Somebody should have left their brain in San Francisco
December 21, 2009 9:28 AM   Subscribe

San Francisco - the Worst-Run Big City in the U.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.

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.

The city's ineptitude is no secret. "I have never heard anyone, even among liberals, say, 'If only [our city] could be run like San Francisco,'" says urbanologist Joel Kotkin. "Even other liberal places wouldn't put up with the degree of dysfunction they have in San Francisco. In Houston, the exact opposite of San Francisco, I assume you'd get shot."
posted by VikingSword (129 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
When everybody is politicking but nobody is accountable for the results, waste happens; unevaluated programs happen; Yomi Agunbiade happens — and nothing is done about it. After he resigned in disgrace, the Board of Supervisors, astonishingly, passed a resolution commending him for his years of service. He was offered the job of manager of San Francisco's wastewater improvement program. San Francisco tried to keep Agunbiade on the payroll, even after years of mismanagement, damning allegations of sexual and religious harassment, and potentially exposing the city to a massive lawsuit. The only reason he isn't working for the city today is that he apparently chose not to. He works at a private engineering firm, and did not return messages regarding this story.

Just as a data point, I have never met anyone with a city government job in any city who actually did real, demonstrable "work." Those gigs are the sweetest cherries.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:38 AM on December 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


detroit's not a big city?
posted by pyramid termite at 9:39 AM on December 21, 2009 [11 favorites]


A friend of mine was working for a nonprofit that advocates for affordable housing for the homeless. They helped get a housing initiative on the ballot and were providing information about what the initiative would do - all completely within their charter. Gavin showed up unannounced to try to bully them into stopping.
posted by roll truck roll at 9:43 AM on December 21, 2009


for roughly 800,000 residents

Plus whatever the 80, 280, and 101 carry in every day. Nobody commutes into Idaho, LOL.
posted by tad at 9:43 AM on December 21, 2009 [5 favorites]


I have never heard anyone, even among liberals, say, 'If only [our city] could be run like San Francisco...

Really? I've heard this often. Not "run like" as in the bureaucracy, true, but more as in services (especially BART) offered.
posted by DU at 9:46 AM on December 21, 2009 [4 favorites]



detroit's not a big city?


Detroit doesn't have near the budget to mismanage at this point. Plus, in terms of having even more rope to hang itself, SF is a hottie, and the motor city is a nottie:

"San Francisco is like the really good-looking coed who can get away with being a jerk, while a less good-looking one couldn't," Kotkin says.

posted by availablelight at 9:46 AM on December 21, 2009


Are there any well run big cities in America? Seriously, I feel like I'm always hearing about some ridiculous local government scandal somewhere.
posted by ghharr at 9:47 AM on December 21, 2009


big gub'mint, libruls, gays, apocalypse, etc
posted by jckll at 9:49 AM on December 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


"SF Weekly Takes Issue With San Francisco City Government" == "Dog Bites Area Man, Shits on Lawn"
posted by mosk at 9:51 AM on December 21, 2009 [18 favorites]


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.

Idaho's population is, what, 1.5 million? So San Francisco spends three to four times as much per capita as Idaho. Quite possibly San Francisco is three to four times more enjoyable to live in than Idaho.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:51 AM on December 21, 2009 [20 favorites]


New York City seems to be pretty well run in relation to its size.
posted by josher71 at 9:55 AM on December 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


Is this post one long pull quote from the article or a bunch of editorializing?
posted by edgeways at 9:55 AM on December 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


Worst run big city in America? Two words: Memphis.

What, you're wondering where the other word is? We're so shittily run here in M-town, we didn't even NOTICE the second word missing.
posted by vibrotronica at 9:55 AM on December 21, 2009 [15 favorites]


and yeah... "well if you had to choose where would you live, San Fran or Idaho?"
posted by edgeways at 9:56 AM on December 21, 2009


Just as a data point, I have never met anyone with a city government job in any city who actually did real, demonstrable "work." Those gigs are the sweetest cherries.

In small cities (little to embezzle or divert) and/or in jobs low in the hierarchy (beat cops, public works crews, social services case administrators, etc.) you'll find some really hardworking people. Beyond that, the only relatively honest large-city government employees are the ones that are always under public scrutiny; the middle tiers and lesser-known bureaucracy heads are the ones most able to shirk, embezzle, engage in graft, etc. DC, for example, is run by corrupt lifers that protect one another and ended up in their jobs (to a person) based on nepotism and cash payments.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:56 AM on December 21, 2009


They must be joking. Los Angeles MUST take the cake as the country's worst-run big city.

In fact, nothing in California works well. Except the weather.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:00 AM on December 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


Is this post one long pull quote from the article or a bunch of editorializing?

Novel idea: how about reading the link? Your answer is right there. On page one. And not far down either.

Frankly, I found it a very interesting article - and there are many links in the sidebars, which I did not include, since they are right there. Well worth reading, in my opinion, but of course, there's the tradition of not reading the links but commenting anyway.
posted by VikingSword at 10:01 AM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


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.

Yeah, but in terms of actual productivity (and therefore the ability to actual carry those higher costs) it's probably fair to say that the per capital GDP of San Fran is far higher than the per capital GDP of Idaho.

I wouldn't be surprised if the economic output of San Francisco were higher than the entire state of Idaho.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:02 AM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Despite the fact that it bleeds money, often smells like a urine-vomit cocktail, and has a woefully insufficient but over-priced public transportation system, I still left my heart there when I moved to New York.

I'm rooting for you, 'Frisco.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 10:02 AM on December 21, 2009 [6 favorites]


Just as a data point, I have never met anyone with a city government job in any city who actually did real, demonstrable "work." Those gigs are the sweetest cherries.

My father is a retired NYC Sanitation man - AKA New York's Strongest. If those guys aren't doing real, demonstrable work, NO one does. Once you've spent a couple of shifts humping garbage cans in the middle of a blizzard, you can tell me otherwise.

I understand where the sentiment comes from, though, having worked a desk job for a few years in NYC school system HQ - there are plenty of do-nothing sinecures around there. But not all city workers can get away with stuff like that, so put away the broad brush, ok?
posted by deadmessenger at 10:02 AM on December 21, 2009 [8 favorites]


In Houston, the exact opposite of San Francisco

Yeah, because Houston actually elected a lesbian mayor (who was previously a city controller and widely respected for curbing wasteful spending).
posted by thewittyname at 10:02 AM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


And another thing, Houston is not the city where city officials get shot for "dysfunction."
posted by thewittyname at 10:05 AM on December 21, 2009


This year's city budget is an astonishing $6.6 billion — more than twice the budget for the entire state of Idaho

I think the City of Toronto has a bigger government than the province of Ontario or something like that. San Francisco has shit to do. Idaho is pretty darn empty of both people and buildings. Municipal governments are big.
posted by GuyZero at 10:16 AM on December 21, 2009


Despite its spending more...

I think they mean, "Because of spending more..."

Cause and effect have been mixed up.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 10:18 AM on December 21, 2009


Comparing San Francisco's budget to Idaho is a little silly. One is a dense urban location while the other is mostly rural, a large chunk of which is owned by the federal govt.

