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Politics & Policy

Mayor Breed walks a tightrope on policing during annual State of the City

Standing before the backdrop of the Mission Rock neighborhood development, Mayor London Breed emphasized San Francisco’s history of resilience and transformation in a State of the City Address focused on bringing the city back to life after two long years of Covid.

The active construction site served to underscore Breed’s assertion that San Francisco is a city on the rise—not in decline, as often alleged by conservatives on the national stage.

“This is not a story about commerce fleeing the city,” she said, alluding to all the “noise” made by national conservative media about the city’s problems. “This is a story about confidence.”

She also had a message for the city’s progressives who are down on her administration. She cited the recent school board recall as a warning that government needs to listen better to residents. “We have the tools to deliver both the basics and the big ideas.”

Mayor London Breed delivers the State of the City address above the hard hats of Anna Fung, Zakiya Willis, and Malisha Ngumezi, who are working on the development in the background. The women credit Breed and the 'union jobs' for 'changing their lives.' | Camille Cohen

Breed worked to strike a careful balance of defending the city’s police, while also touting the actions she has taken to dial back aggressive law-and-order policies.

“Right now, police staffing is at a crisis level,” she said, insisting that the San Francisco Police Department is not adequately staffed to do its job.

“While we have more work to do, our police dept has embraced reforms,” Breed went on, emphasizing the introduction of alternatives to conventional policing—including the Street Crisis Response Teams and equity-focused policies, such as the Dream Keeper Initiative, to address inequality and root causes of crime. She went on to say that reform and public safety are not mutually exclusive: “We can do it all and we don't have to choose.”

Breed also voiced support for Gov. Gavin Newsom’s controversial policy proposal, which would reform state laws regarding behavioral health conservatorship of those suffering from substance abuse and mental illness. She framed her support within the context of other transformative responses to the city’s drug overdose crisis, such as drug sobering centers.

“It is not OK for people to remain on the streets when we have a place [for them] to go,” Breed said. “Some people won't do what's safe for themselves or others—we have to be honest—we need to make serious changes to state laws.”

Following the speech, District Attorney Chesa Boudin said he supported the mayor’s call for more state legislation to address mental health issues, including conservatorship. 

“These are not local problems,” Boudin said. “They simply cannot be solved by one city piecemeal at a time.”

Chief Bill Scott echoed Breed’s concerns about staffing at his department, saying recruitment of police officers has been a major challenge, but said he’s committed to staffing up despite deterrences like the dangers of the job. 

“We want this department to be the type people want to work for,” Scott said in an interview after the speech.  

Breed did not deny that San Francisco faces real challenges. “We cannot sugarcoat it—we have work to do,” she said. “Recovery won't be easy or quick.” 

Using the waterfront as a motif for opportunity, Breed lauded the city’s investments in new housing, while criticizing the Board of Supervisors for “obstructionism” against development. She voiced direct support for a new ballot measure that would streamline approvals for certain affordable or teacher housing if it makes it on the November ballot. She also acknowledged that building housing is one thing, but getting residents into it is another

“Now we must focus on doing the work to fill those homes faster,” Breed said. 

Breed went on to say that making progress on housing and transportation infrastructure is central to hitting the city’s climate goals, which San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Director Jeffrey Tumlin echoed in an interview after the speech. 

“I have a primary responsibility of ensuring that San Francisco meets its emission reduction goals so that our city can be survivable in the face of climate change,” Tumlin said. 

Breed ended the speech by drawing direct contrasts between San Francisco and other cities—calling the city “loud and proud,” as it turns a new post-pandemic corner. With the city’s indoor mask mandate and vaccine mandates for businesses now lifted, she focused on a hopeful message of recovery. 

“It’s time to open up our eyes; it's time to open up our city; it’s time to enjoy our lives after everything we’ve experienced,” Breed said.