SF mayor makes case for reelection in State of the City address

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday March 7, 2024
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San Francisco Mayor London Breed delivered her State of the City speech at Pier 27 along the Embarcadero Thursday, March 7. Photo: Screengrab via YouTube
San Francisco Mayor London Breed delivered her State of the City speech at Pier 27 along the Embarcadero Thursday, March 7. Photo: Screengrab via YouTube

San Francisco Mayor London Breed made the case for her reelection at the State of the City address along the city's Embarcadero on March 7.

Breed, who was elected in a 2018 special election and won with 70% of the vote in the 2019 general election, faces an uphill climb this year. (A 2022 voter-approved measure moved the mayoral and other city elections to 2024, extending Breed's tenure by a year.)

Breed did not mention any specific LGBTQ initiatives in her speech. She did give a shout out to transgender women and to moderate LGBTQ candidates who are ahead in the race for seats on the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee.

The mayor began her address by reminding voters of her record at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which she phrased as the first of two acts thus far in her mayoralty.

"San Francisco declared an emergency in February 2020, and then with our partners around the Bay, issued the first shutdown order in the country. My administration then marshaled the Departments of Emergency Management, public health, and staff throughout city government to mobilize and turn our convention center into a COVID command center. ... As nursing homes across the country saw ballooning death rates, we protected our seniors, at Laguna Honda and elsewhere," she said. "San Francisco saw the lowest COVID death rate of any large city in the country. People want to say our civic government is dysfunctional — we can't collaborate, can't get the hard things done. Tell that to the thousands of San Franciscans who are alive today because of the work we did."

Breed is facing at least three major challengers in the November race. A San Francisco Chronicle poll last month showed that Breed — weighed down by dissatisfaction on issues surrounding public safety, homelessness and the drug crisis, and the post-COVID lull in economic activity downtown — faces the disapproval of 71% of likely voters.

Breed made responding to those concerns the centerpiece of her address — saying that she and moderate members of the Board of Supervisors are working on them. The second act of her mayoralty is a work in progress, Breed said.

"As COVID waned and vaccinations rose, we entered what I consider the second phase of my tenure: the recovery," she said.

That started with addressing public safety.

"We diverted non-emergency 911 calls to free up officers while providing better overall responses for those struggling on our streets," Breed said. "I appointed a former hate crimes prosecutor as our new district attorney, and Brooke Jenkins began prosecuting crimes. We launched retail theft blitz operations. We used bait cars and plainclothes officers to disrupt auto break-ins."

(Jenkins was appointed by Breed in 2022 after voters recalled former DA Chesa Boudin, a progressive. Jenkins, too, will be on the ballot in November and has already drawn one challenger, former San Francisco prosecutor Ryan Khojasteh, whom Jenkins fired when she took over. Khojasteh now works in the Alameda County DA's office.)

Breed said that thanks to the projected passage of Proposition E earlier this week, "we will be installing new public safety cameras in high-crime areas, deploying drones for auto thefts, car break-ins, and other crimes, and changing police department rules so our sworn officers are out in the field, not behind a desk."

On homelessness, Breed said that numbers have improved.

"We've helped over 15,000 individuals exit homelessness," Breed said. "We were the only county in the Bay Area to see unsheltered homelessness go down in the last point-in-time count cycle. We did it by increasing our shelter capacity by 66%, and increasing housing for the formerly homeless by 50%.

"We are not letting up," the mayor continued.

"We are continuing to add new housing, and new shelters," she said. "We are setting a new goal of 1,000 people a year for Homeward Bound, the program that provides unhoused people a ticket back to their home city."

The mayor also addressed the fentanyl crisis. The city saw a record number of 806 fentanyl overdoses last year, up from 647 in 2022. She framed it, along with COVID, as one of the major two public health crises of her tenure.

"This is a national tragedy happening in cities large and small, areas urban and rural," Breed said. "It's awful and it's heartbreaking, and while I am stepping up enforcement of our laws, because that's what our residents deserve and that's what our city needs, I remain absolutely committed to saving lives."

Breed touted federal actions by the Biden administration interrupting the sale and trafficking of fentanyl, and supporting compulsive treatment.

"Our approach is about accountability, resources, and new pathways," Breed said. "This means arresting and prosecuting dealers, and when necessary, arresting users who are a danger to themselves. ... offering people services is critical, but, frankly, we must compel some people into treatment."

