Waste On The Streets, Sidewalks, And Inside Public Buildings
San Francisco is awash in waste. Not just trash. Not just junk. Human waste. In fact, the problem is so acute that the city has now formed a special unit, a “poop patrol” to clean the streets most negatively impacted, and the city has had to increase by 20% the amount it budgets for removal of human feces from public places. Even the mayor, who grew up in the city, acknowledges that she has never seen so much human waste on the streets, on the sidewalks and in some cases on escalators in public buildings. Since January the city’s 311 number has received roughly 15,000 calls from residents reporting “poop” in public areas.
It is not just human excrement, as nauseating as it is, that is covering city streets. A local tv station earlier this year did a survey of a 153-block area of downtown San Francisco that includes City Hall, popular tourist attractions, schools, playgrounds and a police station. They found 300 piles of feces, roughly 100 used drug needles and ungodly quantities of other trash. Dr. Lee Riley, an infectious disease scientist at the University of California, who has done research in slums around world, characterizes the level of contamination on the streets of San Francisco as greater than that he has seen in Brazil and Kenya.
The problem is, of course, the huge numbers of people living on the streets of San Francisco, victims of a housing shortage that has made shelter in the city so prohibitively expensive as to almost defy comprehension. The average one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco rents for $3340. At last count (2017) there were 7500 homeless people in San Francisco, 75% of whom were without shelter of any kind. Housing costs have risen so high that a family of four making $117,000 a year is considered low income.
The usual suspects on the left have responded to all this by calling for higher government spending on support for the homeless, the construction of more low-income housing, the purchase of more sidewalk steam cleaners to disinfect areas used as public toilets and a whole raft of other “progressive” remedies for this dire situation. What they have not done is to take a look at the policies enacted by the City of San Francisco, which created this crisis in the first place.
Market economies, left largely to themselves, are remarkably efficient mechanisms. If housing is too expensive for the average person to afford something will happen. Someone will build more housing to increase the supply of apartments on the market. Someone will build taller apartment buildings to house more people. Someone will begin to market cheaper apartments with fewer features that cost less to build.
Not in San Francisco, because a raft of well-intentioned but disastrous laws and regulations enacted over decades make that impossible or prohibitively expensive. It costs $330 a square foot to build in San Francisco. That is the second highest cost in the world.
To begin with, in most of San Francisco building up is illegal. Zoning restrictions prevent any building from being taller than 40 feet in most of the city. That is three stories. Areas that are filled with buildings ten or twenty stories tall in cities like New York are in San Francisco filled with buildings capable of housing no more than a third the number of people.
Over the years San Francisco has erected a labyrinth Byzantine approval process that requires huge quantities of time to navigate. Even a simple project may wait years before it is approved. The Treasure Island Housing Development in San Francisco took 15 years to get approved. Delays are often so severe that developers simply walk away from the idea of constructing new housing in the city as being too expensive.
As part of the approval process local neighborhood and local citizens groups are all empowered to obstruct the permit process apparently on virtually any pretext whatsoever. Mission District landlord and developer Robert Tillman has spent almost five years attempting to get approval from the city to build an eight-story, 75-unit apartment building on the site of a laundromat he owns. Approval of the project has been stalled by the actions of a citizens group calling itself Calle 24, which claims that the laundromat is a historic building despite the fact that the city Planning Department previously found that the building has no particular historic value of any kind.
At a recent public hearing, Calle 24’s attorney stated that “There are a number of things we find troubling about this project: The direct impacts of the schoolchildren who every day will see construction, noise, dust, fumes maybe, and disruption to their learning, their playtime, and their nap time.” The board hearing Calle 24’s objections then voted 11-0 in favor of more study, delaying potential construction again.
In San Francisco, local fees, permitting, codes and regulations now add 6 to 18 percent to construction costs. For a typical 100-unit apartment building the construction cost per unit has risen from $265,000 in 2000 to $425,000 in 2017. A developer looking to build on an 8000 square foot site now is expected to budget $2 million just to cover the costs of securing approval from the city’s Planning Department.
Across America there are a raft of large cities, which have for decades now been under the control of liberal Democratic regimes addicted to big government, burdensome regulations and ever higher levels of taxation and fees. The results have been catastrophic from sea to sea. Baltimore is a hollowed-out shell of its former self. Chicago is a shooting gallery. San Francisco is awash in filth.
There can be no more graphic example of abject intellectual bankruptcy than the vision of a city strangling itself in its own wasteful, counterproductive rules and regulations and unable to provide even the most basic necessities, shelter and sanitation to its citizens. The solution is, of course, as it is for Baltimore, Chicago and so many other great cities, the rejection of politicians and policy makers wedded to archaic and disastrous socialist ideas and the election of bold, new, free market leaders who will lead the way to a brighter, not to mention cleaner, future for all.