Reading list: San Fransicko

A friend, who was forced to abandon his $10 million custom-built house in San Francisco after the wife refused to continue to live in a neighborhood where people injected heroin in their driveway, recommended San Fransicko.

I rejected the recommendation at first because I don’t have any intention of moving to the Bay Area or even visiting. See Working in San Francisco today (2019), in which I quote an understated young colleague:

[the meeting is] inside of WeWork Civic Center on Mission between 7th and 8th wedged between a homeless encampment and emergency heroin detox center. I would recommend picking a hotel in another part of town. … Due to the layout and direction of the one way streets and traffic I’ve found cabs/Uber to work fairly poorly and often take longer than BART. I stopped using cars when junkies started trying to open my door at stop lights.

But the book turns out to be more widely relevant. First, the author proves that a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged:

In the 1990s I had worked on a broader set of progressive causes, including advocating for the decriminalization of drugs and alternatives to prison. But for most of the last two decades my research and writing has focused on the environment. And, in the early summer of 2020, I was busy running my nonprofit research organization and preparing for the release of my book on the topic. It was anarchy of a different sort that motivated me to write San Fransicko. During the pandemic, a growing number of people in floridly psychotic states were screaming obscenities at invisible enemies, or at my colleagues and me, on the sidewalks or in the street, as we went to and from our retail office in downtown Berkeley, near the University of California.

Though I have been a progressive and Democrat all of my adult life, I found myself asking a question that sounded rather conservative. What were we getting for our high taxes? And why, after twenty years of voting for ballot initiatives promising to address drug addiction, mental illness, and homelessness, had all three gotten worse?

Inspect the lamppost before parking your Tesla Model S Plaid:

Complaints about human waste on San Francisco’s sidewalks and streets were rising. Calls about human feces increased from 10,692 to 20,933 between 2014 and 2018. In 2019, the city spent nearly $100 million on street cleaning—four times more than Chicago, which has 3.5 times as many people and an area that is 4.5 times larger. Between 2015 and 2018, San Francisco replaced more than three hundred lampposts corroded by urine after one had collapsed and crushed a car.

(Car and Driver: “trust us, you don’t want to do 200 mph in [the Tesla S Plaid]. Even 162 mph was terrifying, wandering and nervous to the point that we were concerned about our ability to shepherd it between lane lines. The steering doesn’t firm up enough with speed, making the task more difficult. At similar velocities, a Taycan is resolutely stable. Another reason to fear a 200-mph speed is brakes that got soft during our testing.”)

The author points out that Californian taxpayers give “people experiencing homelessness” and “persons with substance use disorder” (CDC preferred terms) everything that is required to survive until death by overdose:

Progressives give homeless people the equipment they need to live on sidewalks. After Occupy Wall Street protests were held in Oakland’s City Center in 2011, protesters gave their tents to the homeless and money to buy more.8 Five years later, a graphic designer in San Francisco purchased and gave away $15,000 worth of camping tents. “Other organizations were giving them out as well,” noted the city’s head of homeless services in 2016, “and now we’ve got 80 encampments.” San Francisco remains significantly more generous in its cash payments to homeless, and other spending to serve them, than other cities. For example, San Francisco’s maximum General Assistance cash welfare monthly benefit for the poor is $588, as compared to $449, $221, and $183 for individuals in San Diego, Los Angeles, and New York City, respectively. While New York City, Chicago, Phoenix, and San Diego spend 3.5, 1.1, 0.9, and 2.5 percent of their budget on homelessness services, San Francisco spends 6 percent. When local, state, and federal funding are accounted for, San Francisco spends $31,985 per homeless person just on housing, not including General Assistance, other cash welfare programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and other services. By contrast, New York City spends $11,662 and Los Angeles spends $5,001.

San Francisco, according to the book, is the nation’s best destination for any would-be “Persons who returned to use” (CDC). The city and its array of homeless industrial-complex non-profit org contractors will supply “Persons who use drugs/people who inject drugs” with clean needles and crack/meth pipes in a location conveniently across the street from an open-air drug market.

