San Francisco voters turn to the right on crime and schools

Golden Gate bridge, San Francisco California stock photo

Is San Francisco going MAGA? Not yet. On March 7 Rep. Nancy Pelosi still pulled down 74% of the vote to 9% for Republican Bruce Lou. But voters also passed conservative ballot measures giving police more surveillance powers, tightening welfare eligibility for drug addicts and urging tougher algebra standards in public schools.

The most controversial, Measure E, passed 54% to 46%. It allowed the following:

  1. After a public hearing, the chief of police could install surveillance devices without the approval of the Police Commission;
  2. Police could use drones to pursue vehicles and for investigations, including facial recognition, without the approval of the commission or the Board of Supervisors;
  3. Vehicle pursuits were allowed in more situations, instead of just for a violent offense;
  4. Reports of use-of-force no longer will be required if no one is injured or a firearm was not pointed at a person.

Although the City on the Bay has become notorious for street crime, homelessness and feces on the streets, violent crime never has been the problem it has been in other cities. And even petty crimes are dropping. San Francisco Police Department data for January 1 to March 10, 2024 show the following, compared to a year earlier for the same period:

Crime Number Percent Change
Homicides 4 -56
Rapes 40 -23
Robbery 422 -19
Assault 4068 -7
Burglary 920 -18
Motor Vehicle Theft 1,115 -6
Larceny Theft 3,902 -39

This seems to be a case of voters reacting to a problem after it’s already on its way to being solved. They might better have waited a couple years to find out if current policies continue cutting crime; or if this is just part of a cycle of crime rising, then declining, for demographic or other reasons.

Read this Free Cities Center column about San Francisco from Pacific Research Institute fellow Kerry Jackson. 

Read Matthew Fleming’s Free Cities Center column predicting San Francisco’s rightward shift.

“There are a lot of public safety concerns that would come with allowing more police pursuits,” Vittorio Nastasi told me; he’s the director of Criminal Justice Policy at the Los Angeles-based Reason Foundation. “A lot end in collisions. It’s very unsafe to have law enforcement officers pursuing people at high rates of speed.”

He pointed to a study by ACLU of Northern California, which found, “Since 2018, 38% of the 150 vehicle pursuits by San Francisco police ended in a collision, with at least one person injured in 15% of those incidents, according to California Highway Patrol data. In 2023, multiple SFPD vehicle pursuits injured or killed people, prompting calls for a review of department vehicle policies.”

1984 in 2024

On the increased Orwellian surveillance, Nastasi warned, “Police departments are often apt to adopt new technologies without a whole lot of evidence of efficacy. These technologies can be expensive and can bring clear threats to civil liberties, especially things like facial recognition. … Everybody gets scooped into the surveillance, not just alleged criminals.”

A May 2023 Scientific American summary of the technology by Thaddeus L. Johnson and Natasha N. Johnson found “that facial recognition technology (FRT) can worsen racial inequities in policing. We found that law enforcement agencies that use automated facial recognition disproportionately arrest Black people.”

How ironic this is happening in America’s most progressive city, which boasts on its website: “The Department of Human Resources (DHR) is committed to providing a diverse, equitable, inclusive, and belonging environment for the City and County of San Francisco.” Nevertheless, voters made it clear they are tired of crime and the lack of public order.

Drug testing for cash

Measure F passed 58% to 42% and mandated drug testing to get cash welfare benefits if the applicant is single, age 65 and under and with no dependent children. The city controller estimated it could cost from $500,000 to $1.4 million a year to administer the tests; but savings from lower cash payouts could run from $100,000 to $2 million. Call it a wash financially in a city with a $14.6 billion budget.

I’ve known a number of drug addicts and it’s hard to know what to do about their condition. If you give them cash, they may use it to buy drugs. If you don’t, they steal or find other ways to get the money. It’s always useful to give them non-cash help such as food, shelter and medical care, which many charities do, along with addiction treatment.

“The effect of Measure F is probably not going to be very significant,” Nastasi added. But, again, San Francisco voters are tired of open-air drug markets and have reacted in a conservative manner – expressing their frustration with lenient progressive policy.

Restoring Algebra Standards

Proposition G passed 82% to 18%, declaring it official city policy “to encourage the San Francisco Unified School District to offer Algebra 1 to students by their eighth-grade year and to support the School District’s development of its math curriculum,” instead of the current ninth grade. It’s an advisory measure and not binding. But it came two years after voters recalled two liberal Board of Education members for, among other things, keeping kids out of school too long during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Joined with neighboring Silicon Valley, San Francisco forms the world’s technology capital. Lyft, Uber, Salesforce, Slack, X (Twitter) and numerous others crave a high-tech workforce. But in 2015, the city Board of Education dumbed down math education in the name of “equity.” A March 2023 study by Brown University found the change devastated math teaching, with sharp declines in students subsequently enrolling in Algebra II and Geometry.

“It’s about time that the people of San Francisco regained their minds,” Lance Christensen told me; he’s a Republican who ran for state superintendent of public instruction in 2022. So, again, the city’s voters echoed the views of Republicans.

Making San Francisco great again?

Great cities rise and decline – and often redefine themselves and rise again. San Francisco rose from the “Dirty Harry” 1970s doldrums to its digital peak in the past decade, before declining especially during COVID-19. These three initiatives are less solutions than symptoms of a desire to solve recent problems. So was the school board recall; and shortly after it the recall of District Attorney Chesa Boudin for his soft-on-crime policies. While San Francisco is unlikely to ever become a conservative bastion, voters are shaking up the progressive status quo and trying to make the city great again.

John Seiler is on the Editorial Board of the Southern California News Group and blogs at

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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