San Francisco mayor touts possibilities after voters expand police powers, gets tough on drug users

SAN FRANCISCO — Mayor London Breed on Thursday pledged even more improvements under a pair of controversial public safety proposals voters approved this week that expand police powers and force some welfare recipients into drug treatment, marking a shift from the city’s staunchly progressive policies.

She also made the case in her annual State of the City address that San Francisco is on the upswing, with more homeless tents cleared off sidewalks in recent months and more people arrested for breaking into cars or peddling narcotics. She said property crime is also down dramatically.

With the measures, she said, they will install cameras in high crime areas, deploy drones for auto break-ins and reduce opioid overdoses.

San Francisco voters on Tuesday approved the two ballot measures she placed on the March 5 primary despite opponents who said the proposals will lead to less accountability for police and more hardship for homeless people.

Breed, a centrist Democrat, is among leaders in politically liberal cities who are turning to tough-on-crime policies considered unthinkable previously, but have grown in popularity amid crime waves. She faces three serious challengers in November who say her administration has failed to deal with vandalism, retail theft and rampant and public drug use.

“The reelection campaign kicked off there, I would wager in the same way you’re going to see the same thing tonight,” said Patrick Murphy, faculty director of the urban and public affairs program at the University of San Francisco, referring to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech Thursday night.

“She placed a couple of big bets on the ballot, and they came up winners for her,” he said.

Proposition E grants police greater leeway to pursue suspects in vehicles, authorizes the use of drones and surveillance cameras and reduces paperwork requirements, including in use-of-force cases. Proposition F makes drug treatment mandatory for adult welfare recipients if they use illicit substances, or else they can be denied cash assistance.

Murphy, the faculty director, says the measures will not be implemented in time for people to see any difference — but they might prove a boost to Breed if they change perceptions about city conditions in the fall.

The pandemic decimated the city’s main economic drivers of tourism and tech. Major retailers closed downtown outlets last year, leaving more empty storefronts in a district that once bustled with tourists and office workers. Businesses complained of vandalism, shoplifting, break-ins and unresponsive police.

Still, there are daunting challenges, including a budget shortfall and a downtown that remains largely deserted as office workers stay home.

To address downtown, Breed said she wants to bring 30,000 new residents and students downtown by 2030 and is soliciting universities and colleges to help. She pledged to veto any legislation from the Board of Supervisors that makes it more difficult to build housing.

And she rejected the idea that San Francisco has lost its progressive values.

“Building homes and adding treatment beds is progressive,” she said to cheers from the audience. “We are a progressive, diverse city living together, celebrating each other: LGBTQ, AAPI, Black, Latino, Palestinian and Jewish.”

Her challengers were quick to rip the address with Mark Farrell, a former interim mayor of San Francisco, saying that her efforts were anemic, too little and too late. Philanthropist Daniel Lurie said that Breed has failed to deliver on promises despite years in office.

To her critics, Breed closed with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt prizing the person who strives in spite of setbacks rather than the naysayer who carps from the sidelines. She had a message for them.

“San Francisco is not wearing the shackles of your negativity any longer,” she said.

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