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San Francisco's Bureaucrats Confirm Our Suspicion That the City Is Getting Both Better and Worse

Two can play this game.


Great minds, they say, think alike. They also say that fools seldom differ, but let's not dwell on that. Let's instead dwell on the first part. 

Earlier this week, the San Francisco controller's office launched a new web portal that presents a public scorecard rating various aspects of the city’s performance. Just a few days later, our own magazine issued its own set of city scores, all of which you can read in the April 2016 issue of San Francisco (and, of course, right here online). While the bean-counters of San Francisco government are likely not working with the creation of magazine-style journalism in mind, we actually found the city-produced report both compulsively readable and graphically creative (the red light-green light rating system: We'll admit, we're a bit jealous). 

But more impressive to us is how much crossover you’ll find between the city’s self-assessments and the verdicts issued by our editors and writers: Both parties graded San Francisco on its crime, transportation, and amenities; both derived their scores from the wealth of statistics on hand (though the city grades pass-not pass against its own benchmarks, while we admit to a touch more subjectivity in our grade assignments). And both reveal a definitively mixed bag of successes and failures.  

But there are significant discrepancies. Sure, the data is the data. But the city's professional analysts and those of us here at the magazine who've sifted through the numbers and the stories are playing sometimes very different tunes. You'll notice the differences in the way we assessed, say, Muni and public safety versus the way the controller wrote it up. Their by-the-numbers approach holds the city accountable to its own self-imposed (or, at times, voter-imposed) benchmarks. But we don’t think this is always fair, not when the voters demand that Muni be on time 85 percent of the time—an expectation that is fairly preposterous given the historical realities of moving buses up and down our vertiginous hills. Surprisingly enough to us, we ended up giving Muni better grades than the city gives itself.

The same cannot, however be said about violent crime and housing development. The main reason for this is simple: We didn't just grade the city by its own measures as the controller’s office did, but by the measures of other cities. This means you're less likely to be robbed than you would be only just across the bay, more likely to be burglarized, and, on the plus side, more likely to find the book you want in the library than, say, a resident of nearly anywhere else. 

Perhaps most importantly, we also took into account the point of view of the people living here: the people caught in a malfunctioning Muni bus or train; the people coming home to a cleaned-out apartment or car; the people, frankly, stretching dollars to ridiculous lengths to hang on here and wondering, sometimes, what the hell that's all about.  

You can read the city's work here. We'll be printing elements of our 24-part report card bit by bit, starting today. San Francisco, you will find, doesn't always make the grade. But, in this city, you'll never struggle for material. 


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