CIT intervention
Funding an alternative to police response sounds like a done deal—but could too many alternatives confuse the public to disastrous effect? Photo courtesy of SFPD
Supes’ Meeting Ends in Confusion
Gordon Mar
Chair Gordon Mar

Replacing Police response with community advocates was approved 3–0, but disquieting details persist about which agency gets the call to an emergency and how much to spend?

W hile Supervisors Gordon Mar, Catherine Stefani and Matt Haney—all three members of the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee—agreed “in principle” with the resolution that would shift response to 9-1-1 & 3-1-1 “Priority C-level” calls involving unhoused people from Police duties to a more community oriented agency.

Department of Emergency Management (9-1-1) call takers receive calls or complaints that they send to a dispatcher. The dispatcher assigns a response, if the call requires a response. The dispatcher assigns an available team or unit to respond. The call waits in a queue if there are no available units. The responders report to dispatch when they arrive. Priority A-level calls occur in response to emergencies that require an immediate response such as the danger of a loss of life or major damage to property. B-level calls involve an individual in medical or mental crisis who is non-violent, has no weapon and has committed no crime. Priority C-level are non threatening behavioral complaints. Any incident could escalate to a higher priority during the response in progress. There are also 3-1-1 calls, the police non-emergency line for non-urgent needs, and calls made directly to the Homeless Outreach Team.

Matt Haney
Matt Haney

Reallocating 4.8 million dollars in the Police Department budget to fund the Compassionate Alternative Response Team (CART) in addition to the 2 million dollars that are already on reserve for an alternative response to policing was not clearly supported, and there was unanimous confusion about the logistics—since the services of the Fire Department and the Department of Public Health’s Street Crisis Response Team (SCRT) and its offshoot, the Street Wellness Response Team could coincide with the CART services.The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing also provides a Homeless Outreach Team (SFHOT), and the Department of Public Health maintains a Comprehensive Crisis Team in conjunction with SFPD. The Police are themselves trained in crisis intervention and has a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Program, which trains officers to respond to behavioral health emergencies. These functions sometimes, perhaps often, overlap. To the Supervisors, defining the circumstances in which a 911 or 311 call would be assigned to which of the agencies seemed, as yet, unclear.

quote marks

SUPERVISOR STEFANI: I don't know how the workers in the community will be trained. Are they only responding to C-calls? How do they know they are responding to a C-call? What if someone doesn't want to call 911 because they only want to call CART? What if it's more than a C-level call?”

Vinny Eng
Vinny Eng, CART

Supervisor Haney, introduced the resolution, noting that the SFPD responds to an average of 179 homeless complaints each day and that the Police Commission has recommended that these duties should be reallocated. “C-level” calls to 911 or 311 usually involve altercations between unhoused individuals, trespassing on private property or sanitation issues.

Vinny Eng was one of the presenters for CART, and other presenters made the case for its implementation and funding. “It is not a crime to be poor, it is not a crime to lack access to housing, it is not a crime to live under unstable conditions,” Eng said, as he explained the following slides:

altercation graphic
doorway graphic
sanitation graphic
Catherine Stefani
Catherine Stefani

Supervisor Stefani seemed unsatisfied with the vague distinctions. “I do have questions with regard to the interplay of CART and some of those response teams”—and she pushed further. “My concern is only around how it's all going to work together in terms - I just don't understand the interplay between all of it. Part of me thinks of the incredible work they do, we need more EMS-6 and more crisis response team so we can answer the calls.

“CART Has basically pointed out they're not getting the answers. Not just to allay the caller experience—who's calling in. I totally understand that. But I'm trying to get a sense of who is responding? What is the level of training? Because when you look at our street crisis response team. You look at the wellness team and everything that's proposed. These are paramedics in the field. Sorry, I'm just trying to get a sense of the difference between the two and how it would all relate?”

