by Randy Shaw on May 30, 2023 (

“The Streets are a Nightmare”

In December 2021, Mayor Breed declared a Tenderloin Emergency over drug markets. Today, the city is beset by open air drug markets in UN Plaza, SOMA, Mid-Market, parts of the Mission and on a reduced scale in the Tenderloin.

There is no end in sight.

Hundreds of dealers openly sell deadly drugs, particularly at night. Political leaders bemoan overdoses while San Francisco remains the easiest and cheapest city to access deadly fentanyl.

Mayor Breed has failed to effectively harness city resources to close drug markets.

The mayor says all the right things. But as I tell her whenever we talk, it’s all about results.

Results mean permanently clearing blocks of drug markets.

Despite years of drug markets freely operating, Mayor Breed has still not achieved this goal.

4 Years and Counting

Open-air drug dealing was rising in the Tenderloin prior to COVID. In April 2019 I wrote about a hearing former Supervisor Matt Haney called to address “open drug dealing in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, Mid-Market and Sixth Street.”

Mayor Breed has not reduced drug dealing in these areas.

Let’s be clear: it’s the mayor, not the Board of Supervisors, who runs the city. The buck stops with her.

The mayor controls the San Francisco Police Department and virtually all other city agencies.

Mayor Breed says all the right things. She desperately wants drug markets closed. But implementation doesn’t happen.

Last week there were multiple shootings on the 300 block of Golden Gate in the Tenderloin. There have been several shootings on or near the block in recent years. It’s a block the city allows the drug cartel to control at night.

In 2014 Breed’s predecessor, Ed Lee, responded to 18 shots being fired and seven wounded at Turk and Taylor by assigning officers to 24/7 coverage of that block. The mayor ordered this coverage over Chief Suhr’s objections. The first block of Turk had long been filled with dealers. Following a month of the police crackdown the dealers were gone from the block for good.

Fortunately, nobody was killed in last week’s shootings. But next time may be different. After all, there’s been no increased police response to repeated shootings on on a block with law students, senior housing and many retail spaces.

The inaction in response to these shootings reflects how the city’s drug markets have been normalized.

Don’t blame the That’sFentalife! ad campaign for highlighting what is allowed to go on in San Francisco. The ads are a wake up call—and many prefer to remain unwoke.

Some claim the Tenderloin has always had open drug markets and there’s nothing a mayor can do. That’s a false history. I’ve seen the positive impact of police crackdowns in 2014 and in 2009. Those like Cadillac Hotel owner Kathy Looper and I who have worked in the Tenderloin for over forty years know that never before has a drug cartel controlled blocks of the neighborhood as has been allowed to occur under Mayor Breed.

Two Plus Years, Not 90 Days

The SF Chronicle recently asked “experts” whether the city could meet Supervisor Peskin’s call for closing down drug markets in 90 days. The story lacked a key context: the mayor has had years to close drug markets. The 90 days is on top of the past two plus years. The Chronicle did a follow up story where dealers and users also said the 90 days was infeasible–I suppose the paper will next ask those breaking into cars whether a crackdown on their actions make sense.

If Mayor Breed hasn’t succeeded in closing drug markets by now, why believe anything will change in the future?

What’s most alarming is that recent progress has been reversed.

In February and March 2023,  the SFPD’s “disruption” strategy visibly reduced daytime drug dealing. But the two main market blocks—300 Hyde and 600 Eddy—are getting worse.

Dealers were out in force on the 600 block of Eddy last week. The 300 Hyde crew were allowed to relocate around the corner. Jamie Flanagan of the Phoenix Hotel, a leader of the Tenderloin Business Coalition, told me last Friday that “the streets are a nightmare—like nothing ever changed.”

The same lack of consistent enforcement is seen at other major drug hot spots, particularly in the blocks around Seventh and Market. Mayor Breed has not provided the strategic coordination necessary to promote consistency of enforcement.

That’s why Board President Peskin’s proposal for an Emergency Operations Center is essential. It finally addresses the lack of coordinated and strategic planning to close drug markets. I saw the plan as teeing up a major victory for Mayor Breed, who I assumed would agree to the strategy at last week’s Board meeting.

But the mayor rejected Peskin’s plan. Leaving the city with no new strategy to finally close drug markets.

Those blaming only supervisors for the drug markets hopefully realize that only the mayor can create and implement an Emergency Operations Center.

Nobody should doubt the mayor’s desire to oust drug markets. Yet her commitment has not brought results.

Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw’s latest book is Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. He is the author of four prior books on activism, including The Activist’s Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. He is also the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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