For a bunch of rich say-gooders, San Franciscans are awfully stingy:

Mayor Breed said she opposed Proposition C because she feared that spending yet more on homelessness services, without any requirement that people get off the street, would backfire. “We are a magnet for people who are looking for help,” she said. “There are a lot of other cities that are not doing their part, and I find that larger cities end up with more than our fair share.” After San Francisco started offering free hotel rooms to the homeless during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, first responders reported that people had come from across the state. “People are coming from all over the place—Sacramento, Lake County, Bakersfield,” said the city’s fire chief. “We have also heard that people are getting released from jail in other counties and being told to go to San Francisco where you will get a tent and then you will get housing.”

If housing is a human right and health care is a right and clean needles are a right and inequality is bad, why does San Francisco object to caring for the poorest and most addicted of Bakersfield? The San Francisco median household income is 2X what the good citizens (and undocumented!) of Bakersfield enjoy. Californians will cheerfully pay for every American’s abortion. “California plans to be abortion ‘sanctuary’ if Roe v. Wade is overturned”:

With more than two dozen states poised to ban abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court gives them the OK next year, California clinics and their allies in the state Legislature on Wednesday revealed a plan to make the state a “sanctuary” for those seeking reproductive care, including possibly paying for travel, lodging and procedures for people from other states.

Why is it objectionable to pay for housing the nation’s already-born unfortunates?

I’ve long been an advocate that the marginal tax rate should be 100 percent on incomes greater than my own and on wealth greater than my own. It turns out that the unhoused think along the same lines:

Even people who would prefer to live in sober environments say they do not want to quit their addictions. “When we surveyed people in supportive housing in New York,” said University of Pennsylvania homelessness researcher Dennis Culhane, “almost everybody wanted their neighbors to be clean and sober but they didn’t want rules for themselves about being clean.” In 2016, after the city of San Francisco broke up a massive, 350-person homeless encampment, dozens of the homeless refused the city’s offers of help. Of the 150 people moved during a single month of homeless encampment cleanups in 2018, just eight people accepted the city’s offer of shelter. In 2004, just 131 people went into permanent supportive housing after 4,950 contacts made by then-mayor Newsom’s homeless outreach teams.

How about the richest and goodest of the rich say-gooders?

In 2018, a reporter asked Marc Benioff if Prop C would create a magnet effect. “It seems like one of the things that you guys are doing is you’re creating a magnet for people to come to the city and be homeless,” she said, “because it’s not a hostile environment. Everybody has talked about seeing people out on the street openly shooting up.”

“That’s just not true,” said Benioff. “I can tell you that’s clinically not true. Our University of California at San Francisco, we’ve got the clinical studies to show you that when you give homeless people a home, their lifestyle does change.”

According to Benioff, #Science (“clinically”) proves that providing a house is the cure. What is Marc Benioff doing about it, relative to his net worth (estimated by The Google at $10.8 billion)? He could spend $9.8 billion on helping his brothers, sisters, and binary-resisters who are experiencing homelessness and still have “tres commas”. According to the developer that I talked to in Real estate peak near? (cost to buy a crummy old apartment building about the same as to build new), it costs about $130,000 “per door” to build medium-quality apartments. If Benioff spent his way down to “merely three commas” that would work out to 75,000 new apartments and, therefore, assuming a 2BR average size, 150,000 human lives transformed (more than double the entire unhoused population of San Francisco and Los Angeles combined). Where are “The Benioff Towers” in which the nation’s unhoused can be housed in peace and tranquility?

(Separately, it looks as though Mr. Benioff has not been persuaded by the “Black Girls Code” signs that are attached to the buses that circle his $1 billion office tower.

“Salesforce’s equality struggles burst into the public” (Protocol, 2/8/2021):

In a resignation letter posted to LinkedIn earlier this month, Cynthia Perry wrote a searing take-down of the company’s racial equality efforts, specifically the treatment of Black employees, at the massive software provider.

