January 3, 2010

San Francisco: Richer and Richer and Richer

The Worst-Run Big City in the U.S.
Spend more. Get less. We’re the city that knows how.

Despite its good intentions, San Francisco is not leading the country in gay marriage. Despite its good intentions, it is not stopping wars. Despite its spending more money per capita on homelessness than any comparable city, its homeless problem is worse than any comparable city’s. Despite its spending more money per capita, period, than almost any city in the nation, San Francisco has poorly managed, budget-busting capital projects, overlapping social programs no one is certain are working, and a transportation system where the only thing running ahead of schedule is the size of its deficit.

It’s time to face facts: San Francisco is spectacularly mismanaged and arguably the worst-run big city in America. This year’s city budget is an astonishing $6.6 billion — more than twice the budget for the entire state of Idaho — for roughly 800,000 residents. Yet despite that stratospheric amount, San Francisco can’t point to progress on many of the social issues it spends liberally to tackle — and no one is made to answer when the city comes up short.

Sure that sounds gloomly (and there are quotes from Joel Kotkin who believes that strip malls and exurbs are the keys to success).

But here’s the good news:

The city will continue its orgy of waste and incompetence. San Francisco can afford plenty of both: We’re rich — and getting richer all the time. According to the controller’s office, San Franciscans’ per-capita income jumped from an already-generous $58,244 in 2004 to $74,515 last year.

Of course, for many San Franciscans, those numbers represent another failure. They point to an exodus. The city’s middle class is melting away faster than polar ice. With them, economists and demographers say, goes any realistic hope that voters will demand serious change in search of long-term reform.

Research by professor Bill Watkins of California Lutheran University over the past decade reveals that San Francisco is shedding its middle-class population at double the state rate. The city, however, is not losing low-income people at nearly the state’s pace — and is gaining wealthy residents at far more than California’s overall rate. In short, we are replacing our middle class with a rich elite and a burgeoning underclass. Watkins’ research also reveals that San Francisco is going gray. The number of city residents between ages 45 and 64 has climbed, while the count of those aged 20 to 44 has dropped. The city, it seems, has become a target destination for the wealthy and retirees. These are not the people who want to make sacrifices now to shore up the city’s future.

"Wealthier people are consuming," Watkins says. "They don’t want to build a future. They don’t have a reason to invest in the community." For that matter, neither do young people — because their futures likely involve moving out of San Francisco. According to Joel Kotkin, "San Francisco is Disneyland for adults, or a place people go until they grow up."

The stage is set for San Francisco to run on inertia. The city’s poor are unable to effect a sea change; the young, nomadic population is uninterested; and the wealthy and older are unwilling.

That’s right. San Francisco is getting richer, and is only going to become richer. Woot! It’s a Disneyland for adults! Everyone loves Disneyland!

This is fantastic news. More wealthy people = a more wealthy city. A more wealthy city = more wealthy people. House prices will continue to soar. Eventually, San Francisco will take the lead from Manhattan (our mortal enemy) and reign as the most expensive place to live in America. And then… the world.

Wow… if you’re not feeling the enthusiasm for this decade, you should be. We are definitely on the right path!

Comments (18) -- Posted by: burbed @ 5:00 am

18 Responses to “San Francisco: Richer and Richer and Richer”

  1. SmilingCat Says:

    Wealthy people are consumption, that’s right, they’re social TB.

  2. anon Says:

    Aww nobody gives a crap about a stupid city run by moronic liberals? Too bad. Hopefully it collapses under its own weight. Just like the stock market.

  3. DreamT Says:

    At first glance I thought the title read: “San Francisco: Richter and Richter and Richter” 🙂

    Was at SF over the new year checking out several neighborhoods, and all of them felt lifeless. I guess everybody did actually go to Tahoe.

  4. bob Says:

    Surprise surprise. When your city becomes too expensive to live in, those that help contribute most to the economy will move out. I guess maybe all those rich people will continue to buy pricier and pricier homes, but from my experience the more wealthy people live in any given area, the less character they tend to have. A pretty face without a real soul. Its also true that the homeless problem is a big issue in SF. I rarely go because you almost get assailed by the homeless begging for money, and what’s more is that they’re pretty aggressive about it too.

