more light shines on sf crime

The Atlantic comes out specifically focused on the staggering number of smash-and-grab car burglaries in San Francisco. Conor Friedersdorf had the same reaction to King Candy's Supervisor Campos' recent New York Times quotes that I did:

Campos’ position is frustrating. (See update here.) The people who want San Francisco’s “smash-and-grab” vandals punished, myself included, do not want “to criminalize people for being poor.” We want to criminalize people for willfully smashing in car windows, stealing personal items, and imposing hundreds of dollars in repairs on victims, most of whom are working people who really suffer from such a loss.

The article goes on to call Campos for his legislation criminalizing victims:

Campos vilified his colleague for saying, “Sometimes people might need to spend six months in jail to think about what they did.” Yet how did Campos react to news that guns are being stolen in some of these smash-and-grab burglaries? He crafted legislation “to require that law enforcement officers as well as civilians who leave guns in parked vehicles in the city secure the weapons in lock boxes or in an enclosed, locked trunk. Failing to secure a gun in a parked car would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail or a $10,000 fine.”

In other words, he wants to punish some of the victims of smash-and-grab burglaries with longer jail sentences than he is willing to give the perpetrators of the crime.

This is obviously a complicated issue, but one thing is certain, more police, stronger enforcement and deterring consequences are needed immediately in this city.

san francisco crime

Crime is on the rise in San Francisco. It’s happening all over the city. Rarely a week goes by that I don’t read about some violent incident within blocks of my apartment, along streets I often walk.

This week we landed in the spotlight in the New York Times because of it:

Recent data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation show that San Francisco has the highest per-capita property crime rate of the nation’s top 50 cities.

The article illustrates how pervasive the issue has become, showing how car theft has exploded in traditionally safe, “touristy” neighborhoods.

I lived in New York City for almost a decade and never felt as uncomfortable walking around that city at 2AM as I do at 7AM and 9PM in San Francisco.

San Francisco is comically under-policed.

“San Francisco at times is a consequence-free zone,” [Supervisor Scott] Wiener said. “I’m not advocating extreme law and order, but there has to be consequences. Sometimes people might need to spend six months in jail to think about what they did.”

In a bitterly contested 6-to-5 vote last year, Mr. Wiener led the passage of a measure adding several hundred officers to the city’s police force, the first increase since the 1980s, when the population was over 10 percent smaller.

Bitterly contested! With these statistics! Who would contest such a thing?

[Enter King Candy, stage left.]

On the other side is David Campos, a supervisor who opposes the increase in police officers and describes Mr. Wiener’s views as “a very knee-jerk kind of punitive approach that is ineffective and inconsistent with the values of San Francisco.”
“We are not going to criminalize people for being poor,” he said. “That criminalization is only going to make it harder for them to get out of poverty.”

Of course nobody wants to criminalize people for being poor. WE WANT TO CRIMINALIZE PEOPLE FOR BEING CRIMINALS. We need law and order to be enforced in a way that discourages bad behavior. And we need enforcement now.


In the ongoing saga that is the Bay Area housing market, it is often hard to find thoughtful, rational, well-reported coverage of the issue. A great piece by Conor Dougherty in the NYT today that boils it down well, profiling the leader of the Bay Area Renters Federation (BARF):

This might make it tempting to dismiss Ms. Trauss as just another colorful activist in a place where activism is a local sport. But the anger she has tapped into is real, reflecting a generational break that pits cranky homeowners and the San Francisco political establishment against a cast of newcomers who are demanding the region make room for them, too.

Though the conflict is usually sensationalized into "techies" vs. "natives" - it really is more about newcomers vs. existing homeowners. Existing homeowners bellow about not wanting to see the city change and that supply/demand economics don't apply to this special situation, all the while ignoring the fact that the supply/demand economics very much benefit those that have held housing assets for decades.

Layer on top of this climate SF's bizarre pseudo-direct-democracy, which causes most local politicians ("supervisors") to kowtow to every small, noisy faction of constituents, and you wind up with this inanity:

Much of San Francisco’s progressive establishment feels the city is building too much market-rate housing. Some go so far as to argue that the appetite for real estate here is so high that supply-and-demand rules don’t really apply.

To get prices down, “You’d have to, like, build another city on top of the city,” said David Campos, a progressive-wing member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He thinks the city should focus the vast majority of future development on affordable housing limited to people making well below the city’s median income.

This thinking is at odds with a February report on housing prices from the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, which said underdevelopment was the primary cause of the high prices that afflicted cities throughout the coastal part of the state, especially in the Bay Area.

“Many housing programs — vouchers, rent control and inclusionary housing — attempt to make housing more affordable without increasing the overall supply,” the report said. “This approach does very little to address the underlying cause of California’s high housing costs: a housing shortage.”

(Sidebar: Every time I hear David Campos quoted, I imagine the voice of King Candy from Wreck-It-Ralph.)

I'm glad to see that my generation is starting to engage on civic issues like this one. For more background, I also highly recommend Kim-Mai Cutler's housing opus in TechCrunch.

san francisco's building-street interface

Benjamin Grant, writing for Spur, on the downsides of San Francisco's urban fabric. A beautiful city, with a thoughtless approach to public space:

In a typical San Francisco street, both of these transitions [parking lanes and stoops] are absent or compressed. Curb cuts often preclude trees, curbs, and parking, exposing pedestrians to traffic and preventing the definition of a distinct pedestrian space. Buildings often lack a setback, reducing the privacy of residents and the comfort of pedestrians. Stoops and entry stairs are usually articulated inward, creating deep, cave-like spaces with poor security and no social use.

And, as San Francisco has a deeply ingrained relationship with its past, it seems unable to break the pattern.

The thoughtless and precipitous upheavals of mid-century urban renewal have made San Franciscans especially protective of the past. But the historic patterns of this city’s residential neighborhoods don’t offer especially good models for livable streets. And to a surprising extent, these patterns continue to be replicated in new construction as designers, developers and policymakers look to the city’s older neighborhoods as points of reference. Even as architectural styles, building codes, parking requirements and other parameters evolve, the urban fundamentals have remained surprisingly unchanged. It’s as if this pattern is woven into the city’s DNA, as if we are a city congenitally predisposed against good streets.