The Problem Podcast
Rethinking Crime and Punishment With San Francisco's Mayor
San Francisco has become a go-to example for the narrative that cities are overrun with rampant crime and people experiencing homelessness. But the reality is far more complicated. On this week’s podcast, San Francisco Mayor London Breed joins us to talk about her approach to making the city safer for everyone, the need for compassionate alternatives to policing, and what we could actually do to break the cycles of entrenched poverty and incarceration.
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Rethinking Crime and Punishment With San Francisco’s Mayor
Ep. 231 Final Transcript
Jon: Do you guys know who Bobby Slayton is? They used to call him– the pit bull of comedy. He was from San Francisco. Very famous guy out there. So he would take me as his opening act cuz when he was in New York, he saw me on stage and he bought a couple of my jokes. So he decided, you know, it would be cheaper. I’ll just bring this —
I’ll bring this idiot with me, and that’ll be the way we go.
Jay: Very funny.
Kris: That was great.
Jon: But we played there right after the 1989 earthquake when the punchline —
Kris: Oh wow.
Jon: — still had a crack in the wall going up it.
Jon: And I’d walk around with Bobby and I’ll never forget this f***ing homeless dude. Clearly, he’d been out there a while, like really looked gone. We walked by and he turns around and he goes, “Bobby Slaton!”
Jon: “Comedian! Extraordinaire!”
Jay: That’s when, you know, you tapped into a city.
Kris: That’s when you know, yeah.
Jon: That’s when you know you’re locked in.
Jon: Hey all. Welcome to the podcast. It’s the Problem With Me, Jon Stewart. The show is currently on Apple TV +. It’s season two. We got new episodes coming at you weekly there. I think last week was incarceration, which is of course America’s real cancel culture, the one that actually matters and actually has consequences that affect people’s lives for their whole lives. And we are joined today by London Breed. She’s the Mayor of San Francisco. Criticized, I think by everybody, for either being too soft on crime, too tough on crime, too hard on things. It’s, it’s, there’s no pleasing people. We got our writers, Kris Acimovic, our head writer, Kris Acimovic
Kris: That’s right.
Jon: and Jay Jurden.
Jon: You know, it’s a great week for me. Apparently, Jews are back.
Kris: Jews are back. Thanks to uh _
Jon: Yeah. Yeah. Because of, uh —
Kris: Jonah Hill Jump Street. Yeah.
Kris: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Jay: Jon, I do wanna get your thoughts. I mean, I think you’ve done some pretty good stuff too.
Kris Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Jay: You should be on the list.
Kris: What about your comedic performances
Jon: I really thought “Big Daddy” would’ve done it, but, you know.
Kris: We can send him a tape.
Kris: Send him a tape.
Jon: You know, Jews, we’ve been going about it all wrong. We’ve been showing people “Schindler’s List” and “Shoah”.
Kris: Yeah, yeah, yeah. [LAUGHS]
Jon: We gotta we gotta show them romcoms and and, and other s***.
Jay: Jon, the other part of that Instagram post from Kanye was that he was like, “Apparently Jesus was Jewish so —”
Kris: Who knew?
Jon: Listen, man, he spent a lot of time learning some s***. Here’s the thing. I don’t need to hear his opinions on anything anymore. And here’s my reasoning. Anybody who says Hitler needs to be forgiven, but is still mad at Pete Davidson, I really — I’m pretty sure I don’t have to listen to that person.
Kris: Well, Hitler didn’t date his wife, so, you know…
Jon: Well. You don’t know that.
Kris: I guess you don’t.
Jon: Probably right.
Jay: Oh may God!
Kris: Cause Hitler’s still alive in South America.
Jon: You never know.
Kris: You never know.
Jon: Uh… Gonna be talking about some, I don’t know what I actually dunno what we’re talking about. I got something to talk about, but I, it’s
Kris: We got stuff.
Jon: What do you got?
Kris: Well, we’re on indictment watch. Tick tock. Tick tock.
Jon: As we speak?
Jay: As we speak.
Jon: Kris: Yeah.
Jon: Is there any protocol to that? Should I be in a lifeguard chair? What, what is my [JAY LAUGHS] uh —
Kris: Just like be on your toe, you’re just on your toes constantly, and you need to have an opinion.
Jon: I love that again, news media creates this narrative that, that if the indictment comes, the world is different. [LAUGHTER] They’ll get their, you know, two days of coverage on it, and we’ll all go back to the same f***ing thing we’ve been doing beforehand.
Jay: It’s kind of what you describe where it’s like, and “We go to the courthouse and right now there’s, there’s a tumbleweed, but eventually —
Jon: Somebody’s gonna walk by.
Jay: “— somebody’s gonna be there.”
Jon: Didn’t somebody walk by? I remember when all this broke. We didn’t have a podcast last week, but the big story broke. I think that, I think Trump announced he was gonna get indicted on Tuesday.
Jon: And all you did — like people that had the, cause you gotta go by that courthouse to get to work. And it’s just barricades and TV cameras and nobody else.
Kris: Yeah. That’s it. That’s it. It’s just reporters. I read a thing that a reporter went to interview somebody of like, “Why are you here?” And the other person was just like, “I’m also a reporter.”
Jay: Oh my God. [JON LAUGHS]
Kris: And they were like, “OK.” And —
Jay: Yeah, the coverage of this is just the Spider-Man meme.
Kris: It’s the Spider-Man meme.
Jay: It’s just them pointing at each other.
Kris: Right, “this is my story.”
Jon: You know what it probably looks like down there? They’re making a movie about a politician who’s getting indicted, but the cast, they’re, they haven’t, they haven’t gotten here yet. They’re still in the trailers, so they’re just setting up the cameras, waiting for somebody to yell. Action.
Jay: Oh my God.
Jay: There’re definitely signs for crafty.
Jay: “That way.”
Kris: Yeah. It’s the Michael Bay. It’s jail president. It’s —
Jon: Yes! [KRIS LAUGHS] So we can finally get to shooting this movie about Trump who is apparently producing it.
Jon: He’s gonna yell, “Action.” He’s gonna — oh! You know what would be a, you know, what would be an awesome way for him to show up at his indictment? Escalator. But this time, — remember how he came down the escalator to announce?
Jay: Yes, yes, yes.
Jon: What if he comes up the escalator to get indicted?
Kris: It’d be incredible.
Jon: I just think, cinematically, any escalator related indictment would be a wonderful button, a real loop closing moment.
Jay: I’m not gonna lie, Jon, it is the most hilarious chase scene you could imagine [JON LAUGHS] is up an escalator
Kris: Just waiting —
Jon: Come on. And then they’re coming down the escalator and coming back up the, I just think everything he does of consequence should be done, via escalator.
Kris: Via escalator.
Jay: Oh yeah. Yeah.
Kris: I think that’s a good, I think that’s a good note. I hope that, I hope he takes it.
