San Francisco cracks down

Author Michael Shellenberger of San Fransicko takes a victory lap after city reverses course on fighting crime.

The mayor of San Francisco, London Breed, has announced a crackdown on crime in the city’s long-troubled Tenderloin neighborhood. As quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle,

It’s time the reign of criminals who are destroying our city, it is time for it to come to an end. And it comes to an end when we take the steps to more aggressive with law enforcement.

She will also be seeking more police funding and a crackdown on street sales of stolen merchandise. Breed declared that San Francisco is no longer “a city where anything goes.”

For his part, California Governor Gavin Newsom has vowed to throw taxpayer money at the problem, promising to include an additional $300 million in crime spending when he proposes a new budget next year. Specifically, Newsom’s measures target the organized retail theft plaguing the state and includes $25 million to compensate small business owners for losses.

The New York Post quotes Newsom,

The rules are the rules, the laws are the laws, and we just want people to be held to account.

Earlier in the week, the California Highway Patrol and the San Francisco Police Department announced a joint seizure of $200,000 in stolen retail merchandise and two arrests.

Later in the week, Mayor Breed announced more efforts to treat and care for the homeless, drug addicts and the mentally ill. She declared a state of emergency to relax zoning rules and other regulations in the Tenderloin to facilitate getting treatment and services to drug addicts on the streets. In 2020, the city had more than double the number of overdose deaths (almost 700) than from COVID (257).

Author Michael Shellenberger outlines this blended approach of carrots and sticks in his best-selling book San Fransicko (reviewed here). Shellenberger’s solutions involve a coordinated effort to address crime, homelessness, drug addiction and mental illness. All of these factors overlap one another and intermingle in creating the crisis now faced by San Francisco and other progressive cities.

Shellenberger restates his recommendations in a Twitter thread commenting on recent developments in California and elsewhere. At the risk of oversimplifying, they run as follows:

  • Enforce laws and support accountability
  • Shut down open, outdoor drug markets
  • Insist on treatment of drug addiction, not as option, but as an alternative to incarceration
  • Embrace “tough love” of drug addicts, using both carrots and sticks, with “treatment first”
  • Use the same approach with mental illness, including both rewards and consequences
  • Shelter first, for the homeless, rather than housing first. Housing has to be earned by recipients

Shellenberger takes a deserved victory lap for the surprising turn of events in San Francisco. However, he sees the work as incomplete. He is advocating for the creation of a statewide agency to coordinate the treatment of mental illness, across the state. His “Cal-Psych” would ensure consistent treatment of the issue and avoid the phenomenon of individuals simply moving to more accommodating jurisdictions to avoid treatment.

Next month, the prophet Shellenberger is returning to his own land, appearing in person in the city on Jan. 24.