By Thomas K. Pendergast
Homeless encampments, police staffing at the Richmond Station, private and public transportation, angled parking on Geary Boulevard, the COVID-19 pandemic, the Alexandria Theatre and graffiti were all hot topics at a recent town hall meeting.
The auditorium at the Richmond Recreation Center was packed with a standing-room-only crowd on Feb. 15 when District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan, San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu and Richmond Station Captain Chris Channing of the San Francisco Police Department discussed these issues and took questions from the public.
Capt. Channing said the Richmond Station is “suffering from staffing duress.”
He said that about four years ago the Richmond Station had more than 90 assigned police officers, not including sergeants, lieutenants and the captain.
“Today they are in the low 50s. This is a 24-7 operation. I’ve got about six main shifts to fill,” he said. “We do have the capacity and the ability to leverage overtime to support some additional efforts to allow these overtime funds to be used to really focus on foot patrols along corridors in need, which include Geary and Clement. And, as much as I am able to, I want to be strategic with where I put these officers.”
Richmond District resident and contributor to the Richmond Review newspaper, Julie Pitta, asked what the City’s policy regarding “homeless sweeps” was in light of the recent lawsuit filed by the Coalition on Homelessness.
“Homelessness itself is not illegal. What we’re talking about is a systemic problem that affects society as a whole,” Channing responded.
“The focus and priority of the City is to lead with services,” he said. “The question is, how do we compel people who don’t want to accept services? Do we leverage a law enforcement response if that is the decision? There are laws that dictate what law enforcement can or can’t do. Or do we leverage a public health offer?
“These issues do not exist in a vacuum; we really need to take a broad approach,” Channing said. “I think it’s the way to start addressing a problem, instead of just pushing issues from one block to the next.”
SF City Attorney David Chiu explained that SF City and County were successfully sued by the Coalition on Homelessness.
“Right around Christmas Eve, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction in favor of the Coalition on Homelessness, essentially saying that we could not enforce a number of statutes that Capt. Canning and others in the City have enforced in order for us to move forward with resolving these encampments,” Chiu said.
“From the perspective of the City, it has, frankly, tied our hands and our ability to address the situation on our streets,” he said. “And so, a couple of weeks ago, I announced that we are going to be appealing the decision by the federal judge.”
He elaborated that a ruling in a federal appellate case mandated that if the City is going to enforce certain laws for the homeless, it needs to be able to provide shelter for them.
“It is unclear though on whether this law would apply if, on any particular night, there are 7,000 to 8,000 unhoused residents on our streets, but we have 3,000 to 4,000 shelter beds,” Chiu explained. “The question is, if we don’t have enough shelter for seven to eight thousand folks, should the City be required to all of a sudden provide another two or three thousand beds of shelter before we can move anyone off the streets?
“We don’t have that at this point, and what has been estimated is it will cost about $1.4 billion and probably take three to five more years for us to get there. So, what do we do in the meantime?”
District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan brought up street closures and driving restrictions, like on the Upper Great Highway, JFK Drive and with the Slow Streets plan.
“Some of those issues really pose a challenge for us for the north-south travels and I want to acknowledge that,” Chan said. “We’re going to continue to work with SFMTA on resolving some of those concerns. The SFMTA is under the jurisdiction of the SFMTA Board of Directors, appointed by the mayor; (the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency) is an independent body making some of those decisions.”
She also mentioned the Geary Bus Rapid Transit (Geary BRT) plan and the decision to create transit-only side-running lanes, as opposed to center-running lanes.
“One thing that we couldn’t mitigate, we tried to mitigate, is along Geary between 15th Avenue all the way to 28th Avenue,” she said. “Right now, it’s angled parking. In order for (SFMTA) to do that (Geary BRT), they want to switch it to parallel parking, which then is going to be a parking loss and pose a challenge also for some of the merchants, like Joe’s Ice Cream, that have shared spaces.
“We have asked now, officially, for SFMTA to postpone this switch from angled parking to parallel parking to much later, so that would allow our small businesses to recover.”
The pandemic also affected graffiti abatement because of the extra financial burden it would impose on businesses to remove it.
“We’re really going to reach out to some of these property owners and small businesses, really thinking about graffiti removal,” Chan said.
This includes the derelict Alexandria Theatre.
“The sign came down a few weeks ago because of the storm,” she said. “We’re in conversation with both the City’s Planning Department, the Department of Building Inspection as well as the property owners themselves to say, ‘what is the future for this space?’”
Before the pandemic, the developers received approval from the Planning Department to install swimming pools, build classrooms for a learning center and business offices there.
“They informed me, when I first took office during the pandemic, that they had to pause the construction because the financing was really difficult for them and for them to move forward with that,” Chan said. “I have suggested perhaps affordable housing is something that we can do. It’s something that we’re going to work on.”
The City assessed the monetary value of the site and Chan said she offered this same amount from the City to purchase the property.
“The developer and the property owner turned it down,” she said. “And asking, in fact, for double of what was assessed and offered; during the pandemic, mind you.”
A woman expressed concern about the lack of attention that the Covid pandemic has been getting lately.
Chiu said that for three years during the pandemic, his office had a team of attorneys come up with the legal bulwark for the City to do all the changes that they did.
“So, the emergency orders that were all drafted by our office, were all justified with the exigencies of the day. Now, they are going to expire,” he said. “We are allowed to declare a state of emergency when there are the indicia of an emergency that is continuing. The end of the official San Francisco emergency orders will coincide with Gov. Newsom’s end of the state orders, which is going to be at the end of this month.
“Thankfully, COVID rates have gone down, but they have not disappeared. And so, it is important for everyone to take the precautions that you believe you need to take.
“I look out onto this room, about half of you are masked; half of you are not. That makes sense. We cannot require people to be masked when the science at the state level have lifted the emergencies. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t, as a community, continue to take precautions,” Chiu said.
“I am proud of the fact that our mayor and our Board of Supervisors, in lock step, agreed to move quickly into a state of emergency. And once we were there, to do all sorts of things quickly and that is what allowed San Francisco to be a real shining example of how you navigate during these tough times.”
Categories: board of supervisors
Congratulations to COH for their victorious lawsuit.
The process of sweeping unhoused individuals off the streets, confiscating their possessions and even selling them (!), brings dishonor on all of us!
LikeLiked by 1 person