Saving San Francisco’s Tenderloin District

by Zain Jaffer

Talk to many San Francisco residents about the City’s Tenderloin District and they will tell you to stay away from it. This is one of the worst areas to visit in terms of crime, homelessness, open drug use, grafitti, and litter. Homeless people and drug addicts just lie on sidewalks or stand idly staring into nothing. If there is an area that connotes hopelessness, this is it.

But just like the reinvention of Times Square in New York City during the Eighties from peep shows and X-rated theatres to a clean family friendly tourist place [], there are serious efforts now to clean up the Tenderloin.

Last July 2023, current Mayor London Breed formally asked the University of California (UC) to build a downtown campus. The City plans to support this with rezoning, conversion of idle buildings to residential properties, tax incentives, and the like. The hope is that attracting young college students into the area will revitalize the area and reduce the issues plaguing it. It can also attract art, culture, technology, good restaurants and coffee places into the area.

In response, the UC Regents have agreed to build Academe at 198 [], a 650 unit fourteen storey apartment building on 198 McAllister Street in the Tenderloin District.

According to an article in the San Francisco Standard, a 232 square foot studio unit rents for around $2,200 a month. Although the spearhead is led by the UC Law School, the apartments are open to most college students in the UC System and in other schools in the area. The hope is that the area becomes an “academic village,” not just of UC schools but others in the area, to give a youthful vibrancy to replace the current decay and filth [].

The UC Cochett Law Center is also on 333 Golden Gate Avenue, while the 28 storey McAllister Tower will add a total number of accommodations for 1,000 student beds by 2028.

Personally I am excited for this, but given the City’s financial situation, hopefully they can hold up on their end of the bargain, which does not stop at tax and financial incentives, but more importantly to enforce public safety and law and order in the area. During the early phase, it is imperative that a visible but discreet police presence be in the area, coupled with a cleanup and construction rehabilitation along with suitable establishments like restaurants and coffee shops, to encourage students, tourists and visitors to visit and stay.

Obviously the homeless need to be sheltered elsewhere, and the drug addicts rehabilitated if they are still open to that. Some of the problems might just move elsewhere, but hopefully the City has good plans and financing for that.

A reinvention of the Tenderloin district, and other decaying parts of San Francisco is long overdo. This will require a massive public private partnership not only of the UC System and the City Council, but also other government agencies, private investors and financial institutions, developers, even entrepreneurs, artists, and the like.

This is a better approach to one that is purely based on a Dirty Harry type of hard handed police neighborhood cleanup which does not answer issues of how to create employment and hope in an area.

Let us hope that San Franciscans support this reinvention. We have been sinking as a City for the past few years. It is time for new flowers to blossom.