Chief Pang
Chief Simon Pang

Chief Simon Pang, section chief of community para-medicine for the Fire Department, who has been leading its effort to build the SCRT offered a caution “I agree with all those principles. I, somehow, I feel like there's a sense of us and then the other and that's a little concerning to me. I feel like the members that are supportive of CART have an idea that they have the best way to do it and everyone else is not doing it correctly. And so it's concerning to me because I'm afraid that there may be unfortunate delays and care of someone who might really be in extremis, but the CART responder may not recognize, in the first place, that there's an actual emergency going on and then, they delay in activating medical resources because of an aversion for the institution.”

Chief Pang had a specific incident in mind. “ … yesterday, members of the San Francisco Harm Reduction Team (Glide), contacted one of the EMS 6 Captains, who happened to have an E.R. Doctor with them that day and they said “we just gave Narcan to someone,” a Narcan reversal, but the person still seems like they're not waking up. So, our EMS-6 team (SF Fire Department) recognized that the person was not fully awake, was still overdosing and the half-life of Narcan is shorter than the half-life of heroin and fentanyl, and they wanted to treat that individual, but what happened was, a police officer on foot patrol happened to walk by at that moment and said, “can I help?” And, the members of the Harm Reduction Team were so triggered by the presence of police, they came over and interrupted care and said, “why did you call police? Why did you call police here?” And the captain attempted to explain they did not call police. The police happened to be there and were not interfering, but had good intentions and were trying to help. They interfered with patient care. And, it turned out that this gentleman had lice, was still under the influence of opioids and agreed to go to the hospital, … and then the members of the Harm Reduction Team interfered again and got very upset that the police officer is there and unfortunately, this person stumbled off against medical advice. So, this is my concern about an interaction that I think is not conducive for cooperation for all the city agencies in trying to help people on the scene.”

Stefani, admitting that the situation was making her nervous said “My concern is that we have not worked out how all of this is going to work together. And investing in it with these—it sounds like there's a lot more that needs to be discussed between those good people that want CART to go forward, I know several, I love Vinny, … but I'm really nervous that tensions have not come down enough to work together because my understanding in what the Police Commission has asked, what the Board of Supervisors has unanimously asked is that we have—we want people other than the Police Department, those who show up with guns to respond—that we have our paramedics and we have our Fire Department who are not armed, who are trained, who are trained in extra layers when it comes to the community paramedic division, that they are responding. And it seems to me that, even that seems to be problematic … the situation that just occurred yesterday with the Harm Reduction Team … indicates to me there's still tension that, to put this all together seems problematic. I don't know how the workers in the community will be trained. Are they only responding to C-calls? How do they know they are responding to a C-call? What if someone doesn't want to call 911 because they only want to call CART? What if it's more than a C-level call? I think this is a very good idea, but … somebody was talking about too many cooks in the kitchen and now we're adding our own response team with what we already have?”

The resolution, sponsored by Supervisors Haney, Preston, Ronen and Walton could be heard at the full Board of Supervisors next Tuesday, pending compilation of the agenda, which will be posted tomorrow morning. Listen in.

Doug Comstock is Editor of the Westside Observer.

JUNE 2021

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Supervisor Norman Yee: Police Staffing

O Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors took a vote on a non-binding resolution to establish a Board policy to support increasing the number police officers in San Francisco based on population growth. We have heard from many District 7 residents who were perplexed by my decision to oppose this resolution. Since the media did not cover my perspective, I want to take this opportunity to explain my position.

Since coming into office, I have urged the City to increase the number of police officers to the level that our current Charter supports, which is 1,971. The San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) currently has 1,689 full-duty officers, so we are roughly 300 officers short of meeting the 1,971 goal. Just a few years ago, SFPD had a hiring freeze due to the economic recession and struggled to increase its force. That was unacceptable to me. This year, I supported a City budget which allowed SFPD to add 8 police academy classes over the next two years to train new officers. Police Chief Greg Suhr believes that our city will reach 1,971 police officers by 2017 with this increase in classes.

