Frustrated Castro Merchants Threaten to Withhold Taxes Unless S.F. Tackles Drugs, Littering on Streets

For years, business owners in San Francisco’s Castro district have complained to city officials that homeless people struggling with mental illness and drug addiction have wreaked havoc on the neighborhood. Now, merchants say the situation has gotten so bad that they’re threatening to possibly stop paying city taxes and fees.

The Castro Merchants Association sent a letter to city officials on Aug. 8, urging them to “take action” because the neighborhood is “struggling.” In the letter, they said people living on the streets “regularly experience psychotic episodes” and have vandalized storefronts and harassed business owners, employees, residents and tourists.

“They need shelter and/or services and they need them immediately,” the merchants said. “Our community is struggling to recover from lost business revenue, from burglaries and never-ending vandalism/graffiti (often committed by unhoused persons) and we implore you to take action.”

The group asked the city to designate 35 of the city’s shelter beds for the neighborhood’s homeless population, create a comprehensive plan on how to offer services to individuals who repeatedly decline help, and provide monthly metrics on how many people in the community have been offered services and shelter.

If their demands are not met, the association is threatening civil disobedience by potentially asking store owners to stop paying taxes and other city fees, said co-President Dave Karraker. He said the association hopes to form a coalition with other neighborhood groups by October to come up with a plan to demand stronger solutions from the city.

“If the city can’t provide the basic services for them to become a successful business, then what are we paying for?” Karraker told The Chronicle on Tuesday. “You can’t have a vibrant, successful business corridor when you have people passed out high on drugs, littering your sidewalk. These people need to get help.”

In a letter sent to the group Tuesday, officials from San Francisco’s Department of Public Health and Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing acknowledged the association’s concerns and said they are working to address them. City officials said they originally sent the letter to the wrong Castro group on Aug. 19 and confirmed to The Chronicle that the letter was forwarded to the Castro Merchants Association on Tuesday.

Officials said teams “regularly” update Castro residents about the city’s efforts to tackle homelessness and public safety through meetings organized by Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, whose district includes the Castro.

They also said officials from both departments meet weekly to focus on providing assistance to individuals in the Castro.

According to city data available online, San Francisco currently operates about 2,100 shelter beds for adults and youths. While it is not city policy to dedicate beds to specific neighborhoods, the city said it was on track to expand capacity by 1,000 new or reopened shelter beds over the next three months that can provide shelter for unhoused people in the Castro and other neighborhoods.

“We greatly appreciate hearing from community members about what they are seeing on the streets and will continue to work with the Castro community to improve conditions for all in the Castro,” city officials wrote in the letter.

Homeless advocates have said the city doesn’t have enough permanent supportive housing and treatment beds to help people on the street.

Gwendolyn Westbrook, CEO of United Council of Human Services, a nonprofit that provides meals and services to homeless people in the Bayview-Hunters Point area, said Wednesday that unhoused individuals need more mental health services, such as therapy. She said she understands the Castro merchants’ frustrations and said it would be “a good thing” if the city provided shelter beds to specific neighborhoods.

“But that’s not the case,” she said. The city “gives shelter beds to whoever needs them, no matter what area you are from. I get both sides of it, but when you’re trying to help your neighborhood, you’re looking out for your neighborhood as you should be.”

Karraker said the group has been asking city leaders for help over the past four years. The group and Mandelman keep a running list of people who they said create chronic problems in the Castro — which fluctuates from 20 to 25 — and that the merchants asked for 35 beds to account for an influx of people who moved to the Castro after a recent crackdown in the Tenderloin.

Karraker, who is the co-owner of the gym MX3 Fitness on Market Street, said a person who appeared to be on drugs smashed the business’ glass door when the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order went into effect in 2020. He said there have been “multiple” instances where people displaying “bizarre behavior” have walked into the gym and attempted to steal items, such as weights and clothing.

Business owners across the city saw a rise in burglaries and vandalism in 2020 compared with 2019. In the Castro, the merchants association recorded more than 90 incidents totaling over $170,000 in repair costs since 2020, according to data provided by the association, which began documenting incidents during the pandemic. In 2021, there were a total of 25 reported incidents, the data shows. In March of this year, three men were arrested for allegedly burglarizing the historic Castro Theatre.

