Mayor London Breed announced her two-year city budget proposal at a Chinatown playground Tuesday promising to spend $1 billion on homelessness during the next two years while funding other priorities to help San Francisco recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead of belaboring the numbers and policy proclamations, here’s what you really need to know:
Over $1 billion for homeless issues
‘Transformational moment’: Breed says the “historic” funding amount, made possible by the 2018 voter-approved Proposition C tax for homeless services, will result in 4,000 homeless being housed and preventing 7,000 from falling into homelessness during the next two years. To achieve that goal, Breed’s budget calls for purchasing about 800 to 1,000 units, such as hotels, and turning them into permanent supportive housing. Other methods include rental subsidies and about 887 federal housing vouchers. In 2019, the count identified 8,035 homeless persons. Homeless prevention includes adding $6 million to The City’s right to counsel program, which provides free legal counsel to tenants facing an eviction, to bring the total funding next fiscal year to $15 million. Homeless advocates backed Prop. C, while Breed did not. But both agree San Francisco is poised to address the issue at scale that could make a significant difference. Advocates called the spending a “transformational moment.” Breed said it is a chance “to make a fundamental change for those who are living on the streets, for our city as a whole.”
$300 million to address mental health and substance use issues
Soaring overdoses: The City is committed to addressing mental health and substance use visible on San Francisco’s streets through the Mental Health SF initiative, which the budget proposal builds upon. The City approved this new effort in December 2019 as the number of people dying from drug overdoses largely fueled by fentanyl began to soar, highlighting the urgency for behavioral health reform. There were 712 fatal drug overdoses last year and this year The City is on pace to exceed that with 252 fatal overdoses between January and April, according to the Medical Examiner’s Office. The proposal aims to address these issues in various ways. One is to launch a drug sobering site at 1076 Howard St. Another will establish new street overdose response teams to try and connect people to services. The proposal includes funding to stand up and operate 340 more treatment beds, which would add to the approximate 2,000-bed inventory, and funding to acquire 300 more. Breed said The City needs more treatment beds or “we are going to see those same people right back on the streets again and again and again.” She vowed San Francisco will see “a long-term difference” with the increased spending.
Budget proposal totals $13.1 billion this year, $12.8 billion next year
The bottom line: The current fiscal year budget is $13.6 billion. According to the Mayor’s Office, the decrease is largely driven by the loss of revenue at The City’s enterprise departments like the San Francisco International Airport and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. The City’s general fund is actually increasing by 1.7% in next year’s proposal due to federal stimulus funds and improved tax revenues. That means no cuts or layoffs in Breed’s proposal. In fact, the workforce grows. But there remains great need for those impacted by the pandemic. As Supervisor Matt Haney, chair of the Board of Supervisors Budget and Appropriations Committee, put it: “The City’s fiscal health has improved, but the well-being of our city and its residents is still at a crisis level requiring immediate, urgent investments to ensure a full recovery.”
Police budget increase
Force won’t shrink: Breed’s budget proposal increases funding for alternatives to a police response to some 911 calls, an effort which gained traction last year in the wake of the George Floyd killing amid calls to “defund the police.” At the same time, the Police Department’s budget does increase in her proposal. This is expected to generate opposition from those who support cutting the department’s budget to fund other priorities.
Overtime is proposed to return to pre-COVID levels at about $17 million and there are two police academy classes in each of the two fiscal years for a total of $19 million. The classes are meant to maintain about the same number of full duty sworn officers there are on the force today, about 1,800. The Police Department’s budget in the current fiscal year is $667.8 million, with $579.6 million from the general fund. Under Breed’s proposal the Police Department’s budget is $661.6 million with $581.1 million of general fund support in the upcoming fiscal year, which increases to $689 in the second year with $609 million in general fund support.
Breed said that the department loses about 80 officers a year through retirement or other departures and without the academy classes “our police force will shrink.”
“Keeping our city safe also does require law enforcement,” Breed said. “That means making sure we have officers on our streets, walking the beats and responding to crimes.”
City jobs increase
A new office: The overall workforce increases by 1.4% next fiscal year in the proposal for a total of 32,217 positions. The 439 new positions proposed include temporary workers to help with COVID-19 response, but also ongoing staffing. There is a proposal to spend $1 million a year to hire 10 additional 311 call takers and to create an Asian Pacific Islander equity advisor position at $200,000 with the Human Rights Commission to analyze effective use of resources for the API community. Breed is proposing to create what she is calling an Office of Justice Innovation, which would be staffed by three people who would make a combined $500,000 a year, to work on efforts that would think of other ways to divert calls away from police officers and better coordinate services and resources for victims of crimes.
The debate begins: The Board of Supervisors Budget and Appropriations Committee will hold a series of public hearings on the proposal and make changes. Ultimately, the committee will send the proposal to the full board for adoption, usually by July.