Breed’s bond for parks and homelessness gains support as it grows by nearly $50M

Renovation of Chinatown’s Portsmouth Square added to proposal

After growing by nearly $50 million and adding a project to renovate Chinatown’s Portsmouth Square, a bond to improve parks and fund homeless and mental health needs is expected to come before voters in November.

The $487.5 million “health and recovery” bond that was introduced by Mayor London Breed was approved Wednesday by the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee, and the full board is expected to vote next Tuesday to place it on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Breed initially proposed a $438.5 million bond that left out the Portsmouth Square renovation project, drawing criticism from Chinatown advocates and Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who represents the neighborhood. They feared all the work they had put into the plan would go to waste if the funding wasn’t secured.

Adding the Portsmouth Square project at a cost of $54 million is among the biggest changes to the bond since Breed introduced it. Peskin now supports the bond, he confirmed to the San Francisco Examiner Wednesday.

“In addition to a long awaited, much needed renovation of Chinatown’s living room, it is going to bring a lot of yes votes to the ballot because this is kind of the cultural heart of the Chinese community in San Francisco,” Peskin said. “I think it is going to help pass the bond.”

Assemblymember David Chiu, a former District 3 supervisor, also threw his support behind adding the Portsmouth Square project to the bond.

“I have long championed the need for the renovation of the ‘living room’ of Chinatown, the most densely populated urban area west of Manhattan, and hope that there’s a way for that project to be included,” he wrote in a June 24 letter.

Chiu praised the bond overall, writing it would “allow San Francisco to come together and jumpstart an economic recovery to hopefully create opportunities for all.”

Other changes that came from discussions between the board and the Mayor’s Office included increasing the total amount for homeless and mental health needs from $197 million to $207 million, as well as expanding eligible expenses. The money would be used for such things as permanent supportive housing and shelter beds.

Peskin said it was the right time to spend more to address homelessness.

“San Francisco has a unique opportunity to implement a Marshall Plan for homelessness,” he said. “It was an imperative before COVID-19 and has been magnified during the pandemic.”

Supervisor Hillary Ronen said last week that the increased bond amount would further stimulate the local economy. She also noted that the bond’s $41.5 million for street repaving, road repair and curb ramps relieves the pressure from having to use money from the budget to meet those needs at a time when The City has to close “ a pretty overwhelming hole.”

“I could not be happier with this outcome that I feel really takes every part of The City and all of the really important needs into consideration,” she said.

Ronen told the Examiner Wednesday that among the changes she successfully advocated for in the bond was increased funding to acquire buildings, possibly hotels, to turn them into permanent supportive housing for the homeless.

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman said last week he asked for changes to expand eligible expenses of the bond money for things like drug sobering facilities and longer-term locked treatment beds. “I am glad to see that in there,” he said.

In total, the bond would allocate $239 million to parks and playgrounds, including $25 million to renovate the Japantown Peace Plaza, $30 million to double the space of the Gene Friend Recreation Center in the South of Market area, and $29 million for India Basin in the Bayview to create a waterfront park.

City Controller analysis of the measure found that “the highest estimated annual property tax cost for these bonds for the owner of a home with an assessed value of $600,000 would be approximately $83.13.” The City times the issuance of the bonds to keep the property tax rate below the 2006 level. Landlords can pass 50 percent of the tax onto tenants.

With interest, the total cost of the bond would be $960 million.

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