SAN FRANCISCO, CA — On Tuesday, July 27, 2021, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 10 to 1 to approve a $13 billion budget negotiated with Mayor London Breed. District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston cast the only dissenting vote, citing the budget’s increased funding for law enforcement and the failure to allocate Proposition I funds for social housing. The approved budget will give over $1 billion to policing and incarceration in San Francisco this year alone.
The past year has undoubtedly been challenging for the people of San Francisco. Our City continues to reel from the devastation of COVID-19, which especially harmed Black and Latinx communities. By January 2021, workers worldwide had already lost $3.7 trillion in earnings over the pandemic, according to the U.N. International Labour Organization. The San Francisco Controller’s Office recently announced that over 45% of San Francisco’s small businesses remain closed. Renters are hundreds of millions of dollars in rental debt, and the City’s rental assistance program remains underfunded.
The latest City budget is not all bad, as it will partially fund some crucial community programs. For example, the budget makes investments into homelessness programs and sets aside an additional $32 million for rent relief. It will also invest in supportive housing, youth programs, mental health and public toilets. After a contentious budget season competing with each other for funds, the Street Crisis Response Team (SCRT) and Compassionate Alternative Response Team (CART), both of which will respond to calls concerning homelessness and divert up to 65,000 calls away from the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD), will also receive funding. Despite the community-led program’s overwhelming support, the budget did not fully fund the CART program for 2021, the program’s first year. The budget also failed to allocate any funding to CART for its second year.
But while dozens of community programs cannot meet our people’s needs for lack of funding, the latest budget overwhelmingly increases our City’s investment in almost every law enforcement department. Despite last September’s closure of County Jail 4, the budget fails to refund our community and instead increases the Sheriff Department’s budget by $23 million. The Sheriff’s rationale for the increase, after multiple hearings, was that the department needs funds for cost of living adjustments and hiring against staff attrition. But why should the City aim for the same staffing levels despite the closure of a jail that employed 90-plus deputies?
The City’s budget also increases funding for the District Attorney, Adult Probation and Juvenile Probation. Juvenile Hall and Log Cabin Ranch, two other facilities that youth justice advocates worked to close, will continue to be funded. SFPD will see a paltry reduction—less than 1%—in General Fund money this year, a reduction that will be more than undone next year with a $25 million increase to SFPD.
The approved budget breaks the Mayor’s promise, made in the wake of the George Floyd uprisings, to divest from policing. In fact, the City’s budget for SFPD includes funds for increased foot patrols, which will inevitably put our most vulnerable neighbors in harm’s way. Even worse, it walks back the Mayor’s promise to redirect law enforcement funding to the Black community. The police investment, dubbed the Dream Keeper Initiative, will instead come out of the General Fund, diverting potential funding from City College and life-saving programs.
Throughout budget season, advocates from various organizations and coalitions banded together to ask for a “just” budget that prioritized people over cops and cages. People asked for dignified long-term housing, health care, education, overdose prevention and workforce development—much of which could have been funded with a fraction of the policing and incarceration budget. Instead, many advocates see this budget as a return to a business-as-usual mentality that prioritizes criminalization in San Francisco.
“This budget doubles down on our city’s investment in the racist and violent institutions that have never been able to keep us safe,” said Defund SFPD Now organizer Jamie Chen. “The only way to create real public safety is to reduce the number of interactions between police and our communities and to invest in the life-affirming care needed to prevent harm from occurring in the first place.”
For the community, however, the fight doesn’t start or end with budget season. Through political education, neighborhood organizing and removing barriers to care, advocates will keep pushing forward in their vision for a city that can push past violence and punishment. “At the end of the day, abolition is about building as much as it is about dismantling,” said Christine Wei, representative for the No New SF Jail Coalition. “We don’t need City Hall’s permission to keep building solidarity, support community-led mutual aid or care for one another.”