A back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that San Francisco's budget per capita is more than NYC's. San Francisco: $6.6B/800K people vs. NYC: $61B/8300K people.
posted by plastic_animals at 10:19 AM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


SF parking meter revenues are getting directed to city departments other than the ones they're supposed to? Hell, that's nothing — at least you didn't send them to sovereign wealth funds in Abu Dhabi.
posted by enn at 10:19 AM on December 21, 2009


This is simply and objectively Not True. One of the very few things I got out of my years doing graduate work in political science was a better sense of what responsiveness in government is and what it means practically. On virtually every level, San Francisco rates high on government responsiveness to popular whim. Whereas there are dozens upon dozens of cities in the US (the aforementioned New Orleans, both post- and especially pre-Katrina, Detroit, and Washington DC, for a start) where responsiveness in government is crap compared to San Francisco. A local weekly can complain about the government's ineptitude - that's perfectly fair - but it's in an entirely different spirit for outsiders to say this, and what's more it's factually untrue. Hell, I suspect that even LA is run worse than San Francisco.
posted by koeselitz at 10:20 AM on December 21, 2009 [4 favorites]


I don't know how "well run" it is (what's the metric here?) but San Francisco is a really enjoyable place to work and to walk around. I would far rather take BART to San Francisco and work / shop / act like a tourist than do any of these in San Jose or the rest of the South Bay.

SF has real, walkable neighborhoods, extensive public transit, is bikable, and has some great parks. Plus beaches, the Golden Gate Bridge, SF MOMA, Coit Tower, ...

I <3>except the Muni buses. Now those are run terribly.
posted by zippy at 10:21 AM on December 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't know how "well run" it is (what's the metric here?) but San Francisco is a really enjoyable place to work and to walk around. I would far rather take BART to San Francisco and work / shop / act like a tourist than do any of these in San Jose or the rest of the South Bay.

True. But I would rather do all those things (except BART, obviously) in pretty much any city in Italy than anywhere in the U.S., notwithstanding the way that Italian government is "run." So maybe enjoyability of residence/tourism is not the best metric for figuring out whether a government runs a city well.

(And DC, New Orleans, and Detroit are run far worse than San Francisco.)
posted by The World Famous at 10:26 AM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Really? I've heard this often. Not "run like" as in the bureaucracy, true, but more as in services (especially BART) offered.

Actually this illustrates an example of just what the article is talking about. BART is a state agency and run by three of the four affected counties. It runs on time, is reasonably priced (for some definition of reasonable), and is well maintained. Likewise Caltrain.

SF Muni, on the other hand, is the transit agency run by the city and county. Intra-city Muni fares are more expensive than BART (though to be fair you get free transfers), it runs late and has frequent cancellations for no apparent reason (despite having GPS trackers on most of the buses & trains), is overcrowded and perceived as dirty and unsafe, and on top of all that, they just had significant service cuts AND fare increases go into effect a few weeks ago. Rumor has it that the Muni operators' union is too strong and effectively blocks most reforms; their goal is to have 10.2% of operators inexplicably absent on any given day, a target that they missed by 50% recently.

So, yeah. I love it here, but things could definitely be run better.
posted by rkent at 10:29 AM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


On virtually every level, San Francisco rates high on government responsiveness to popular whim.

Maybe that's part of the problem right there, too much of a focus on doing what's popular than doing what's right.
posted by gyc at 10:30 AM on December 21, 2009


My father is a retired NYC Sanitation man - AKA New York's Strongest. If those guys aren't doing real, demonstrable work, NO one does. Once you've spent a couple of shifts humping garbage cans in the middle of a blizzard, you can tell me otherwise.

Yeah, I should have specified. Sanitation and infrastructure and general public works employees are like magic elves who make sure you don't wake up in a pool of shit and then have to trudge through waist high snow on your way to work. I was referring to city government office workers, who as far as I can tell do nothing, or close enough to nothing.

If I'm in a private meeting with four people, three of whom don't need to be there, the odds are 100% that I'm meeting with government employees.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:32 AM on December 21, 2009


Chicago, not exactly a lean efficient city, has a budget approximately the same as San Francisco for two to three times the population.
posted by kmz at 10:33 AM on December 21, 2009


...but more as in services (especially BART) offered.

San Francisco doesn't run BART; it is governed a multi-county agency created by the state of California.

San Francisco runs MUNI, an entirely different beast.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:37 AM on December 21, 2009


Why is San Francisco so dirty? Am I wrong in perceiving this? It seems dirtier than most other cities (U.S. / Europe) I've seen.

Why is Muni so terrible? The T is a joke, the fare is now $2, coverage is nonexistent in some neigborhoods, the buses are erratic.

Why is 16th and Mission crack central? It's TWO BLOCKS from a police station.

What has Gavin Newsom accomplished in his time as mayor? Has there been any noticable effect on the # of mentally ill homeless on the streets? Or the violence in Hunter's Point?

I say all this as someone whose first love was San Francisco, and whose home is San Francisco. Having visited cities like Barcelona though , we have a lot of work to do before it measures up. Maybe it never will due to relativbe lack of density. But some of it is pure incompetence on the part of government.

Gavin Newsom... fuck that guy
posted by jcruelty at 10:39 AM on December 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


But the SF Board of Supes has saved us all from teh cell phone tower brain cancer!
posted by benzenedream at 10:42 AM on December 21, 2009


SF parking meter revenues are getting directed to city departments other than the ones they're supposed to? Hell, that's nothing — at least you didn't send them to sovereign wealth funds in Abu Dhabi.

That's insane. People worry about incentives for short-term profit on Wall Street being screwed up but we let our politicians sell the rights to a revenue stream for 75 years!!

"The mayor won City Council backing last week to balance his 2010 budget with almost $600 million from the upfront parking company payment, meaning almost all of the windfall will be spent within the first two years of the deal."
posted by ghharr at 10:48 AM on December 21, 2009


Oh great. A story criticizing San Francisco published in the SF Weekly. I would only be less suspicious if it were published in the Bay Guardian.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 10:48 AM on December 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


MORE suspicious.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 10:49 AM on December 21, 2009


San Francisco is primarily just identity politics - it's not who you are but what you are. Potholes and filth don't have any identity roles to play here, that's why they are ignored. It also seems that there may be a "homeless" industry here, people who make money off of the the existence of homeless people, this includes charities, etc. Living here since '92, I've seen no change after three mayors...
posted by njohnson23 at 10:52 AM on December 21, 2009


If I'm in a private meeting with four people, three of whom don't need to be there, the odds are 100% that I'm meeting with government employees.

Either that or BIGLAW lawyers
posted by gyc at 10:53 AM on December 21, 2009


"Quite possibly San Francisco is three to four times more enjoyable to live in than Idaho."

Or not.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 11:00 AM on December 21, 2009 [4 favorites]


jcruelty, every time I come back from Europe I'm struck by how dirty San Francisco is. I remember visiting Poland where the city sidewalks are swept by people with brooms, and then a week later walking down Mission street in the wake of one of those fancy sidewalk cleaning machines that you ride on. It was perfectly disgusting- that machine doesn't do anything but look impressive and cost a lot (and use more energy and resources than a couple of people sweeping).

"SF Weekly Takes Issue With San Francisco City Government" == "Dog Bites Area Man, Shits on Lawn"

Oh great. A story criticizing San Francisco published in the SF Weekly. I would only be less suspicious if it were published in the Bay Guardian.