    Anyhow, SF is just the start of what’s already happening for most Cali Metros. While I myself am more likely to lean towards liberal politics, I think the state of CA is a good example of what happens when you have one party rule. Its not good for management. Given the chance any given party will ruin a system. Since CA will always be a strictly liberal democrat controlled state, it will continue to bleed and waste money until the end of time.

  5. steve Says:

    bob, you have to be the oldest 30-something person on the planet. fear of the homeless? seriously? I’ve been in the city at night an average of once a week for the past decade. mostly in the mission, SOMA, noe (below the shopping cart line) or NOPA (I like to eat) and have never had or seen a problem.

    while I agree on the spending explosion, CA mostly elects Republican governors these days (the guvernator, Wilson) and I’m pretty sure the liberals wish some of that prison guard gold was spent elsewhere. more than one party (or both) I blame the proposition process. your conclusion that the outlook is hopeless may be correct, but you should turn to another explanation.

  6. DreamT Says:

    steve, maybe bob is a lean, fragile, diminutive boy while you’re a bulky 300 pounder with beard, earrings and (gasp) ponytail?

  7. nomadic Says:

    …when you have one party rule. Its not good for management. Given the chance any given party will ruin a system.

    True. Balance is needed.

    Since CA will always be a strictly liberal democrat controlled state, it will continue to bleed and waste money until the end of time.

    So stereotypical and false. The ability of a minority (yes, usually Republican) to prevent tax increases is a big problem. It boggles my mind that some initiatives are not directly tied to the revenue needed to maintain them, so the “spend” part passes and the “revenue” part does not.

  8. CB Says:

    …so the “spend” part passes and the “revenue” part does not.

    Yes, Californians are like bubble buyers with a HELOC, and the state legislature is like Countrywide, and mostly Democrats work there.

  9. Ocirats Says:

    Bob wrote: I rarely go because you almost get assailed by the homeless begging for money, and what’s more is that they’re pretty aggressive about it too.

    I have lived in a lot of places, metropolitan and suburban, both inside and outside of the US. The SF homeless population is the most aggressive I have ever seen.

    Steve, I work near the Embarcadero – maybe you’ve had no problem during your culinary excursions in the other parts of the city, but you try sidestepping the aggressive panhandlers (not to mention piles of human faeces on the sidewalk) on your way to work every morning.

  10. bob Says:

    I used to work near 6th street in SF a few years back. Needless to say, that area seemed to be hangout central for the homeless. Personally I have no problem with homeless people. But there are definitely more aggressive and mentally disturbed homeless people in SF compared to other cities I’ve been in. A good reason is that SF is a great city to be homeless in. Not only is the weather warm enough to prevent you from freezing in the winter, but after I volunteered at a couple of churches to help the homeless a couple of years ago I learned that there are numerous homeless shelters, all well-organized with a database of beds so that if you go to one shelter and its full, another one can be found for you.Additionally, there are many programs to help them along. There was even one that helped homeless families get into a home that the charity actually paid for.

    I in no way envy or hate homeless people. But SF is probably one of the nicer cities to be homeless in. That’s the reason there are so many. I also think the article might have touched on another reason why: expensive rents probably pushed a lot of them out onto the streets.

    As far as Cali politics, I’ve tried for years to understand it. I think the article did a good job to illustrate the complex web of problems we face. But the bottom line is that I doubt the system is repairable. It seems to me that what the author observed- which is to say that rich people don’t give a rat’s ass about anyone except themselves and thus don’t vote on items that benefit the whole- is correct. Both wealthy metros I’ve lived in suffer the same internal infrastructural rot and progressive deterioration of class structure.

  11. steve Says:

    6th and mission rivals the tenderloin for its “charm”

  12. nomadic Says:

    Not repairable, bob? You’re something of a motorhead… everything is repairable! Might have to hit rock bottom before the hard decisions are made though.

  13. Top Dog Says:

    Even homeless people realize that it’s special here. Case closed.

  14. anon Says:

    sorry – where is “here” again?

  15. Alex Says:

    Here, as in the warm and beautiful parks where they can set up their cardboard boxes.

  16. anon Says:

    Oh – is that where top dog spends his time?

  17. bob Says:

    Let me know when its fixed nomadic. “motorhead”… that’s a good one.

  18. nomadic Says:

    That’s what we call car buffs back in the D (Detroit).

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