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Poll: Fear Of Crime Preventing Bay Area Residents Return To Big City Downtowns

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Fear of crime is on the rise across the San Francisco Bay Area, particularly when it comes to returning to large urban retail areas, according to a poll released Thursday by the Bay Area Council.

Jim Wunderman, the council's president and CEO, called those fears "a serious deterrent" as businesses attempt to rebound from two years of COVID restrictions. Of the Bay Area residents asked, 65% said they were avoiding going to big city downtowns because of crime.

"Fears about crime are a serious deterrent to getting people back onto transit and back into our downtowns and business districts," Wunderman said in a news release. "Bringing the hammer down on crime and ensuring public safety isn't a debatable question, it's a fundamental responsibility of local government and law enforcement. The deep concern reflected in these poll results should be a clarion call to our local leaders to do what's necessary to make our cities, neighborhoods and transit systems safe for everyone."

The Bay Area Council is a business-sponsored, public-policy advocacy organization for the nine-county Bay Area that regularly surveys local residents about living in the region.

Thursday's poll focused on crime and the results were eye-opening.

Crime and safety ranked third on the list of top local concerns among those asked just behind homelessness and high housing costs. Perceptions of the Bay Area as a safe place to live have plummeted from 63% in 2019 to 47% in this year's poll.

According to the poll, 65% of those asked said they were avoiding going to big city downtowns because of crime. Concerns about crime and safety were also mentioned as a reason for leaving the Bay Area. That's a dramatic shift from 2018 when crime barely registered as a reason to relocate.

When asked about crime in general, the respondents overwhelming cited fears of becoming victims of car and home break-ins. That was closely followed by violent crime, the public drug use and panhandling and public nuisances.

The poll of 1,000 Bay Area respondents was conducted by EMC Research on behalf of the council between March 2-9 and has a margin of error of plus/minus 3.1 percentage points.

"I think you ask a lot of folks in our cities, they either have personally had their car broken into and the glass smashed," said  Wunderman. "Or their best friend for the neighbor or family member has. I think it's close to people, these kinds of property crimes."

Wunderman told KPIX crime was once a trailing concern in their polling. Now it is ranked third on the list of most important problems facing the region, just behind the mainstays.

"You've got homelessness, which is number one, and then you've got housing," Wunderman said of the list. "But right after that you've got crime, which was way down the list. So is that perception? Is that reality? I don't want to guess, but I think we need to take it very, very seriously."

KPIX spoke with a few local residents both in San Francisco and in the suburb of Walnut Creek to gauge their feelings on crime.

"We are standing right across the street from the Louis Vuitton store that got looted," said Pat, a San Francisco resident as he made his way to the Apple store.

He is familiar with what happened in Union Square, but he says the real problem is car break-ins. Does he think crime is getting worse?

"Here and Oakland, absolutely," he said.

"It's my perception that even here in Walnut Creek, two or three years ago, things that are happening here weren't happening here," said Oakland resident Sean, who was in Walnut Creek to have lunch. "You're Macy's stores, your Nordstrom's, lots of kids bum rushing and running out with everything."

An Oakland resident, Sean knows about the high-profile looting in downtown Walnut Creek, but he doesn't think that's the whole crime story.

"I don't think crime has increased," he said. "I just think that there's different levels of it. And we have technology that is exposing it now."

As for whether or not the Bay Area is a safe place to live, polling does differ by county. 60% of San Mateo County residents say they do feel safe, but then the numbers slide. Just 37% of Alameda County residents feel safe, while 33% of respondents in Napa and Solano counties said they felt safe. Crime, if nothing else, has a lot of people talking and arguing.

"People from out of town think we get together in bars and talk about politics," Pat laughed. "We don't talk about politics. Crime is on everybody's mind."

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