Castro Merchants talk cops, holidays at November meeting

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday November 2, 2023
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District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey spoke to members of the Castro Merchants Association about his proposed police staffing charter amendment. Photo: Courtesy the subject
District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey spoke to members of the Castro Merchants Association about his proposed police staffing charter amendment. Photo: Courtesy the subject

A controversial proposed charter amendment to beef up police staffing by gay San Francisco Supervisor Matt Dorsey was discussed at the Castro Merchants Association meeting Thursday.

The upcoming holiday season was also on the agenda. As the Bay Area Reporter noted in an online article, the big action involved the business group voting not to have Castro Street closed for any future Lesbians Who Tech & Allies Summit.

SOMA supe pays a visit

Dorsey, who represents the South of Market neighborhood, paid a rare visit to the merchants meeting to ask for support for his police staffing plan, which he said he wants to bring to the voters directly as a ballot measure after District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safaí introduced a so-called poison pill amendment at the board's rules committee meeting October 30. The amendment would have tied Dorsey's measure to a voter-approved tax increase.

Dorsey is proposing $30 million in redirected funding to the San Francisco Police Department to ensure it has minimum staffing of 2,100 officers, several hundred more than the current sworn force.

The two other gay supervisors, Rafael Mandelman in District 8 and Joel Engardio in District 4, are listed as co-sponsors of Dorsey's charter amendment. The board's Rules Committee is scheduled to take it up again Monday per its agenda.

"Probably 90% of the issues we're dealing with as an office in terms of constituent problems includes some answer that includes 'we don't have enough police for that,'" Dorsey said. "Every once in a while I get the question 'why do voters have to do this? Why do we need a fully-staffed police department in the charter? You want an answer?' We saw that Monday morning. It is Exhibit A for why we have to ask voters to do this."

At the rules committee meeting, several speakers opposed Dorsey's plan and others opposed Safaí's amendment. Dorsey took some heat from several speakers for referring to the city "being held hostage" in light of hostages taken by Hamas in Gaza after its surprise attack on Israel October 7.

Dorsey told the business leaders that voters are just about the only thing he trusts regarding San Francisco politics, eliciting a quip from Mandelman, who represents the Castro.

"Matt..." he interrupted, to laughter.

Dorsey said he'd be willing to go through any process the merchants association has for endorsements. He told the B.A.R. after the meeting that if he can't get the board to put his charter amendment on the ballot as written and without the amendment, he will go to the voters.

"I've always said that if I couldn't get six votes at the board to take my police full staffing charter amendment to voters in March, I would pursue an initiative petition to get signatures for it in November 2024," Dorsey stated. "Either way, it's subject to voter approval at the ballot. The Safaí version as it stands now I do not support."

Safaí, who is running for mayor next year against incumbent London Breed, told the B.A.R. that "there is no guarantee his [Dorsey's] proposal will work and does not guarantee we will hire more officers."

He said the city's budget constraints make Dorsey's proposal "irresponsible." City Controller Ben Rosenfield, who has overseen the city's budget for a generation, announced his retirement plans in the San Francisco Chronicle the same day.

"We have at least a half a billion dollar deficit and growing," Safaí told the B.A.R. "The mayor just announced 3% budget cuts to all departments, and many of our vital services are on the line. My proposal simply says you can use existing revenue or new revenue. I believe we need more officers and don't think officers should be pitted against 911 call operators, emergency room nurses, firefighters, and sheriffs — all important to our public safety net.

"The mayor controls the budget and can make public safety a priority, including hiring new officers and recruitment in the upcoming budget without blowing a hole in the budget," he added.

Dorsey said during the merchants' meeting that one reason for the budget woes is the worsening perception of San Francisco's public safety by the nation at large and that voting for his charter amendment would rebut some of those concerns.

San Francisco's recently approved $14.6 billion two-year city budget that Breed signed in late July includes funding for 220 police officers. Dorsey's proposal would go beyond that.

Costumed revelers partied in the Castro October 28 as Halloween returned to the neighborhood. Photo: Steven Underhill  

Halloween a success
One thing everyone could agree on was that the reinvigorated Castro Halloween festivities October 28-29 were a spooky success.

"I want to congratulate the Castro Merchants on an amazing Hallo-weekend," Mandelman said. "Everyone stepped up."

Mary Conde of Another Planet Entertainment, which manages the Castro Theatre, said over 1,000 people came to see a screening of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" at the theater the night of October 28. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence drag nun group held a costume contest at the theater before the movie.

Tree lighting same night as Milk-Moscone vigil
Terry Asten Bennett, a straight ally who is president of the merchants' group, announced that the lighting of the Castro's holiday tree at Castro and 18th streets will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, November 27 — the same day as the annual candlelight vigil held by the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club to commemorate the anniversary of the 1978 assassinations of gay supervisor Harvey Milk and then-mayor George Moscone.

It was the double murders 45 years ago this year that led the late Dianne Feinstein to ascend to the mayoralty — as she was president of the Board of Supervisors at the time — launching her into the national spotlight as the leader of a city in crisis. Feinstein, who went on to be a U.S. senator in 1992, died in late September at the age of 90.

The candlelight vigil, held annually since 1978, will kick off one hour after the holiday tree lighting, at Castro and Market streets. Gay Milk club President Jeffrey Kwong stated to the B.A.R. that "it's an immovable feast."

"We've had it on Thanksgiving," Kwong stated, referring to years when the holiday and anniversary fall on the same day. "The LGBTQ+ community has been commemorating Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone in the Castro since the first tragic night we heard of their tragic assassinations.

"Rain or shine, the Milk club (then the Gay Democratic Club), along with the friends and family of Harvey Milk have been holding vigil and this year is an important year — the 45th anniversary of Harvey Milk's assassination," Kwong added.

Kwong stated that nonetheless the start time was moved back one hour to 7 p.m. to accommodate the tree lighting.

Asten Bennett said the holiday tree lighting is "the most expensive venture" the merchants do all year long. People who wish to do so can donate here.

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