in third-world cities:
How dirty is San Francisco? An NBC Bay Area Investigation reveals a dangerous mix of drug needles, garbage, and feces throughout downtown San Francisco. The Investigative Unit surveyed 153 blocks of the city – the more than 20-mile stretch includes popular tourist spots like Union Square and major hotel chains. The area – bordered by Van Ness Avenue, Market Street, Post Street and Grant Avenue – is also home to City Hall, schools, playgrounds, and a police station. …
The Investigate [sic] Unit spent three days assessing conditions on the streets of downtown San Francisco and discovered trash on each of the 153 blocks surveyed. While some streets were littered with items as small as a candy wrapper, the vast majority of trash found included large heaps of garbage, food, and discarded junk. The investigation also found 100 drug needles and more than 300 piles of feces throughout downtown.
That’s not dog feces, either. It’s human feces, and as bad as it is when it’s fresh, it’s much more dangerous when it dries out. It becomes aerosolized, and that can spread disease simply by breathing near it:
“If you do get stuck with these disposed needles you can get HIV, Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B, and a variety of other viral diseases,” said Dr. Lee Riley, an infectious disease expert at University of California, Berkeley. He warned that once fecal matter dries, it can become airborne, releasing potentially dangerous viruses, such as the rotavirus. “If you happen to inhale that, it can also go into your intestine,” he said. The results can prove fatal, especially in children.
The city now spends $30 million a year trying to clean this area of the city. What’s in this area? According to NBC, it encompasses most of the highlights of San Francisco — the reason why people come to the city in the first place. Over the last few decades, it’s descended in status to a very large outhouse.
So how did it get so bad? NBC and local officials blame the policies dealing with the homeless. The city has focused so much on finding permanent solutions that they haven’t provided temporary shelters to deal with the acute issues:
“The contamination is … much greater than communities in Brazil or Kenya or India,” he said. He notes that in those countries, slum dwellings are often long-term homes for families and so there is an attempt to make the surroundings more livable. Homeless communities in San Francisco, however, are often kicked out from one part of town and forced to relocate to another. The result is extreme contamination, according to Riley.
“Unacceptable. Absolutely unacceptable,” said Supervisor Hillary Ronen. “We’re losing tourists. We’re losing conventions in San Francisco. All of this is happening because we aren’t addressing the root cause, which is we need more temporary beds for street homelessness.”
Ronen believes San Francisco has been too focused on permanent housing for the homeless and that the city has neglected to provide enough temporary shelter, which can provide the homeless a respite from the streets. The city currently has about 2,000 temporary beds. Ronen, however, believes an additional 1,000 are needed, at a cost of about $25 million.
So all of this would be solved with just another 1,000 beds? That seems like a reach, considering the endemic problems uncovered by the NBC affiliate, but let’s take that at face value. Who runs San Francisco, and why wouldn’t they spend $25 million to build enough capacity to keep the streets clean? And why, as NBC notes, will it take “several years” to put together enough capacity to add 1,000 beds in shelters for the homeless even if they can come up with the money?
It’s fair to point out, as conservatives will, that San Francisco has been run by Democrats for decades — but it’s also too glib. Democrats have run most of the core urban areas for decades, and they have much to answer for in their mismanagement, but this example stands far out from the pack. Other cities have issues with homelessness too, but none of them have descended into third-world status.
It’s also worth pointing out that the leading contender for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in California is Gavin Newsom. He’s currently lieutenant governor but before that was mayor of San Francisco for seven years, ending in 2011. Did this only become a problem when the late Ed Lee succeeded Newsom, or has this festered for years under malign neglect? San Francisco voters should demand action and answers for the shameful state of the city, but voters throughout California should be asking lots of questions about Newsom’s performance and why the state has not stepped in under the leadership of Jerry Brown and Newsom to deal with a clear public health hazard in the City By the Bay.