Jay: And I don’t want anyone to clip this and think it’s me predicting anything, but even I think an escalator funeral would also be beautiful for him.
Jon: Oh, that’s interesting. I was —
Jay: If he sins, he goes up to the pearly if —
Jay: — he could also go down. We don’t know.
Kris: And we don’t know.
Jay: We don’t know.
Kris: Start him in the middle [KRIS LAUGHS] and see.
Jon: You know, it would be nice to moving sidewalk. If you don’t doing — there’s just something about people moving while standing still —
Jon: That’s just comic.
Jon: It just, you always imagine Buster Keaton. Boy, if Buster Keaton had ever had access to an escalator, —
Kris: Oh man.
Jay: Jon I mean —
Jon: — oh, the movies he would’ve made.
Jay: Jon, speaking of manufactured films and photographs.
Jay: The big thing last week was all of the artificial intelligent —created images of him possibly —
Jay: — getting arrested.
Jon: They were so dramatic.
Jay: Yes! [JAY LAUGHS]
Kris: They were so dramatic. They were, I mean, they were great. They were great. They were what everybody wanted to see. He’s like fighting off the people.
Jay: He’s dodging the police.
Kris: He’s dodging.
Jon: Now, how does that happen with a — and, and pardon my Luddite nature
Kris: No, that’s fine. So what do you do —
Kris: So you go to whatever your AI bot of choice is.
Kris: And you type in I wanna see Trump being arrested. And you can kind of add flourishes. You can be like cinematically or in a dramatic fashion. And then it generates the thing —
Jon: You could pick the genre. Like I could say —
Kris: Oh yeah
Jon: I want a Roy Lichtenstein — [JAY LAUGHS]
Kris: Yes, yes, yes, yes. Absolutely.
Jon: — being arrested.
Kris: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Jon: Because I did think from now on all movies will be storyboarded in this way.
Kris: Oh, for sure. For sure.
Jon: I’d like to see Spielberg take a whack at this.
Jay: I wanna see mine in the style of Dali, where he’s like melting like a clock. [JAY LAUGHS]
Jon: Oh my God.
Kris: I think he, he already does look like he’s melting.
Jay: I wanna see a surrealist version of Trump.
Jon: I wish this would work. I’m scheduled for, as an aging gentleman, I’m scheduled for a procedure. Uh, I don’t know, tomorrow or the next day, uh, I would love that to just be, I could plug it into AI and not have to like, I gotta eat green jello for two days. [LAUGHTER]
Jon: Do all this s***. Like, it’s the preparation, apparently the procedure itself is like, you’re not even awake. It’s over in 20 minutes. But for God’s sakes, the preparation is… If I could use a chat bot somehow —
Kris: To like, do your procedure for you?
Jon: Well just type in “Old Jew’s colon [JAY LAUGHS] in the style of Renoir.” You know, I want a Magritte of an old Jew’s colon. And then they can just look at that and say like, “Oh my God, look at the pixelation on the polyps. It’s fantastic. I love this.”
Kris: I do think you could AI bot an old Jew’s —
Jay: Oh my God.
Kris: — colon, I think. I think they would do it.
Jay: So we are on indictment watch and Jon’s colonoscopy watch.
Kris: That’s right.
Jon: And where are there more cameras set up right now? [LAUGHTER] This is awful. This is a terrible thing to even be talking about.
Kris: This Trump indictment actually does relate to this week’s episode which was incarceration.
Jon: This incarceration episode, Jay Jordan, who is not Jay Jurden, but Jay Jordan.
Jay: That was, can I say the most confusing booking of this show’s history.
Jon: Boy, you’re not kidding. I kept thinking like, why isn’t this guy funnier? But it turned out, different person. Uh, he’s a guest on our panel on the incarceration episode.
Jay: Uh, he was very funny, very passionate.
Jon: The most, I thought, effective communicator of the season. Agree, charismatic, passionate, concise. He is an advocate for people that have been incarcerated. And he has been in prison. He has a record. And the things that he’s had to go through — after serving his time — to reclaim his life and his humanity are astonishing.
Kris: Astonishing, astonishing.
Jon: And I was just so captivated by his tenacity and story, and we gotta figure out a way to get that guy more attention and his organization, Jay Jordan. AndGavin Newsom we just talked to, was same episode incarceration but we’re also gonna talk to, you know, London Breed is the mayor of San Francisco. What a complicated little soup of problems they have.
Kris: Oh, yeah.
Jon: And they certainly exist in the eyes of conservatives as. I don’t know if it’s sodom and gomorrah, but certainly it’s one of them. [JAY LAUGHS]
Kris: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. At least the one. At least the one.
Jay: No, it’s the Castro’s there. It can be both. [JON LAUGHS] It can be both, Jon.
Jon: That’s true. That’s, that’s a very, that’s a very good point. And the Mitchell brothers were there, so that also. That would have to be
Jay: Jon, when you talk about San Francisco, it’s one of those things like Chicago, like New York City. Now, San Francisco is shorthand for people saying they dislike a larger city because of problems that are multifaceted and problems that are myriad, not limited to drug abuse, not limited to mental illness, not limited to a housing crisis, but they just say, “Oh, San Francisco.”
Jon: And by the way, not limited to cities.
Jon: Rural ar —
Jon: Oklahoma City, you know, rural areas, city areas, they are all facing these devastating complex issues, and it’s super easy to point to the liberal bastions that are confronting them. But, you know, red states take Fentanyl too. Baby red states have property crime, red states have homicides sometimes at much higher levels.
Jon: So, we need to get past all that and get past the finding. And I think London Breed is a great person to talk to because, you know, she takes a lot of s*** about it, but she is tenacious.
Jon: So I will speak with her and then, and then catch up with you cats in a little bit.
Kris: Amazing. Can’t wait.
Interview with London Breed Begins
Jon: We are delighted to be joined today, you know, our episode was on incarceration culture, the real cancel culture, in American culture. And we are joined today by London Breed. Uh, she is the mayor of San Francisco. She is too tough on crime and yet too lenient on crime. It’s a terrible position to be in, unfortunately. Uh, mayor, thank you for, for joining us.
London: Thank you. Glad to be here with you,
Jon: Mayor Breed, give us just a quick brief of your background because I think it’s fascinating. You grew up in San Francisco. You’ve had real trials and tribulations. In terms of growing up and the things that you experienced with your family. So if you could give us a little bit of that context before we really get into the conversation.
London: Of course. I mean, I was born and raised in San Francisco. I grew up in public housing. My grandmother raised me and two of my brothers in — it was a notorious public housing development, Plaza East, also known as out of control projects.
Jon: [LAUGHS] Out of control…
London: And there was a lot of crime, drama, hopelessness, despair, frustration and, um, poverty. And there were challenges, of course, with the police, there was challenges with poverty and crime and other issues. I have one of my brothers who is still incarcerated, one of my sisters I lost to a drug overdose. And the reason why I, of course, do this work has everything to do with changing the outcomes of families, especially in this city, who have grown up with similar circumstances.
