Saunders: California’s homelessness problem might unseat Newsom

The governor faces a challenge from an independent candidate who’s pointing to his failures on the issue.

By Debra J. Saunders / syndicated columnist

What’s the matter with California? “It’s suffering from San Fransickness,” which is “pathological altruism,” answers Michael Shellenberger, author of the book “San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities.”

Too many homeless people. Too little common sense. Too much magical thinking.

Shellenberger is running for governor, with a platform to undo the damage done by Gov. Gavin Newsom and the overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature with an approach to homelessness that can best be described as enabling.

A Berkeley Hills resident, the author witnessed the City by the Bay’s decline as good intentions trampled common sense and homeless encampments mushroomed.

In Oakland this week, he tells me over a Zoom call, he visited an encampment that is a mile long.

Shellenberger’s remedy can be condensed into three Ps: policing, psychiatry and probation.

His focus is not on what people do behind closed doors, but the normalization of drug addicts shooting up and camping out in public spaces; and getting away with it because they’ve convinced the left they all are victims of circumstances beyond their control.

The result: San Francisco’s unsheltered homeless population spiked between 2005 and 2020, while the unsheltered homeless populations in New York, Chicago and Miami decreased.

In California’s two-tier primary system, the second-highest vote getter in the June 7 primary will run against the front-runner in November.

Newsom may have won last year’s recall handily, but here’s how you know he knows that he is vulnerable: Newsom is running ads against state Sen. Brian Dahle, a Republican.

In 2018, Newsom beat Republican businessman John Cox with 62 percent of the vote. Newsom won the 2021 recall after making it about radio talk show host Larry Elder, a Republican.

Schellenberger, a former Democrat, is running as a No Party Preference candidate, which means he won’t be carrying the “toxic” GOP label, noted GOP strategist Kevin Spillane. (A Republican hasn’t won statewide in the Golden State since 2006.)

Shellenberger is substantive and articulate, Spillane added, “with a range of policy proposals that could make a real difference. He’s the last person the governor would want to debate.”

Californians have begun voting with their feet. During the last two years, a population that used to grow with the good vibrations has declined.

“We’re reaching the limits of what money can buy,” Shellenberger noted.

At one of the area’s many “epic homeless encampments” this week, he saw junked cars under a freeway, fires and “garbage everywhere.”

Thanks to an infamously erratic taxation system, the Golden State has a nearly $100 billion budget surplus this year, “but we can’t find anybody to pick up the trash.”

Debra J. Saunders is a fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Chapman Center for Citizen Leadership. Contact her at

Talk to us

More in Opinion

Editorial cartoons for Sunday, July 3

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Junelle Lewis, right, daughter Tamara Grigsby and son Jayden Hill sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” during Monroe’s Juneteenth celebration on Saturday, June 18, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Editorial: Happy Independence Days, America

Linked by history and promise, Juneteenth and the Fourth of July should be celebrated together.

Comment: America’s 250th offers opportunity to look forward

The bicentennial in 1976 focused on America’s history. We can use the ‘semiquin’ in 2026 to look ahead.

Downtown Everett perfect location for Sorticulture

I was at Sorticulture this year and what a great turnout (“Sorticulture,… Continue reading

No way to treat Lady Justice

Dear Lady Justice, your blindfold seems to be slipping down. Sir, my… Continue reading

Saunders: U.S. policy luring people to risky border crossing

Providing amnesty to those who have previously crossed illegally will only lead to more deaths.

FILE - In this Oct. 19, 2016 file photo, a man fishes for salmon in the Snake River above the Lower Granite Dam in Washington state. Three Republican U.S. House members from Washington state are criticizing Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., for opposing their legislation that would prevent the breaching of four dams on the Snake River to help improve endangered salmon runs. (Jesse Tinsley /The Spokesman-Review via AP, File)
Editorial: Waiting could force bad choice on dams, salmon

Work should begin now to begin replacing what four dams on the Snake River provide.

Joe Kennedy, a former assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Wash., poses for a photo March 9, 2022, at the school's football field. After losing his coaching job for refusing to stop kneeling in prayer with players and spectators on the field immediately after football games, Kennedy will take his arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, April 25, 2022, saying the Bremerton School District violated his First Amendment rights by refusing to let him continue praying at midfield after games. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Editorial: Court majority weakens church, state separation

The Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision does more to hurt religious liberty than protect a coach’s prayer.

A pregnant protester is pictured with a message on her shirt in support of abortion rights during a march, Friday, June 24, 2022, in Seattle. The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to end constitutional protections for abortion has cleared the way for states to impose bans and restrictions on abortion — and will set off a series of legal battles. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)
Editorial: Court’s decision a subtraction from our rights

Using a cherry-picked history, it limits the rights of women and will extend the reach of poverty.

Most Read