Editorial: Supes approve Breed’s Tenderloin emergency. Can she get results?

SF mayor’s ‘tough love’ approach to drug crisis will be tested

by The Examiner Editorial Board

After more than 10 hours of spirited debate and public comment, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Thursday voted 8-2 to support Mayor London Breed’s declaration of a state of emergency in the Tenderloin.

The ratification came as no surprise. On Oct. 26, supervisors voted unanimously to urge Breed to declare an emergency and open safe injection sites to help prevent deaths in a city where more than 700 people died of overdoses last year.

But Breed — who did not respond to the board’s request for an emergency declaration — gave some supervisors more than they bargained for when she answered their call on Dec. 14. Breed made it clear she wants the emergency declaration to expedite city efforts to quickly open a new “linkage center” to help treat addicted people and hire medical professionals to staff it. She also made it clear she would go further.

Adopting a tough tone, Breed promised to increase policing to shut down open-air drug dealing and wanton crime in the Tenderloin.

“It’s time that the reign of criminals who are destroying our city, it is time for it to come to an end,” Breed said, pledging to be “less tolerant of all the bullsh*t that has destroyed our city.”

Breed clearly intended her words to get national attention and help shift the narrative around The City’s crime response after months of negative stories. If so, the tactic worked — at least in the short term. Her comments sparked vociferous criticism from left-leaning activists and the nonprofit community, who rushed to depict her as a fascist attempting to revive the War on Drugs and create a police state in the Tenderloin.

At a press conference Monday hosted by opponents of Breed’s proposal, Board President Shamann Walton said the board’s request for an emergency declaration “was not intended to increase law enforcement here in San Francisco and arrest people who use drugs and who currently don’t have adequate resources to address their needs.”

“It is unconscionable for this city to be doubling down on the things that do not work and that will increase overdose deaths in The City,” said Laura Thomas of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

Despite Breed’s provocative comments, her emergency declaration’s text said nothing about police. That’s because the mayor doesn’t need permission to deploy more police in the Tenderloin. Instead, her declaration mirrored the board’s, emphasizing the “rapidly deteriorating conditions in the Tenderloin caused by the opioid crisis” that have “put the lives of San Franciscans at serious risk.” It requested the power to move swiftly to provide more public health resources to address the addiction crisis over a 90-day period.

This made it hard for supervisors to vote against it, though some asked pointed questions about whether approval of the declaration would allow the mayor to fund more police staffing.

“I could never vote for that if this was the case, if the mayor planned to do that,” said Supervisor Hillary Ronen. During the meeting, she made Breed advisor Andres Power promise the mayor would not use the emergency declaration to increase the police budget.

“I can say unequivocally that our office will not use the emergency authority of the emergency order to provide appropriations to the police department,” Power said.

Supervisor Dean Preston pointed out that this performative pledge was beside the point.

“Mayor Breed has made her intentions very clear,” said Preston. He called the mayor’s proposal “a publicity stunt to deflect rising hit pieces” by national media outlets.

Preston asked why the mayor hadn’t presented a plan to the board, why the mayor is sitting on over $100 million in unspent Proposition C money and whether The City has in place the resources needed to help people transition off of drugs.

“It’s great to have a linkage center. What are you linking people to?” he asked.

It’s a question Breed must answer. While her strategic shift made national headlines and her political tactic forced a majority of supervisors to support her proposal, its success also puts her on the hook for results. San Francisco voters — and the national media — will be watching to see whether the mayor’s “tough love” mix of increased policing and health resources can start to fix in 90 days a humanitarian crisis that vexed previous mayors and has intensified on her watch.

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