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What Happened to Our City?



•••••••••• May 2024 ••••••••••

Former Supervisor Tony Hall
Tony Hall

If you look at San Francisco today, you can’t help but ask What Happened?

What happened to The City that Knows how? What happened to the City that Everybody Loves? What happened to that shining City on the Hill that inspired so many dreams, memories and good times for millions who have lived or visited here, made their life and raised their families here, or traveled here from the four corners of the world to experience its unique bit of civilized class in a beautiful setting?

To answer that question, you must look at San Francisco’s history and see how it evolved into what it has become today: a piece of real estate whose innermost workings are for sale to the highest bidder. It is a corporate entity that operates on a pay-to-play basis to the ever-changing highest bidders by the political ruling class that has controlled the City Government for at least three decades.

Looking Back

Since the gold rush days of the 1880s through the world wars, Korea, and Vietnam right up into the 70s, San Francisco was a City/Town that was envied by all that visited as a place that encompassed a lifestyle unlike anything in the rest of the USA. It had all of the cosmopolitan charm of a European City, the mystic allure of the Far East, the roguish attitude of the Wild West, and a bustling business climate to rival Cities ten times its size. All of this was in a magnificent setting with nearby institutions of higher learning.


The City, always noted for its appetite for the adventurous, unusual, and exciting, became a destination for those escaping the conformity, boredom, and predictability ... with all of its uniqueness was ready for the takeover, and had no idea what was about to hit it.”

An outsider could have mistakenly viewed it as parochial in that it exuded tradition, hospitality, benevolence, and the good life all at once. Its population, though small compared to other cities, was imbued with a sense of civic pride readily noticeable and envied by outsiders. By and large, its City governance was ruled by those who came up through the local ranks with the ever-present goal of making the City even greater. Most of the elected were locals. San Franciscans judged them for what they did to make San Francisco better for the people who lived here—not the political party they belonged to. Self-serving was loathed, regarded as bad taste, and readily attributed to ‘outsiders,’ as many of the people who lived in the City came up the hard way. They were not about to let some grifter destroy what they worked so hard to create. That is not to say it was crime or corruption-free; what city is? But what did exist was handled in a manner unique to the expectations and acceptance of all else going on in such a rare environment.

As we moved into the 70s, the ‘me’ culture in the US began taking root. Virtues like honesty, integrity, loyalty, and pride waned in their meaning to a new generation of privileged people who did not want to be burdened by such restrictions in their quest to have it all. Although small and compact, San Francisco was steeped in the tradition of a harmonious conglomerate of people from all walks of life who successfully created an enviable environment.

It was a population obsessed with local politics and its intrigues. Which of its ruling clans would next rule the ‘roost?’ The City, always noted for its appetite for the adventurous, unusual, and exciting, became a destination for those escaping the conformity, boredom, and predictability of a larger metropolis. San Francisco, the romanticized town, with all of its uniqueness was ready for the takeover, and had no idea what was about to hit it.

Enter: San Francisco as a Business

In the early nineties, a group of state-wide politicians and political hacks invaded, the likes of which had never gained a foothold in the local political scene. These people viewed the art of governance in a different fashion than the socially astute yet home-bound San Franciscan. They largely came from nondescript environs with nothing to lose and much to gain if they could become a ‘player’ in the San Francisco scene. They were used to trading political favors in an anonymous atmosphere without regard to what ‘high school’ or ‘parish’ you were affiliated with, as most San Franciscans did. In brief, these interlopers smelled the chance to make their mark in a place that was small enough to infiltrate and had name, respect, and recognition throughout the country. They accomplished this by systematically involving themselves in the workings of the local Democratic Party which so many San Franciscans identified with because of their ethnic, social, or immigrant status.

They set up a network of clubs, neighborhood groups, and idealistic volunteers, all out to set the world on fire. While the natives were too busy working and enjoying the good life, these exploiters got themselves elected by playing San Franciscans, with their intrinsic welcoming and benevolent spirit, for fools. It was a town ready to be taken over by these people who were not interested in making San Francisco better or even maintaining the status quo. They were only interested in getting themselves elected to office. They successfully achieved something unattainable in a less open and tolerant environment. Here, in their newfound breeding ground, they could gain power and wealth by monetizing city services and establishing a political base to export their protege into higher office all throughout the US. Thus, the beginning of the demise of this once great City and the rise of the San Francisco-based office holder who has infected the state and national stage so effectively.

Why San Francisco?

San Francisco is a blessed City. Unlike other cities, it has always had a very positive cash flow, at least up until present times. That is what first attracted the interlopers.

The positive cash flow was due to a booming world-class downtown business sector and the taxes they paid, a real estate market that is among the most expensive in the country, what was a thriving tourist, convention, entertainment, and shopping Mecca, and a bevy of income-producing enterprise agencies like the Airport, Transportation, Port, and Public Utilities, all run by the City.