In response to the reported vandalism and burglary, city officials created a program that offers financial assistance to small businesses that have been affected.

Mandelman told The Chronicle on Tuesday that he supports the association and agreed with their demands.

Click here to read the full article at the SF Chronicle

San Jose’s proposal to allow non-citizens to vote could be in trouble after San Francisco ruling

San Jose is considering whether to allow non-citizens to vote in local elections, but the controversial proposal could be in legal jeopardy before it even makes its way to the ballot box.

The idea was proposed earlier this year by council members Magdalena Carrasco and Sylvia Arenas as a way to give a voice to residents who play a critical role in the community but are unable to participate in the democratic process and select their representatives. The move could affect non-citizens such as undocumented immigrants and legal non-citizens who are green card holders or have the right to study or work in the U.S.

More than a dozen cities in the U.S. currently allow non-citizen voting in local elections — most of them in Maryland. But locally, the concept is facing legal challenges.

San Francisco voters approved a measure in 2016 that allowed non-citizens — both undocumented and legal residents — to vote in school board elections if they had a child in the district. But two conservative nonprofits, the United States Justice Foundation and the California Public Policy Foundation, sued the city, arguing it was unconstitutional.

On July 29, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard B. Ulmer, Jr. struck down the law, citing a portion of the California Constitution that says, “A United States citizen 18 years of age and resident in this state may vote.” The city had argued that “may vote” isn’t restrictive — a notion that Ulmer rejected.

Litigation in Oakland has followed suit, with the same groups suing the city to try to keep a similar measure off the November ballot.

San Jose city attorney Nora Frimann said she believes San Francisco intends to file an appeal.

The uncertainty around the legality of non-citizen voting is enough for Mayor Sam Liccardo to want to hit the pause button on the issue.

“There’s going to be a lot of courts weighing in on this over the next year and a half or so,” he said. “It seems to me for us to be spending a lot of time on this issue before we even know whether or not it’s lawful is probably not the best use of our time.”

While no decision was made during a study session of the issue at Tuesday’s San Jose City Council meeting, Carrasco indicated her desire to move forward.

“It’s up to local jurisdictions to decide and create an environment where those who are contributing, who are participating and who want to engage have an opportunity to do so safely and legally,” she said. “And what we’re seeing throughout the country is that there is a real move towards voter suppression of folks who have previously been disengaged, who have previously been disenfranchised and when we have opportunities to truly bring them into the conversation, there’s a sense of threat.”

The proposal garnered an overwhelming amount of support on Tuesday from residents — many from immigrant communities.

Jose Servin, the advocacy director for immigrant rights group SIREN, called it an “opportunity to take a step forward and expand the American imagination.” He said many residents who are barred from voting because of their citizenship status have fought for worker protections, canvassed and helped register individuals to vote despite their own inability to do so.

“We’re not talking about giving anybody a handout,” he said. “I’ve stood shoulder to shoulder with some of these people back here, countless members of the undocumented community, DACA recipients like me, TPS holders, people awaiting visas and many other people defined by the legal limbo that they’re stuck in to make our voice heard one way or another.”

Many of those speaking out in opposition argued that voting is a right, not a privilege.

“I believe it devalues the value of citizenship,” said Shane Patrick Connolly, the chair of the Santa Clara County Republican Party. “It was hard-earned by many of our great citizens here in San Jose.”

Allowing non-citizens to vote could be costly to the city of San Jose. The city of New York, which recently had its law struck down by a judge as well, estimated that it would add $4 million to its 2023-2024 fiscal year election costs to have an additional 900,000 non-citizen voters.

City clerk Toni Taber was unable to provide an exact number of how much it would cost but said they would need to factor in ballot design and printing, mailing, staff time, outreach, translations and postage. With an estimated number of possible non-citizen voters of 97,847, that base cost would be $260,274. The city would also need to budget an additional $600,000 to conduct outreach.

