SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — San Francisco’s mayor and board of supervisors went to United Nations Plaza, a hot spot for open-air drug dealing and drug use, on Tuesday and attempted to hold the board’s meeting in the plaza. It did not go well.
San Francisco has been tolerating “illegal, out-of-control behavior for far too long,” Mayor London Breed proclaimed. Breed and Supervisor Aaron Peskin were only able to speak at the microphone about the city’s “humanitarian crisis” for a few minutes before booing, jeering, and shouting from the crowd escalated.
Holding the board of supervisors’ meeting in UN Plaza was supposed to highlight problems plaguing the area and pitch solutions.
“Many San Franciscans do not feel safe,” Peskin said. “Brazen drug dealing and deteriorating street conditions have exacerbated a humanitarian crisis on our streets.”
San Francisco Police Department officers were positioned in UN Plaza for Tuesday’s public meeting. Officers intervened after a woman threw a brick in the crowd and nearly struck a child, police said. The woman was quickly arrested and hauled away in handcuffs.
The meeting in UN Plaza was cut abruptly short less than 10 minutes before it began. People in the crowd shouted as the supervisors and mayor walked away from the podium. The city’s livestream video feed cut to black and cheerful classical music played in the background as a filler.
Breed had a stern look on her face when the video livestream turned back on with the board’s meeting reconvened indoors, away from the crowd. Breed resumed delivering her remarks.
San Francisco has poured resources into drug addiction treatment, universal income, housing, Breed said. “I can go on, and on, about resources that have expanded considerably,” she said. But the magnitude of the city’s problems is so extreme, increasing resources has not solved them, the mayor said.
While open air drug markets provide users with cheap drugs 24/7, fentanyl overdose deaths are surging.
The mayor said Tenderloin residents often tell her, “We would have never been allowed to get away with this stuff back in day.”
Breed said, “Compassion is killing people. We have to change what is happening on the streets. It’s too easy getting drugs, they are dying under our watch, we have to do better.”
Breed continued, “I was born and raised in this city. I am putting everything on the line. I am doing this job without fear of losing it. San Francisco claims to be so compassionate and liberal. People are growing up in the midst of this chaos. What about them? We have tried over, and over again, and what we are doing is not working. Are we going to collaborate and work toward solutions? Or are we going to let the same old thing happen over, and over, and over again?”
Before the meeting was cut short in the plaza, Peskin had attempted to outline for the crowd his demands for bringing public safety back to UN Plaza. The crisis needs to be treated like a crisis, Peskin said.
Peskin wrote a letter to Breed Monday demanding that the city shut down all open air drug dealing within the next 90 days. His letter calls on the mayor to open an Emergency Operations Center to coordinate city agencies and departments addressing the crisis.
Governor Gavin Newsom recently described San Francisco’s fentanyl drug dealers as “poison peddlers” prowling the city. Local neighborhood watchdogs have shot disturbing videos showing how bad conditions in UN Plaza — located right on City Hall’s doorstep — have become.
JJ Smith recorded a video when tensions boiled over in the plaza on March 6. An angry crowd squared off with police officers who were protecting paramedics. The paramedics had called in police as backup and a person who needed emergency medical care became combative.
Peskin said San Franciscans do not feel safe because deteriorating street conditions are highly visible. If police push the open air drug market out of UN Plaza, “Where will it go? We know where it will go — to places like the BART stations at 16th and Mission and 24th and Mission,” Peskin wrote. “The BART police need to know that and be prepared. We know it is already going deeper into the Tenderloin and South of Market — which means the University of California police (who patrol around UC College of the Law) and Federal Protective Services (who patrol around the federal buildings) should be alerted, ready and in sync with our local agencies. The mayor needs to provide this coordination.”
The Mayor’s Office needs to open a Emergency Operations Center to coordinate agencies responding to all of these hot spots around the city, Peskin said. The board of supervisors will provide oversight and accountability, he added.
The city may begin arresting some open-air drug users — a crime that has been virtually unenforced in recent years — under a new pilot program. KRON4 reached out to the city for clarification on the plan, which has not yet been publicly rolled out.
A spokesperson for the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management told KRON4 Tuesday, “The city is developing a pilot program to address situations when someone is so far under the influence of drugs that they may pose a danger to themselves or others.”
The pilot program will be proposed as part of Breed’s upcoming budget proposal.