Big plans for beleaguered downtown

Breed also addressed the exodus from downtown San Francisco. Her administration has begun a new initiative she said, 30 by 30, which hopes to bring 30,000 more residents and students downtown by 2030.

To do that, Breed said, downtown needs housing. That was the rationale behind Proposition C, which Breed supported and that looks on its way to passage.

The proposition exempts from the real estate transfer tax a property being converted from commercial to residential use for the first time.

"We are working with thought leaders, business folks, and educational institutions to make downtown a hub, a center of excellence," Breed said. "We've invited the University of California and Historically Black Colleges and Universities to join us, and some are coming as early as this summer."

Breed appeared to reject calls — such as from mayoral opponent and former mayor Mark Farrell — to return cars to the downtown portion of Market Street, where they've been barred from since 2020.

"Tearing out the bike lanes on Market Street — going backwards — will not move us forward, and it won't magically revive downtown," Breed said. "But 30,000 more people living and going to school downtown will."

Loss of business activity downtown since the COVID pandemic lockdowns back in 2020 is at least partly responsible for the city's budget deficit.

As the Bay Area Reporter previously reported, in December, Breed asked city departments for 10% cuts across the board. A deficit of about $800 million is expected over the next two fiscal years, and Breed has said it could reach $1 billion by Fiscal Year 2028. This has threatened critical services, such as funding to prevent HIV infections.

"Let me make two things clear," Breed said. "One: the Board of Supervisors and I will close this deficit. And we will not weaken our public safety to do so."

Credit belongs to 'woman who is actually in the arena,' Breed concludes

Breed went on the offensive, accusing her naysayers of rooting against the city, and paraphrasing former President Theodore Roosevelt's "Man in the Arena" speech.

She also offered the crescendo of her speech "on behalf of the transgender activists and their families — chosen or otherwise — who've made San Francisco an outpost of hope in a country of worrying hate," as well as on behalf of city workers and housing activists.

"I don't know about you, but I am tired of the negativity," Breed said. "The credit belongs to the woman who is actually in the arena who strives valiantly; who spends herself in a worthy cause.

"San Francisco is not wearing the shackles of your negativity any longer," Breed added. "No longer will we allow others to define who we are because we know who we are."

Breed said that the city remains a place people can live together across differences. Calls that the city is no longer progressive after the March 5 election results are false, she said, congratulating the new members of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee.

"We are a progressive, diverse city—living together, celebrating each other: LGBTQ, AAPI, Black, Latino, Palestinian and Jewish," she said. "That has not changed and it will not change."

Mayoral challengers respond

Farrell issued a statement that "the anemic progress and results Mayor Breed is touting today are too little, too late."

"Our streets have become a free for all for tent encampments, drug dealing, and overdose deaths while we have become the butt of jokes across America," the former mayor said. "San Franciscans have lost faith in her ability to meaningfully tackle our city's challenges and our city needs a mayor with a track record of effective leadership inside and outside of City Hall."

District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safaí is also challenging Breed. He told the B.A.R. that "she spoke as if she was introducing policies and ideas for the very first time."

"For six years now, San Franciscans have been under her failed leadership," Safaí stated. "She simply hasn't done enough; the city remains in crisis — drug use and overdoses are rampant and tent encampments are pervasive. Residents are demanding change.

"Mayor Breed is speaking from both sides of her mouth," he added. "She claims her policies will improve the livability and affordability but just two months ago she cut funding to after-school, senior and food pantry programs — critical services for our working and struggling families. Working families deserve a leader who will acknowledge and fight for them with clear actions, not with empty words."

Breed is also being challenged by Daniel Lurie, heir to the Levi Strauss fortune. He stated to the B.A.R., "The state of San Francisco is one that can be defined by a broken City Hall bureaucracy that protects insiders and rewards corruption while wasting record budgets.

"Not once did the mayor propose the magnitude of reform that our city desperately needs," Lurie continued. "San Francisco's best days are ahead of us if we muster the courage to usher in a new era of accountable leadership and new ideas. That will never come from someone who has failed to deliver on their promises after more than a decade in office."

Breed became District 5 supervisor back in 2013 and was reelected in 2017, becoming president of the Board of Supervisors. In that capacity, she immediately became acting mayor for several weeks after the December 2017 death of mayor Ed Lee. In January 2018, she was replaced as mayor by Farrell in a vote by the Board of Supervisors. Breed was elected in her own right in June 2018 to complete Lee's term and won a full term a year later in November.

Update 3/7/24: This story has been updated with remarks from Safaí.

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