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San Francisco’s UN Plaza cleaned up ahead of mayor’s remarks on drug crisis

City employee Mason Newt power-washes United Nations Plaza in San Francisco ahead of a Board of Supervisors hearing scheduled to be held in the area later in the day on Tuesday. | Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

Ahead of a rare open-air hearing on the city’s drug crisis, San Francisco agencies cleared and swept United Nations Plaza—normally a hot spot for drug use and petty crime—to set the stage for an unusual open-air hearing on the city’s drug crisis. 

At around 10 a.m. Tuesday, a group of more than two dozen people near the east side of the plaza were engaged in street vending and drug use. An Urban Alchemy worker approached the crowd and told them that they would soon need to move because the mayor was coming.

City employee Mason Newt power-washes the United Nations Plaza in San Francisco ahead of a Board of Supervisors hearing scheduled to be held in the area later in the day on Tuesday. | Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

The open-air Board of Supervisors hearing—likely the first of its kind in the board’s history—involved coordination from multiple departments and agencies that collectively shooed away the plaza’s normal denizens and disrupted the typical daily flow of drug sales and use.  

Throughout the day, Urban Alchemy workers and staff from the BART Police Department and the Recreation and Park Department were seen periodically roaming the area as workers from the Department of Public Works cleaned the surrounding sidewalks. 

"Gonna clean it up for the mayor," said a Public Works sanitation worker, who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak with the press.

In addition to cleaning crews, the city spent $4,650 on media services and logistics to set up a broadcast for the hearing—all for a Q&A session that normally takes between 15-20 minutes of Board of Supervisors time. 

United Nations Plaza appeared quiet shortly after noon on Tuesday, hours before the mayor and supervisors’ scheduled Q&A to discuss the drug crisis in the city. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

The mayor is expected to answer questions on the drug crisis from Board President Aaron Peskin and others; the board will then take a break and reconvene at City Hall for the remainder of the meeting. 

On Monday, Peskin sent a letter that previewed his demands of Breed. 

In the letter,  Peskin asked the mayor to “stand up a sustained Emergency Operations Center that will coordinate daily all of the many agencies and departments that can address this crisis,” calling on her to coordinate multiple parties involved in shutting down public drug-dealing. 

On Tuesday, the Department of Emergency Management confirmed a pilot program, intended as part of Breed’s upcoming budget proposal, that could allow for the enforcement of laws against open-air drug use. 

City Hall workers place the Board of Supervisors tablecloths on a table outside the Federal Office Building at U.N. Plaza. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

About two hours before the mayor's arrival, U.N. Plaza was unusually quiet. The clean-up crews had gone, and only a small number of people walked through the area, with no one visibly using drugs. Shortly before 1 p.m., workers cordoned off an area in front of a federal office building at U.N. Plaza as others set up tables and chairs. 

Along Natoma and Minna streets near Seventh Street and outside the San Francisco Federal Building, several people said that they had been moved from U.N. Plaza around 7 a.m. But they said they knew nothing about the mayor’s appearance. 

"I don’t know about anything being different with the mayor coming," Trevor Pearsoa said. "They always move us around like that."

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