The Agenda, Oct. 10-17: Should we celebrate the Twitter tax break?

Plus: Another approach to mental illness and the criminal justice system. We look at the week ahead

I am glad, I suppose, that there’s nice art coming to mid-Market to “spur curiosity and connection.” Five years after the Twitter tax break, the area is booming, and the mayor’s allies could not be happier.

Those of us who are involved in nonprofits that used to be in that area and have been displace by high rents, and the artists who have lost space in the surrounding areas, and the thousands of SF tenants evicted or facing eviction because of the tech boom might have a different perspective.

Protesters note that the Twitter tax break cost the city millions. It also spurred evictions and displacement
Protesters note that the Twitter tax break cost the city millions. It also spurred evictions and displacement

I am on the board of Legal Assistance to the Elderly, a small nonprofit that helps seniors and disabled people. We used to have an office in mid-Market, where our clients were able to drop in. But after the tax break and the arrival of tech firms, the rent went up so high that we had to move – to an office on Sutter, on the side of a steep hill, with less transit accessibility. Our clients often can’t get there.

Plenty of other nonprofits faced the same fate.

The Twitter tax break was part of a larger move by Mayor Lee to attract as many tech companies as he could to the city. Anyone who has lived through an eviction, or who has had to leave the city, or is paying outrageous rent, knows what the result of that strategy has been for the rest of us.

The growth in mid-Market has been a huge boon to property owners, some of whom have cheated the city on taxes. It’s had a lot of other impacts – and I think it’s safe to say that the community benefits that the beneficiaries have paid are not even remotely close to covering those impacts.

I saw Ron Conway, a big investor in tech companies and a big supporter of the tax break, a few months ago and I told him about LAE. I explained that we, like most nonprofits, don’t need some young designer to help with our website or an app; we need money – cash — to pay the inflated rent the tax break for his companies has created.

He nodded nicely and suggested I send him an email. The executive director at LAE has tried. I have tried. Conway won’t respond.


The Board of Supes doesn’t meet this week, in observance of the federal holiday that some people call Columbus Day. You can see my friend Tommi Avicolli Mecca’s commentary on that particularly holiday here.

In fact, it’s kind of a generally slow week in city government.

But there will be an interesting hearing Thursday/13 at the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee on one of the city’s most critical issues: Mental health and criminal justice.

The supes decided, to their immense credit, last year not to accept state money to build a new jail to replace the Hall of Justice. Instead, there was talk about the need for a mental health facility.

And a new report shows just how dramatic that need is. In San Francisco today, the county jail is the largest mental-health facility in the county (by far). As many as 40 percent of the inmates in County are being treated for mental-health issues (and that, depending on the day, is about 600 people). SF General has room for fewer than one-tenth that many people. (Thanks to budget cuts, the number of acute beds has been reduced from 87 in 2008 to 22 today.)

The Department of Public Health says that people with mental health problem are incarcerated much longer – about 160 percent longer – than others.

The crisis on the streets is acute: In just three months, between December 2015 and February 2016, the SF Police Department received more than 5,000 calls involving people in a mental-health crisis.

When they wind up in jail, things get worse. As the report notes,

Correctional facilities are fundamentally places of punishment and control, not treatment and rehabilitation. By necessity, security within a jail or prison is paramount, making it difficult to create and maintain an effective system of mental health care. By virtue of their very nature … jails and prisons tend to exacerbate mental illness.

There were, when the report was being written, 240 inmates in County with serious, acute mental illness. That’s 204 more than the jail had beds and facilities to accommodate.

So the report suggests that the city create a Behavioral Mental Health Center, instead of a jail. The Hall of Justice on Bryant Street needs to be torn down anyway, and SFPD already has a new home. So there’s space for a facility that could be groundbreaking and represent a major change in the way US cities deal with criminal justice and mental health.

The committee meets at 2:30 pm in the Board chambers. This could be the first big step toward a program that would address homelessness, crime, and human tragedy in a non-correctional context.


The Police Commission meets Wednesday/12, and one of the items is a closed session to discuss the search for a new chief. We don’t know how many candidates are still in the running. We don’t know who the final three names are. This is the opposite of the sort of transparency that just about everyone who has looked at the commission and the department says is badly needed.


On a late August night in 1966, trans women fought back against police harassment in a riot at Compton’s cafeteria in the Tenderloin. Shaping San Francisco hosts a discussion about that event, and trans activism in SF history, Wednesday/12. 7:30, 518 Valencia. More info at


  1. I agree with everything except this “The Hall of Justice on Bryant Street needs to be torn down anyway”. Stop tearing down old buildings in San Francisco. Jesus fucking Christ. Recycle. Enough.

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