San Jose spent $2.2 million on the June 2022 election, but that included shared printing costs with other cities. A non-citizen ballot would have to be printed separately, with the city bearing the full costs.

Councilmember Dev Davis, who was the sole individual who voted against studying the proposal back in January, continued to vehemently oppose the idea on Tuesday.

“We are the most thinly staffed police department of any big city in America,” she said. “We are the most thinly staffed city in all of the United States. I can’t justify spending more than double what we already spend on elections when we don’t have enough police officers to keep everybody safe.”

Click here to read the full article at Mercury News

S.F.’s Highest-Paid Employee Makes $600K. Here’s What Every City Worker Gets Paid

The government of San Francisco employs tens of thousands of workers across its 50 city and county departments. Last year, full-time S.F. government employees made anywhere between $36,000 and $601,000, with the average at around $127,000, which includes overtime.

That’s according to data provided by the S.F. Controller’s Office on the amount paid to public employees each year. Using this data, The Chronicle analyzed the earnings of those who worked at least 2,080 hours during the 2020-2021 fiscal year — equivalent to a position working 40 hours or more per week between July 2020 and June 2021. This comes out to about 21,000 employees. Because we filtered on actual hours worked, our data does not include full-time workers who, for instance, were out on unpaid leave or started midway through the fiscal year.

The data includes the pay of top officials, like Mayor London Breed ($351,000), Police Chief Bill Scott ($344,000) and former District Attorney Chesa Boudin ($308,000). But it also has information on other public employees. Among them are office clerks, police officers, firefighters, nurses in the public health department and transit operators at the Municipal Transportation Agency. Job titles used in this article are those provided by the Controller’s Office.

The total pay number is made up of three types of earnings — regular or base pay; overtime pay for work exceeding 40 hours per week; and “other” pay which covers irregular payments such as leave pay, premium pay and payouts. It does not include the value of health insurance or retirement benefits, which can be generous in the public sector.

For most employees, the bulk of their pay comes from regular pay. But within the understaffed fire, police and sheriff departments, some employees racked up eye-popping amounts of overtime pay, which at times exceeded their regular wages. Across the three departments, the average person made $27,000 in overtime, and 153 employees collected over $100,000.

In an effort to boost staffing levels and reduce overtime spending in each of the three departments, the budget for the current fiscal year includes increased funding for hiring and retention. The police budget, for instance, went up by $50 million from the previous year, with most of the additional spending for backfilling 220 officer vacancies.

Across the 34 departments with at least 50 employees who worked 2,080 hours last year, the fire department had the highest average pay at $185,000, while the Recreation & Park Department had the lowest average at $96,000.

The Retirement Services and Administrative Services departments have the largest pay differences among its employees. The top earner in each department — Chief Investment Officer in Retirement Services and a medical examiner in Administrative Services — made about $600,000, which is $500,000 more than how much its least-paid employees earned.

The top earner in each department is typically the department head or person leading the office. For example, among the 109 full-time employees in the Mayor’s Office, Breed made the most at $351,000, which is $127,000 more than the next highest-paid staff member.

But in departments with significant overtime, the top earner is often a manager-level employee with unusually large overtime payments. The highest-paid person in the fire department, for instance, is a lieutenant with $154,000 in regular pay and $244,000 in overtime pay for a total of $421,000 — about $43,000 more than Fire Chief Jeanine Nicholson’s total ($378,000). In the sheriff’s department, a deputy sheriff’s pay totaled $409,000, about two-thirds of which was overtime pay. That’s $131,000 more than what Sheriff Paul Miyamoto made last year ($278,000).

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

S.F’s Noncitizen Voting Law for School Board Was Struck Down. What’s Next?

Noncitizen voting isn’t a brand new idea. White, landowning, noncitizen men were once allowed to vote in 22 states.

Today, a handful of cities have granted noncitizen residents the right to vote in various local elections. Until recently, San Francisco was one of them: in 2016, voters approved Proposition N, which granted the vote to noncitizen parents of SF Unified students in school board races. 

