‘Con­spir­acy’ keeps mis­ery in Ten­der­loin, new supe says

San Francisco Chronicle (Sunday) - - BAYAREA - San Francisco Chron­i­cle colum­nist Heather Knight ap­pears Sun­days and Tues­days. Email: hknight @sfchron­i­cle.com Twit­ter: @hknightsf

On day two of their job, most su­per­vi­sors are ar­rang­ing fur­ni­ture, hang­ing pic­tures and fig­ur­ing out the city’s email sys­tem. Matt Haney, on the other hand, was spin­ning con­spir­acy the­o­ries.

As we recorded the lat­est episode of The Chron­i­cle pod­cast “San Francisco City In­sider,” one an­swer in par­tic­u­lar proved sur­pris­ing. I asked him if it’s fair to call his District Six — the Ten­der­loin, Mid-Mar­ket and South of Mar­ket — a con­tain­ment zone for the city’s ills.

Is City Hall OK with open-air in­jec­tion drug use and deal­ing, hu­man fe­ces and dirty nee­dles on the side­walks, home­less camps and gen­eral filth as long as the mis­ery doesn’t spill over the district’s bor­ders?

Yes, that’s the case, he said. And it’s even worse than that.

“It’s a con­spir­acy, and ev­ery­body’s in on it,” he said.

Wait, what? Was he be­ing sar­cas­tic? Nope.

“I do think it’s a con­spir­acy,” he re­peated. “The fact that we’ve ac­cepted that re­al­ity with­out the level of ur­gency and cre­ativ­ity and re­lent­less­ness from our city ap­pa­ra­tus, I think sug­gests that there’s been some recog­ni­tion that it’s go­ing to be that way, and that City Hall’s OK with that ...

“If you were shoot­ing up in the Ma­rina or Noe Val­ley, I ac­tu­ally think there would be a re­sponse and some­thing would hap­pen,” he con­tin­ued. “It’s bu­reau­cratic in­dif­fer­ence and in­er­tia, and I will chal­lenge that.”

His in­sis­tence made me think. The word “con­spir­acy” con­jures im­ages of Mayor Lon­don Breed, the po­lice chief and other lead­ers chuck­ling in a dark­ened back room at City Hall as they agree to ig­nore the crime and hu­man mis­ery in the Ten­der­loin and SoMa if it means con­tin­ued voter sup­port from nicer neigh­bor­hoods. Maybe they’re toss­ing back whiskey shots as they hatch their evil plans.

I as­sure you that’s not hap­pen­ing. Breed has de­voted her at­ten­tion to District Six, or­der­ing more fre­quent street clean­ing and send­ing in the new Poop Pa­trol, in­stalling bet­ter street­lights and trash cans, boost­ing po­lice foot pa­trols and de­mand­ing drug deal­ers be ar­rested.

“That’s my fo­cus and my ad­min­is­tra­tion’s fo­cus, and any sug­ges­tion other­wise is ridicu­lous,” she said.

But I also un­der­stand Haney’s point. If I were rais­ing my boys in the Ten­der­loin — the neigh­bor­hood with the most chil­dren per capita in the en­tire city — I would be irate. I’d be mad that drug deal­ers openly hawk their wares out­side the chil­dren’s play­ground at Boed­deker Park and, if ar­rested, are of­ten re­leased very quickly, only to re­turn to the same spot.

I’d be mad that my chil­dren would have to dodge peo­ple who are high out of their minds or ex­tremely men­tally ill and never get much long-term help from City Hall. I’d be mad my kids would need to skip over dirty nee­dles and piles of ex­cre­ment like other kids skip rope.

And worst of all, I’d know that if this scene were dropped like a weird sci-fi movie into Noe Val­ley or Cole Val­ley, it would not be al­lowed to fes­ter. No way.

“We have low-in­come fam­i­lies and res­i­dents and se­niors, and they are pissed,” Haney said. “We’re not just talk­ing about the condo folks who are also pissed. My folks in the Ten­der­loin are the most pissed!”

Haney, too, is pissed. For five years, he’s rented an apart­ment on Hyde Street in the Ten­der­loin — on the very stretch the New York Times re­cently named the dirt­i­est block in San Francisco.

