December 11, 2023 - 4:40pm

San Francisco’s liberal policies on drugs and homelessness don’t go far enough, according to a member of the city’s Board of Supervisors. Speaking to Freddie Sayers as part of an UnHerd investigative documentary, Supervisor Dean Preston argued that arresting drug users — a strategy pursued by San Francisco’s Democratic mayor, London Breed — “has not made our city any safer. It’s actually made it less safe. It increases overdoses.”

Preston also defended his position on defunding the police, saying, “I think we have a very, very bloated police budget. All kinds of waste in the police department. I could cut $100 million out of the department.”

The Supervisor sees the city’s drug problem as a public health crisis, preferring what he refers to as “proven” solutions — namely, safe consumption sites. A self-proclaimed “democratic socialist”, he blames capitalism for San Francisco’s woes, citing economic concerns rather than drug use and other social problems as the primary reason behind the number of residents living on the streets in the city’s Tenderloin neighbourhood. 

“I think what you’re seeing in the Tenderloin is absolutely the result of capitalism and what happens in capitalism to the people at the bottom rungs,” Preston said. More, he claimed:

The biggest driver of why folks are on the street is because they lost their jobs, income or were evicted from their homes, usually for not being able to pay the rent. So you have major landlords literally causing folks to lose their homes, and real estate speculation making it impossible for folks to find an affordable place to live.
- Dean Preston

Preston has been a vocal critic of the city’s police force, which he believes misallocates resources to the detriment of poor neighbourhoods. Police officers are focused on patrolling wealthy commercial areas rather than poor districts with high rates of drug use such as the Tenderloin, according to the Supervisor. When they do visit rough areas, in his view, they focus on arresting drug users rather than conducting “violence prevention work”.  

Speaking to UnHerd, Preston disagreed with the premise that California has liberal drug laws, arguing that public drug use and dealing are still illegal, even if the law isn’t consistently enforced. 

Asked whether he walks around his district and finds it safe, the Supervisor responded that he frequently walks around the Tenderloin and feels safe doing so, and downplayed the area’s dangerous reputation:

I don’t think every instance of poverty or addiction or behavioural health issue is a safety threat to someone walking by. I mean, there’s a lot of people who are doing things that are very harmful to themselves on the streets, who aren’t necessarily a safety threat.
- Dean Preston