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Politics & Policy

Supervisors play kick the can on sanctuary, sex work, other controversies

District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar speaks at a rally in defense of SF sanctuary protections outside SF City Hall on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023. | Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

At tonight's meeting, the Board of Supervisors ended up continuing a number of controversial topics, including headline-grabbing proposals to legalize sex work, to make exceptions to the city’s immigration shield law and to limit most remote public comment. 

In doing so, they also set the stage for some future battles. 

Showdown Over Sanctuary To Continue

The most contentious item at Tuesday’s meeting was District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen’s resolution, urging rejection of “the recent attack on San Francisco’s long-standing Sanctuary Ordinance.” The resolution ended up being continued until next week’s meeting.  

The vote was preceded by nearly two hours of public comment, an hour of discussion by supervisors and a noon rally in support of the resolution on the City Hall steps with Ronen as well as Supervisors Myrna Melgar, Dean Preston and Shamann Walton.  

Demonstrators attend a rally outside City Hall in defense of SF sanctuary laws on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023. | Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

The resolution was in response to a request from the Department of Homeland Security for exemptions to the city’s sanctuary law in the case of two suspects who fled to Mexico to avoid trial in a murder case and a child rape case. Mayor London Breed’s office submitted bills to make the exemptions at the request of District Attorney Brooke Jenkins. 

Ronen contends the exemptions aren’t necessary in order to bring the suspects to justice, and are instead designed to create damaging precedents against the law.  

So why was this controversial can kicked down the road? As it turns out, the resolution requires a unanimous vote to be adopted. 

Despite surprising support for the resolution from District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani and District 4 freshman Joel Engardio, it was clear that some supervisors—notably District 6 member Matt Dorsey—weren't going to support it. 

That’s because discussion of the resolution kept turning to Dorsey’s bill to remove fentanyl dealers from sanctuary protections, which is likely a significantly more consequential matter and an indicator that the current discussion may have been more about preparing for that battle.

In closing the debate, Ronen compared the idea of removing sanctuary protections from fentanyl dealers—many of whom are said to be undocumented immigrants from Central America—to Proposition 6, the 1978 referendum that would have banned LGBTQ+ persons from teaching in California schools. 

“What you’re doing is scapegoating the community for political reasons,” Ronen said to Dorsey. “How many people will that ordinance actually apply to and will actually make San Francisco safer? What the public gets from this is that immigrants are responsible for fentanyl deaths.”

Let’s Talk About Sex—Later

Another controversial but perhaps less consequential Ronen resolution—urging San Francisco’s lawmakers in Sacramento to introduce legislation legalizing sex work—was also put back into the inbox until next week. 

This item was yet another “without committee reference” resolution that would have required a unanimous vote. 

Asked earlier this week about the resolution, Assemblymember Matt Haney told The Standard that he had not been approached about the matter and noted the deadline for new legislation at the Assembly was two weeks ago.  

“It’s not a concept I am working on nor support based on what I’ve heard,” Haney wrote in a text message. 

During discussion, Ronen said that she was open to language changes. Stefani noted some interest in the idea generally but also reiterated concerns over the implications of legalization for combating human trafficking. 

And in case you were curious, Supervisor Dean Preston’s resolution condemning a recent “red-baiting” resolution passed by Congress was also continued. 

Mandelman: City’s Boycott Law 'Not Working' 

Two items at today’s meeting addressed San Francisco’s boycott of states with laws that impinge on the rights of LGBTQ+ persons as well as reproductive or voting rights, under Section 12X of the Administrative Code.  

District 9 Supervisor Ahsha Safaí’s ordinance, which would remove construction contracts from 12X, was continued until March 14 at his request. 

Later, during roll call, District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman introduced an ordinance that would repeal 12X, citing a report by the Budget and Legislative Analyst's Office he requested in 2018. 

Mandelman also cited “unintended consequences” of the law, including blocking the city’s ability to contract with LGBTQ+-owned businesses in the targeted states, which was “punishing them for the sins of their discriminatory governments.” All the while, no meaningful rollback of discriminatory laws occurred in the targeted states. 

“The policy is not working,” said Mandelman. 

During discussion on the continuance of Safaí’s bill, District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar said that the bill should be continued further to allow for more comprehensive input and that while 12X “needed reform,” it needed to be done judiciously. 

Meanwhile, the San Francisco Labor Council passed a resolution opposing Safaí’s Feb. 27 ordinance, citing impacts on local contractors among other concerns. 

Mandelman’s repeal is co-sponsored by Board President Aaron Peskin, and Supervisors Ronen and Stefani. State Sen. Scott Wiener, who authored the original law, also supports the repeal. 

“The full potential impact of this policy never materialized,” Wiener is quoted in a release from Mandelman’s office. “Instead, San Francisco is now penalizing businesses in other states—including LGBTQ-owned, women-owned, and people of color-owned businesses—for the sins of their radical right-wing governments.”

Debate Over Remote Public Comment To Continue

A motion from Supervisor Mandelman to place limits on remote public comment now that the pandemic emergency order has expired was also continued to March 7 at the request of Rules Committee Chair Matt Dorsey. 

That committee heard hours of public comment against the motion at two meetings and ended up referring it to the full board without recommendation. 

Dorsey urged his colleagues to consider amendments to the motion to find a happy medium where remote public commenters, including those who don’t need or want to request accommodation related to a disability, would still be included. 

Mandelman, along with Supervisor Walton, reiterated concerns over how abuses of remote public comment have sometimes been used to disrupt meetings. 

“I’m not sure that after four or five or 10 or 12 hours of public comment that we’re doing the people’s business,” Mandelman said. “We may be giving people an opportunity to be heard, but that’s not the people’s business.”