But late last month, a state Superior Court judge struck down San Francisco’s law in a suit brought forward by conservative groups. The city has appealed the decision, and what happens next will have ripple effects across the Bay Area and the rest of the state.

CLICK BELOW TO LISTEN

What Takes Years and Costs $20K? A San Francisco Trash Can

What takes four years to make and costs more than $20,000? A trash can in San Francisco.

That costly, boxy bin is among six trash cans hitting San Francisco’s streets this summer in the city’s long saga in search of the perfect can. Overflowing trash cans are a common sight in the Northern California city, along with piles of used clothes, shoes, furniture and other items strewn about on sometimes-impassable sidewalks.

City officials hired a Bay Area industrial firm to custom-design the pricey trash can along with two other prototypes that cost taxpayers $19,000 and $11,000 each. This summer, residents have the opportunity to evaluate them along with three off-the-shelf options added to the pilot program after officials faced criticism.

Last month, the city deployed 15 custom-made trash cans and 11 off-the-shelf trash cans — each of those costing from $630 to $2,800 — with QR codes affixed to them asking residents to fill out a survey. City officials said they intend to pay no more than $3,000 per can.

San Francisco began its search for the perfect trash can in 2018 when officials decided it was time to replace the more than 3,000 public bins that have been on the streets for almost 20 years.

Officials say the current bins have too big a hole that allows for easy rummaging. The bins also have hinges that need constant repair and locks that are easy to breach. Some people also topple them over, cover them in graffiti, or set them on fire.

The city is so serious about the endeavor it has created interactive maps so residents can track and test the different designs, which include the Soft Square, the priciest prototype at $20,900. The boxy stainless steel receptacle has openings for trash and for can and bottle recycling and includes a foot pedal. The Slim Silhouette, at $18,800 per prototype, is made of stainless steel bars that give would-be graffiti artists less space to tag.

If one of the custom-designed bins is chosen, the cost to mass produce it will be $2,000 to $3,000 per piece, said Beth Rubenstein, a spokeswoman for San Francisco’s Department of Public Works.

“We live in a beautiful city, and we want (the trash can) to be functional and cost-effective, but it needs to be beautiful,” she said.

But the good looks of the shiny new trash cans have not protected them from vandalism and disrespect. Three weeks after being unveiled, several have already been tagged with orange and white graffiti. Others already show the drip stains of inconsiderate coffee drinkers or have attracted dumping, with people leaving dilapidated bathroom cabinets and plastic bags full of empty wine bottles next to them.

Trash on San Francisco city streets has been an issue for decades. In 2007, then-Mayor Gavin Newsom eliminated about 1,500 of the city’s 4,500 trash cans because he said they were not helping keep streets clean and were becoming magnets for more trash. Officials couldn’t say how many receptacles are currently on the curb, but the city plans to replace at least 3,000.

“A trash can is one of the most basic functions of city governance and if the city can’t do something as simple as this, how can they solve the bigger issues of homelessness and safety and poverty?” asked Matt Haney, a former supervisor who lives in the Tenderloin neighborhood and now represents the area in the California Assembly.

New trash cans will be the latest addition to the city’s arsenal against its dirty streets. In 2014, San Francisco launched its “Pit Stop” program in the Tenderloin neighborhood, the epicenter of drug dealing and homelessness in the city, setting up portable public toilets. In 2018, the city created a six-person “poop patrol” team amid demand to power wash sidewalks.

Haney said that as a supervisor he reluctantly agreed last year to approve the pilot program despite the high prices to avoid delays.

“I think most people, including me, would say just replace the damn cans with cans that we know work in other cities, just do it,” he said.

Haney said the “whole trash can saga has this stench of corruption,” referring to disgraced former Department of Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, who pleaded guilty in January to federal wire fraud charges. Nuru awarded the contract to maintain San Francisco’s trash cans to a company owned by a relative of a developer who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and is cooperating with federal authorities in the case against Nuru.

On top of the corruption, the city has long been the butt of jokes for how long it takes to complete public works projects of all kinds.

