I left San Francisco just in time — at the end of 2016.
Sure, I saw the occasional junkie shooting up in public when I still worked in the city. And yes, I saw men use the sidewalk at the intersection of Fifth and Market streets as a toilet.
But I never saw swarms of shoplifters emptying pharmacy shelves. If I needed new shoes, I could pop over to Nordstrom at the Westfield San Francisco Centre at Fifth and Market.
The number of friends who had stopped going into the city entirely — and switched to shopping in suburban malls — was unsettling, but tourists could help fill the gap.
This week, sadly, Nordstrom announced that it won’t renew its lease at the Westfield Centre.
The chief stores officer, Jamie Nordstrom, explained in a statement that “the dynamics of the downtown San Francisco market have changed dramatically over the past several years, impacting customer foot traffic to our stores and our ability to operate successfully.”
That’s corporate-speak for: Our customers are afraid to go there.
I had almost gotten used to dodging panhandlers and homeless people as I went to and from work.
In 2015, I started writing about how much the city smelled. “Stench and the City” became a recurring theme.
Then-Mayor Ed Lee blamed the drought for the sour smells.
The progressive board of supervisors made some gestures toward civil society. In 2012, then–San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener introduced a bill to restrict public nudity to “appropriate venues.” It actually passed.
Now Wiener’s a state senator who has introduced legislation to legalize psychedelics.
Hold your nose, America, because where San Francisco goes, other blue cities either follow or were early adapters. Los Angeles already has more squalor. Washington, D.C., doesn’t.
Wiener recently bragged to the New York Times that he is pushing for homeless shelters in locations that aren’t “in the middle of nowhere or an industrial area. It has to be in a place that is actually connected to services.”
Hard to imagine why Nordstrom is preparing to decamp from downtown.
Wiener also spoke favorably to the Times about legislation to “expand conservatorships” for street people who are “clearly dying.” “Near death” also could be used to describe downtown, which is about to lose a retail anchor.
Market Street, San Francisco’s main street, is an obstacle course of used free needles and damaged souls.
City Hall agonized over how to provide for anti-social adults as the middle class shrugged and packed belongings.
If a foreign power — or Republicans — had done to the City by the Bay what the ruling class has allowed to occur, voters would be outraged. Instead, they save their ire for Donald Trump, for all the good that does.
That liberal sense of moral superiority will be the death of the Special City. Years from now, when downtown feels like Detroit, San Franciscans will look at the closure of Nordstrom’s downtown store as the day the music died.