Only a couple of weeks ago, the issue most weighing on my mind was uncovering corruption and implementing structural policy changes across multiple departments after the FBI’s arrest and indictment of Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru. It was a scandal that rocked the city, and as I began to investigate everything from bogus trash can contracts to pay-to-play political favors, it seemed that this would consume the work of my office in the months ahead.
It couldn’t get worse — or so I thought.
IT GOT WORSE
Then the COVID-19 pandemic roared into our collective lives, exposing massive gaps in our national health care and social safety networks and tragic leadership failures of our federal government. As of this writing, the total number of global cases has surpassed 400,000, and the numbers grow exponentially every day. While one fourth of those patients have recovered, most of the patients are still being treated, with over 18,000 fatalities reported worldwide. Here in San Francisco, we just reported our first death and are bracing for more.
San Francisco also has stepped up to lead in this dark time. Everyone from our mayor to the Board of Supervisors to the community at large has pulled together to make tough decisions and sacrifices that will ultimately save lives. We became the first city in the United States to declare a public health state of emergency, and joined with five other counties in the Bay Area to issue a shelter-in-place directive, which Governor Newsom soon followed with a California-wide shut-down of all nonessential businesses and travel.
Our Department of Emergency Management has quickly moved our Emergency Operations Center (EOC) from the 911 Center on Turk Street to the Moscone South Convention Center, where appropriate social distancing can be implemented. I and my office have been drafted to staff emergency response on behalf of the Board of Supervisors at the EOC, while still coordinating with community groups in District 3 to make sure that seniors and families are fed and critical information gets out to our constituents. I want to thank Sunny; Lee; Calvin; and our new administrative aide, Geri Koeppel, for coordinating and problem solving nonstop, and tracking information that often changes hour to hour.
Our neighborhood associations, small business owners, and nonprofit service providers are doing inspiring work to keep the community connected, fed, and safe.
A shout-out to Kathleen Courtney and her Russian Hill Community Association (RHCA) for their wellness checks on seniors. Her younger neighbors have stepped up in profound ways to protect the health of senior RHCA members. In fact, across the district, we’ve heard from younger residents offering to get groceries, run errands, and send packages to older neighbors. Throughout Lower and Middle Polk and Nob Hill, the Lower Polk Tenant Landlord Clinic has sprung into action, helping answer residential and commercial tenants’ questions about evictions and rent. In North Beach, the Salesian Boys & Girls Club and Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center are doing family assessments and offering emergency childcare. In Chinatown, Self-Help for the Elderly is delivering over 1,200 meals a day to seniors in need. The Rose Pak Democratic Club helped Chinatown family businesses establish gift cards and take-out systems, then blast out a to-go list to communities that might not normally frequent Chinatown. The Ning Young Family Association and other family associations who own properties are offering rent relief to tenants and urging other landlords in Chinatown to follow their example.
The mandate to stay home has hit workers incredibly hard. Few can weather the loss of income that’s happening for many. While the city and state have enacted programs to help people get unemployment right away, contractors, restaurant staff, and arts and entertainment workers are struggling. For those who work in the nightlife industry, the incomparable Juanita More of District 3, a pillar of the LGBTQ community, organized the Queer Nightlife Fund to help service workers (sfqueernightlifefund.org). The San Francisco Flower Mart has also set up a GoFundMe, and I will be posting one or two of these types of relief funds every day through the crisis, and including them in my newsletter. Please send me any ideas you have! I want to personally thank those of you who are helping to set up these funds — and thank everyone who continues to pay their housekeepers, dog walkers, and nannies. This is how communities survive crises. We are going to get through this.
A CITY THAT CARES
At the city level, I’m working on increased cleaning and sanitation resources for congregate living situations, as well as public health orders that will ensure San Francisco is the model of how to track and treat COVID-19. I’ve been negotiating with our Class A hotels to lease up thousands of rooms for quarantine, isolation, and first-responder use, as well as working with city departments to identify bed capacity at dormant hospital and clinic sites. Our Department of Public Health has committed to hiring up to 170 nurses in mere weeks to meet the demands of the expected surge, and I want to thank the incredible health care workers who are working around the clock literally risking their lives to save others.
Information is changing every day in this evolving crisis, but to keep updated please sign up for my newsletter on the sfbos.org website, which we are sending out every other day. I am so incredibly proud to serve this city and the community of District 3. Your compassion and love for each other is what is fueling me everyday at the EOC.