History of San Francisco

1980s: "Manhattanization" and Homelessness

During the administration of Mayor Dianne Feinstein (1978-1988), San Francisco saw a development boom referred to as "Manhattanization." Many large skyscrapers were built - primarily in the Financial District - but the boom also included high-rise condominiums in some residential neighborhoods. An opposition movement gained traction among those who felt the skyscrapers ruined views and destroyed San Francisco's unique character. Similar to the freeway revolt in the city decades earlier, a "skyscraper revolt" forced the city to embed height restrictions in the planning code. For many years, the limits slowed construction of new skyscrapers, but recent (2000-2007) housing pressures have led to master plan changes which will allow new construction of high-rise structures like One Rincon Hill along The Embarcadero, Rincon Hill and in the South of Market district. This second wave of towers has met little opposition unlike the first wave.

Thomas Valerio, one of San Francisco's estimated 6,248 homeless people, walks along Ellis Street with his shopping cart. Source: Chronicle photo by John Storey.

During the early 1980s, homeless people began appearing in large numbers in the city, the result of multiple factors including the closing of state institutions for the mentally ill, the Reagan administration drastically cutting Section 8 housing benefits, and social changes which increased the availability of addictive drugs. Combined with San Francisco's attractive environment and generous welfare policies the problem soon became endemic. Mayor Art Agnos (1988-92) was the first to attack the problem, and not the last; it is a top issue for San Franciscans even today. Agnos allowed the homeless to camp in the Civic Center park, which led to its title of "Camp Agnos." The failure of this policy led to his losing the election to Frank Jordan in 1991. Jordan launched the "MATRIX" program the next year, which aimed to displace the homeless through aggressive police action. And it did displace them - to the rest of the city. His successor, Willie Lewis Brown, Jr., was able to largely ignore the problem, riding on the strong economy into a second term. Present mayor Gavin Newsom's policy on the homeless is the controversial "Care Not Cash" program, which calls for ending the city's generous welfare policies towards the homeless and instead placing them in affordable housing and requiring them to attend city funded drug rehabilitation and job training programs.


Financial District, Skyscrapers, Dianne Feinstein, Homelessness