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Politics & Policy

Supervisors end legislative year with unresolved issues over drug crisis, police

Supervisors speak at a board meeting in 2022. Tuesday’s meeting marked the last of the year before the board meets again on Jan. 10, 2023. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting—the last this year until the board meets again in 2023—tackled continuing issues regarding police governance, homelessness and drug abuse. Additionally, new legislation addressing the commissioners’ resignation letters controversy was introduced, leaving next year’s board with a full plate of issues.

Click here for the full agenda and keep reading for a play-by-play of the evening’s discussions.

Breed Addresses Drug Crisis

This year’s final meeting of the board kicked off with Mayor London Breed addressing concerns from supervisors over the city’s response to its growing drug overdose crisis. So far in 2022, more than 500 people have died of accidental overdoses from drugs, mostly fentanyl. 

Supervisor Dean Preston quizzed Breed about next steps on overdose prevention, asking her to commit to standing up a “Wellness Hub” with safe consumption facilities in the Tenderloin as soon as possible, or at least by the end of the fiscal year.

The city recently shuttered the Tenderloin Center, a drug consumption site, after 11 months, saying it was always meant to be a temporary solution and that it didn’t link clients to services as successfully as hoped.

A sign stating "The TLC will close on Dec 4" in multiple languages, attached to a fence, with an urban background.
The Tenderloin Center, in the United Nations Plaza, was closed on Dec. 4. Pedestrians walk by a sign notifying clients of the upcoming closure earlier in the week, on Nov. 29. | Camille Cohen/The Standard | Source: Camille Cohen/The Standard

Breed responded to Preston with continued support for setting up safe consumption facilities, but also noted the “need to resolve legal issues over publicly funded sites,” and that she was “waiting for guidance” from state and federal agencies.

“We are trying to do this yesterday,” Breed said. “We are working aggressively to solve the issue.”

Breed also said that any safe consumption sites would be part of a larger “balanced approach,” which also includes enforcement against open-air drug dealing—a point that she seemed to imply Preston and his colleagues were neglecting. 

Breed took the same approach to a question from Supervisor Myrna Melgar about implementing the Compassionate Alternative Response Team, which would respond to lower-priority homelessness-related concerns. It’s a plan favored by most supervisors and local nonprofits, and Breed said it would be part of a “spectrum of responses” aimed at non-emergency situations. Breed also noted that hopefully stronger conservatorship laws would be part of that spectrum. 

Earlier in the day, a majority of supervisors rallied for support of efforts to speed up opening of such Wellness Hubs, including a hearing on impediments to the policy, a $5.5 million budget supplemental to fund the hubs and a resolution urging that a portion of settlements from opioid litigation be used to fund the program. These were introduced by Supervisor Hillary Ronen at Roll Call. 

Mayor Talks Policing

Before answering supervisors’ questions, the mayor brought up ongoing discussions of traffic stop rules for police. 

In her comments, she voiced support for a new policy on so-called pretextual stops, where officers make traffic stops based on a hunch of more serious offenses. 

San Francisco Police Commissioner Max Carter-Oberstone wants to take offenses such as making an illegal U-turn and driving with a broken headlight off the list of banned traffic stops under review in an attempt to balance safety and equity. | Nick Otto for The Standard | Source: Nick Otto for The Standard

Rather than an outright ban, she encouraged adoption of a more nuanced policy similar to one recently adopted in Los Angeles, where such stops must be made based on reasonable suspicion, and officers must clearly state any suspicion of more serious offenses. 

She also voiced opposition to an outright ban on enforcement of moving violations, calling it “problematic and confusing for officers” and against expectations of the public to enforce traffic safety. 

The Police Commission will meet Wednesday to further consider the policies.

More Police Commission Drama

Further argument over governance of the Police Commission took place later in the meeting when a motion for an early reappointment of President Cindy Elias was considered. 

Rules Committee Chair Aaron Peskin moved up the vote on this item from when her term is scheduled to end in April, possibly due to fears of a less-favorable outcome after the end of the year due to the more moderate Joel Engardio joining the board as member for District 4.

Police Commission President Cindy Elias attends a Police Commission meeting on June 6, 2018. | SFGovTV

That motion passed 8-3, with members Catherine Stefani, Matt Dorsey and Rafael Mandelman dissenting, but not before a mysterious announcement from Board President Shamann Walton that the language of the motion had changed to a “statement of intent” to reappoint Elias, making the vote ultimately nonbinding. 

Later, during Roll Call, Stefani asked that the vote be rescinded, so that she and Dorsey could discuss a laundry list of objections to reappointing Elias. 

These included a possible conflict of interest over the actions of Elias’ husband and his involvement in the trial of police officer Terrance Stengel, where an investigator for the District Attorney’s Office was allegedly pressured to hide exculpatory evidence, as well as Elias’ alleged questioning of the value of arresting drug dealers. 

Supervisor Myrna Melgar characterized discussion of the objections late in the meeting, after Elias had left the chambers, as unfair. 

In any case, the earlier vote was rescinded unanimously, and then the issue was voted on again, with the same results. The matter will now be voted on with binding effect after the holiday. 

Latest Recology Concession Approved

Supervisors unanimously gave the nod to a deal made back in mid-November between the controller and recalcitrant refuse contractor Recology to give ratepayers a $25 million credit to offset rate increases and inflation, via a “balancing account.”

Rules Committee Chair Aaron Peskin called the settlement “a really great thing for the ratepayers,” but also, along with Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, noted that Recology was still dragging its feet on other measures to restore public confidence, including appointing a working employee representative to their board of directors.

Saving the Oasis Inn

The board also unanimously approved a resolution calling on Mayor Breed and the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing to save the Oasis Family Shelter, which is set to close on Dec. 15. This vote followed a long public comment session dominated by speakers urging support.

Elections Commission

A large number of public commenters also spoke in support of Elections Director John Arntz. Soon thereafter, the supervisors approved a resolution to call on the commission to renew his contract and declared their intent to withhold funding from any search for his replacement. 

John Arntz, the director of San Francisco's Department of Elections, saw his job status go into limbo after the Elections Commission voted last month to conduct a nationwide search. | Courtesy ABC-7

The vote came after the commission met Monday evening and voted to reconsider its decision not to renew Arntz’ contract at a future meeting in January. Peskin described this move as a “waving of the white flag” by the commission. 

Amendments were added to the resolution making it clear that it was limited to the current fiscal year before the unanimous vote. 

‘Resignationgate’ Revisited

The final Roll Call for 2022 featured a couple of zingers for Mayor Breed, including the introduction of an ordinance by Supervisor Dean Preston that would ban demanding that prospective commissioners sign undated letters of resignation.

The “carefully worded” bill is aimed at the recent controversy over the Breed administration having asked selected commissioners to submit undated resignation letters prior to their appointment or reappointment. 

A screenshot shows a draft resignation letter from Scott Heldfond. The letters were voided on Sept. 27, 2022, after the City’s Attorney Office deemed them inconsistent with SF law. | Courtesy of the Mayor's Office

“There’s no reason that we should leave this matter up to the whim of any appointing authority,” Preston said as he introduced the item. 

The controversy surfaced as part of The Standard’s coverage of the rift between Breed and her appointee to the Police Commission, Max Carter-Oberstone, over his vote for Cindy Elias as commission president. The Standard found at least 40 commissioners who had submitted the letters, with Breed ultimately announcing she would end the practice.

The Board of Supervisors will reconvene beginning Jan. 10.