quotes

…the resolution called for increasing our police force beyond 2,200 officers. The 2,200 figure is based on an old report completed in 2008. The sponsors of the resolution did not even bother to have a discussion with the San Francisco Police Commission, the oversight body of the SF Police Department, about this goal. ”

The resolution introduced by my colleagues did not simply state that we wanted to increase the number of officers to meet our current needs. I would have supported that. Instead, the resolution called for increasing our police force beyond 2,200 officers. The 2,200 figure is based on an old report completed in 2008. The sponsors of the resolution did not even bother to have a discussion with the San Francisco Police Commission, the oversight body of the SF Police Department, about this goal. I have an issue with supporting a policy statement that does not offer an open, transparent dialogue about the real needs to support an increase. I also don’t believe in making decisions based on outdated data. Since 2008, there have been many changes that influence the assessment of the appropriate number of police officers needed to keep our city safe. This includes new technology that we are investing in to increase SFPD’s ability to decrease response time. Can there be other changes to make SFPD more efficient? Can we move police officers out of desk jobs and on to the beat instead? Are there effective crime prevention programs that would influence the number of officers needed to ensure public safety?

I also want to point out that this resolution is not impactful. It is merely a statement--not a mandate or an action. If we really want to talk about increasing public safety, we should be looking at proactive ways to determine the needs of our city. We have at least two years before the SFPD can even reach the 1,971 goal established by our Charter. I want us to get to a point where we are able to make the call to increase the number of officers based on a comprehensive process. I wanted to offer an amendment to this resolution to include a process to determine how many police officers are needed in the City based on current analysis. I wanted to take the politics out of this vote.

I completely support our police force and look forward to getting our District 7 stations fully staffed to serve our residents. But, as we plan for the future, I want to continue this conversation and approach the question of appropriate staffing for all our Public Safety departments in a comprehensive way.

I hope this helps to clarify my position on this resolution. Let’s make sound, logical decisions rather than political ones. It’s only fair to the residents of our District and this great city that we take the time to do it right. (June 24, 2015)

July/August 2015

Not So Happy at the Vape Lounge

In a midterm interview published in the March 2015 Westside Observer, Supervisor Yee spun his January 13, 2015 Board vote to grant a conditional use permit for the Happy Vape lounge as a land use question on which he had little choice but to vote yes — despite the outpouring of opposition from District 7 residents and schools.

Prior to Supervisor Yee’s motion to approve the Vape Lounge, he sang a very different tune and for good reason. ”

As the former president of the San Francisco Planning Commission who voted on hundreds of conditional use requests, I can say that nothing is farther from the truth. And if you watch the Board deliberations, it is clear that the rest of the Board agreed with me and was prepared to reject the vape lounge’s request. Instead, when Yee led the charge for approval, they deferred to the supervisor since it was his district. So much for his attempt to spin the matter.

But Yee turning his back on his constituents is not what has moved me to respond.

Rather, it is his cynical flip flop on the health concerns of e-cigarettes, characterizing the concerns as unfounded and touting the fact that some smokers cite e-cigarettes as helping them to quit smoking. And all without mentioning the impact on our children of Big Tobacco’s marketing aimed at the youthful demographic.

Prior to Supervisor Yee’s motion to approve the Vape Lounge, he sang a very different tune and for good reason.

On March 6, 2014 he chaired a meeting of the Rules Committee on proposed legislation banning the smoking of e-cigarettes in public spaces. The testimony as to the health hazards of e-cigarettes, and the targeting of children by Big Tobacco, was eye opening. When it suited him in front of a vocal anti e-cigarette crowd, our supervisor enthusiastically joined the movement, stating:

“Whether you’re on one side or the other side of this issue, whether it’s toxic or not, I’m hearing enough that it seems like its toxic. And for those that say maybe it’s not toxic, well, then that’s not good enough for me as an argument.”

He spoke about the importance of “not feeling like you’re getting contaminated by things on your clothes or your lungs and so forth” and wanting his daughter to have the benefits of the protection from second hand smoke in public places.

