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Politics & Policy

Call to keep Tenderloin Center barely passed by supervisors

A person in white stands by a sign for a support center on a city street, with tents and belongings nearby.
Lisanne Seharton waits in line for services outside the Tenderloin Center, formerly known as the Linkage Center, in San Francisco on May 10, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard | Source: Camille Cohen/The Standard

Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting went quickly, with members eager to get back out to Election Day events.

Thirty minutes of the roughly two-hour meeting was devoted to a contentious discussion over the fate of the Tenderloin Center. U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, who is departing from Congress after a storied career, was honored for her service to the city. 

As always, wonks can check out the full agenda.

'Linkage to Nowhere'

Supervisors passed a resolution by a vote of 6-5 urging the administration to keep the Tenderloin Center open until planned replacement services are in place. The controversial site on Market Street is set to close in December. 

Board President Shamann Walton and members Connie Chan, Gordon Mar, Aaron Peskin and Hillary Ronen voted with sponsor Dean Preston in favor. Rafael Mandelman led members Matt Dorsey, Myrna Melgar, Ahsha Safaí and Catherine Stefani in opposition. 

Preston, Peskin and other supporters reiterated the need to avoid any gap in services during the transition to the “wellness hubs” under a planned future initiative that includes expanded naloxone distribution and a goal of reducing overdose deaths by 15% by 2025. 

“Doing less than that is an abdication of the board’s ratification of the emergency,” Peskin said, referring to Mayor London Breed’s declaration of emergency over drug overdose deaths in January. 

Mandelman noted that the controversial site “has been an extraordinarily expensive intervention,” citing a cost of $20 million per year to continue the operation of the Tenderloin Center. “There’s no evidence that I’ve seen that it’s reduced overdose deaths in San Francisco or in the area where it’s located.” 

Other dissenting members pointed out negative impacts the center has had on the surrounding neighborhood. 

Melgar declared her ambivalence over keeping the site open after hearing from nearby residents, who had asked for a service hub—but then observed that “it had not worked out the way they intended.”

According to a government dashboard, the Tenderloin Center has had 112,562 visits of one kind or another since it opened in January. Of those, only 1,853 yielded requests for behavioral health services, and 356 visitors “linked” to those services. Meanwhile, 285 overdoses have been reversed at the center. 

Safaí said he was “flabbergasted” at how the facility, formerly called the Linkage Center, had transformed from a service referral hub to a de facto safe consumption site

He noted the low rate of referral to outside services and called it a “Linkage to Nowhere,” which failed to provide the performance metrics supervisors asked for. 

“What were we linking to? I don’t know,” Safaí said in frustration. 

Rep. Speier Honored

State Sen. Scott Wiener and House Rep. Jackie Speier attend Willie Brown’s annual luncheon at John’s Grill on Nov. 8, 2022. Speier was later honored by the Board of Supervisors. | Josh Koehn/The Standard

During the board’s regular 2:30 commendations, Chan presented a resolution honoring U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier upon her departure from Congress after a 30-plus-year career. Speier was present for the proceedings. 

Before serving as an elected official, Speier was a congressional staffer who was part of the U.S. delegation to investigate the Jonestown cult community in Guyana. Speier survived five gunshot wounds after the delegation was attacked; her boss, then-Rep. Leo Ryan, was killed. 

Speier, who has represented southern San Francisco neighborhoods along with San Mateo County in the State Assembly, State Senate and House of Representatives, accepted the honor with a speech including a promise to keep working for the people of the Peninsula. 

“I may be leaving Congress, but I am not retiring,” Speier said, declaring plans to “re-engage with the communities I love,” and addressing continued inequality in the Bay Area. 

“It has really struck me that we live in two of the richest counties in the country, and yet we suffer with such great need,” noting that 2,000 children in San Mateo schools are living in unstable housing or are homeless. 

“I hope that when I retire, that I will have an opportunity to work together with you and do a deep dive here in San Francisco about what the desperate needs are and how we can best address them,” she said.