A bus rapid transit system along Van Ness Avenue, one of the city’s main arteries, finally opened this year after 27 years of construction. A new subway line connecting Chinatown with other areas of the city that started construction in 2010 is four years behind schedule. In 2017, the city completed the Transbay Transit Center only a year late, but the $2 billion terminal abruptly shut down six weeks later after crews discovered two cracked steel girders.

Ultimately, what trash can the city gets will depend on feedback from sanitation employees, and the surveys completed by the end of September, Rubenstein said. The new cans are not expected on the streets until the end of 2023.

Diane Torkelson, who often picks up trash in her Inner Richmond neighborhood with other volunteers, recently trekked 5 miles (8 kilometers) with a dozen other civic-minded San Franciscans to examine three of the cans.

Click here to read the full article in AP News

Ex-S.F. D.A. Chesa Boudin is Sending Out Fundraising Emails, Fueling Speculation Over Whether He’ll Run Again

Amid disquieting revelations about District Attorney Brooke Jenkins’ financial disclosures, her former boss blasted an email out to his supporters.

“Brooke Jenkins failed to meet the standards the people of San Francisco deserve,” former District Attorney Chesa Boudin’s wrote last week. Jenkins has faced scrutiny for presenting herself as a volunteer for the recall effort that booted Boudin from office, while accepting more than $100,000 in consulting fees from organizations linked to the campaign to oust him.

Those activities, he said were “unbecoming of the office of District Attorney.”

At the end of the email was a large, blue “contribute” button, though it was not clear what cause he was fundraising for. The email was paid for by the political committee Boudin for District Attorney 2023.

Boudin has said he would not enter this fall’s special election that will decide who will finish out the rest of what would have been a four-year term. But he has also not ruled out reentering next year’s scheduled DA’s race.

Although Boudin isn’t running in November, the shadow of his embittered recall election continues to animate the upcoming race, where Jenkins is facing off against two main contenders — John Hamasaki and Joe Alioto Veronese.

In a statement to The Chronicle, Boudin said the 2023 contest “is a long way off and there are too many variables involved to make a statement on running, but I am committed to fighting for justice and a safer San Francisco.”

Boudin said attorneys were directing him on how the donations can be legally used.

Jim Ross, who was a political consultant on Boudin’s campaign against the recall but is no longer working for him, said the funds could help build a war chest should Boudin decide to run again, but that there are several other places they could be used as well.

In general, campaign funds can also be moved to another political or public affairs entity, like a ballot measure committee or political organization, or to certain eligible nonprofits, Ross said. Committees can also return the unused funds to donors.

The contributions cannot be used to support the candidate’s run for a different office. The funds could help support another candidate, but donations would be limited to $500, Ross said.

The Boudin for District Attorney 2023 committee was created shortly after his January 2020 swearing-in as top prosecutor — long before the recall. Boudin would have been up for re-election in 2023. The race could ultimately be held in 2024 if San Franciscans pass a November ballot measure that would move the city’s local races to presidential election years.

Jenkins, who quit Boudin’s office to lead the effort to unseat him, was at the center of her own controversy this week after financial disclosures revealed she raked in over $100,000 during the time she worked as a self-titled volunteer for the recall campaign. The bulk of these funds came from a 501c3 organization that has ties to — but is legally separate from — a group that bankrolled the recall.

Ethics experts said it didn’t appear Jenkins broke any laws, but voters may see her claim to be a volunteer for the recall as a misrepresentation. Jenkins was a powerful force for the campaign, in part because of her contention that she quit Boudin’s office due to her personal convictions and was not swayed by financial incentives.

Read the full article at SF Chronicle

California Judge Overturns San Francisco Law Allowing Noncitizens to Vote

New York City’s identical law was recently struck down by a judge

In 2016, San Francisco voters approved a charter amendment allowing certain noncitizens to vote in school board elections. The Charter amendment also gave the County Board of Supervisors authority to extend the noncitizen voting authorization beyond 2022. On November 2, 2021, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors extended indefinitely the ordinance allowing noncitizens to vote beyond 2022.

In March 2022, California attorney James Lacy filed a lawsuit against the city and county of San Francisco over this law arguing that San Francisco residents have a clear interest in ensuring their school board elections follow state law, especially because state taxpayers partially fund school districts.

