I physically felt ill writing the title to this blog post. San Francisco was one of my favorite places, and my husband and I have made many wonderful memories there. For his birthday a few years back, I even pulled a Pretty Woman and flew us up there one night just for dinner.
We just got back from a family vacation there. We’d never taken the kids, as we were waiting until all four were old enough to appreciate it. We were so looking forward to it!
Things started off well. We left Orange County before 5 AM, and we drove straight to Muir Woods. The weather was beautiful, the kids were in awe, everything was A-okay.
We drove to the battery above the Golden Gate Bridge. The fog has dissipated, and we got great pictures.
Then we drove to Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch, a visit to the USS Pampanito, and some play time at Musee Mecanique. We were thrilled to get a great parking spot at a parking meter close to these attractions, in a busy area. We couldn’t get into our hotel until 3 PM, and it was about 2:30 at this point.
Yes, our car was full of EVERYTHING we brought.
Call us stupid. We were. We’ve visited this city countless times, and we live near LA, and we know you’re not supposed to leave visible things in your car. I left my purse, hiding it under the seat and under a jacket, but I took out every credit card, my driver’s license, all my cash, and stuck them in my pocket. Nothing of consequence was in there.
We came back to the car around 5:30, and our passenger window had been smashed. My purse and our son’s phone were stolen.
At first, I was incredulous. This couldn’t have happened without a witness. People were constantly walking right by! And as my husband sat on the phone with our insurance company, and I sat on hold with the SFPD, every single passerby commented and expressed their sympathy. So why didn’t one of them call the police earlier?
It soon became clear.
A man walked by who lived nearby and pointed out a camera on the wall next to us. “Go in and talk to the security guard at Williams Sonoma,” he suggested. “I’m sure they caught the thief on tape.”
Then an employee of Williams Sonoma walked by. She said, “I’m so sorry. This is a known occurrence. At least two or three windows are smashed here every week.”
A known occurrence? The police know that windows are being smashed and they don’t at least put up a sign to warn you?
I was handling the police call, so naturally, I dialed 911 first. I told the operator it wasn’t a direct emergency – the theft had already occurred – but we needed to file a report. She said the police don’t come out for property theft, and she directed me to call 311, the SF help line.
The help line operator, Tony, told me the same thing. The police don’t come out. You have to file your report online, but only if less than $1000 worth of stuff was stolen. If more was stolen, I had to go to the police department and file a report in person. He directed me to the police department in the Tenderloin. If you know anything about San Francisco, you know that this is the one area you DON’t want to go to. I told him as much, asked for a different station location, and he hesitated. “I can’t really comment on the area,” he said. “But if you’re with your husband, you should be okay. It would be ironic if your car was vandalized outside the police department.”
Meanwhile, our 18yo and our 15yo went into Williams Sonoma to inquire about the video. The guard was very helpful, and they found the footage of two young black men breaking into our car and stealing our stuff. We couldn’t get a copy of the video (it requires a request in writing to the security company and paying a fee for the CD of the footage), but he was nice enough to let our son videotape the footage on his phone. The video is grainy (you can see it on my Facebook page), but you can see the two men, you can see them pull up in what looks like a new car, one drives and the other smashes and grabs.
So I call 311 back and tell them I have the video. The operator (I got the same Tony again by luck) was stunned. He said in all his time working there he’d never had someone call with suspect info. He said that there’s really nothing they can do, even with the video. He said to go the Tenderloin PD, but since the theft was under $1K…don’t expect much.
We went straight to our hotel after this. We drove past curb after curb littered with broken glass. I don’t think we would have noticed it had our car not suffered the same fate.
The kids were nervous and scared. We don’t even lock our doors at home! Now I know that crime can and does happen anywhere, but this was a different level. These smash and grabs are happening on a regular basis and the city does not care.
