All Eyes On What Gavin Newsom Will Do Next Now That Feds Cleaned Up San Francisco
A summit of world leaders has forced the city to shut down a major open-air drug market. Will it last?
For years, the sidewalks outside the Nancy Pelosi Federal Building in San Francisco’s SoMa district have been clogged with drug dealers and homeless addicts. On any random day, as in the above video that Public shot, you might see EMTs carting away an overdose victim, while swarms of addicts around them continue to smoke meth and fentanyl on the curbside.
But not this week. Suddenly, the sidewalks on 7th and Mission are spotless, as are streets all over the vicinity of the Moscone Convention Center.
On Saturday, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference got underway. On Wednesday, President Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping will be in attendance. So the city has pushed all the dealers, addicts, and tent encampments out of the neighborhood and cordoned off much of the area behind 10-foot fences, creating a Potemkin Village of cleanliness and order.
The sudden change has been head-spinning for those who have watched for years as politicians have promised and failed repeatedly to fix the problem. When now-Governor Gavin Newsom was elected San Francisco’s mayor almost exactly twenty years ago, he pledged to end chronic homelessness in the city within a decade. We’re now 10 years out from that deadline and the problem has only gotten worse.
“Open-air drug dealing and using has been going on for years without the city taking necessary action,” said Randy Shaw, head of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic. “It’s not meaningfully better today than when Mayor Breed issued her Emergency Declaration for the Tenderloin two years ago.”
But then last week, seemingly overnight, one of the largest concentrations of open-air drug dealing and public camping in the city, in the SoMa district, vanished into thin air. The crackdown was, in part, to accommodate President Xi, one of the most singularly responsible people alive for the addiction crisis city workers were working double time to conceal. The fentanyl on America’s city streets is manufactured by Mexican drug cartels out of precursor chemicals created in legal, above-ground Chinese labs. China has allowed its lethal fentanyl industry to persist and thrive, in a kind of Opium War in reverse. “Whereas China has gone to war with other drugs that have a demand in China, such as methamphetamines,” New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith said in 2018, “it has conspicuously failed to launch a similar crackdown on fentanyl, which has no demand in China.”
Yet somehow, Xi’s arrival in San Francisco changed everything. How did the city suddenly achieve what it has been unable to accomplish for decades? And will things return to how they were as soon as the heads of state leave town? Or is there room for optimism?