London: And so it’s a real challenge in trying to balance that and make these hard decisions. But I do it from a place of understanding what it feels to live like a lot of people who are still in those circumstances.
Jon: And so you then have to ride the balance. I think people would put you in that progressive camp. Somebody, I mean — I think anybody who gets elected in San Francisco is probably gonna be somewhere on that spectrum of progressiveness.
London: On a national perspective —
London: I would say that I’m very progressive.
Jon: That’s true.
London: But locally here —
Jon: Progressive in San Francisco is — yes that’s true.
London: — is way different. [JON LAUGHING] It’s people — and oftentimes who have never lived, like, the circumstances that they’re fighting against. And —
London: That’s a little bit of frustration, especially for people who don’t understand. I appreciate the empathy, but we want real solutions and real change and not dependency. We want to transform communities for the better.
London: And we want the communities to also be safe.
Jon: So talk about that moment that we were in. You know, it — The talk after George Floyd, I think America suddenly went, “ Hey, do we have a problem with race in this country?” I think there was a real shock where people thought, “huh uh uh, I’m hearing about this for the first time.” Uh, you’ve lived the experience for all these years, but suddenly the pressure was on that defunding the police was the answer. And especially in a city like San Francisco, which is so progressive, I imagine it was even more intense there. You know, you believe more in reform. I’m assuming,
London: Yes, but I wanna be clear, I have never been supportive of completely defunding the police.
London: I think that was the wrong message. And I think that in my conversations with African Americans in this city, even those who have had encounters with law enforcement, they didn’t necessarily agree with that message either.
London: What we wanted was fairness in our treatment with law enforcement and to not be singled out. I mean, we’ve had people in this city who were falsely accused of things, arrested for things they never did.
London: I’ve seen the police brutality on a lot of different levels. And, you know, really this shined — George Floyd’s death shined a light on this like never before because I think people were home and really focused on seeing this.
Jon: That’s right.
London: In a different kind of way.
Jon: And it was a piece tape that was undeniably. I think it’s very difficult to shock Americans’ conscious at this point.
Jon: And to have that break through and permeate into people’s consciousness. It must have been as, as truly awful as it was, to permeate.
London: Definitely. But for African Americans, it was the norm for us.
London: And what we saw for the first time were more people who were not African Americans expressing, really, disapproval and frustration and anger about what they saw. And it brought people together like never before. And it created an opportunity to really invest in making significant changes around reforms, which —
London: San Francisco was already on the path to doing, but also the kinds of investments needed to be made specifically in the African American community, which is what I did in San Francisco with the Dream Keeper Initiative. And that was to focus on diverting 60 million dollars that year to the African American community for change and support. We didn’t cut our police force, we didn’t deviate from our reforms.
London: We made some adjustments to shine a light on this particular issue differently than we ever have before. And those investments are starting to really show a lot of change in San Francisco. Not to the point of where we want them to be, but definitely better than what they used to be.
Jon: Mayor, I want to talk to you about that because. This is kind of an interesting fault line on it. You know, obviously crime and chaos and quality of life is a very powerful political motivator. And certainly San Francisco and Chicago and Philadelphia — major urban cities are generally on the front lines of the quality of life argument politically. Generally though, the quality of life argument is around how white gentrified areas are experiencing the city. Very rarely is the quality of life argument being made for the poor areas in those cities. That’s generally not a political winner. And so that revelatory window into what conditions are like in communities that are struggling is surprising to many people, but it’s not what they view as the changes that need to be made. What they don’t like is, “I don’t want people going to the bathroom in front of my nicer apartment building.” But they don’t, I generally think those quality of life discussions don’t involve changing the kinds of entrenched conditions of struggle that exist in many of these cities.
London: Well, I think that they need to. For,
London: For me, they have to, because, you know, I wanna change San Francisco as a whole. Not just for some people, but for all people. Right. And there are certain neighborhoods that definitely continue to suffer. I’ve talked publicly about the Tenderloin, most people —
London: —suggested I shy away from the Tenderloin because it’s always been that way, always been problematic —
Jon: For those who don’t know, the Tenderloin is kind of like what you would consider like a red light district or something where there’s — it really is. I imagine you would think of it as like a Times Square district to some extent.
London: Yeah. And people have, you know, said, “Don’t touch it. You know, once you touch it, you own it.” And for me, many of the people who live there, I grew up with, many of the people who live there are folks who were formerly incarcerated, have substance use disorder challenges, immigrant families and business owners and seniors, like this is a community of people —
London: — who live in poverty in many instances.
London: And are neglected. Why should they have to live in the kinds of conditions where the streets are not clean, where there’s open air drug dealing, where there’s violence consistently?
London: So for me, it was necessary to aggressively tackle this issue in a lot of ways that have not necessarily been very popular because I have advocated for the arrest of many of the Fentanyl drug dealers that have been —
London: — problematic in this community. Also, aggressive measures around forcing people into treatment. That is not the most popular thing to do. Putting more police on the streets, but also putting alternatives to policing, more ambassadors.
Jon: Who is that, who is not popular with mayor? Who is complaining about arresting fentanyl dealers and who is complaining — That seems bold, even for a very progressive city not to want to arrest Fentanyl dealers.
London: We have a board of supervisors, which is our legislative body. It’s like our city council. And there are members of that body who feel that they are the carrier of the torch for progressive values in San Francisco.
London: And they’re constantly —
Jon: The Haight-Ashbury Brigade,
London: Uh, kind of, yes.
London: They are the ones who are oftentimes trying to carry the torch. And to be clear, these are people who don’t know what it feels like to live in these conditions.
London: And they are constantly pushing against, you know, the recommendations that are being even made by the people who are living in the conditions that are so frustrating.
Jon: And that’s sort of the point that I was making, is the political pressure tends to come from when the richer tourists have to walk through the tenderloin. It’s always that idea of “this is quality of life policing.” But nobody ever really talks about the quality of life of the individuals who are living in these entrenched poor communities.
Jon: And how do we address that? Because that’s generational. You know, if you’re a fortunate politician, you get two terms, maybe three. I don’t know what the limits are in —
London: Two for San Francisco,
Jon: Two for San Francisco. As progressive as San Francisco is, I’m surprised it’s not rotating every few months, [LONDON LAUGHS] Where everybody gets a turn running San Francisco. But are there things that you can do? You know, the solution is always, “Well, let’s just put more police in there.” When people talk about cleaning up a city, it’s always, “Well, let’s clean up the streets, get these people off the streets.” But it seems cosmetic to a large extent. How do you get at the more root issues.
London: Well, I gotta tell you, it is difficult, but I am proud of the work that we’ve done here in San Francisco. In fact, we’ve been able to help get close to ten thousand people off the streets through permanent supportive housing as well as our shelter system. And this is after the pandemic when we had to remove people from our shelter system because it was a congregate living setting.
