The San Francisco Board of Supervisors had further debate on homelessness and public safety at its March 21 meeting, as it approved $25 million in more police overtime and mulled plans aimed at growing the city’s shelter capacity. Additionally, members called for a hearing on recent incidents of mass youth violence.
Wonks can review the whole kit and caboodle of the almost seven-hour meeting in this week’s agenda.
After more than an hour of heated argument, the board passed a $25 million budget supplemental for more police overtime by a vote of 9-2, with District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston and District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton dissenting.
Much of the argument reiterated points made at a March 15 budget committee meeting at which the bill was passed out without recommendation, but with most members telegraphing support.
The common thread of the collective hairshirt-tearing by board members unhappy with the bill—but nevertheless supporting it—was the long-term, structural staffing problems at the San Francisco Police Department, where officer attrition increases reliance on expensive overtime.
Another repeated pain point was the perceived imbalance in overtime deployment, with Downtown and posh shopping districts being favored over residential neighborhoods.
“The reality is that police wildly overspend their already increased budget and now want a bailout with raises, bonuses and unlimited overtime, with most of it [going] to luxury retail stores and tourists in areas already saturated with coverage,” Preston said.
Budget Chair and District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan repeated her concerns that “a budget supplemental from any city department should compel the question of whether there was mismanagement of city government and public dollars,” even as she indicated her support.
Preston took his opposition to the bill to a higher level by focusing on SFPD’s timeline for requesting the new funding, versus the rate at which the department was deploying overtime. He alleged that the department violated a city law barring agencies from spending more overtime than appropriated before making a formal request for more funds.
“Rather than seeking approval while running up these massive costs in the fall of 2022, SFPD continued overspending [and] violated the Administrative Code,” Preston said. “Just five pay periods into the fiscal year, SFPD had used up nearly half of their overtime.”
Taking on the role of a prosecuting lawyer, Preston then proceeded to grill Police Chief Bill Scott, members of Scott’s staff and Controller Ben Rosenfield on the matter.
The police department CFO Patrick Leung said that the department had consulted with the Breed administration and the Controller’s Office, under the impression the rules on spending were lifted during the pandemic emergency.
Asked by Preston about such instructions, Rosenfield relied, “That would be a surprise to me.”
District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safaí also tried again to amend the bill to add back in $3 million that had been negotiated out in committee to pay for neighborhood patrols. He again received no support for the move.
In any case, most members agreed that the funding was necessary to forestall a spending freeze imposed by the controller. District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani reiterated the urgency of the matter, along with the necessity of protecting businesses whose tax revenue pays for city services.
“I think the public deserves to feel safe and be safe,” Stefani said. “This ‘Louis Vuitton’ argument is driving me nuts.”
Meanwhile, Preston’s arguments served as prelude for his request for an audit of SFPD’s police deployment decisions affecting overtime by the Budget and Legislative Analyst during roll call.
Also on the public safety agenda: Supervisor Myrna Melgar, along with Safaí, requested a hearing on the recent spate of youth violence across the city, including an incident of mass violence at Stonestown mall widely posted on social media.
“Stonestown is an asset to our neighborhood,” Melgar was quoted as saying in a release from Mayor Breed’s office announcing several steps to address the issue. “It is our town square on the West Side, and a popular hangout for our young people.
“The youth who are sparking this violence must see that there are consequences for their actions,” Melgar added. “Most youth at the scene are bystanders recording this violence live and posting it on social media, eliciting likes, and more followers. We must instead provide these young people with healthy and safe activities after school.”
She also introduced an ordinance to revive the Safer Schools Sexual Assault Task Force, in response to multiple student protests over the lack of response by the San Francisco Unified School District to incidents of sexual harassment and assault.
The goal of the legislation is to offer “every person experiencing homelessness in San Francisco a safe place to sleep." While that goal may sound lofty, District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, the legislation’s chief sponsor, maintains that it’s realistic.
He was backed up by some testimony at the hearing, including from Pallet Shelter, which has been putting up “rapid-response shelter villages” in 85 cities around the country, and the Bay Area Council Economic Institute—which encouraged a refocus on interim shelter over permanent supportive housing in its own presentation.
But then came staff from the city’s own Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. Mandelman had criticized their earlier report on "A Place for All" as too focused on supportive housing and allowing streets to be “the waiting room for people to get more permanent housing.”
That department’s presentation was seen as pessimistic in tone as they argued that shifting more resources to shelters would actually increase homelessness over the long-term. The agency also announced that its finalized plan would be ready next month, with what it called “bold but achievable goals for reducing and preventing homelessness.”
In the background of this debate are tensions over current street conditions and their effect on the city’s business climate, as well as over resident frustrations over the city’s inability to abate encampments as it is currently injuncted from doing so until it can demonstrate that there are enough shelter beds for everyone on the street.
District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey, whose home turf is the epicenter of the city’s street conditions issues, was more sanguine.
“Address the math the court has presented us with,” Dorsey said. “The court order solves the policy debate.”
Mike Ege can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org