As for the supposed benefit of allowing a smoker to kick their habit, there are no studies that establish that e-cigarettes are an effective way to stop smoking, as Yee himself would have heard at both hearings.

Finally, he quite clearly accepted the fact that Big Tobacco was marketing to children, saying “The whole issue of advertising and targeting children, we know other industries have done that.”

As I listened to Yee at the Rules Committee criticize the e-cigarette industry’s attempts to target children in its marketing. but never mention that telling fact at the vape lounge hearing or in the interview, I couldn’t help but think of my own son, who attended Commodore Sloat and Aptos Middle School, and passed by the location where a vape lounge will now be open for business. Glad he graduated before Norman Yee became my supervisor.

Both of these hearings can be viewed at sfgovtv.org.

Ms. Theoharis has served as former president of the Planning Commission, West of Twin Peaks Central Council and the Westwood Park Association

May 2015

At Midterm: District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee

Our Supervisor Norman Yee chatted amiably with staff and contributors to the Observer. Dismissed after 20 minutes, we still had several questions left to go—maybe next time. Photo: Nenita Quijano

When the Observer met with District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee February 5th in his office at City Hall, we had several specific questions we had planned to ask, but since he could only spare 20 minutes, our list had to be greatly abbreviated. We dispensed with the soft questions and spent our few minutes asking the hard questions. We felt that our approach might appear to be focused on his more controversial decisions, and so we offered to allow the Supervisor to list his accomplishments as well at the end of the interview.

Re-election

Will you run for re-election? The response to our first question was an unequivocal “yes.”

AirBnB

Asked if he would support future exemptions from AirBnB rentals in RH1 and RH1 (D) neighborhoods, Yee explained that he does support such an exemption, and had offered to amend the legislation to prohibit such uses, but lost the effort on a 5 to 6 vote. While the final legislation to legalize short-term rentals ultimately passed, Supervisor Yee stands by his dissenting vote.

Happy Vape Lounge: Conditional Use Appeal

phhoto of 1963 Ocean Ave
On the short Ocean Avenue strip there are several other businesses in the area that are allowed to sell e-cigarettes, as well as the much unhealthier tobacco product itself. For Yee, it seemed unfair to prevent a small business from opening in an area where empty storefronts are too prevalent. There are seven vacant storefronts in the 1900 block of Ocean” Avenue.

Supervisor Yee spent most of our 20 minutes explaining his opposition to the Appeal of the Planning Department’s Conditional Use Permit at 1963 Ocean Avenue for a business that will sell e-cigarettes and plans to install a communal hookah in the basement. This controversial business use had considerable opposition from the neighborhood, including a petition signed by over 30% of neighbors within 300 feet of the permitted use. Some neighbors in favor of the Appeal noted that there were several schools just blocks away from the site.

“I looked at several aspects of the Appeal — and I co-authored an anti-clustering measure of such businesses — but in the end, I considered it strictly as a land use issue,” Yee said. He found no evidence to support discrimination against the business strictly on a land-use basis.

The health studies are not conclusive. “There are studies that show there are no adverse effects and some that are not,” he said. “Is there any scientific proof?” At the hearing on the Appeal, several people testified that e-cigarettes had helped them overcome their addiction to cigarettes, and they are happy there is a healthier alternative to smoking. One man testified that his father, a life-long smoker, is no longer smoking and his health is greatly improved. Several speakers attested that e-cigarettes helped them stop smoking cigarettes. “There were an equal number of speakers for and against the Appeal, Yee said. “I had to go with what is legal, I can’t make it illegal.”