So what's your point? That newspapers shouldn't criticize the cities they occupy? I'm happy to live in a place where a free newspaper questions and criticizes local institutions. Dismissing the article based on the publication without RTFA is kind of silly. There are substantial issues raised by this piece; the fact that it is in a paper with a progressive bias doesn't make it worthless, and dismissing them based on "OMG the Weekly" is hardly a thoughtful and in-depth rebuttal.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:01 AM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Clearly San Francisco needs to buy brooms for the homeless.
posted by ghharr at 11:07 AM on December 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


Joel Kotkin is an "urbanologist?" What is that? He's a journalist who's marketed himself into a job with a private school in Orange County CA.
posted by raysmj at 11:12 AM on December 21, 2009


It also seems that there may be a "homeless" industry here, people who make money off of the the existence of homeless people, this includes charities, etc. Living here since '92, I've seen no change after three mayors...

The homeless services system as it existed for twenty plus years never had a coherent plan for reducing numbers of people on the streets, and it was apparent not long after the first shelters were built that what was really happening was a creation of a new underclass of people called the homeless who were never really expected to function within the community again. So rather than shelters being emergency temporary housing they became warehouses full of drug addicts and the mentally ill and nobody really knew how to get them out of this system they were now stuck in. There were ideas, like the continuum of care model where clients would step up into transitional housing from the shelter system but only after proving that they were clean and sober or compliant on psychiatric medication regimens for a substantial period of time, usually six to nine months, but those ideas failed. They seemed intuitively correct but a lot of things that seem intuitively correct don't actually work. We understand now that a stable housing base in which to provide supportive services is absolutely necessary to getting people off the streets and keeping them off the streets, and a harm reduction framework where people aren't punished for getting high or not taking meds is also necessary to get people through the door in the first place.

So, the question is, now that we know this, why are the bulk of tax payer resources still going to an outdated model of service provision we know doesn't work? People who run programs that don't work are generally very protective of them, because, well, they don't want to lose their jobs. Those people tend to have connections in city politics, and have the clout to keep contracts coming despite a growing body of evidence that says they are going about it all wrong.

This isn't a San Franciso specific problem, in just about every major city there are heated arguments between evidence-based practitioners in social services whose programs are newer and struggling to get a piece of the money pie that older, ineffectual programs are squatting on. Homeless services is a great example of this, especially because we know shelters don't work, we know housing first does, and yet there's been no wholesale changeover in the system from one model to the other. But it's not the only example, and it's not particular to one place, though the arguments are more vicious in some cities than others.
posted by The Straightener at 11:14 AM on December 21, 2009 [41 favorites]


Yes, the Californicating anarchists are ruining it for the responsible red repubs. Just like in the movies, only with Terminators.
posted by effluvia at 11:15 AM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


We have homeless people in America. WTF.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:53 AM on December 21, 2009


Yes, the Californicating anarchists are ruining it for the responsible red repubs. Just like in the movies, only with Terminators.

Knee===>Jerk
posted by mattholomew at 11:56 AM on December 21, 2009


San Francisco doesn't run BART; it is governed a multi-county agency created by the state of California.

You can get projects like BART done with the participation of San Francisco, but not without, which gives San Francisco an extraordinary amount of clout in determining what BART does.
posted by zippy at 11:56 AM on December 21, 2009


The reality is that the SF Weekly has been calling San Francisco the worst-run city in the United States, in one way or another, for at least the past 15 years. That was both before and after it got taken over by conglomero-monster New Times Media/Village Voice Media.

The article does make some good points. But since the crises that the article describes have been "going on for decades," in the words of Aaron Peskin, how is this news?

Special interests "go to the voters and say, 'Do you like libraries? Do you like children?' Well, of course they do," Harrington says. And if voters don't care to think through the fiscal ramifications — well, neither do their elected representatives. "The board likes children, too — so does the mayor. Next year in the budget they'll say, 'Oh, shit! Children get $30 million more — what doesn't?'" If the city ran its finances this way 30 years ago, the former controller notes, the money to respond to the AIDS crisis would have been locked up and unavailable. If such a need arises in the future — well, what then? Today's city can't even pay for the things it wants to pay for.

This is true of the entire state of California, and, to a certain extent, the entire US of A.

As long as San Francisco is an alluring destination where residents will tolerate lunacy as a tradeoff for living the city lifestyle, and tourists flood the downtown, the city will lumber along, inefficiently and without accountability.

True of many big cities that are also tourist destinations.

As koeselitz indicated, I'd like to see something more rigorous than an SF Weekly article to be convinced that SF is the single worst-run big city in the United States.

Which is not to say that it's not one the top 10 worst.
posted by blucevalo at 12:02 PM on December 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


Cite for above BART governance. In addition to the money flow, which I'm only making an educated guess about, on the nine-member BART governing board, San Francisco (the city) is in three districts, two of them are San Francisco's exclusively.

No other city has this level of representation on the BART board.

All roads rails lead to Rome.
posted by zippy at 12:06 PM on December 21, 2009


But since the crises that the article describes have been "going on for decades," in the words of Aaron Peskin, how is this news?

Because it's been going on for decades.
posted by mattholomew at 12:09 PM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Despite its spending more money per capita, period, than almost any city in the nation

I don't think you understand the proper usage of "period" and "almost."
posted by dhammond at 12:10 PM on December 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


Cite for above BART governance. In addition to the money flow, which I'm only making an educated guess about, on the nine-member BART governing board, San Francisco (the city) is in three districts, two of them are San Francisco's exclusively.

No other city has this level of representation on the BART board.

All roads rails lead to Rome.


Yet BART still only has one puny route through the city with absolutely no plans for any additional routes within the city *cough*BART under Geary*cough* while BART continues to expand into the central valley.
posted by gyc at 12:14 PM on December 21, 2009


Why is everyone so down on public transportation in SF? In the 2.5 years I lived there I never really had a problem getting around on it. I used a combination of mostly Caltrain and Muni, but occasionally used BART too. Sure BART trains and some busses were dirty and smelly, but that's common on a lot of aging systems. This was nearly 10 years ago mind you, but even then I'd hear constant complaints.
posted by howling fantods at 12:36 PM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


zippy: “You can get projects like BART done with the participation of San Francisco, but not without, which gives San Francisco an extraordinary amount of clout in determining what BART does.”

Honestly not snarking: it is primarily run in San Francisco. So how exactly is it "an extraordinary amount of clout" for a city to have last-veto say in its own public transit system? I don't live there, so I figure you have something in mind when you say this that I'm not aware of.
posted by koeselitz at 12:37 PM on December 21, 2009


it is primarily run in San Francisco

You mean management wise? Because the vast majority of BART tracks are outside S.F. city limits.
posted by wildcrdj at 12:51 PM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


This year's city budget is an astonishing $6.6 billion

That seems really really really high. My city is about 1/3 the size but only has a $450 Million budget. What is SF doing with all that money?
posted by octothorpe at 12:57 PM on December 21, 2009


Honestly not snarking: it is primarily run in San Francisco. So how exactly is it "an extraordinary amount of clout" for a city to have last-veto say in its own public transit system?

I was responding to an earlier post that BART didn't count as an SF-run agency because it has a multi-county board. I am not saying that SF's influence is right or wrong, just that BART is led by SF, and is primarily a SF transit system, despite multi-county management.

