Despite concerns about homelessness, drug use, and theft overrunning the streets, some 40,000-plus people funneled their way into San Francisco on Tuesday to get an inside look at the future of artificial intelligence at the kick-off of Salesforce's annual Dreamforce conference.
One of the VIPs in attendance at the event's home base at the Moscone Center was San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who has been hard at work trying to clean up the eclectic city's image, both literally and figuratively.
Breed, who was elected in 2018, was adamant in her defense of San Francisco's ability to attract new businesses in the tech and restaurant spaces while also improving worldwide perception. It's a passion expressed not only in interviews but also in frequent video posts on Instagram, where one can find Breed working with city workers to clear the streets.
"Sometimes [negative stories and videos] ... that you see go viral, those aren't always just in San Francisco," Breed told Yahoo Finance Live on the ground at Dreamforce (video above). "We've been attributed for things that have happened in other cities in the Bay Area, as well as even as far as Los Angeles. We have unfortunately been the punching bag."
"But the city has changed, and it has changed in some ways for the better," Breed added. "We're still the technology capital of the world. In fact, of the top 20 artificial intelligence companies in the world, eight are here in San Francisco. People still want to be here. They're starting their companies, their businesses here."
San Francisco's complex challenges
Turning around a historic city that counts Salesforce (CRM), X (formerly Twitter), and Levi's (LEVI) as large employers remains a big-time challenge despite Breed's many efforts. And in many respects, the success of that turnaround will likely determine if she is re-elected in more than a year.
According to a recent study by McKinsey, 70% of San Francisco residents cite homelessness among the city's top three problems. On any given night, 38,000 Bay Area residents are homeless, the study found.
Meanwhile, drug use on the streets and retail crime continue to be pressing issues the city is dealing with daily.
Experts pin the blame on a range of factors, from the pandemic pushing out office workers and leaving buildings empty to inflation making it harder for people to live day to day. The Big Tech names in the city also fetch their fair share of the criticism for triggering wealth inequality.
Breed acknowledged the challenges.
"Fentanyl has really devastated many American cities like nothing we've ever experienced," Breed explained. "Methamphetamine has already taken over parts of rural US in recent years as well. And so our ability to deal with those issues has been really challenging."
"In fact what we're doing here in San Francisco to combat that is making the hard decision to arrest people for public and intoxication — and there's a lot of critics of that," Breed continued. "But the goal is to try and get people into treatment. We know it's not easy. We know having an addiction is a hard thing, but we can't just say business as usual goes. There's help and treatment."
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said in a San Francisco Chronicle interview that this year's Dreamforce event could be the last one in the city if there were any safety-related issues that popped up.
The comments came as a blow, as Benioff has given generously to the city's school and hospital system for decades. The 61-floor Salesforce Tower is the tallest building in San Francisco. And Dreamforce has generated hundreds of millions of dollars for the city in all its years of being held there.
Breed said that Benioff remains committed to San Francisco as a tech hub and holding the Dreamforce conference there.
"We do everything we can to roll out the red carpet," Breed said. "People love coming [to Dreamforce]. It's a wonderful experience. And I just think Marc was just having a conversation, and it unfortunately got blown up in the international and national press. But Marc is truly committed to San Francisco."
Brian Sozzi is Yahoo Finance's Executive Editor. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn. Tips on deals, mergers, activist situations, or anything else? Email email@example.com.