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CBD announces relaunch of Castro Cares at merchants meeting

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The Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District is relaunching Castro Cares, a neighborhood public safety initiative. Photo: Rick Gerharter
The Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District is relaunching Castro Cares, a neighborhood public safety initiative. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

Castro business owners heard about rebooted safety plans at the merchant association's first meeting of the year February 4, and gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman delivered a lightning round of updates on ongoing city issues, including the pandemic.

CBD public safety ambassadors
Andrea Aiello, a lesbian who is the executive director of the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District, announced the reboot of Castro Cares, its neighborhood public safety initiative.

The Bay Area Reporter reported on Castro Cares in 2018, when it was a relaunch of the original 2014 program.

As the B.A.R. previously reported, the Castro Cares initiative contains three prongs: SFPD foot and vehicle patrols, the downtown streets team (focused on unhoused individuals), and public safety ambassadors who will be patrolling on foot and bicycle Tuesday-Saturday, from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Aiello said that the current effort is being funded by the Office of Economic & Workforce Development with a grant of $413,245.

The ambassador program, similar to existing programs in the Union Square and Rincon Hill neighborhoods, will be a non-law enforcement response to problems vexing the neighborhood, Aiello said.

"This generous grant from OEWD allows us to supplement the great work the city does with resources dedicated specifically to the Castro to address the needs of our residents, business owners and visitors," Aiello stated in a news release accompanying the announcement.

"Castro Cares is just one more step the Castro CBD is taking to improve the neighborhood for everyone and help us recover as quickly as possible from this devastating pandemic," she stated. "The extra set of eyes, ears, and boots on the ground will help assure visitors using the shared spaces and outdoor dining that the Castro is clean and safe."

Aiello also reminded merchants about the other CBD safety proposal: a "daisy-chain" network of security cameras that as the B.A.R. previously reported, has elicited passion both for and against from neighbors. An online survey from the CBD on the subject, which will be followed by a town hall, will close February 8, Aiello said.

COVID-19 update
On COVID-19, Mandelman noted that the city's numbers "have taken a turn in the right direction" — but touted the reopening of businesses allowed by the state late last month without much enthusiasm.

The second lockdown was painful and hard on everyone, he said, and the city and county is still in the most restrictive of California's color-coded coronavirus tiers, along with much of the state.

"We have exited state-ordered shelter-in-place and are right now in an awful purple," Mandelman said. "If trends continue in late February, early March we could turn to red. I know you're hoping this will be the last lockdown of this particular pandemic, and of our lifetimes."

The average of new cases per day out of 100,000 residents reached a pandemic high of 43 (representing 374 new cases) January 8, according to data made available by the city. That number was down to 17.6 as of January 27, the most recent day for which data is publicly available (representing 153 new cases).

Mandelman also did not excuse the often confusing rollout of the new COVID-19 vaccines.

"I know you are interested in when you and your employees can get vaccinated," Mandelman said. "The mayor and the Board of Supervisors are also very interested in this. It's still way too hard to get signed up for a vaccination. The state is working on a central appointment system, but there is still no timeline for that."

Terry Asten Bennett, a straight ally whose family owns Cliff's Variety on Castro Street, panned the website that the city put up with some fanfare January 19 that is supposed to let people know when they are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination.

"The site to sign up for a vaccine is incomplete and unclear," she said. "Finding your 'industry' is a joke. ... It's really, really dysfunctional for finding people a place in line."

Mandelman concurred, calling the website "screwy."

"It doesn't find people a place in line," the supervisor said, saying that he personally found out through the system that as a middle-aged man with an underlying health condition he is not eligible right now. "At it's best, what the system would do is help me not to worry for a couple of months. It is unhelpful for a 67-year-old with underlying health conditions. It just says 'you're eligible,' which means you'll spend hours on the phone to get a place. It is noted. I will pass this on to the Department of Public Health."

When asked for comment, DPH responded with a statement attributed to the city's COVID Command Center.

"The intent of the Get Notify site is to inform people when they are eligible for dose, given the state prioritization plan, which SF is following. The feedback we received is that the state prioritization was complicated and hard to follow," the statement reads. "Once a person is eligible, they will now be instructed to go here to seek an appointment.

"However, [the] vaccine is very limited," the statement reads. "While you may be eligible for vaccination, there may not be an available dose or appointment. San Francisco and its health care partners are prepared to vaccinate 10,000 people a day but are constrained by the lack of vaccine supply. The Get Notified notification and the Get Vaccinated appointment site will continue to help people know when they are eligible and schedule an appointment."

Mandelman did express optimism, however, that the city will improve the vaccine situation. The productivity of the City College vaccination site, which launched January 22, is "dependent on the supply of vaccines," he said, but "at some point, in the not too distant future, we'll be going 10,000 vaccines per day."

The city already announced last month its goal of vaccinating every San Franciscan by June 30.

As of February 3, however, only 3% of San Francisco adults are fully vaccinated, according to data made available by the city. Ten percent have received at least one of two doses as of the same time.

Mandelman said that, in the meantime, he is working with District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani on waiving business and licensing fees "for most businesses in San Francisco affected by the COVID-shutdown orders."

Shared Spaces reopen this weekend
The implementation of the Shared Spaces program radically altered the landscape of the Castro, and several other neighborhoods, since the summer.

At the beginning of the meeting, Castro Merchants President Masood Samereie announced that the Shared Space on 18th Street will reopen February 6 and will be open Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The Shared Space on Noe Street will reopen February 7 and will be open on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Dave Karraker, the owner of MX3 Fitness on Market Street in the Castro and a member of the Castro Merchants board, paid tribute to the team who managed the Shared Spaces.

