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Study: California city is the worst run city in the country

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – San Francisco is the worst-run major city in the U.S., according to a new study from Wallethub that examines how effectively city leaders spend their funds.

The personal finance website evaluated 148 of the nation's largest cities using a “quality of city services” rating, which is comprised of 36 metrics and compared to cities' per capita budgets. San Francisco's budget is extremely high considering the city also functions as a county. The study ranked San Francisco last, concluding that residents deserve better services for the money spent.

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The metrics were grouped into six categories that were used to evaluate the quality of city services: Financial Stability, Education, Health, Safety, and Infrastructure and Pollution. San Francisco performed quite well overall in these metrics, ranking 52nd in Financial Stability, 15th in Education, first in Health, 107th in Safety, and 133rd in Infrastructure and Pollution, for an overall ranking of 24th.

What caused the country to fall to last place overall is the amount of outstanding long-term debt per capita, which ranked last.

San Francisco has ranked last or near last in that study in recent years, and in 2022, San Francisco City Treasurer Ben Rosenfield and Chief Economist Ted Egan criticized the study, arguing that many of the services listed, such as county hospitals or school districts, were not truly under the control of the city budget. Rosenfield and Egan told Newsweek that “local government as a percentage of county GDP would have been a far better metric.”

A Wallethub spokesperson responded that while a city administration does not have full control over all measures, it can influence them.

In the most recent study, San Francisco's neighbor Oakland ranked 147th with a service rank of 103 and a “total budget per capita” rank of 146. San Jose ranked 111th with a service rank of 23 and a per capita budget rank of 134. Los Angeles ranked 139th with a service rank of 57 and a per capita budget rank of 144, while San Diego ranked 79th with a service rank of 13 and a per capita budget rank of 116.

The best performing city was Nampa, Idaho, which ranked 45th in services and 1st in per capita budget.

Below are the top 10 and bottom 10 cities in the study. The bottom 10 cities include most of the country's major cities (Philadelphia and Chicago are just ahead of LA), while the top cities are relatively small.

Top 10

  1. Nampa, Idaho
  2. Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky
  3. Boise, Idaho
  4. Nashua, New Hampshire
  5. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  6. Durham, North Carolina
  7. Provo, Utah
  8. Fort Wayne, Indiana
  9. Sioux Falls, South Dakota
  10. Wichita, Kansas

Bottom 10

  1. Los Angeles, California
  2. Detroit, Michigan
  3. Denver, Colorado
  4. Tacoma, Washington
  5. Cleveland, Ohio
  6. Flint, Michigan
  7. New York, New York
  8. Gulfport, Mississippi
  9. Oakland, California
  10. San Francisco, California

The full rankings and further information on the methodology can be found here.

Anna Harden

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