Free State of Jones

The Tenderloin, San Francisco, last week.

The Valley, yesterday.

You’re looking at two cities moving in opposing directions in dealing with derelicts.

I include the top photo in the name of thoroughness. It’s misleading.  There are few people pitching tents on the street in San Francisco.  Very few.  This I can report after a thorough walking tour of the problem areas of the City.  I didn’t see encampments. Nor blue tarp pallet houses, surrounded by whirlpools of plastic garbage.    No wagon trains of ramshackle vehicles converted to housing lining the streets.   There is nothing like Skid Row, not even under the freeway.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it: the City has a stumbling army of drug addicts in the Tenderloin/Mid-Market Street area, a smaller battalion in the inner Mission, and this is a highly visible problem, at times loud and threatening. But it is localized.   Walk five blocks and you’re well out of it. I lived in and around SF for a decade, and the Tenderloin has always been like this.

Spending a few days up north was a shock to the system. San Francisco in my memory was the gold standard of street craziness and civic permissiveness.  Compared to the shitstorm Los Angeles has inflicted on itself in the past decade it might as well be Canada.

There are structural reasons why things are the way they are and at the top of the list is the Jones agreement between Los Angeles and the ACLU permitting sidewalk camping in the wake of a 9th Circuit Court ruling in 2007.

We give them free phones.
We give them EBT cards.
We provide gold-plated healthcare, unavailable to rate-paying citizens.
We allow the 911 system to be used as a taxi service.
We allow shoplifting under $950.
We have issued a hall pass for all infractions from jaywalking to defecation.

But the granddaddy of broken windows, the original sin, is camping on the street. Offer up Los Angeles at a cost basis of zero, pay them to stay, place no limit to their number, then watch the Law of Incentives go to work.

William Bratton, then Chief of Police, wanted to appeal the Jones decision and had law and precedence in his favor. The Ninth Circuit held that addiction/alcoholism was an involuntary status, like cancer, and could not be criminalized. Sleeping on the street was involuntary conduct, protected by the eighth amendment. To say either of these floodgate opening premises would be viewed differently by a higher court would be an understatement. The City of LA was happy to take the opening the lower court offered to do what it wanted in the first place: pretend its hands were tied and create a sanctuary. Bratton was replaced with Charlie Beck, a careerist eager to parrot fashionable schemes.

The original injunction was limited in scope to Skid Row, and only to times when shelter beds were unavailable. In practice, it was applied citywide without discretion.  Now it’s a billion dollar business, protected by a militia of interested parties. Since the passing of Props. H, and HHH, Los Angeles has hired over 1,000 additional employees at every level of homeless services.

Just try pulling the plug on those jobs and service grants. Why would you? The quarter-cent sales tax is with us now and the money will find a pocket to land in, and that pocket will go home to South Pasadena, where they have “No camping” signs at the city limits.

No other municipality in the Southland does this, not even Santa Monica anymore.

We have two populations sharing the same real estate: one based in civic responsibility and bound by the obligations of paying bills, living at the mercy of City Hall…the other feral, Free State of Jones.

7 thoughts on “Free State of Jones”

  1. Hmmmmm. This requires a full blog post with photos in response. Stay tuned. Initial volley:

    How many pallet and tarp favelas exist in Palos Verde Estates? Bel Air? Beverly Hills? Malibu? Thousand Oaks? The leafy hilltops of Sherman Oaks?

    As the long slow pendulum of culture and finance swung back from San Francisco’s bottom in the early 1970s to today’s insane bubble heights things changed. Back then the city was the repository undesirables the surrounding shiny new pristine suburbs didn’t want to deal with.

    But as each city neighborhood was pioneered by fresh waves of folks with money long neglected rentals transformed into $1.2M one bedroom condos. There was an accompanying pressure to relocate the homeless block by block. The city authorities understand where their bread is buttered. There’s been a relentless squeeze.

    The favelas have just relocated to other parts of the larger Bay Area. Waaaaaay out there. They look like Van Nuys.

    1. Gross what liberal policies have done to California. Sad and even sadder the so called good people but into the bs

  2. Strong commentary. I’m not so sure about the gold plated health care, but otherwise more on target than off. Yesterday I read a story about a homeless veteran who just got his subsidized apartment. 75 years old, no back story explaining how he came to this. His wife bought expensive shoes to celebrate. That may go aways to explain.

    1. Street people are a cash cow for local hospitals. They demand, and receive, “everything under the sun”, and the hospitals happily provide it to them in the knowledge the government will pick up the tab from the first dollar. They check in for the weekend, like a spa. Hospitals keep them as long as possible then buy them a cab ride ‘home’.
      Actual rate-paying insurance policyholders are confronted by admitting nurses and demanded their credit card as a condition of entry so they can collect the deductible prior to service. I’ve obtained this information directly from the source.

      1. So… let’s walk through this, shall we?

        I have several friends who work at major hospital ERs. They tell me all sorts of stories about the truly f’ed-up people they treat over and over again on the public dime. However…

        If taking in indigent drunkards and lavishing them with endless medical attention paid for by limitless flows of government money is so profitable, why are hospitals relentlessly shutting down in low income neighborhoods while expanding in upscale locations?

        Hospitals are required by law to provide basic care to anyone who shows up at the door. Government reimbursements are at all time lows for the simple reason that all the relevant agencies are insolvent. In order to make up the difference prices are padded for paying customers.

        Americans don’t want their money to be used to provide care for the underserving poor. So we created a system that excludes a certain segment of the population. But those people still get care and the cost is still passed on to the larger society by other means. It’s just all impossibly complex and inefficient.

        It’s entirely possible for all these things to be true simultaneously.

        1. My understanding from talking to nurses in LA, the indigent population is covered by Medicaid, if not the first time they walk through the door, they are signed up so subsequent visits are covered.

          The maddening part: working class people with bronze level Covered CA type insurance policies are looking at a $5000 deductible for any service.

          These are both true simultaneously.

          1. We’re not disagreeing about any of the above. The question is how to resolve conflicting pressures.

            We could just deny care to people we don’t like and who can’t pay out of pocket. So who gets to decide who’s worthy? And what happens if any of us unexpectedly find ourselves on that list?

            Irish and Negros need not apply…

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