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Politics & Policy

Supes roundup: Working toward San Francisco’s recovery

Sam Fugate and his tiny dog Sonar pack up their encampment on 17th and Alabama streets in Potrero Flats, as SF Public Works employee Bernard Barefeld watches and helps clean on May 17, 2022. | Camille Cohen

Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors featured repeated calls for new ways to tackle San Francisco’s drug and housing problems, plus the prospect of an impending fiscal crisis from a hollowed-out downtown. 

The city’s lawmakers also heard an update on Laguna Honda Hospital and measures taken to fix the facility during its current reprieve from closure. 

Questions for Breed: Transit, Shelter Deficiencies 

Passengers are seen riding one of the first buses to travel along the new Bus Rapid Transit corridor on Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco on Friday, April 1, 2022. | Nick Otto | Source: Nick Otto for The Standard

The meeting began with Mayor London Breed’s monthly appearance before the board, where she fielded questions from District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston on transit service, and from District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman on street conditions in neighborhoods. 

Preston has long needled Breed and the Metropolitan Transportation Agency over transit service reductions due to Covid, repeatedly calling for full restoration of legacy routes. Meanwhile, Muni has struggled with personnel shortages from the pandemic and retirements, plus questions over whether bus and rail routes should adapt to changing city conditions. 

Preston pressed Breed on late-night transit service, noting limited availability of service outside of daytime business hours, and discontinued “Owl,” or overnight, service. He asked Breed what her message was to night shift workers who now have limited transit options. 

Breed disputed Preston’s claims, saying that there needed to be “an honest conversation on underutilized routes,” and the need to ensure that current service isn’t being overtaxed. She noted Muni was restoring the most used lines first, and stressed basing service decisions on data, and that service post-recovery “may not look the same.”

Mandelman then questioned Breed about the state of the Castro, noting recent threats by neighborhood merchants to stop paying city fees or taxes unless City Hall took measures to deal with people with significant behavioral health issues, including drug abuse, on the streets. “I do not feel I can honestly say to my constituents that we’ve made the progress we need to do,” he said, “or have a plan going forward.”

In response, Breed asked for, among other things, more support from supervisors on the continuing issue of street encampments

“I’m frustrated, too,” the mayor said. “We’ve added shelters more than ever, more supportive housing, more treatment beds … we are encountering people who are refusing help. We need better coordination between offices.”

Speaking to The Standard before the meeting, Mandelman noted that he asked Breed about plans for those measures back in 2018. “Four years later,” he said, “I think that folks in the Castro do not feel like things are getting better. They’re better than they were at the height [of Covid], but there’s still a number of folks with very severe behavioral health issues that is greater than I think that neighborhood can absorb.” 

Mandelman said that ending encampments “ought to be an articulated goal of city government.”

“We ought to be building policy and investment around it,” he continued, “and we ought to be trying to get it done in a time frame that people can recognize. …  I don’t think we want to put people in jail, but I think it needs to be there as a last-resort option, and the police need to feel like they’re going to have the clear support of the city.”

The supervisor has been urging multiple courses of action toward persons with behavioral health issues and encampments on neighborhood streets. These include a dramatic increase in shelter space, and more robust implementation of state conservatorship laws. He also co-sponsored District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey’sSan Francisco Recovers” initiative with District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani.

Tourism Assessment Approved

A resolution to renew and expand the city’s Tourism Improvement District, which taxes hotels for funding promotion of Moscone Center and the Convention and Visitors Bureau, was unanimously adopted after a count of votes by stakeholders. A number of short-term rental providers, who will now be part of the district, as well as Matt Middlebrook, policy lead at Airbnb, testified in favor of the expansion. 

The Latest on Laguna Honda 

Exterior of Laguna Honda Hospital and courtyard in San Francisco, Calif. on May 16, 2022. | Camille Cohen
Exterior of Laguna Honda Hospital and courtyard in San Francisco, Calif. on May 16, 2022. | Camille Cohen

The board also heard an update on the status of Laguna Honda Hospital from the facility’s acting director, Roland Pickens, and other staff. 

District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar noted the recent two-month “reprieve” from having to transfer its 700-or-so patients, thanking Mayor Breed’s administration for convincing the federal government “what a terrible decision this was.” Some 57 patients were reassigned to other facilities before the pause, four of whom have died

Pickens provided an update on the path to recertification, including an ongoing series of mock surveys and corrective actions, as well as identification of needed institutional changes. He also noted the quick mitigation of a Covid outbreak at the hospital in August. 

Asked by Melgar if the hospital could be recertified before the new Nov. 13 deadline, Pickens said the facility was on “on the right track,” but that a clearer picture of the timeline would manifest in October.

Asked by District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar about whether transferred patients will be allowed to return, Pickens replied: “Repatriation will be a priority.” 

The hearing was continued to Nov. 1. Melgar voiced hope that “there would be good news to report.”

Roll Call: More Demands for Solutions

Buildings of the Financial District tower over tourists and San Francisco locals alike on Feb. 1, 2022. | Camille Cohen

Mandelman revisited the drug crisis at Roll Call, requesting a hearing on this year’s Treatment on Demand Report, mandated by a 2008 voter initiative, observing that previous iterations omitted information about demand for services. “A five-to-seven-day wait is not ‘treatment on demand,’” the supervisor said. 

Pivoting to another looming problem, he announced a letter of inquiry to the San Francisco Controller and City Economist on projected economic conditions and exploring a revision of the city business taxes in order to adapt. He also introduced a motion to revisit the city government’s remote work policies, including attendance at public meetings, and virtual public comment. 

Finally, he urged the Land Use and Transportation Committee to revisit earlier versions of his “fourplex” legislation, noting that the two dueling affordable housing propositions facing voters in November fail to address expediting smaller projects. He also asked the city attorney to draft legislation specifically to streamline approval for multi-family housing on small lots. 

Mandelman’s colleagues then used Roll Call to pivot back to the fiscal crisis issue. 

District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani noted her earlier letter of inquiry on the effects of remote work on the downtown office market and tax revenue. She announced that City Economist Ted Egan was working on an econometric model and called for a hearing on its predictions. 

District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai called for a hearing on “re-envisioning the downtown core” and a corresponding working group to find solutions. 

Meanwhile, District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan echoed an earlier request for a report from the Budget and Legislative Analyst exploring land-use policy alternatives to boosting the downtown core, instead refocusing economic activity in outlying neighborhoods. 

“It may be time,” Chan said, “to embrace a ‘new normal.’”