London: And so as a result of some of our investments, San Francisco saw a 15% reduction in unsheltered homelessness and a 3% reduction in overall homelessness. And it requires so much work. And when I say work, it’s not just, “here’s a place for you to stay.” It’s wraparound services for those who struggle with mental illness and substance use disorder.
London: And it’s what we do in the city, like in terms of some of the hotels we’ve been able to purchase some of the units. We’ve been able to rent some new affordable housing developments that we’ve been able to build and open after years of bureaucratic delay.
London: It’s a combination of things. Homelessness is not just the problem. The problem is of course the behavior and the challenges that exist from my perspective, from a lot of the use of drugs and the psychosis that happens as a result of the use of drugs. And oftentimes that’s not reversible. So we have people who are more erratic, people who are more combative —
Jon: Oh, wow.
London: —people who are more engaged in the kind of behavior where people are afraid. And when I say people are afraid, I’m talking about the seniors and the families and the businesses that are in the Tenderloin community because —
London: I’m having the conversations with them. And these are people who are in tears asking us to do more, to do more, to make their neighborhood safer.
London: And it is definitely an uphill battle. But the conditions of the streets around the use of drugs and the open air drug dealing, we can’t just accept that as normal because people are suffering from addiction. This is not about a war on drugs. Resurrecting a war on drugs.
London: Fentanyl is killing people in San Francisco in higher rates than it did during the height of the Covid Pandemic. And we need to treat it —
London: — like a crisis and really focus on the kind of work that involves making sure we look at safe consumption sites, treatment on demand. But we have to have a level of force associated with that to really get people on the right path.
Jon: Mayor — and I’m not gonna, you know, I won’t make San Francisco as sort of the avatar of, you know, all cities that have entrenched areas of struggle and these kinds of things, but talk about you, you’ve been there, your family for a couple generations. How many generations has your family been there?
London: So my grandmother came here from Texas and my mother was born here. I was born here.
Jon: So, you’ve seen the generational struggle.
Jon: As it’s gone through the cycle. In your mind, what is it that causes that to be so difficult to eradicate? What were some of the levers that would’ve needed to be pulled to alleviate some of those issues so that it doesn’t become this terrible cycle?
London: I think a big part of it is poverty for sure.
London: And the opportunities that need to meet people where they are. We can’t make assumptions that, you know, for example, if you give someone a job to be a chemist, that they are even prepared to be a chemist. We have to have conversations with people, meet people where they are, provide opportunities, but when we also provide training —
London: It’s paid training. We’re paying people to go through training so that they can get a job or start their own business so that they are able to take care of themselves. That’s one part of it.
London: But also the other part of it is, you know, mental illness and substance use disorder are complicated. These are not just people who have experienced poverty. In some cases, these are, you know, folks who have affluent families, relatives who want to help them and support them. People who may have been addicted to painkillers and end up on fentanyl, and other drugs like that in the Tenderloin. You see a variety of different people and I think one of the challenges that we need to deal with is how illegal drugs are so accessible, you know, not just in our city, but in our country.
London: And how we mobilize and deal with this and how we provide and make it normal for people to get treatment, make it normal, to provide safe consumption sites so that those struggling with addiction can not do it in isolation where they could potentially overdose and die. And when they’re ready for treatment, they can get the help that they need.
London: So I think looking at things differently, not just “oh, these people are addicted to drugs and we don’t wanna see that. So like, you know, get rid of it, stop it.” But people are gonna always be addicted to something, whether it’s gambling, alcohol, drugs. So how do we create a better system —
London: To provide support, not for those who have money, but for those who need it to make sure that they’re getting the treatment and support they need. And if anyone has experience with family members who suffer from drug addiction, it’s not as easy as, you know, let me take you to get treatment.
Jon: Stop, just say no, stop.
London: It’s not easy. So it’s like, how do we meet people where they are, but make it easier, so as soon as they say they’re ready, we’re able to instantly get them on methadone or treatment. That’s what a lot of our street medicine team does when they’re out on the streets.
London: And trying to get people help and into treatment. We’re trying to make it as easy as possible, but —
London: Let me tell you, it is an uphill battle.
Jon: Do you feel like you’re just, I mean, spitting in the wind? I mean, first of all, these are interventions that are happening way too far down the line to really have the kind of impacts to change it, you know, on a real fundamental way. But does any city, not just San Francisco, but does any city have the kind of resources and the kind of will to tackle the complexity of this enormous mental health crisis and this enormous substance abuse crisis, which is fueled by so many other things in a city? Is that a realistic goal, or is the goal of this is just to stop the bleeding to some extent?
London: I think what we are doing in San Francisco, sadly, is trying to stop the bleeding rather than the —
Jon: You’re still at that phase of it.
London: We are —
London: And we can’t do this alone. We can’t arrest our way out of this problem. We can’t get enough people into treatment to make a dent. We need help from the state and the federal government.
London: I mean we can’t, for example if you have mental illness and you’re out on the streets and you’re walking in and out of traffic, you know, we can do a 72-hour hold, but —
London: Through our legal system, if you say, “I’m OK,” and you wanna go back on the streets, you are allowed to do that. You know, it’s under state law, which we know our governor is trying to change now, so that we can make the laws work better in order to commit people and provide a conservatorship. So that we’re able to make decisions for people that can’t make decisions for themselves.
Jon: Would you have the beds and the professionals, and I’ll tell you what I’m driving towards in a second, but would you have the beds and the professionals to be able to give the kind of level of care that would be needed to create a real dent in that population?
London: Not entirely, but the good news in San Francisco is that we have been aggressively adding behavioral health beds, both inpatient and outpatient.
London: They’re very, the outpatient beds are a little bit you know, easier to control because it’s a temporary time period.
London: But the inpatient where we have to contain people sometimes in a locked mental health facility, those are very expensive to produce. And my perspective is, you know, we need to divert the resources that we might be using to build more jails and build more prisons —
London: To really having the kind of mental health facility that could meet the needs of those suffering from schizophrenia or dementia or issues where they can’t necessarily take care of themselves and they may not have family to support them, but they need a different level of support. And this is where our attention needs to be focused.
Jon: You know we took a trip to San Quentin, uh–
Jon: – with the governor and we walked around and even within that facility, so many of the people that were there — I’m not suggesting they didn’t do something — but a lot of it is a mental health issue. There are people there with a lot of mental health disorders.
Jon: And mental health disorders that make being out of that prison much more complex and much more difficult. And if we’re trying to tackle a recidivism rate that’s, you know, 50% without tackling that aspect of it makes it near impossible. I would imagine.
