Diminishing Quality of Downtown Needs City Hall's Attention
By Ernest Salomon
Donna took me to San Francisco for four days to celebrate my 82nd birthday celebration. We go about twice a year and have seen the city sink into decay in some areas, among them the main shopping destination of Union Square.
This time we were taken aback by how far the area in and around the square has gone to hell. The square itself is full of drunks, homeless and criminal types. Storefronts with once fine merchandise are empty. Arthur Behrens, one of Americas great shoe stores formerly located on the corner of Maiden Lane and Stockton Street closed ten months ago and the store is still for lease. Oh yes, there is a For Lease sign in the window. Powell, from Post to Market is a No Man's Land of tourists and T-shirt shops. Stockton Street is also horrible! . A hot dog stand sits in front of Macy's entrance on Geary Street. Just lovely!
There are empty store fronts all around the square area as nasty looking and acting hawkers selling tour bus rides for busses parked there are in people's faces.. I spoke to two lovely saleswomen in Neiman's on Wednesday afternoon and they said "We don't shop downtown any more and neither do many other locals. It is awful, stinks from human waste in some places and is dangerous". We don't like working "after dark shifts". The store had more sales staff than customers and the number of staff has been slashed!!
The biggest thing that hit us was the huge Powell Street lobby of the St. Francis Hotel. It was a place where locals once said "I'll meet you under the clock at X o'clock". It had a tea room and a huge arrangement of sitting areas. The lobby must be over 5,000 square feet. All the seats are gone, the tea room is closed and the clock is gone from the center of the lobby and hidden in a corner. I asked the doorman and he said, as I thought, that the lobby had become uncontrollable with vagrants, homeless and outright criminals and so they had turned it into a huge empty space. The stores on the outside of the hotel are empty and there are several other empty storefronts nearby as well. Some signature SF businesses in the area such as Bernstein's Fish Grotto are now tourist junk shops as is the former Cable Car Clothiers, both on Powell Street.
Cars are broken into all over the city, especially in the downtown and there are warning signs everywhere. Scary people accosted us as we walked. The streets are filthy. Businesses are leaving when their leases expire. Merchants and building owners are frustrated and angry.
Much of this has been wrought by the elected officials of San Francisco and the police not doing their jobs. The quest for tourism and its tax revenue coupled with police indifference have destroyed the downtown SF area and it will only get worse!
This same situation is on its same downward path here: State Street downtown retail area death! The destruction of our local housing stock is another issue that has been made worse by the same indifference and poor planning of our city's leadership!
The time for hand-wringing at City Hall ihas gone on too long already and is long past and won't do anything but make things worse for an even longer time. Our city needs a change of direction which can only come by new people with new ideas and leadership from the top on down in City Hall!