Letters: Why Mayor Breed’s efforts aren’t making S.F. streets safer or cleaner
Dec 16, 2022
An Urban Alchemy member cleans the playground at Turk and Hyde streets in San Francisco. The street ambassadors have helped, but downtown still feels unsafe and dirty.
Jessica Christian / The Chronicle 2021
This article was originally published in San Francisco Chronicle
Dear Mayor Breed,
There has been a lot of positive discussion around how you’ve been addressing crime and the cleanliness of our city, specifically Union Square and downtown over the last year.
You’ve created a city ambassador program, placing ambassadors strategically on our streets to be a friendly face to visitors and provide directions. And you’ve placed police on the streets and increased cleaning efforts in these areas. While all this is positive and a step in the right direction, I’m sad to say that these efforts are still not fixing the problems we face as businesses in the area.
We are still experiencing high crime and dirty streets that remain unchecked. Here’s what’s not working:
- While the ambassador program is a positive addition to the city streets, unfortunately, they are not law enforcement and cannot protect our businesses or tourists. First and foremost, our residents and tourists need to feel safe walking our streets.
- While the police placed on the streets allude to safety, these officers are not actually walking around or seeking to discipline unlawful acts. We see the police mainly hanging out together on a street corner and seen sporadically from there; There is no consistent police force present.
- The city cleanup jobs have slowed down and only take place sporadically. We see streets get cleaned one week but then left untouched the following week. The idea of having crews unmonitored while they work is simply not working.
This week, a friend of mine and I were at a Peet’s Coffee on Market Street. The store was busy. In line, someone came around us with an oversized garage bag and started taking boxes of coffee and tea off the shelves. I blocked this guy from leaving while my friend notified the cashier. The cashier said their policy was to avoid confrontation, so I let the thief go. When we asked to speak to the manager, she said the reason they have this policy is that they cannot count on the police to respond, so they can not take chances and risk the safety of their employees if a physical altercation would occur. There must have been $200- $300 worth of coffee and tea boxes stolen. To put that loss in perspective, if you assume each customer spends on average, $5 a day on coffee, that means Peet’s will need an additional 40-60 customers to reconcile the loss that day. When you expand that problem to all the other stores in Downtown Union Square, the size of the problem becomes much greater.
I was in New York recently where I saw police seemingly everywhere. The streets downtown were clean and not one scrap of paper or human waste could be found. Why can’t San Francisco follow suit?
I’d like to propose we revisit solutions that have worked in the past. Years ago, a police officer on Ocean Avenue was a beat cop responsible for walking up and down the avenue and staying apprised of any crimes. He told me he knew every merchant and visited with them daily to get updates on what to watch out for and what was happening. One year, our police force eliminated walking police in favor of squad cars patrolling the neighborhood. The officer I knew switched to the fire department and told me he could no longer effectively do his job without direct street knowledge from the merchants.
We have about 2,000 police officers in San Francisco. We should revisit their placements on the streets and ask them to partner with our local merchants. Businesses should be able to have a relationship with an assigned police officer and the officer should be in close proximity at all times in case they need to respond quickly, like in the Peet’s coffee incident.
Nearby, we should also have a cleaning crew who can work directly with the walking officer and local businesses to address any street clean-up needs quickly.
We have a beautiful city. We are blessed to live in San Francisco. Please, let’s take care of her.
Hans Hansson, a San Francisco native who wants to see change happen.