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San Francisco mayor proposes police expansion and mandated drug treatment

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(The Center Square) – San Francisco mayor London Breed announced three ballot measures to turn around what some have called the consolidated city-county’s “doom loop” of declining business activity and expectations, potentially creating an inescapable cycle of decline.

The first would expand police capabilities and reduce internal bureaucracy, the second would exempt conversions of office spaces to homes from property transfer taxes, and the third would require cash welfare recipients to be screened for addiction and be required to successfully participate in addiction treatment programs to receive payments. Each of these ballot measures will require a simple majority to pass in the March 2024 primary election.

The first measure, called “Safer San Francisco,” would generally authorize the use of cameras and drones to “prevent, investigate, and solve crimes,” with future technologies able to be adopted and tested up to one year at a time without Board of Supervisors approval. It would also change rules to allow officers to pursue suspects of felonies and violent misdemeanors, including retail theft, and “eliminate duplicative and excessive reporting requirements.” Furthermore, it would allow for technology such as body cameras to be accepted for recording incident information to help free up officers and get them back on the street. Lastly, the measure notes “the majority of the Police Commission governs by ideology, rather than putting the interests of public safety or policing best practices first,” and “micromanage the Department and are adversarial to policy solutions supported by community safety leaders.” To address this, the measure would require any changes the Police Commision wishes to make must involve “local merchants, neighborhood leaders, and experts like retired peace officers who understand … real-life conditions,” and that “all new policies put in place do not require more than 20% of an officer’s total on-duty time be spent on administrative duties.”

“We need to give our officers the tools necessary to keep our communities safe and not leave them stuck behind a desk when they can be out on the street helping people,” said Breed. “There has been too much focus on adding bureaucracy to the work our officers do and putting up barriers to new technologies that can help improve policing in San Francisco. It’s time to change that.”

The second measure, which would exempt office-to-residential conversion projects from the city’s 6% transfer tax on properties over $25 million, reflects both the high vacancy rate of San Francisco office buildings and the high demand for housing. If not all of a building is converted, the transaction would be prorated by converted square footage, with tax still due on non-converted space. Thirty-four percent of San Francisco office space, or over 30 million square feet, is vacant; among 62 North American cities studied for post-pandemic downtown recoveries based on cell phone signals pre-and-post pandemic, San Francisco ranked last.

“The temporary suspension of transfer taxes to enable the conversion of antiquated office towers to vibrant residential buildings is an essential part of the drive to restore San Francisco’s downtown, filling it with new residents whose presence will help struggling restaurants and retailers”, said Emerald Fund’s Oz Erickson who successfully converted San Francisco’s 100 Van Ness Avenue office tower to housing.

The city has already changed zoning and adaptive reuse requirements to make office conversions more feasible.

The third measure, which would require drug screening and treatment for recipients of county-administered cash welfare, is potentially the most controversial. Recipients suspected of substance abuse disorder would be required to participate in substance abuse assessment and treatment programs that would include a wide array of options ranging from residential treatment and medical detox to abstinence-based treatment. Those refusing to engage in treatment, or who refuse substance abuse screening in the first place, would no longer receive their cash welfare. Those discontinued from welfare would still receive housing assistance for 30 days, and continued housing assistance may be considered “if necessary to prevent eviction.”

“In recent years, San Francisco has earned a reputation as a destination for people who use the most toxic drugs to come, and eventually die,” said San Francisco Supervisor Rafael Mandelman. “I support this effort to make San Francisco the City where people are able to get sober and build a better life.”

Fifty-two percent of homeless individuals in San Francisco’s latest official homelessness count reported their drug or alcohol abuse as a “disabling” condition. According to the San Francisco government, 20% of cash welfare recipients self-disclosed they have a “disabling” substance abuse issue.

When asked about the mayor’s proposals, San Francisco Republican Party Chairman John Dennis appeared supportive, though he wondered why she hadn’t proposed or adopted any of these ideas earlier in her term.

“I largely support them. But all the measures seem haphazard and too little too late,” Dennis said. “She’s running for re-election in a year and seems to have had an election year conversion. She’s finally deciding to run the city in an attempt to create some stability that should have been established in her first year in office.”

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