It is getting intense but some common sense is emerging in San Francisco, as this article from The New York Times reports.
SAN FRANCISCO — In the bluest of blue cities, it can be hard to tell political candidates apart. The four front-runners in the June 5 San Francisco mayoral election, all Democrats, talk about the importance of protecting immigrants and the pernicious effects of income inequality. It goes without saying that they support gay rights, legalized marijuana and more funding for public transportation.
Ron Turner, a book publisher and longtime San Francisco resident, compares the election to “trying to pick a leader at a family picnic.”
And yet on one issue — the roughly 7,000 homeless people and the tent encampments that many of them live in — there are shades of discord. Two of the candidates, London Breed, the current president of the board of supervisors, and Angela Alioto, a past president of the board, speak about using a harder edge when it comes to restoring order to the streets.
“This is an iconic city that is being totally devastated by poverty, filth and crime,” Ms. Alioto said in her law offices across the street from Transamerica Pyramid, the building that defined the San Francisco of a generation ago, when the city still occasionally elected Republicans.
San Francisco has long represented a certain liberal ideal — an activist city government that led the country on a host of progressive causes, including gay marriage and parental leave. But for the past several years the city has also become a symbol of the failure of America’s wealthiest communities to care for their poorest residents.
San Francisco, fueled by money from the technology industry, has become unaffordable to all but the very rich, with a median home price of $1.3 million. The contrast with this wealth is sprawled on the sidewalks across the city in tent encampments and cardboard boxes. Sidewalks double as public bathrooms, and a rash of car break-ins has given San Francisco one of the highest property crimes rates of any major American metropolis. In a city that is only 47 square miles, there are roughly 7,000 homeless people, many of them suffering from mental illness and drug addiction.
For the city’s Democratic establishment, the mayoral election is a look-in-the-mirror moment. The last Republican mayor left office in 1964. The Democrats own the problem.
The eight candidates have proposed varied approaches. Ms. Breed and Ms. Alioto both unflinchingly say they would hire more police, not a reflexively Democratic position. Both appear to be betting that voters are so tired of what is euphemistically called the “street conditions” that they are willing to depart from the live-and-let-live San Francisco ethos and work more forcefully to put an end to the many tent encampments and public drug use.
Ms. Breed, whose brother is in prison and whose sister died of a drug overdose, says she would remove encampments from the streets within a year. She has vowed to crack down on vandalism and graffiti, and is proposing to increase the use of legal conservatorship, essentially forcing mentally ill and drug dependent people off the streets.
“Taking away someone’s civil liberties is not something that I take lightly, but if we want to see a change on our streets we have got to do something different than what we’re doing now,” Ms. Breed said in a campaign speech last week at a Jewish community center. “I plan to introduce the kind of solutions that in some ways can be quite controversial, but are necessary.”