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‘It was vandalism with no message or intent attached’—Mayor London Breed on the Waymo fire

‘Some have rushed, as they do, to try to turn this act of vandalism into something more than it is. Some are trying to desperately resurrect the false doom loop narrative.’

A black and white photo of a burned-out Waymo autonomous car surrounded by firefighters amidst steam on a city street at night.
Courtesy Clara Jeffery

By London Breed

In the wake of the recent arson attack on a Waymo self-driving vehicle in Chinatown, The Standard asked four major mayoral candidates to share their responses to the violence. Mayor London Breed and nonprofit founder Daniel Lurie both agreed to participate; former Supervisor Mark Farrell declined; Supervisor Ahsha Safai did not respond. Read mayoral candidate Daniel Lurie's response.

Last Saturday was a beautiful day in San Francisco. During the first day of the Lunar New Year, our Chinatown community was bursting with thousands of people out in the streets and celebrations everywhere that represent the best of who we are as a city. I was proud to be out in Chinatown, seeing the families, seniors and our entire city come together to celebrate the hope for what lies ahead in the coming year.   

That night, in an isolated incident in the same area, a group of people burned and destroyed an autonomous vehicle. It was a dangerous and destructive act of vandalism. Chinatown is one of the densest neighborhoods in San Francisco, and any fire could explode and spread among tightly packed buildings to endanger lives, homes and businesses. Thankfully, our fire department responded quickly, and the fire was contained. 

Some have rushed, as they do, to try to turn this act of vandalism into something more than it is. Once again, some are trying to desperately resurrect the false doom loop narrative about our city. Enough. Crime in San Francisco is at its lowest point, other than in 2020, in over a decade. Arson, which this clearly was, is down 36% to start this year. Anyone peddling the doom loop idea is just trying to hurt our city, instead of trying to join us in lifting it up. 

Others have tried to tie this to an anti-autonomous vehicle sentiment. But this was not a political act. It was vandalism with no message or intent attached. When vandals burned a Muni bus after the 2012 Giants World Series victory, that wasn’t an act of anti-transit activism. It was another dumb and dangerous act that sadly happens in cities. Luckily no one was seriously injured then, and none was hurt this time.  

So let’s focus on what’s important here.  

First, we always condemn acts of vandalism and work to hold these individuals accountable. Right now, our police department is investigating the incident, and I’m confident that any arrest will lead to an aggressive prosecution by our district attorney. 

Second, let’s not lose sight of who we are as a city. We are a city that treasures celebrations like Lunar New Year that honor our cultural heritage and diverse communities. We are a city that is home to exciting, emerging technologies, like autonomous vehicles, that are changing the world. After all, we have led in transportation innovation before—150 years ago, the cable car was invented here. I will be meeting with the leaders of Waymo to talk about this incident and to assure them we will continue to work with them on how to make autonomous vehicles a part of our city with safety as our top priority. 

San Francisco is rich in culture, ideas and pride. We are not defined by a small, isolated incident by a reckless few. And we should not let those who are seeking to tie this to a larger, inaccurate narrative define us. We are a city filled with rich, vibrant communities, like the ones who came together Saturday in Chinatown to celebrate the best of who we are. That’s who we are.

London Breed is the mayor of San Francisco.

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