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Politics & Policy

Farrell wants citywide street vending ban, and retired cops back on the beat

'Over the last six years, everybody has watched our city crumble. Public safety has never been a bigger concern,' mayoral candidate Mark Farrell said in an interview with The Standard.

A man in a suit speaks in front of a microphone pointing with his finger.
Mark Farrell, a former San Francisco mayor and supervisor, is drilling down on public safety in his bid to replace Mayor London Breed. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

Doubling down on his tough rhetoric on public safety, mayoral candidate Mark Farrell is proposing a citywide street vending ban and says he wants to allow retired San Francisco cops to come back to active duty without reducing their pensions. 

Those ideas are among a slew of public safety proposals Farrell is rolling out in the wake of last week’s election, which saw San Francisco voters shift a bit to the right, giving police more powers to use drones and initiate chases and requiring some welfare recipients to undergo drug screening.

The former interim mayor and member of the Board of Supervisors had already vowed to fire Police Chief Bill Scott on “day one.” Farrell’s new proposals indicate he believes a tough line on public safety will woo a sizable chunk of voters who have railed against the state of San Francisco’s streets in recent years. 

“Over the last six years, everybody has watched our city crumble. Public safety has never been a bigger concern,” Farrell said in an interview with The Standard. “The conditions of our streets have never been worse.”

He said last week’s election results show “continued momentum away from ideology and toward common sense in San Francisco. It started with the recalls of our district attorney [and] our school board [in 2022]. And to me, last Tuesday was a continuation of that trend.”

Mayor London Breed put Propositions E (expanding police powers) and F (drug screening) on the ballot and has sought to use their passage as momentum for her reelection bid. 

A person wearing a blue blazer speaks animatedly at a lectern with microphones, American flags in the background.
Mayor London Breed gives her State of the City Address at Pier 27 in San Francisco on Thursday, March 7, 2024. | Source: Juliana Yamada for The Standard

During a triumphant press conference last Wednesday, Breed defended her propositions, claiming that they amounted to not being “hard on crime” but “being smart and being balanced and being fair.” Voters were looking for a “back to basics” approach from city governing, she said.

Farrell is not the only one who has tried to hijack Breed’s Prop. E bandwagon. Mayoral candidate Daniel Lurie formed a pro-Prop. E committee to reframe the measure as an indictment of Breed’s leadership and raised nearly $700,000 for it.

Taking aim at U.N. Plaza

With the San Francisco Police Department short hundreds of officers, Farrell is also proposing outsourcing police background checks to speed up hiring, says he would fund five police academies a year and wants strict closure hours at parks. 

He pointed to U.N. Plaza, near City Hall, as an example of a public space that has been taken over by criminal elements. The area is a hotbed of illegal vending and drug dealing, as well as drug overdoses. 

“Take a walk through there after dark, and nothing positive is happening,” Farrell said. “We need San Francisco residents to feel safe across our city. And making sure that we address and proactively tackle illegal activity in our parks and our sidewalks and at night is critically important to that.”

Breed and Scott have poured resources into the area, enlisting the help of the California Highway Patrol, deploying more police officers and park rangers to the area and even building a skate park to attract skaters—and discourage less wholesome activities. While nearby merchants and residents say there has been some improvement in conditions during the day, illegal vending and drug dealing persist after dark.

A bustling street scene at night with people on scooters and a close-up of someone holding red sneakers.
People sell goods outside Arsicault Bakery on McAllister Street in San Francisco on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

To combat crime in the Mission, the city imposed a 90-day ban on street vending on Mission Street in November and, last month, extended the ban for another six months. Vendors with permits from the city were relocated into sanctioned indoor spaces, but many complained that foot traffic at the facilities was poor and that they could not make a living in the approved zones. The city later approved $1,000 in aid to each of the displaced legal vendors. 

A ballot measure to put retired cops back on the beat?

Perhaps the most complicated of Farrell’s proposals would be to allow retired cops back on the beat without giving up some of their pensions. That would require a ballot measure he said he would support if elected mayor.

Although San Francisco pays among the highest starting wages of any law enforcement agency in the state, the department has been vexed by a recruiting crisis. Some other Bay Area departments have faced similar challenges, with the city of Alameda offering up to $75,000 in police recruiting bonuses.

Farrell claimed the problem in San Francisco ran deeper than money. 

A police chief in uniform converses with a man in a black hat and coat.
Police Chief Bill Scott attends Mayor London Breed’s State of the City Address at Pier 27 in San Francisco on Thursday, March 7, 2024. | Source: Juliana Yamada for The Standard

“It starts at the top and with the mayor of San Francisco,” he said. “And I believe we need a mayor that will proudly stand behind a microphone and support our law enforcement personnel. And publicly describe the value of law enforcement here in San Francisco. The value of the profession and the value that these individuals play in the life of San Francisco residents. This mayor has not done that.” 

He added, “As a result, we have a recruiting problem. And that recruiting problem will not get solved by our current mayor. It is going to take a fresh leader within City Hall that will not only change the tone but also prioritize the budget for public safety in San Francisco once again.”

Breed has sought to take credit for a drop in property crime, pointing to statistics that showed burglaries, larceny theft and car theft all dropped in the fourth quarter of 2023 compared with a year earlier. However, a look at full-year trends by The Standard showed a mixed bag with no radical changes from 2022 to 2023