When we think of corrupt American cities, Chicago always tops the list. However, San Francisco has long had one of the more corrupt American civic governments. However, because the City was still better managed than Chicago, nobody really commented on that fact.
A Twitter thread about the City’s “stupidvisors” (as I’ve always called them), turning down free internet access highlights just how corrupt they are.
I worked in San Francisco for several decades and spent a great deal of that time dealing with City Hall through the judicial system. It was an enormously frustrating place, with byzantine rules, clerks that spoke minimal English, and few corrupt judges. However, that was small potatoes compared to the Building Department. I knew a man who made a very rich living contracting his services out to people who were trying to build or remodel in San Francisco. If you didn’t have an expensive guide to handle the rules and grease people’s palms, you’d never get anything done.
Perhaps the greatest corruption, though, was at the political level, among the Supervisors, elected representatives from each San Francisco neighborhood. I never heard stories about these people demanding money for initiatives, although I’m sure some did. The real corruption was ideological. In the 1960s and 1970s, these Supervisors were mostly Democrats. Starting in the 1980s and moving to the present day, the Supervisors (or, as I said, Stupidvisors) were leftists, even if they still used the old Democrat label.
That’s why I was completely unsurprised when I read Chris Sacca’s Twitter thread about his efforts to give free internet to the City of San Francisco. Everything he writes is consistent with my understanding of how the San Francisco government operates. I’ll stop now and let Sacca take up the narrative:
15 years ago, I co-led a team trying to give 100% free Internet access to all of San Francisco starting with the poorest neighborhoods first. The network would be anonymous, with no ads, no cookies, etc. Approximately a $20-25 million gift. The result? We were chased out of town. https://t.co/U1azq6S4SQ— Chris Sacca 🇺🇸 (@sacca) March 28, 2021
The thread continues (emphasis ours):
One SF Supervisor told us she would vote against it unless we promised to fund quarterly field trips (eg to the zoo) for the kids in her district.
Another promised to vote against it because we wouldn’t give free laptops to all of SF.
One Supe rejected it because poor people needed “training to use the Net.”
Countless low/no-income residents spoke at hearings about how they had computers and knew how to use the web, but couldn’t afford Comcast. Supes mansplained back to those very people that they were wrong.
We built a demonstration network in a public housing project in Hunters Point. It was saturated with use. Those residents testified that laptops and phones weren’t expensive, cable and data plans were the problem. The Supes just couldn’t accept that those people were Net savvy.
Ultimately, one Supervisor told us straight up: He didn’t care what this meant for the people of his district, he was blocking it because it would give the mayor a win in a political year.
He was the deciding vote and I will never forget what he said...
“Stop lecturing me about the digital divide, because I don’t give a fuck. Now get the hell out of my office.”
Our team walked out stunned, sat in the lobby of City Hall, and realized it was over.
My partners and I had done Q&A sessions in every Supe’s district and in community and senior centers all over town. Support for the network was off the charts, particularly among those who needed it most. But it was clear that the Supes didn’t care about poor San Franciscans.
They wouldn’t listen to their own constituents. They perpetuated racist tropes and demeaning stereotypes about their poorest residents. And for what? It was all a big game to the politicians. The winners were the Supes’ egos and the losers were the people they supposedly served.
San Francisco is a wonderful city that I was lucky to call home for years. But I’ve never seen any place in the world better at cutting off its nose to spite its face. My heart aches for what that city was and could be. Cheers to those of you still trying to help.
Epilogue: After SF rejected our offer, we built a free, city-wide network in Mountain View, CA. About 12-15,000 people used it every day for years. The majority of them spoke Spanish as their primary language and told us they couldn’t afford regular Internet access.
Once upon a time, San Francisco had functional corruption – it existed, both financially and morally, but it wasn’t so bad that it prevented the City from getting things done. Once the old-fashioned Democrats retired, though, and the hard-leftists moved in, San Francisco began its slow slide into dysfunctional leftism. Sacca is describing events from 15 years ago, but there’s no reason to believe that things are any different in the once beautiful City by the Bay. As long as leftists are in charge, it will be governed by people who are racist, power-hungry, arrogant, and short-sighted.