Once sought out by millions as a premier destination for travel and business, San Francisco is no longer safe, and a combination of corruption and a lack of desire to solve the predicament are plaguing the city, according to Angela Alioto—former president of the Board of Supervisors.
Alioto’s roots run deep in San Francisco, with one of her grandparents being born in the city in 1880. Her father served as mayor of the city from 1966 to 1977.
“San Francisco is absolutely gorgeous, the landscape, the panorama cannot be beaten. It’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world,” she said during the nearly 40-minute interview. “To see the amount of rampant decay ... is a horrible experience, and it’s out of control.”
Crime, open drug use, and homelessness have taken a toll on the city, with residents and businesses fleeing in record numbers over the past three years.
Staffing shortages prohibit the police department from mitigating the increasing incidents of property crime, and morale in the department is down, with officers discouraged, Alioto said.
She suggested that a solution lies in an organizational plan with at least minimum staffing in place for the police department, emergency services, and fire department.
“We need a mayor and district attorney that are going to enforce laws, even if the people the enforcement will hurt are their political supporters,” Alioto said.
“It’s going to get much worse. Tech left the city because of COVID and because of crime, homelessness, and dirty streets,” Alioto said. “For anyone to think that tech is coming back to San Francisco without cleaning the streets is crazy.”
“Downtown is empty, and it’s not just COVID,” Alioto said. “They’re not coming back because the streets are filthy, and the homeless situation is heartbreaking.”
Homelessness is a historical problem for San Francisco, and the laws and programs aimed at benefitting them are contributing to the problem, according to experts.
“People come to San Francisco because the programs are way too lenient, and I’m at fault for that, to a degree,” Alioto said. “Some things I did at the time are being misused.”
She pointed to the emergency needle exchange legislation that she helped get passed in 1995. At the time, the program was designed as a public health measure to prevent the spread of infectious diseases—but now the law is providing free needles to addicts without exchange, a change that has left the city strewn with dirty needles, according to Alioto.
Permanent, supportive housing is a foundational approach to addressing homelessness, and current failures can be traced back to mismanagement and outright corruption, Alioto said, with nearly 75 percent of funding for many nonprofit homeless agencies going to administrative costs, while 25 percent is left for people on the streets.
“That happens all the time, and that’s why it’s corrupt,” she said. “Now it’s almost been masterminded, we have CEOs and pharmaceutical companies doing it, it’s a total business.”
Based on annual budget data for the six largest homeless nonprofits receiving government funding, if administrative costs were eliminated, every homeless person in San Francisco could be housed for the next 10 years in hotel rooms in the city, according to Alioto.
Injection sites touted by Democratic lawmakers as a solution to the overdose epidemic are only exacerbating the homeless problem, she said.
“Prop. 47 is crazy. ... It’s just so wrong in so many ways,” Alioto said. “It created a business of criminals that can live off criminality financially.”
With a host of factors impacting public safety in the city, residents report feeling fear while traveling on public transportation, shopping, and walking the streets alone.
“It’s the criminal factor that’s so bad ... we need to get the drug dealers and the traffickers,” she said. “There’s no will to get the job done, and now the city is dangerous.”
Looking to the future, Alioto isn’t optimistic about the short-term but is confident that the city she loves will rebound from its lows.
“The city is going to go down ... until it hits bottom, and no one can take it anymore,” she said. “Then hopefully the right people get elected.”