The magic of San Francisco is gone.
The outpost that mushroomed almost overnight into a cosmopolitan city on the strength of the six words “Gold, gold on the American River” Sam Brennan yelled as he ran through the streets of San Francisco in 1848 just a year after the fledging town ditched its original name of Yerba Buena is in serious decline.
It was on a downhill trend before the pandemic hit. But the latest wave of gentrification eating away at the Mission District — the last vestige of working-class San Francisco — along with a ballooning homeless problem compete with drug use in the streets where people were doing the No. 2 right next to where they set up makeshift shelter on city sidewalks — didn’t seem likely to take the city down for the count.
San Francisco has always been fraught with ups and downs. And just like after the 1906 earthquake San Francisco always came roaring back from downward slides with a vengeance.
But this time it feels different.
Acquaintances I’ve known for years that could never envision living anywhere else but their beloved San Francisco are talking about packing up and fleeing the city built on more than 40 hills.
They’ve had their fill. And it’s not the Union Square smash and grabs or the brazen store shoplifting that has vaulted San Francisco into a modern-day version of Deadwood, Dodge City and Tombstone all rolled up into one but with a little less gunfire.
It’s the day-to-day chipping away at civilization — endless urinating on walls, drug needles on sidewalks as prevalent as pine needles in a forest, and aggressive-mentally ill behavior that’s more reflective of a hell hole than an enchanting cosmopolitan city.
My friends who say they are eager to flee a city of incredible culture and museums, of a 1,000 plus restaurants with most of them amazing, and urban/natural sights your eyes can enjoy an endless feast savoring. They aren’t the only ones ready to write off the city they love.
Count me among them.
My affinity for San Francisco is much more than that of being a fifth generation Northern Californian.
I was fortunate that my late Aunt Grace — after a stint in the Richmond ship building yards in World War II and then being schooled as a nurse — opted not to return to the rugged hills of Placer and Nevada counties but to live among the most cultured, inspiring and urbane hills without peers in California and much of the world.
It afforded me a unique opportunity to spend days at a time during summers in San Francisco.
I developed an attachment that has kept me going back again and again after entering adulthood. It is where — after proposing on the sun-drenched sands of Drake’s Beach at Point Reyes — I dined with the love of my life and got soaked as we kissed standing on the running boards of a cable car climbing up Powell Street as rain fell on a late spring night.
I love San Francisco and I still do.
But I now belong to a growing club of Northern Californians who can live without getting monthly, semiannual or annual “fixes” from San Francisco’s endless cultural, entertainment or dining options.
And it’s not for the reason I scratched attending pro sporting events in the city off my list a long time ago when securing tickets, parking and partaking of underwhelming stadium fare started requiring taking out a second mortgage to afford.
I’m done for the same reason my friends who say they are ready to flee the city. Every city has its crime and its homeless in most parts of California. But when the stench of fresh urine overwhelms the fresh smell of damp fog rolling in from the ocean, there are more piles on the sidewalk than on a Valley dairy, and the homeless have taken complete control of sidewalks the joy is no longer worth the pain.
To be honest, the rest of the Bay Area is no slouch for urban amenities nor is the San Joaquin Valley the cultural desert that some make it out to be.
But going to San Francisco was magic. And you had to do so by taking the Golden Gate Bridge or the Bay Bridge as if they are the heavy iron gates of a magical kingdom dropped across expansive moats to usher you into a city worthy of the stars.
I can’t phantom what Grace would say if she we alive today and walked among her cherished city. Grace was always kind of a free spirit — independent, headstrong, and relished all sorts of things that you’d think a girl raised on a fairly primitive ranch in Nevada County would eschew.
Grace worked as an emergency room nurse on the graveyard shift at St. Mary’s Hospital on the edge of Golden Gate Park not far from her flat in The Avenues a half block off Clement Street.
I remember one visit she was up in arms about Mayor Dianne Feinstein who handed down an edict that the heavy leather jackets police officers wore had to be replaced by nylon-style jackets that offered a less menacing vibe.
Even though it was before the term “politically correct” was coined or even its vernacular cousin “woke” was uttered, it wasn’t the politics of the edict that irked Grace.
The leather jackets did more than shield officers from the bone-chilling fog. They were an effective deterrent from being cut.
Grace said the number of officers with knife wounds and such soared after Feinstein’s directive. Eventually the mayor who became our U.S. Senator back tracked a bit. The result was a compromise jacket that provided better protection against the cold and afforded a bit of padding to avoid attempted jabs by suspects with sharp objects triggering trips to emergency rooms for officers.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed appears to be in the midst of such a reset in terms of how the city is now dealing with crime.
“It’s time the reign of criminals who are destroying our city . . . to come to an end,” Breed said. “And it comes to an end when we take the steps to (be) more aggressive with law enforcement. More aggressive with the changes in our policies and less tolerant of all the bull - - - - that has destroyed our city.”
The ultra-progressives are not amused.
San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who is facing a recall election next year, is pushing back.
He equates what Breed wants to do as a case of “locking up” the homeless instead of working to get to the root cause.
Breed isn’t abandoning progressive policies that make sense. She simply is done with the carte blanche approach.
Breed still wants to help those that want help. As for those that continue their in-your-face disregard of law and civilized behavior that account for the overwhelming share of the problems, they will no longer be granted sacred cow status.
You’d think Boudin would agree. After all the programs he advocates requires funding. And given tourism — especially that of Northern Californians — plays a key role in generating the most money for the city budget, you would think elected leaders would share a common desire not to keeping trying to suffocate the proverbial golden goose.