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THE CHANGED FACE OF SAN FRANCISCO: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on June 3, 2020 at 12:25 am

San Francisco has long been one of the most-loved cities in the United States.

Millions of tourists—from both other parts of the United States as well as around the world—visit this city every year to ride its famous cable cars and dine in its magnificent restaurants.

To visit the ruins of its infamous prison, Alcatraz, eat Ghiradelli ice cream in Ghiradelli Square and buy souveniers at nearby Fisherman’s Wharf. 

San Francisco Cable car

Thomas Wolf, http://www.foto-tw.de / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

But San Francisco today is not the city it has long been renowned for.

Its major tourist spots are deserted. Its sidewalks are largely free of pedestrians. Many of its best-known stores have been shuttered since mid-March—and many of them may never reopen owing to the financial losses they have incurred.

Its world-famous restaurants no longer offer in-house dining—only take-out or home delivery.

Many of its bus routes have been eliminated. With so many people “sheltering-in-place” in their apartments or houses, the passengers that once carried those routes have largely disappeared. 

On March 16, the San Francisco Department of Public Health imposed a shelter-in-place order on city residents. This required them to stay home except for essential needs such as shopping for groceries, getting medications, caring for others and exercising.

The goal of the order: To halt—or at least diminish—the spread of COVID-19.

SARS-CoV-2 without background.png

Coronavirus

The order banned activities considered non-essential: Going to bars, barbers and dinner parties. 

Many restaurants offer their fare via Grubhub, Doordash, Caviar or Uber Eats. Some restaurants—notably pizza parlors—use their own employees to deliver food.

This, in turn, demands that potential customers have not only a computer but Internet access. It also demands that they be willing to pay a higher price for food than would be the case if they could dine in.

Another drawback: Choosing what items to order from many restaurants is like choosing what to order in the military: You either accept what they offer—or you do without. Forget about substitutions or additions. 

Outdoor exercise is allowed, but gyms are closed.

Some businesses were deemed essential. Among these: Grocery stores, hardware stores, hospitals, drugstores, laundromats, funeral parlors, gas stations, airlines, taxis, rental car companies, childcare facilities, rideshare services. 

The effect of the shutdown order on businesses has been devastating.  

Walk along Market Street—the city’s best-known site for marches and storefronts—and you’ll find store after store not only closed but boarded up. The same for Powell Street, a major tourist magnet.

People are on edge right now': San Francisco businesses boarding ...

The city’s internationally famous cable car lines have all been shut down. With “social distancing” the new Golden Rule, cramming people onto small cable cars is no longer an option. 

Taxis are still available—but cab drivers have found business difficult to come by, with so many people staying indoors.

The order allowed most marijuana dispensaries to remain open. Bookstores, on the other hand, were ordered closed—and remain so more than two months later. 

So businesses selling toxic “medical marijuana” are considered essential. But if you want to buy a copy of Moby Dick at your local bookstore, you’ll have to do it online. 

Many businesses started boarding up in April. The reason: Fears that Coronavirus-inspired shortages of items like toilet paper, meat and hand sanitizer might lead to wholesale looting. 

Then, on May 25, as if facing a deadly pandemic wasn’t enough of a threat, a new and unexpected reason for fear emerged: The killing of George Floyd, a former black security guard, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

While Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down on a city street during an arrest, Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer, kept his knee on the right side of Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.

Video shows Minneapolis cop with knee on neck of George Floyd, who ...

The death of George Floyd

Across the nation, cities were convulsed by protests—including those in the San Francisco Bay Area. Among these: Oakland, San Jose, Emeryville, Walnut Creek and San Francisco itself.

On May 30, an initially peaceful protest march exploded into looting shortly before 9 p.m. as looters broke off and began smashing shop windows and ransacking stores in Union Square and on Market Street.

Among stores looted: A Sak’s Off Fifth Avenue, Old Navy clothing store, a Cartier Boutique, a Coach store. Looters especially targeted CVS and Walgreens drugstores. Liquor stores and a BevMo were also hit.

“Thirty businesses were looted or destroyed,” said David Perry, from Union Square Business Improvement District. A total of 33 arrests were made for “criminal activity.”

That night, San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced that she would impose a citywide curfew beginning May 31, running from 8:00 p.m to 5 a.m.

On the night of May 31, 87 people were arrested for violating the city’s curfew. 

Left unstated by city authorities—within San Francisco and across the nation—was this: With so many people massing in streets, many of them unmasked, would this spread COVID-19 even further?

Northern California—and San Francisco in particular—have closely cooperated with “stay-at-home” orders. As a result, COVID-19 cases have remained relatively stable in those areas.

