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City HallThe AgendaWill the mayor spend money the voters approved for social housing?

Will the mayor spend money the voters approved for social housing?

And if the taxpayers are spending $1 million a year on police PR, why can't we get even basic information from SFPD? That's The Agenda for May 2-9.

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The passage of Prop. I in November, 2020 was a huge victory for pro-housing progressives; the new tax on high-end real-estate transactions brings in around $175 million a year, and it’s supposed to go for rental assistance and non-market housing.

But Mayor London Breed didn’t support the measure, and has refused to spend it the way its backers wanted. She finally agreed in the height of the pandemic to use some of the money to rent relief, but rejected a plan to spend a big chunk on buying housing where tenants are at risk of displacement.

Mayor Breed has refused to spend Prop. I money the way the voters wanted; is that going to change?

Now the Housing Stability Fund Oversight Board, which the supes created to make recommendations on how to allocate each year’s income. The board’s report, completed in March, includes proposals for spending about $137 million in 2022-2023, the amount that the controller estimates will be available after some baseline allocations.

The top priority: $60 million for acquiring land for 100 percent affordable social housing, including $20 million for educator housing.

Even at today’s inflated prices, that buys a fair amount of land.

Another $52 million would go for affordable housing construction and upgrades to public housing.

The group wants to add another $12 million to the $64 million of last year’s money already set aside for buying up existing housing to take if off the private market, money the Mayor’s Office of Housing hasn’t spent.

That’s just one year’s allocation, and if Mayor Breed would go along with the plan, the Prop. I money could make a sizable dent in the city’s state-mandated goals for affordable housing construction.

The Board of Supes Budget and Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday/4 to discuss the recommendations—and the hear from the Mayor’s Office of Housing.

It will mark the first chance this year for the supes to ask directly whether the mayor intends to follow the will of the voters and spend money that would address what most residents agree is the single most important political priority in the city right now. The meeting starts at 1pm.

One of the elements in the campaign to recall DA Chesa Boudin, which is funded by big GOP and real-estate money, is the idea that he isn’t working well with the cops. The Police Officers Association has gone after him, of course, because he’s actually prosecuting cops, but so, in a sense, has Chief Bill Scott, who unilaterally pulled out of a deal to let the DA’s Office take the lead in investigating police shootings. He did it right as Boudin’s office was taking a cop to trial.

(Even Heather Knight, the Chronicle columnist, has figured out that the reason so many car break-ins are happening is that the cops don’t make any arrests.)

But the SFPD has, at this point, a pretty sophisticated public-relations operation, and has gone after Boudin. In a press release dated Feb. 8 2022, Matt Dorsey, the SFPD director of strategic communications, noted that


Based on sworn testimony and evidence, however, it is clear to the chief of police — as it should be to any reasonable observer — that the San Francisco District Attorney’s office has breached its agreement and betrayed a public trust both our departments owe to the San Franciscans we serve. 

This is, to say the least, a matter of dispute. The Police Commission challenged the chief’s allegations. So did Boudin.

But the SFPD spin was out there in the press.

Sup. Dean Preston has called for a hearing on the issue at the Government Audit and Oversight Committee Thursday/5 to look at how much public money goes to SFPD public relations.

He told me that “our main goal is for people to be aware that there is a PR operation paid for with taxpayer dollars aiming to shape people’s views on public safety … the idea that police are the answer to everything is a well-funded message.”

The SFPD spends more than $1 million on its communications operation.

This goes on all over the country, but Preston told me that “as far as we know, this is the only hearing of its kind that’s ever been held.”

It gets into a much larger question: How much public money should go to press offices whose job is to promote the career, agenda, or ambitions of a politician or public agency?

I’m all in favor of public agencies and politicians having people available to answer media questions. But where is the line between public information and political spin, and how should we define it as public policy?

It’s particularly annoying for me to see how much money is spent of PR for the cops when it’s often hard to get basic information from the SFPD. The department doesn’t release police reports; under state law, those can be kept confidential—but the law doesn’t require confidentiality, it leaves that decision up to individual departments.

It took two years for SFPD to respond to a public-records request I filed in 2019 asking, under a new state law, for disciplinary records for the cops who shot Alex Nieto. The cops said they didn’t have the staff to handle all the requests coming in under that law. What they ended up sending me were the incident reports for a 2016 shooting; a suspect fired on the cops and they returned fire, and the internal review suggested it was a legal use of force. There’s no reason those reports, which contained nothing resembling confidential information, shouldn’t have been public at the time, and no reason it took two years to turn them over to me.

The SFPD used to publish a pretty useful crime map, that let the public see reports of all the incidents where cops were called to respond. That’s gone now, and nobody can explain why.

So if the cops are going to get more than $1 million for PR, they ought to at least be able to help the press and the public get basic information. I don’t think I am the only reporter in town who feels this way.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

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