- Update: This story has been updated from a previous version.
Among the items that were considered at Tuesday’s San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting: new bars in the Castro, more eviction protections, and hearings on police shootings and Omicron response. Plus, possible new rules for gun owners and monster homes. (Wonks looking for the full kit and caboodle can check out the meeting’s full agenda.)
Bars in the Castro
The Castro Street Neighborhood Commercial District banned new bars back in 1987, mainly due to concerns of an oversaturation of bars in the neighborhood. While new drinking establishments have opened in the neighborhood over time, they’ve always replaced bars that have closed.
The limit on drinking establishments has also led to equity issues—back in 2005, the city’s Human Rights Commission found that one of the most popular establishments had been using its door policy to discriminate against Black patrons. Although the ruling wasn’t legally binding, the controversy continued until a settlement was reached the following year.
Meanwhile, changes in the neighborhood over time, including an increase in storefront vacancies due to the Covid pandemic and a plea from a constituent who wants to open a wine bar in the district, prompted District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman to look into the matter.
The end result Tuesday was a simple change in the zoning tables for the district, where the line for bars was changed from “NP” to “C,” thus allowing new drinking establishments to open up in the neighborhood upon approval of a conditional-use permit. Public notice and a hearing before the Planning Commission would still be required.
“Basically, we wanted to update the use controls to something more flexible and fair,” said Jacob Bintliff, an aide to Supervisor Mandelman.
At the Jan. 10 hearing on the item, Castro resident Jesse Sanford urged the Land Use Committee to approve the zoning law and noted a continuing atmosphere of discrimination in the neighborhood’s bar scene. He said he could easily enter neighborhood bars as a white man, but often a person of color would be denied entry.
Sanford said that “every bar in the Castro is owned by a cisgender white man” and that “sets a tone at the top” for discrimination.
“I have spoken with Black and brown folks, lesbians and trans people who have been heartbroken to discover that even after making it to the United States’ foremost LGBT sanctuary neighborhood, that there is no place for them,” he continued.
Sanford urged support for the legislation, which was then sent with positive recommendation to the full board for accelerated approval as a committee report. The full Board approved the item on first reading the following day, and it was approved again Tuesday.
Also on the BOS agenda Tuesday were further eviction protections. District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston’s “eviction diversion ordinance,” which would require landlords pursuing certain with-cause evictions to give the tenant a preliminary written notice and a 10-day grace period to rectify the issue, passed unanimously on first reading.
Preston reiterated remarks made at the Jan. 10 Land Use Committee meeting that emergency eviction protections instituted during the pandemic are providing a foundation for future policy. “Making eviction a last resort is good policy,” Preston said at the hearing. “We don’t resolve any other financial dispute (by threatening someone’s housing.)”
Hearings: Police and Omicron
The Board also held two Committee of the Whole hearings during Tuesday’s session: one was an update on police practices regarding use of force under oversight from the state Department of Justice; the other focused on the Department of Public Health’s response to the Omicron surge.
The former issue is especially timely given the deadly police shooting last week at San Francisco’s airport. San Francisco came under federal and state DOJ oversight after controversial police killings and negative interactions with neighborhoods. Previous hearings took place in 2020 and 2021.
SFPD staff made a presentation Tuesday noting that the department was now in compliance with 90% of Department of Justice recommendations. Notably, a new report on the use-of-force policy is in the works. Staff also emphasized the need for a new records management system.
The relatively sunny report was countered by probing questions from supervisors. District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin pressed on SFPD’s refusal to comply with the city’s surveillance ordinance. Preston pointed to what appeared to be little progress on bias, noting that he was “trying to reconcile your numbers with continuing severe racial disparities in enforcement.” District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan asked about issues with arrest records, and the discussion exposed some difficulties in compiling accurate rap sheets for investigation subjects.
The hearing was continued until March 22 after a brief session of public comment, which was dominated by police critics.
Next was a hearing on the Omicron variant and the city’s response. Chan had requested this hearing at a Jan. 11 board meeting, where she recounted her questions to the Department of Emergency Management in connection to the emergency declaration in the Tenderloin. She wanted to know how the city will balance dealing with the spike in drug overdose deaths and Covid. She had also voiced concerns over reliable testing, given revelations of technical problems and shady testing sites.
Tuesday night's hearing ended up being rather different.
Health director Dr. Grant Colfax outlined the current state of Omicron response in a 10-slide presentation, which emphasized the importance of vaccines and boosters in preventing illness and deaths. The city's ongoing response is focused on maintaining hospital capacity rather than trying to prevent every case. The fruits of that policy are that San Francisco continues to lead the nation in positive outcomes, with fewer than 81 deaths per 100,000 persons. Cases have peaked and started to decline, and the current peak in hospitalizations features more patients in acute care rather than intensive care.
District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney asked about distribution of masks, noting that 500 people showed up at one distribution event and there was demand for more. DPH is continuing to distribute N95 and KN95 masks, and the agency has information on how to obtain the masks on their Covid assistance line.
Preston asked about the demographics of the unvaccinated, and it was revealed that right now in San Francisco, white people between the ages of 25 and 34 are the least likely to be vaccinated.
In the end, Chan also asked about mask access and testing protocols, including the question: How do people dispose of home tests? (Rest assured, they are safe to just place them in the trash.) Notably, Peskin and District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai urged more quarantine support for SRO residents.
Roll Call: Guns, Conservatorship, and Monster Homes
During Roll Call, a number of supervisors announced action on issues which could dominate future agendas.
District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani announced that she was asking the city attorney to draft an ordinance requiring gun owners to pay an annual fee and have liability insurance, along the line of a similar ordinance that was approved Tuesday by the San Jose City Council. Stefani also noted her earlier denunciation of antisemitic propaganda distributed in her district over the weekend.
District 8 Supervisor Mandelman requested two hearings on the state of behavioral health conservatorship policy in the city, noting the glacial rate of progress in implementing new programs. He also introduced a new version of legislation to control “monster homes” in his district.
Mike Ege can be reached at [email protected]