In response to another poster who points out that BART only has "one puny line" in San Francisco, this line is BART's artery -- the destination for many, many commuters, and where all the BART lines converge.
posted by zippy at 1:01 PM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


From the article: "San Francisco is Disneyland for adults, or a place people go until they grow up."

LOL, I'm so stealing that line ...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:01 PM on December 21, 2009


where all the BART lines converge.
With the exception of Ricmond-Fremont.

posted by zippy at 1:03 PM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


People love San Francisco.

It will take more than bad governance to chase people out of San Francisco.

This is a population that knows almost for certain that much of its population will be crushed by falling buildings and suffocate to death under rubble sometime in a near future. But still they stay. If San Francisco were ruled by trimuvurate of Marion Berry, George W. Bush, and Marshall Petain, people would still leave their hearts there.

In cities less naturally gifted than San Francisco, bad governance drives people away -- to San Francisco. But after San Francisco, where?
posted by Faze at 1:11 PM on December 21, 2009 [4 favorites]


But after San Francisco, where?

Guam?
posted by blucevalo at 1:21 PM on December 21, 2009


People bitching about government and city workers? I thought I was on Little Green Footballs for a second. It's Bizzarro Metafilter.
posted by tkchrist at 1:58 PM on December 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is a very funny article which makes some good points, albeit with bombastic arm waving thrown in. We used to live in San Francisco, and have since moved. We have children, and I was tired of doing things like trying to keep my toddler from stepping in human feces on the sidewalk. It's a shame, because San Francisco is a beautiful city with wonderful immigrant communities and amazing food. But it is also the personal playground of people and politicians with more money than sense. Most of the good aspects of San Francisco exist in spite of the best efforts of the city's government, not because of it. I am sure that the cash only businesses operating (would you like to buy a tub of live frogs?) on Clement Street or in Chinatown are not paying much into the government's coffers, and I approve.
posted by Wavelet at 2:01 PM on December 21, 2009


The article says the problem is because they have a 'hyperdemocracy'. Sounds like they need a dictator to clean things up. How about an Emperor Norton for the 21st century?
posted by Rashomon at 2:16 PM on December 21, 2009


If I'm in a private meeting with four people, three of whom don't need to be there, the odds are 100% that I'm meeting with government employees.

Or, y'know, any private business with more than one vp.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:24 PM on December 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


easy solution: don't like it don't live there.
posted by Postroad at 2:41 PM on December 21, 2009


We used to live in San Francisco, and have since moved. We have children, and I was tired of doing things like trying to keep my toddler from stepping in human feces on the sidewalk.

I realize that SF has an inordinately high homeless population, but what other large cities do not have some of the same distasteful yucky unpleasant aspects that SF has? If it ain't feces, it's sure to be something else. Heavy gridlocked traffic. High crime rates. Polluted tap water. Unsightly slum areas. Etc., etc., etc. Some of these distasteful things are endemic to urban life.

I'm not an SF booster, and I've moved away from the Bay Area too, and I hate stepping in feces as much as anyone does. But I don't think that SF is somehow the be-all and end-all of horrific urban mismanagement.
posted by blucevalo at 2:44 PM on December 21, 2009


What is SF doing with all that money?

Wasting it.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 2:47 PM on December 21, 2009


Like Vancouver, San Francisco's nearly-perfect climate makes the homeless problem worse than in other cities where they have the good fortune of freezing most of their homeless population to death each winter.
posted by GuyZero at 2:57 PM on December 21, 2009 [5 favorites]


Also, the most recent Gallup/Healthways Well-Being Index placed San Francisco's two congressional districts at #11 and 12 in terms of the overall self-ranked well-being of their residents (out of 435 districts nationwide). I'm having a hard time squaring that with "the worst-run hellhole in the United States." I realize that the SF Weekly uses the Kotkin Disneyland metaphor to explain the discrepancy, but that can't account for the full explanation of why many people would persist not only in living in a mismanaged hellhole but saying that their lives were extra-fabulous in that hellhole if it were the worst-run city in the US.
posted by blucevalo at 3:06 PM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Insofar as SF has any problems, most of them stem from the fact that the city is located in California. Other than that, anyone who claims that SF is a uniquely poorly run city has never experienced DC for a significant amount of time.
posted by deanc at 3:13 PM on December 21, 2009


but that can't account for the full explanation of why many people would persist not only in living in a mismanaged hellhole but saying that their lives were extra-fabulous in that hellhole if it were the worst-run city in the US.

Really? It doesn't stand to reason that a city run by idiots is also full of people in denial about how bad it is?
posted by The World Famous at 3:16 PM on December 21, 2009




Or that the people using the mismanaged services are lower on the socio-economic ladder, and therefore you don't hear about them as much as you do the hipster bloggers that just think S.F. rules, man.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:32 PM on December 21, 2009


San Francisco's problems are common to that of every city politically dominated by its tax recipients and not its tax payers. That's could be be hard to fix, given that a lot of taxes are paid by non-residents, and a lot of resident tax-payers are too rich to care or too dedicated to their affinity group to conceive of themselves as tax-payers first.

The solution is probably closer than people think, if less pleasant. State funding could be blocked by the fiscal crisis, which could also (together with SF's specific problems) cut the city off from the municipal bond market for a considerable period of time. The city has no ability to tax wages or other sources of income and very little ability to increase sales taxes or property taxes any further without hitting declining returns. The city can't spend money it physically does not have, and at least some form of spending discipline will accompany those straits.
posted by MattD at 3:47 PM on December 21, 2009


Nobody commutes into Idaho, LOL.

Except for a bunch of Californians on 3 day weekends and holidays.
posted by madajb at 4:28 PM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Really, oneirodynia?

Replace street sweepers with brooms because your subjective opinion is that money could be better spent and the streets would be cleaner? How does that POSSIBLY make sense? Ok, sure, people sweeping all day with BROOMS would keep the place clean. Replace a single person in a machine with tens of people making $35,000-$40,000 a year. Talk about inefficient.
posted by subaruwrx at 4:33 PM on December 21, 2009


Nobody commutes into Idaho, LOL.

Except for a bunch of Californians on 3 day weekends and holidays.


Actually, the number of Spokanites who drive the 30-odd miles to Coeur d'Alene or communities nearby for work is not a small one. My understanding it, the schools are better in WA, as are the state services offered and other things.
posted by hippybear at 4:33 PM on December 21, 2009


Like Vancouver, San Francisco's nearly-perfect climate makes the homeless problem worse than in other cities where they have the good fortune of freezing most of their homeless population to death each winter.

Well, Oakland (where I work and lived for over 20 years) does have homeless, but not to the extent that SF has. Walnut Creek has similar weather, but I've come across exactly two homeless people that I could recognize, and was panhandled once in the 18 months I've lived in the area.

So unless Walnut Creek is corralling all the homeless people and shipping them in containers to SF (WHICH COULD BE!), I think maybe there's something else going on.

I don't think BART is a barrier -- I've seen panhandlers commute to their gigs on BART, which seems a pricey way to go, but who am I to say?
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 4:34 PM on December 21, 2009


Really? It doesn't stand to reason that a city run by idiots is also full of people in denial about how bad it is?