San Francisco is a City and County in one. Unlike other jurisdictions with a separate county administration, a Mayor rules it, and a single Board of Supervisors represents eleven districts in this small municipality of slightly more than 800,000 people. (God forbid that any Supervisor represents too much territory—he may want to challenge the ruling machine).

It elects its candidates by rank-choice voting, a system that has proven too complicated for the average voter. But at least it ensures that the most popular or qualified candidate does not always win. (Another benefit to the ruling machine.)

Its diverse and divided population is manipulated by excessive and abnormal amounts of political advertising.

San Francisco Today

Today, some 30 to 40 years after the ‘invasion, ‘the downtown business sector is over 37% vacant, and our once world-class shopping center is gone. The real estate market has deteriorated as people are moving out of the City. The tourist, convention, and entertainment industries are nonexistent due to crime and homelessness. Our city-run Enterprise Agencies are running at an all-time low. What Happened? Attention to power, political advancement, and self-promotion won the fight over doing what was best for the City.

The political machine’s apologists will tell you that it was just fate, that COVID hit, and that every city is experiencing the same, etc., etc.

No, none of those lame excuses are the answer. The answer is plain and simple, and the sooner we acknowledge it, the better we will be.

It is Mis-Management by those in charge. Those who run the show today and have been for the past four administrations haven’t a clue or care about Public Administration, fiduciary responsibility, or the role and mission of good government for the people they are supposed to represent. They only know how to propose and sell illusory programs that will help propel them to higher office and how to mishandle your tax dollars. The hometown favoritism and small-time ‘who you know’ undercurrent of past administrations has been replaced by wholesale anonymous pay-to-play corruption. It has no allegiance to the City. Ignorance and arrogance are the perfect ingredients for an impervious circle of stupidity that now rules the day.

Tune In to the Present Mayor’s Show

It is now a City whose governmental operations are for sale, for sale to the highest bidder. All the bidder has to do is come up with enough cash to ensure that the candidates they back get the proper exposure, do not rock the boat too much, and if successfully elected, do not forget who brought them to the party. There are millions and millions of dollars to be made doing business with government operations of the City since we have been ‘enlightened’ by our state-wide interlopers.

Proceeds of the political battles no longer go to the taxpayers footing the bill. Contracts, grants, bureaucracy, and the ever unaccountable non-profits (at last count, 600 doing business in San Francisco) all are now part of the money trail that keeps the political ruling class in power in San Francisco.

They run the show. With control over the City’s single local news publication, they determine who gets elected, and more so, who gets to even play the game. Since today’s political campaigns largely depend upon perception and exposure, they have made the cost of conducting a campaign so ridiculously high that no person of average means could ever compete for office. Only the rich, or those backed by well-healed special interests within the Democratic Party can compete. All the candidate has to do is play the game, pretend he is concerned about the less fortunate, and ‘talk the walk.’

Today, the mayor’s race will terminate in November. At least five candidates with any name recognition have signed up to run against what appears to be the bottom of the totem pole of the past powerful Willie Brown machine. Since the current mayor’s track record is pretty bad, many view this as an opportunity for change, but is it really?

I am a person who has always judged those in office by their deeds, not their words or demeanor. This group of candidates has no deeds to show, no track record of real achievement for the betterment of people, and as of yet, nothing of real substance to offer San Franciscans who are crying out for good, honest government.

The local gossip rag publication tells us this is a race between moderates and progressives. With the mayor and one or two of the challengers trying to position themselves as re-born conservatives, all one has to do is look at what they have actually done to realize that this is nothing more than a race between machine-backed liberals whose philosophy led to the downfall of SF and the remaining left candidates who now smell weakness in the political machine.

Yes, this race will be interesting, but if you are hoping for real change—going back to a system where the residents are the beneficiaries, don’t hold your breath. As much as I like several of the candidates personally, at this point in time, I have heard nothing from any of them that assures me that they have the guts to do what needs to be done to set San Francisco on the correct course, or even buck the expectations of the Democratic Party they all belong to. It’s a one-part monopoly, run by the same people who have destroyed today and stolen tomorrow. As a lifelong Independent, I will admit to a certain bias against a particular political party that has done so much to ruin San Francisco and the State we live in.

It is going to take some really bold and drastic measures to rejuvenate San Francisco, without which the City will never function as it should for the benefit of its residents.

Homelessness, crime, and corruption are the main culprits that are killing us. These man-made problems can be corrected by skillful, intelligent, compassionate and effective leadership. But it will only happen if the average voter wants it to happen. It will only happen if the average voter wakes up to the fact that your City has been mis-managed by the candidates you voted for. It will only happen when the average voter is no longer willing to be ‘fooled’ by the words the candidates are spinning. It will only happen when you educate yourselves about the real issues and rise up and demand that the right thing be done. You are paying the bill; you deserve better. Our City, thanks to its exploiters, is sick. The remedies to fix it are not tasteful, nor will they be acceptable or understood by all, but they need to be done.

