An unusual declaration of emergency in the Tenderloin over opiate use may win praise for adding more cops and treatment options, but Breed might get pushback for the enhanced surveillance, and who knows if this is even going to make a dent in the Tenderloin’s persisting issues.  

We’d like to think it is a welcome thing that Mayor London Breed has a renewed focus on cleaning up the streets in the Tenderloin as opposed to obsessing over luxury retail thefts, particularly after an open letter from Tenderloin residents to the mayor saying, “We are the Tenderloin, and you have failed us.” So it’s great to see a dedicated response and all, but there is planet of vaguery in Friday’s announcement that Breed is declaring a “state of emergency in the Tenderloin, which the Chronicle describes as “allowing city officials to bypass some bureaucratic hurdles as they try to stem a tide of fatal overdoses and street crime.”

Breed’s official declaration of emergency uses the opaque governance language that it will involve “waiving rules around contract procurement and waiving zoning and planning codes.” What does that even mean? Adding more police and treatment options will play well to some constituency circles, but this may also mean ramping up the surveillance camera situation, which is likely to generate mistrust and pushback.  

“The situation in the Tenderloin is an emergency and it calls for an emergency response,” Breed said in her official announcement. “We showed during COVID that when we’re able to use an Emergency Declaration to cut through the bureaucracy and barriers that get in the way of decisive action, we can get things done and make real, tangible progress. We will use that focus and coordination to disrupt the illegal activity in the neighborhood, to get people the treatment and support they need, and to make the Tenderloin a safer, more livable place for the families and children who call the neighborhood home.”

We do know that it is a 90-day declaration, so any new rules would apply only to those three months. And the board of supervisors would have to ratify it, so they’ll likely have some pointed questions.  The board is supposed to be on recess for the holidays, but president Shamann Walton told the Chronicle he will reconvene them next week to vote on this.

The Tenderloin’s supervisor Matt Haney is on board with the declaration, even though he was conspicuously absent/uninvited to Wednesday’s Breed press conference about a Tenderloin crackdown. “We are losing over two people a day to drug overdoses, mostly to fentanyl, and mostly in the Tenderloin and SoMa,” Haney said in the official release. “This is a public health emergency demanding a crisis level response, with massive urgency, coordination, and determination to confront this epidemic.”