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Different realities: San Francisco residents offer competing views on state of the city

San Francisco residents give differing perspectives on the state of San Francisco
San Francisco residents give differing perspectives on the state of San Francisco 04:55

There has been no shortage of headlines about the demise of San Francisco: the homelessness, the crime, the vacancies downtown. And there are plenty of "doom loop" believers, those who think the city will never pull out of this spiral. 

But not everyone is convinced San Francisco is circling the drain. It can start to sound like dueling realities as the debate over the state of the city gets increasingly intense.

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"The bottom oven is at a slightly lower temperature," said Christian at Outta Sight Pizza. "It's mostly to set the crust and kind of get the rise started."

The oven is set, the goods are assembled, and the door is open for another day at Outta Sight Pizza on Larkin Street, just now celebrating its first birthday.

"It's crazy it's only been a year," explained co-owner  Peter Dorrance. "It feels like it's been five. Probably aged five years too."

Dorrance said it has not been easy opening a business in the heart of San Francisco's Tenderloin. The challenges in this neighborhood have made headlines around the world. 

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Headlines that often flat out describe San Francisco as a failed city.

"It feels good to be down here. I don't feel scared,"  Dorrance said, bucking that wisdom. "I don't like that Doom Loop from the news. The people that actually live and work and, like, fight for the city don't have that feeling."

"I got here in the late 80s," said  Jim Ausman. "It was the AIDS epidemic. People were dying left, and right. The murder rate was three times higher than it is today. But we came back."

Ausman isn't having any Doom Loop either. He has jumped into the ferocious online battle over the state of the city, arguing that the 'failed city' is actually fiction, spun by those who are only looking at the problems.

"There are people who are getting paid to do this, to just bash San Francisco," Ausman said of some social media accounts. "They show pictures of the Tenderloin … They say, 'Oh, this is San Francisco.' … Look at Dolores Park. Go out to the Sunset and have some dim sum. A lot of it is your perspective. If you live in Bernal Heights, you would say things are better than ever. South of market, different story."

Yvonne lives in South of Market. And she's been here most of her life.

"I've been here many years," she said. "And it's not the same place as I remember. Not at all."

Anyone who has heard this discussion knows it can sound like different realities as people offer diverging takes on what is actually happening in San Francisco. But what someone thinks of the state of the city might have a lot to do with who they are, where they are, and what direction they're looking: Are they comparing now to 2019 or 1979. 

And this argument becomes extremely heated as it gets pulled into the gravity of San Francisco politics.

"I actually think what you're getting at is something that is probably the most important thing in American politics right now," said Jason McDaniel, a political science professor at San Francisco State. "It's that we create groups. We create uses and we create thems."

McDaniel said the doom loop debate and the city's angry politics are the inevitable byproducts of a city that is facing a long list of very complicated problems.

"Is it homelessness," McDaniel asks. "Is it fentanyl. Is it the drug users. Is it the drug dealers. Is it the police. Is it the government. Is it incompetence at the bureaucratic level. Is it outsiders and tech people coming here and changing things. None of those are easy answers. None of those are easy solutions to very complicated problems. I think people are very frustrated by that."

 It has been hard times in the city. And even those who reject the Doom Loop idea acknowledge that there are big challenges.

"I think downtown is going to get worse before it gets better,"  Ausman added.

"Yeah, we have a problem," Dorrance said. "Of course. But every major city has its problems."

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