San Francisco’s budget battle coming into focus 

The battle over the city’s budget comes into focus this week as homeless advocates criticize an anticipated increase in funding more police officers — and emphasize the need for housing families who are without homes.

A booming economy has done little to temper annual budget debates over funding priorities for a variety of reasons, including that San Francisco faces the largest income inequality of any major city, federal funding cuts have increased a reliance on local revenues, and the costs of government outpace the strong revenue growth.

On Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee will hold a hearing on whether to create automatic cost of living increases with nonprofits who provide services under city contracts and another hearing on public safety departments, including the staffing needs of the Police Department.

Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, said The City needs to prioritize housing, not police officers. “Housing is what keeps us safe,” Friedenbach said. “An investment in public safety will be an investment in housing.” Her group alone has asked for $6.5 million of the budget next fiscal year to keep hundreds housed and in an email about the meeting said, “Now is the time to call for housing, not handcuffs!”

The group also opposes a plan to build a $280 million jail.

Other organizations are also calling for deeper housing investments in the mayor’s yet-to-be submitted budget due June 1 to the board for review.

But chair of the board’s Budget and Finance Committee Supervisor Mark Farrell said on Monday he wouldn’t support defunding the planned three police academy classes, which each cost $8 million, for 150 officers next fiscal year. Not only that, but he said he would support even more. Crime is an increasing concern of San Francisco residents, Farrell said. He added that the two issues are not “mutually exclusive.”

“I need to look at everything we fund,” Farrell said. “I don’t have the luxury of advocating for one issue and one issue only.”

The meeting seemingly pits one need against the other, but Supervisor Eric Mar said this doesn’t need to be the case. “In The City’s strongest budget year in decades we should not have to pit public safety against funding for our critical safety net,” Mar said in text message. “I am urging Mayor Lee to address these critical human and community needs by fully funding safety net services as we balance our public safety needs as well.”

On Thursday, the board’s public school committee will discuss resources for homeless families with children enrolled at the San Francisco Unified School District, such as eviction prevention and rapidly re-housing families if they do lose their homes.

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