As supervisor, while prohibited by Charter Section 2.114 to directly interfere with the City’s administration and operation, we do have the power of inquiry and can hold departments accountable by requesting they provide reports, program data and information on operation policies.
We make these requests by submitting a Letter of Inquiry, to which departments are required to respond within 30 days. This is a way we have insight into departments’ programs and operations, and the Board of Supervisors can understand the impact and reach of our City’s programs.
Over the last several months, I have made inquiries into several departments, including the status of our emergency response times and traffic safety efforts, the impact of our police department’s and district attorney’s victim services programs, and the impact of our citywide rent relief program.
Transit and Pedestrian Safety
To better understand transit planning and its impact, including road closures on San Francisco streets, I submitted letters of inquiry to the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD), the San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD) and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) regarding their emergency response times and Vision Zero staff assignments.
In the report provided by SFFD and SFMTA, dispatch distances for ambulances increased approximately 40% from 2020 to 2022. While initial study indicates staffing shortages and traffic congestion were noted as contributing factors to this increase, the agencies made clear further study is required to understand the impact road closures, Slow Streets and other types of traffic changes have on emergency response times.
I requested SFFD and SFMTA provide an update on their mitigation plans to address dispatch distances with increased response times. As our city population continues to grow, we must do better to ensure our emergency response times are not delayed and our city departments have a plan to mitigate these issues.
Separately, to better understand the concrete implementation of measures that can truly ensure pedestrian safety, I requested SFMTA’s and SFPD’s plans to enforce moving and traffic violations that endanger cyclists and pedestrians. The report provided in response to my inquiry stated that the city’s Focus on the Five program requires 50% of all citations written to target the top five most dangerous behaviors, including speeding, running red lights, failing to yield to pedestrians, running stop signs and failing to yield while turning.
While SFPD has met its goal of citations written for these violations, in a follow up report I requested from SFPD it was noted that traffic enforcement violations in 2022 dropped to 4,006 compared to 129,597 in 2014. In the report, SFPD reported the Vision Zero squad was made up of two sergeants and five officers in 2020, before being disbanded due to staffing levels. While we know our police department suffers staffing shortage, we also should evaluate the current deployment and whether we are effective with the existing staffing in keeping our City safe.
Improving Golden Gate Park Accessibility
We must continue to ensure Golden Gate Park is accessible for all San Franciscans, especially for seniors and individuals with disabilities, now that a significant portion is closed to vehicles. As part of the Golden Gate Park Access and Safety Program, SFMTA and the SF Recreation and Park Department are required to provide quarterly reports on the progress of the implementation of several accessibility improvements to the park. I requested additional detailed information on the departments’ efforts, including the timeline and budget for fully accessible shuttles and shuttle improvements, put in place curb ramps and crosswalks making the park fully accessible.
The departments’ quarterly reports online at sfrecpark.org/1538/JFK-Promenade not only lack details, they also do not provide a timeline for improving pedestrian safety measures and accessible improvements. It is disappointing to learn that after years of closure of JFK Drive, the departments still have not delivered what they committed to ensure Golden Gate Park is accessible. I will be working with communities to organize, demanding Rec. and Park take immediate actions.
Demanding Public Safety and Victim Services
As former staff in the District Attorney’s Office under then-District Attorney Kamala Harris, I understand the importance of providing victims with critical services and ensuring our communities feel safe. It is imperative that our justice systems and service providers deliver equitable care and access to services for all victims in a timely fashion.
This is why I requested data to get a better understanding of victims served by the SFPD and District Attorney’s Office, including what services have been provided, protocol to ensure victim privacy, and a status update on the implementation of the Office of Victim and Witness Rights.
Data received by SFPD showed that in 2022, they served 99,053 victims of crime; that’s almost 10% of our City’s population of little over 800,000 residents who were identified as crime victims. The crimes were broken down by category and the majority of those victims experienced larceny/theft at 51,576. The next highest category was vandalism at 10,195 and burglary at 9,190, followed by 6,921 victims of vehicle theft. There were 6,382 assaults, 4,524 aggravated assaults, 4,335 instances of domestic violence and 3,752 robberies. The remaining victims were the most vulnerable victims of serious and violent crimes with 933 victims of sexual assault, 697 victims of child abuse and 548 victims of elder abuse.
Of these victims, they were further broken down into 25,484 white victims, 12,867 Asian or Pacific Islander, 12,027 Hispanic or Latino, 7,386 Black and 410 American Indian or Native Alaskan. The remainder of the victims were identified as “unknown” or “other” with 40,879 victims. Additionally, the SFPD has a new special unit, the Community Liaison Unit (CLU) that serves the most vulnerable and other-than-English monolingual victims. The CLU served 124 victims in 2022.
According to the DA’s Office, in 2022, its Division of Victim Services provided 9,028 victims with services. Again, to correlate the victim information provided by SFPD, out of almost 100,000 victims reported, about 10% directly received services from the DA’s Office. Of those, 2,298 were white, 2,228 Hispanic or Latino, 1,691 Black, 1,419 Asian or Pacific Islander, five American Indian or Alaskan Native and 1,387 unknown or other. For both departments the majority of victims served fell between the ages of 25 and 59 with the next highest age category falling in the over 60 category.
While I appreciate the detailed breakdown of data on crime categories, and ethnicity of crime victims in our City, these responses were woefully lacking to my request to better understand how they are responding to instances of targeted crime, and how the departments could do better at serving victims who are targeted because of their race, ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic status. We must do more to protect our vulnerable residents of San Francisco and we deserve better by our law enforcement agencies.
Protecting Tenants and Support Small Property Landlords
During the pandemic, the City provided rent relief to tenants and landlords. The program was a success but, with limited funding, we wanted to ensure relief was going to the most in need – including tenants and small property owners. Through a resolution, I requested the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD) to prioritize assistance for small property owners. Then I asked MOHCD to provide a report of the amount of rent relief funds received by landlords in San Francisco. The response from MOHCD showed the program’s success. An estimated 45% of payments between June 2021 and April 2023 were provided to smaller landlords, 30% of payments went to permanent supportive housing and other affordable units and 19% went to large-scale private property owners.
When we ask questions and demand city service delivery, we hold our city government accountable. And as a result, they must respond and perform better. I take the role as government watchdog seriously and will continue to use the power of inquiry to demand a more transparent and inclusive city government.
This article was published in the Richmond Review in October 2023.