Police detain a man in the Tenderloin. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SF to form task force to address drug dealing in Tenderloin, SoMa

As the supervisor of the Tenderloin and SoMa neighborhood, Matt Haney said Monday he receives hundreds of emails and calls from residents and business owners asking him to address the rampant drug dealing occurring there.

“The residents I represent are demanding change and so am I,” Haney said during Monday’s Board of Supervisors Rules Committee hearing on his legislation to create a street-level drug dealing task force.

The proposal, which has been embraced by many in the neighborhood, grew out of a four-hour April hearing on The City’s efforts to address drug dealing and those who are addicted to drugs more effectively.

Haney said the April hearing showed The City lacked a comprehensive plan and “our communities are suffering because of it.” He noted that 259 people died of overdoses from drugs in 2018.

The task force is supposed to create that plan and will issue quarterly reports to the board on what steps it should take. The first report is due March 31. Haney had secured $200,000 during this year’s city budget process to fund the work of the task force.

Those calling on The City to address the drug dealing were supportive of the proposal.

That includes Max Young, who in an Aug. 31 email to Haney and Mayor London Breed, blamed drug dealing for shuttering his business, Mr. Smith’s, a bar and nightclub, at Seventh and Stevenson streets.

“As of today I closed my business, Mr. Smith’s,” Young wrote. “Rampant open air drug dealing and drug use has completely taken over my block. My employees quit, my customers disappeared, no one wants to be on my block, including me. As a native San Franciscan it makes me sick to say that.”

Young owns the building. He didn’t make it clear what he plans to do with the site next. “I have been in this location and done well for 19 years. I have employed San Franciscans, supported local businesses and suppliers, paid my taxes, and pay for a [Community Benefit District] on top of that to pick up where the city has failed,” Young continued. “I’ve done my job. You need to do yours.”

During the hearing, Young said that “I’ve got groups of drug dealers on my corner every day.”

Sam Dennison, who lives at the corner of Turk and Hyde streets, “which some people describe as ground zero for many of these issues,” emphasized the importance of coming up with long-term sustainable solutions.

“We don’t want the knee-jerk reaction. We don’t want the easy solutions because we know that those haven’t worked. We are in it for the long haul,” Dennison said. “We believe that we will be able to come up with some solutions that will slowly and steadily address a problem that has been in development for decades. Rather than seeking an easy answer we are seeking the hard answer.”

The task force will consist of 12 voting members appointed by the Board of Supervisors and should become operational within months. Those serving on the body may receive city stipends of up to $50. Three unexcused absences within six months triggers an automatic resignation.

Each seat comes with specific criteria. Some members will represent the interests of residents or business owners. Others will have to have experience working with drug dealers and past substance abuse issues. Other seats go toward city departments, like the police, public defender and district attorney.

“I am creating this task force in response to the frustration, anger and hopelessness that many of my constituents are feeling about the endemic crisis of street level drug dealing in their neighborhoods,” Haney said.

The full board is expected to approve next week the legislation to form the task force.

It will become the latest task force established by The City to address one of its biggest challenges.

A safe injection services task force was established in 2017 and ultimately recommended the city launch these facilities that allow drug users to inject drugs under medical supervision. They are proven effective in countries around the world in reducing HIV infections and overdoses. To date, however, The City has yet to open any, citing concerns they are illegal under state and federal law.

A methamphetamine task force was formed this year and intends to issue a final report in October.

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