Reporter sets out to debunk San Francisco horror stories, is slapped with sickening dose of reality instead

If you aren’t familiar with San Francisco, it’s almost impossible to know how far the once-beautiful city has fallen or how bad a mark the homeless, drug, and crime trifecta has trashed its iconic streets.

New York reporter Elizabeth Weil wanted to dispel some of the horrible myths about San Francisco for her story, but, much to her dismay, she found those stories are far from “fake news.”

“When I set out reporting, I wanted to write a debunking-the-doom piece myself,” Weil writes. “Yet to live in San Francisco right now, to watch its streets, is to realize that no one will catch you if you fall.”

Weil notes the many vacant offices in the city and cites an article from the San Francisco Chronicle titled, “Cities Are Struggling. San Francisco Could Be in the Biggest ‘Doom Loop’ of All.”


“The phrase ‘doom loop’ was recently repopularized by Arpit Gupta, a finance professor at NYU, in a paper he wrote last year with two Columbia B-school professors called ‘Work From Home and the Office Real Estate Apocalypse,’ about the consequences for American downtowns of workers remaining remote,” she explains.

Applied to San Francisco, the “doom-loopy vision” the Chronicle article painted for the downtown area “was not pretty,” Weil says.

“Workers don’t return, offices remain empty, restaurants shutter, transit agencies go bankrupt, tax bases plummet, public services disappear,” she writes. “According to research from the University of Toronto, cell-phone activity in downtown SF is 32 percent of pre-pandemic levels. That number is 75 percent in New York.”

Five days after the “Doom Loop” article came out, Cash App founder Bob Lee was murdered.

“Immediately people invested in the doom-loop narrative started mouthing off,” Weil writes. “‘You know, where he was killed used to be a good part of San Francisco,’ Lee’s friend Jake Shields told me, as he told anybody who would listen in those first few days.”

Shields, like “everyone with brains” had left San Francisco, Weil reveals:

Never mind the fact that violent crime rates in San Francisco were pretty low, lower than in most American cities of comparable size, lower than in San Francisco in years past. SF was a cesspool! — that was the doomers’ argument. City leaders, along with the rest of the populace, were “too compassionate, like so compassionate that they do not care.”


“The result, according to Shields, was not just an office apocalypse,” says Weil. “It was unmitigated, spiraling, homicidal doom.”

“You can do whatever you want. You can sh*t in the streets,” Shields said. “The logical next step is to start killing people.”

The reporter recounts run-ins with drunks, drug addicts, and the security guards who are forced to deal with them.

“On Market, near 6th, a security guard stood in front of Blick art supply,” she writes. “He’d just ejected a man who had been smoking fentanyl inside the store, a man his bosses suggested he should refer to as ‘an unhoused guest.'”

“In the first three months of 2023,” according to Weil, “200 San Franciscans OD’ed, up 41 percent from last year.”

One security guard likened the state of San Francisco to the “feral ghouls” found in a video game.

“It’s like a wasteland,” the guard said. “It’s like the only way to describe it. It’s like a video game — like made-up sh*t.”

“Have you ever played Fallout?” he asked. “There’s this thing in the game called feral ghouls, and they’re like rotted. They’re like zombies. I go home and play with my wife, and we’re like, ‘Ah, hahahaha, this is SF.'”

Laughing at “rotted” fellow humans?

“There’s only so much pain a person can take before you disintegrate, grow paranoid, or turn numb,” Weil notes.

The guard continued to text her following their meeting, she writes, asking, among other things, “Did I know that some of the street addicts were rotting, literally: their decomposing flesh attracting flies.”

She points to Governor Gavin Newsom’s recent trip to the Tenderloin, ground zero for the city’s fentanyl crisis. Following his brisk walk through the devastation, the progressive politician called out the National Guard.

“Almost certainly it was a political stunt,” Weil writes. “But did it even matter? Something needed to change.”

“A poll from the controller’s office found that San Franciscans felt less safe in the city than we had in 27 years,” she continues. “And of course we did. Everywhere you looked, you saw it billboarded: The social contract had ruptured, and we’d ceased to believe we could fix it. The city often seemed to operate like an incompetent parent, confusing compassion and permissiveness, unable to maintain boundaries, producing the exact opposite result of what it claimed to want.”



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