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Politics & Policy

SF mayor, supervisors set for showdown over police funding

Mayor London Breed holds a press conference at San Francisco City Hall on Jan. 3, 2023. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

At their Tuesday meeting, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors heard Mayor London Breed defend a bill for more stopgap funding for police and street ambassador patrols, and telegraphed a showdown over the bill next week. The lawmakers also introduced an extension to the current pandemic-related moratorium on evictions.

The board also deferred on a sex work controversy, defanged one on the sanctuary law and defused one over talking smack about socialism.

Supplemental Showdown Rising

The meeting began with Breed addressing the board to urge support for a number of next steps in her public safety agenda including an already disputed $27.6 million budget supplemental to pay for police overtime and salaries for retired officers who will act as community ambassadors in the city's neighborhoods.

Breed’s remarks were more conciliatory than the tough talk she gave earlier in the day at a press conference in the Tenderloin. She was firm on the need to approve the items to deal with short-term staffing issues at the San Francisco Police Department while at the same time working on long-term solutions to the department’s ongoing personnel attrition issues which have in turn caused a sharp climb in overtime costs.

The supplemental bill will be first heard in committee on March 15, possibly pitted against a new $25 million bill funding the Department of Public Works to pay for street cleaners who would be hired quickly through a special program.

Both supplemental bills are being expedited through the hearing process. The police supplemental is supported by six supervisors, but faces varying levels of skepticism from others. Eight votes are required for it to pass.

In a screengrab from a video of Mayor London Breed during a March 7 press conference that included members of Urban Alchemy and the San Francisco Police Department, she addresses public safety solutions while speaking at Urban Alchemy Oasis Park in San Francisco. | Courtesy San Francisco Mayor’s Office

District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin, the board’s president, made remarks later in the session urging better collaboration between Breed and the board, but not at the expense of “shirking our fiscal responsibilities.”

“We should be asking questions about the structural budgetary problems at the department,” Peskin said.

District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston has already staked out a position against the additional police funding.

The overtime supplemental was not the only item on Breed’s public safety shopping list.

The mayor urged support for another one for $199,286 to fund new prosecutors for drug cases, as a well as a grant increase for more Urban Alchemy street ambassadors to cover the Tenderloin and Mid-Market areas, and approval of a new contract with the SF Police Officers Association that would include retention bonuses as well as recruiting incentives for new officers and lateral transfers.

Breed gave a spirited defense of Urban Alchemy, which has come under increasing scrutiny, calling the nonprofit “a transformative presence” in the city’s crisis areas while offering “a second chance” for the former convicts who serve as ambassadors.

During mayoral question time, Breed fielded questions from Preston over his requests for more ambassadors for the Lower Polk neighborhood and parts of the Tenderloin that he said are not covered by the unarmed patrols.

In response, Breed said that ambassadors faced safety challenges in some areas and that she couldn’t “micromanage” where the nonprofit group deployed ambassadors, but said she was willing to discuss it further.

Supervisor Joel Engardio listens during the Board of Supervisors meeting on Feb. 28, 2023. | Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard | Source: Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

Chipping Away at Controversies

Three resolutions intended for unanimous adoption, but which had captured varying degrees of controversy were rather summarily dealt with over the course of the meeting.

The most amusing of the resolutions—at least for political science nerds—was Preston’s bill denouncing a Congressional resolution that confabulated socialism with genocidal communist regimes in order to conflate progressive policies with socialism.

District 4 Supervisor Joel Engardio took issue with both the language and general appropriateness of the resolution, blocking its passage last week. He then conferred with Preston and offered amendments, which were accepted, and so the bill passed unanimously.

“I appreciate my colleague amending this resolution so that it doesn’t discount the valid concerns of respected Democrats who voted for the House resolution,” Engardio said during discussion. “I look forward to working with my colleagues on more pressing issues.”

Meanwhile, District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen asked that her resolution urging the legalization of sex work be continued again, but she pulled out some special parliamentary procedure sauce to deal with Dorsey’s blocking of her resolution defending the city’s sanctuary ordinance.

Asking to waive the rule requiring committee reference allowed the resolution to pass with a simple majority.

District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey said he is still committed to pushing forward with his changes to the sanctuary ordinance.

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman listens during the Board of Supervisors meeting on Feb. 28, 2023. | Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

Remote Public Comment Stays—For Now

The board voted 10-1 to continue unlimited remote public comment while more formal board rules on the issue are drafted next month. The amended motion stipulates that the city’s boards and commissions would be exempt from the interim rule.

District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who introduced the matter, ended up voting against it after the board approved the amendments made by Dorsey. It was met by significant pushback in committee from fellow supervisors and members of the public.

At issue is how to continue remote public comment for those who require it while preventing abuses.

Engardio, speaking in support of preserving unlimited remote public comment, noted his participation in an earlier uphill political battle over a 2015 ballot initiative to expand remote participation, which had lost.

“Necessity made possible what we weren’t willing to do in 2015,” Engardio said during discussion, emphasizing the need for access to public comment by everyday people with busy lives. “We should be looking for more ways to foster civic engagement, not limit it.”

Supervisors Shamann Walton (left) and Dean Preston listen during the Board of Supervisors meeting on Feb. 28, 2023. | Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

Eviction Moratorium, Remembering Tom Hsieh

Top-line new business introduced at the board during roll call is a new ordinance from Preston extending the Covid eviction moratorium for two more months after the mayoral emergency proclamation is lifted.

It’s been presumed that Breed would lift her emergency proclamation on the pandemic, which is separate from the declared public health emergency that ended Feb. 28, sometime after the federal emergency ends May 11.

Peskin acknowledged the passing on March 5 of former Supervisor Tom Hsieh, as did other supervisors. The formal in memoriam was introduced by District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan.

Peskin also introduced an in memoriam for Larry Hunt the Bucket Man, the celebrated street musician and fixture at the Powell Cable Car turnaround, who passed away Feb. 23.

So while supervisors were able to manage away some smaller controversies, the bigger one over what constitutes an “Equitable Recovery Plan” is coming sooner than you think.