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Will the Last Office Worker to Leave San Francisco Please Turn Out the Lights?

(Image by Pexels from Pixabay.)

The headline is an exaggeration, but not by much according to recent reports from San Francisco.

“There’s nothing to do”, complain some residents of one of the most expensive cities in the world, thanks to the ongoing pandemic restrictions.

The skyscrapers are dark. Retailers are leaving. Crime is surging. The streets remain notoriously filthy.

Residents have had enough and are voting with their feet.

I have some personal experience with downtown San Francisco, where I worked for two years.

Imagine the city’s renowned Financial District.

Imagine gleaming skyscrapers, rising up from some of the most expensive real estate in the world.

Now imagine getting practically slapped in the face by the stench of human urine every time you step off the bus in front of one of those shiny buildings.

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Then remember that you also live in one of the most heavily taxed cities in the entire nation, with one of the highest costs of living, and yet somehow the city can’t or won’t take decent care of the best part of it.

For Californians, the high cost of living is kind of a tax you pay on top of all the other taxes — the price for living in one of the most beautiful places in the world, while enjoying some of the finest weather anywhere.

Call it a “lifestyle tax.”

Opinions differ, but San Francisco is, or rather was, to me the loveliest big city in the world. The crazy hills, the charming architecture, the big city amenities, plus the small-town vibe you get from the locals…

…even for a young man who wasn’t making enough money to really enjoy it all, it was still a dizzying experience.

But who wants to pay a Lifestyle Tax in a city where the urine stench is the least of its problems, even in the (formerly) glitzy Financial District? Who wants to pay it when the pandemic lockdowns showed that people can work just as well from cheaper — not to mention less stinky and dangerous — environs?

“Before the pandemic hit,” according to the city’s ABC 7 News, “San Francisco had the highest building occupancy rate in the country.”

But now? “Most of the city’s skyscrapers sit empty.”

According to the report, a whopping 90% of the city’s workforce now work from home. More ominously, people are leaving the city.

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Consider the case of one young couple who had hoped to depart the city for cheaper digs in Alemeda. The house they fell in love with went for $400,000… over the asking price.

In the midst of the pandemic, the two newlyweds decided to leave SOMA for a better value in Alameda.

“We are both working from home now,” Hicks said. “We need more space.”

“Ultimately, 85 folks were interested in the same property… We were shocked.”

People like the Hicks are going to take a bath, trying to sell properties in a down market. Nearby towns like Alemeda are getting gentrified, as City tech workers use their big salaries — and desperation to get out — to drive up real estate prices all up and down the Peninsula and the East Bay.

I got out in 1994 when the getting was good — and the writing was already on the wall. The lifestyle tax was too much for me to pay, and that’s when San Francisco was far more fun than it is today.

It’s one thing to switch to working from home. It’s quite another to switch homes. Those who take the big step of leaving are, like me, likely never coming back.

For now, City Hall and city residents who can’t, won’t, or don’t want to leave can blame the lack of anything to do on the lockdown.

But the lockdown will end.

The question is: Will San Francisco come back?