Although they’re never labeled as such, the San Francisco Chronicle typically has two to three articles each week demonstrating the inherent dysfunctions of liberalism. One recent example was a front page story “No Quick Fix for Life in Projects.” The article chronicles the disheartening experiences of the thousands of residents in the city’s 6,476 units in its 45 public housing projects. “Residents who live in public housing told the Chronicle they constantly deal with violence, units infested with roaches and mice, heating that doesn’t work and major mold and mildew problems.” Residents told the paper that they often have to go “for weeks or months without basic repairs to their units being completed.”
Why is it so hard to repair simple problems? One reason is that the politicians care a lot more about their labor union supporters than the residents of public housing. “Union rules about which laborers can perform which tasks also can slow the process. There are 10 unions that contract with the Housing Authority, but there is no such position as a handyman who can unclog a toilet and change a light bulb. Instead that takes visits from a plumber and an electrician.”
San Francisco is one of the wealthiest cities in the world. Its residents consider themselves to be highly sophisticated, competent, compassionate, and, of course, liberal. The city’s annual budget is $7.5 billion. Nevertheless, its public housing projects are the same as virtually all public housing projects across the country — dismal, dangerous, and dysfunctional. If they can’t make it there, they can’t make it anywhere.
What do the bureaucrats in San Francisco say is needed to resolve the terrible conditions in the housing projects? The Housing Authority recently appointed City Administrator (whatever that is) Naomi Kelly “to lead a team to devise a plan to remake the agency with recommendations due by July 1.”
Administrator Kelly said, “It’s already clear that federal funding just isn’t enough. There’s always room for improvement, but it’s about the money.” She’s absolutely wrong, of course. Government housing projects have been utter disasters wherever they have been tried regardless of how much money was spent. It’s about the concept, not the money. The chances for Ms. Kelly ever recognizing that are not high.
Part of the money currently expended goes down a rat hole, almost literally. “The agency pays the San Francisco Police Department an extra $2.3 million a year to provide additional police presence in the most dangerous developments.” Even though there might be additional police, it would be extremely unwise for anyone to voluntarily venture into one of the projects.
Some of the comments of the housing project residents would be almost funny if they weren’t so telling. Terry Bagby lives in Clementina Towers, a project in the South of Market section of San Francisco. “Bagby has frequently taken his complaints to Housing Authority Commission meetings where, he said, his gripes seem to fall on deaf ears. Suresa Tauai, the property manager at Clementina Towers for the past four years, said she received an e-mail from her supervisor a few months ago reading, ‘Tell your tenants to stop going to commission meetings.’” You have to feel for those commissioners. Listening to complaints is so vexing!
Karla Ramos is a case manager at the Homeless Prenatal Program. It took her nine years of advocating to get one of her clients moved from Potrero Hill (the most dangerous of all the San Francisco projects) to a safer project. “They’re very negligent, so unprofessional.” Ramos said of the housing authority staff. “If you go their office, they come up with big attitudes. I always ask where they get these people.”
The answer to Ms. Ramos’ question is, “They create them.” They are the all too predictable creations of a mindless bureaucracy saddled with impossible tasks. Bureaucracies are drones carrying out the programmed instructions of liberalism. Liberalism and its bureaucracies are dehumanizing forces.
In a 1967 Newsweek column Milton Friedman wrote, “Public housing and urban renewal programs have destroyed more dwelling units than they have constructed. Concentration of the poor, many of them broken families, in public housing has reinforced despair and fostered juvenile delinquency. Urban renewal has destroyed viable neighborhoods, driven the poor from their homes to even less satisfactory and more expensive housing and created slums where none existed before. It deserves the insidious label of a ‘Negro removal program.’” (His column was part of a Newsweek cover story, “The Negro in America.”)
There is no reason to think that San Francisco’s housing projects will improve in the future. If anything conditions will continue to deteriorate.
Three other recent Chronicle articles further illustrate the bankruptcy of liberalism. An article “Electric Vehicle — Charging Forward or Out of Gas?” reported that in spite of $10,000 in state and federal tax credits, electric vehicles are proving to be unpopular and are not likely be a viable alternative to gasoline engines. Plug-ins accounted for just 0.6 percent of new U.S. car sales last year. Encouraging the switch to electric vehicles is part of the California’s “Zero Emission Vehicle Action Plan.” That title is not exactly an example of truth-in-labeling. Electric vehicles are not “zero emission” since positive emissions are necessary to produce the electricity used to power them.
In that same issue of the Chronicle is an op-ed piece by Robert Shireman, who served in both the Obama and Clinton administrations. The article titled “The Enemy Within — Bureaucracy” discusses the issue of the massive City College of San Francisco being on the verge of losing its accreditation. “Speaking to an overflow crowd two weeks ago, protest organizers identified the villain — they say the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges is corrupt and out of control.” In other words, blame the messenger. Shireman disagrees and concludes his piece, “Now the protestors have an appropriate target: California’s villainous regulations, imprisoning leaders in a bureaucratic cul-de-sac.”
One final indictment of liberalism was the front page lead story, “Flame Retardant Law May Be Scaled Back.” Regulations requiring flame retardants in polyurethane foam furniture and children’s products were the outcome of “Technical Bulletin 117” passed in 1975. Because California is such a major part of the overall market, flame retardants for such products essentially became nationwide. In retrospect, it might not have been such a great idea. “But critics point to studies that show the chemicals do little to derail fires and lead to harmful health effects that include reduced fertility, developmental problems, lowered IQs and cancer.” Those are not good things. As Rosanne Rosannadanna used to say, “Never mind.” Their hearts were in the right place. Their brains, however, were missing in action.