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Bloody sidewalks, knife attacks and a corpse: What workers face outside San Francisco federal building

People gather outside the Speaker Nancy Pelosi Federal Building at 90 Seventh St. in San Francisco on Aug. 19. | Source: Liu Guanguan/China News Service/Getty Images

The typical crowd of drug dealers along the sidewalks of the federal building at Seventh and Mission streets was mostly absent Wednesday as Department of Homeland Security personnel lined the street to ensure the safety of federal officials in San Francisco to discuss the security of their employees, The Standard has learned. 

The high-level meetings on safety concerns at the Speaker Nancy Pelosi Federal Building, which were attended by officials including Andrew Auerbach, the deputy director for the U.S. Office of Labor-Management Standards, are the latest instance of a federal agency with an office in the building raising the alarm about safety on Downtown San Francisco streets. It’s unclear whether any city officials attended the meeting. 

An Aug. 4 memo written by a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services leader said the security issues had gotten so bad that workers were urged to consider working from home. While it’s unclear how many people work in the building today, in 2007 when it opened, 1,700 workers filled the 18-story building. 

Homeless people camp at the intersection of Mission and Seventh streets across the street from Speaker Nancy Pelosi Federal Building at 90 Seventh St. in San Francisco on June 29. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

The moves to protect federal workers come as the city continues to grapple with open-air drug-dealing and a drug overdose crisis. The block where the building sits recorded 525 drug-related incidents over the past 12 months, according to city data. In late June, Gov. Gavin Newsom called in the California Highway Patrol to police city streets in an effort to help San Francisco address the problem. 

“No one should be required to report to work in or around the San Francisco federal building until the safety and health issues are addressed and resolved,” said Aliyah Levin, a union representative for federal workers in the building.

Levin, who was aware of the meetings, said she hopes they result in tangible changes on the block. 

One such recent change is a fence along part of the building that blocks people from sitting on a concrete ledge where drug dealers were often seen. 

A chain-link fence was recently erected on Seventh Street around concrete ledges outside the Speaker Nancy Pelosi Federal Building where drug dealers often congregated. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

In just the last few months, federal employees have had knives pulled on them three times, and one person was chased with a hammer, according to an employee who did not want to be named because she was not authorized to speak on behalf of her agency. 

Such incidents are more rare than the bloody sidewalks, human feces and drug use many workers see daily, she added. 

“It’s definitely a sign of a bigger problem,” she said. “Sometimes, I come home and cry after seeing what I see.”

None of these alleged crimes were reported to police because nothing was done when they reported similar incidents in the past, the federal employee said. San Francisco police did not respond to requests for comment about safety outside of the building. 

In the first six months of this year, there were 33 overdose deaths at the corner of Mission and Seventh streets, according to San Francisco Fire Department data. 

A person is slumped over on a concrete bench outside the Speaker Nancy Pelosi Federal Building at 90 Seventh St. in San Francisco on Wednesday. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Adding to the atmosphere of menace, a body was found on Aug. 13 outside of the building, according to the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office, which said the death was not suspicious. The medical examiner did not provide any further details on the cause of death or identity of the deceased.

That incident was one of a dozen the San Francisco Fire Department responded to at that location on Aug. 13; the department declined to say what the service calls were for.

Neither the Department of Homeland Security nor the Department of Labor responded to requests for comment on the meetings, the memo or the safety issues that prompted them. 

The cleaned-up block Wednesday struck one building worker leaving for lunch as a novel and welcome sight.

“This is a treat,” she said.

The block may have been cleared, but the worker and her companions, including Auerbach, were escorted to lunch in the building three blocks away that houses X, formerly known as Twitter, by a San Francisco employee with the Community Ambassador Program.

Andrew D. Auerbach, the deputy director for Office of Labor-Management Standards, is escorted to lunch with three Department of Labor employees outside the Speaker Nancy Pelosi Federal Building. | Source: Jonah Lamb/The Standard

The escort was part of a city effort to improve security in the area without increasing law enforcement. However, there is no formal agreement between the Community Ambassador Program and any entity in the federal building, said City Administrator’s Office spokesperson Angela Yip.

“They are a welcoming presence and someone to comfort you if you don’t want to walk alone,” Yip said, adding that anyone can request such escorts by calling 311.

Yip said there was no record of how many escorts have been requested by employees in the federal building. 

In early August, the Health and Human Services agency warned workers to stay away from the Downtown federal building due to rampant drug dealing outside.

“In light of the conditions at the [federal building], we recommend employees … maximize the use of telework for the foreseeable future,” wrote Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Administration Cheryl Campbell on Aug. 4, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, which first reported on the memo. 

It remains unclear what prompted the stay-away memo. The department did not respond to several requests for comment. 

But the worries do not appear to be universal among tenants of the federal building. 

Homeland Security Federal Police clear people loitering outside of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which is located across the street from the Speaker Nancy Pelosi Federal Building, on Wednesday. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

A spokesperson for the General Services Agency, which manages all seven federal buildings Downtown, said they were not worried about worker safety and have not warned staff to stay away from the Nancy Pelosi Federal Building or the other six buildings. 

The agency that oversees state buildings in the same area, the state Department of General Services, said it does not have specific security concerns in the area. 

“Our buildings are fully open, and it is up to each department to determine the extent to which their staff can telework, based on their operational needs,” spokesperson Jennifer Lida said.

Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at

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