“San Francisco remains (arguably) the most beautiful city in the country. Its parks are lovely and mostly orderly and clean. On Sunday, we played miniature golf and frequented food trucks, along with hundreds of young families. People were generally friendly and the restaurants and nightlife were fabulous. Most neighborhoods are surprisingly quiet and safe.
The city’s critics aren’t entirely wrong, of course. Locals warned us not to leave anything in our cars given surging property crimes. The Tenderloin—the notoriously downtrodden downtown neighborhood—is an open sewer of drug dealing and panhandling, just as critics say. Homeless tents line a portion of Market Street near the main shopping drag. But is it fair to define an entire city that way?”
“Why are people moving to San Francisco? In some sense, it’s a matter of popular cities continuing to be popular. That means people still find value and jobs there. The Bay Area is culturally rich, with people — and culture and food — from around the world. While tech companies have been cutting back on hiring lately, the area is still the home base to their giant and lucrative businesses, meaning there’s still plenty of opportunity for workers.
There’s reason to believe that people aren’t just moving back to San Francisco because they want to. The move back also represents a solidification of remote work policies, in which many companies have come down on the side of hybrid work, where people are still expected in the office some of the time. In other words, people who may have wanted to move elsewhere permanently have been forced back to the Bay Area, though perhaps in different locations than they had been.
The decision to return to the Bay Area could also come from employees who are hoping to put in face time with their bosses ahead of a potential recession. Studies have shown that bosses view people who work in the offices more favorably and are more likely to consider them for promotion.”
“Humphreys thinks the root of “San Francisco’s drug crisis” is “a libertarian, individualistic culture” that since the 19th century has attracted people who yearn “to be free of traditional constraints back East, to reinvent themselves, to escape the small-mindedness of small towns and to find themselves.” While that culture “underlies the city’s entrepreneurialism, artistic energy and tolerance for diversity in all forms,” he says, it “has a downside when it comes to addiction, which thrives in such a cultural milieu.” San Francisco “has long been one of the booziest cities in the country,” he writes, and “heavy use of substances has always been part of how San Francisco defines freedom and the good life.”
Conflating “heavy use of substances” with libertarianism is more than a little strange. Libertarianism focuses on the proper role of government; it does not tell people how they should conduct their private lives, except insofar as their actions impinge on the rights of others.”
“The actual cause of ever-escalating drug deaths, he avers, is “the libertarian assumption that given freedom and tolerance, everyone will rationally and productively pursue their self-interest,” which “cannot explain why a starving person would, for example, forgo food in exchange for fentanyl or cocaine.”
The assumption that Humphreys describes as “libertarian” is plainly at odds with reality. But libertarianism does not assume that people never make mistakes, never develop bad habits, or never engage in behavior they ultimately regret. It simply argues, for moral and pragmatic reasons, that the possibility of error is not enough to justify using force, which should be reserved for conduct that violates other people’s rights.
Humphreys suggests that decisions regarding psychoactive drugs are a special case because those substances negate the ability to choose. As I explain in Saying Yes, this belief is a tenet of voodoo pharmacology, which posits that drugs take control of people and compel them to act against their own interests.
Survey data, which show that people can and generally do use both legal and illegal drugs without developing life-disrupting habits, contradict that theory. Observational and laboratory research confirms that the way people react to drugs is not pharmacologically determined but highly contingent on the circumstances and incentives they face, as psychologists such as Stanton Peele, Bruce Alexander, and Carl Hart have been pointing out for many years.”
“”Portugal is in no way a libertarian country,” Humphreys writes. “Rather, it’s a cohesive, communal society in which drug use is culturally frowned upon rather than celebrated as a sign of freedom. When drug-addicted people commit crimes in Portugal, they are sent to a ‘dissuasion committee’ that can apply penalties to those who refuse to seek and stay in addiction treatment. Informally, this is backed up by pressure from family and community for addicted individuals to enter recovery.”
Humphreys is right that Portugal’s approach is not libertarian. While “dissuading” drug users is preferable to arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating them, it shows little respect for individual autonomy. Humphreys is comfortable with that because he thinks individual autonomy is meaningless in the context of drug use. Hence he thinks San Francisco should “use court authority to mandate addiction treatment more broadly than it currently does.””
“Walgreens fills prescriptions. It is not in the business of drug enforcement. If some of the prescriptions filled by Walgreens were written by dirty doctors or went to people who abused them, it is not on individual pharmacists to figure that out.
Expecting pharmacists to be drug cops, too, ensures that more pharmacies will be hesitant to fill legitimate prescriptions, leaving patients in the lurch. It also threatens to worsen America’s pharmacist shortage.