Touche. But my point is really that you could say the same thing about any so-called mismanaged city anywhere. They are generally speaking run by idiots. They are also generally speaking full of people in denial about how bad it is there. This is not a unique-to-San-Francisco phenomenon. Nor does it establish that SF is the worst-managed city in the US.
posted by blucevalo at 4:41 PM on December 21, 2009


Homeless people on the streets are primarily an urban phenomenon which I'm not going to try to justify besides simply having observed it. You see homeless people in downtown Toronto when there are next to none in Mississauga or North York. Theyr'e in SF but not really in Sunnyvale although there are a small handful in San Jose (I think, I hardly ever see any). Vancouver's lower east side, but not in Burnaby or whatever other semi-urban city you want to name. So yeah, it's more than the weather but San Francisco has the combination of necessary factors the same way Vancouver does.
posted by GuyZero at 4:45 PM on December 21, 2009


On virtually every level, San Francisco rates high on government responsiveness to popular whim.

Perhaps I'm reading this wrong, but it seems to me that a city that jumps to every whim of the public would be high on the scale of poorly run cities.
It'd probably be right up there with a city that completely ignores the public.
posted by madajb at 4:46 PM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Actually, the number of Spokanites who drive the 30-odd miles to Coeur d'Alene or communities nearby for work is not a small one. My understanding it, the schools are better in WA, as are the state services offered and other things.

Also no income tax in Washington.
posted by madajb at 4:49 PM on December 21, 2009


But my point is really that you could say the same thing about any so-called mismanaged city anywhere. They are generally speaking run by idiots. They are also generally speaking full of people in denial about how bad it is there.

People in Detroit and DC are not in denial about how bad it is there.

Also no income tax in Washington.

But don't people who live in Washington and work in Idaho pay Idaho state taxes on income earned as Idaho employees?
posted by The World Famous at 5:07 PM on December 21, 2009


So unless Walnut Creek is corralling all the homeless people and shipping them in containers to SF

In Berkeley, I've heard more than once something like this; that they round up the homeless in places like Walnut Creek and drive them on buses into Berkeley or SF. Sounds like tin-foil hat territory, but I can think of reasons it could be true. Can't find any confirmation online, though.
posted by JenMarie at 5:07 PM on December 21, 2009


My take has always been that it's a chicken-egg thing with homeless people and homeless services - if you were homeless in Walnut Creek you'd probably be drawn to San Francisco because of the services available (meals, shelters, drug dealers, parks to sleep in, etc). So SF spends money to support these people, reinforcing the cycle. At least that's how it seemed to work in Toronto. All of southern Ontario's indigent end up in Toronto and tend to stay because there's people there to help them.
posted by GuyZero at 5:14 PM on December 21, 2009


but not really in Sunnyvale

I see someone's too good to visit North Sunnyvale [cue spooky music].
posted by jewzilla at 5:18 PM on December 21, 2009


It needs to be said: San Francisco is by far one of the most beautiful and amazing cities in the world. I've been to and lived in my fair share of the worlds cities. San Francisco is right up there.
posted by tkchrist at 5:33 PM on December 21, 2009 [4 favorites]


My first instinct was to read the comments and think once again - what the hell is wrong with America. Then I actually read the linked article and found that it's not about San Fran at all, its about a guy called Yomi Agunbiade. Maybe the guy is a crook, maybe the guy isn't. So this post is rubbish and the comments aren't much better- where can I digg this down?
posted by vicx at 6:24 PM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


its about a guy called Yomi Agunbiade

So, you read Page 1 of 6, then. Well done. Now, down at the bottom, there are these things called hyperlinks...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:52 PM on December 21, 2009


... not to mention the War on Fun, e.g.
posted by fatllama at 8:16 PM on December 21, 2009


So SF spends money to support these people, reinforcing the cycle.

This is true. There is quite the cottage industry in homeless services in San Francisco. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing -- after all, namesake, Assisi, Poverello, patron saint of the poor, all that. But San Francisco is not a city that makes it known that the homeless are unwelcome.
posted by blucevalo at 8:19 PM on December 21, 2009


Just wanted to pop in to say that caltrain is most definitely not well-run. Really erratic schedule which is frequently delayed anyway (one year they chose to go with a schedule that was physically impossible). Nearly always empty except the two commuter trains and the ballgame train....which are generally half full. The only reason it continues to exist is that it's the only game in town.

Oh, and while we're speaking of shittily-run-by-someone-other-than-San-Francisco publc transit systems, has anyone ever heard of anyone using the VTA? I can't even recall swing one of those things in motion, it seems they just perpetually rot on the tracks.
posted by breath at 9:51 PM on December 21, 2009


As far as I can tell, San Francisco is terrible. I much prefer Philadelphia or ::shudder:: Los Angeles. It has to be the most disgusting city I have ever been in (okay, Memphis was pretty bad).

SF has some cool things going on, some nice views, attractions, museums, etc., but I don't understand why everyone thinks it's this like shining beacon of hope.

As for Muni.... I ride my bike to work, because I cannot rely on the buses or trains to run reliably. And how is it that all the buses have GPS on them, and there's a website that you can check arrival times, but after about 6pm the times have no basis in reality?

Also, what are people talking about when they say that the cost of living here is too high? My cost of living here is comparable or less than living in Los Angeles, San Diego, Philadelphia or South Jersey.
posted by runcibleshaw at 11:46 PM on December 21, 2009


I live in San Francisco. The article was fascinating and I'm glad I read it. The city's finances are in obvious disarray, buoyed by mismanaged resources and clownlike incompetence on the part of government officials. (A recent WTF: the executive director of the San Francisco Housing Authority claiming, "I don't know what crystal meth is, sir.")

On the other hand - come on. The worst-run big city in the country? Give me a fucking break. Way to ensure that your article's many solid points are completely overshadowed by that bit of hyperbole. The only people who will take that shit seriously also think we're all smug gay commies who rape and overtax each other all the livelong day. Yes, the city has its problems. We all love to complain. I know I do. But you know what?

I LIKE MUNI. I take it everywhere and yes, sometimes it's late and crowded and dirty and stabby but as someone who grew up in the suburbs of L.A., I still see it as my golden chariot. I feel absolutely no need for a car.

There are a lot of homeless people, and it's a problem, but it's also somewhat self-perpetuating. If you were homeless, where would you rather be? Oakland, the country's third most dangerous city? Walnut Creek (LOL)? Or sleeping under the trees in Golden Gate Park?

San Francisco has the country's closest facsimile to universal health care and so far it's a success. The city has pockets of segregation, but on the whole we're quite diverse, crammed in here together as we are. It's not like Chicago, where you go five blocks south of State Street and suddenly all the white people disappear, where the city pretends everything aside from Hyde Park doesn't exist.

Oh, and our tap water is fantastic.

And most of all, people CARE. There's a feeling of "we're all in this together, and anyone who wants to join us is welcome any time." There's the feeling that things can change. And so the local government may be staffed with buffoons, but they feel almost irrelevant. When I read that article, I didn't feel the same despair that I do when reading about incompetence in other governmental systems. I felt...relieved. Because now I know, and other people do too, and now we can get to work on putting what's broken back together.
posted by granted at 12:06 AM on December 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


My formative experience with a service run exclusively by San Francisco was Muni. Specifically, the Muni 82X Bus. That's an express route.

