A new ef­fort to free S.F.’s Ten­der­loin from deal­ers

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - FRONT PAGE - HEATHER KNIGHT

San Fran­cisco City At­tor­ney Den­nis Her­rera is us­ing a novel le­gal ap­proach to try to clean up open­air drug deal­ing on the Ten­der­loin’s side­walks, su­ing 28 al­leged deal­ers in a bid to im­pose civil fines and ar­rest if they so much as en­ter the neigh­bor­hood.

The move, es­sen­tially a re­strain­ing or­der for drug push­ers, comes as deal­ing in the Ten­der­loin has grown more pro­lific — and the con­se­quences more deadly. The De­part­ment of Public Health last month re­leased sta­tis­tics show­ing 441 peo­ple died across the city in 2019 of drug over­doses, a stun­ning 70% in­crease from the pre­vi­ous year.

Many of the drugs dealt out in the Ten­der­loin are laced with fen­tanyl, which is driv­ing the spike in deaths. Al­ready this year, 81 peo­ple

have died of over­doses in the Ten­der­loin.

Mostly, City Hall has failed to mar­shal a re­sponse even re­motely com­men­su­rate with these dev­as­tat­ing num­bers. Many of the deal­ers sell­ing the deadly prod­ucts have been ar­rested and re­leased with few real con­se­quences, re­turn­ing re­peat­edly to the same cor­ners to com­mit the same crimes.

Her­rera’s move, which will need Su­pe­rior Court ap­proval, comes weeks af­ter this col­umn fea­tured moms and grand­moth­ers in the Ten­der­loin who say they some­times feel trapped in their lit­tle apart­ments be­cause of the crush of deal­ers out­side their doors — and that their chil­dren rec­og­nize deal­ing at sadly early ages.

“Ev­ery­one can agree that what is go­ing on in the Ten­der­loin is un­ac­cept­able, and we as a city need to work col­lec­tively to ad­dress what is an un­for­tu­nately ter­ri­ble threat to the fam­i­lies and chil­dren liv­ing there,” Her­rera said in an in­ter­view Wed­nes­day. “We all have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to step up and al­le­vi­ate the cri­sis.”

Her­rera — who was first elected city at­tor­ney in 2001 — read­ily ad­mits his ap­proach isn’t a sil­ver bul­let, that the city needs to of­fer far more drug and men­tal health treat­ment, and that the nar­cotics sup­pli­ers need to be taken down. Still, his ap­proach shows some­body in city gov­ern­ment is think­ing cre­atively and act­ing de­ci­sively, a rar­ity these days.

Her­rera will seek civil in­junc­tions against 28 peo­ple who’ve been ar­rested at least twice in the past 18 months, in­clud­ing at least once in the past nine months. Both ar­rests must have led to crim­i­nal charges or a mo­tion to re­voke pro­ba­tion. The drugs in­volved must have been fen­tanyl, heroin, co­caine or metham­phetamine.

Her­rera’s of­fice worked closely with the San Fran­cisco Po­lice De­part­ment to cre­ate the list of 28 peo­ple — 24 men and four women. None of the de­fen­dants live in the Ten­der­loin, Her­rera said. All but one live out­side San Fran­cisco, trav­el­ing from Oak­land, Hay­ward, San Jose, Suisun City and else­where. The sole San Fran­cisco res­i­dent lives in the Sun­set District.

Her­rera wants to pre­vent the 28 peo­ple from en­ter­ing a 50block area in the his­toric Ten­der­loin and part of the nearby South of Mar­ket neigh­bor­hood. If caught there, they could face ar­rest for vi­o­lat­ing a court or­der and seizure of any drugs and para­pher­na­lia on them. Her­rera’s of­fice could levy a fine of $6,000 per vi­o­la­tion, but crim­i­nal con­se­quences would be in the hands of District At­tor­ney Ch­esa Boudin.

And that’s where the plan could fall down.

Boudin was not in­volved in the craft­ing of Her­rera’s strat­egy and has said re­peat­edly he won’t repli­cate the failed war on drugs by fo­cus­ing on smallscale, street­level deal­ers. In­stead, he has called for fo­cus­ing on the sup­pli­ers and ex­pand­ing drug treat­ment. He also wants to cre­ate a spe­cial court for the deal­ers he says are traf­ficked from Hon­duras and are vic­tims them­selves.

Boudin and Public De­fender Mano Raju de­clined to com­ment.

It’s also un­clear whether Her­rera’s ef­fort can work when a sep­a­rate oper­a­tion in Au­gust 2019 by the U.S. At­tor­ney’s Of­fice to ar­rest 32 drug deal­ers in the Ten­der­loin hasn’t markedly changed the dy­nam­ics in the neigh­bor­hood. In fact, they’ve only got­ten worse.

