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Board of Supervisors

Housing Tensions Simmer as Supervisors Shift Focus to Police Staffing, Overdose Crisis

Written by Mike EgePublished Jan. 24, 2023 • 8:52pm
San Francisco Supervisor Matt Dorsey (left) and San Francisco Chief of Police Bill Scott (right) clap for a speaker at Dorsey’s introductory press conference in San Francisco on May 9, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

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San Francisco supervisors quickly approved the controversial Housing Element plan on Tuesday, but they are now mulling new legislation that would allow the city to be sued if affordable housing goals are not met. They’re also set to debate more aggressive hiring strategies to fill police ranks, the practicality of setting up new courts addressing behavioral health issues and the removal of barriers to creating overdose prevention sites.

Committee Assignments Are Here!

Board watchers have been waiting with bated breath for this year’s committee assignments, and new Board President Aaron Peskin, despite coming down with a second case of Covid, announced them at roll call. The new assignments are effective Feb. 1.

Committee assignments are generally seen as a barometer of the direction the board will go now that Peskin, who served twice before as president during his first tour as a supervisor in the 2000s, takes the conn after a protracted voting session earlier this month.

Peskin noted in his announcement that he sought “an ideologically balanced approach” to the appointments.

As predicted, District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan will chair the Budget and Finance Committee, with District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman serving as vice chair. District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey will chair the Rules Committee.

District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani will be the vice chair of the Government Audit and Oversight Committee as well as remain chair of the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee, with freshman District 4 Supervisor Joel Engardio as her vice chair.

The Other Shoe Drops on Housing

Supervisor Dean Preston speaks at a press conference at San Francisco City Hall. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Supervisors unanimously approved the amended Housing Element of the city’s General Plan, a state-mandated guide for growth, in a very quick vote with no discussion. The plan features new amendments in response to recently enacted state law requiring increased housing production, and had been the subject of intense debate up until now.

Ongoing concerns over whether San Francisco can meet the new development goals—nearly 82,000 new homes over the next eight years—were aired at Monday’s Land Use and Transportation Committee meeting, including qualms over obtaining funding and resolving policy differences over acquiring land for affordable housing. 

Supervisors also unanimously approved a resolution urging inclusion of affordable housing in plans for rebuilding the Department of Motor Vehicles field office on Fell Street. District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston held up the project as an example of the assistance the city will need to meet the new affordable housing goals.

Later, Preston dropped the other boot in City Hall’s continuing debate over housing development priorities with the announcement that he was working with the City Attorney’s Office to draft an Affordable Housing Accountability Act to allow private parties to sue the city if it fails to meet the goal for affordable units set by the Housing Element.

Police Recruitment, Drug Crisis, Shootings

New business at the board featured a resolution introduced by Dorsey urging San Francisco to match the highest recruitment bonuses offered to new and transferring police officers by other Northern California police departments.

The resolution also urges the Police Commission to work up a plan for achieving the City Charter-mandated staff level for the San Francisco Police Department of 2,182 officers. 

At last week’s Police Commission meeting, SFPD staff revealed in a presentation for this year’s budget process that the number of available full-duty officers had fallen to 1,537 and officer attrition rates to retirement had risen. 

Dorsey, SFPD’s former director of strategic communications, described the full-duty count as “the lowest in decades.”

“I am more alarmed than I have ever been about our police recruitment numbers, especially when considered alongside SFPD’s attrition rate,” Dorsey said. “The trend is going sharply in the wrong direction and happening at the worst possible time, when a disproportionately large cohort of officers is reaching retirement age.” 

Meanwhile, Mandelman requested a hearing on Care Courts, a program mandated by state legislation passed last September and supported by Gov. Gavin Newsom that could compel medical treatment for people with severe behavioral issues. 

Care Courts would provide a venue for family, close friends and first responders to petition on behalf of persons with severe behavioral health issues who cannot care for themselves to be placed on a care plan that includes treatment and housing.

San Francisco will be one of the first seven counties to implement the program. A Care Court advisory group has estimated that between 1,000-2,000 may be eligible for the program, with 300-400 to be enrolled the first year, according to a letter of inquiry Mandelman sent to the Department of Public Health (DPH).

“I am concerned about the department’s capacity to scale up services,” Mandelman said, citing struggles meeting goals for existing programs. “Care Court will not be a silver bullet, but it could push DPH to pick up the pace, or could motivate improved regional cooperation.”

Along these lines, District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen introduced legislation co-sponsored by Mayor London Breed repealing the current permitting system for overdose prevention sites, based on legislation from state Sen. Scott Wiener that was later vetoed by Newsom

“Repealing this ordinance would eliminate a burdensome permitting structure placing an additional barrier to opening already hard-to-open overdose prevention sites,” Ronen said. “By eliminating this roadblock, we hope we can streamline opening sites this year.”

Breed and Ronen introduced an ordinance on Jan. 18, allowing safe-consumption sites to be operated by nonprofits on private property. Shortly afterward, City Attorney David Chiu issued an opinion that opioid settlement funds can’t be used to fund the sites.

Stefani, a longtime gun safety law advocate, used her roll call time to address the recent spate of mass shootings, including in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay. She introduced resolutions urging support for a new assault weapons ban legislation in Washington sponsored by U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Richard Blumenthal. 

“These last several days have demonstrated the magnitude of this problem,” Stefani said. “We have had 39 mass shootings in three weeks. […] I refuse to be silent, and I refuse to be numbed by this shit.”

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Mike Ege can be reached at [email protected]


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