For years, I commuted from the East Bay to the Presidio: AC Transit to BART to the Muni 82X. At the time, 82X ran over half a mile into the Presidio. My stop was at the end of the line. And getting there was great!

Coming home, I'd take the last 82X bus of the day. Not very late - around 6pm.

About once a month, the bus wouldn't show. Since the bus was often 20 minutes late, I'd wait to see if it was genuinely missing in action (Muni dispatch never knew - they'd sometimes tell me that the bus showed when I had been at the stop the entire time).

If it was a no-show, my commute just got 1 hour longer (30 min wait plus 1/2 mile walk plus a non-express bus). Except when it got an additional 30 minutes longer because I missed the last bus of the night on the East Bay side.

Sometimes, instead of being late, the 82X would leave early, leaving me just as stranded. The driver once showed me his printed schedule - not the one passengers get, but the computer printed one he got from dispatch - and it really said he was supposed to leave 3-5 minutes earlier than the published schedule. I think management was gaming the schedule to get their on-time numbers down on this route - if the 82X left early, it was more likely to be on-time downtown, or on whatever route the 82X bus turned into later in the day.

Muni turned me from an idealistic hard-core public transit user to a daily driver. With BART and AC Transit, a delay was exceptional. Muni's schedule was by comparison a perfect source of random noise.

Now, I would never consider taking Muni as part of a commute. 10 minutes from BART on foot is my new rule, and it's made my life so much simpler.
posted by zippy at 12:40 AM on December 22, 2009


Oh, and while we're speaking of shittily-run-by-someone-other-than-San-Francisco publc transit systems, has anyone ever heard of anyone using the VTA? I can't even recall swing one of those things in motion, it seems they just perpetually rot on the tracks.

VTA light rail serves something like 15000 riders a day. It's no MTA, but it's super clean and runs pretty frequently considering the ridership. Getting around San Jose on VTA bus/light rail is not much harder than getting around Brooklyn, which is impressive considering how sprawling the South Bay is.
posted by eddydamascene at 1:02 AM on December 22, 2009


Granted, my experience of SF is very different from yours. I see it much more closely to njohnson23, poisoned by strange group identity politics. Usually it's about neighborhood and socio-economic issues more than race, but the line does blur.

I've had an office at 16th and Mission for just about eight years now, and the contrast between Mission St and Valencia St here is *insane*, night and day for a distance of 500ft or so. My pet conspiracy theory is that there are places in SF like the Tenderloin, 6th St below Market, and Mission between 16th and 17th where the SFPD pushes problems from other parts of the city. There are clear demarcation points if you know what to look for, lines that certain kinds of behavior are not allowed to cross. I think it's a way for the city to maintain a clinical distance from its own problem populations, containing people rather than integrating them. The opposition of freshly-gentrified Hayes Valley merchants to the location of clinics and so on in their neighborhood shows that the pressure from other parts of town does exist - it's normal to hear a general "get *those* people the hell away from here" attitude toward SF's problem populations.

I agree with some of the comments above about a homeless industry, and I don't think the idea of busing in the homeless is a myth - there are tourist-style buses idling on Mission between 15th and 16th pretty much every night, and I wouldn't be surprised if they were used for just such a purpose. (I've not actually checked mind you, just airing some crazy talk)

It's sad, I would like to see greater mixing of different kinds of people and activities to even out the economic peaks and valleys a bit.

Anyway.
posted by migurski at 1:20 AM on December 22, 2009


Oh, and our tap water is fantastic.

Your tap water comes from a federally owned source -- the Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite National Park.

It is indeed fantastic.

However, as the article points out (you did read it, right? and not just the first page, like that other guy?), the administration running the water system is awash with incompetence and corruption.

Money that was supposed to be set aside for maintenance of the system was diverted elsewhere. But pay no attention to that fact, or the fact that the aqueducts cross several active earthquake faults. Drink up!

While you still can.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:08 AM on December 22, 2009


I blame Ronald Reagan for emptying the state hospitals.
posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 3:59 AM on December 22, 2009


Actually HH is owned by SF. And the aqueducts are protected by the Water Temple.
posted by tad at 5:24 AM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wait a minute. An article about how bad SF stinks, and not a single measure of universal health care?!

How many other (american) cities offer health insurance to all of their residents? (Honest question, I don't know.)

Well, Oakland (where I work and lived for over 20 years) does have homeless, but not to the extent that SF has.

I've lived in both Oakland and San Francisco. I've been threatened by beggars/drunks much more in Oakland. There are more panhandlers in SF, but less aggressive (or less drunk), imo.

"I have never heard anyone, even among liberals, say, 'If only [our city] could be run like San Francisco,'" says urbanologist Joel Kotkin.

I live in Oakland, and I say that all the time.

I think the effectiveness of San Francisco government is a mixed bag, mostly because of ineffective mayors for many years. However, I think a lot of the complaint here, as others have mentioned, is that the city is too responsive to citizens. If on-time trains are more important than trying to give citizens what they want ... well, I disagree.

Also, I LIKE MUNI TOO. (And I'm beginning to hate BART.)
posted by mrgrimm at 5:27 AM on December 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


measure mention
posted by mrgrimm at 5:28 AM on December 22, 2009


I think the effectiveness of San Francisco government is a mixed bag, mostly because of ineffective mayors for many years.

I don't think SF's mismanagement is down mostly to ineffective mayors. Every mayor has had his or her strengths and weaknesses, and some have been popular but ineffective. The current mayor was re-elected in a landslide in 2007. Some people love him, some people hate him. On his watch, though, the universal health care delivery system that you mention did get implemented, and it has been a success (although as this article and literature from the health program itself note, it's not insurance, it's not portable, and it has no effect outside SF city limits). You're absolutely right: the SF Weekly article makes no mention of that, maybe because mentioning it would mess up its theme that the city is the worst-run in the country.

I think that an argument could be made that the mismanagement is as much (or more) due to an ineffective Board of Supervisors (San Francisco is a both a county and a city government rolled into one). If anything is an example of "hyperdemocracy," it's the Board of Supervisors.
posted by blucevalo at 7:07 AM on December 22, 2009


"If on-time trains are more important than trying to give citizens what they want..."

What if the citizens want on-time trains?

Uh-oh, it's a paradox.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 9:04 AM on December 22, 2009


It needs to be said: San Francisco is by far one of the most beautiful and amazing cities in the world. I've been to and lived in my fair share of the worlds cities. San Francisco is right up there.

Absolutely. And that's why I continue to live here despite continual attempts by the assclowns running the city to make me rethink my decision.
posted by gyc at 11:37 AM on December 22, 2009


San Francisco is by far one of the most beautiful and amazing cities in the world.
I love San Francisco but I always disagree with this sentiment. San Francisco, as a city, is extremely ugly. It is an extraordinarily ugly city plunked down in an extraordinarily beautiful setting.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 1:10 PM on December 22, 2009


San Francisco, as a city, is extremely ugly.

What??? Is there a better looking US city? It's not Prague but it's a sight better than comparable US cities.
posted by GuyZero at 1:21 PM on December 22, 2009


OK, this could probably be an FPP in its own right, but...ugly?
posted by kittyprecious at 1:29 PM on December 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


What I meant was the actual urban fabric is not very attractive. Architecturally speaking, San Francisco is miles behind Chicago, New York, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami.....it's just not very remarkable here. Yes, as kittyprecious' link demonstrates, there is beauty here and most of those shots rely on the natural setting of the city to make them beautiful.