"I don't want anyone to miss the fact of how difficult this was to do," Karraker said. "If you've ever planned a wedding, you know how difficult it was."

Mandelman said that the end of the pandemic will probably not be the end of Shared Spaces and structures for outdoor dining, but that it is unlikely they will continue in their current form in perpetuity. While some businesses benefit greatly from their existence, others who've had nearby parking spaces eliminated are hurting.

"On Shared Spaces, conversations are happening in City Hall about how we want to proceed over the next couple of years," Mandelman said. "We want people to make good in the investment they made [in structures], for a period of time. The mayor will have a proposal very soon — probably within the next month."

Hearing on New Year's Eve crash likely next month
Mandelman praised Dave Burke, a straight ally who, as the B.A.R. previously reported, is the new public safety liaison for District 8, and who was on the merchants' Zoom call.

"There's been a lot of insanity out there, and a lot of crime, so having an advocate like Dave is great and he's been incredibly helpful to us at keeping track of people on our list of folks in the most trouble," Mandelman said. "It does seem like crime is going up: broken windows not even related to a theft, but just someone who decided to throw a brick through that window."

The supervisor also got the message that business owners love a program in District 5 that reimburses up to $1,000 for broken storefront windows. As the B.A.R. previously reported, Samereie had said in September that the program can serve as a "blueprint" for other districts.

"To the issue of the broken windows, we have heard loud and clear that you liked the program in District 5 and you'd like it in more areas," Mandelman said. "If San Francisco is going to be unable to deliver a bare minimum of safety, it's not unreasonable for those businesses to have windows replaced on public cost. I'm not on the budget committee, as I said, but I have a voice."

Mandelman encouraged merchants to get to know Matt Donahue, a bisexual attorney who, as the B.A.R. previously reported, became District Attorney Chesa Boudin's liaison to District 8 late last year.

Mandelman also expressed outrage over a crime that shook the city over the new year holiday — which, as the B.A.R. previously reported, has led to heightened scrutiny of Boudin — in which two pedestrians were killed in a hit-and-run incident in the South of Market neighborhood, allegedly by a parolee who'd been released from jail in the city on multiple occasions in the past year.

Police arrested San Francisco resident Troy Ramon McAlister, 45, on December 31 for driving under the influence after a reported stolen vehicle he was driving allegedly struck Elizabeth Platt, 60, and Hanako Abe, 27, while they entered a crosswalk at Mission and Second streets.

McAlister, who was paroled in April, was arrested again in June, August, October, November, and on December 20.

"I was horrified by the news of the crash on New Year's Eve that took the lives of those two women in SOMA," Mandelman said. "I've joined with Supervisor Stefani asking a number of questions about our public safety response — how long folks are spending in jail? How often are they re-offending? Where are they coming from? Is this homegrown? — trying to get some of that, and the failures of various agencies and departments figured out. Our concern is that this particular incident is not isolated, but is part of a structural problem as well."

The Mandelman-Stefani hearing is not yet scheduled, but will probably happen in March, Mandelman said.

Merchants back 'A Place for All'
Mandelman asked the merchants to vote in support of his 'A Place for All' proposal, which the association did during the meeting.

Under the plan, announced by Mandelman last year, the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing would provide safe sleeping sites across the city and figure out funding. These sites would be reevaluated annually after two years.

Mandelman said that tent encampments will never disappear from neighborhood sidewalks across the city until there is an alternative shelter for vulnerable people.

"We need some place, not a plaza or a park, for every unhoused person, for everyone who needs a place," Mandelman said. "It seems to me that that's what a civilized society does."

Mandelman said that these spots would have at a minimum "some lighting, some bathrooms" and organization.

Mandelman said that critics of the plan generally come in two shades. The first are those who say that the plan will lead to "endless sprawling encampments all over San Francisco," to which he'd respond "we have that now it's just that we're not managing it."

The second group of critics is associated with the Coalition on Homelessness, who insist that the ideal solution to homelessness is permanent housing.

"It's true: the solution to homelessness is housing," Mandelman said. "But I don't believe that the City and County of San Francisco can solve a problem of not having housing created by the federal government and that is regional and statewide. We didn't create this problem, [but] we have to manage it."

Mandelman said that the support of the merchants association will be helpful in campaigning for 'A Place for All.'

Keegan Medrano, a pansexual person who is the policy and communications director for the Coalition on Homelessness, said there are other reasons why the group's members disagree with 'A Place for All' as they last saw it.

Medrano said that the coalition and Mandelman are scheduled to meet February 5 to discuss a revised version of the plan, but that they have not seen it yet and so can only comment on what Mandelman discussed with them last year.

"For what I was originally shown in November, the issue is that it demands and mandates a place for all. It says it will establish a safe sleeping village network across the city," Medrano said.

"With 500 people per encampment, we'd need 45 to 125 encampments spread across the city," Medrano said. "We believe it is not feasible, would be a huge drain on the budget, and obviously diverts funds going to permanent supportive housing.

"We can't provide shelter for all, or housing for all, so we have to negotiate down to a 'place' for all, and it would be ineffective and unwieldy," Medrano added,

Medrano also said that the legislation may lead to "the normalization of sweeps" of tent encampments, something that Mandelman conceded during the meeting was a possibility. It is currently against city policy to enforce anti-camping ordinances.

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