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Politics & Policy

Supervisors align with mayor on storm emergency, but not on Police Commission

Pedestrians walk through Noe Valley, sporting their umbrellas in an attempt to keep dry during the atmospheric river storm on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

This week’s Board of Supervisors meeting was relatively brief, but addressed thorny issues such as the controversial reappointment of Police Commission President Cindy Elias and the future direction of the city’s storm response. 

Peskin Steps In

Today’s meeting was gaveled in by Board President Aaron Peskin, who was elected in a surprise move during the supervisors’ inaugural meeting Monday. This will be his third time as board president, after two consecutive terms during his first tour as a supervisor in the 2000s. 

A third term as president is not unprecedented. Peskin’s successor as District 3 Supervisor, David Chiu, now city attorney, was board president for three terms during the 2010s.  

Breed Outlines Storm Response

Mayor London Breed’s formal policy discussion appearance before the board Tuesday was not only her first one of the year, but the first to be made in-person in quite some time, as pandemic-related measures had made remote appearances more routine. 

Breed discussed yesterday’s retroactive declaration of emergency over the atmospheric river storms that have pounded the city with 8 inches of rain since New Year’s Eve, snarling traffic, damaging homes and killing up to 14 people around the state. 

Breed has taken heat over her initial response to the storms, with complaints over little-to-no advance response to the flooding, her claims that the National Weather Service provided insufficient information about the extent of the rainfall, and her attending a Niners game in Las Vegas and New Years’ parties in the wake of flooding.

President Joe Biden also declared an emergency over California’s storms yesterday, at the request of Gov. Gavin Newsom. Breed noted that the local retroactive emergency should ensure federal relief funds for everything the city endured over New Year’s weekend. 

In his question for the mayor, District 10 Supervisor (and now-former Board President) Shamann Walton noted that the city “got a lot more rain than we asked for” after years of drought, noting “unprecedented flooding,” particularly in the Mission and Bayview, which severely damaged several homes. He asked what could be done to prevent similar impacts in the future. 

“What we continue to see with these extreme weather events is that climate change is here, and it’s causing us to rapidly adapt to a changing landscape,” answered Breed. 

She then described emergency measures taken after the first rain event, including the opening up of an operation center, the distribution of 15,000 sandbags and ongoing response to 3,600 assistance calls to 311, including 1,200 for tree damage issues. Meanwhile, the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing activated 170 walk-up shelter beds, with homeless outreach teams deployed on a regular basis. 

Breed also noted the ongoing need to respond to weather-related events throughout the year, including heat and air-quality emergencies. 

“We need to develop a culture of preparedness,” Breed said. “My goal is to continue to work with the board to make sure that we are prepared to deal with these significant events. 

The board later unanimously passed a resolution concurring with Breed’s declaration. 

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

Elias Confirmed for New Police Commission Term

The board then moved quickly through routine issues until it was time to consider reappointment of state labor lawyer Cindy Elias for another term on the Police Commission, where she currently serves as president. Her term expires in April.

Elias has been subject to criticism for policy views that some felt were at odds with the rise in open-air drug dealing and property crimes. 

Peskin, as Rules Committee chair last year, introduced the early reappointment motion in December, and many observers believed it was over concerns that Elias would not be confirmed by a new board

As it turns out, that concern was unwarranted as Elias was confirmed by a 7-4 vote, with members Catherine Stefani, Joel Engardio, Rafael Mandelman and Matt Dorsey voting in opposition. 

Engardio, the freshman District 4 Supervisor, moved to send the motion back to committee, arguing that he had not had enough time to consider the appointment as a new member. 

“Process and transparency are important,” Engardio said in introducing the motion, noting that residents of his district now have a heightened interest in the commission due to the increased attention on neighborhood crime. 

Mandelman concurred, noting multiple concerns over the state of the Police Commission, including decisions on staffing and other matters. Stefani was concerned about what she saw as an overly quick process, but also apologized over the timing of remarks made at the Dec. 13 board meeting, when a similar motion was considered. 

Dorsey went further, spelling out specific policy differences he had with Elias over issues like “buy-bust” arrests. He implied that Elias’ positions on the practice were inconsistent with the unprecedented impact of fentanyl on the streets. 

Engardio’s motion failed before the confirmation vote, also by 7-4. 

More Affordable Housing for Transbay Cleared

Supervisors also unanimously passed an ordinance to increase the maximum floor plate sizes for Transbay Block 2, located on Folsom Street between Beale and Main streets, at a special Committee of the Whole hearing. 

The legislation will ease the way for 335 units of affordable housing, 184 of which will be for families and 151 will be for formerly homeless seniors. 

Staff from the Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure made a presentation on the legislation and project before the vote. 

Developed by Mercy Housing and Chinatown Community Development Center, it’s part of the 3,800 units of housing, some 1,400 of which will be affordable, that are planned for the Transbay Project Area. 

Gun safety has taken on new urgency in San Francisco, as more than 200 people have applied for a carry permit in the wake of a recent Supreme Court ruling. | Courtesy of Gun Safety

Roll Call: Stefani Mulls New Gun Rules

Among the items introduced by supervisors at roll call was a request from Stefani for the city attorney to draft legislation in response to the U.S. Supreme Court striking down New York’s concealed-weapons permit law. 

Stefani called the decision “a very dangerous step backward and gross misinterpretation of the Constitution,” and noted that word of the ruling has caused a precipitous rise in gun carry permit applications in San Francisco, with 230 applications submitted since the decision. 

Meanwhile, Engardio called for a hearing on how the city can better make available data metrics on public safety work, citing what he described as extensive and accessible data dashboards maintained by Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx as an example. 

“If Chicago can do it, we can do it,” Engardio said. “They have many of the same issues and concerns, and Kim Foxx is one of the most progressive prosecutors. If she can show all her data, we can do the same.”