But the street demonstrations may well reverse the results of those months of self-discipline. The truth will be known only weeks from now.

THE CHANGED FACE OF SAN FRANCISCO PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on June 2, 2020 at 12:05 am

Want to play a new game? Come to San Francisco and play “Count the Stupids.”

Just walk down any major street during a pandemic that’s killed more than 100,000 Americans and count:

  • The people who refuse to wear face masks;
  • The people wearing face masks below their noses;
  • The people wearing face masks around their necks like bandannas. 

On some days—depending on how far you walk—you might spot 10 to 60 or more such people. 

Those who wear masks below their nose negate the purpose of wearing a mask. If they have COVID-19 and sneeze on someone else who’s not wearing a mask, that person is going to be stricken. And if someone who’s also not wearing a mask sneezes or coughs on them, they will be infected.

Coronavirus prevention: Can using a mask help in eliminating COVID ...

Face masks

Many of those wearing masks as bandannas are smoking. Clearly they value getting their intake of cancer as more important than protecting themselves against a deadly virus. Many mask-less men sport heavy beards—which would make a mask impossible to seal properly.

And as for complying with social distancing requirements that put at least six feet between people: Countless people casually pass others only inches away without any apparent concern—for their own safety or that of others.

On May 28, San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced that a new policy would take effect the next day: 

San Francisco will enforce the wearing of masks or face coverings when people leave their home and are within 30 feet of anyone that doesn’t live in their household.

That includes when you’re waiting in line to go into a store and when you’re inside shopping. A mask or face covering will not be needed when: 

  • You’re in a car by yourself;
  • You’re with people you live with;
  • You’re picnicking with members of your own household and are more than six feet from other groups;
  • You’re walking, hiking, running or biking alone or with people you live with.

Even then, you should still have a mask or face covering on hand.

Of course, that will require police to enforce the new ordinance. This in a city where police have refused to crack down on “homeless” encampments—and their piles of feces, hypodermic needles and trash.

For all the kudos offered city residents by Mayor Breed for complying with social distancing, the blunt truth remains that many of them do not. And the fact that Breed felt forced to legally require citizens to wear face masks is a telling point in its own right.

But to return to life in San Francisco in the Age of COVID-19: 

Civic Center—which lies directly across from City Hall—might better be renamed COVID-19 Center. Once it housed farmers markets and offered easy access to the Civic Center BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station. 

Today it is fenced off and serves as shelter for countless “homeless” tents—and all the drugs, trash, alcohol, feces and hypodermic needles that come with this population.

Controversial San Francisco homelessness tax passes

Tent “city” in San Francisco

Of course, Civic Center isn’t the only place in San Francisco where you’ll find huge tents occupied by DDMB’s—Druggies, Drunks, Mentally Ill and Bums. 

Walk down almost any major sidewalk and odds are you’ll find your path blocked by one or more huge tents able to house two to four people. 

If you’re in a wheelchair or elderly or on crutches, you’ll likely be forced to step into the street or cross the street to continue your journey. 

If you call the police on your cell phone, expecting them to remove the tents, you’re in for a big surprise. In bum-loving San Francisco, that sort of action is no longer handled by police. 

Instead, they’ll refer you to a “help-the-homeless” agency that specializes in defending the rights of DDMBs over those of law-abiding, tax-paying San Francisco residents.

The “homeless problem” has become so outrageous in San Francisco that Hastings College of the Law—one of the foremost law schools in the nation—recently filed a lawsuit against the city “to end dangerous and illegal conditions in the Tenderloin neighborhood.” 

Among its goals: To compel the City

  • To clear sidewalks to allow unfettered safe passage for neighborhood residents and workers; and
  • To provide healthy and safe solutions for “homeless” people who now use sidewalk encampments as their residence.

And when it comes to public transit: Forget about using the underground stations of the Municipal Railway (MUNI) bus system. Those have been closed since March—allegedly to protect riders and drivers from COVID-19. 

Inbound T Third train at Church station, September 2017.JPG

MUNI underground station

Pi.1415926535 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0

MUNI, which serves only San Francisco, has 4,800 employees and an annual budget of $1.28 billion.

The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system serves 33 cities and has an annual budget of $2.3 billion. 

Yet BART, which uses many of the same stations is still providing railway service throughout northern California.

MUNI refuses to say why BART has managed to provide service for its passengers—while MUNI has made transit far more complex and time-consuming for its own.

BAY AREA ROTTEN TRANSIT

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on February 4, 2020 at 12:11 am

When the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system was launched on September 11, 1972, it was hailed as the future for mass transit.

