SAN FRANCISCO, CA — On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved the budget negotiated with Mayor London Breed with a vote of 10-1. Prior to the Board’s vote on the proposed budget, Supervisors took turns giving their remarks about the process and outcome, with each thanking the various officials, aides, and community advocates who contributed to the effort. District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston, a self-described socialist and member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), also thanked his colleagues and their staff. He then told his colleagues that, “with profoundly mixed feelings,” he would not be supporting the proposed budget, citing the budget’s increased funding to policing and the failure to allocate Proposition I funds for social housing.
This year’s budget marks the first budget fight following a harrowing year for many San Franciscans, especially for essential workers. Despite Breed’s plan earlier this year for an “incredible” recovery, many workers are still struggling due to the closures of small businesses, the devastation of COVID-19 on Black and Latinx communities, and hundreds of millions of dollars in estimated unpaid rent throughout the city.
The latest City budget, which will allocate a towering $13 billion from the General Fund, received praise for some of its investments in community and aid programs, including $32 million for rent relief. The budget will also invest in supportive housing, youth programs, mental health, and public toilets. In addition, the budget will at least partially fund two non-police response teams, the Street Crisis Response Team (SCRT) and Compassionate Alternative Response Team (CART), which will reportedly divert 65,000 homelessness calls from the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD).
In his own speech during the Tuesday meeting, Preston praised the budget’s allocation to fully fund Right to Counsel, a DSA San Francisco-backed measure securing the right to counsel for tenants fighting eviction. He also praised investments for public housing organizers and the millions allocated to support homelessness.
However, despite the many wins for people around the city, the proposed budget was seen by community advocates as a rebuke of City Hall’s promises, made in the wake of the George Floyd uprisings, to divest from policing and incarceration. In fact, the latest budget increases funding for almost every “law enforcement” department. The Sheriff’s Office will see a $23 million increase to its budget despite last September’s closure of former County Jail 4. The budget also increases the District Attorney, Juvenile Probation, and Adult Probation budgets by millions of dollars each. Finally, while the budget will decrease the City’s General Fund allocation to SFPD by approximately $3 million in comparison to last year, a reduction of less than 1 percent, the approved budget sets a massive $25 million increase to SFPD next year.
Stating his own opposition to the increases during Tuesday’s remarks, Preston noted the following:
“It is easy to convene press conferences flanked by police and call for more policing, more punishment, and more incarceration. It is harder to tell the public the truth: that this approach has failed us, made us all less safe, and destroyed generations of lives, disproportionately Black and brown lives. It is time to change course on public safety, and I think most of us know that.”
The statement echoed the sentiments of community members, including organizers for the Defund SFPD Now campaign. “This budget is a powerful reminder that when the Mayor and Board of Supervisors say that Black Lives Matter, it’s little more than empty rhetoric,” said organizer Jamie Chen. “It is critical that we invest in the life-affirming care needed to create real public safety. Without defunding and abolishing state-sanctioned violence, we can never be safe. This budget is a commitment to exacerbating inequity and violence.”
In addition to making arguments about how the often-exorbitant allocations to policing and incarceration cuts into funding for life-saving programs, advocates have long called for defunding policing institutions as a means of harm reduction given the violent nature of policing.
The budget’s failure to allocate funds for social housing also angered community advocates who fought to pass Propositions I and K last year. Social housing has been touted by advocates as a popular and accessible solution to the housing crisis. During the 2020 election season, proponents characterized the measures as complementary, with Proposition K approving the building of 10,000 units of affordable housing, including social housing, and Proposition I providing the funds to pay for them.
Speaking to his colleagues on Tuesday, Preston characterized the failure to include funding for social housing as “contrary to the will of San Francisco voters.” He also contextualized the importance of social housing, noting that “while rent relief is tremendously important as an immediate anti-displacement measure, it does not fundamentally challenge the underlying affordable housing imbalance that has left so many tenants vulnerable in the first place.”
Editors Note: We changed the title of this article on July 23, 2021 due to the increased SFPD and Sheriff’s Office budget, meaning they were not defunded.