London: Definitely. And what the jails are being used for is not just, you know, for, you know, people who should be incarcerated —
London: — after committing violent crimes, but for those who were mentally ill. And you mentioned the Haight-Ashbury. There’s this guy who is the sweetest person you ever wanna meet when you meet him, except when he goes through whatever his episodes are and he becomes increasingly violent and he’s very unpredictable. And the people in that community have been trying to get him help for the longest. And I’ve been able to get him into shelters, send him through the conservatorship process. I mean, he’s still out on the streets. He’s still out on, he’s a senior. He used to be able to take care of himself, got hit in the head during an accident when he worked for construction and now he’s homeless, and he goes back and forth. And we should be able to house someone like that in a facility where he has some freedoms. So that he can still live his life, but also, you know, his medications or his medical support or the things that he needs are catered to based on what’s happening. Otherwise, you know, he actually assaulted a police officer, he had to be arrested, he was in jail for a little bit, and then when he was in jail, his clothes, you know, somehow got lost. I mean, just all of the different layers that go into this one individual where —
London: — instead of the jails, you know, a mental health facility would’ve been a better place. And I just think overall, this state and this country has to start looking at, you know, how we support those struggling with mental illness differently, especially those who may not have family or support or resources to do anything other than wait until a crime is committed and then they’re arrested, they’re incarcerated, and they’re not in the right place.
Jon: And it seems like a crime is the only lever of intervention. And are you feeling like even as a progressive, coercion has to be some part of a way to un-entrench this kind of difficult mental health crisis and substance abuse crisis.
London: Oh, definitely. Because I will tell you, if it were me —
London: Some of the things I’ve seen and experienced and the people I’ve worked with over the years that I could not get help for — if it were me, I would want someone to force me into whatever treatment possible.
London: And in many cases, there are more seniors with dementia, with Alzheimer’s who are, you know–
London: Out on the streets. This gentleman who is now homeless. Who was a pillar in the community, always rode his bike, gave out flowers to the ladies and, and just was that kind of person.
London: And then you know, started to develop dementia, started to get violent outta nowhere, never —
London: — been a violent guy and as a result, lost his housing. And the process to get him help and support —
London: — was just so flawed because he said, “I can take care of myself, I can take care of myself. I don’t need anyone to take care of me.” And clearly he did. Um, and so from my perspective, there has to be some level of force that goes with the services that provide an opportunity for the state or the counties to intervene in taking care of people who can’t take care of themselves.
Jon: You’re talking about communities where people are living with very little margin of error–
Jon: –To begin with.
Jon: And any of the stressors that you put on that, it, it breaks. uh, the failure rate for people living with no margin of error is really high.
Jon: Because you don’t have that support system and all those other things that are put into place. You know, people of means when a beloved relative gets dementia, well there are, you know, there’s no stopping the services that have to be arranged. And it’s really complicated even in that regard. Take away family members that can help and what does, what do the communities do? Have you seen, Mayor – is there a model, whether it’s in San Francisco or it’s in a different place, a model that you think has some efficacy in terms of putting people in trouble through a process that, because right now the repository are prisons. That’s sort of how we got into all this.
Jon: Is the prisons are — when you have two million people in prison in a country, something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.
Jon: Uh, and it seems that that’s the repository for all interventions that should be more productive. Have you seen a system that you thought, “oh boy, that’s got a tremendous amount of potential and efficacy in terms of getting people back to a place of function?”
London: Not necessarily, um… [JON LAUGHS]
Jon: I was hoping for a different answer, Mayor. I was hoping we were going somewhere else.
London: I think not necessarily because —
London: You know, people really value their freedoms.
Jon: Oh, of course.
London: For example, we don’t wanna see someone struggling where we know they’re having a mental health breakdown.
London: We don’t wanna see that. We want them to get help and we’re wondering why can’t they get help? But then, on the same note, when we’re trying to change the policies and we start talking about force, to force someone into treatment, then all of a sudden, you know, people are like, “well, wait a minute, you know, conservatorship, look at what happened with Britney Spears. Look at what we don’t wanna take away someone’s rights” and–
Jon: Right. And their agency.
London: Yeah. And so I get that, but at the end of the day, it’s not a one-size-fits-all. It’s a balance, but the flexibility to make decisions around people’s lives when they’re suffering from these various conditions, it has to be put on the table. Otherwise, we’ll continue to see it and we won’t be able to do anything about it. And I think that’s the tragedy, because it could happen to you, it could happen to me.
London: At any given time. And wouldn’t we want somebody to make the decision that’s gonna really help to save our lives or to put us in a better place so we don’t lose all of our self-respect and our dignity. I mean, there’s an elderly woman who walks around naked, dragging a blanket, and it is just really hard to see that and not think, “why can’t we help?” And part of it is, when you approach her, she gets really violent and she starts swinging the blanket, she starts swinging her arms and it’s like the only thing we have to do is detain her. She goes through the process, “I’m OK, I can take care of myself.” And that’s it. And that is not a solution that is doing the same thing over and over, expecting to get a different result, which we will not get unless we’re willing to, you know, put in a level of force that sometimes also makes people uncomfortable.
Jon: And also in a city that is known for its kind of ideological leniency and progressive values of “aren’t we all in this together?” But I think unfortunately, it doesn’t take into account the stress that struggle and poverty and drugs put on people who are already battling certain mental health conditions. And I wanna also talk about the crime aspect of it because it all sort of goes in the same bucket, which is San Francisco is the avatar for chaotic rule. Some of it, you know, an identity that they wear with pride to some extent. And some of it, looked at by others with a sneer of “can’t they get it together these progressives who just allow people to live and let live in and look at the chaos that they’ve unleashed.” Uh, but when you look at the crime statistics in a San Francisco versus like an Oklahoma City, which doesn’t get any of that attention, you’re actually kind of similar.
Jon: But is that because it’s a tourist attraction and so many people filter through it? Is it because of the reputation of it in tech? Is it because of the inequality and the fact that there’s been this incredible real estate boom for one group, but then this other group still suffers? Why do you think San Francisco is so often, along with Chicago, the avatar for that kind of chaos?
London: Well, I think there are a number of reasons, and I think, you know, the former president, you know, put a target on our back at one point and used it as an example for a lot of things that were allegedly going wrong in the country. Um, and–
London: That was very unfortunate. I think, you know, now with social media and technology, you have videos that circulate and the videos are a moment in time, and I think people see those videos and think, “oh my goodness, San Francisco is such a scary place.”
Jon: Hey, I was there in the 80s. It was, I mean, talk about chaos.
Jon: Like the Tenderloin.
Jon: The Tenderloin, like I was there in the 80s. It was, it was wild. In the same way that New York was wild in the eighties.
London: Yes. But you, you could still walk down the streets of San Francisco. I mean, you, you could be in certain neighborhoods, in certain parks, and you wouldn’t even believe you’re in San Francisco in a major city. I mean, it’s a beautiful city. It’s incredible city.
Jon: Oh. Sure.
London: Um, but because of our liberal values, because of some of the things that we do here, oftentimes it’s like, “See, look at what San Francisco’s doing and look at this video and look at what’s happening as a result.” Um, and it’s unfortunate, but at the end of the day it’s still a great city. We are in the state of California. The fourth largest economy in the world now bypassing Germany. And that has everything to do with many of the startups and the major businesses like Salesforce and others.
