Opinion: The biggest S.F. stories of the year

Vaccination triumphs, recall fever, fentanyl deaths and crime — and don’t forget the Giants

A year ago, we went to the supermarket wearing surgical gloves. Some of us wiped down the letters from the mailbox with disinfectant. Later, we relentlessly refreshed websites, hoping to find an available vaccine appointment.

And today, COVID-19 is still with us.

So there really isn’t any question about the biggest story in San Francisco in 2021. It’s the same as for the rest of the world — this persistent, life-altering and deadly pandemic.

There is, however, a San Francisco twist. Because while emergency rooms in other parts of the country are jammed to overcapacity, The City has been a model of sanity and health.

Statistics provided by the Department of Public Health show only 34 patients hospitalized on Christmas Eve and over 700,600 residents vaccinated. In all, 81% of The City’s population is fully vaccinated.

So you’d think that thoughtful, reasonable people would look at those numbers and say, “Humm, here’s a major American city that did the right things, got their shots, wore their masks and took precautions. And it is one of the safest cities in the country. Therefore, we vaxx-deniers should get our shots.”

No such deduction.


I have never in my life been so bewildered by the actions of my fellow human beings.


It’s not hard to come up with the second biggest San Francisco story either. If it wasn’t for the pandemic, this would be the Year of the Recall.

It was a recall tsunami. There were recalls against three members of the Board of Education, District Attorney Chesa Boudin and even Gov. Gavin Newsom, a San Francisco favorite son.

The stunning part is that those with recall fever were able to collect enough signatures to get their measures on the ballot.

As Ballotpedia reminds us, saying you are going to stage a recall is one thing. Actually collecting the thousands and thousands of signatures needed to get it to a vote is another.

In the cases of the school board and Boudin, recall supporters needed a minimum of 50,000 signatures. In a city with just over 500,000 registered voters, that’s no slam dunk.

But here’s a hard reality: If you really, really piss people off, you may be surprised at what the opposition can do.

Both the school board and the D.A. recalls registered over 80,000 signatures, and Newsom’s recall effort had more than 1.9 million. Those are powerful public statements. Let’s look at how we got here.

The school board

A case study in tone-deaf cluelessness, the three members of the board who are facing recall, Alison Collins, Gabriela López and Faauuga Moliga, reduced the S.F. Unified School District to a national laughing stock.

While parents were begging the district to find a way to open schools, the oh-so-progressive board members went off on a walkabout to rename local schools, including dropping some American icons. “Who cancels Abraham Lincoln?” was everyone’s punch line.

And then they decided to poke the hornet’s nest that is Lowell High School and its merit-based admissions. There’s a discussion to be had about that, but not now. If you wanted to get parents riled up, getting into a fight with Lowell alums is surefire.

And yet, the board members continue to double down.

As Examiner reporter Michael Barba reported, Collins said at a political gathering, “When I see certain people getting upset, I know I am doing the right thing.”

To which we say, “Mission accomplished.”

López, meanwhile, is tweeting at the head of the recall for not being “an active parent in the school district.” To which critics reply, “Neither are you.” (López does not have children.)

The recall election is scheduled for Feb. 14.

Boudin: The D.A. came to office as an unabashed progressive. In an interview with Democracy Now, an independent streaming news service, he said he was going to “dismantle the war on drugs” and put fewer people in jail.

He then ran smack into the pandemic crime wave. For a time, his office was touting statistics showing criminal activity has not gone up, but then he finally seemed to understand the reality: If people don’t feel safe, crime stats don’t make them feel better.

In a virtual “Future of S.F.” meeting in August, Boudin talked tough on crime. He even confronted the horrific case of Troy McAlister, who was on parole driving a stolen car and under the influence when he struck and killed two women in San Francisco. Critics said Boudin’s office erred in not revoking McAlister’s parole and arresting him immediately after the car theft report.

“That didn’t work, obviously,” Boudin admitted.

It seemed Boudin was getting the message from those disgruntled residents: Get crime under control.

But when Mayor London Breed announced her “state of emergency” for the open-air drug market that is the Tenderloin, Boudin — unaccountably — pushed back.

This despite an overdose epidemic that has seen hundreds of deaths, over 70% of which were caused by fentanyl.

Although Supervisor Matt Haney says the neighborhood sees an average of two drug overdose deaths a day, Boudin said last week that jailing drug dealers would not be effective.

Which is the kind of statement that mobilized recall supporters to get over 83,000 signatures.

The recall election is June 7.

Finally, a couple of quick takes:

The unsuccessful Newsom recall is a reminder not to put too much stock in early polls. Back in August, celebrated FiveThirtyEight pollster Nate Silver was tweeting there was a “pretty decent chance” Newsom would lose the recall. Instead, he won 62% of the vote, a virtual landslide.

Next, the Great Highway has unexpectedly turned into a food fight. Closed for sand removal in April 2020, it gave environmentalists the idea of shutting down the road permanently. Amid much howling from residents, it was closed, then reopened on weekdays by Breed. The bickering continues, with dueling surveys, resident action groups and finger-pointing likely to extend well into the new year.

In conclusion, if anyone tells you they predicted last year’s Giants’ season, you are officially authorized to call BS. Nobody saw this coming.

Most people thought the team would be hoping to finish above .500. Instead, with a new manager, Gabe Kapler, they won 107 games, the best record in all of baseball.

It is a reminder that sometimes, out of the blue, good things happen. And a group of people, working together, can succeed beyond all expectations.

We needed that.

Contact C.W. Nevius at cwnevius@gmail.com. Twitter: @cwnevius

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