Forty-seven years later, that future looks to be a nightmare.

Here are the basic facts that the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency—which operates BART—is happy to release:

  • The BART system services Alameda County (Oakland), Contra Costa County, San Francisco County and stations in San Mateo County.
  • There are 48 BART stations.
  • There are 669 cars.
  • BART track runs about 121 miles.
  • Trains usually travel at 35 mph, but can reach a speed of 70 mph.
  • BART operates its own police force, with 206 sworn law enforcement officers.
  • Its security system includes alarms, video surveillance and other intrusion prevention equipment.

Now for the facts that BART does not feel proud to publicize.

  • BART does not provide phone service for its riders on weekends.

In 2019, BART had an average of 411,000 weekday passengers and 118 million annual passengers.

Nevertheless, those passengers using BART on weekends are left to their own devices when it comes to getting directions on which trains to take to which destinations.

“Can’t they get that information from ticket agents at BART booths?” seems a logical question.

And the answer is: “No, not always”—because many BART ticket booths are empty on weekends.

It’s as if BART officials don’t think people travel on BART on weekends—or don’t care if they do. 

Antioch-bound train approaching MacArthur station, June 2018.JPG

A BART train

Pi.1415926535 [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D 

  • BART stations—especially in San Francisco—are usually filthy and potentially dangerous places. 

Many of these are peopled by drug addicts, alcoholics, mentally ill and parasitical bums. And many of these derelicts are passed out or shooting up heroin in plain sight. Naturally, they don’t worry about picking up their used hypodermic needles. They leave those out for others to step on or pick up at their own risk. 

Image result for Images of drug addicts in BART stations"

A typical San Francisco BART station

Those who aren’t shooting up are usually hitting up legitimate BART riders for money. Sometimes these encounters can become ugly, especially if the beggar is psychotic or drugged up.

As for the much-vaunted BART police: They are almost never in sight. If you can find one and point out a violation, the odds are he will say, “That falls outside my jurisdiction.”

This despite the fact that BART officials admit that “fare evasion” costs BART $15 million to $25 million each year.

So when someone pushes open the electronic “gates” that can be opened with BART cards, there are no police to nab him.

Interviewed privately, BART ticket agents admit they feel as helpless as BART riders in these stations. The police are nowhere in sight, and ticket agents aren’t trained or empowered to take action against fare-evaders, drug-abusers or those who assault BART passengers.

BART stations in downtown San Francisco are usually littered with sleeping bags or blankets— evidence of a serious bum infestation.

These stations have locked their bathrooms, claiming it’s a “security measure against terrorism.” Yet a far greater potential danger lies under all those blankets and sleeping bags: It would be easy for a terrorist to scatter such disguised bombs in a BART station and then clear out—long before his handiwork went off.

That, however, is a danger BART officials seem content to ignore.

  • BART trains are often unpleasant at best, and unsafe at worst.

Cars are often taken over by gangs of teens—usually black—who crank up “boom boxes” and “perform” high-kicking stunts, then “ask” for “donations.” Many of their kicks come close to the heads of the riders who are forced to sit through these “entertainments.”

And there is always the risk that the “entertainers” might turn violent if they feel they aren’t getting enough “compensation” for their unasked-for “performance.” 

But there are usually no guards on any BART train. And, even if there were, there are no “panic buttons” whereby threatened riders could secretly summon such aid.

According to the latest (2018) BART Uniform Crime Reporting data, violent crime increased 57% between 2013 and 2017. Robberies make up most of the reported crimes—up nearly 40% since 2013. Cell phone thefts are defined as robberies.

“He was standing in front of me just looking, and I could see his gun in his jacket,” crime victim Daniel Mendez recalled. “I was surrounded. They took everything. There was nothing you could do…They’re doing that because there’s no police presence.”

He swore he would never again ride BART.

Image result for Images of broken handcuffs

Adding to the lack of police on BART trains: Most of the vaunted “security cameras” on BART trains don’t work.

Of course, high-ranking transit officials—who almost never ride public transit—disagree. 

“Transit is very safe,” claims Polly Hansen, speaking for the American Public Transportation Association. “When you have low numbers, a slight increase will look like a large percentage. Transit doesn’t operate in isolation. It’s going through, above and around communities and you really have to analyze crime in those communities to look at the crime you’re having.” 

The BART Board of Directors is comprised of nine elected officials from the nine BART districts. Each of them earns an average of $96,110. They can well afford to use private autos—even limousines—instead of public transit. 

Only when BART officials are held directly—and financially—responsible for the disgraceful conditions in BART stations and aboard BART trains will there be any hope for long-overdue reforms.

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