Friday night in SoMa. We meet a friend at a bar on Folsom, and while we’re on the sidewalk we nearly get hit by a guy zipping by in one those new scooter things. Then we walk to a restaurant, going down Stevenson passing at least a dozen people actively openly injecting drugs, surrounded by strewn possessions and garbage, blocking the sidewalk, spilling into the street. On a wild corner of 6th Street, a disheveled dude shouting loudly is mocked by a cop in a passing patrol car, who mimics the dude’s voice out the passenger side window.
The restaurant we eat at is filled with young people, mostly men in the casual dress of the tech sector, ordering delicious craft beer and housemade sausages; the human misery just outside has vanished in the social din. We take a Lyft to a gay bar that’s filled with young men and women, a really diverse crowd, dancing to Rihanna and Cardi B—an explosion of joyous celebration. I talk to one young guy who tells me he lives in Freemont, and a woman who just moved to El Cerrito. Unlike me, they weren’t around when there were still rent-controlled apartments to be found in the SF city limits. Two blocks from home, our night ends with a sudden eruption of violence: we have to intervene when a young woman is being stalked by a crazed man, eyes buzzing with crack or meth or schizophrenia, who out of nowhere punched her, pulled a knife on her, and followed her for blocks.
This is San Francisco.
Life in SoMa, where I’ve rented an apartment for the past fifteen years, is the best and worst of the city. We have great neighbors, a slice of urban community. People on my block know each other and look out for each other. This neighborhood has always been a barometer. Whatever’s going to happen in the city at large shows up here first. The overpriced housing market, booming. The gentrification of working class neighborhoods, unabated. The deep fissures in the safety net, heartbreakingly obvious everywhere on the sidewalks. The start-up “disruptors,” who often seem oblivious to how innovation intersects with actual lived experience in the city.
In the past couple of years, it’s all intensified. Daily, I see screaming screeching insane people who need intervention, medication, help of any kind. People passed out with needles in their bleeding arms. Half naked people wandering around completely out of their minds. Car windows are smashed on every block, the glass spilling into human feces. Civic Center BART staircases are blocked by opioid transactions. Meanwhile a new population of people who move here for well-paying jobs with no connection to the social fabric of San Francisco floats from their overpriced apartments into rideshares then into gentrifying eateries, eyes always cast downward at their devices, seemingly blind to everything falling apart right around them. I meet people at parties who tell me they're waiting to cash out so they can go back to where they came from and buy property.
To my eyes, San Francisco is in crisis. The heart of the city is an inequitable disaster zone. No one’s officially called it that, but come walk with me on a Friday night and see what I see.
It’s simplistic to blame Ed Lee, our late mayor, but I do. Under his watch the buildings got taller and the streets sank into chaos, while he displayed no leadership at all. Can you think of one moment when Ed Lee addressed the city’s citizens and acknowledged the challenges we face every day? Our next mayor, to be decided in just a month, inherits this mess. I don’t know how anyone fixes it, but it seems crucial to pick the right person to change course and start to lead us out of the abyss.
I’m voting for Mark Leno. I believe he is the best candidate to confront San Francisco’s problems. His platforms make the most sense to me. He’s prioritizing the “homeless” crisis—really an intricate web of issues including drug abuse, mental illness, and policing as much as housing—with a very detailed plan. He’s gotten a lot done in Sacramento as a state senator and member of the assembly. He works with people across the aisle. He’s a leader in the LGBTQ community. He's not taking money from corporate Super PACs. I’ve heard him speak in a number of different situations large and small, and he’s always persuasive and captivating. I want a good communicator for Mayor, someone who can address us with honesty and clarity.
In our ranked choice voting, I’m putting Leno first and Jane Kim in my second slot, because I agree with her positions on the issues, and I think she’s a fighter, though I have questions about her campaign’s “clean streets” message, which doesn’t seem like a plan. I don't have a 3rd choice. Not London Breed, whose campaign is backed by the sleaziest developers in the city, Ron Conway and all the other corporate lobbyists who supported Ed Lee and exacerbated the gap between the haves and have-nots in this city. But frankly, Kim and Breed have been on the Board over the last few years and neither of them strike me as leading us out of crisis.
San Francisco politics confuse me. My friends who work in city government all express the same frustrations. It’s hard to get things done. The Board of supervisors is factionalized. The bureaucracy is a swamp. There are vocal specialized interests who block advancement at every step. We need someone who can guide us through this. Based on his past record and his future plans, I see Mark Leno as that leader. Leno for Mayor.