Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, said in a recent interview published this week that San Francisco and the Bay Area are in trouble.
Offering a dire outlook of the city, he said the downtown area is “never going back to the way it was” before COVID-19 when workers commuted to San Francisco’s offices on a daily basis.
“We need to rebalance downtown,” said Mr. Benioff, whose company is the largest employer in San Francisco and an anchor tenant. He said the mayor’s office needs to come up with a program to turn dormant office space into housing and hire additional police officers to deal with a surge in crime.
On Tuesday, Mayor London Breed, a Democrat, proposed putting city workers into empty downtown buildings in a bid to revive the city’s downtown area. Ms. Breed said in a letter that some city agencies can “lead on recovery by investing in high-quality office space for workers” and noted that a shift to hybrid work “resulted in an overall reduced demand for office space and correspondingly lower rents for high-quality buildings.”
“While this poses a challenge to the City’s finances and its overall economic recovery, it also presents a critical opportunity for the City government to be strategic about its own use of office space,” Ms. Breed wrote. “The City alone cannot fix all of the problems impacting downtown San Francisco; however, we can lead the path toward recovery.”
In recent years, San Francisco’s crime has been on the uptick, too, and was perhaps punctuated by the shocking murder of Cash App co-creator Bob Lee, who was stabbed in a wealthy area of the city. The incident drew a reaction from billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, whose Twitter is headquartered in San Francisco.
Mr. Musk earlier this year said the murder of Mr. Lee was emblematic of San Francisco’s “violent crime” problem, which has been “horrific” in recent years. “So many stores shuttered in downtown SF. Feels post-apocalyptic,” he also wrote around the same time in response to another user’s comment about the declining state of the city.
“The philosophy that led to this bleak outcome will be the end of civilization if extended to the world,” Mr. Musk wrote on his platform.
Mr. Musk has signaled in the past that he may not keep Twitter’s headquarters in downtown San Francisco due to crime and other problems. His company has also not paid rent, which has reportedly caused problems for Goldman Sachs’ commercial mortgage portfolio, according to reports.
San Francisco, however, still has a long way to go to catch up with other major American cities for murders. The city still has a far lower homicide rate than places like St. Louis, Detroit, Baltimore, Chicago, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Houston, and Philadelphia, according to reports.
But one analyst with the conservative Heritage Foundation noted that crime in San Francisco is likely worse than what the police report.
“Crime is worse than the data shows,” Charles Stimson, with the group, told Fox News earlier this year, referring to San Francisco. “People do not report these crimes because when you have a DA who’s pro-criminal and not going to enforce the law, the cops aren’t going to go out and arrest somebody when they know the case is going to be no papered.”
Aside from violent crime, viral videos have emerged in recent years showing how common household items like toothpaste, razors, and soap are locked up in pharmacies in downtown San Francisco amid rampant theft. Over the past few months, retailers like Whole Foods, T-Mobile, Walgreens, and others have closed up.
The AP report also noted that there are large “going out of business” signs hanging up at many downtown businesses’ windows. In June, the Westfield San Francisco Centre’s owner announced that it would hand the mall to its lender due to foot traffic and lower sales.
Daud Shuja, owner and designer of Franco Uomo, a luxury clothier based in San Jose, told the AP that new customers who live in San Francisco drive at least an hour to the store. He plans to open a shop in a more convenient location in suburban Palo Alto next year.
“They just don’t want to deal with the homelessness, with the environment, with the ambiance,” he said, referring to problems plaguing San Francisco.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.