What has San Francisco done with this wealth? Not much. The Municipal Transportation Agency (“Muni”), which runs the busses and metro, has struggled with failure after failure this year. The housing shortage in the city is so bad that it is driving people to live in cars and even boats. Homelessness is up 14 percent in the past 6 years. Dirty streets, with needles and worse on the sidewalks, were an issue in last year’s mayoral race. A city seemingly rich enough to pave its roads with gold finds them covered in trash.
San Francisco has squandered its fortune. Proclaiming itself a “Transit First” city, density and geography make it one of the U.S. cities best suited for public transport. The city could have used its $23 billion excess to build dozens of miles of subway. Instead, it dug just 1.6 miles of the Central Subway, still not open. San Francisco did build a downtown train station, the Salesforce Transit Center, billed as the “Grand Central of the West”—except that it didn’t fund a tunnel to the station, so no trains go there yet, only busses.
San Francisco politicians also claim to care about affordable housing. Even at the inflated rate to build such housing in the Bay Area—up to $700,000 per unit—$23 billion could have built 33,000 units in the past 20 years. The total number of subsidized units in the city was only about 33,000 in 2018, and just 3,741 of them came from city programs like public housing or the mayor’s office. The rest came from federal, state, or private investment.