How doomed is San Francisco? Some say rumors of the city’s downward spiral are greatly exaggerated

Union Square in San Francisco, Calif.
Union Square in San Francisco, Calif.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. It’s Thursday, Jan. 18. Here’s what you need to know to start your day.

Is San Francisco really doomed? Depends who you ask

Let’s start with what most people agree on: the pandemic hit cities hard — and San Francisco especially hard.

Many workers in the city’s bustling tech sector traded their downtown office for a desk at a home with lower rent and more space out of town — or out of state. The exodus set off a chain reaction that impacted the coffee shops, restaurants and other businesses that depended on foot traffic downtown.


Then came the headlines about a city in a doom loop. And the conservative right’s narrative of a failed city rampant with homelessness, open drug use and crime that only had its own liberal policies to blame.

But the city still has its defenders. They smell a comeback, claiming that “cycling through booms and busts is just a natural part of San Francisco’s rhythms,” Times Bay Area and North Coast reporter Hannah Wiley wrote this week.

The next boom they’re eyeing: artificial intelligence.

“Several tech leaders interviewed — some have spent decades in Silicon Valley, others are newcomers to the region — argue San Francisco and the Bay Area more broadly remain a thriving nerve center of talent, institutional knowledge and bountiful venture capital,” Wiley reported.

It’s not just optimistic tech folks. Wiley pointed to some recent data that challenge the downward spiral narrative.

First, more people are moving into San Francisco and neighboring counties in the Bay Area than moving out. That’s notable, as the state of California overall lost more residents than it gained in recent years. The cost of housing has also fallen.

And it’s always wise to follow the money, as Wiley did.

“The Bay Area last year maintained its top national ranking for venture capital investment, followed by Boston and New York, according to an October report by Ernst and Young, buoyed in part by investments in artificial intelligence,” she noted.


There may be some positive signs for tech, but the pandemic recovery hasn’t been great for everyone. One group of residents the city continues to lose: people 25 and older without a college degree.

Some people Wiley spoke with were more cautious about the city’s fortunes, pointing to notable office vacancy rates and lower in-person worker attendance.

“Downtown before the pandemic was a pretty rich ecosystem. But at the core of it was people coming to work in offices,” Ted Egan, San Francisco’s chief economist, told her. “Until you get that back, it’s going to be hard to restart a positive dynamic flywheel downtown.”

Still, there’s a sense from some that the city is slowly but surely moving into a new era.

Here’s one bright spot (or maybe soft spot?) that stood out to me: the revitalization of United Nations Plaza into a destination for skateboarders. If you want to bring fresh energy into an urban core, it turns out skateboarding might just do the trick.

You can read more from Wiley on San Francisco optimism.

Today’s top stories

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For your downtime

An aerial view of a lake at Murrieta Hot Springs Resort.
Geothermal water flows into a lake at Murrieta Hot Springs Resort. The site is a geothermal spa that goes back more than a century. For nearly 30 years, the property was a Bible college and Christian retreat center. The site was sold in 2022 and the new owners have been refinishing the property to open to the public.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Going out

Staying in

And finally ... from our archives

The Los Angeles Times dedicated the front page to coverage of a 6.7 magnitude quake centered in Northridge
On Jan. 18, 1994, the Los Angeles Times dedicated the front page to coverage of a 6.7 magnitude quake centered in Northridge that ultimately resulted in more than 9,000 injuries, 60 fatalities and up to $20 billion in property damage, plus $40 billion in economic losses.
(Los Angeles Times)

Here’s the front page of The Times, 30 years ago today. After the 6.7 magnitude Northridge quake killed 60 people and damaged large swaths of the county, radio broadcasts and newspapers were one of the few sources of information residents had. The Times published the day after the earthquake and continued to publish as Los Angeles began to recover. This week, Times news and culture critic Lorraine Ali wrote about surviving Northridge, noting “the sound of the paper being tossed onto driveways provided a semblance of normalcy in the chaos.”

Have a great day, from the Essential California team


Ryan Fonseca, reporter
Elvia Limón, multiplatform editor
Kevinisha Walker, multiplatform editor
Laura Blasey, assistant editor

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