By The Examiner Editorial Board
Even in the best of circumstances, Mayor London Breed’s decision to jet off on a European trip under the flimsy pretense of encouraging more tourism would raise eyebrows. Breed’s decision to indulge herself with a European junket during the outbreak of a major war and the biggest refugee crisis since World War II, on the other hand, makes her look more than a bit clueless.
Then there’s the trouble Breed leaves behind here on the home front. Breed’s office announced her trip at the same time she let it be known that she would not seek to extend a 90-day state of emergency due to the drug overdose crisis in the Tenderloin. Voters in a city with an engaged mayor might expect a press conference to explain the decision and lay out next steps to deal with an overdose crisis that’s killing over 600 people a year on our streets.
Instead, the mayor hopped on a plane for a 10-day escape to London, Paris, Brussels and Frankfurt. After seeming to take the situation seriously for a few months, Breed appears to be skipping onto the next chapter with little explanation or fanfare.
In Europe, Breed “will meet with airlines, airports, and local leaders to both continue and expand partnerships to reestablish San Francisco International Airport (SFO) as the international gateway to California and a hub for European markets, and to bring tourists back to San Francisco,” according to a press release from her office. Tourism plays an important role in The City’s economy. Statistics provided in the mayor’s press release say that international visits into SFO were only at 40% of pre-pandemic levels in December.
Tourism is a wonderful thing, and San Francisco is a perfect vacation destination, but it’s not clear why a mayor who is little-known outside the confines of The City must travel all the way to Europe to drum up interest.
“San Francisco has always been one of the country’s most popular destinations for international visitors, and we know people are ready to travel again,” said Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of SF Travel, in Breed’s press release. “SF Travel has been working tirelessly to build back our domestic and international profile as we emerge from two difficult years of this pandemic and we are thrilled the Mayor is joining us to tell San Francisco’s story and strengthen the bonds with Europe.”
If San Francisco is already a major tourist destination, and if tourists are ready to start traveling again in high numbers, then what’s the rationale for Breed’s jaunt to Europe? Marketing campaigns by SFO and the tourism bureau would seem sufficient enough to remind European travelers about the splendor of the Golden Gate Bridge (as if they have forgotten). Has anyone ever based their vacation plans on public entreaties from local mayors? Will Breed’s effort to generate publicity in European media markets reach anyone at a moment when global attention is fixated on Russia’s bombardment and invasion of Ukraine?
If Breed wanted a more relevant justification for a European escapade, she should have added Portugal and Switzerland to her itinerary. In those countries, she could have checked in on how local efforts have quelled the drug addiction and overdose crisis through an embrace of harm reduction techniques as well as a major expansion of health services.
Instead, her decision to launch a tour solely focused on tourism while simultaneously abandoning our local overdose emergency gives the distinct impression that she’s out of touch. Her trip also comes at a moment when leaders in European countries are looking for ways to aid and house nearly 3 million Ukrainian refugees. Not exactly the right moment for an American mayor to breeze into town making a pitch for party time.
If Breed wants to bring more people to The City, it would make more sense to target her efforts at the estimated 220,000 office workers who cleared out of the Financial District during the COVID shutdowns. The shutdowns were necessary to protect public health, but they had devastating consequences for businesses at the center of San Francisco’s economic engine.
Before leaving for Europe, Breed did announce a series of events designed to welcome workers back to downtown later this month. But it’s not clear how the pre-packaged celebrations called Bloom SF will do anything to bring more people back to The City’s core. Data from Kastle Systems has continually shown San Francisco lags behind other major U.S. cities in getting people back to work. Perhaps Breed, instead of going halfway around the world for a photo op with Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, should have stayed home to meet with local CEOs about expediting the revival of downtown.
Of course, the best way for the mayor to encourage everyone to stream back into San Francisco is to actually make progress in managing the crime and drug issues that have turned The City into a global sensation of viral negativity.
Breed’s Tenderloin emergency declaration in December suggested she was taking the crisis seriously and positioning herself to lead in solving the crisis. The emergency led to positive steps, like the opening of the Tenderloin Linkage Center to connect people with services, and an influx of police to target drugs and crime on the streets. But these efforts were only a beginning, not an ending, and they have barely made a dent in the ongoing humanitarian disaster.
The voters of San Francisco need to know what the mayor learned from the three-month emergency period and how she plans to evolve The City’s strategy going forward. They need a real strategy to address The City’s most pressing issues, not PR strategies that fade out with few results. Breed must focus on San Francisco’s major problems, not elective side trips to foreign countries.
Unfortunately for us all, these dire challenges will be waiting for the mayor when she returns from her Eurotrip.