Ten things San Francisco should fund -- and 10 things it shouldn't -- to create a fair, equitable, and forward-thinking city budget
911 dispatchers California law mandates that 90 percent of 911 calls be answered in 10 seconds or less; in San Francisco, that number often drops to 60 percent or lower. In early April, 911 dispatchers gathered at the city's Department of Emergency Management to say that chronic understaffing is forcing dispatchers to put distressed San Franciscans on hold, or to force new callers to wait longer than 10 seconds before answering. "When a mother calls 911 because her baby isn't breathing, 10 seconds matter. San Francisco 911 dispatch department is understaffed and needs to be improved," say dispatcher Sean Dryden, calling for the city to put more resources into the system.
Activating surplus property Last week, the California State Assembly passed legislation that would give affordable housing developers the right of first refusal for "surplus" lands owned by local governments, thereby strengthening an existing priority for use. San Francisco has at least 42 surplus properties that could conceivably be converted into affordable housing projects, if resources were dedicated toward facilitating such partnerships and prioritizing this important need. "There is very little land available for affordable housing development," says Assemblymember Phil Ting, who authored the legislation, which is now headed to the Senate for final approval. "These precious properties should become homes for working people."
Homeless services In the past 10 years, San Francisco has lost about one-third of its homeless shelter beds, while about half of the city's drop-in center capacity was also slashed, longtime advocate Jennifer Friedenbach, director of the Coalition on Homelessness, told us in a recent interview (see "San Francisco's Untouchables," March 24, 2014). The city can and should do more to provide a safety net for those in the precarious position of sleeping on the streets. And on a related note, city contracts for providing short-term stabilization beds for the homeless should not be awarded to slumlords who have been cited so many times for Health Code violations that they're being sued by the City Attorney's Office. Surely city agencies can find landlords who don't endanger their tenants' health and wellbeing through chronic neglect of their properties.
Pedestrian safety San Francisco spends $15 million annually on pedestrian injuries, according to the Department of Public Health, and 20 pedestrians were killed by vehicles on the streets of San Francisco in 2013 (including 6-year-old Sofia Liu on New Year's Eve). Investments in safe streets for pedestrians saves the city money, and saves lives — but all of that counts on making the right investments. WalkFirst, the city's pedestrian safety program, identified San Francisco's most dangerous intersections, main in the Tenderloin and downtown, where there is a crucial need for safety modifications. Though the mayor pledged $50 million over five years to improve those intersections, that money depends on November transit ballot measures (including the vehicle license fee increase he's now waffling on even placing on the ballot). If they fail, only $17 million will be available for pedestrian safety work. But even that amount barely scratches the surface: WalkFirst identified $240 million worth of street improvements needed to make San Francisco safe for walking.