Just over 40 years ago I moved to San Francisco. Coming from Colorado I was almost comically clueless about The City.
I told people I was thinking of popping down to L.A. for a quick lunch. Couldn’t be that far, could it? It’s only a few inches on the map.
I had never heard of, let alone eaten, a sand dab.
I went to a night game at Candlestick Park underdressed. Because it was summer, right? Nearly froze.
But I also learned something about San Francisco. It has a long history of welcoming the strays, the dreamers and those who headed west and ran out of country. How many times have you heard of someone who came for a visit and ended up living here for 30 years?
I found a Russian bakery around the corner from my first apartment and bought a loaf of fresh bread every week. I went to tiny, storefront restaurants that had fabulous food. (Some of them had sand dabs.)
And, maybe on a walk along the Embarcadero on a sunny day, it sneaked up on me.
San Francisco. I get it.
I married a Berkeley girl, there were kids and changes in location. But eventually, I started doing what every person who thinks of themselves as a native does: Pontificate about The City.
Fortunately for me, and probably unfortunately for some others, I had a forum. For over 30 years I was Chronicle columnist, 20 years in sports and another 16 musing over the local political/City Hall scene.
I retired in December 2016 and went on to other things. I staged a one-man show — which was not a roaring success — wrote a sports column and then took my very savvy son’s advice and started a free newsletter.
It was read by a few people, who shared it with other people …
Which led to this. I am thrilled, and pleasantly surprised, to have been asked to write a once-a-week column for the new, improved San Francisco Examiner.
It should be available online on Wednesday and in the newspaper on Sunday.
You probably have a good idea of some of the stuff the column will cover. You can’t live in San Francisco without confronting (often literally) issues like:
Homelessness: By now everyone can recite the riddle — “We spend hundreds of millions of dollars, so why are making almost no progress?”
We can expect more of the same in January when The City conducts its annual homeless count. In 2019, the count was over 8,000 and the prediction is that, despite money and effort, it will be as high if not higher.
Then-Mayor Gavin Newsom’s “Care not Cash” program was at least innovative, but the homeless numbers haven’t gone down.
I’d suggest priorities for housing. First, women and women with children. Second, the acutely psychotic (see below). And third, veterans, because we owe them and they are likely to have benefits.
I know, that still leaves a considerable number.
But we keep talking about this as if it is complicated. It isn’t. If we don’t want people living on the street, we have to give them a place to go.
Personally, I favor Supervisor Rafael Mandelman’s “safe sites” program, where open spaces would house well-spaced tents. To me, that beats buying a hotel and stacking hundreds of homeless individuals in a high-rise.
Conservatorship: It used to be, nobody knew what a conservatorship was. Then along came Britney Spears. Now EVERYBODY thinks they know what conservatorship is.
And, they say, that’s why we shouldn’t use it in San Francisco.
Which is exactly wrong.
The Spears case, and the legal fuss, has to do with wealthy individuals who have lost mental capacity. The concern is that greedy opportunists will get a conservatorship and cheat the person out of her money.
That is not what we have on the streets of San Francisco. We are talking about people who are acutely mentally ill, who are a screaming, anguished threat to themselves and others.
And that’s not a judgement call. A bill that State Sen. Scott Wiener passed in 2018 says someone is eligible for a conservatorship if they are confined on an emergency psychiatric hold (a 5150) eight times in 12 months.
Eight times. Do you think those people are experiencing a good quality of life? If you wonder, ask family members, who are often worried sick about their loved one, and likely have tried repeatedly to get them into a safe facility.
Schools: It is an ongoing local pageant to watch and sympathize with first-time parents when they enter the puzzle palace that is the San Francisco Unified School District.
Well-meaning people keep explaining to me that I’m not getting it, that the crazy school selection system is fine. Yet just this year a family in our building moved out of state after trying to enroll their kindergartener.
Also, the district is waaaay over its head financially. And get ready for worse. Already facing a deficit this year, projections for 2022 and 2023 are for shortfalls over $100 million.
And that doesn’t even address the looney school board. You’ve already heard all the stories, so no need to repeat them. But it is significant that right now it not only seems certain the recall of three board members will qualify for an election, it looks like they will lose.
Which could be a silver lining. If Alison Collins, Gabriela López and Faauuga Moliga are removed from office — as they should be — Mayor London Breed will get to appoint three new board members.
It could be a tipping point for the district. A chance to make dramatic and needed changes.
Other than that, I’m not sweating the small stuff.
I’m sure there are still a lot of people worked up about calling The City “Frisco” or “San Fran.” Heck, Herb Caen’s “Baghdad by the Bay” might be controversial now.
I keep it simple. I call it home.
Contact C.W. Nevius at email@example.com. Twitter: @cwnevius