Breed declares state of emergency to clean up the Tenderloin’s ‘nasty streets’

Action allows city to cut through red tape and increase police funding

By Examiner staff and wire reports

The mayor on Friday declared a state of emergency in the Tenderloin.

The neighborhood, just steps from City Hall, has been ground zero for drug dealing, overdose deaths and homelessness for years.

In what many observers said was a sharp turnaround in both tone and policy, Mayor London Breed this week said she would pursue an “aggressive” crackdown on the “nasty streets” of her city. It’s a highly unusual move by a liberal mayor in one of the country’s most liberal cities.

“We are in a crisis and we need to respond accordingly,” she said at a news conference Friday. “Too many people are dying in this city, too many people are sprawled on our streets,” she said, referring to residents who have overdosed.

She said declaring a state of emergency would allow The City to cut through red tape and increase funding to police, who she said already had arrested 23 people during felony warrant sweeps.

The announcement specifically targeted The City’s drug overdose crisis. Twice as many people died of drug overdoses in San Francisco last year as died from the coronavirus. But the announcement is part of a broader, aggressive push to crack down on drug dealing and improve conditions of The City’s streets.

“We are losing over two people a day to drug overdoses, mostly to fentanyl, and mostly in the Tenderloin and SoMa,” said Supervisor Matt Haney, whose district includes the Tenderloin. “This is a public health emergency demanding a crisis-level response, with massive urgency, coordination and determination to confront this epidemic. This official declaration of an emergency will give us the tools we need to respond with the speed and scale required.”

The City’s Department of Emergency Management will oversee many aspects of the 90-day emergency declaration, which must be ratified by the Board of Supervisors within seven days.

“In an emergency, people need resources immediately not months from now. An emergency declaration allows San Francisco to cut through the red tape and obtain the contracts, resources and personnel to address the crisis conditions in the Tenderloin,” said Mary Ellen Carroll, executive director of San Francisco Department of Emergency Management. “We only have to look at our COVID response to see how an emergency declaration allowed us to quickly lease hotels, hire critical staff and establish testing and vaccine sites. Today’s action will expedite the opening of a linkage center and other essential resources.”

Earlier this week, Breed announced an intervention plan for the Tenderloin that will consist of three phases. The first is underway and includes infrastructure improvements such as fixing street lights and sidewalks. The second phase will ramp up law enforcement presence and, according to Police Chief William Scott, will include arresting more drug dealers and those who commit violent crimes. The City will also take a more aggressive approach, Breed said, to getting those who struggle with substance use disorders off the street and into treatment.

Breed acknowledged many of her progressive constituents would push back on her efforts, but she said, “We can’t do the same thing every day and expect different results.” She said she recognized San Francisco was a compassionate city, but “we’re not a city where anything goes.”

The announcement is part of a series of initiatives intended to disrupt street sales of stolen goods, expand police surveillance powers and give people who use drugs in the open a choice between treatment or jail.

The Declaration of Emergency must be ratified by the Board of Supervisors within the next seven days.

Crime statistics provided by the San Francisco Police Department show that several categories of crime are down over 2019, the last year before the pandemic. So far this year, there have been almost 29,000 reports of larceny, an increase over last year but well below the nearly 40,000 larcenies reported in the same period of 2019. Homicides have increased to 53 so far this year from 37 in 2019.

Burglaries were up sharply in 2020 but have declined slightly this year, and motor vehicle thefts also spiked in 2020 and have stayed about the same this year.

Examiner staff writer Sydney Johnson and New York Times writers Thomas Fuller and Shaila Dewan contributed to this report.

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