San Francisco is poised to expand homeless services, increase its police force and spruce up neighborhoods under the proposed city budget announced by Mayor Ed Lee on Tuesday.
The promise of more city services comes in a budget that grows by $700 million — up from $8.9 billion — to total $9.6 billion for the 2016-17 fiscal year beginning July 1.
Lee has faced criticism in recent months for what has been seen as a failure to adequately address both The City’s homeless needs and a troubled Police Department in need of reform. The mayor’s proposed budget attempts to address those concerns, as well as the ongoing housing crisis that began under his watch five years ago.
“Our city is facing challenges,” Lee said at City Hall on Tuesday morning when introducing his budget proposal before department heads and six of the 11 Board of Supervisors members. “We can’t deny that.
“Neighborhood crime is up,” Lee continued. “Homelessness is a visible and pressing concern. The need for reform in our Police Department is evident.”
The budget growth is largely attributable to increased revenues from property tax as the local economy continues to perform strongly. But the budget also relies on voters approving a sales tax increase in November.
The mayor, with the support of some members of the Board of Supervisors, has introduced a .75 percent sales tax increase, with a half-cent for transportation and .25 cents for homelessness. The current sales tax rate of 8.75 percent is expected to be reduced by the state later this year, partially offsetting the proposed local measure, said City Controller Ben Rosenfield.
Spending on issues related to homelessness increases in the mayor’s budget, with an added $32 million in the upcoming fiscal year, of which $12 million is from the sales tax revenues, contingent upon voter-approval.
That increase would be allocated to the new Department of Homelessness — along with $189 million of existing spending on services currently tied to other city agencies — which, pending budget approval, would be established to consolidate city functions.
With the new department comes the need for a new office, which will be headed by Jeff Kositsky, a former director of a family homeless nonprofit. The budget includes $5 million to purchase a building at 440 Turk St. from the San Francisco Housing Authority for the new homeless department.
Also included in the budget proposal is funding for a third Navigation Center, possibly in the Dogpatch neighborhood, and the creation of 300 additional supportive housing units.
Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, said the mayor’s budget proposal takes the unusual step of largely responding to suggestions from homeless advocates.
“We are really happy that the mayor made homelessness a top priority,” Friedenbach said. “A lot of what was in his proposal which we we’re really happy about came directly from community recommendations. This is something that doesn’t happen typically.”
The mayor’s budget proposal includes additional funding for police academy classes to hire more officers, as well as $20 million over the next two years to fund anti-violence programs and other initiatives.
The San Francisco Police Department’s budget increases from $544.7 million to $577 million in the mayor’s budget proposal and includes three policy academy classes.
But that funding may come with strings attached.
Supervisor John Avalos, who was critical of increasing police spending, said he wants to hold $200 million of the Police Department’s budget on reserve — only to be released by the Board of Supervisors if the SFPD can prove halfway through the fiscal year that it has adequately implemented reforms around use-of-force policies.
“So far we have seen rank and file, including sergeants, are resistant to reform,” Avalos said. “We need to have another tool.”
Avalos said this stipulation is a response to the “outcry from the public” for city officials to do more to reform the Police Department. That outcry also resulted in the ouster of ex-Police Chief Greg Suhr, who resigned May 20 from his post upon request from Mayor Lee just hours after a fatal police shooting.
The Fire Department’s budget increases from $355.8 million to $373.6 million, including spending for new fire engines and ambulances.
Facing a deficit earlier this year for the upcoming fiscal year, city departments were told to trim 1.5 percent of their budgets. But Melissa Whitehouse, Lee’s acting budget director, said the budget was balanced mostly through efficiencies and new revenue ideas.
“We did not accept any service reductions in the budget,” she said.
The Ethics Commission, under a new executive director, actually requested a budget increase, and Whitehouse said the commission’s request was granted. The commission argued The City had long underinvested in the efforts to combat public corruption in its investigations of campaign finance laws. The Ethics budget is now proposed to grow by $508,277 to $4.4 million.
The budget allows for an increase in library hours at 14 branches from 45 hours weekly to 50 hours; grants a 2.5 percent raise — $13 million — for nonprofits that are contracted with The City to provide services; and invests some $130 million into The City’s capital plan, which in down economic years only was funded at $20 million.
Whitehouse said the budget includes funding to hire 30 more full-time employees to increase street cleaning. The City’s workforce is projected to grow by 4.1 percent, to a total of 30,750 government employees.
The Board of Supervisors’ Budget and Finance Committee will begin holding hearings June 8 on city departments’ proposed budgets.