San Francisco mayoral candidates lay out plans for a safer city in debate

Four of the five top mayoral candidates met for the third and final planned debate of the election season Monday evening.

They laid out plans for a safer city and practical solutions to the most pressing problems, including homelessness and a lackluster downtown San Francisco.

Hundreds turned out for the 90-minute debate at the county fair building at Golden Gate Park.

Incumbent Mayor London Breed debated three challengers, including attorney Mark Farrell, who previously served as interim mayor and supervisor, prominent philanthropist Daniel Lurie, and current supervisor Ahsha Safai. Supervisor Aaron Peskin opted out of the debate.

KTVU reporter Amber Lee moderated the debate alongside Frank Noto of Stop Crime SF. It was hosted by several groups, including Stop Crime SF and Connected SF.

In light of the recent killing of longtime hotel worker Corazon Dandan, who was allegedly pushed off a BART platform by a homeless, mentally ill repeat offender, Lee asked the candidates: "What kind of plan or action will you take to address these types of people who are violent, plaguing public transit, as well as city streets?"

"I wish we could wave a magic wand, and then take all of the folks who we know clearly are struggling with mental illness off the streets of San Francisco, but it's not been that simple. What we've been able to do is make arrests when they commit crime, but by that time, people are already harmed," said Breed.

"I created the Street Crisis Response Team, so that they can go out there, and work with these individuals and so that we can hold them for 72 hours, as we develop a plan for service and support," she added.

Breed commended California voters for passing Proposition 1, which means more funding for behavioral health beds.

She said that the city would continue to see positive change under her leadership, even if it means paying for beds in other jurisdictions in order to get people off the streets.

Farrell said Breed's approach to helping those suffering from mental illness, drug addiction, and homelessness is failing. He said homelessness is currently on the rise in San Francisco.

"The failed approach is that harm reduction on the streets of San Francisco is the only thing that we're doing. Why is it that we have city-funded nonprofit workers today handing out free packets of tin foil in the Tenderloin to those suffering from drug addiction? That doesn't make any sense. We're allowing them to kill themselves," Farrell said.

He added that he has called for a fentanyl state of emergency, and as part of that, additional law enforcement in the Tenderloin and SoMa, and a 24/7 centralized intake center with thousands more shelter beds.

Lurie, a nonprofit executive, said his office would be defined by accountability and new ideas.

He called Dandan's death a tragedy, one that should not happen in our great city.

"We're spending $700 million a year on our behavioral health system and we forgot to build the beds. We have been so far skewed towards harm reduction which has its place and is important, that we forgot we need to do harm reduction and get people into treatment and get people into those beds," he said.

Breed countered his pointed, saying "we are building the beds and we were finally able to get changes to our conservatorship laws on the statewide level. January of this year, those went into effect."

Lurie said the city needs to spend more money on mental health and drug treatment in San Francisco.

Safai recognized that Dandan worked for 40 years at Westin St. Francis and despite her family's pleas, she insisted on taking public transportation everyday.

"When she's standing there on the platform and gets pushed into a train, something has gone miserably wrong, miserably wrong in our city," Safai said. "I'll tell you one thing - the Board of Supervisors - we led the effort to pass Mental Health SF, this mayor has never fully funded it. It's sitting there unfunded. That means we'd have the mental health workers, we'd have the nurses to do the work."

Breed refuted that claim, stating that she's been working other supervisors to increase funding to add 400 new beds for mental health support in the city.

Breed and Farrell also clashed on other topics, like whether large tent encampments grew or shrank during their time as mayor.

The debate also covered the city's public transportation woes and the projected budget deficit.

It concluded with an audience question and answer portion, which touched on topics like global warming and senior housing. 

Before the debate, Stop Crime SF presented District Attorney Brooke Jenkins with the "Crime Fighter of the Year" award.