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Politics & Policy

SF supervisors boost police pay, talk ‘Toiletgate 2.0’ and urge transit funding

Around 100 supporters gathered at the footsteps of City Hall with Supervisor Dean Preston in calling for the governor and the Legislature to include additional funding for public transportation in the annual budget in San Francisco on April 18, 2023. | Justin Katigbak for The Standard

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors got back into the groove at its Tuesday meeting after last week’s mayhem. The lawmakers approved a $166.5 million police labor contract and heard an appeal for more support for police from Mayor London Breed.

The board also attempted a Solomonic solution to the controversy around a cannabis dispensary permit, discussed whether progressive policies or mere bureaucracy made it expensive to build toilets and begged for more transit funding to prevent service cuts.

Finally, a closed session with City Attorney David Chiu over the legal risks of funding safe drug-consumption sites extended the meeting into the late evening.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed addressed the Board of Supervisors on April 18, 2023. | Still from SFGOVTV

Breed on Public Safety

After being upstaged by a sabotaged cable TV connection last week, Breed noted recent developments in the Bob Lee homicide case and fielded questions from District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton on the city’s fledgling reparations plan.

“Over the last two weeks, one tragedy in our city has sparked a broad debate, some of it grounded in fact and some of it driven by speculation,” Breed said. 

She gave special thanks to the police and the office of District Attorney Brooke Jenkins for their work in the Lee case, and addressed police pay and a need to acknowledge police for their work.

“We’ve shown what happens when our police chief and district attorney work together,” Breed said. “That clear partnership sends a strong message to the public and to those who are thinking about committing any type of violent acts in our city, which will not be tolerated.”

Breed thanked the board for its approval of $25 million for more police overtime and highlighted improving enforcement against fentanyl dealing in the Tenderloin, where 30 kilos of the drug have been removed from the streets over the last three months, a 154% increase over last year.

Breed said her administration was working on new initiatives to hire and retain officers and also urged better recognition of police work.

“We all know that if a police officer crosses the line and fails in their duty, we need to speak up—and that happens,” Breed said. “But what too often happens is those same voices don’t speak up when things are going well in the community. […] Let’s send a clear message to officers and the public that we value their work to make the city safe.”

Addressing Walton’s questions on reparations, Breed said she will decide whether to support the plan once she reviews it in its final form. But she said she has no plans to support Walton’s $50 million budget request to create an Office of Reparations.

SFPD Police Chief Bill Scott | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Police Union Contract

Recognition of police work was an ongoing theme of the meeting.

District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safaí honored several police officers from Ingleside and Bayview stations who responded to a March 17 armed robbery of a woman leaving the Church of the Epiphany near Crocker Amazon Playground.

“They handled the victim with compassion and empathy while at the same time took necessary steps in the moment, working as a team to locate the suspects and apprehend them,” said Safaí during the meeting’s commendations period.

The board approved a new memorandum of understanding with the San Francisco Police Officers Association. District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston, who was the lone no vote on the contract, expressed misgivings that he had voiced in a committee meeting on April 6. At that meeting, Preston asserted that the Department of Human Resources misquoted the total cost of the agreement.

“This is not normal or OK,” Preston said. “I don’t believe it was intentional, but this still needs clarification.” He voiced concerns that the misunderstanding may have impacted negotiations and that the city sought no concessions on procedural reforms.

Supervisors Joel Engardio (center), Myrna Melgar (center left) and Connie Chan (right) listen to public comment during a Board of Supervisors meeting. | Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

Public Toilets and Performative Policy

The board unanimously approved two items related to installing public restrooms at Noe Valley Town Square, but not without discussion. The infamously expensive commode led to public criticism over its initial $1.7 million price tag—and potentially raised new controversies.

District 4 Supervisor Joel Engardio noted that another planned restroom, this time for Precita Park in the Mission District, is estimated to cost $1.4 million. 

“I’m worried about ‘Toiletgate 2.0,’” Engardio said, adding that the lack of interdepartmental coordination and policy constraints continue to drive up costs of public amenities. “I’m worried we’re about to run into the same predicament, just at a different park.” 

Engardio then asked to co-sponsor District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman’s legislation to repeal the city’s travel ban to states with restrictive reproductive, voting or LGBTQ+ laws, which became a peripheral issue to the controversy.

District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who represents the neighborhood where Precita Park is located, attributed the cost, in part, to a new water main and other infrastructure required for the toilets. Residents would be grateful for the facilities, she said, as they should reduce park users from relieving themselves on their properties.

District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar pushed back against what she saw as a narrative about progressive policies inflating city services, laying blame on rising costs at the feet of city department processes.

“If we know that people pee [in parks], then we should plan for that in our capital bonds,” Melgar said.

David Hua (left), a first-generation Chinese Vietnamese American who founded cannabis software company Meadow, is on the pro-cannabis side, and Dr. Dorothy Pang (right), a pediatric dentist who works across the street from Gold Mirror, is opposed to the proposed cannabis store. | Justin Katigbak for The Standard; Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

Pasta Lovers To Get Pot After All

Supervisors attempted to compromise over community objections to a new cannabis dispensary on Taraval Street in a building shared by the Gold Mirror Italian restaurant and nearby a grocery store and early child care facilities.

The dispensary’s permit has been subject to an appeal. Rather than upholding the appeal, the board added new restrictions suggested by Melgar regarding hours, deliveries and on-site consumption. The operators were also required to do more outreach and discourage double parking and loitering.

Melgar sharply criticized aspects of the permitting process, saying it “created mistrust” in the community. No members of the public present spoke in favor of the permit.

The board heard over an hour of public comment from residents opposed to the dispensary. One concern voiced by opponents, who were almost all from Chinese-speaking communities and included former supervisorial candidate Leanna Louie, is that the mandated buffer zone to keep dispensaries from being too close to schools did not include preschool facilities.

That was enough to convince Engardio and District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani to vote for the appeal and against the project.

There are 198 dispensaries in the pipeline, and some supervisors have voiced concerns that the market is oversaturated as existing operators struggle to stay afloat.

City Attorney David Chiu, wearing a suit and tie, looks on in front of the City Attorney's official seal and an American flag.
City Attorney David Chiu stands behind a speaker at a press meeting about San Francisco’s victory against Walgreens regarding the company’s responsibility in the opioid epidemic on Aug. 10, 2022. | Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

Transit Rally, Drug Discussion

Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution from Preston urging Sacramento to provide multiyear bridge funding, along with longer-term funding, to the state’s cash-strapped transit systems.

It’s a response to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s $2 billion cut to light rail funding, and lack of supplemental funding for transit systems hit hard by the pandemic.

Preston and other transit supporters, including state Sen. Scott Wiener, appeared at a rally on the City Hall steps to support the resolution before today’s meeting.

Finally, Ronen and other supporters of safe consumption sites went into a closed session with Chiu over whether settlement funds from recent opioid litigation can be used to fund the sites. Chiu’s position is that it’s too much of a legal risk for the city, as the sites are illegal under federal law. Ronen strongly disagrees.

In a speech before entering into the one-hour-and-45-minute closed session, Ronen likened the sites to strategies such as needle exchanges that helped to combat the spread of HIV among drug users. Up to four people a day die from drug overdoses, she said.

“[San Francisco] is famous for taking risks,” Ronen said. “There are times when they are worth taking, and I argue that this is one of those times.”