If images of the iconic red Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, and the beautiful bay are the first things that come to mind when you think of San Francisco, you probably haven’t been there recently. Now a city where those earning six-figure salaries are considered low-income, the most memorable sights for visitors are those of homeless and mentally ill people wandering around and human feces lining the streets.
This isn’t the San Francisco of yesteryear. Tourists are being turned off, and businesses are seeking more pleasant locales for conventions. It’s gotten so bad, in fact, that a major medical convention has announced it won’t be returning to the city in the future because its members feel unsafe walking the streets. That’s right: Doctors, who generally have a higher tolerance for seeing bodily fluids and being around ill people, don’t even want to go there any more.
The medical association wasn’t named, but the city’s convention bureau’s president, Joe D’Alessandro, told the San Francisco Chronicle that it’s the first time that such a big group has canceled a convention outright over the issue. The yearly five-day trade show brings in 15,000 attendees and $40 million to the local economy.
When the group didn’t re-up its booking, D’Alessandro flew to Chicago to meet the group’s executive board in person. They told him that surveys of their members indicated that they were too scared to walk around the city because of the prevalence of open drug use, mental illness, and threatening behavior. One board member was assaulted near the Moscone Center there last year.
D’Alessandro said there has been a shift in recent years; cost was once the biggest obstacle in attracting visitors, but now it’s the city’s decline. Conventions have been hiring private security personnel and off-duty police to keep the areas around their hotels and conventions secure, but it’s proving to be too much of a hassle for many. Some local tech companies have also been voicing their discontent about the condition of the city.
Last year, 31,000 thefts from vehicles were reported – a rate of 85 per day on average. Drug needles, human feces and garbage are regular sights on the street, with a 20-pound bag of feces abandoned on a street there recently making headlines.
It’s bad news for a city that counts tourism as its biggest industry. In San Francisco, tourism brings in $9 billion per year, not to mention $725 million in local taxes and employment for 80,000 people. Around $1.7 billion of that business comes from conventions.
At the recent Game Developers Conference, which attracted 28,000 gaming professionals from around the world, attendees were vocal in complaining about the city’s unsafe vibe and the crimes they witnessed, like assaults, muggings, and knife fights.
The situation is dire, and D’Alessandro, whose job is to promote the city, has been speaking out about its decline. He told the San Francisco Chronicle that he’s been all over the world, and San Francisco stands out for all the wrong reasons with its filthy streets and trash.
“I’ve never seen any other city like this — the homelessness, dirty streets, drug use on the streets, smash-and-grabs,” he stated, emphasizing that something needs to be done urgently to turn the once-glorious city’s fortunes around.
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