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Under Heavy Criticism, San Francisco Supervisors Debate Mayor's Emergency Order

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP) -- An emergency order from Mayor London Breed intended to address drug-dealing and overdoses in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood is seeing significant criticism Thursday before the board of supervisors votes on it.

The public health emergency declaration allows the Department of Emergency Management to waive permitting, zoning and contract procurement rules to more quickly hire street cleaners and security and to set up a new temporary center where people can receive treatment and counseling, Breed has said.

The order has nothing to do with police deployment but critics are urging the Board of Supervisors to reject the declaration because of Breed's broader plan to flood the area with officers and force drug users into jail if they won't accept treatment.

"Threatening people with arrest doesn't work as a way to get addicted folks into treatment," said San Francisco supervisor Dean Preston, who wants the mayor to spend money on expanding mental health services, alternatives to policing and hotel rooms for the homeless.

"We can do this but only if we learn from past mistakes instead of repeating them," he said on social media.

The Tenderloin includes museums, the main public library and government offices, including City Hall. But it's also teeming with people who are homeless or marginally housed, a high concentration of drug dealers and people consuming drugs in broad view.

Breed said last week that it was time to be "less tolerant of all the bull—- that has destroyed our city." She said it's not fair that residents can't use their parks or leave home.

"When someone is openly using drugs on the street, we're going to give them the option of going to the services and treatment we're providing. But if they refuse, we're not going to allow them to continue using on the street," she said on social media this week. "The families in the neighborhood deserve better."

Deaths attributable to overdoses have increased more than 200% in San Francisco since 2018, and last year, more than 700 people died from drug overdoses in the city, more than the number who died from COVID-19, according to the proclamation.

Nearly 600 people have died of a drug overdose this year, through November, with nearly half of the deaths occurring in the Tenderloin and in the neighboring South of Market district, says the proclamation. These areas make up 7% of San Francisco's population.

"This is a status quo that absolutely needs to be challenged and disrupted with everything we have, said District 6 supervisor Matt Haney. "And, if this is not a public health emergency, then that phrase lacks any meaning at all."

Politically liberal cities across the U.S. are grappling with crime in the wake of the 2020 murder of George Floyd, when their elected leaders pledged ways to reduce friction between police and vulnerable communities of color, particularly African Americans such as Floyd.

San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin joined the city's public defender earlier this week to denounce the mayor's plan, saying that jailing people struggling with addiction, mental health issues and homelessness would not work.

"I'm really frustrated with the way in which this plan has been unveiled in the media and to the public," said supervisor Hillary Ronen. "It has colored the way we are all looking at this."

Ronen, for one, raised concerns Thursday afternoon about doubling down on a failed drug war, while saying she would like to vote for the emergency declaration.

"We've been in discussions with the mayor's office in the last day or so and I think we see some progress in what this enforcement will look like," Gary McCoy, director of policy for HealthRight 360 told KPIX. "There's a much better discussion now on how we help people with services."

© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. KPIX 5's Wilson Walker and the Associated Press contributed to this report

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