“The State of California has a long-standing requirement that voters must be United States citizens,” the lawsuit by James V. Lacy; Michael Denny; United States Justice Foundation; and California Public Policy Foundation opens with. “This requirement applies to every election in the state, even those conducted by charter cities, because determining voter qualifications is a matter of statewide concern where state law supersedes conflicting charter city ordinances. Therefore, the San Francisco ordinance authorizing noncitizen voting in elections for the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) is unlawful and may not be implemented.”

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Ulmer just ruled in favor of Lacy et. al. “A San Francisco law allowing noncitizen parents to vote in local school board elections was overturned Friday by a judge who said the California Constitution permits only citizens to vote,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The Globe spoke with Lacy just before the hearing about the unconstitutionality of the law. He said the local law violates the California Constitution and Elections Code.

Lacy also noted that New York City’s identical law was recently struck down by a judge, which would have allowed 800,000 non-citizens to vote, setting an important precedent.

The judge said allowing non-citizens to vote “is contrary to the California Constitution and state statutes and cannot stand.”

The judge told a lawyer for the city that the power of charter cities such as San Francisco to regulate municipal affairs “does not override the Constitution,” the Chronicle reported.

“A permanent injunction has been issued to stop San Francisco from processing noncitizen voting and the Court has invited Lacy and the plaintiffs to file a motion to claim attorneys fees against the City for the action.”

“When noncitizens vote in an election, the voting rights of citizens are wrongly diluted,” Lacy said.

The lawsuit said school districts are funded with the taxes paid by each of the state’s taxpayers into the state’s general fund. When SFUSD spends taxpayer funds, it is not spending local taxpayer funds; it is spending state taxpayer funds. In this regard, everyone in the state has an interest in SFUSD’s expenditures. From that interest, everyone in the state also has an interest in ensuring that SFUSD’s governing board is elected in accordance with state law.

Lacy’s lawsuit said “While section 5 of article XI of the State Constitution gives charter cities power over their own municipal affairs, this section does not authorize Ordinance Number 206-21 because voter qualifications for school board elections are not municipal affairs.”

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Judge Strikes Down San Francisco Law Allowing Noncitizen Parents to Vote in School Elections

A San Francisco law allowing noncitizen parents to vote in local school board elections was overturned Friday by a judge who said the California Constitution permits only citizens to vote.

The ordinance, the first of its kind in the state, was approved by city voters as Proposition N in 2016, took effect in 2018 and was extended indefinitely by the Board of Supervisors in 2021. It allows noncitizens, including undocumented immigrants and legal residents, to vote for school board candidates if they are a parent or guardian of a school-age child and are not in prison or on parole for a felony conviction.

A lawsuit by conservative organizations cited a provision of the state Constitution that declares, “A United States citizen 18 years of age and resident in this State may vote.” Lawyers for the city contended the “may vote” language did not prohibit a local government from authorizing others to vote, but San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Ulmer disagreed.

“Transcendent law of California, the Constitution … reserves the right to vote to a United States citizen, contrary to (the) San Francisco ordinance,” Ulmer said in a ruling that prohibits the city from enforcing the ordinance or counting noncitizens’ votes.

Based on the logic of the city’s argument, he said, “children under 18 and residents of other states ‘may also’ vote in California elections, which our Constitution does not allow.”

If the Constitution used the word “shall” instead of “may,” Ulmer said, it would require everyone 18 or older to vote. Mandatory voting is the law in some nations, such as Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Egypt and Thailand, but not in the U.S. or any of its states, the judge said.

He also cited a state law passed by the Legislature that specified, “A person entitled to register to vote shall be a United States citizen.” Such laws “address matters of statewide concern: education and voter qualifications,” and cannot be overridden by a local government, Ulmer said,

Ulmer had signaled his views at a hearing Thursday, when he told a lawyer for the city that the power of charter cities such as San Francisco to regulate municipal affairs “does not override the Constitution.”