On the short Ocean Avenue strip there are several other businesses in the area that are allowed to sell e-cigarettes, as well as the much unhealthier tobacco product itself. For Yee, it seemed unfair to prevent a small business from opening in an area where empty storefronts are too prevalent. There are seven vacant storefronts in the 1900 block of Ocean Avenue. Supervisor Norman Yee

One condition of the permit requires ID checks at the door to prevent minors from entering the store. One speaker noted that businesses, such as the 7-Eleven on the strip, allow children to view the e-cigarettes available to customers-at-large. Smoking, or “vaping” as it is generally called, is not permitted on the street level. The actual use is limited to the hookah lounge in the basement, and that is limited to 21 people at a time. Yee also noted that he prevailed on the owners to put security cameras on the store to monitor the storefront activity, and to make the videos available to the Police Department.

“I’ve asked the Police Department for Crime Reports, and compared areas that have such businesses with areas that do not, (and they) showed no difference in crime,” he said. “And, as a condition of the permit, the business must come back in six months before the commission to review crime reports to determine that they are good neighbors, including increased criminal activity, noise and loitering.” Yee concluded, “Planning passed it — I couldn’t find a good reason not to support it.”

The vote on the Conditional Use for the vaping lounge was 9 to 2, with Supervisors Cohen and Mar dissenting. Supervisor Yee said that he is “working to tighten regulations on e-cigarettes to prevent the proliferation of vapor shops and tobacco paraphernalia shops in the city. Last year, he also passed legislation to prevent the clustering of medical cannabis dispensaries on Ocean Avenue.”

Korean War Memorial

Will you support a city donation to the Korean War Memorial in the Presidio? (The initial $3.1 million has already been raised, but still needs $400,000.)

“You are the first one who has ever asked me that,” replied Yee, “I don’t like to give away money—but I need more information.”

Artificial Turf in Golden Gate Park

Our last question was about Yee’s support for artificial turf, especially now that evidence is surfacing of a higher degree of cancer among students (especially goalies) who play on artificial turf made from recycled tire crumb rubber. We asked if he would be supporting SB 47, Senator Hill’s Artificial Turf Moratorium (The Children’s Safe Playground and Turf Field Act of 2015*)?

Yee replied that, as a School Board Member, he “had to make a decision regarding artificial turf at Burton High School, and I had been assured at that time that artificial turf is no longer made of the same stuff. I haven’t heard of any health issues from that field.”

Regarding the field at Beach Chalet, Yee noted “I was a soccer coach for four years, and I know first hand how bad conditions of the field at Beach Chalet were, and that’s why I supported the new field.”

Rec and Park is now looking to replace 4 soccer fields, and they are looking for a different material, would you support a moratorium on artificial turf at those fields until the health concerns are mitigated?* Yee replied that he would like to see the information our reporter has about the cancer concerns, and that he would revisit the high schools where artificial turf has been installed and make inquiries about health concerns that they may have.

We had planned to ask questions about Supervisor Yee’s less controversial votes and advocacy, including his support for maintaining the current CEQA Appeal Structure — increasing notice requirements and clearer appeal timelines.

Yee has been a strong supporter for pedestrian safety and we had questions about his hearing on safety in District 7, which brought $450,000 in additional funds to improve safety in the district.

We also agreed with his support for Free Muni for Seniors and People with Disabilities that will begin March 1st. The Ingleside Garden Project, West Portal Playground renovation, playground at Golden Gate Heights Park, as well as the new boat ramp at Lake Merced are among the other accomplishments we would have liked to discuss. For a more complete list of accomplishments provided by the Supervisor visit our website.

* This bill would require the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, by July 1, 2017, in consultation with the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, the State Department of Public Health, and the Department of Toxic Substances Control, to prepare and provide to the Legislature and post on the office’s Internet Web site a study analyzing synthetic turf, as defined, for potential adverse health impacts. The bill would require the study to include certain information, including a hazard analysis of individual, synergistic, and cumulative exposures to the chemicals that may be found in synthetic turf, as provided. The bill would prohibit a public or private school or local government, until January 1, 2018, from installing, or contracting for the installation of, a new field or playground surface made from synthetic turf within the boundaries of a public or private school or public recreational park, as provided.

** nbcnews.com/news/investigations/how-safe-artificial-turf-your-child-plays-n2201

March 2015


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