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Mad as Hell on San Francisco’s Westside

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West Portal residents Arthur Perkins (left) and Paul Barbagelata circulated a petition calling for city officials to address the westside crime wave. (Courtesy Joel Engardio)

Pervasive crime and violence were among the problems Peter Finch railed against in his Oscar-winning performance of a distraught television news anchor in the 1976 film Network.

“Nobody anywhere seems to know what to do and there’s no end to it,” he told a nation of beleaguered viewers. They followed Finch’s call to get out of their chairs, open the window and yell: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

The classic scene has been prophetic for 40 years — except on San Francisco’s westside. The quiet and bucolic neighborhoods that spread West of Twin Peaks to the ocean seemed immune to urban plights elsewhere.

Until now.

While property crime is up 17 percent citywide, there has been a 47 percent spike on the westside.

“It was a kick in the gut and a wake-up call,” Paul Barbagelata said about his car being stolen in front of his West Portal home — only a few weeks after his neighbor’s car was also stolen. “I’ve lived in this wonderful neighborhood my entire life and had become laissez faire about how safe it was.”

Barbagelata said he blames Proposition 47, which reduced the penalties for many property crimes. He said the thief of his car had been arrested three months earlier for burglary and released. Then after police caught him for stealing the car, he was released again.

“This guy keeps getting back out on the street and that’s not OK,” Barbagelata said. “The police are doing all they can, but Prop 47 ties their hands. We need to put pressure on the district attorney’s office to address the revolving door of property crimes.”

I think pushing for more police resources and patrols on the westside will help the most. Years of low crime justified less police presence, which made the westside easy pickings.

Barbagelata and his neighbors want city officials to address the crime wave, no matter what it takes. They circulated a petition and gathered 500 signatures.

“This is a shot across the bow that we want change from our political bodies — our mayor, district attorney and supervisor,” Barbagelata said. “It’s their job to keep us safe and the status quo isn’t working.”

Barbagelata is one of many westside residents telling City Hall they’re “mad as hell.” A vacuum of leadership around the crime wave has motivated residents all over the westside to spontaneously start organizing.

When cars parked near the popular tiled steps at 16th Avenue and Moraga Street became the target of smash and grabs, Rachel Miller-Garcia and several other neighbors banded together to post homemade warning signs.

In a nearby neighborhood, several residents who work in tech are discussing how to install motion-activated, Internet-connected security cameras that cover the length of their street.

Andrew Mihailovsky spoke up at a community meeting to share a great idea: educate dog walkers to look for suspicious activity.

“People have to walk their dogs every day,” said Mihailovsky, who walks his hound-terrier mix in Golden Gate Heights. “They don’t have to be a vigilante group, but they can be eyes and ears.”

When J.C. Wallace learned that the elderly couple living behind him experienced a home invasion on a Sunday afternoon, he put flyers on the doors along his street in Merced Manor calling for a neighborhood meeting. Nearly 20 people showed up to Wallace’s living room to discuss starting a neighborhood watch.

“I subscribe to the broken windows theory of keeping up a neighborhood,” Wallace said. “If you tolerate a broken window, or graffiti, or people breaking into homes, it can lead to assault or murder.”

Violence has already plagued some of the 36 home break-ins since January on the westside.

Another home invasion near Wallace’s home involved thieves putting a gun to a woman’s head, according to news reports. I spoke to a woman in Golden Gate Heights who was working from home when a man broke into her house and hit her with a baseball bat.

Andy Segal volunteered to form the first-ever crime and safety committee in the 42-year history of the Greater West Portal Neighborhood Association.

“This is out of control,” said Segal, whose car has been broken into five times the past nine months on Wawona Street. “We don’t want to live like this.”

As a westside homeowner, I don’t either.

Engardio is a member of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee, representing the westside. Email him at info@engardio.com

Click here or scroll down to comment

  • BTinSF

    I’m actually somewhat glad the city’s crime and other problems are spreading to the neighborhoods whose residents smugly thought they were immune. Maybe now the whole city can put pressure on the cops and politicians who live in these safety zones to do something.

