Tourists from all corners of the globe simply adore this remarkable place. Standing proudly as the third most visited city in the world, it welcomed a staggering 25.8 million guests in 2019 alone. Beyond its myriad attractions, this Northern California gem beckons travelers to relive cherished moments from iconic Hollywood productions like Mrs. Doubtfire, Basic Instinct, and X-Men.
Its geography adds to its allure, making it an all-time favorite among tourists. Nestled on the west coast of the United States, in the northern expanse of California, the city finds itself embraced by the majestic Pacific Ocean to the west, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge to the north, and the enchanting Bay to the east. No wonder it’s affectionately known as “The City by the Bay” or, simply put, San Francisco.
For both visitors and locals, the breathtaking year-round vistas from the city’s oceanfront are nothing short of mesmerizing. San Francisco’s reputation also lies in its diverse neighborhoods, each with its own distinct charm, architecture, and cultural flair.
However, once you venture onto the streets of San Francisco, a wholly different narrative unfolds. It’s a story I am about to share, one that may just prompt you to reconsider making this city your next vacation destination. There are three pivotal reasons for this sentiment.
The issue of homelessness in San Francisco has been an enduring challenge, and despite the city government’s ongoing efforts to tackle it, the number of individuals living on the streets continues to rise.
In 2019, the homeless population exceeded 8,000, representing a concerning increase of nearly 50% compared to 2005. Shockingly, over 5,000 of them are without proper shelter, enduring life on the unforgiving streets.
As a long-time resident of San Francisco, I frequently witness tourists expressing their dismay over the pervasive smell of urine that permeates the city. With minimal rainfall for most of the year, the streets remain dirty and dry, carrying along with them all the unpleasant odors.
Moreover, the issue of public defecation has reached an alarming scale in recent years. In 2011, there were 5,547 complaints about feces on the streets, a number that skyrocketed to over 28,000 in 2019. To combat this problem, the city administration established a specialized team in 2019, aptly named “The Poop Team,” dedicated to cleaning up human excrement from public areas.
Regrettably, it is all too common to witness individuals openly defecating in public, completely unperturbed, while tourists and passers-by look on in disbelief. One cannot help but wonder what has gone so awry here. Mental illness and drug addiction are the primary contributing factors to homelessness, leaving these individuals unaware of their actions and devoid of any sense of shame or guilt. Indeed, on top of the already distressing issue of homelessness, another problem lurks in the shadows.
Crime and Petty Theft
In the aftermath of the COVID pandemic, crime has been on the rise in the city. The San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) is grappling with officer shortages and difficulties in recruitment. Consequently, calls for petty thefts, pickpocketing, shoplifting, and car break-ins often go unanswered or receive inadequate responses. Adding to the problem, the 2014 California Proposition 47 has shielded perpetrators from substantial consequences.
Proposition 47, also known as the Criminal Sentences, Misdemeanor Penalties, Initiative Statute, was a referendum that California voters approved on November 4, 2014. Supporters referred to it as the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act. The measure reclassified certain nonviolent offenses as misdemeanors instead of felonies, leading to real-life ramifications.
Since Prop 47’s enactment, shoplifting and crime have surged. Previously, grand theft was considered a felony for thefts valued at $400 or more. However, Prop 47 raised the threshold to $950, effectively making such thefts misdemeanors. Consequently, criminals have taken advantage of this change, brazenly stealing up to this threshold from stores, cars, homes, and establishments. If caught, they merely receive a citation, return the stolen property, and are free to leave. Without the threat of incarceration, there is little deterrent to prevent these criminals from repeating their actions.
Before Prop 47, repeat offenders caught committing theft or other petty crimes faced the prospect of incarceration and going to jail. However, this consequence has been eliminated under Prop 47.
As a result, we have witnessed an alarming increase in crime not only in San Francisco but across the entire state of California. When your purse gets stolen or your car is broken into, there is little protection for your private property to this extent. Unfortunately, this is one of the factors contributing to San Francisco losing its former charm and becoming a less enjoyable place to be.
Deserted and Boarded-Up Stores
San Francisco’s downtown has fallen victim to rampant shoplifting, leaving a trail of closed and boarded-up stores. Thanks to Prop 47, shoplifters are well aware that they can get away with theft as long as it stays under $950. This leniency has led to a wave of post-pandemic closures, leaving a once vibrant shopping scene in disarray.
Over the span of just two years, 17 upscale and beloved stores have had to shut their doors for good. While companies may attribute it to a “reevaluation of real estate portfolios or a shift in business priorities,” the truth is evident. YouTube is flooded with audacious gang shoplifting videos, showcasing the brazenness that now plagues San Francisco’s shopping hub – Union Square.
Once a bustling and vibrant city, San Francisco has long been a beloved destination for both local and international tourists alike. However, the city’s struggle with homelessness and drug-related issues has become a pressing concern, impacting once-serene neighborhoods and leaving businesses to bear the brunt of a flawed governing system.
While the city authorities are making efforts to combat these issues, there is still much work to be done to create a safer and more supportive environment for everyone, including those without a home.
Too many challenges
Unfortunately, the challenges faced by San Francisco don’t end there. Traditionally favored as a prime convention location for decades, the city has recently experienced a shift. Two major tech companies, Red Hat and Meta, have already canceled their scheduled 2024 conferences in San Francisco. This loss of prestigious events is likely to result in reduced foot traffic for local stores and restaurants that have been resilient in the face of adversity.
Next time you consider visiting San Francisco, take a moment to reconsider before booking your trip. The city’s charm may not be as captivating as it once was.