While multiple federal agencies and departments have offices in the federal building at Seventh and Mission, one has issued a directive to its staff to work remotely for the foreseeable future due to ongoing safety issues with drug dealing and use happening on the sidewalks outside.
Apparently that fence they put up around the building's plaza a few years ago hasn't deterred groups of people from making use of the concrete benches on the edges of the property of what's now called the Speaker Nancy Pelosi Federal Building. A Ninth Circuit judge made mention of the situation in a dissent last month, discussing how the view across the street from the appeals court was a prime example of the "most pressing problems plaguing big-city America."
Indeed, a block away at Seventh and Market, there's a hub for drug sales and this activity spills down toward the federal building and has for years. And now, as the Chronicle reports, employees with the San Francisco office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have been told to work from home indefinitely. In a memo dated August 4, HHS Assistant Secretary for Administration Cheryl R. Campbell issued the directive, saying "In light of the conditions at the [Federal Building] we recommend employees… maximize the use of telework for the foreseeable future."
Pelosi's local office is also in the 18-story building that bears her name, and the five employees there say they're still going into the office. It seems that employees with the Social Security Administration, Department of Labor, Department of Agriculture, and Department of Transportation are also going in, though this can't be confirmed.
As Axios notes, the memo from HHS coincided with President Biden issuing his own directive telling federal agencies to put an end to remote work, calling it "a priority of the President."
But the Chronicle found out that Pelosi herself had expressed concerns about the street conditions around the building in a recent meeting with Ismail Ramsey, the new U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California.
Pelosi's office put out a statement confirming this, saying, "The safety of workers in our federal buildings has always been a priority for Speaker Emerita Pelosi, whether in the building or on their commutes. Federal, state and local law enforcement — in coordination with public health officials and stakeholders — are working hard to address the acute crises of fentanyl trafficking and related violence in certain areas of the city."
We know that Pelosi has been part of conversations with Mayor London Breed and local and federal law enforcement about the crackdown on drug crimes in the Tenderloin and SoMa. And Pelosi made a special request to Attorney General Merrick Garland to bring in more federal enforcement, and to add San Francisco to the national crackdown on drug-related violence known as Operation Overdrive.
"While SF has an ongoing, increasingly robust public health response, we need law enforcement targeted at the cartels – which promote overdose deaths and violent crime," Pelosi said in a May statement. "Operation Overdrive would unlock more federal resources to deter fentanyl trafficking and ensure public safety."
Pelosi reportedly secured that federal assistance, but we don't yet know what the results might be, or if a larger federal sting like those we've seen in years past in the Tenderloin could be coming.
Richard Stebbins, a public affairs officer for the General Services Administration, which oversees and operates the Pelosi Federal Building along with the Burton Federal Building a few blocks away, assures the Chronicle that the building itself remains safe.
"The building is a safe and secure space for federal employees and the visiting public," Stebbins tells the Chronicle. “There are a number of security controls GSA employs to make sure the building is safe including Federal Protective Services officers at the building and secure checkpoints."
The building, which opened in 2007, has plenty of detractors as well as fans of its contemporary design — which was by architect Thom Mayne and his firm Morphosis. The broad plaza designed for its front, covered in crushed granite and wrapping around a small cafe building at Seventh and Mission, soon became an eyesore with blowing trash and vagrancy, and in recent years it home to a nighttime drug market, of sorts.
The GSA undertook a $3 million renovation of the plaza which was completedly last year, just before it was christened the Speaker Nancy Pelosi Federal Building. That makeover includes the imposing fence, as well as new concrete pavers and greenery.