With the high noon sun blazing down on the Bayview District, “TJ” and Deon Cooper were among about a dozen people seeking refuge on a recent Thursday in pockets of shade cast by palm trees lining Mendell Plaza, one of the neighborhood’s few public gathering spaces.
Once crime-ridden, efforts by local residents fed up with violence and blight transformed the plaza into a relatively safe community space, which now serves as a mini-hub for outreach. Mobile restrooms were set up there, and outreach workers with the Street Violence Intervention Program were posted up in a parked van.
But TJ and Cooper, both natives of the neighborhood, said that comparable efforts by city officials to transform the neighborhood into a safer, more equitable and economically stable community are lackluster. As development dollars and wealth pour into other corners of San Francisco, much-needed resources for the Bayview and its youth in particular, continue to run dry.
“We need more planning for the kids, more places for them to play around here. We need housing. They put all these houses up but we don’t get none of it — it’s people from outside of this community who get this housing,” said TJ. “We are always talking about stopping the violence. That’s number one. We have a very beautiful community around here, but we don’t have support.”
“Around here the young people like hanging out but they don’t have anything to do. They need more funds. The government has all this money but they don’t put nothing in the Bayview,” he said. “There are no clinics around here. Other areas, they got all this stuff for the residents. But we don’t get any of it. We are set up to lose.”
First-year District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton, who spent his early life in public housing in the district, is looking to change that, and has launched a series of public meetings in an effort to learn about the diverse needs of his constituents, which vary across neighborhoods like the Bayview, Potrero Hill, Dogpatch, Little Hollywood and Visitacion Valley.
Input gathered at the meetings will inform neighborhood-specific public safety plans, which Walton promised to release by the end of the year.
“In District 10, we are a collective of neighborhoods. Even though some of the issues may be the same, the needs and focus of each are different,” said Walton.
The plans will inform policy and create written protocols on who will respond to issues such as truancy, traffic safety, and violence, and what these responses will look like.
The undertaking is a first for the district, and to pull it off Walton has joined forces with San Francisco Safety Awareness for Everyone’s (SAFE) Kyra Worthy, the first African American woman to lead the citywide community engagement arm of the San Francisco Police Department as its director.
“The plan will lay out who is responsible for contacting who — who at the SFPD will be responsible for working with the supervisor’s office, the mayor’s office, and doing the follow up,” said Worthy. “There will be a timeline for follow up, so that the community can expect to hear back. So there’s no longer just an acceptance of letting negative things happen in our community.”
“There will now be a clear path residents can take to voice their concerns. There will be an end to each concern, we are closing the loop,” added Worthy, who oversees a staff of 12 people.
The first Bayview-specific meeting was held earlier this month at Willie L. Brown, Jr., Middle School, where dozens of residents spoke to issues including a need for more lighting, speed bumps, shelter for the homeless, storefront vacancies and gun violence, as Worthy and other city officials eagerly took notes. A follow up meeting will take place in June.
Launched in 1976 as a unique project of the SFPD, SAFE aims to represent the interests of residents while building trust, transparency and improved relationships with law enforcement.
Before joining SAFE last year, Worthy had not heard of the organization.
“SAFE was only in safe neighborhoods — That’s the best way I can explain it,” Worthy said.
Worthy and Walton hope to tackle crime and violence in the Bayview by addressing the root causes such as a lack of adequate transportation, high truancy rates, limited services and little economic opportunities for youth.
They also plan to conduct an audit of the services provided by local nonprofits, which Worthy described as an “accountability report card.”
“It’s auditing the services, because all of these nonprofits are being funded and there still are these persistent gaps [in service],” said Worthy.
Walton agreed that “audits should be done.”
“The entities at the table are the right entities, but the focus and the scope of the work should be revisited,” said Walton.
He also plans to put forth policy around adding additional police substations, or drop in centers in the neighborhood, where residents can not only report crimes, but get to know the officers that patrol their community.
Citing residents’ concerns about ‘over policing’ in the Bayview, Walton also said that the neighborhood’s safety plan will also explore directing its police station to no longer serve as a “rookie training site.”
Last year, for instance, residents were outraged when a rookie officer on his fourth day on the job fatally shot an unarmed carjacking suspect out of his patrol car widow, breaking protocol.
“We need people who know how to deal with this community, work in this community, particularly because it has had friction with law enforcement for a long time,” said Walton. “When you send somebody who is new to the job, new to the community, that’s a recipe for disaster.”