ABC News reporter Matt Gutman wanted to film a public interest story in San Francisco for Good Morning America. The story involved the Westfield Mall’s doors shutting forever, yet another major retail closure in the city, and the 17th to flee Union Square.
Gutman’s intention was to film in front of the mall, but he and his crew were warned that the area was simply “too dangerous” for live filming, even at 4 am.
This isn’t news to anyone, however. The nation has been watching San Francisco circle the drain in recent years, with an 11.4% increase in robberies and an 83% rise in homicides just last year alone. Burglaries have increased by 60% from 2020 through 2021.
Gutman reported his story from a safer location, ending his segment by stating, “The mayor noting that several metrics of crime are actually flat or down. But it is worth mentioning that we are not at Union Square or the Westfield Mall this morning because we have been advised it is simply too dangerous to be there at this hour.”
Gutman went on to interview San Francisco Mayor London Breed about the trend of retail closures in her city. Breed responded, “Well, here’s the thing, San Francisco is a major city, and it has challenges. But let’s back up a little bit. You are talking about people leaving the city but not the people who are staying, expanding, coming to San Francisco.”
With over two dozen retailers escaping the city in recent years, it’s unclear who is “staying, expanding, and coming” to San Francisco. In fact, according to a report released in April 2023, San Francisco is the number one city that residents are fleeing in droves. A quarter of a million people have already escaped the Bay Area since 2020, with a 7.2% drop in population between 2020 and 2021 and an additional 3% from 2021 through 2022.
It’s estimated that there are 150,000 fewer office workers in downtown San Francisco than there was pre-pandemic and 33,000 fewer jobs in the retail and services industries.
Businesses, plagued by theft and worries over employee safety, have been pulling up stakes and fleeing the Golden Gate City. It’s estimated that 95 retailers have closed shop throughout San Francisco, with several hotels pulling the plug as well. It’s not clear how many small businesses have closed their shops and fled the crime-infested city, but it’s estimated to be dozens.
Mayor Breed defended San Francisco, predictably pointing the finger at COVID-19 as the reason for the failing economy in her city. She claims that the pandemic reduced “foot traffic,” causing the retail crisis.
“Sadly, some of the news coverage conflate the reasons or do not provide the full picture of why big retailers and other businesses in San Francisco are deciding to leave or transfer ownership of their operations,” Breed’s office responded.
Breed also claims that violent crimes have decreased, with her office reporting, “Although there is a lot of work ahead of us and we will continue to focus on our economic recovery and public safety, the reality is that the number of reported violent crimes in Downtown and the Tenderloin is down so far this year when compared to the same time period last year.”
Her logic is flawed, however, and based on inaccurate reports. It’s hard to get a read on the true statistics of crime in the city because of “skewed numbers.” Ex-San Francisco prosecutor Charles Stimson noted that the crime problem is worse than the data represents because police officers don’t bother to arrest anyone.
“People do not report these crimes because when you have a DA who is pro-criminal and not going to enforce the law, the cops aren’t going to go out and arrest somebody when they know the case is going to be no papered,” Stimson explained. ‘You’ve seen the videos of people just engaging in the five-finger discount, walking into Target, walking into Nordstrom Rack … and just walking out during daylight with $950 worth of stuff. They refused to prosecute any of that.”
Stimson went on to add, “It’s still a sanctuary city, so illegal aliens, who represent a good percentage of people who have been arrested, they aren’t being turned over to ICE even after they’re convicted.”
Stimson further explained that the city’s “defund the police” stance has hindered police from doing their jobs.
San Francisco Police Officers Association’s vice president, Lt. Tracy McCray agrees, saying, “We are short staffed so just our presence in patrolling is severely lacking right now. To see a certain uptick in crime is to be expected but I think we are now at a precipice where we could go one way or the other.”
The only question Breed can’t seem to answer is if the once-spectacular Golden Gate Bridge is designed to handle all the moving trucks soon to be crossing it to get out of her city.