Dean Clough

May 15, 2023

Portico Darwin: Arrive SF + Soft on People, Tough on Crime


<4 Minute Read
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Happy Monday.  I bid my farewell to my wonderful hosts in Oceanside yesterday.  A great trip, as always.



I am now back in San Francisco, however briefly.  Julie and I have a sweet combo adventure trip coming up 5/20 - 5/24 that begins with the social event of the summer, at least on the Sacramento Delta:  the 60th birthday rager for the still-hot Lauren Ryder.  The party starts at 11:30AM at a riverside bar, and do you need to know much else?  We stay overnight nearby and then its 3 nights camping with Arthur and Mrs. Crup at Salt Point State Park, which is on the Pacific coast north of Bodega Bay.  I am therefore anticipating a somewhat unusual Travel Guide, one which will cover both parts of the trip.

But home or away, I will always be a proud San Franciscan.  And as one known to enjoy the occasional Nordstrom, I was not happy hearing of the impending closure of their big store here.  But as I come to accept that sad fact and also how it further fuels the tiresome "SF as progressive hellscape" narrative, I believe the mess here actually points towards an answer. 

Let's be clear:  Nordstrom closed the store because of endless shoplifting and other criminal activity in and around the store and the mall in which it is located.  Any resident has either witnessed this personally, or something just like it elsewhere.  I have lived here for a long time, and I do not dispute there is an intolerable level of property and quality of life crimes in San Francisco.

But it got me thinking:  why do people shoplift?  Why do people break in to cars?  Why are so many people sleeping outside?  Is it a gene with which one is born?   You know, a gene that drives one to seek opportunities to steal vs. working and living in dignity?

Because apart from the occasional magazine at an airport newsstand, theft of property doesn't really enter my mind.  Nor yours, I would guess.  That's primarily because if you or I want something, we can afford to buy it, be it hair conditioner, a cashmere sweater, or a new MacBook.

I know - of course - the people stealing hair conditioner at Walgreens, sweaters at Nordstrom, and MacBooks  from the cars in my neighborhood aren't stealing so they can use the products themselves.  They are stealing to survive.

Because what person in their right mind with a job and living in dignity breaks in to cars or shoplifts saline solution?

If SF is so progressive and inclusive and generous to the needy and poor, why are so many people stealing to survive and living outside?  Wouldn't the opposite be true if SF actually was the Progressive Paradise it's been pejoratively deemed?

Or more bluntly:  if you think it's easy being poor in San Francisco or anywhere in the United States, you are misinformed.  There is no health care available (apart from emergency rooms - would you accept getting care that way?), and I urge you to do your own research on topics like the "time tax", "administrative burden", and "administrative tax".  You could start here

Or just know that a majority of people in the US already eligible for things like food stamps, welfare, and Medicaid don't receive these benefits because it's just too complicated to get them.  Which is probably intentional, at least in some places.

So I strongly believe we should instead be Soft on People.  Let's have mental and physical healthcare for everyone, and ensure anyone that works fulltime lives in dignity, by raising the wage floor.  And for those that have had bad luck and need help, it should be available and easy to get.  Because to whom and where you're born is determinant to outcomes and not everyone can be born white and upper middle class in Palo Alto.

Crazy, crazy ideas, I know - but what we are doing now - in places ranging from SF to Orlando - isn't working.

But do not interpret one syllable of the above to mean I want a free ride for anybody, or for crime to go unpunished.  In fact, what I advocate is the exact opposite.

First:  the entitlements above come with work requirements, including within government if necessary.  A person can either get a fulltime job in the private sector, or one will be provided to them doing something useful somewhere.  Regardless, there's universal health care and a minimum wage (indexed and regional) sufficient to live in dignity.

But if you need income assistance, get it and then don't show up for your government work?  That's not going to work and I easily see a 3 strikes kind of thing, with a judge deciding if strike 3 is incarceration.

Next, I want a massive increase in law enforcement in SF and wherever else it's necessary.  Preventing property crime and punishing it when it occurs has been a joke here for years.  The same is true for open-air drug dealing and use.  We need police patrols arresting people breaking the law, and we needed it yesterday.  And those arrested need to be prosecuted, and if guilty, go to jail.

In SF, all of that kind of went away, because, well, you know, we must not hurt anyone's feelings.  But I really don't care how disadvantaged or oppressed some hoodlum was growing up as a kid:  if you smash the window of a car and steal, there must be real consequences.  Likewise, the crazy-town open air merch and drug markets.  I'm happy the state troopers and National Guard are coming to help on the latter, and the former? 

That's easy:  police ask for either a sales permit or receipts for the goods.  If the person who is offering their wares can't produce either, there might be a night in jail in their future.

There finally appears to be alignment among San Francisco's mayor, police chief, and district attorney that property and quality of life crimes really matter. This is long overdue.  If we are Soft on People, we can also be Tough on Crime yet still just. 

If you give people the ability and tools to live in dignity, and they refuse, they've given a civil society no other choice than the proverbial stick.  But remember:  as the approach I advocate is Soft on People, the camps and jails and prisons must renew and rehabilitate, not make the problem worse.   

Indeed, that's the whole idea:  Soft on People, Tough on Crime.

But we've never tried - it seems like it's one (soft) or the other (tough) or neither.  Can't we have both? 

Naturally, I want to make it a thing. 
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Coming Soon:  Can we make sleeping outside and vagrancy crimes if we have humane and helpful places for people to get back on their feet?


Hunter Deuce is now questioning my fitness as a gracious houseguest.  It's true, as he took offense to my crack on Andy Jones and his half-stained (but still Diamond Certified, for the record) pergola.

You know . . . a polite guest would offer to finish staining that pergola.  Just sayin'.

And this from a man who hasn't lifted a hammer or screwdriver in 30 years?

Thank you to any one that is reading this newsletter.


This blog could rightly be titled "When the World is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around" - so here are The Police and Zenyatta Mondatta. 

Have I ever mentioned I've been told I look like Sting?  Nah . . . that would be narcissistic.  

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