London: Um, it, you know, they are, they are headquartered here in San Francisco and this is where people wanna be. In San Francisco, the Bay Area wealth is of course being generated, but also we have a 2% unemployment rate. So we have job opportunities, we have opportunities for people to do well to thrive. And we have a beautiful city.
Jon: Doesn’t that put almost more pressure on you to crack down then when you have these kinds of you know, wealth drivers, like these tech companies and all that. And then you also have this really entrenched issues of poverty and mental health and, and those other things, and isn’t generally, the easiest answer to that is “more cops.” Generally, politically, I would imagine that’s the first tool that people go to because it’s the most immediate, it’s the one that you can say. But again, talking about efficacy, how effective are more cops? You know, I’ve read certain statistics that, you know for every, I don’t know what it is, 17 officers that cost about $1.5 million for the taxpayers one life maybe can be reduced in terms of the homicides, which, you know, is a great thing. But again, it’s about are we ever really dealing with the core issues or are we just trying to throw as many barriers and obstacles around these problem areas so that the other folks don’t have to deal with it.
London: Well, to be clear, for me, I’m thinking about the people who live here, and I’m also thinking about the people who live in the kinds of conditions that I grew up in.
London: And that’s one of the most important parts to me. The other part is I wanna, as a mayor, I wanna keep all people who live, who work, and who visit our city safe. Period.
London: I want that to happen for everyone. I want people to have great experiences and experience the city in ways that put a smile on their face and make them happy to be a part of such an amazing city.
London: Andthat does take work, it does take police officers.
Jon: Does it worry you that when you add more police officers, the communities that you actually grew up in are the ones that are going to be hurt the most by that influx?
London: No, it does not.
Jon: I mean the Tenderloin already has the most cops of any, but, you know, when you look at you know, tough on crime policies generally, that’s going to disproportionately affect Black communities and poor communities.
London: Well, what’s interesting is, you know, in San Francisco, I mean, we have a national crisis around law enforcement and the inability to recruit San Francisco is seeing record lows in terms of the number of officers who we have, as well as our ability to recruit. So we’re facing a national crisis in terms of law enforcement. I think what’s different here is, you know, you have these same communities wanting police officers. You have neighborhoods that traditionally have had you know, negative encounters with the officers saying, “you know, I want police,” including those who are part of immigrant communities, those who are part of African-American communities.
London: You know, when you look at some of the violence that’s happening in our city, they are saying, “you know, why do we not have more police officers in our community?” Of course, we don’t want police officers to react negatively to those who live in the community, who are law abiding citizens, who are just trying to, you know, make a living and take care of their families. We want them to go after the people who are the most problematic. And I think what you hear, what I hear personally from people who I grew up with even, as I said, who have had encounters with the law, is “We need cops. We need more support. We want them in our communities.”
London: But the good news in San Francisco is that it’s not just about police officers, it’s about alternatives to police. It’s about having a street crisis response team, which we started in our city —
London: — a couple of years ago to respond to calls for people who are suffering from mental illness or noise complaints or some calls that could be diverted to groups of people that are, are good at deescalation or good at dealing with challenges that don’t involve violence.
London: And so, you know, having an alternative to police so the police can focus on the more serious and violent crime has really worked out. Since we founded them at the end of 2021, they’ve responded to over 15 thousand calls in San Francisco, which takes that off the plate of police officers. We have community ambassadors, retired police officers in our various neighborhoods, dealing and deescalating situations.
Jon: Deescalation, is I think that’s a great way of, of viewing, you know, so many of these problems. And have you seen, you know, are there metrics that you’re looking at that says, “Hey, some of these, some of these interventions are being successful at deescalating some of the fentanyl crisis, some of the homelessness crisis, some of the poverty crisis, some of the mental health crisis.” Have you seen anything that makes you feel like. “Wow, we’re starting to get our arms around some of these entrenched issues.”
London: Well, I will say Urban Alchemy is a program of ambassadors, and they are in the Tenderloin. They all over the Tenderloin, these are people —
London: — who used to be addicted to drugs, who were incarcerated —
London: — who may have grown up in San Francisco, and now they are out there talking to people and trying to get them into help or to treatment.
London: And oftentimes, for example, somebody who’s suffering from addiction, they may have open wounds or sores. An Urban Alchemy ambassador will say, “Hey man, let me walk you over to the clinic. You know, let me get you bandaged up. You don’t wanna walk around like that and get an infection or get hurt.” So, they’re communicating to people differently and as a result, sometimes people are accepting help because they say, “I used to be on the streets, or I used to be in your situation and this program helped me.” And so a lot of it is that peer on peer support that helps to lead to something better for someone. And I think having a way to get someone into a job immediately or get someone into treatment immediately.
London: That is a game changer. The treatment on demand part is significant because at the moment someone may feel like, “Yes, I could use some help,” but they may not even go to the help. “Well, I’ll wait with you and I’ll call the street medicine team. Hold on, let me give them a call.” So that approach is a meet-people-where-they-are type of approach, which I think is having, you know, a significant impact with the data that we’re seeing.
London: On getting people into treatment or getting them to support.
Jon: Do you think that’s slowing that kind of revolving door? You know, some of the people that we had spoken with that had been incarcerated said, “boy, that blot on your record just puts you so under a stone that’s so heavy to lift, to try and get yourself back on your feet because it puts an albatross around your neck for everything: for getting a job, for getting an apartment, for uh, being able to have a family.” Like there’s so many different avenues that incarceration then weighs you down with once you get out, and it makes it so much more likely that you end up in this sort of revolving door of incarceration and drug use and homelessness and mental illness. And it’s vicious.
London: And I think it’s a little different in San Francisco because we’ve done a lot of reforms to our criminal justice system. We ban the box so we’re able to, you know, not just work–
Jon: That’s the box where you have to check that box that says–
London: Yeah, and say that, you know, that you’ve had a criminal record of some nature.
London: And so we’ve been able to, people who are formally incarcerated have been able to be hired with the city and county of San Francisco, not only to clean the streets, but to drive Muni. And we’ve helped pay for people to go through the process of training to drive buses, getting their class A license.
London: We’ve gotten rid of a lot of fines and fees, so that money is not a barrier to people who, once they get out —
London: -and they wanna get their driver’s license or they wanna get back on track in some way. We’ve tried to get rid of a lot of the barriers that make it difficult for someone once they serve their debt to society and they want to do something different with their lives. Uh, we as a city try to make it easier with housing, with opportunities, with trying to get people to turn their lives around. We have some wonderful programs that have really created some great results. I see people I grew up with all the time, and I am so proud of them and so happy to see them and they’ve become very active in the community differently. And I think we need to approach that on a statewide and national level. To try and get people back on track, back in the right type of situation and it starts with money.
Jon: [JON LAUGHS] Mayor, that should be the title of your autobiography because that is, you’re dead on right about that for everything. It starts with money.
