Mayor London Breed was booed when she made a surprise appearance Wednesday night at a heated community meeting about plans for a large-scale Navigation Center proposed at the Embarcadero.
The proposal for a homeless shelter with up to 225 beds in what many described as a largely residential neighborhood was announced by Breed last month and has since stirred controversy, with some of its opponents organizing as the group “Safe Embarcadero for All.”
A number of people shouted Breed down as she tried to address the crowd of several hundred at the hearing, which was held at the Delancey Street Foundation. “Some told her to “leave” and “go home.”
“I was born and raised here, I am home,” countered Breed. “If you don’t want to hear me talk, then leave.”
When interruptions continued, Breed said that she would not speak, but would remain at the hearing to “listen.” She called on the attendees to respect each other.
“My goal is not to put neighbor against neighbor and people against people. I am sorry this issue has divided this community,” Breed said.
Residents’ frustrations were heightened early on in the hearing, when they were told that they would not be allowed to make public comment. In an effort to save time, they were instead asked to write down their concerns on comment cards and post them to a wall inside the auditorium in which the meeting was held, or to submit them electronically.
During a question and answer session with a panel of city department heads that included San Francisco Police Department Commander David Lazar and Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing DIrector Jeff Kositsky at the end of the hearing, a consultant for The City read a select number of speaker cards out loud, prompting some residents to call the hearing “biased” and a “sales job.”
A number of the center’s opponents walked out early.
“This community hearing is entirely different from others where opposers and supporters both had the opportunity to speak,” said Alice Tseng, a mother who lives near the proposed center. “This forum tonight was completely biased. We have no idea how the questions for the panelists were even selected, they didn’t answer the questions and truly hear the concerns of the community.”
“Whoever walked out, they were frustrated by the questions that were seemingly placating this proposal,” said Tseng.
Ahead of the panel discussion, city officials informed the public about plans for the center’s design, a security plan, and the reasons behind selecting the Embarcadero site.
Responding to residents’ concerns about potential crime and drug use outside of the center, Lazar said that security stationed on-site would not permit loitering.
He also promised that police patrol cars would frequent the area four times a day while the center is operating there. A four-year lease has been proposed for the site, although District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney has called for that lease to be shortened.
Lazar added that crime has dropped by 10-15 percent in the immediate area surroundings four of The City’s six currently operating Navigation Centers.
Walk-ins would not be allowed and admittance would be based on a referral process, a HSH representative ensured residents.
Kositsky, the department’s director, said while there are a reported 22,000 injection drug users in San Francisco, a majority are not homeless. He added that only about one-third of San Francisco’s homeless population have drug or mental health disorders.
“Don’t conflate these issues,” said Kositsky, who added that the estimated cost of servicing an unhoused person annually is about $80,000.
“People get sick. Every year we have about 200 people die, generally alone, on the streets,” he said.
A representative for the Department of Public Works said that more than 100 sites were surveyed, but that Seawall Lot 330, located across from Piers 30 and 32, made the most sense. It is located on public land and The City would be able to supply water and power to the site with ease, said the representative.
The lot’s size also lends itself to accommodating up to 225 people, which is a goal set by Breed.
Breed championed the waterfront center as a means to reaching her goal of opening 1,000 shelter beds for homeless residents by 2020, with a more immediate target of 500 beds by July. But due to the recent pushback, including the threat of legal action by residents and dueling fundraising campaigns by supporters and opponents of the center, Breed indicated earlier this week that she is considering scaling back the center’s capacity.
Residents who spoke with the San Francisco Examiner on Wednesday appeared most concerned with the center’s size and potential for bringing drug users into the neighborhood.
John Cornwell, President of Portside, a condo complex at 38 Bryant St. and a member of the East Cut Community Benefit District board, said the biggest concern was that active drug users at the facility would go into the neighborhood to buy and use.
Cornwell disputed a March 29 survey by The City that found 179 homeless people already sitting or sleeping in the Embarcadero area.
“We have people that go out every night and look at the homeless in the area, we do a census count every night and there is only 12-15 homeless people in the CBD area and maybe another 12 outside of the area, so there are about 20 tops,” said Cornwell. “There are not 225 people in this area — this center is not to serve the neighborhood.”
A hearing on the proposal is scheduled at the San Francisco Port Commission on April 23.