At the intersection of 16th and Mission streets on a busy midday afternoon, three people shared a small bottle of clear liquor, draining every last drop. The trio decided against concealing their bottle in a brown paper bag, despite open-container laws.
“There’s a lot of drinkers down here, and they’re down here every day,” said Terry Wigginton, who sat on a bench a few feet away. He is homeless and lives in his van. The 52-year-old’s long brown hair is streaked with gray, and he walks with a cane. Wigginton said he spends hours there, just watching “the wildlife.”
“The cops just need to crack down on it,” he said.
They’re trying, according to San Francisco Police Department Capt. Stephen Tacchini. In partnership with the Department of Public Works, the police launched the 16th Street Quality of Life Improvement Effort, focusing on the blocks of 16th Street between Capp and Valencia.
Tacchini said it’s an effort that won’t be judged by arrests but by “an overall cleanliness and sense of safety in the area.”
As the program approaches the two-month mark, its effectiveness is at best mixed, according to a series of Mission Loc@l interviews with business owners and employees along the quarter-mile stretch. While some noted cleaner sidewalks and fewer problems with loitering, many more said nothing had changed. At the same time, however, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Wednesday that violent crime declined over the last year. But the clean up on 16th Street, has yet to be as effective.
At $1 Only, Alex Arman, 41, has noticed the city’s efforts and he applauded the results. His son owns the six-year-old business. “Now it’s clean, it’s good. I like it this way.”
Delores Smith, 60, is the services coordinator at the Altamont Hotel. “Our biggest main problem was with homeless people sleeping on the side of the building or sleeping in the alley,” she said. “We don’t have it anymore.”
Smith said she felt safer nowadays walking to the BART station or bus stop. It wasn’t as necessary, she said, to “hold your purse.”
But many more business owners and workers were critical of the police effort.
At the nearby Wells Fargo bank branch, Moses Romero panned the clean-up’s impact on quality of life. “It’s calmed down a little bit, but not much,” he said. Romero, a security guard, said he continues to chase off drug users hiding behind cars in the parking lot.
On the opposite side of 16th Street, drug use is even more blatant.
“They smoke crack outside on the street,” said Faroq Alghazali, manager of the Smoke & Gift Shop. “We call the police too many times. They don’t do anything.”
John, owner of Stagi Liquors, declined to give his last name but said, “Sixteenth and Mission will remain Sixteenth and Mission … It’s not going to change.”
He spoke from experience—his business has been there for 20 years. They’re all still there, he said, the drug dealers, drug users, hookers, and muggers.
The one common, and seemingly intractable problem every business shares is graffiti. It plagues them, inside and out, business owners agreed.
Doris Campos owns Panchita’s, a Salvadoran and Mexican restaurant that’s open late. She said the bathroom has to be repainted every week. “They write everything,” she said. She hasn’t seen any changes in the neighborhood.
At Pacific National Bank, Assistant Vice President Rosie Tolentino said, “every morning we have that graffiti.” While the bank also has problems with people hanging around outside, she said the security guard asks them to move on “in a polite way.”
A letter distributed to area businesses, landlords and tenants in late January encouraged the neighborhood to participate “in the spirit of community policing.” It urged recipients to promptly clean up graffiti and report criminal activity. The letter also said foot patrol and plainclothes officers as well as radio cars and patrol wagons would be dedicated to the effort.
Tacchini said the effort began on Jan. 1, but the letter was dated nearly four weeks later. Interviews with employees and business owners indicated just over half of the businesses had received it.
Dan Kastner, 31, who owns 1977 mopeds said he had noticed the increased police presence, but added, “It doesn’t make me feel safer. It feels like literally another element that you have to deal with. There are the vagrants, and then the crime and then the cops.
“I think what would really help this area is actual old-fashioned beat cops. Actually cops walking, interacting and getting to know the community,” he said.
His prescription sounds like the intent of the effort Tacchini described, but his observations, as well as those of others, point to shortcomings in its implementation.
In response to a request for crime statistics relevant to the effort, Tacchini said, via email, he did “not have the information broken down by locations as specific as 16th Street.”
In an earlier conversation, Tacchini said: “Our intent was to improve the area, not to make more arrests or to make an enforcement action.”
Back on 16th Street, in front of Mission National Bank, a security guard stood on the sidewalk and watched a nearby woman. He believed she has a history of drug addiction.
“Heroin is out of control up and down this street,” the guard said. “Prostitution is out of control. Homelessness … ” He trailed off. What did the neighborhood really need? “You need a rescue team.”