  • agunrunner

    don’t keep anything in your car, inc, jackets

    buy car alarm,
    use the sf police non emergency number to call police 415-553-0123 to report someone looking into cars,take down licence plate numbers
    use your phone to take videos or photos of someone looking into cars or property
    drugs are the problem,people are breaking into cars to get money to buy drugs

  • josephine

    I love west portal, friendly old town feel, very sad to hear this……. the tech brats and their new money, out of place newbies who have ridiculous extravagant possessions in a moderate town, this ain’t L.A…….. have rung “The Dinner Bell” for organized, and unorganized criminals to mug, burglarize and steal the conspicuous crap the newbies have flaunted…… this use to be a safe city, thanks A Holes

  • We have to make our City Dept. heads outline “action plans” to address problem areas… , just as if their jobs were at stake. The DA staffer and the Police rep at the SHARP meeting a few weeks ago talked “all stats”, and “no proposed actions” to change them… Why do we accept “no specifics, no testing for results”..? It seems that we citizens have step in and organize our own alternatives.

  • John O’Grady

    Repeal Proposition 47 now!!

  • John O’Grady

    The criminals are also doing it because it is now legal for them to do so.

  • Gloria Dean

    You are ABSOLUTELY CORRECT! They’ve caused many folks to be evicted and displaced, and now we have folks who normally didn’t commit crimes, out there stealing in order to survive.

  • left my heart

    I left the city 25 years ago and the same issue is occurring in similar neigborhoods in Portland Oregon. This time it is the transplants from L.A., S.F. and Seattle having driven up the prices of the homes there too.

  • jw2200

    That’s quite a leap of logic. New people moving in are the cause of increased crime? Are you suggesting that the newly evicted are turning to crime? Do you have any facts to support that? Property crime is up in my neighborhood too as it is in many/most San Francisco neighborhoods but Prop 47 is much more likely to be the cause as pointed out in the article. Combined with a DA who declines to prosecute, who was one of the primary sponsors of Prop 47, and who seems to relish taking pot shots at the police department.

  • jlor7-11

    Prop 47 stipulates that people convicted of property crimes are to be placed on supervised probation and enrolled in job training and rehab that can be verified, of course the bill did not provide state funding for that, moonbeam isn’t going to commit the state to open ended, long term funding of social welfare programs unless their is a new source of revenue to cover it.

  • old timer in SF

    There are many reasons for the uptick in crimes on the westside.
    -For years the Board of Supervisors which is controlled by the liberals have allocated most of the resources to the east side. This will not change anytime soon.
    -block by block, organizing neighborhood watch programs. contact SAFE.
    -get to know all your neighbors. more ears and eyes, the better.
    -installing more cameras through out neighborhood.
    -simple proactive approaches to avoiding car break-ins. keep personal items out of site.
    -devise a plan to keep the neighbor lit with more homes and businesses keeping their lights on during the evening. with LED tech, it should be cheaper to do so.
    -get the district supervisor more engaged versus passing out proclamations.
    These are some of the ideas that may engaged the neighborhood to be more proactive.

    Good luck.

  • Dash Cam

    Don’t just talk and complain, put your votes where your mouth is on
    these issues and vote OUT corrupt, lying individuals like Lee and Suhr
    as they’re part of the BIGGER issue in our city. These individuals do NOT protect our elderly population but have no problem allowing Ellis Acts Evictions that have killed some elders. These individuals have allowed large corporations to grow to such an
    extent without giving back to the city of San Francisco in any way except to
    attract more crime into our calmer, quieter parts of our city.

    I grew up in this neighborhood and have watched as many merchants, Village Grill, B.Dalton Books, etc. have gone leaving the building owners feeling they’ve no choice but to lease out their buildings to the likes of basically a large pawn shop, like that AWFUL San Francisco Gold Buyer. This terrible merchant is a HUGE draw for unsavory types, to the West Portal neighborhood.

    The Sunset is a neighborhood where 30% of our city’s elder population have resided in relative slow, safe and quietude. It’s home to me in my heart though I now live in another neighborhood. I still make an effort to support the small businesses there.

    The best way to take care of ourselves and protect our elders in the Sunset District is to not just be on the look out for thieves but wake-up to the fact that City Hall has turned into a seriously imbalanced place that harbors liars such as Edwin Lee & Greg Suhr. Both of these men are a disgrace to our city and should be fired.