Jon: If, if we appropriate the types of funding we need to get a handle on that and rebuild the infrastructure in these cities, boy, it would make it so much easier than having to, to attack the problem once a person is wandering the streets naked in a crisis.
Jon: If we could attack things before they become a crisis.
Jon: Boy, that’d be different.
London: Yeah. So like for example, if someone gets outta jail, they don’t have, where are they gonna get some money? They get a, a little bit of money. Maybe
Jon: Two. They get $200 bucks. You get outta jail. $200 bucks. That’s it.
London: And then what are, where do they go and what do they do? Right. And, and that’s why like we are focusing on a lot of universal basic income programs. I remember the headline was, you know, “San Francisco will pay you to commit crimes and pay criminals.” And it’s not about that. It’s about trying to get this person into support, giving them some basic universal income they have to show up with their counselor, work with us to get them into an employment opportunity.
Jon: Has that been effective? Has that shown some results?
London: It’s shown some — it’s been very challenging because again, we’re talking about, in some cases, people who struggle with addiction. So it’s — some people we’ve been able to transition and to work in, in different programs, including Urban Alchemy and some of our other programs that help formerly incarcerated people.
London: But it’s tough when people have issues with addiction.
Jon: You know, I’m wondering, Mayor this is — I look at this situation in the country with the elderly, and there’s sort of this three-tiered system of kind of over 55 housing. And then you go into kind of like assisted living and then you go into where you need more medical care. I wonder if a tiered system may be the kind of approach that we would have to take through prisons and intervention as systems where you’re kind of going from a stronger, hopefully not as coercive, but slightly more coercive and working your way through this tiered system. And is, I know it sounds like such a strange concept, but is assisted living kind of the answer to helping to find some semblance of order that we can bring people who are struggling through a process of slowly getting them from, you know, down and out and flat on their back to, you know, Ambulatory. Yes. And maybe that’s a five tiered system. And is that something that’s been talked about?
London: Well, I would say that some of the programs we have here for substance use disorder are tiered. We have a really wonderful abstinence-based program, which didn’t exist before.
London: And it includes, we have two buildings and food and housing and wraparound support services. But there’s also like Delancey Street, which is a lot more intensive in terms of detox and support. Uh, it’s like, “Look, you go to jail or you go to Delancey Street, especially if you have an addiction, but you can’t leave that facility until you’re at a certain point.”
London: So we have different layers of systems around treatment for support. And it’s not always hard to get a bed, it’s just what happens after, I think, that the treatment is one thing and going through that process and then feeling whole and feeling supported and feeling good again. The biggest challenge that we have had and what we’re working on is the missing transition between treatment and long-term stability as it relates to housing. And in San Francisco housing is very expensive. It’s expensive to build, expensive to maintain. And that is the housing component —
Jon: That’s the missing link.
London: It’s a big part. We’ve had to house people outside of San Francisco in order to get people in stable housing.
London: But oftentimes people want to be in the city.
Jon: See, here’s the thing, you know, you live in a city that is, is known for its disruptors, it’s tech disruptors, it’s other things. There has to be some measure of housing disruption that would occur there. I would imagine, you know, you got Musk, you got all these titans up there who love nothing more than sort of reimagining certain things.
London: Elon is living in his office.
Jon: Oh, right. He’s, he’s in Texas town, Musk-town.
London: He’s living in his office. He’s not taking up any housing right now.
Jon: But I mean, in terms of like, when you think of the hipsters and you think of this movement towards like tiny houses, well, how is it that maybe reimagining this idea of individual tiny houses in certain areas, but more assisted living so that it has the services? I mean, it seems like a challenge that the business community there would relish because so much of their success has come at the, unfortunately, detriment of the other communities that live there.
London: Well, I will say we are lucky that we do have the wraparound supportive services in terms of our housing.
London: But again, those are a lot more difficult to get into and they cost us a lot of money to run.
Jon: Right. No, San Francisco has a terrible housing issue. Houston’s done a great job of that. By the way, I don’t know if you’ve — is there a mayor text chain? Do you guys have a text chain?
Jon: You guys go back forth?
London: Yeah, yeah. We have different kind of mayor text chains or, or we reach out to one of — I am talking to mayors all over the country, constantly about different things when they happen.
Jon: Houston’s done a pretty great job at, you know, they say, Cut their housing issue by 50%, 60%.
London: Well, hey have more room. We’re like, you know, 49 square miles. We’re like a small, very densely populated city.
Jon: Do what they do in Abu. Let’s start putting silk down. Let’s start building up in the bay.
London: I agree. I agree.
Jon: Come on man. We got this.
London: Well, here’s the good news.
Jon: OK. I need some good news, Mayor. It sounds overwhelming.
London: I am so happy about this because this is gonna make my job a lot easier.
London: The state of California has required that the county of San Francisco build at least 82 thousand units in the next 8 years.
London: Which means, you know, we had to adopt — it’s called the housing element. We had to adopt it.
London: It could affect our funding for affordable housing. It can affect a lot of things financially for the city. So we are gonna have to make some dramatic changes to our housing policies that will allow us to build faster. We have over 50 thousand units that have already been approved. Some even before I was on the board of supervisors. Right. And they have not even started construction.
Jon: Why have they not started construction?
London: Well, it’s not just because of the cost. It’s our policies and really when people try and prevent sometimes some of the units from even being built when you have neighborhoods who are saying, “we don’t want this in our city” —
Jon: Not in my backyard kind of thing.
London: Yeah. A lot of the CEQA requirements and other things. So we are working aggressively on getting rid of a lot of those barriers to cut down the time that it takes to begin construction on a lot of these housing projects, which is gonna be a game changer for housing. Can you imagine over 50 thousand units that have been entitled? And if those 50 thousand units even get built in the next, you know, five to eight years, what that could mean for housing in San Francisco. It could be a game changer.
Jon: And the barrier to get into those — by the way, these aren’t condos for CEOs. These are affordable units. I would assume.
London: Well, there, there’s a percentage that’s affordable and some of them are gonna be market rate, but also, you know, some of them will help with the missing middle as well. The Giants, our sports team, they’re building in Mission Bay as we speak. Those units are being built.
London: And 40% of those units will be on the affordable spectrum for not just the low income, but also the middle income residents of San Francisco.
London: It’s gonna be a game changer.
Jon: But Mayor, before we go, if I may ask you just one more question, slightly more personal. What got you through that? How did you, it’s such an, you know it’d be wonderful to live in a world where you didn’t have to be a superstar to escape the kind of upbringings in this country that are so difficult. But what made you so resilient? How did you get through.
London: Well, I think it had a lot to do with having a praying grandmother.
Jon: That’s a certain kind of grandmother.