I offer the following as a guide to those who really care. This is a Challenge to the Mayoral Candidates so that the public may judge you.

The Tony Hall Blueprint for a Healthy San Francisco


We are currently spending more money on our homeless problem than any other jurisdiction in the world, and this is because we are dealing with homeless from all over the country who come here for the benefits, weather, and environment.

A. By restricting our efforts to only those from San Francisco, we will have the money and resources to treat the root causes of their specific predicament intelligently and compassionately—hopefully rehabilitating them.

B. Our existing shelter bed capacity of more than 3200 beds can easily accommodate those homeless (approx. 2800) who are San Franciscans, so there will be a past residency requirement. Priority for shelter and services will go to families, the vulnerable, and those who have fallen on hard times first, and the remaining shelter beds will be allocated to those who have signed up for substance abuse or mental health treatment programs. Those who refuse shelter and treatment for their specific problem will not be able to live on the streets and must move on from San Francisco.

C. Money that is presently allocated for substance abuse and mental health treatment facilities will actually be used to provide such services and facilities, and not administered through the unaccountable non-profit network as is the case now.

D. As the City has only limited funds, all homeless people from other parts of the country will have 60 days to make arrangements to leave San Francisco, and depending upon means testing, they might be provided travel assistance to help them return to their last place of permanent residence. This policy will resonate across the country in an effort to encourage other cities to provide for their own. This policy is not based on vagrancy laws but on the Health and Safety concerns of all San Franciscans, and that should prevail in court.

E. All non-profit homeless industry service providers will be scrutinized for their effectiveness, ‘profitability,’ and function before being selected by an advisory group of tax-paying San Franciscans.

F. Our streets and sidewalks must be cleared of all encroachments so that those who pay for their maintenance with our taxes will once again be able to use them without stepping over human bodies or circling around encampments.

G. All tent and camp dwellers will be relocated to a designated part of the City on a strictly temporary basis until their status can be reviewed for exit or treatment.


A. Replace the Police Chief with an existing officer in the SFPD who understands the culture and idiosyncrasies of San Francisco, respects the department’s members, and has the leadership ability to encourage fellow officers to premium performance.

B. Immediately require that the SFPD be fully staffed and deployed in the most rapid, efficient, and effective manner to counter all types of crime in the City.

C. Enforcement of all existing laws.

D. Establish an online public tracking system of all crimes charged and the status of the case in the legal system, including the courts, so that the public can hold those responsible for the adjudication of such matters.


Any type of corruption within the Civil Service rank and file or municipal bureaucracy will not be tolerated, resulting in termination of employment and prosecution under applicable codes of civil and criminal procedure.


A. Zero based budgeting will be required for all Department funding each fiscal year.

B. As our budget will be greatly diminished next year, City agencies will be streamlined and reevaluated for only necessary personnel needs in order to provide basic City services.

C. The ‘commission system’ that has been promulgated and exploded in recent years in an effort to make those in charge less accountable will be greatly reduced and/or eliminated.

D. All non-profits currently contracted with the City will be reviewed for their ‘profitability,’ effectiveness, and ability to deliver services or be terminated.

E. A return to the merit based civil service system of employment and total eradication of the patronage system that we now have.

Once the downtown sector is clean, safe and accessible, business will return.

A. All regulations and permitting processes relating to downtown corporate and small business enterprises throughout the City will be reviewed and streamlined to encourage their operation as opposed to exploiting and discouraging them as is now the case.

B. Our streets that have been blocked off to the customers who prefer automobile use will be reopened and repurposed in a manner that facilitates the efficient flow of traffic. Replace SFMTA Director.

C. On street parking in the downtown area will once again be available with specific loading and unloading times relative to usage.

D. City-run garages will be reviewed for charges that encourage parking, as opposed to punitive fares.

E. The park-let policy of eliminating street parking for business expansion will be reviewed and /or eliminated.


A. All local government operations will be evaluated with the goal of how they serve the people of San Francisco.

B. Majority rule as opposed to minority rule in all matters that impact residents.

C. Explore and develop intelligent alternatives and opposition to ruinous ‘one shoe fits all’ statewide mandated programs such as the ‘Housing Element Mandate’ which requires 83,000 new homes be built in San Francisco and the latest ‘Daylighting’ Parking scheme which will destroy 14,000 residential parking places in the City’

D. Use the Office Of Mayor to once again promote and support candidates for: The Board of Supervisors who have the welfare of the constituents they represent at heart, a District Attorney who knows how to effectively prosecute crime to benefit public safety, and a City Attorney who knows how to navigate the legal challenges that confront the City in the implementation of the above mentioned policies.

E. Seek the repeal our misnomered Sanctuary City status, District elections and Rank choice voting


Tony Hall is a former Supervisor for the City and County of San Francisco. He has held executive and administrative positions with 35 years of experience in seven different City departments in all three branches.

May 2024

Tony Hall
Tony Hall

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