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Ouch! San Jose mayor says city ‘will not become San Francisco’

The mayor of the Bay Area's biggest city had some choice words for its second-biggest city. | Photo illustration by Rosalie Tapavalu/The Standard

Et tu, San Jose? 

San Francisco has had a rough couple of weeks in the news. The stabbing death of a tech exec, the vicious beating of a former fire commissioner, the closure of a flagship supermarket Downtown—it seems no number of peaceful, large-scale outdoor gatherings in Dolores Park can un-paint the portrait of a filthy city mired in a doom loop.

But in response to reports of increased crime in the Bay Area’s most populous city, first-term San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan told the Mercury News that “I will say emphatically that San Jose will not become San Francisco. I think everyone deserves to live in a safe and clean environment.”

Shots fired!

San Franciscans are accustomed to the slur “San Francisco values” being attached to virtues like empathy and tolerance. We’re familiar with people misrepresenting our challenges to gain internet clout. We’re used to hearing Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi being used as a political football three time zones away.

But to hear this kind of casual insult from the mayor of a neighboring city is something different—especially when that city is one many San Franciscans regard as a sprawling suburb with little reason to visit except a haunted mansion with too many staircases. What’s next, Sausalito calling Pier 39 too touristy? Emeryville saying Mission Bay feels a little sterile?

Reached for comment, Mahan's office stood by his remarks.

"San Francisco and all big California cities are struggling with the most basic quality-of-life issues, and sadly, SF is a cautionary tale of what happens when government doesn’t focus enough attention on residents’ most pressing problems: homelessness, blight and crime," Mahan said.

Citing residents' right to be fed up, Mahan added that he's committed to ending San Jose's encampments.

As a purely political move, it makes sense for a recently elected politico to assure residents of his city that he’s on the job. But do the facts support Mahan’s slight?

But based on recent crime stats, it’s a mixed bag. For property crimes like larceny, San Francisco certainly has a terrible problem, which far exceeds San Jose’s rate. That can only be partially explained by the difference in the number of visitors the two cities receive. San Jose hosts roughly 3 million per year, versus San Francisco’s 21 million. 

For violent crimes, like homicide or aggravated assault, the two cities report similar rates. San Jose seems to have a considerably higher prevalence of rape, but that may stem from different reporting standards.

Putting crime stats aside, one of the greatest contributors to the perception of eroding public safety is the scourge of fentanyl. San Francisco unquestionably has many unhoused residents battling addiction and the number of fatal overdoses remains astonishingly high, but the head of San Jose’s police union was found to be running an international fentanyl-dealing operation out of her home.

Like anchor tenants that cater to similar types of shoppers from opposite ends of a giant mall, San Francisco and San Jose may be more dependent on each other’s success than they realize. Hopefully their leaders can cooperate to find regional solutions to pervasive problems.

Noah Baustin contributed additional research for this story.
Astrid Kane can be reached at