James V. Lacy, who challenged the ordinance along with his organizations, the United States Justice Foundation and the California Public Policy Foundation, said the ruling was “a verdict in favor of election integrity in California.”

Jen Kwart, spokesperson for City Attorney David Chiu, said the ruling is disappointing.

Click here to read the full article in the San Francisco Chronicle

California Exodus Continues, With L.A., San Francisco Leading the Way: ‘Why are We Here?’

After living in the Bay Area for nearly seven years, Hari Raghavan and his wife decided to leave for the East Coast late last year.

They were both working remotely and wanted to leave California because of the high cost of living and urban crime.So they made a list of potential relocation cities before choosing Miami for its sunny weather and what they perceived was a better sense of safety.

Raghavan said that their Oakland house had been broken into four times and that prior to the pandemic, his wife called him every day during her seven-minute walk home from the BART station because she felt safer with someone on the phone. After moving to Miami, Raghavan said they accidentally left their garage door open one day and were floored when they returned home and found nothing had been stolen.

“We moved to the Bay Area because we had to be there if you want to work in tech and start-ups, and now that that’s no longer a tether, we took a long hard look and said, ‘Wait, why are we here again?’ ” Raghavan said.

He said there wasn’t much draw in California’s quality of life, local or social policies, or cost of living. “That forced us to question where we actually wanted to live,” he said.

An acceleration of people leaving coastal California began during the first year of the pandemic. But new data show it continued even after lockdowns and other COVID restrictions eased.

California ranks second in the country for outbound moves — a phenomenon that has snowballed during the pandemic, according to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, which tracked data from moving company United Van Lines. Between 2018 and 2019, California had an outbound move rate of 56%. That rate rose to nearly 60% in 2020-21.

Citing changes in work-life balance, opportunities for remote work and more people deciding to quit their jobs, the report found that droves of Californians are leaving for states like Texas, Virginia, Washington and Florida. California lost more than 352,000 residents between April 2020 and January 2022, according to California Department of Finance statistics.

San Francisco and Los Angeles rank first and second in the country, respectively, for outbound moves as the cost of living and housing prices continue to balloon and homeowners flee to less expensive cities, according to a report from Redfin released this month.

Angelenos, in particular, are flocking to places like Phoenix, Las Vegas, San Diego, San Antonio and Dallas. The number of Los Angeles residents leaving the city jumped from around 33,000 in the second quarter of 2021 to nearly 41,000 in the same span of 2022, according to the report.

California has grappled with extremely high housing prices compared with other states, according to USC economics professor Matthew Kahn. Combined with the pandemic and the rise in remote work, privileged households relocated when they had the opportunity.

“People want to live here, but an unintended consequence of the state’s environmentalism is we’re not building enough housing in desirable downtown areas,” Kahn said. “That prices out middle-class people to the suburbs [and creates] long commutes. We don’t have road pricing to help the traffic congestion, and these headaches add up. So when you create the possibility of work from home, many of these people … they say ‘enough’ and they move to a cheaper metropolitan area.”

Kahn also pointed out that urban crime, a growing unhoused population, public school quality and overall quality of life are driving out residents.

“In New York City, but also in San Francisco, there are all these fights about which kids get into which elite public schools,” he said. “The rich are always able to hide in their bubble, but if the middle class looks at this quality of life declining, that’s a push factor to leave.”

Redfin chief economist Daryl Fairweather cited a June report that tracked the change in spending power of a homebuyer on a $2,500 monthly budget. While 11.2% of homes in Los Angeles were affordable on that budget, using a 3% interest rate, that amount swelled to about 72% in Houston and about 50% in Phoenix.

“It’s really an affordability problem,” Fairweather said. “California for the longest time has prioritized single-family zoning, which makes it so people stay in their homes longer because their property taxes don’t reflect the true value. California is the epicenter of where the housing shortage is so people have no choice but to move elsewhere.”

While California experienced a major population boom in the late 20th century — reaching 37 million people by 2000 — it’s been losing residents since, with new growth lagging behind the rest of the country, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. The state’s population increased by 5.8% from 2010 to 2020, below the national growth rate of 6.8%, and resulting in the loss of a congressional seat in 2021 for the first time in the state’s history.

