The Board of Supes holds a special meeting Thursday/23 to consider Mayor London Breed’s State of Emergency proclamation for the Tenderloin—and it’s not at all clear what the outcome will be.
That’s in part because it’s far from clear, even to people who have been briefed on the situation, what the mayor’s plan for the neighborhood actually is.
Already, the lobbying is getting intense. If Breed can’t get six supervisor to support the idea of an emergency declaration, it will be a big political failure (and, of course, a chance to blame the progressives on the board for not being tough enough on crime).
The emergency measure itself discusses only public-health issues and seeks authority for city agencies under the Mayor’s Office to spend money without the normal approval process:
Proclamation by the Mayor Declaring the Existence of a Local Emergency in connection with the sudden increase in drug overdoses in the Tenderloin, and concurring in actions taken to meet the emergency to: 1) require City employees and officers to take all steps requested by the Executive Director of the Department of Emergency Management (“DEM”) to address the emergency conditions; 2) require all City employees and officers to take all steps requested by the Executive Director of DEM to qualify the City for funding as may be available to reimburse the City for the expenses it incurs in addressing this emergency; 3) allow departments to procure services, goods, and public works relating to the emergency using emergency procurement procedures, and waive any applicable requirement of Civil Service Commission approval of such contracts; and 4) allow the implementation in the Tenderloin of temporary facilities for purposes of offering services as part of the emergency response, and waive any provision in City law that limits or restricts the City’s deployment of such facilities, and any applicable local requirements for public notice, the filing or approval of a permit application, or payment of fees related to that response.
It is, of course, a bit ironic that this declaration seeking to waive contracting rules comes at the same time that former Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru pleaded guilty to a series of scams involving avoiding contracting rules.
But set that aside, and the proclamation itself is only a piece of what’s going on. The mayor is making it clear that she wants to flood the district with cops; in fact, in some briefings, her staff has told people that the police “will be our community outreach partners.”
So the public health approach to overdoses—which most of the progressive community supports—is not the only question the supes are going to face. Approving this emergency proclamation will in effect be a statement in support of Breed’s new Tenderloin policy, including the increased use of police to arrest people for fairly minor crimes.
She needs six votes. Already, Board President Shamann Walton has joined DA Chesa Boudin and Public Defender Mano Raju in denouncing the approach. So has the Coalition on Homelessness, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and other progressive groups.
Like so many, we are horrified and heartbroken by the death, trauma, and fear that communities in the Tenderloin are enduring. For years, communities in the Tenderloin have been calling for real solutions that promote safety and dignity for everyone. We also know from history and recent studies that we cannot police and incarcerate our way out of a public health crisis. Communities of color, including many of our clients, were deeply harmed by the War on Drugs that resulted in the criminalization and mass incarceration of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian American, and Pacific Islander Californians. The human cost of repeating history is too high.
On the other hand, Sup. Matt Haney, who represents the Tenderloin, is sending more of a mixed message. He didn’t respond to my text today (the board, other than the mayor pulling this emergency lever, is supposed to be in recess), but in a Facebook debate with author David Talbot, he said this:
I’ve never supported and will never support locking people up for addiction, and I’ve said that everywhere–this state of public health emergency has nothing to do with locking people up, it doesn’t give any additional authority to make arrests or anything like that. I’ve done my best to be consistent on where I stand on this–we need a huge public health emergency crisis level response to confront this epidemic that is killing twice as many people as COVID. That’s what I support.
I have gotten emails from the Republican Party urging people to contact their supervisors to support the mayor’s proposal. I just got an email sent to tenants of Trinity Properties, a giant landlord, urging the same:
Many residents in our communities have expressed an interest in how they can participate in keeping our community safer. Recent news reports document the state of emergency Mayor London Breed declared in the Tenderloin.
Safer SF has suggested ways in which San Franciscan’s can show support for these efforts. Below are steps the group suggests if you would like to show your support for these efforts. Of course, if you have questions or a different perspective on how to address these community issues, please feel free to share those with Mayor Breed and the Board of Supervisors. The contact information for the Mayor and Supervisors is below. Matt Haney is your District 6 Supervisor.
Safer SF is a committee supporting the recall of the district attorney. So already, this Tenderloin crackdown is being linked to the politics of law enforcement and the future of a reform DA.
So what exactly is the mayor planning to do in the Tenderloin with the new authority? I can’t quite figure it out—and neither can others.
“It’s smoke and mirrors and a lot of cops,” Sup. Dean Preston, who heard from mayoral staffers on the project, told me.
The idea appears to be that the Department of Emergency Management (which is not a public-health, housing, or homeless-support agency) will set up a triage tent somewhere in the Tenderloin. People who are sitting or lying on the streets, or in tents, or are using drugs, will be approached by the police and told to report to the tent.
It’s that or face arrest, according to the mayor’s “tough love” statement:
It’s time the reign of criminals who are destroying our city, it is time for it to come to an end. And it comes to an end when we take the steps to more aggressive with law enforcement. More aggressive with the changes in our policies and less tolerate of all the bullshit that has destroyed our city.
But the mayor has resisted putting people in hotel rooms and won’t spend the money that voters approved to buy and build affordable and supportive housing.
And she has not put the resources in the budget into treatment on demand and behavioral health.
You can’t put people in jail for just using drugs these days, so those folks will get a citation and be given a court date, which as DA Chesa Boudin points out, is pretty silly since very few will ever show up.
And we’re in a new phase of the pandemic, which means the last thing the city should do from a public-health perspective is put people in congregate settings like mass shelters or jail.
Not that there are a lot of shelter beds available; as Jennifer Friedenbach, director of the Coalition on Homelessness, pointed out on KPFA’s UpFront yesterday, only 30 percent of the people who are caught in homeless sweeps are offered a shelter bed, because there isn’t enough space.
San Francisco doesn’t have anywhere near enough drug-treatment beds for the people who are asking for help now, much less for the people who may be forced to accept treatment (that in many cases is similar to jail).
“There’s no plan,” Preston said.
Except: It’s raining, and it’s Christmas, and the city is going to take away your tent and have the cops hassle you and maybe arrest you for the crime of being poor, and traumatized, and mentally ill, and addicted, so the mayor can tell the news media that she’s actually, you know, doing something.
The meeting starts at 2pm.