Sunday, March 20, 2005

The city's left versus the business community

The city's two dailies are much too nice to city progressives, who show nothing but contempt for the SF Chronicle and the SF Examiner. For example, when the Chronicle ran a story last week that told us, among other things, how much tourists dislike the squalor on our city streets (Tourism Turning Around, David Armstrong, Mar. 16, 2005), the Hearst-owned daily could have legitimately accompanied the story with an editorial pointing out that, while the mayor is clearly serious about dealing with homelessness and street people, our progressive board of supervisors seems indifferent at best. In fact, it's fair to say that progressives have essentially ignored complaints about homelessness by the business community for years.

But, after all, who really cares about the wicked "downtown interests" and a bunch of squares in white socks and bermuda shorts? Actually, we should all care, since tourism is San Francisco's largest industry---and has been for years. Armstrong's story focuses on the findings of a study by the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau, which tells us that last year we had more than 15 million visitors who spent $6.73 billion in the city: "Visitors adored San Francisco's restaurants and continued to flock to Fisherman's Wharf, Chinatown, and Union Square for shopping and relaxation." The SF Treasurer's website tells us that the hotel tax alone brought in $132,155,049 to city coffers last year.

On the other hand, "The survey, conducted at checkout counters in 51 San Francisco hotels, also registered a sharp increase in visitor discomfort with the city's street people..." In 1999---at the height of the dotcom boom---31.6% of our tourists said they were bothered by street people. Last year 43.4% complained about street people. (Also, 16% complained about traffic and parking, something the anti-car, bike zealots and their friends in Planning might keep in mind as they continue their jihad against cars and parking in the city).

Add homelessness to graffiti/tagging, which is particularly vexing to small businesses in the neighborhoods, and it's no wonder the business community gets the impression that San Francisco is unfriendly to business. In a recent article, Steven Winn tells us that the Department of Public Works spent $2 million removing graffiti, while Muni spent $3 million cleaning the vandals' handiwork from the city's buses and bus shelters (Vandalism or Art?, SF Chronicle, March 7). 

No one seems to know how much city property owners pay to deal with graffiti, though that too must run well into the millions. As the recent exchange on the PROSF bulletin board shows, some D5 progressives think graffiti/tagging is both an art form and a healthy form of rebellion, as do both the SF Bay Guardian and ex-Supervisor Matt Gonzalez (District 5's ultra-Progressive Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi hasn't taken a position on graffiti yet).

The topper is Critical Mass, where the bike zealots gather downtown on the last Friday of every month to deliberately screw up rush hour traffic, showing contempt not only for tourism and downtown businesses but also for working people trying to get home from work. A few years ago, Matt Smith had an article knocking Critical Mass in the SF Weekly. Otherwise, the bike fanatics have gotten a free pass on the issue from the dailies and the weeklies, not to mention the city's progressive leadership (District 5 Supervisor Mirkarimi, who was endorsed by the Bicycle Coalition, actually endorsed Critical Mass during last year's campaign.)

In short, it's not the city's bureaucracy or the way it taxes businesses that give the business community the impression that the city is anti-business. Rather, it's the way the city handles---or fails to handle---problems like homelessness and graffiti that sends that message.

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