The Board of Supervisors voted in favor early Friday morning of Mayor London Breed’s proposed state of emergency aimed at stemming the drug overdose epidemic in the Tenderloin District.
Despite Breed’s absence, supervisors spent over 10 hours to discuss the polarizing plan and listen to over 200 public comments—considerably more than the board commonly fields during any given meeting. Comments ranged from a suggestion that the city lock up drug dealers in Alcatraz to a critic of the mayor’s proposal who ended his call with two words—“fuck 12”—a colloquial and profane jab at police.
The declaration will allow city officials to circumvent the usual processes that would otherwise delay hiring and infrastructure changes within the Tenderloin Police District to create a "linkage site" staffed with social service workers. Opponents of the ordinance allege that it’s a tool for the mayor to compel drug users into treatment using the failed tactics of the war on drugs.
Supervisors Haney, Mandelman, Chan, Safai, Stefani, Ronen, Mar and Melgar cast a vote in support of the measure, surpassing the six votes needed for approval. Supervisors Preston and Walton both dissented to the motion.
Supervisor Aaron Peskin, on vacation in Mexico City, missed the meeting, but his office released a statement in support of the proclamation. Supervisor Connie Chan hinted that a related legislative oversight proposal would be introduced by the two of them in January.
Supervisor Matt Haney, who oversees the Tenderloin, supported the proposal despite questioning the methods and rhetoric surrounding its implementation. Haney was among others who declared the temporary 90 day ordinance as a “pilot,” pointing out to those in attendance that the supervisors are capable of reigning in the plan at their collective discretion.
Many within homeless advocacy circles organized on social media in recent days to demand that Haney take a stance against the mayor by voting no. But Haney pressed forward with his conditional support for Breed’s declaration.
“Let's use this state of emergency to help us move forward. Even if it is a temporary site, there is no reason to wait,” Haney said. “It will expose the gaps in dysfunctionality that have slowed our response by adding a level of transparency and accountability that doesn't exist.”
Proponents of the plan say that it is solely intended to quickly create “linkage sites,” where people can receive treatment for drug addiction. But Breed and her allies are increasingly advocating for involuntary treatment and rejecting the idea that people should be permitted to openly sell and use drugs on the streets.
Many supervisors who would normally be enthusiastic in their approval of this outreach-based measure were conflicted by the mayor’s recent language.
Dissenting voter, Supervisor Shamann Walton said that the declaration didn’t provide enough information to assure him that it wouldn’t result in the criminalization of a vulnerable community.
“I just don't get the clarity from this declaration that we're not going to criminalize Black and Brown people or people with addictions,” Walton said. “These are the types of major issues that require the Board of Supervisors and the mayor's office to come together and that didn't happen in this [meeting]. We were pitted against each other, and I truly believe that is on purpose.”
City attorney Anne Pearson said that the emergency declaration would give Breed’s office the authority to allocate more resources to the police. But a representative from the mayor’s office then dismissed the possibility.
“I can say unequivocally that our office will not use the authority of the emergency order to provide appropriations to the police department,” said Andres Power, a policy director for the mayor.
Police Chief Bill Scott said that the emergency declaration would allow officers to work more closely with social service workers
“We're not planning on using an arrest tactic to clear the streets. That's not what this emergency declaration is at all,” Scott said. “We've invested too much time, effort and taxpayer money on reform to go backwards.”
Supervisor Dean Preston joined Walton as a dissenting vote, criticizing the mayor for not attending the meeting and highlighting what he believed to be flaws in the proposal—including a lack of transparency, which he said would impact the efficacy of the proposed linkage center.
“It’s great to have a linkage center, but what are you linking them to?” Preston asked. “The conversation so far certainly has not reassured me in any way that there's any real plan here other than police engagement … I think we need to see a plan before we hand sweeping powers over to the administration.”
Mary Ellen Carroll, the director of the Department of Emergency Management, said that a detailed plan on the declaration would be prepared by Monday. Preston urged the board to delay the vote until Jan. 4 in order to take the full plan into consideration.
The emergency declaration will enable Carroll, as the DEM director, to implement temporary facilities pertaining to public health, behavioral health, social or housing services at her own discretion.
Supervisor Ahsha Safai countered Preston’s concerns over a lack of planning, referring to the city’s emergency response to COVID as a success.
“We had qualified departments that drew on their experience of dealing with similar crises and they put together one of the most phenomenal responses in the world to deal with that crisis,” Safai said. “I have all the confidence that we can move with the same type of speed with this 90 Day proclamation, folks.”
This story was updated on Dec. 24 at 11:16 a.m.
David Sjostedt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org