San Francisco is America’s liberal capital. But it’s also a city of immense beauty and diverse history. Unfortunately, 110 years after the earthquake of 1906, San Franciscans now face growing social and economic tremors.
Take the city’s skyrocketing property crime rates. Thefts from vehicles have increased nearly 300 percent over the past five years. Debates over the sources of this spike are fierce, but a key problem is California’s Proposition 47. Introduced in late 2014, and co-authored by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, Proposition 47 re-designated a number of felony offenses as misdemeanors. But while the intention was noble — reducing criminality and prison overcrowding by redirecting low-level offenders into rehabilitation — reality has struck hard. Gascon recently insisted, “Car break-ins are not covered by Proposition 47. It was a felony before Proposition 47, and it still remains a felony.”
But the D.A. is shading the truth here. As the San Francisco Chronicle notes, “[C]ity police officials say their hands are often tied. They said if an officer catches somebody with property taken from a car burglary, for example, and the offense doesn’t meet the $950 threshold set by Proposition 47 to count as a felony, all the officer can do is issue a citation because it is now a misdemeanor.”
Apart from the auto break-ins, any visitor to the city with eyes to see will recognize that low-level disorder — whether aggressive begging, public drug use, or harassment — is rife in the city. In fact, those problems are now practically part of the city’s identity. And they threaten its future as a top tourist destination. Consider, for example, February’s brutal attack in which a foreign tourist was robbed, stabbed and left for dead. The crisis is real.
But Gascon continues to favor misconduct cases against police officers instead of a new crime fighting strategy. And each month, he adds to the growing minefield of restrictions on when, where and how police can confront criminals. This is a tragedy, because the SFPD is a great force. Read, for example, this story from last month about how officers responded to a serious robbery, established a search grid, then caught two suspects and recovered a handgun.
The underlying issue is that while many San Francisco residents are decent liberals, happy to pay higher taxes in the belief they are pursuing positive social goods, Gascon and Mayor Ed Lee manipulate that good faith for their own ends. They are quite literal representations of the district attorney caricature from “Dirty Harry” nearly 45 years ago. Neglecting their responsibility to keep people safe, they prioritize their RAL-dinner party credentials.
San Francisco’s problems are deeper than a spike in the crime rate. The city’s quality of life is on a downward spiral. A new report suggests that more than 30 percent of Bay Area residents want to move elsewhere. Their top reasons for wanting to leave: high living costs, extortionate property prices, inadequate transportation infrastructure, poverty and criminality.
High housing costs are especially troubling because home ownership is critical to social mobility. Young San Francisco residents struggle the most. In a recent report, Andrew Yoo asserted that San Francisco’s Millennial renters “need 28 years to save enough for a 20 percent down payment on a home!” These challenges are not coincidental, but rather are direct consequences of San Francisco’s position as capital of California’s failed liberal experiment. That agenda, even where well-intentioned, is causing growing harm to the poor.
Of course, it is not enough for conservatives to simply assess and condemn these liberal policies. Even as we do so, we must work tirelessly to produce our own conservative solutions in public policy. But the opportunities are increasingly obvious. As Evan Smith noted just last week, Maryland’s Republican governor proves how conservative principles and bipartisan endeavor can work wonders even in the bluest of blue states. Focusing on ideas, conservatives should aspire to offer Californians a new governor come 2018. And then, perhaps, just perhaps, a conservative mayor might come to San Francisco in 2019!
Tom Rogan is a Senior Contributor for Opportunity Lives and writes for National Review. He is a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute. Follow him on Twitter @TomRtweets.