Last month I discussed the platforms of twenty-six candidates for California governor. One candidate, author and activist Michael Shellenberger, objected to my characterization of him, so I read his book San Fransicko to learn more and decide whether I owed him an apology.
San Fransicko is subtitled “Why Progressives Ruin Cities”. It builds off the kind of stories familiar to most Bay Area residents:
In the spring of 2021 two colleagues and I went to San Francisco. We first went to check in on the open-air drug scenes in the Tenderloin and United Nations Plaza. It was the usual scenes of people sitting against buildings and injecting drug needles into their necks and feet. There was garbage, old food, and feces everywhere. After a couple of hours, we decided to go out to eat in the Mission. Work was over. We were all looking forward to a relaxing dinner. We were eating ice cream and walking along Valencia Street when a psychotic man, perhaps about thirty years old, began following us and screaming obscenities. When we turned around to look at him, he screamed at us, “What are you looking for, huh! WHAT. ARE. YOU. LOOKING. FOR!” and started walking faster toward us. We walked faster until the man found other people to verbally assault.
Things haven’t always been like this. San Francisco used to be one of the safest and most beautiful cities in the world. Shellenberger opens with the story of a 1970s SF candidate who campaigned on a message of public cleanliness, promising stronger punishments for owners who failed to pick up after their dogs. The message was a hit, so much so that the increased community and social pressure was enough to reverse the dog-poop-in-parks problem with minimal police enforcement.