Shortly be­fore Christ­mas, I at­tended a com­mu­nity meet­ing some long­time SoMa res­i­dents and small busi­ness own­ers ar­ranged with Haney, weeks be­fore he was even on the job.

Jeremiah Al­mond, wear­ing a Santa hat, talked about the dif­fi­culty of run­ning a small busi­ness in the area. He op­er­ates a print­ing com­pany out of a build­ing he owns on Howard Street and rents out two other com­mer­cial spa­ces. But one of those has been va­cant for a year be­cause po­ten­tial ten­ants keep be­ing turned off by the mis­ery out­side.

“I don’t want to say scuzzy or scummy, but it’s pretty dis­gust­ing,” he said, not­ing peo­ple in­ject nee­dles into their feet out­side, deal drugs, pitch tents and drop their pants to re­lieve them­selves right out­side his glass win­dows. He coined the phrase “stand­ing zom­bies” for the peo­ple who are high on drugs and ap­pear to be asleep but re­main stand­ing, sway­ing side to side.

“What do they call it with air quotes? A world-class city? More like a world-class prob­lem city,” the San Francisco na­tive lamented, say­ing he calls the po­lice reg­u­larly, and they usu­ally just shrug.

Joel Smith, an ar­chi­tect who’s lived on Te­hama Street for 12 years, said he’d been most both­ered by the huge uptick in open-air drug use in the past cou­ple of years, with peo­ple shoot­ing up in his door­way and leav­ing their nee­dles on the side­walk. He re­cently found a bag with hun­dreds of dirty nee­dles in­side and took it to a lo­cal nee­dle ex­change.

“They’re not abashed or ashamed about it at all,” he said of drug users. “They do it out in the open, and when they’re con­fronted, they say, ‘Yeah, what are you go­ing to do about it?’ ”

Smith, in turn, wants to know what Haney is go­ing to do about it. He and many res­i­dents in District Six think for­mer Su­per­vi­sor Jane Kim ig­nored their com­plaints in fa­vor of head­line­mak­ing moves such as work­ing for free City Col­lege and a higher min­i­mum wage.

Haney promised to be dif­fer­ent from his pre­de­ces­sor.

“I’m look­ing for­ward and turn­ing the page to be a neigh­bor­hood su­per­vi­sor work­ing on mi­cro-is­sues, block by block,” Haney told the group. “The sta­tus quo in District Six is com­pletely un­ac­cept­able. It’s un­fath­omable. We are go­ing to be re­lent­less on bring­ing about change.”

Kim, who is tak­ing time off be­fore de­cid­ing her next pro­fes­sional move, told me it’s com­mon for su­per­vi­sors to start off fo­cused on neigh­bor­hood con­cerns and then shift to ad­dress­ing city­wide prob­lems. She said she was able to han­dle both and pointed to a new, pro­tected bike lane on Howard Street as a re­cent neigh­bor­hood im­prove­ment she guided.

As for Haney’s con­spir­acy the­ory, Kim said City Hall di­rects myr­iad re­sources to the district.

“But it’s not enough,” she said. “Do I think cer­tain be­hav­ior is more ac­cepted in our district? Ab­so­lutely. The open air drug deal­ing is a great ex­am­ple of that.”

In our pod­cast in­ter­view, Haney listed some ex­am­ples of changes he wants to see — far more drug out­reach work­ers roam­ing the streets of District Six and a pro­gram to en­cour­age in­jec­tion drug users to re­turn their dirty nee­dles.

“Peo­ple re­turn cans and get 5 cents, right?” he said.

He also wants Breed to select a site in ev­ery district for a home­less Nav­i­ga­tion Cen­ter rather than con­tin­u­ing to build the en­hanced shel­ters only in Dis­tricts Six, Nine and 10. Breed’s spokesman said her ad­min­is­tra­tion is ac­tively look­ing for ad­di­tional sites around the city.

One thing’s for sure, Haney has the tough­est job of any new city su­per­vi­sor. And if he sticks with his out­spo­ken­ness on the wretched­ness of his district, he’s go­ing to make life for the mayor and other City Hall lead­ers plenty tough too.

San­ti­ago Me­jia / The Chron­i­cle

S.F. Su­per­vi­sors Shamann Wal­ton (left) of District 10 and Matt Haney of District Six chat Tues­day at City Hall dur­ing their first meet­ing in of­fice.

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