My husband spent a couple of hours trying to find a place to replace our window. He finally found one that could do it the next morning, but they cautioned us that it’s a 2-hour procedure, and it’s first come, first serve. We debated – he could drop the rest of us off somewhere and then meet us when the window was finished, or we could all go together. The kids wanted to stick together. I felt bad for them – our first night in SF was ruined, then our morning would be ruined, as well. But it was what it was.
We got a later start than we wanted. My husband was still dealing with our insurance company (USAA – they are wonderful). So it was 10:00 by the time we got to the auto glass place, in a not-so-nice area. The place was full – there were ten cars ahead of us. The guy there was very nice and understanding. He said he does about 30 of these windows a day. According to him, three years ago, SF decided not to prosecute these car break-ins. If the thief is caught – even in the act! – they will only give him a ticket, and that’s only if he has ID on him! So a thief just has to leave his wallet at home, and he knows he’s in the clear.
So…we had to wait. Fine. The kids were hungry, and there was a Burger King down the street. We were kind of under the freeway, and you could see several homeless encampments set up along the fence. Homeless people roamed the streets. Now, this is nothing new for SF, but I have to say, the level of decay is something I’ve never seen there before. The streets were filthy. We had to step over piles of human excrement. The smells were so bad that our kids were breathing into their sleeves. We finally got into the Burger King and breathed a sigh of relief. Sort of.
There were two homeless people inside, just sitting. Fine. We ordered and sat down to eat, my husband and I ate one table and the kids at another next to us. One of the homeless men eyed our food then dug into the trash can near us. He pulled out some half-eaten food and sat down. Our kids were wide-eyed, but it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for them to see this. It’s heartbreaking.
Our 11yo had a bacon cheeseburger, and he pulled off the bacon to eat separately. The other homeless guy approached the table, grabbed his bacon, and walked out the door. Everyone in the restaurant (maybe 15 people) watched, craned their heads…but no one said anything. I mean, what can you say? What do you do? Obviously, the guy needed the food.
But that’s not the point. The point is that being “friendly” to homeless people by letting them squat wherever they want is NOT a service to anyone. Is it really dignifying to let them scrounge in the trash? To have them peeing in the streets?
Which is why you now see port-a-potties all over the city. I guess I’d rather have the port-a-potty in front of my house than a river of urine, but are those the only options?
We finally got our car back, and we started our vacation anew. It was tough. Broken glass is everywhere. The homeless are everywhere. The filth is everywhere. And this makes me so sad. I LOVE this city. But after this experience, I won’t go back.
After talking to a lot of locals and doing research, property theft is up 40% in the last three years since the city got soft on crime. And that statistic is only as good as the number of thefts reported. We didn’t end up making a report (our insurance company said SF theft is high, and did not require us to file a report). Many locals don’t bother reporting the crimes. They’ve had their windows smashed multiple times, and some have resorted to rolling down their windows, leaving the glove box open, and putting a sign in their window that says, “Nothing to steal! Please don’t smash my window!”
So why is the city doing this? The consensus from locals seems to be that 1) the city doesn’t want cars – they want everyone to walk – so they don’t care what happens to the cars, and 2) they believe that crime is born out of desperation, so the thief must need the goods more than you do.
How fucking insulting to poor people.
And I have video of my thieves. They were not poor, I assure you.
The locals need to wake up and take their city back. Vote these ridiculous politicians out of office. Maybe the locals don’t want tourists, and they’re fine with driving tourists away, but I’d hate to see the economy if tourism died. That’s a short-sighted view.
Again, this is bigger than one little smash and grab to some clueless tourists. Yes, we were stupid. But had we known how prevalent this crime has become, we would have done things differently. We have visited this city twenty times, and we’ve never seen things this bad.
And that brings me to my final point: why aren’t people talking about this? Locals know all about it. Why aren’t you screaming at the top of your lungs that your city has gone down the tubes? Why do you let crimes go? It just doesn’t make any sense.
Thank you, SF. You just took away my children’s innocence. And you’ve ruined a beautiful place. I feel sorry for you.