Photo: Peter Prato / Special To The Chronicle
As she prepares to take over as San Francisco’s mayor Wednesday, London Breed says she is thinking far beyond the partial term she was elected to: In addition to clearing the streets of tent camps and hiring more police officers, she said her first actions in office will lay the foundation for the city’s future.
The work will begin after she delivers her inauguration speech on the steps of City Hall. Her speech, she said, will strike a tone of unity and hope — a particularly important message after the tumultuous few months between the unexpected death of Mayor Ed Lee in December and the contentious mayoral campaign that ended last month.
“The thing that I care about so much is the future,” she said in an interview with The Chronicle. “What is San Francisco going to look like in 10 years from now, and how do we make sure that the decisions we make today positively impact the next generation of San Franciscans growing up here?”
But Breed also has her gaze fixed on addressing the city’s immediate problems.
Breed said she is working on plans to address the mental health and housing crises as soon as she enters Room 200. While sitting at a cafe in the Fillmore District, the mayor-elect laid out specific goals for her first year in office: eliminate tent camps, grow the city’s police force, and cut the red tape suffocating the city’s ability to create more housing.
“I want to hit the ground running with some of the things I want to address sooner rather than later,” Breed said.
Chief among her short-term goals is addressing the city’s homelessness population, particularly those struggling with mental health problems and drug addiction.
Breed said she has already begun calling San Francisco’s “hospital community,” urging health care leaders to find ways to add new — and expensive — mental-health stabilization beds to provide assistance to severely mentally ill patients unable to care for themselves. In March, the city announced it would be opening 54 new beds at St. Mary’s Medical Center to treat patients ordered by judges into conservatorship. Breed said about 33 of those beds have been filed to date.
“I think that people want us to do something, but we don’t have all the tools that we need,” she said. Last month, Breed and District Eight Supervisor-elect Rafael Mandelman traveled to Sacramento to testify in support of SB1045, a bill that would give San Francisco and Los Angeles more local control over their conservatorship laws.
She also has pledged to rid the city of tent camps within her first year in office, a initiative that Breed intends to wed to an expansion of Navigation Centers, traditional homeless shelters and other transitional housing services so people have a chance of exiting street life permanently.
When it comes to public safety, Breed supports the city’s plan to substantially increase the ranks of the San Francisco Police Department by adding new academy classes. Breed committed to putting 200 more officers on the streets by the end of next year.
“We’re going to have them out there walking the beat, so hopefully that will be noticeable,” she said.
Breed waves to supporters before speaking outside City Hall last month.
But perhaps the most daunting policy challenge Breed will confront during her truncated term — she will have to run for re-election in November 2019 — is expanding the city’s housing stock. During her campaign, Breed adopted the ambitious goal set by Lee to build at least 5,000 units of housing each year in an effort to alleviate the city’s punishing housing shortage.
To accomplish that, Breed said she first wants to speed up the city’s process for approving housing projects — at all levels of affordability. She has long criticized the glacially slow pace for approving the permits needed to create accessory dwelling units — basements, garages, storage rooms and other spaces converted into apartments. The city has more than 400 such units in the planning pipeline, but the rate at which they get approved remains too slow for Breed’s liking, “because of the bureaucracy in the process,” she said.
“That’s the kind of thing I’m committed to — making sure that I meet with the Department of Building Inspection and get a clear understanding for what the delay is,” she said. “And I’ll ask them to come back with a plan of action to speed up all of those units through the process, quickly.”
She is also keen to commission a longer-term plan for identifying potential legislative changes to alter laws that “get in the way of housing production,” she said.
But despite all of Breed’s grand plans, she could find herself at odds with the Board of Supervisors in the coming months. After Mandelman becomes District Eight supervisor this week, the 11-member board will have a 6-5 progressive majority. And after the November election, when five seats on the board will be contested, progressives could lock up a veto-proof majority. That could hinder Breed’s legislative agenda.
Breed, who served as the board president until last week, is a moderate who found herself at odds with the progressive faction in January when it removed her as acting mayor in January in favor of Mark Farrell. But now as a mayor that will probably look for some legislative wins early in her term, Breed said she has already met with some of her colleagues and urged them to put the politics aside.
“The tone I’m going to have to set is, ‘Ee have to do better,’” she said. “I’m hoping that in that spirit, that everyone would agree to work together.”
District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen, who was seen as a close ally of Breed while they served on the board together, will preside over the supervisors as president for four months before she terms out in January. In a separate interview with The Chronicle, Cohen said she feels like the politics are behind them.
Cohen said a lot of reconciliation between the moderates and progressives on the board “has already happened.”
“We’re refocusing and regrouping now that these elections are behind us, and we can roll up our sleeves and get back to work and handle the business,” she said.
With inauguration day almost here, Breed still has a considerable amount of work to do: executive staff appointments, meeting with department heads, and selecting her District Five successor on the Board of Supervisors. In the few weeks she had to make the transition to the mayor’s office, she said, her schedule has been nonstop in the run-up to Wednesday — the only time she has been able to take for herself is the hour at the gym in the morning.
“It hasn’t been easy,” she said over a salad and water. But “I have good people around me. I give directions, and they do the job. I have amazing people that are helping me through this process.”
Despite the draining few weeks since the election, Breed said she said she doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. After all, as soon as she steps into office, she will have to jump right into campaign mode for the 2019 election.
“I am definitely going to seek re-election,” she said.