“I am leaving Salesforce because of countless microaggressions and inequity,” she wrote. “I have been gaslit, manipulated, bullied, neglected, and mostly unsupported … the entire time I’ve been here.”

[Salesforce’s] struggles with race and equality aren’t new. For one, its diversity statistics remain abysmal: Just 3.4% of its 49,000 workers identify as Black.

“Salesforce, for me, is not a safe place to come to work. It’s not a place where i can be my full self. It’s not a place where I have been invested in. It’s not a place full of opportunity. It’s not a place of Equality for All. It’s not a place where well-being matters,” she wrote in the letter posted on LinkedIn.

Words must be followed up with action. And if they can’t be, then there should be no words,” she wrote. “There is a really big gap between how Salesforce portrays itself and the lived experience I had working at this company.”

Let’s hope that the above highlighted point is incorrect. Otherwise rich Bay Area residents could be in real trouble!)

What’s the story here in Palm Beach County? The median income is only half of San Francisco’s and there is no income tax, but funds are in ample supply due to property taxes on the mega-rich (soon those $80,000/year property tax payments will be 100% deductible from federal taxes!). The 2008 “Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness in Palm Beach County” says that 1,766 people were homeless in 2007. The 2020 count was 1,510 (of whom 480 were sheltered).

Circling back to the opening sentence, what are the rich people who have continued to live in San Francisco doing? “San Francisco residents are hiring private security to patrol their streets in bid to stay safe, amid crime spike that has left many fearful of going outside during the DAY” reports the Daily Mail. And, indeed, my friend confirmed that this was the path his former neighbors were going down.

More: read San Fransicko.


24 thoughts on “Reading list: San Fransicko

  1. Fortunately just anecdotes & 2nd paw testimonies by news media & politicians, but nothing by the author. You’ll be back. Time will tell. The next economic boom will be here. Generation Z will have to move in to get jobs & they’ll be telling everyone else to move in or else, just like they did in 1999, 2007, & 2014.

    • lion2: I agree with you that crime and disorder in San Francisco won’t affect the Silicon Valley economy. The author points out this disconnection as well. According to him, you don’t have to worry about tent cities and smashed car windows if you live and work in Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Mountain View.

      But, as lucrative as the work opportunities might be in California, I still wouldn’t move to a place where the majority of people agree that marijuana stores are essential while schools are optional. At least not until our kids are done with school and it is time to be stoned 24/7.

  2. San Francisco really pioneered the strategy of “purposefully make the problem you’re trying to solve worse and then claim you need more money to fix it” but other big West Coast cities aren’t far behind.

    It used to be that the SEIU was the big driver of a lot of these policies but over the last 10-15 years the progressive base has shifted largely to activist groups disguised as social services agencies. The next Republican president could have a lot of fun by directing the IRS to categorize these organizations (correctly) as political action committees rather than not-for-profits.

    • In the unlikely case a Republican president is elected, he/she won’t have audacity to make any such change because his electorate as philg remarked in another posting ” have no interest in politics and these remote issues” to their own detriment.

  3. Cathy Perry, Salesforce employee -“I am leaving Salesforce because of countless microaggressions and inequity,” she wrote. “I have been gaslit, manipulated, bullied, neglected, and mostly unsupported … the entire time I’ve been here.”

    Sounds exactly like what I’ve experienced over a 35-year career in half a dozen large American companies, and I’m a Regular White Guy.

    • @RWG: In my misspent yoof, one of my “make some money over the summer” jobs that morphed into more than a year was spent as a floor salesperson in the personal electronics department of a Crazy Eddie electronics store in NJ. It was a good job for someone 16 years old! I was just a kid, so when Eddie Antar absquatulated away to parts unknown (he was later apprehended in Israel) with all the company’s money, and the chain filed for bankruptcy, it was a very sad day. It didn’t ruin my life, though, because I never intended to make selling electronics at Crazy Eddie into a career.

