SF’s highs, lows spotlighted in polls, study

SF’s highs, lows spotlighted in polls, study


Gabrielle Lurie Gabrielle Lurie, Special To The Chronicle

San Franciscans are very supportive of having navigation centers for homeless people in their neighborhoods.

The only thing better than San Francisco is data about San Francisco. It can help shed light on this often confounding city, debunk conventional wisdom and, occasionally, confirm what we believe to be true.

Three new founts of data — two polls and a study — contain interesting nuggets: San Franciscans are much more optimistic about the city than they were just five months ago. Despite what some of their representatives at City Hall claim, they’re very supportive of navigation centers for homeless people in their neighborhoods.

And, in a real eye-opener, San Francisco’s economy is booming, but its African American residents are employed in such low numbers, we beat out only Detroit on that measure.

First, the good news. A poll commissioned by San Francisco’s Committee on Jobs and conducted by EMC Research in the first week of February found that 42 percent of San Franciscans say the city is headed in the right direction, up from 24 percent in September. Conversely, 41 percent say the city is on the wrong track, down from 58 percent.

What has changed in those five months? Not a lot — except of course, the leader of our country. The theory goes that San Franciscans appreciate their city more now that there’s such a stark contrast to the White House.

“I think people are realizing that things here in San Francisco aren’t so bad now that there are some real threats to us from outside San Francisco,” said Chris Wright, executive director of the Committee on Jobs, an association of business leaders.

The online poll surveyed 631 registered voters and found there are still plenty of complaints about city life. When asked to name the most important problems facing San Francisco, respondents cited homelessness, the cost of living, housing and transportation most often.

That sounded right to the San Franciscans who were sipping coffee at the aptly named Progressive Grounds coffee shop in Bernal Heights the other morning.

Arthur Weiss, 32, works for a nonprofit and shares a home with five artists. He said he moved from Baltimore eight years ago “to be weird and queer and live my life.” He said he’s angry that so many low- and middle-income people are being pushed out of the city, but also adores the progressive values here, especially compared with the national political landscape.

“As much as I lament the old San Francisco, I’m thankful to live here,” he said. “It’s still the only place I’d want to be.”

The Chamber of Commerce also has a new poll out, and its findings on navigation centers could prod some city supervisors to finally accept the modern, welcoming homeless shelters in their districts.

The telephone poll surveyed 502 registered voters last month and was conducted by David Binder Research. The majority of respondents in all 11 districts said they’d support a navigation center in their neighborhood. Support ranged from 55.4 percent in District Seven (West of Twin Peaks) to 85.2 percent in District Six (the Tenderloin and South of Market).

Of the five centers that are up and running or planned, two are in District Six, one is in District Nine and two are in District 10.

Supervisor Jeff Sheehy said in January he wouldn’t support one in District Eight (the Castro, Noe Valley and Glen Park.)

“I don’t think it would be appropriate,” he said then. Now that the poll shows 81 percent of his constituents would support a center in their neighborhood, has his answer changed?

“I’m not opposed to them in principle. What I don’t think is a great strategy is putting them in a neighborhood where people really don’t want to have them,” Sheehy said. “I think it’s great news District Eight is so supportive of having navigation centers in the district.”

He said he would like to see a proposed location and hold community meetings to gauge support.

Supervisor Norman Yee, who represents District Seven, said last year he couldn’t think of any potential sites in his district. He still isn’t convinced.

“People will say yes until it’s two blocks away from them, and that’s the problem,” Yee said. “There’s no ideal place in District Seven, to be truthful.”

Lastly, the Brookings Institution is out with a riveting, yet depressing, look at San Francisco employment rates. The report looks specifically at rates of employment of adults ages 18 to 64. Some of those adults aren’t working because they are students, early retirees, stay-at-home parents, in jail, disabled or for some other reason. But it also includes those who are unsuccessfully looking for work, and is considered a good indication of the city’s economic strength.

Overall, 79 percent of San Francisco’s working-age adults are employed. But the division between whites and blacks is the biggest of any major city in the country. Eighty-four percent of white people are employed, and only 53 percent of black people are. In the latter category, San Francisco fares better than only Detroit at 50 percent.

“It’s striking isn’t it?” asked Martha Ross, a researcher who helped compile the report. “San Francisco does have, overall, one of the highest employment rates, but it leaves out this disparity.”

Sure enough, as I was looking at these numbers, the Board of Supervisors was honoring African American residents for Black History Month. Omorede Hamilton, a 35-year-old outreach worker with the Street Violence Intervention Project, was honored by Supervisor London Breed.

He said the employment numbers are “terrible” but not surprising. In a city that once had a thriving African American population, the percentage of residents who are black has shrunk to 5.7 percent. Hamilton said African American families who could afford it have left the city, and those who remain are largely public-housing residents without the education and job training to work in technology or other growing job sectors.

“The center of everything is poverty,” he said.

Hamilton is one of those African Americans who has left San Francisco. Though he still works in the city, he and his wife live in Daly City.

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Heather Knight appears Tuesday and Friday. Email: hknight@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @hknightsf

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