Tech Investor Seeking to Run San Francisco Calls for More Cops

(Bloomberg) -- A leading contender for San Francisco mayor wants to funnel more money to police and restrict access to public parks, marking the latest turn toward tough-on-crime policies in the city’s heated election.

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Mark Farrell, a 49-year-old venture capitalist who served a brief term as San Francisco’s appointed mayor in 2018, unveiled a package of proposals that he says will boost public safety, revitalize a beleaguered downtown and revamp the city’s public image. He said Mayor London Breed, who is seeking second full term, has failed to stop homeless encampments and open-air drug markets from taking over parts of the city streets.

“The conditions of our streets have never been worse. Our local economy has completely hit the skids,” Farrell, a Democrat, said Tuesday in an interview at Bloomberg’s San Francisco office. “We’re the butt of jokes on TV and media around the country and around the globe.”

Public safety concerns have emerged as a key battleground in San Francisco’s mayoral race as the city — often seen as a progressive bastion — increasingly backs tough-on-crime policies intended to boost police and tamp down on public drug use. Breed and her two main challengers, Farrell and Daniel Lurie, an heir to the Levi Strauss fortune, are all battling for the city’s centrist voters.

As part of his platform, Farrell wants San Francisco to renew a contentious program that allows veteran police officers to continue working while collecting a pension in lieu of retiring. The measure, which is used in Los Angeles, is supposed to encourage more senior officers to remain on the force but has been accused by critics of enabling “double-dipping.” San Francisco previously ended a version of the program after finding it was ineffective and costly.

Farrell’s proposal underscores how San Francisco politicians are increasingly willing to dig deep into city coffers to bolster police, even at the expense of other departments that face budget cuts due to a looming deficit of more than $700 million. The city already pays its rookie cops the highest starting salary among big US cities, at $112,398. Despite the high pay, the police academy graduated 26 officers last year, the lowest tally in at least a decade.

Farrell also wants to close the city’s “most troubled parks” at sunset to prevent drug dealing and other illegal activity. He would enlist police and park rangers to enforce the new hours.

In a statement, Breed’s campaign said Farrell’s election bid is catering to right-wing perceptions of the city.

“Instead of pretending he’s Rudy Giuliani and running to be Mayor of the Doom Loop, Farrell should leave the bubble of his Jordan Park home for a change,” said campaign spokesperson Joe Arellano, referring to Farrell’s affluent neighborhood. “Leading San Francisco requires a lot more effort than just cosplaying as mayor from your kitchen.”

Breed has also backed more moderate stances on public safety, including pay raises for police officers and cracking down on open-air drug use. Last week, she hailed the passing of a ballot measure that would require many people seeking cash assistance from the city to undergo drug screenings and another proposal that expanded the powers of police.

San Francisco has recently seen a decrease in crime, and police data shows overall crimes committed in the city are below pre-pandemic levels, a figure the mayor says shows the success of her strategy.

Tech Incentives

Farrell said he sees improving public safety as key to addressing another major challenge for the city: the slow return of workers and a 36% office vacancy rate. He said he would offer companies tax incentives to come to downtown San Francisco, provided they commit to staff coming in a certain number of days per week. He would also ask that tech employers scrap traditional in-office perks like catering so workers will patronize local restaurants and shops.

“The next mayor of San Francisco has to be incredibly aggressive with our business community writ-large, let alone our technology community,” Farrell said in a separate interview with Bloomberg Television. “We will use the power of tax incentives to bring you back to our downtown core.”

Read More: San Francisco Offers Tax Break to Convert Empty Offices to Homes

Farrell’s resume includes stints as a lawyer in Silicon Valley and most recently as a venture capitalist focused on transportation technology. But his biggest pitch to the city is how he handled budget responsibilities.

“Having a mayor who has actually read a P&L, knows what a balance sheet looks like and has been in that sector for over 20 years matters to San Francisco,” Farrell said in the Bloomberg TV interview.

Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, donated to a political action committee supporting Breed’s reelection.

--With assistance from Karen Breslau.

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