      On the other hand, there were several people at the store – men and women – who had spent a decade or so working their way up into the Management Training program and so forth. Some had attended college (or gone back to school) to bolster their bonafides, gone into debt in order to do that, etc. And they were all left one morning holding the bag, with their careers in ruins. A lot of crying and drinking ensued among the afflicted. I felt terribly for one woman who had just gotten married, was pregnant, and was on track to become an Assistant Manager. She was devastated. There’s nothing new in the world of bad management and criminal ownership, the forms just change and the labels we put on it change.

    • Not all companies do this. I too got caught in this early in my career, but overall I blamed myself for being starry eyed and throwing away my usual good common sense and believing stooges who operated inside corporate shells for not having to put their slimy talk on legal paper.
      What happened to capitalism and ole good working for money?
      Saying that I would never worked for Mr Benioff without making sure that agreed bottom line compensation and nothing more would satisfy me.
      After interviews at Big Tech I sensed that this is old crony state corporatism slime on steroids even if with higher inflated $$$ compensation, from relocation to specific locations to no real business goals set reviews, to compartmentalized compensations buckets assigned for good, wokism being a substitute for old “satisfy boss’s whims and post-lunch feelings”. If you think corporate wokism is an offshoot of it.

  4. Abandoning a $10 million custom built house sound extreme. No way to build a fence or form a home owners association with private security ? Wasn’t it former President Reagan (conservative) who was down on government funding of mental health centers and now there is a lot of homeless and addicts.

    • He would have lost a lot more than $10 million if the wife had filed a lawsuit against him in California Family Court (see ). So the transaction cost to get rid of that house and buy a new one in a state with less civil unrest was actually quite low compared to the alternative. Remember that in a no-fault (“unilateral”) divorce system, “I don’t like the house” is as good as any other reason for suing.

    • The idea that Reagan is responsible is covered by the progressive author.

      And an ACLU expert said, “The Reagan administration slashed the budget for our federal affordable housing programs by eighty percent.” But public spending on housing barely changed under Reagan, going from $41.8 billion to $40.6 billion between 1981 and 1989, in constant 2019 dollars.


      While it is true that, as California’s governor, Reagan oversaw the closure of mental hospitals, he didn’t start deinstitutionalization. It began nationally in the 1930s, mostly to save money.10 The closure of California’s mental hospitals began in earnest in the 1950s, more than a decade before Reagan became governor.11 The emptying of state mental hospitals continued at the same rate between 1959 and 1967 under a Democratic governor as it did under Reagan. By the time Reagan took office in 1967, nearly half of the patients in California’s state mental hospitals had already been released.


      In reality, it was a Democrat who got the deinstitutionalization of psychiatric hospitals rolling. President John F. Kennedy proposed and successfully advocated a crucial 1963 reform that required the federal government to fund community mental health centers but leave it to the states to fund mental hospitals. In 1963 President Kennedy argued that medical advances would enable “most of the mentally ill to be successfully and quickly treated in their own communities and returned to a useful place in society.” The Kennedy White House recommended shifting funding away from mental hospitals to community-based treatment. Experts argued that hospitals were “superfluous” institutions, sites of “therapeutic tyranny,” and “merely a symptom of an outdated system that is crying for a complete remodeling” and that should be “liquidated as rapidly as can be done.”

    • For a couple in residing in a $10 million custom house they would presumably be in a top tier income and net worth bracket. What is the stats for the wealthy divorcing ? Aside from Hollywood. Just the realtor transaction fees on such a house would dwarf a security gate or the formation of a HOA with private security.

    • Paul: Despite the family court being, for at least millions of people, a far simpler way to earn money than W-2 labor (under California’s child support formula, Elizabeth Warren would be a billionaire if she’d had sex with Elon Musk and produced a child, for example), Americans are incurious about what happens there and you won’t find good statistics. “Being rich may increase your odds of divorce” ( ) has some anecdotes.

      Let’s flip the gender IDs and then ask you what you think the probability of a divorce lawsuit is. Joe identifies as a cisgender man. He has a great personality, is super good-looking, age 35, and doesn’t work. Jane identifies as a cisgender woman. She works like a demon, has amassed a fortune of $50 million by dint of hard work, and is age 50 with an average appearance for a 50-year-old. Joe can get $25 million by suing her and he will then be free to have sex with as many 22-year-olds as $25 million can attract. Joe wants to move to a different city. Jane wants to stay in San Francisco. What is the chance Joe chooses to stay with Jane rather than take the $25 million and move to the city he prefers and find some new sex partners?

