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Politics & Policy

Supervisors’ roundup: Bonuses for cops, homeless policy pivot and behested payments

Dean Preston
SF Supervisor Dean Preston campains against Prop H with D. A. Chesa Boudin on Monday, June 7, 2021 in San Francisco, Calif. Paul Kuroda for The Standard

The Board of Supervisors had a very full meeting on Election Day, with a long agenda punctuated by some necessary conversations over the direction of policies on public safety and homelessness, as well as fixing recently passed ethics legislation. Moreover, what looked to be an opening salvo in expected budget conflicts between Mayor London Breed and the board turned out to be a damp squib. (As always, wonks looking for the complete kit and caboodle can scrutinize this week’s very full agenda here.)

Police Incentive Pay Plan Cleared

Last Thursday, the board’s Government Audit and Oversight Committee referred a long list of   labor agreements to the full board to be heard today. They’re part of the process to approve the significant pay raises and incentives for city workers promised by Mayor Breed in the city’s new budget. But two amendments to the labor agreement with the Police Officers Association—which would restore wage increases originally due in 2020, and implement Breed’s planned raise in entry level pay and longevity bonuses for officers—were sent without recommendation at the insistence of Committee Chair and District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston. 

On Tuesday, Preston reiterated remarks made in committee, deeming the amendments as lost opportunities for forcing the POA into concessions over reform. He cited multiple concerns, such as the police union’s opposition to abolishing “pretextual stops,” in which motorists are stopped for minor offenses in order to investigate them for unrelated matters. Reform advocates maintain the tactic is disproportionately used against persons of color, and often leads to deadly force incidents that may otherwise be avoided. In other words, sending the items out without recommendation was intended to force a conversation on this issue. 

That conversation turned out to be one-sided as the POA agreement amendments ended up passing with the board unanimous in support after close to an hour of discussion. 

“This issue is bigger than the POA,” said Board President and District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton, who expressed qualified support for the incentives. 

District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen related SFPD data on comparative regional pay for new officers, noting, “They’re right—we’re not competitive for starting salaries.” District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar also indicated her support for the incentives as the beginning of work toward cultural change in the department. New District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey, a former SFPD spokesperson, related structural causes of the department’s staffing issues that the incentives were needed to remedy. “We’re facing a perfect storm of a national police staffing crisis” said Dorsey, describing a wave of retirements by Clinton Administration-funded police hires combined with a decline of interest in law enforcement careers.

Meanwhile, legislation by District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar requiring district police stations to develop individual plans for “community policing”—which is to say, policies toward better neighborhood partnerships in solving problems, such as nuisance crimes and quality-of-life issues—passed unanimously and without discussion. Strategies mentioned in the legislation include more foot and bike patrols, as well as a community feedback process. The plans would be publicly released and updated annually. 

A Forced Pivot Toward Shelter in Homelessness Policy

The Board unanimously passed legislation by District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman that would require the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing to submit a plan for implementing a program to provide “enough shelters, permanent supportive housing units, and safe overnight parking lots as are necessary” to shelter all persons currently experiencing homelessness in the city. In discussion, supervisors described a difficult amendment process for the legislation, which endured multiple amendments in committee. 

Mandelman began the discussion by noting the tension between differing philosophies on responding to homelessness. One side hopes to offer shelter as soon as possible, while another faction looks toward permanent supportive housing. 

“We have so few exits from the streets,” he said. “We all need a push toward a more humane imperative of offering exits from the street and improving street conditions.” 

Others, while supporting the final legislation, were more pessimistic. Ronen commented, “I’m voting for this believing it will do nothing,” citing multiple challenges ranging from costs to lack of community support, for identifying and procuring shelter sites. Meanwhile, Ronen also said that “we are never going to be able to build enough permanent supportive housing for people from the region without federal help.” She noted the current situation in her district caused by uncontrolled encampments. Walton noted what he deemed important changes, such as the provision mandating “geographic equity,” citing the high number of shelter and triage centers in his district.

In a similar vein, the Board supported a resolution in support of a slew of bills sponsored by State Senator Susan Eggman that would reform California’s conservatorship laws. Mandelman, who sponsored the resolution, described the legislative package as “restoring a floor which people cannot sink below … Leaving folks to die in the street because we want to protect their rights is a terrible misapplication of existing legal protections.” It passed 8-3, with Walton, Preston and District 4 Supervisor Connie Chan opposed. 

Ethics Law in Need of a Fix

During Roll Call, District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin and District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai announced the introduction of trailing legislation to fix issues with an ordinance that restricts “behested payments,” a situation where elected or appointed officials solicit donations for a preferred charity, often a nonprofit partner in a city program.  

The fix is meant to combat corruption, but critics allege that it may stifle legitimate donations as well. Last month, confusion over provisions of the ordinance came to a head when the director of the Department of Children, Youth and Their Families disseminated a memorandum to program partners that she could no longer solicit private donations for summer programs supporting needy children.

The confusion manifested itself at Tuesday’s meeting when Peskin quizzed a staffer from the Recreation and Parks Department over an item on funding restoration of the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park involving a grant from the San Francisco Parks Alliance. The discussion prompted Ronen to declare that the legislation “had turned into a nightmare” and that a protocol was needed for what she called a “fact-intensive process” where checking the relationships involved with donors and grant applicants was beyond the capacity of her role as Budget Chair. 

As it happens, voters on Tuesday weighed Proposition E, a ballot measure that would further reform the behested payments process, with Mayor Breed and a number of Supervisors opposing it.