Opinion: Critics make predictable objections, but Mayor Breed’s Tenderloin plan is needed

‘It is the frustrating inertia that makes it so hard to get something done’

I really only have one question about Mayor London Breed’s State of Emergency declaration for the Tenderloin.

Why is this controversial?

Surely the facts are not in dispute. Even the progressivest progressive would have to agree on the obvious problems in this troubled neighborhood.

Is it an open-air drug market? Absolutely. It is routinely described as such in virtually every media account of the TL.

Is it dangerous? Are you kidding? Pick a news story at random. Shootings and homicides are commonplace. Just ask the residents who show up at public meetings to say they are shocked by the behavior on the streets.

Is the drug problem spiraling out of control? Clearly. And it isn’t just that drug use is illegal and debilitating. It’s deadly. As reported in The Examiner, from January to October, 592 people died of drug overdoses. The majority of those victims were using fentanyl.

In The City, there are far more drug overdose deaths than COVID deaths. And fully half of those deaths were in the TL.

C’mon. The Tenderloin is a public embarrassment. No one can realistically say it doesn’t need help. And failing to get that help tells you that this is a city that is unable to care for and protect its residents.

Nevertheless, there have been objections ever since Breed called BS on the city’s saddest neighborhood.

Critics say the plan is criminalizing addiction. It’s just political grandstanding. It’s too vague.

And most of all, that old favorite, sing along with me: “We tried it before. It didn’t work. And it won’t work this time either.”

Oh well, in that case, let’s just carry on with what we’ve been doing. As those drug deaths (over 700 in 2020) tell you, we’re doing a dandy job so far.

First of all, as longtime Tenderloin advocate Randy Shaw says, an increased police presence was tried in the Tenderloin. That was in 2009, when George Gascon was police chief. He staffed virtually every corner with beat cops.

Shaw says the neighborhood improved dramatically, and I’d say he’d know. He’s been executive director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic since Dianne Feinstein was mayor.

But tell that to District Attorney Chesa Boudin. First of all, you have to give him credit. Surely he knows Breed’s declaration will be hugely popular with residents who are frustrated with drugs and crime in The City.

And open-drug dealing is exactly the kind of issue voters are calling out for him to take a strong stand. It’s why he’s facing a recall election in June.

But Boudin seems determined to give fodder to critics. He resolutely refused to support Breed’s plan. In fact, he appeared at a news conference to denounce it.

Boudin took a familiar tack, saying we’d spent huge sums on “the war on drugs and where has that gotten us?”

But how many millions has San Francisco spent on outreach and treatment of the addicted and homeless? And what has been the response?

As Breed tweeted, offering help is sometimes not enough. Stats from the homeless outreach network showed they had offered shelter or housing to 378 people in the Tenderloin. Just 122 accepted. The other 256 stayed on the street.

Breed’s plan says that when someone is openly using drugs on the street, they will be offered shelter or housing or they can leave the area. Either way, the neighborhood is safer.

Besides, the mayor’s plan increases services. A Street Wellness Team will begin working the streets, providing an alternative to the cops. The drop-in linkage center will open. More dedicated shelter and housing will be available in the Tenderloin.

But still the sand-in-the-gears crowd is doing all it can to slow things down. There was a brief flutter that the Board of Supervisors, which voted 8-2 to support the plan last month, might be having second thoughts. There was talk of another hearing and maybe a pullback of support.

It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who was out of town for the first vote, expressed some concerns, but it is unlikely there are the eight votes needed to require a hearing.

Peskin can be grumpy, but insiders say he has some good ideas that might be added to the plan. But it isn’t going to result in a vote to reverse support.

It does point to the relevance of the comments made by former Mayor Willie Brown in a New York Times interview.

Brown, to the surprise of no one, backed Breed’s plan, though when asked if he thought the state of emergency would work, Brown made an interesting observation.

“Only if she can get the rest of The City to buy in,” he said. “We are now plagued with the politics of districts that have no interest in anything except their little turf.”

True that. The nitpicking and hair-splitting will only slow this down. It is the frustrating inertia that makes it so hard to get something done.

The Times, by the way, is just the latest East Coast media outlet that is fascinated by our city.

Part of it is the easy narrative that goes, “Oh sure, first you wanted to defund the police. But now that you have a crime wave you’ve changed your tune.”

Just to be clear, Breed never said she wanted to defund the police. And she never cut the police force.

Still, back East, San Francisco continues to be seen as the epicenter of progressive failures in dealing with crime.

As for this being a political play, I’d agree with that. In fact, I’d agree that politicians should strive to do things that voters support and appreciate.

If Breed is able to make a difference in this neighborhood that has been lost in despair for years, it would definitely help her political career. And, by the way, boost The City.

As for the plan being vague, I don’t see it. Granted, details have to be worked out about who is going where. Also what the response will be to drug dealers who are arrested over and over. There are definitely going to be some growing pains.

But as far as what we are trying to accomplish, it seems pretty simple. To help make the Tenderloin a neighborhood where families can live safely, without fear of gunshots, drug dealers or death by fentanyl.

What’s controversial about that?

Contact C.W. Nevius at cwnevius@gmail.com. Twitter: @cwnevius

Why a Real Emotional Support Animal Letter Matters.

The popularity of an Emotional Support Animal has grown rapidly in recent years, with pet owners claiming their furry friends…

By SF Examiner
Robbed shopkeeper says San Francisco is so broken it needs Batman

The Deli Board’s Adam Mesnick is sick and tired of SOMA crime

Redwood forest in California is returned to native tribes

523 acres will be transferred to 10 tribes whose ancestors were forcibly removed from the land