      (a somewhat similar case (without the conflict around moving, but only a guy who thought it would make sense to take half the money the wife had earned) is described in )

    • Googling the homeless topic and randomly clicking a posting
      “The Last Bill JFK Signed — And The Mental Health Work Still Undone

      JFK did attempt to decentralize mental institutions with the The Community Mental Health Act but ,

      “Only half of the proposed community mental health centers were ever built, and those were never fully funded. Drastic cuts were made to the remaining community mental health centers at the beginning of the Reagan administration.

      The posting said that will a small subset of homeless have “mental illness” but most involve drug and alcohol. Although those may also be symptoms of mental illness, or may cause their own type of mental illness over time.

    • philg : the theory sounds plausible but I would have to the see the stats for the wealthy. The example given would be mercenary or dark triad personality and presumably the wealthy and their social circle can readily vet such types and significantly improve their odds otherwise they would drift back into middle class.

    • Paul: The whole point of a no-fault divorce system is that there is no social or financial stigma attached to being a divorce plaintiff. Thus, nobody should be expected to stay in a marriage for one minute beyond the point at which the marriage ceases to be advantageous to that individual. Under the design of the U.S. family law system, becoming a plaintiff shouldn’t require being “mercenary” or having a special personality. It just requires circumstances to have changed compared to when the marriage vows (rendered meaningless under California family law) were uttered. In the hypothetical, the changed circumstances are the following: being married requires living in a city where the husband no longer wants to live (San Francisco itself having been on a major quality of life slide); the wife has become older and less physically attractive; the wife may be getting beyond her peak earning years.

      Does the husband in the hypothetical have to be “mercenary” in order to prefer living in the city of his choice while having sex with a smörgåsbord of 22-year-olds to having sex with a single 50-year-old and living in a city that has become a magnet for the nation’s hard drug users?

    • philg: In the hypothetical I would say that would be a suspicious coupling. Man age 35 with no job taking to a 50 year old woman with a power job, long hours and high net worth. Likely mercenary with predictable outcomes. Fault divorce may not improve the situation much and may even make things worse. The inverse scenario may be more common but still has risk, particularly when there is a no job (or dubious job) situation. That said, some people have high risk tolerance and thrill seeking personality.

    • Paul: Let’s flip the genders back. Every 35-year-old non-working woman married to a high-income man is “mercenary”? found that married women quit working once they found themselves in a jurisdiction with guaranteed 50/50 property division. “In states with equal division of property, the law favors women at the time of divorce. When the equal division of property grants them more resources in the event of divorce than they are receiving in the marriage, unilateral divorce means that they can use the threat of divorce in their favor while remaining married, thereby increasing their leisure.” Would you say that those women, who quit working after the marriage, are “mercenary”?

      You say that the guy married to the high-income woman who ceases to work is “mercenary”. What about women with the most elite educations who end up being the least likely Americans to work (see )? Are they “mercenary” because they found high-income husbands and then quit work?

      (Anecdotally, our old Boston suburb was packed with highly educated women. They had Harvard MBAs, Harvard Law School degrees, medical degrees. They’d worked for at least a few years after getting these credentials, e.g., passing the Bar exam, completing residency. With a handful of exceptions, however, when we encountered them, however, they weren’t working at all (one doctor worked part-time, but she quit when COVID-19 hit and working required wearing a mask all day, which was a deal-breaker for her). Aged 40-55, they were either married to or divorced from men who worked. Would you say that they were all “mercenary”? There was a lesbian couple in town (and several hundred rainbow flags to welcome them!). The woman who didn’t work sued the woman who did and lived comfortably and work-free ever after. Mercenary?) (immigrant from Spain (or Maskachusetts), age 37, mother of 6 children) is married to Alec Baldwin (63) and no longer works. Is she “mercenary”? If Alec Baldwin insisted that she live in a city that she didn’t want to live in, why would be shocked to find her as a divorce lawsuit plaintiff?