And I blame much of this on the politics here. San Franciscans do not take kindly to new architecture and the brutal permitting process that allows every jerk in the neighborhood (or even in the city) to have a say in the design process means that everything does its best to be inoffensive, bland, and by-the-book just so it can be approved quickly and with a minimum of fuss. Any delay in construction can cost millions of dollars so developers are not willing to go out on a limb to do something different. To some extent that climate has loosened up in the past few years though I'm not convinced that the new Federal Building is really the poster child for beautiful new civic design.

There are some exceptions here and there but on the whole, the city itself is kinda ugly. That's not to say that I don't often find beauty in various places and I do like living here but I do not agree that this is a beautiful city.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 1:50 PM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


San Francisco's setting is beautiful. But most of the city is pretty junky and gross up close, and not in a pretty way.
posted by The World Famous at 1:57 PM on December 22, 2009


SF is behind Seattle architecturally? What? I will concede New York, Chicago, Miami and Boston, possibly LA although LA has twice as much garbage as good stuff and the core of New Orleans is obviously unique, but San Francisco stands architecturally ahead of most cities. The rest of the Bay Area is late 20tn century bland boxes - at least there are some historic buildings left in SF.

Frankly, my take is that those who hate San Francisco haven't lived anywhere else. it is far, far from perfect, but it is pretty awesome and has a lot going for it. 75% of US urban areas are suburbs and strip malls and that is hell on earth. San Francisco is not that.
posted by GuyZero at 2:18 PM on December 22, 2009


What I meant was the actual urban fabric is not very attractive. Architecturally speaking, San Francisco is miles behind Chicago, New York, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami.....it's just not very remarkable here.

You're taking the piss. C'mon. I live in Seattle. Miles behind? I could not disagree more. Seattle has been destroying it's most interesting architecture for the last twenty years.

San Francisco is light years more iconic, distinct, architecturally and aesthetically interesting than Portland or Seattle. There are hundreds more historic landmarks in SF than Seattle or Portland. Not to mention it's urban planning is way better than Seattle's. Portland has some very progressive urban planning but I'd say all things totaled SF is still superior overall.

Or, for Christ sake, Los Angeles! Los Angeles? Which is (as much as I truly love the place) one of the most boring and devoid cities of it's size and wealth, architecturally speaking, in the world.

Seriously? You'd be hard pressed to find a single high level architect that would agree with you on this. Yeah. I'm gonna go ahead and assume you're pulling my leg or high or something.
posted by tkchrist at 4:53 PM on December 22, 2009


San Francisco's setting is beautiful. But most of the city is pretty junky and gross up close, and not in a pretty way.

I think you guys are nuts. You've obviously never examined any other major city "up close."

My agency specializes in hospitality, restaurants, and tourism. We do work for hotel chains all over the world. I have an office in SF. Some of our work comes from the CA Tourism commission. San Francisco comes in high as a top City tourist destination. That's out of most the cities in the world.

In this list (Only one of many I could probably dig up if I was that motivated) San Francisco (#37) is higher than Boston (#68), Seattle (#121) or Portland (which doesn't even rate).

This SF hate is kind weird. I think people are actually buying into all the years of Fox News Anti-San Francisco propaganda subconsciously.
posted by tkchrist at 5:06 PM on December 22, 2009


Seattle has been destroying it's most interesting architecture for the last twenty years.

I was there 20 years ago and I don't remember any interesting architecture.
posted by GuyZero at 5:10 PM on December 22, 2009


I think you guys are nuts. You've obviously never examined any other major city "up close."

Oh, no, I have. Some that are junky and gross up close are junky and gross in a pretty way (many Italian cities, for example). Others are not at all junky or gross, comparatively (Amsterdam, for example). I live and work in Los Angeles, and has about the same level of junky grossness as San Francisco. It just doesn't have the beautiful setting that San Francisco has.

My agency specializes in hospitality, restaurants, and tourism. We do work for hotel chains all over the world. I have an office in SF. Some of our work comes from the CA Tourism commission. San Francisco comes in high as a top City tourist destination. That's out of most the cities in the world.

The fact that San Francisco is a top City tourist destination says nothing about whether San Francisco, in spite of its beautiful setting, is junky and gross up close. Tourists like to go to a lot of junky, gross, ugly places. For example, Moscow is ranked much higher on the list you linked than SF. Yet I don't think San Francisco is anywhere near as gross or junky as Moscow. (Los Angeles is also ranked higher on that list.)

San Francisco happens to be much prettier than most of the junky places that tourists like to visit. San Francisco is awesome, and I really like it. But it is junky and gross close up. Ride the Metro in DC, then ride BART, which uses nearly identical trains, and then tell me which one is grosser by comparison. I think San Francisco is far prettier than DC. But it's also grosser than DC, and that's really saying something.

This SF hate is kind weird. I think people are actually buying into all the years of Fox News Anti-San Francisco propaganda subconsciously.

What hate? San Francisco is a very cool city. It has character and is interesting and a great place to visit (as your tourism statistic demonstrates). It is even a nice place to live in a lot of ways, in spite of its shortcomings.

Maybe one of the reasons that San Francisco has some of the problems that it has is that any criticism of its infrastructure and governance are interpreted as "hate." As noted above, I think that calling SF the worst run city in the U.S. is silly and is ignoring some cities that are obviously run much worse. It is an imperfect, though very cool, place.
posted by The World Famous at 5:42 PM on December 22, 2009



I was there 20 years ago and I don't remember any interesting architecture.

The old Music Hall downtown? You remember? God that was an amazing place. With the full-sized viking boat chandeliers?

And other places. But I'll be getting into a Get-Off-My-Lawn tirade if we go down that road.
posted by tkchrist at 6:35 PM on December 22, 2009


To be clear, yes, I have lived other places. Though I currently live in San Francisco, and have for 12 years, I've lived in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia and spent significant time in numerous other American cities and have visited lots of European ones. I'm not high and I'm not attempting comedy. And if it matters, I'm by profession an urban planner, trained in historic preservation, and have worked in design firms for many years. So it's not like I come by my opinions casually. I don't hate San Francisco at all - I choose to live here for numerous reasons but the "beauty" of the city is not among them.

Yes, lots of people choose to come to San Francisco as tourists. A huge percentage of those tourists see a mere slice of the city. Their experience is not what I'm thinking about. I'm thinking about the experience that people have who live here and see every corner of the city, who experience it on a day-to-day basis.

There are hundreds more historic landmarks in SF than Seattle or Portland.
I"m not sure how you're counting these landmarks - existing buildings over 50 years of age? Building listed on the National Register? State register? City listed? I'm sure you are aware that these listings are often a political tool and in San Francisco as in many ciites, getting a property listed as "historic" is often merely a means of stopping a development project that you don't agree with. Don't like the publically previewed plans to build a new multi-family housing project on your block? Have the current building declared historic! Also do you mean as a ratio of the total number of buildings or as total number? And lastly who is to say that "historic" equals "beauty"?

Not to mention it's urban planning is way better than Seattle's.

