In May, I received dozens of emails from neighbors of the Marina Safeway about open air drug use and sales, stolen goods, fights, and assaults at an encampment that popped up behind the store after the Covid-19 outbreak. One person had someone from the encampment enter his house and another was held up at knifepoint. The police said they, too, were frustrated, but their hands were tied by the city. In fact, in an email obtained by the Marina Times, and sent to all SFPD officers by Capt. Steven Mannina, commanding officer of the Healthy Streets Operation Center, guidelines on handling encampments was contradictory, stating, “Do not take or remove tents” at point 1, and “Do not allow large encampments (over 5 tents) to form” at point 6.
Neighbor Rachel Podlishevsky began taking pictures of the criminal activity. “This woman who is always getting stolen goods out of her car was trying to intimidate me, swearing and screaming, and she threw a bottle at me.” She sent the story and pictures to District 2 supervisor Catherine Stefani and to Capt. Joe Engler of the Northern Police Station. And she wasn’t alone. Neighbors of a nearby apartment complex — many of them seniors who have lived in the rent-controlled building for three decades — reached out to Stefani, Engler, police Chief Bill Scott, the mayor’s office, and Safeway. They made numerous calls to 311, and they contacted the media, from KRON-TV to the Marina Times.
Brandon Deno lives in that apartment building. His wife and son felt threatened, and he heard campers call people in his building “rats who call the pigs” through his window, which he no longer kept open. “This is all a direct result of the city’s policy of allowing tents so that homeless can shelter in place, which they’re not doing,” Deno said.
In a statement to the Marina Times, Supervisor Stefani said she was extremely concerned. “For weeks, I have been going out to this location every day to monitor what’s going on and communicate to our departments that allowing camping, drug use, and threats of violence to persist does not serve our public health goals. I will not let up until we reach a solution that ensures that neighbors, Safeway customers, and those living outside are safe.”
Then, over the Memorial Day weekend, residents noticed law enforcement and the Department of Public Works at the encampment, and by Tuesday it was gone. Deno credits his neighbors, especially the brave seniors, for coming together and speaking out, but they also had strong advocates in Captain Engler and Supervisor Stefani.
Residents in districts with more tolerant supervisors such as Matt Haney (District 6), Hillary Ronan (District 9), Dean Preston (District 5), and Rafael Mandelman (District 8), find similar campaigns fall on deaf ears. “It’s tough to get encampments removed when your supervisor cares more about the rights of drug addicts than yours,” one District 6 resident said to me on Twitter. Clearly, because they won their elections, these supervisors feel they are carrying out the will of the voters. And therein lies the rub. The only way to make a change is to change your supervisor at the ballot box — and so far, that hasn’t happened in 90 percent of San Francisco.
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