Although California has relied on immigration to offset its population decline for the past two decades, that flow has also shrunk, according to UCLA economics professor Lee Ohanian.

Delays in processing migration requests to the U.S. were compounded during the pandemic, resulting in the lowest levels of immigration in decades, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Estimates showed a net increase of 244,000 new immigrants between 2020 and 2021 — roughly half the 477,000 new immigrant residents recorded between 2019 and 2020 and a drastic reduction from more than 1 million reported from 2015 to 2016.

The state is also seeing a dwindling middle class, said Ohanian, who cited a report from the National Assn. of Realtors, outlining that the national median home sales price has reached $416,000, a record high. Meanwhile, California’s median home price has topped $800,000.

“[California is] at a risk for becoming a state for very, very wealthy people and very, very low earners who receive state and local and federal aid that allows them to be able to live here,” Ohanian said. “We should worry about those in the middle who are earning that $78,000 household median income and is, at the end of the day, really struggling, especially if they have interest in buying a home.”

Los Angeles County, in particular, has suffered from slowed population growth, as have rural parts of the state, while Orange County, Sacramento and some parts of the Bay Area have managed to see some gains, the Public Policy Institute of California found.

Fairweather said that since she last lived in Los Angeles in 2016, she’s noticed fewer affordable places to rent.

“It used to be that Santa Monica and Beverly Hills were expensive, but you could find affordable housing on the Eastside,” she said. “But that got expensive and you had to find housing near South Central. Now, there’s nowhere within a two-hour commute of downtown Los Angeles that’s still affordable.”

Click here to read the full article at the LA Times

Judge Appears Wary of San Francisco Law That Lets Noncitizens Vote in School Board Elections

San Francisco’s law allowing some noncitizens to vote in school board elections was challenged in court Thursday by conservative groups, who argued that California authorizes only U.S. citizens to vote. A judge seemed inclined to agree.

The ordinance, approved by city voters as Proposition N in 2016, took effect in 2018 and was extended indefinitely by San Francisco supervisors in 2021. It allows voting by noncitizens, including undocumented immigrants as well as legal residents, if they are a parent of a school-age child and are not in prison or parole for a felony conviction.

Similar laws are in effect in several cities in other states, but none elsewhere in California.

A lawsuit by the United States Justice Foundation and the California Public Policy Foundation contends the local law conflicts with the state Constitution’s provision on voting, which declares, in full: “A United States citizen 18 years of age and resident in this State may vote.”

In other words, Superior Court Judge Richard Ulmer said at Thursday’s hearing, “the California Constitution says you’ve got to be a United States citizen to vote. … How do you overcome that?” he asked Deputy City Attorney James Emery.

By concluding that the word “may” doesn’t necessarily exclude others, Emery replied.

To say that a citizen may vote “means you can’t take it away,” the city’s lawyer said. “To add a category of people entitled to vote … does not conflict” with the constitutional language.

What’s more, he said, state law allows charter cities like San Francisco to govern their own municipal affairs, such as local elections. And the state “has an interest in protecting every single person’s right to vote,” Emery said.

“If that person is entitled to vote,” Ulmer said. “Doesn’t the state law tell us … that it’s a statewide concern?”

Sounding the same theme, attorney Chad Morgan, representing the groups that challenged the law, said the state’s “interest,” or legal concern, is to guarantee that “voting is a right of citizenship.”

“The state has no interest in discriminating against immigrants,” countered Emery.

Ulmer did not issue a ruling at the end of the one-hour hearing.

Prop. N, approved by 54% of the voters in 2016, has not led to a large turnout of noncitizen voters. Immigrant groups say many noncitizens fear taking actions that might come to the attention of federal agents.

“It’s a growing program,” Emery told Ulmer, who had noted the small participation. “People have to know there will be no immigration consequences.”

Morgan also argued that public schools in California are actually “little state agencies” that are subject to state regulation rather than local control. School buildings are state property, he said, and the highest educational authority is the state superintendent of public instruction.

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle