He did comment on the problem in the state’s two largest cities, in ways that offended leaders of San Francisco and Los Angeles and demonstrated his ability to tap into the culture wars dividing urban and rural Americans.
Here’s what The Washington Post’s Jeff Stein and Phillip Rucker reported Tuesday:
As he arrived here, Trump claimed that he had personally heard complaints from tenants in the state, some of them foreigners. He expressed sympathy for real estate investors here and other Californians whose property values or quality of life are threatened.“In many cases, they came from other countries and they moved to Los Angeles or they moved to San Francisco because of the prestige of the city, and all of a sudden they have tents,” Trump said. “Hundreds and hundreds of tents and people living at the entrance to their office building. And they want to leave.”In Los Angeles and San Francisco, Trump said, people are living on the “best highways, our best streets, our best entrances to buildings . . . where people in those buildings pay tremendous taxes, where they went to those locations because of the prestige.”
On Wednesday, the president threatened to issue a notice of environmental violation to San Francisco for its homelessness problem, arguing that feces on public streets and drug needles in the ocean are an environmental hazard.
“It’s a terrible situation — that’s in Los Angeles and in San Francisco,” Trump told reporters Wednesday aboard Air Force One as he returned to Washington. “We’re going to be giving San Francisco, they’re in total violation — we’re going to be giving them a notice very soon.”
“We can’t have our cities going to hell,” he added.
San Francisco’s mayor called those “ridiculous assertions.”
The president is not known for his deep concern for environmental issues, and his discussion about homelessness tends to center on aesthetics and sanitation concerns. But he has made a habit of lamenting the condition of U.S. cities — a demographic that the native New Yorker lost in 2016 and is likely to lose again in 2020.
Since Trump launched his campaign, some of his harshest critics have been Democratic leaders of liberal cities. Be they the mayors of Atlanta and Chicago or lawmakers representing districts in San Francisco and Houston, liberal leaders have attacked Trumpism as bad for the United States.
Democratic presidential candidate and New York mayor Bill De Blasio went as far as to say that Trump won’t even be welcomed back to the city of his birth after his presidency ends.
But the president, always a fighter, frequently jabs back. In July, Trump grabbed headlines when he disparaged Baltimore while attacking Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), a frequent Trump critic who as chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee has initiated most of the investigations into the Trump administration’s operations and policies.
“His district is considered the Worst in the USA,” Trump tweeted. “Cumming District is a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess. If he spent more time in Baltimore, maybe he could help clean up this very dangerous & filthy place.”
That same month, the president argued on Fox News that New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles are public health hazards.
“Police officers are getting sick just by walking the beat,” Trump claimed. “We cannot ruin our cities. And you have people that work in those cities. They work in office buildings, and to get into the building, they have to walk through a scene that nobody would have believed possible three years ago."
It is true that both Los Angeles and San Francisco have a major homelessness problem. The Post’s Allyson Chiu reported that the homeless populations in San Francisco and Los Angeles have increased in recent years, according to official data from both cities. This year, San Francisco’s homeless population is at 8,011, while the city of Los Angeles has 36,600.
Last week, Rolling Stone reported:
Twelve percent of the U.S. population lives in California, but it’s home to nearly a quarter of the nation’s homeless. In the spring, the results of a federal survey found rates of homelessness had increased by double digits across the state this year. In Los Angeles County, the rate went up 12 percent — 6,198 more people on the streets — and that was among the lowest percentage increases.
But rural America has an issue with homelessness, too. A May study from Harvard University reported that 1 in 3 rural Americans say homelessness is a problem in their communities. Baltimore has been named the country’s most dangerous city. But the latest FBI stats on murder, rape and aggravated assault show that while crime rates are lower in rural America, those areas of the country are not immune to violence.
The Post’s David Nakamura previously reported that city leaders see Trump’s indictment of cities as an extension of a presidency rooted in expanding divisions along racial, ethnic and geographic lines.
“His spewing of white-supremacist rhetoric is unending,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf (D) told Nakamura. “I fear that the rhetoric will only get louder and more hateful the closer we get to the election.”
The Trump administration has shown some interest in the problem beyond rhetoric. The administration released a report on the state of homelessness this week, and Housing Secretary Ben Carson visited a San Francisco housing development Tuesday for homeless people.
But exaggerating the urban-rural divide is also probably a high priority for the president, who considers himself a culture warrior. Even as some leaders have worked hard to revitalize cities, voters in Trump’s base often view urban areas as unsafe hubs of criminal activity leading the shift to a more liberal America. The Trump campaign has been vocal about its focus on increasing turnout among those who already approve of the president. And part of that strategy includes appealing to the cultural anxieties of those voters whose vision of a great America look very different from what is often reflected in the country’s urban areas.