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San Francisco ties welfare to drug-screening, boosts police powers

Mayor London Breed was all smiles on Tuesday during a packed preliminary party in Hayes Valley, a boutique neighborhood about a half-mile from City Hall, and took selfies and congratulations as she made her way through a crowded bar to a microphone. I stopped for.

“Change is coming!” Breed yelled to thunderous applause from the patio of the trendy Anina cocktail bar.

Early results show promise for local candidates running on more centrist policies and ballot measures that transform downtown with new development, and for the city school board to add algebra as a subject for middle school students. I requested that I be revived.

But the focus of Breed's excitement that night were two ballot measures she supported that would expand police surveillance powers and impose drug treatment mandates that are overwhelmingly popular with voters. It's a surprising shift to the right for a city known nationally for its progressive politics.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed rallies supporters at election night party.

(Godofredo A. Vasquez/Associated Press)

The first measure is Proposition E, strengthen police powers in cities. Second, Proposition F, County welfare recipients suspected of drug use will be required to undergo drug screening and treatment.

The measure would halt efforts to address the city's open-air drug addiction crisis and the resulting epidemic of street crime and homelessness. Taken together, they lend credence to Breed's message that San Francisco is not the bastion of illegality that its critics like to claim.

“Enough is enough,” Breed said. “We need change.”

Breed faces a tough re-election battle in November as he seeks to complete his second term. Among her opponents, Daniel Lurie, a Levi Strauss heir and nonprofit founder, and venture capitalist Mark Farrell, a former district supervisor and interim mayor, are out of step with San Francisco standards. He is considered a moderate, and has criticized the mayor for the condition of the city's streets and delays in posting mail. -Pandemic economic recovery.

A third opponent, Board of Supervisors Chairman Aaron Peskin, is a prominent progressive who is likely to garner support among staunch liberals concerned about the city's recent shift toward downtown. .

Breed's supporters say the poll victory injects a jolt of energy into her re-election bid, as she moves toward the center, pushing homeless people off the streets and struggling to recover from pandemic-related issues. We hope this will provide a clearer path forward for the city. The exodus of the downtown tech sector.

“Madam Mayor, this is a really good night for London Breed,” state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) told the crowd. “This city has been beaten down the last few years, but San Francisco is back and better than ever.”

The ballot measure approved Tuesday builds on several efforts Breed has spearheaded over the past year to reverse the city's efforts to stem drug addiction and overdose deaths. , adding a punitive element to a policy that has long centered on a gentler treatment-oriented approach.

Last fall, city officials announced plans to: law enforcement task force; It is expected to launch in the spring and will investigate opioid deaths and illegal drug transactions in the city as possible murders. Months earlier, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom sent the California National Guard and California Highway Patrol to target a drug trafficking network funneling fentanyl into the Tenderloin and South of Market areas, an operation that led to hundreds of arrests. Someone came out.

Breed argues that these efforts are bearing fruit. According to the mayor's office, property crimes have decreased by 30% and violent crimes by 4% in the past six months.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed speaks to supporters at an election night party.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed said the ballot measure voters approved this week will give the city's efforts to address its drug crisis a much-needed boost.

(Godofredo A. Vasquez/Associated Press)

Breed said drug testing efforts would build on those efforts by forcing more people with substance use disorders into treatment.

Proposition F is scheduled to go into effect in January 2025 and would amend the County Adult Assistance Program, which provides cash benefits to low-income single adults age 65 and under with no dependent children. Recipients will now be required to undergo a drug screening evaluation and, if necessary, begin treatment if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that they are suffering from a substance use disorder.

Supporters say the change will protect San Francisco's resources from a growing street drug culture fueled by San Francisco's permissive policies and generous stipends.

The program assisted about 5,700 people each month in the 2022-23 fiscal year, with some recipients receiving up to $712 per month, according to the city manager's office. According to the mayor's office, 141 people arrested for public drug use between March 30, 2023 and early February also received county funding. Of those, 33% did not actually live in San Francisco.

“This just adds another level of accountability for testing and will hopefully lead to the outcomes we want: people receiving treatment and people ultimately coming clean. “We're working hard,” Breed said.

Critics of Prop. F dismiss it as a poorly crafted proposal that fails to address the root of the city's homelessness crisis: a lack of affordable housing and quality treatment options. are doing. They uphold the common progressive doctrine that forcing people into drug treatment is ineffective, and that policy changes would be devastating to low-income residents who rely on assistance with housing and other necessary expenses. He said it would bring about good results.

“It's just going to take away access to treatment for everyone in San Francisco,” said Janet Zanipatin, state director of the left-leaning nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance. “Selling the initiative with false promises is more about political expediency than an actual effort by the mayor and his office to find real solutions that will actually impact the overdose crisis.” It's just a matter of choosing.”

The measure was not drafted with specific rules on how to conduct drug screens or administer treatment. Breed has directed the city's Department of Human Services to develop an “action plan” for implementation, meaning it could be months before official guidelines are released.

Breed's office said the measure was intentionally designed to provide flexibility on the treatment side. Treatment options can range from outpatient care to prescribing buprenorphine, which is used to treat addiction. They recognized that people often have delayed recovery and should not be kicked out of the program over gaffes, and pointed out that it does not include a requirement for participants to remain sober.

“I don’t think Prop. F is as bad as its critics make it out to be, and I don’t think it’s as much of a panacea as some of its ardent supporters say it is,” said Supervisor Matt Dorsey, a moderate honest about yourself journey of recovery from addiction. “But on balance, I think this is a step in the right direction.

Wiener, one of the leading progressives in the state Legislature, did not support Prop. F, but said he understood why people voted for it. “Only by San Francisco standards would this be considered moderate,” he said. “Like many cities right now, there are concerns about public safety and public drug use, and people want their neighborhoods and their cities to be as good as possible.”

Bill E, which strengthens police powers, was also passed without difficulty. The measure weakens certain oversight powers of the Police Commission, which has become a voice for enforcement. police use of force.

The measure also eases regulations that have been blamed for contributing to a lax police response to retail and property crimes. This gives police more freedom to pursue suspects by car, and also allows officers to use drones in certain pursuits. The changes also relaxed requirements for documenting suspect confrontations that lead to police use of force and allowed body camera footage in lieu of certain paperwork.

Supporters of Prop. E said it would reduce the amount of time police spend behind desks doing paperwork and ensure they are better equipped with technology to fight crime. Opponents see a troubling rollback toward less transparency and oversight.

“It has become easier for the SFPD to cover up police violence, and it has become harder for the public to hold police officers accountable,” said Yoel Heil, criminal justice program director at the ACLU of Northern California. “What we are witnessing now is politicians offering tried and failed solutions to the public as a silver bullet to the real grievances people have about crime and security. is.”

Breed has made no apologies.

On Thursday, she delivered the State of the Union address at Pier 27, a waterfront venue with a shimmering view of the city's skyline in the background. She sharply rebutted the narrative that San Francisco has lost its progressive path, saying instead that Tuesday's election results supported the city's liberal agenda to house and treat people suffering from addiction and provide quality police in its communities. He argued that it was consistent with his values.

Throughout her speech, she emphasized the message that San Francisco is turning a corner, declaring it a “city on the rise.”

“San Francisco no longer wears your negative shackles,” she said, as the room erupted in applause.

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