In a number of recent cases, pharmacies and pharmacists have been sued for not filling prescriptions. including opioid prescriptions. It seems we’ve put them in a classic damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.”
“To sum it up: Walgreens filled prescriptions for a legal substance, but because some people went on to distribute or use the drugs in ways the government has forbidden, the company has to pay the government huge sums of money. Meanwhile, the inability of people to get prescription painkillers has given way to reliance on much more dangerous substances, like fentanyl, from which many more people are dying of overdoses. People keep taking opioids, and the government keeps making it harder for them to do so safely.”
“Getting your business vandalized sounds like punishment enough. For some San Francisco business owners, it’s just the beginning of their troubles.
A steady stream of restaurateurs and retailers have been complaining about the city’s practice of issuing them fines for not being quick enough to remove chronic graffiti being applied to their shopfronts and street cafes.”
“There’s a clear lesson emerging from the first cities that have legalized “missing middle” housing. The more rules you lift on the construction of these two-, three-, and four-unit homes, the more you’ll actually see built.
San Francisco politicians have absorbed this information and are now using it for evil. On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance theoretically legalizing fourplexes in the city’s lowest density neighborhoods, but only under conditions that will ensure almost none of this housing actually gets built.”
“The median home value in San Francisco in 2022 is above $1.5 million, according to the Zillow Home Value Index, which shows home values rising by more than 10 percent in the past year alone. In nearby San Jose, Redfin reports a median home price of $1.45 million—but home values have risen by a staggering 24 percent in the last year. Today’s Bay Area is simply unaffordable for most people, in part because California regulations hinder new construction and in part because natural geographical constraints reduce the total amount of buildable space; San Francisco has a huge housing supply shortage that shows no signs of being remedied soon.
Pair this with complaints that the city has failed to handle its homelessness problem, leading to open-air drug scenes and massive tent encampments in neighborhoods like the Tenderloin. One in every 100 San Franciscans is homeless, and California is a national outlier in terms of what proportion of the homeless population is actively “unsheltered,” as in, sleeping on the streets or under highway overpasses. In San Francisco, 73 percent of the city’s homeless population is considered unsheltered. That’s not normal, even for a big city: In New York City, the figure is about 3 percent.
And then there was the pandemic, which made many big tech offices obsolete: Twitter, Yelp, and Airbnb attempted to sublease their expensive Bay Area office spaces. Pinterest paid almost $90 million in the third quarter of 2020 to break the lease of their almost 500,000-square-foot office space. For many workers, the value of living in San Francisco dropped. Why pay a premium to live near an office you aren’t going to?
Finally, there was the broader sense, especially among high-value tech workers, that San Francisco and its neighbors were uninterested and unresponsive, focused only on extracting from their most productive citizens in the form of high taxes, which fund poor city services. In the last few years, many have simply grown tired of paying exorbitant taxes for the privilege of living in California—one that now bestows little in return.
Hence the Golden State exodus. In 2021, for the first time ever, California lost a congressional seat. The state didn’t technically lose population, but it didn’t have the same growth rate as the rest of the country.”
“the shift also owes something to responsive governance. Leaders of other cities have actively courted the movers. In December 2020, venture capitalist Delian Asparouhov tweeted “ok guys hear me out, what if we move silicon valley to miami.” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez responded promptly, “How can I help?”
Yet as Bay Area tech workers depart, it remains an open question whether those new pastures will truly be greener. The city of Austin has faced rising housing costs, stemming in part from restrictions on development. Miami has struggled with corruption and policing problems. San Francisco’s urban competitors are cheaper, for now, but there are already worrying signs that the cities luring tech’s highly mobile, highly desirable workers are already poised to repeat many of the same mistakes that drove so many Californians away.”
“In 2012, Austin city officials saw the writing on the wall and proactively tried to remedy these problems by moving toward a zoning code rewrite. The 30-year-old code had outlasted its usefulness, and with massive population growth, city planners needed to allow for much more density.
The city’s newly proposed zoning code was dubbed CodeNEXT, as part of a forward-looking urban revitalization plan, Imagine Austin. The new code aimed to reduce the strict separations between Austin’s residential and commercial corridors, allowing for more mixed-use buildings and more housing overall.
It would’ve scrapped single-family zoning restrictions in many areas, allowing for duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, and apartment buildings to be built in their stead; it would’ve allowed for urban in-fill instead of forcing newcomers to gravitate toward far-flung suburbs; it would’ve reduced or eliminated minimum parking requirements in some places too. It wasn’t exactly an urbanist’s dream—some criticized it for not going far enough with regard to density—but it was a reasonable step toward that ideal.”
“By 2018, the project was dead in the water, having been met with fierce opposition primarily from neighborhood preservationists and homeowners, who had seen their homes double in price over the last five or 10 years.”