  • Dash Cam

    Josephine, I agree on several counts with what you’re saying. I also feel it’s important we all take responsibility for the fact that the last mayoral election had one of the lowest turn-outs and now we’re in for more of the same with a devious, corrupt & absolutely untrustworthy mayor Edwin Lee.

    Let’s also remember the San Francisco Gold Buyer moved in a few years ago because one of the owners of the buildings, inherited from a recently deceased parent, felt they had no choice but to rent it out to what is basically a large pawn shop in the middle of, what used to be, a quiet, idyllic neighborhood. Pawn shops attract crime.

    I’ve seen so many shifty looking individuals go in and out of that San Francisco Gold Buyer place and I’m appalled West Portal Merchants Association allowed this merchant to go into this neighborhood. Want crime to go down? Get rid of merchants like the San Francisco Gold Buyer Pawn Shop who attract more crime.

  • Dash Cam

    I mean this with the utmost respect, Sir, but the, “liberal,” Board of Supervisors, for the most part, are made up of crooks like Scott Weiner who, like the former disgraceful mayor, Gavin Newsom, have nothing else on their agenda but to grandstand for their own personal and professional gain.

    Weiner recently had the gall to stand out in front of the West Portal tunnel & hand out fliers for his bid for state senate. This is after he put forth a this discriminatory, ridiculous parental leave mandate!

    Weiner will be solely responsible in the next few years when small businesses in San Francisco will simply ensure that they actively DO NOT HIRE PREGNANT WOMEN or women of a certain age as what small business can afford to pay for someone to take time off to breed?

  • Stanford7783

    The feckless Norman Yee is the supervisor for West Portal. He is weak, ineffective, and is mostly there to be the swing vote in favor of the crap that the likes of Kim, Campos, and Avalos put forward. Vote this turd out of office.

  • Bill Smith

    Seriously? This crime wave is perceived by you at a techie brat issue? Is the drought their fault too?

  • peanutcrunch

    Your glad? Your logical is warped.

  • peanutcrunch

    I propose we the people of West Portal, Golden Gate Heights and Inner parkside meet at 11am and/or 8pm to walk the neighborhood as a group to ‘discourage’ those that might commit crime. Let’s take the neighborhood back.

  • S.

    Let’s be honest: SFPD places a low priority on west side crime, especially property crimes. I’ve lived out here for 12 years and nothing has changed.

  • Brain Inajar

    We need more active residents, but also more cops, better policing and a more vigorous DA. We could also use smart new ideas like license plate readers. But we really need more cops. When you add up the residents and the number of people who visit the city (the appropriate way to calculate policing levels), our cop to city occupant ratio is LESS THAN ONE FIFTH of what they have in New York City!

  • Howard Epstein

    Remember, our criminal loving District Attorney was one of the primary sponcers of this get out of jail free initiative. If he was an honorable man he would resign and hang his head in shame as he walks out of his office for the last time. But, he is not an honorable man.

  • Randy F.

    Safety zones AKA ” Liberal Sherwood Forests ” . They want the rest of us to be awakened by criminal gunfire , smashing car windows , in Polk Gulch , etc… ….but they ? ! Well that’s a horse of a different hue .

  • 602me

    All these people posting are probably people who voted yes on prop 47 and said it was “to help the druggies” and now they want to act all hard like they knew this was coming. The rest appear to not have figured it out yet.

  • josephine

    of course, so is global warming and cancer

  • josephine

    the sf police dept. study: organized crime, rackets to collect and fence stollen property now intrenched in san francisco, major cause : iphone and ipad and computer theft to resell…… this was not as much an issue before 30,000 new tech people moved to sf in last 4 years, do you get it????????????

  • josephine

    with new monied people, with more valubles, more have come to relieve these people of their valubles….. supply and demand…. don’t have to read too deep, it’s very simple…… there is more to steal, there are more to steal…..

  • Bill Smith

    Good to see you are consistent in your hate toward young people getting started out in life.

  • John in SF

    Maybe if Norman Yee got off his duff and started paying attention to what’s actually happening in his district instead just wasting time on his pet projects we’d get some action.

    I don’t believe that will ever happen. We need to get rid of Yee at our first opportunity and get a supervisor who actually cares for this neighborhood.

  • GoogleBuser

    Oh god, you mean there are more peo