San Francisco’s Summer of Discontent
This summer, San Francisco’s politicians have likely endured their coldest winter ever. As we write, there are no less than four recall efforts underway – three school board members and the district attorney. If we throw in the statewide effort to recall the city’s former mayor, Gavin Newsom, that makes five. No doubt, San Franciscans have a lot to complain about.
Despite pleas from parents and students, San Francisco’s school board voted to keep middle and high schools closed for the entire year, even as study after study warned of the tremendous toll school closures were having on mental health and student learning — especially for black, Hispanic, and low-income students.
Not content to keep schools closed, the school board also voted to change Lowell High School’s 55-year merit-based admissions policy to a lottery, citing the school’s “pervasive systemic racism” and lack of diversity, even though Asians represent half of the study body. The school board is now facing a lawsuit from The Friends of Lowell Foundation, the Lowell Alumni Association, the San Francisco Taxpayers Association and the Asian American Legal Foundation claiming that the school board violated the state’s open meetings law when it quietly fast-tracked the vote.
Parents are also miffed that school officials chose to spend their year renaming 44 empty schools, even nixing those named after presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Senator (and former mayor) Dianne Feinstein. Even though public pressure forced them to back down, we’re still disappointed that PRI’s own recommendations to name the schools after some of our own very smart fellows fell on deaf ears.
San Franciscans are also targeting for recall its district attorney, Chesa Boudin, who has now become the face of lawlessness in San Francisco, writes Eric Ting of the San Francisco Chronicle. Depending on the years tracked, crime rates are actually a mixed bag in the city. But Ting’s research does show that the San Francisco DA office’s charging rate lags well behind Chicago and Philadelphia, two cities that are also under a single prosecutorial jurisdiction. So far in 2021, San Francisco has a charging rate of just 55 percent, compared to 88 percent for Chicago and 94 percent for Philadelphia.
Data aside, videos going viral across the country showing rampant looting from the neighborhood Walgreen’s to downtown’s toney Neiman Marcus show San Franciscans and tourists alike that the city has become a shoplifter’s paradise.
At $15,650 per person – the highest per capita budget of any major city in America — San Francisco represents perhaps the greatest failure of governance in the country, concludes the Hoover Institution’s Lee Ohanian. “You would think San Franciscans would have wonderful city services coming out of their ear,” he writes. Instead, the city offers poor performing schools, crime, thousands upon thousands of homeless people, unaffordable housing, the list goes on.
Recalls are expensive and few work. At the state level, there have been 179 attempts to recall elected officials, and only six have succeeded. But current polls are showing that the Newsom recall is tighter than anyone would have imagined. And local polls are showing the same for school board members.
San Francisco’s elected officials may indeed be feeling a chill in the air, as their constituents adhere to another Mark Twain warning: “Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
Rowena Itchon is senior vice president of the Pacific Research Institute.