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Politics & Policy

San Francisco mayor may face pushback on fentanyl crackdown, homeless spending

Mayor London Breed talks about the balanced budget and key priorities for the city in San Francisco on Wednesday. | Justin Katigbak for The Standard

San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year promises to overcome a massive deficit and steer policy changes to get the city back on track. But the road to enacting it will be an obstacle course with at least two major stumbling blocks. 

In an upbeat, 31-minute speech Wednesday, Breed pushed back against negative narratives about the city and presented a budget of $14.6 billion per year over the next two fiscal years that focuses on public safety, homelessness and shoring up Downtown. 

The proposed budget won praise from some members of the Board of Supervisors, the body tasked with amending and approving the massive document. The budget must be signed by Aug. 1.

District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey said Breed’s budget “hits all the right priorities, especially when it comes to improving public safety, ending street-level drug-dealing and expanding treatment options for those who struggle with addiction.”

But Breed is already facing pushback on one front—namely, an emphasis on funding temporary homeless shelters—and more rifts are likely to emerge as the board picks through her record-setting budget over the next few weeks. 

Fight Over Shelters

The MSC Homeless Shelter on Fifth Street is one of San Francisco's homeless shelters. | Justin Katigbak for The Standard

Breed is planning to increase homelessness spending by 3%—but some members of the board take issue with the details of her plans

That budget increase comes with a pivot toward increasing shelter beds and relies on money from a voter-approved tax that advocates say should be dedicated to permanent supportive housing. 

Breed’s proposal would leverage unspent revenues from Proposition C, a business tax passed by voters in 2018 to fund services and permanent supportive housing, for the next two years. That will require an amendment to Prop. C and a two-thirds vote from the supervisors. 

Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, circulated an email Tuesday evening arguing that the move to fund shelters through Prop. C sacrifices funding for more permanent housing. The Coalition on Homelessness is also embroiled in a lawsuit with San Francisco over the city’s practice of clearing encampments

“For every $20 million cut from the fund for shelter, it is equivalent to over 650 permanent housing slots for families and youth,” Friedenbach said in the email, also alleging that Breed’s plan was never brought before the oversight committee for the tax. 

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Breed’s spending plan calls for adding close to 600 new shelter beds along with 545 new permanent supportive housing placements. That will bring the city’s inventory up to about 4,000 placements for shelter and over 15,000 for permanent supportive housing. 

“This will help get more people off our streets while we still add hundreds of new units of housing with local and state funding,” Jeff Cretan, spokesperson for Breed, said in an email. “With the Mayor’s Budget, we will have over 15,050 units of housing for the homeless in our City.”

The first supervisor to come out against the plan was Ahsha Safaí, who likened Breed’s funding plan to “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” 

“We haven’t solved family homelessness, and we’re going to take money from that and put it into another area,” Safaí told The Standard. “Honestly, as a father of two kids and representing a part of town with one of the highest concentrations of families, I’m upset and offended by this budget. We’re going to dive in deep on this.” 

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, an advocate for increasing shelter capacity who recently authored a resolution urging 2,000 more shelter beds, wasn’t entirely satisfied with the mayor’s budget plan but described it as “a move in the right direction.” 

“It’s a tough budget year. I think she’s tried to get more shelters out of [the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing], and I applaud that,” he said. “I think the formula built into Prop. C is excessively rigid, and there’s a path for the board to modify it. And I think we should take it because needs evolve over time.” 

The Drug Crisis

Police officers standing in a circle between two cars.
San Francisco Police Department officers meet along Seventh Street in the Tenderloin District last year. | Jason Henry for The Standard | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Breed’s approach to the drug crisis currently wracking the city is likely to create another sticking point. 

The mayor has faced repeated calls from Board President Aaron Peskin to open an emergency combined operations center that would include the Board of Supervisors to coordinate efforts to shut down open-air drug dealing.

Breed has rebuffed the idea, citing, among other reasons, the need to work with other jurisdictions on investigations and enforcement tactics. She dismissed the idea that the city isn’t taking a coordinated approach and suggested she could not fully reveal the city’s tactics. 

“I wanna just push back on the myth that we’re not coordinated, that we’re not doing anything, that nothing is happening. And I want to be clear that we can’t tell you everything,” Breed said Wednesday during the budget reveal. 

Breed also wants to hire 220 new police officers over the next two years, so the San Francisco Police Department is staffed with 1,800 officers by 2024. 

The budget includes raises and recruitment and retention incentives for police officers and reorganizes police academy classes to avoid delays in bringing in new officers. Street ambassadors and the District Attorney’s Office also would get a boost. 

Some supervisors do not see that as enough—and reject Breed’s stated needs for confidentiality in combating fentanyl trafficking. 

​​”If you’re talking about on-the-ground coordination of police officers as it pertains to open-air drug use, as it pertains to how we’re gonna coordinate, both a public health and a public safety response, no, I don’t buy that,” Safaí told The Standard. 

Others simply question the “tough love” approach Breed has repeatedly espoused.

“The rhetoric that compassion is killing people is just wrong,” Supervisor Hillary Ronen told The Standard in an interview. “It’s the absence of compassion that’s driving people to addiction in the first place.”