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San Francisco mayor says drug dealers are moving away from the Tenderloin. Are they?

Bright lights line UN Plaza in San Francisco, Thursday, May 11, 2023. | Jason Henry for The Standard

Mayor London Breed said last week that a crackdown on drug dealers in the Tenderloin and SoMa neighborhoods have forced dealers to move out of those areas and into Lower Nob Hill and along Van Ness Avenue—but not everyone is convinced.

Between five Lower Nob Hill business owners and the head of a local neighborhood organization, only two people said drug-dealing has gotten worse in the neighborhood over the past few months. 

Attention around heightened enforcement comes amid an April plan from Gov. Gavin Newsom to deploy California Highway Patrol Officers and the state National Guard to help police arrest drug dealers.

“It’s out of control,” said Geary Street-based Alcazar Theater owner Steve Dobbins.

Just across the street, Nagham Aboufaraj, owner of Angel Cafe and Deli painted a very different picture.

A pedestrian waits for a light near Angel Cafe & Deli at 700 Geary St. in San Francisco's Lower Nob Hill on Thursday. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

“I’d say it’s been quieter over the last few months,” Aboufaraj said.

Lower Nob Hill

Dealers have been seen in Lower Nob Hill more frequently in the past few months, according to Susan Walsh, a Lower Nob Hill Neighborhood Alliance leader.

Walsh said she sees cars parked outside Hotel Krupa with people sitting inside after 10 p.m. as others come in and out of the hotel and speak to people inside the vehicles.

“We’ve always had dealers in our neighborhood, but starting in February and March, we started seeing them more,” said Walsh, who has lived in Lower Nob Hill since 2014.

Management for Hotel Krupa and the owners of a neighboring restaurant, Lapisara Eatery, did not respond to requests for comment by publication time.

Dobbins, who has owned the historic Geary Street theater since the mid-1990s, said he first saw drug-dealing on his block during the pandemic, but over the last four to six months, it’s gotten worse.

“It’s bad, it’s gotta stop, or [Lower Nob Hill] is gonna become a ghost town like Downtown is,” Dobbins said.

Pedestrians walk by Alcazar Theatre at 650 Geary St. in San Francisco on Thursday. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Aboufaraj, whose cafe has been in business for 16 years, said he has always seen dealers on the corners of O’Farrell, Geary and Hyde streets. 

“They’ve always been there,” Aboufaraj said.

Drug users, but not dealers, started to hang out in front of Honey Honey Cafe & Crepery, a brunch restaurant on Post Street, during the pandemic, according to Eric Rojas, a cashier who regularly opens the restaurant at 7 a.m.

“Every day in the morning, I see so many people addicted to drugs,” said Rojas, who has worked at Honey Honey for 12 years. “It’s like different people every day.”

O’Farrell Street is within the Tenderloin, while Geary Street divides Lower Nob Hill and the Tenderloin, according to Walsh.

Van Ness Avenue

Breed also said dealers have begun to gather on Van Ness Avenue, but local businesses are again split on her comments.

“Not much of a difference, no,” said a barista at Peet’s, who asked to remain anonymous because they are not authorized to speak to press. “We get everything and the kitchen sink around here.”

Down the street, John Oh, co-owner of Japanese restaurant Ike’s Kitchen, said he first saw drug dealers appear on Eddy Street near Van Ness Avenue about three months ago, often between noon and 3 p.m.

John Oh, co-owner of Ike's Kitchen on Van Ness Avenue, said that he first saw drug dealers gathering near his restaurant about three months ago. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

“We see them every day,” Oh said. “Masks, hoods, hats, they all are dressed the same.”


Locals in the Tenderloin say drug-dealing and drug use has been pervasive for years, and that there has been no noticeable shift.

“Same drugs, same people, same place,” said Yasim Alabday, owner of Servwell Market Liquors.

Wazzi Quraish, a cashier at Amigo’s Market on Leavenworth and Ellis streets, also said conditions in the Tenderloin have been the same for years.

“Nothing changes around the Tenderloin," Quraish said. "It’s the same people, same stuff.” 

Wazzi Quraish, who has worked as a cashier at Tenderloin corner store Amigo's Market since 2018, said that local drug-dealing has not changed and he has seen more users on the street since he started working there. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

A local activist who goes by the name J.J. Smith has lived in the Tenderloin for his whole life and asked to be identified by his nickname out of fears he would be attacked by drug dealers for speaking to press. Smith denied Breed’s claim that dealers are leaving the Tenderloin and going into Lower Nob Hill.

“Not true,” Smith said.

J.J. Smith, an activist in the Tenderloin and longtime local resident, said that drug-dealing activity and hot spots have remained constant for years. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Dealers will only go as far north as Geary Street, but at night, he spots them in the Tenderloin, Smith said

“They only go as far as Geary Street; they don’t go to Sutter or Post [streets],” Smith said. “I walk around here. I see it.”

“We do know that drug-dealing occurs in other parts of the city beyond the Tenderloin, which may be, in part, due to arrests we have made in areas that experience a high rate of drug trafficking,” a San Francisco Police Department spokesperson said.


Hanif Hakeem, director of outreach at SoMa West Community Benefit District, also rejected Breed’s claim that dealers are moving into Lower Nob Hill after heightened drug enforcement.

“No, that's crap,” said Hakeem, who was formerly unhoused and used to work at the Lower Polk CBD. “Towards Nob Hill, you have FBI dropping out of helicopters.” 

During a seven-hour daytime walk through Lower Nob Hill, the Tenderloin and along Van Ness Avenue Thursday, The Standard did not witness any drug-dealing outside the Tenderloin.

San Francisco’s Department of Emergency Management announced Friday that the city is opening a new command center on Market Street near Civic Center to better combat open-air drug-dealing.