Community Stop Asian Hate

SF budget cuts threaten safety of neighborhoods

SAN FRANCISCO – Critics are up in arms over San Francisco Mayor London Nicole Breed’s planned budget cuts that includes scrapping a more than decade-old neighborhood patrol program launched partially to protect Asian Americans and senior Muni riders.

That program covered the city’s southeast neighborhoods, home to a large Asian American community which had been the object of attacks long before the COVID-19 pandemic saw a surge in verbal and physical violence against them.

A recent report from the San Francisco Standard written by Jonah Own Lamb said the Community Ambassador Program (CAP) —  launched in 2010 as a pilot program funded with federal stimulus money – initially offered additional protection  on the Muni transit system.

But a spate of violent incidents had raised concerns in the Asian American community, “sparking demands for protection.”

The program eventually expanded to five neighborhoods, from the Sunset and the Haight to Chinatown and the Bayview, where wellness checks on the homeless were done, safety escorts provided, and 311 calls answered.

“The program serves areas impacted by drugs and violence in areas of the city where tourists don’t go,” said Adrienne Pon, former head of the Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs.

Pon said CAP, which doubles as a workforce development initiative, was inspired by the Seattle Downtown Ambassadors.

CAP differed from the likes of Urban Alchemy or the Welcome Ambassadors  —  non-profits that serve highly trafficked and tourist-heavy districts – in  that it serves many of San Francisco’s less traveled areas.

CAP data shows that its staff made nearly 300,000 interactions this fiscal year, which ends June 30. Interactions included administering to people who had overdosed, providing safety escorts, and escorting children to school for a certain period of time.

Today, 14 years since the program’s inception, cutting the 60 or so ambassadors could spark a backlash against Breed, “particularly from Asian American voters whose communities have continued to face violence and rising fear after several years of increased hate crimes,” said Lamb’s article.

At the height of the surge in 2022, Breed said she was angry about the violence affecting Asian communities.

Pon called the cut by the mayor an unfortunate decision, asking whether Breed was really committed to stopping Asian hate or was merely paying “lip service because it’s an election year.”

Pon is not alone in opposing the budget cut.

Supervisor Dean Preston recently held a press conference calling on the mayor to back down from her proposal. Preston told media there had been no discussion about ending the program that costs $3 million a year.

Preston’s counterpart in the Sunset, Supervisor Joel Engardio, said with so few police and the difficulty in hiring new ones, programs like CAP give residents and merchants a feeling of security that is otherwise lacking.

Breed says it is an unfortunate but necessary cut, and that she is planning to fund other similar programs.

Breed’s office said in a statement: “In  the face of an $800 million deficit, the Mayor is prioritizing direct services programs and initiatives, and has had to make the very difficult decision to decrease funding or eliminate funding for various programs.”

The mayor’s budget maintains funding for a number of other non-law enforcement programs and street response teams, but CAP will not be among them in the next fiscal year.

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