      [Separately, a gun-oriented friend observed, after a week or so of Omicron panic, “Alec Baldwin has killed more people than the Omicron variant.” Not sure if that is still true!]

    • Separately, even if a gilded secure cage could be built around the $10 million house, why is it obvious that the wife should agree to live/stay in that cage? Why does she want to live like the wife of an expat oil engineer in the Shell compound in Nigeria, where one step outside of the fence could be life-ending? (And remember that even Shell eventually couldn’t defend its compound; )

      When a society disintegrates, moving seems like a smarter choice than building a fence. If you extrapolate the decline of civil order in San Francisco from the past 20 years to the next 20, exactly how high a fence do you think would be sufficient to keep the junkies people living with addiction out?

    • Paul, I think that your googling citation states nothing except that JFK destroyed previous mental care and did not create new one. I doubt that it is the case though, google and wikipedia sourcing on political issue is terribly slanted towards modern American “left” position of the moment, whatever it is. Just made a comment on false wikipedia entry on another post. The truth is that “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” has been American’s left favorite story elevated to the status of revelation. I was very surprised of following NYC local media reporting cycle: 1. some certified nut released or never admitted to a mental institution pushes some up-start wanna-be new New Yorker who moved from Midwest to pursue career and join deficient “elites” on subway rails track. 2. Media up in arms , screams of reforming mental health, not committed to a mental institution. 3. few months or years of quiet. 1 …

    • philg : The social norm is women can be housewife. As for the Harvard Ladies Who Lunch while idling coveted medical and law degrees, I will defer to the sociology experts. Harvard MBA is a bit more ambiguous as that might also be Harvard MRS. Now that I think of it, Law may be as well.

      As for the Baldwins they look legit based on my very limited observation. That said, one of them appears to have snoozed through Introduction to Firearms 101. Maybe class was cancelled due to Covid. Some people can also get confused by anything mechanical and there is a steeper learning curve.

    • Anonymous, this mental institution in MA is despicable as described in wikipedia, assuming that the description true. But isn’t its founder is a hardcore lefty who wanted to build an utopian community, based on the second degree wikipedia reference? He took idiotic Walden 2 as a prototype, it was pushed on me during my required English electives thirty years ago but frequently high woodstock type adjunct ( I called him “junkie”) professor of humanities at mostly technical school. I survived that elective.

  5. As a society, we’ve currently opted to let a large proportion of our mentally ill slowly die of exposure on the streets.

    One of the side effects is that the mentally ill migrate to places where handouts from tourists are the easiest and the weather is mild. West Coast cities have been hit hard by this migration.

    Even if they wanted to, there’s no way San Francisco could house and treat every mentally ill person who shows up there from all across the US.

    It’s true, President Kennedy did shut down the mental hospitals. The hope was that drugs would cure mental illness sufficiently that we wouldn’t need them. Alas, this never came to pass, and we’ve never revisited the decision.

    • G C: I don’t think it is true that “Even if they wanted to, there’s no way San Francisco could house and treat every mentally ill person who shows up there from all across the US.” There is no shortage of virtue and good will in San Francisco. And there is no shortage of money. There are only about 1.5 million people with schizophrenia in the U.S. ( ). The population of the Bay Area is approximately 10 million (SF, Oakland, San Joe). If the righteous of the Bay Area were willing to reduce their own consumption by approximately 15 percent, therefore, 100 percent of American schizophrenics could be housed, fed, and clothed to a comfortable standard. Presumably there would be sufficient federal and state dollars paid out to fund treatment, etc., since these folks should qualify for Medicaid.

      What we’re seeing, I think, is that people in the Bay Area aren’t willing to accept a 15 percent haircut in lifestyle in order to achieve what they say is their vision of justice. It is better to drive a Tesla 3 and talk about justice, in other words, than to drive a Honda Accord and do something about justice.

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