At this, I can only laugh. As a practicing urban planner who has participated in planning projects in San Francisco, I thank you for your kind words, but I strongly disagree.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 7:47 PM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Have you participated in Urban planning in Seattle? Have you heard of our 3 billion dollar monorail project, perhaps? The one the at cost 3 billion and never got built. Or CAP, a popular Seattle initiative to cap the height of buildings responsible for massive sprawl paving over hundreds of acres of farm and forest land. The viaduct which is gonna fall over thae big plan is to... tear it down and then essentially do nothing? Or our laughable light-rail to nowhere. Or for gods sake our floating bridges?

If San Fransisco is indeed worse than that than I don't how the buildings there don't just slide off into the sea.

Yeah. I honestly don't think you know from Seattle at all. Familiarity breeds contempt and the grass is always greener, etc, etc, I suppose.
posted by tkchrist at 1:17 PM on December 23, 2009


Not hating SF, but I by far prefer Portland in terms of ethos, architecture, and infrastructure.

Portland feels like a welcoming and well designed place, even outside the tourist areas. I don't mean in the Disney sense, but more in the "hey, this building is going to be here for a while, so let's make it last and let's make it say something."

San Francisco, in many neighborhoods, feels dingy - like a strip mall that's aged 70 years. Little houses made of ticky tacky, too. I'm not ignoring the beautiful Victorians or the Spanish-era and WPA buildings, or even the modern places like SF MoMA. But the architectural glue - the ordinary buildings - that holds the city together in SF is of lower quality than Portland (though I would put it on a par with Seattle; Seattle's sprawl goes above and beyond to lower the average).
posted by zippy at 2:04 PM on December 23, 2009


No I have not worked in Seattle though I am somewhat familiar with it. I didn't claim that Seattle's urban planning practices were any better than SF's - just that SF's planning wasn't better than Seattle's. And that Seattle was prettier than San Francisco. These are my opinions.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 2:25 PM on December 23, 2009


The World Famous: “San Francisco's setting is beautiful. But most of the city is pretty junky and gross up close, and not in a pretty way.”

tkchrist: “I think you guys are nuts. You've obviously never examined any other major city ‘up close.’”

The World Famous: “Oh, no, I have. Some that are junky and gross up close are junky and gross in a pretty way (many Italian cities, for example). Others are not at all junky or gross, comparatively (Amsterdam, for example). I live and work in Los Angeles, and has about the same level of junky grossness as San Francisco. It just doesn't have the beautiful setting that San Francisco has.”

Well, to be honest, I think part of the disconnect here (and to be honest, I'm feeling it, too) is that it's hard to know what you mean by ‘junky and gross,’ The World Famous. I mean, the biggest difficulty comes, I think, from the fact that American cities have a longstanding tradition of being filthy in a particularly shallow and oblivious way, and San Francisco simply does not partake in that tradition. What's hilarious to me is that San Franciscans in this thread keep saying that SF is sort of dirty or gross, and then as a comparison they say: "I mean, look at Barcelona!" or "compare it with Amsterdam!" This is slightly funny to me because it seems like only someone from New York, San Francisco, or Los Angeles might see it that way. Seriously: have you been to Detroit? Cleveland? Milwaukee? Minneapolis? Chicago? These are places where blacktop and concrete were put down with the standard American disregard of anything beautiful, scenic, or picturesque; places which actually take pride in the fact that they hold practical concerns far above fleeting notions like "beauty" or "scenery." And I am not saying that that pride is misplaced; only that it's silly to forget that theme in American city-building. Even New York has managed to romanticize the industrial grime under its well-monied surface. It seems to me that in certain ways San Francisco is the only major US city that doesn't take part in this glorification of practical industrial grime.

But I suspect you mean something else by "junky and gross." San Francisco has its own very interesting and special variety of political corruption. Many things designed there to look good tend to fall apart. The people are much less grouchy than they are on the other side of the continent, but there are always strange things about people in a particular area; Californians in general have a capacity for a polite sort of distance from other people, an ability to grit their teeth, smile, and shake the hand of a person they loathe which distinguishes them from East-coasters, but San Francisco doesn't afford people the personal space they have even in LA, and (I think because of this lack of space) San Franciscans seem to me to have a habit of letting the crankiness which close proximity to other people engenders come out in weird ways. For example, I'm interested in the music of the Dead Kennedys for various reasons, and one of them is that Jello Biafra's rantings are particularly instructive about the side of San Francisco that you're talking about, the side that isn't straight out of an Uncle Ben's commercial. And what's more, while of course Jello Biafra is a particular and very individual institution himself, I think it makes an odd kind of sense that he came from the Bay; his brand of punk was a rebellion against the odd Californian passive-aggressive social convention that uses politeness as a buffer and a weapon, and turned it on its head by saying directly all the things it was thinking behind the mask.

Another place a person could look for the darker, dimmer view of San Francisco would be in the novels of Raymond Chandler, and, to a lesser extent, Dashiell Hammett. Of course, that's a San Francisco of the past, really, and sixty years past to boot - but even then San Francisco, like many cities, had a myth about it that was far from the truth. Nobody ever pictured Philip Marlowe getting his teeth kicked in by a Bay City cop when they thought of San Francisco, but perhaps they should have.
posted by koeselitz at 3:34 PM on December 23, 2009


Seriously: have you been to Detroit? Cleveland? Milwaukee? Minneapolis? Chicago?

Yes. I am from the Rust Belt, though I now live in L.A.

But I suspect you mean something else by "junky and gross."

No, I mean it's actually physically dirty; that even its most romanticized neighborhoods, regardless of the "theme" of their construction, are on their exterior dirty, ill-maintained, and seemingly covered in a literal patina of decaying, stale, filth. When an old city outside the U.S. is that way, it's age can become an excuse for its decay and sort of romanticize it. But San Francisco's not old enough to have its decaying state excused as romantic.
posted by The World Famous at 4:05 PM on December 23, 2009


Re: beauty and cleanliness. I think some people tend to define San Francisco as North Beach, Financial District, SOMA, the Mission, the Haight(s), and Golden Gate Park. Parts of those areas have a serious problem with trash. Some streets/areas can be filthy. But there's a lot more to the city than the tourist destinations.

Also, of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think most of the new architecture in SF has been horrendous, but I don't like much modern architecture. A city's beauty isn't only its architecture anyway. FWIW, I think the women of SF are the most beautiful in the country. YMMV.

The final straw for me was the Big Middle Finger that blocked my (once glorious) view of the Bay Bridge. Oh man, fuck that building. It was really hard to move out of the city, but that Big Middle Finger blocking my view helped a lot.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:33 AM on December 24, 2009


Seriously: have you been to Detroit? Cleveland? Milwaukee? Minneapolis? Chicago?


Being from Saint Paul, I am always happy to hear someone dump on Minneapolis. But, seriously, comparing it to Detroit and Cleveland? Or Chicago, in terms of cleanliness and livability? Sure, the weather may suck 6 months out of the year, but it is an extremely clean and well maintained city compared to just about any other I've visited. According to some, it is in the top 10 in clean cities (by the way, they rate San Francisco # 6). MPLS is full of parks (180+ within the city limits), and has extensive biking and walking trails, many lakes, and fewer traffic problems, way below those of the other cities you mentioned. I hope it was just a bad experience when you visited/lived there.
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:59 PM on December 27, 2009


Not surprisingly, the Bay Guardian has a go at the SF Weekly article.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:37 PM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


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