San Francisco settles lawsuit over Tenderloin encampments

Mayor London Breed announced Friday the city has settled a lawsuit filed by Tenderloin merchants and the University of California at Hastings, among others, demanding the city clean up the area's dirty and crowded streets and get homeless people in shelters.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in San Francisco on May 4 by UC Hastings, the Tenderloin Merchants and Property Owners Association, Fallon Victoria, Rene Davis, Randy Hughes and Kristen Villalobos.

In the suit, the plaintiffs called on the city to address unsanitary conditions on the neighborhood's sidewalks amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Under the settlement agreement, the city will remove up to 300 tents and encampments by July 20. That number represents about 70 percent of the tents and encampments documented during a recent June 5 census.        

The tents and encampments' occupants will be offered free COVID-19 testing and be relocated to a hotel room or another safe sleeping site. Additionally, the city will work to ensure the encampments are reoccupied.

After reaching the 300-tent goal on July 20, the city will then continue to work toward reducing the number of tents in the Tenderloin to zero, according to the mayor's office.

"COVID-19 has impacted many communities in our city, but we know that the Tenderloin has been particularly hard-hit," Breed said in a statement."The challenges that existed around homelessness, mental health, and addiction existed before COVID-19 and they've only become more exacerbated now, but both the city and UC Hastings are committed to address the short-term challenges while we work towards long-term solutions."

UC Hastings Chancellor and Dean David Faigman called the settlement agreement "bold" and thanked Breed for "taking on the challenge of providing for the needs of the unhoused, and the whole of the Tenderloin community, in ways that have eluded her predecessors."

He added, "All residents and merchants of the Tenderloin are indebted to her stewardship during these difficult times."

Co-plaintiff Villalobos said, "These last few months have been frightening and frustrating, but I'm hopeful about the agreement that has been reached. I look forward to seeing the city take meaningful action to 
address both the temporary escalated crisis created by the pandemic, and the crisis conditions that already existed on our Tenderloin streets before it came along."

"All of the neighborhood merchants will be happy that the city is not only moving the tents, but getting the unhoused people into shelters," Tenderloin Merchants and Property Owners Association Executive Director and manager of two restaurants on Larkin Street Rene Colorado said.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the city's shelter system had to reduce space by 75 percent to comply with social distancing, resulting in more people living on the streets, city officials said.

The settlement announcement comes just one day after District 4 Supervisor Matt Haney, whose district covers the Tenderloin, held a hearing at the Supervisors' Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee. During the hearing, Haney and frustrated neighborhood residents called for the city 
to implement its Tenderloin Neighborhood Plan and address crowded and unsanitary conditions on the streets.