Has San Francisco Lost Its Liberal Soul?


Have San Francisco voters lost the bleeding hearts they have been known for — or are they just frustrated?

City voters resoundingly passed two ballot measures this week that probably wouldn’t have seen the light of day a few years ago. One measure gives more power to the police, and the other requires welfare recipients who are thought to have a drug addiction to enter treatment as a condition of continuing to receive benefits.

Critics of the measures said that residents had veered to the right and that billionaires had bought the city by throwing money at campaigns for the measures. But Mayor London Breed, who faces a tough race for re-election in November and who placed the two measures on the ballot, brushed off claims that the city had lost its liberal soul.

In her annual State of the City address on Thursday, Breed argued that it was progressive to invest in public safety to protect vulnerable older residents and immigrants, and to push for drug treatment for those who need it.

“We are a progressive, diverse city, living together, celebrating each other,” she said, standing at a podium at the city’s cruise ship terminal, apparently to highlight the rebound of San Francisco’s tourism industry. “That has not changed, and it will not change.”

San Francisco’s reputation has plummetedunfairly, many residents say — since the start of the pandemic, because of open-air drug use, property crime and the sharp drop in office occupancy downtown. Breed, a political moderate by San Francisco standards, has responded by tacking to the right, and this week voters backed her priorities.

Along with the police and drug measures, voters in the primary on Tuesday supported a moderate slate of candidates for the Democratic County Central Committee, the governing body of the local Democratic Party whose endorsement will probably carry weight in the mayor’s race.

They also approved a city policy to encourage the city’s schools to offer algebra to students by eighth grade. The district had removed the course from middle school because of concerns that Asian and white students were advancing in math while Black and Latino students were not.

Proposition E, which will give the San Francisco police new powers, was approved by just under 60 percent of voters. The measure will allow the police to use drones and install surveillance cameras, and it loosens restrictions on car chases.

About 62 percent of voters backed Proposition F, which will require people receiving public cash assistance who are believed to be drug users to be screened, and to enter treatment if they are found to have an addiction.

Lydia Bransten, executive director of the Gubbio Project, which provides services for homeless people, had adamantly opposed Prop F and argued that forcing people into drug treatment wouldn’t work.

She believes the city’s long-delayed plan to open supervised sites where people can use drugs under the watchful eyes of harm-reduction specialists is the real answer to solving the city’s devastating drug crisis, which kills an average of two people a day.

The success of Prop F, she said, meant that people simply were exhausted by the drug epidemic and by City Hall’s lack of a coherent solution, and that they were eager to back anything that sounded like a real plan.

“San Francisco is still, at its heart, a progressive city,” she said. “Even progressives can be exhausted when they’re not given ideas that are effective.”

Nancy Tung, a prosecutor in the district attorney’s office who won election to the Democratic committee this week as part of the moderate slate, agreed that the city was still liberal at heart.

“San Franciscans want to make sure our streets are safe,” she said. “They want better public education. They want a government that works. When did those stop being Democratic values?”

Heather Knight is the San Francisco bureau chief of The New York Times.

Amid all the upheaval of the pandemic, there have been moments of hope and positive change. What have been your pandemic silver linings? Tell us at CAtoday@nytimes.com. Please include your full name and the city in which you live.

Elephant seals, once hunted nearly to the point of extinction, are rebounding, with colonies steadily expanding northward into breeding grounds on the Pacific Coast of California, Bay Area News Group reports.

Scientists and researchers who track the seal population believe that there are at least 25 breeding colonies on the Pacific Coast today, with about 200,000 seals breeding and giving birth in the region’s five national marine sanctuaries.

The numbers represent a spectacular recovery for the seal species, which was aggressively hunted for its blubber in the 19th century and was thought to be extinct by the end of the 1870s. But a small colony, at one point numbering fewer than 100 seals, survived in Baja California. After the species gained legal protection, the seals gradually began to rebuild their numbers and spread northward again. All the modern colonies in the Pacific today are descended from that single colony, according to researchers.

The seals have prospered in recent decades because of federal protection and because of their feeding habits, which are not directly affected by ocean currents. As the population has grown, seals have continued to establish colonies farther up the coast, with one colony as far north as Humboldt County.

“It’s a conservation success story,” Dawn Goley, a zoology professor at Cal Poly Humboldt, told the news outlet. “They were in dire trouble.”

Thanks for reading. We’ll be back on Monday. Enjoy your weekend.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

Soumya Karlamangla, Maia Coleman, Kellina Moore and Briana Scalia contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

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