San Fran­cisco po­lice have also con­tin­ued to ar­rest deal­ers. Po­lice Chief Bill Scott, who sup­port’s Her­rera’s ef­fort, said a re­cent 90­day nar­cotics oper­a­tion in the Ten­der­loin re­sulted in the ar­rests of 267 peo­ple.

“By work­ing to­gether with our part­ners in the city at­tor­ney’s of­fice and our other law en­force­ment part­ners, we can help make our city a safer place,” he said in a state­ment.

Her­rera’s move could also face push­back from civil rights groups who fought his now­ex­pired civil gang in­junc­tions, which started in 2006 and pro­hib­ited named gang mem­bers from as­so­ci­at­ing with other sus­pected mem­bers inside des­ig­nated neigh­bor­hood “safety zones.” In those cases, the de­fen­dants also couldn’t flash gang signs, loi­ter or paint graf­fiti.

The in­junc­tions co­in­cided with a drop in gang killings and homicides over­all, but crit­ics said they con­trib­uted to po­lice ha­rass­ment and racial pro­fil­ing.

Her­rera’s of­fice has taken pains to dis­tin­guish this ef­fort. Un­like in the gang in­junc­tions, the 28 peo­ple pro­hib­ited from en­ter­ing the Ten­der­loin don’t live there. Her­rera’s of­fice said it didn’t look at the peo­ple’s racial demographi­cs and the sole cri­te­rion was a pat­tern of crim­i­nal mis­con­duct.

Mayor Lon­don Breed sup­ports Her­rera’s plan, call­ing the open­air deal­ing “sim­ply un­ac­cept­able.”

“Our po­lice of­fi­cers make ar­rests, but then we see those same peo­ple deal­ing drugs out on the street again and again,” Breed said in a state­ment. “We need to try new ap­proaches to break this cy­cle, and I ap­pre­ci­ate that City At­tor­ney Den­nis Her­rera is putting this solution for­ward . ... This neigh­bor­hood de­serves better, and our city needs to do better.”

She added that she wants to see more in­vest­ment in drug treat­ment and the open­ing of a long­dis­cussed safe in­jec­tion site where peo­ple can le­gally con­sume drugs un­der su­per­vi­sion. The city’s new bud­get in­cludes money for a new cri­sis re­sponse team to as­sist those ex­pe­ri­enc­ing men­tal health or drug­re­lated emer­gen­cies on the street.

Dina Men­doza, pro­gram man­ager for La Voz Latina, a re­source cen­ter for Latino res­i­dents of the Ten­der­loin, said Her­rera’s plan sounds like a good one.

“We need more of an ag­gres­sive ap­proach,” she said of drug deal­ers. “We’ll see if this de­ters them or makes them re­think want­ing to come to the Ten­der­loin.”

She said she hears reg­u­larly from moth­ers in the neigh­bor­hood that they must choose be­tween stay­ing home or push­ing their way through side­walks crowded with drug deal­ers and peo­ple buy­ing their prod­ucts. She said many moth­ers have told her about be­ing cat­called and ha­rassed by deal­ers, and their daugh­ters some­times face even worse ha­rass­ment.

“The Ten­der­loin is all they can af­ford, and it’s very hard on them, very dif­fi­cult to see this in the streets and have their kids ex­posed to it,” Men­doza said. “Par­ents feel like they’re in­vis­i­ble, and nobody’s re­ally lis­ten­ing to them.”

Fer­nando Pu­jals, se­nior direc­tor of the Ten­der­loin Com­mu­nity Ben­e­fit District, said there’s “per­sis­tent trauma” around the Ten­der­loin’s open­air drug mar­kets — in­clud­ing among fam­i­lies who live in iso­la­tion be­cause they’re afraid to leave and walk through the mess.

“It’s clear that what­ever mech­a­nisms are in place to mit­i­gate those im­pacts have not worked,” he said. “I would wel­come some dif­fer­ent think­ing around it.”

Dif­fer­ent think­ing in San Fran­cisco? It’s about time.

Jes­sica Chris­tian / The Chronicle 2019

Fen­tanyl is an in­creas­ing plague and a deadly haz­ard on the streets of the Ten­der­loin.

Nick Otto / Spe­cial to The Chronicle

The Ten­der­loin streets are crowded on an April day dur­ing shel­ter­in­place. So­cial dis­tanc­ing can be dif­fi­cult or even im­pos­si­ble for home­less and low­in­come peo­ple.

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