London: Yeah. My grandmother, she was really hardcore. She, you know, really drilled into me a sense of, you know, that, you know, don’t let my circumstances — the fact that we live in the projects, you know, determine my outcome in life. And she was, she just, she had my back. She was very hardcore, but she also took care of the community. And, you know, I just think by the grace of God that I’m here and —
London: I feel so honored and blessed. I know it just wasn’t me even, you know, drug dealers in the neighborhood would, you know, my family members included. They’re like here, they’d gimme money and say, “go to school and do better than us.” There were just, it was a community. It was my —
Jon: They saw some thing in you.
London: Yeah. It was, it was so many people, and this is why I also fight for them, because these — the folks I grew up with, they had my back and they still have my back.
London: My grandmother, you know, she’s not with us anymore, but she was very adamant, you know, “you gotta get your education.” She was very proud as someone who came from Texas, Jim Crow South, and dealt with discrimination that, you know, she was proud that she got her —
London: — high school diploma. And she pushed to make sure that I was educated. And I’ve always had so many wonderful people around me who supported me through college, who lifted me up, who gave me an opportunity, who hired me when no one else would. And I just, you know, I feel honored, I feel blessed to be here
Jon: I wonder, do you ever think about, you know, cuz there’s so many, I imagine obstacles and you know, mine fields along the way, what it was that other family members succumbed to those obstacles in a way that you didn’t, even though both of you had the same praying grandmother. What do you think it was?
London: It’s hard for me to pinpoint it because, you know, maybe like my grandmother, you know, with my brothers, she wasn’t as hard on them as she was on me, maybe, I don’t know. [JON LAUGHS] Cause she made up their bed.
Jon: She didn’t pray as hard on them. OK.
London: Yeah. Like I had to wash the dishes, make up my bed, do all the chores, run her errands, pay the rent.
Jon: You were saved by sexism, Mayor! Yes. Sexism saved your life.
London: I think so. But, it’s hard to say what it was.
London: I still look back at it and I’m mayor and I still don’t believe it sometimes because of what I’ve been through and, and what my family still is experiencing. And I don’t know what it was, but I, I do, I will say that it, there were, there’ve been a lot of people in my life that just really helped me, supported me, pushed me, encourage every time I came home. Sharon at Wells Fargo Bank gave me a job as a teller because she liked my grandmother. I’d have to tell, take my grandmother to the bank to cash her check every month. And, you know, she liked my grandmother. She liked how I treated my grandmother. And so she would always have a job for me when I would come home. So there were just different people like that who gave me opportunities and really supported me. And I was fortunate and, and I want other people to have this too, because, I couldn’t imagine where I would be
London: If it weren’t for a lot of different things. A lot of different people and especially, you know, prayers and, and support from all these wonderful people in the community who just, you know, saw something and said, “You know what? We gonna keep her out of this mess. We’re not gonna let her, you know,”
Jon: We’re gonna lift her up. Make sure she’s doing…
London: Yeah, we’re not gonna let her sell drugs on this corner. We’re not gonna let the wrong dude, you know, put her in a bad situation. Like there were people — people in the community would not let stuff happen to me too.
London: So even though I wanted to go out there and do some of those things, they cut that out and, and that was a blessing. Yeah. So I feel really honored and I also feel like I owe them a debt of gratitude and support and it’s why I work so hard in this city to turn people’s lives around.
Jon: The job you gotta do out there I give you a ton of credit. It is not easy.
London: Ooh. It’s not easy. But I’ll tell you, you know what’s rewarding about this job? I ran into this girl I grew up with. I used to play dolls with her. And we used to run around the projects. We play checks, checkers, and chess at the park and everything.
Jon: Right, right.
London: She, you know, I hadn’t seen her in years and I didn’t know what happened to her, but she got caught up with a lot of drugs and stuff.
London: And I just opened a unit building for people who are formerly homeless. And she was one of the people there. And the reason why I found her is because her daughter walked up to me and was like, “you know my mom.”
Jon: Oh, wow. [LAUGHS]
London: And then we started talking and she was like, “she live here now!” And I had to —
Jon: Oh my God!
London: And I had to leave, but I had to see her before I left.
Jon: Oh, that’s wonderful.
London: And to see her, and she was clean. She was sober. She lives there. She was still the same person. She’s still got the pretty skin, the pretty face.
Jon: Oh boy.
London: It’s just like —
Jon: That’s wonderful.
London: This is when, when we’re able to do this.
London: It’s nothing like — and her daughter is an adult, so it made me feel really old.
Jon: Oh. Those are, you must have said like, I think your mom was my teacher. I don’t think I was —
London: Yeah, I wish. But we were the same age. I was like, “oh my God.” I, you know, like thinking and thinking to it. And I, and, and even my uncle Donna, he’s not my biological uncle, but he lives there too. And —
Jon: Oh wow.
London: — is clean and sober. Like most of the people who live there now are people that I know. They are people that I know.
Jon: That’s — and even if you don’t know them personally, you know their struggle. You know their story.
London: Yes. Yes.
Jon: It’s so important to have someone in a position of power who feels them.
Jon: who, who, who just knows that, boy, there’s just, like I was saying, so many mine fields to get outta there.
Jon: It just would be nice if in those tough areas, if mediocrity did as well as it does in the areas with less challenges. Like —
Jon: If you didn’t have to be so good and smart and dedicated and resilient just to get through.
London: Definitely. And the place like San Francisco as expensive as it is.
London: But you know, this is also a place of opportunity. San Francisco is a compassionate, very generous city too.
London: And we do so much for so many people. Like you’ll talk to some people who are formerly addicted to drugs, including one of the guys who I pointed to the board of supervisors.
London: You know, he had a — he’s now I think about two years sober. And he had, you know, a real problem with addiction, but when he was ready for help, it was really easy for him to get help. And I find that to be the case with those who are formerly, you know, addicted to drugs that when they want, when they’re ready.
London: Because we both know that if, if you’re not ready, you’re not gonna do it.
Jon: Mm-mm-mm. But the difference is resources, cuz you know, in my world, boy, don’t think we don’t know a ton of people who are addicted —
London: Oh yeah.
Jon: To drugs or addicted to gambling or all those things. But, you know, when you’ve got resources, you don’t end up in jail. You don’t end up on the street. You end up, you know, your friends get together and they throw you to Malibu for a couple of weeks and —
Jon: You know, it’s all that other s***. So you know it when you have no margin of error. That’s what it needs to be in this country is we need to get people, just a margin of error. Just let people — give them a little bit more grace.
Jon: A little bit more of a margin of error.
London: Yes. And I think we, we do that here to a certain extent.
London: But I think again, the biggest challenge goes back to, you know, the cost of living and —
London: And other things that we’re not doing. And there’s really a balance. So, you know, I wanna change the city. I know we have impacted people’s lives in a positive way.
London: And I’m never gonna give up, you know, it’s not gonna matter whether I’m mayor or not. This is the work that I’m meant to do. And —
London: It’s a part of who I am. And so the ability to talk about it is always a joy. Because some of these examples of some of these good stories will — it’ll make you cry.
Jon: You have, I’m sure, a hundred other aspects of your job that are equally complex and so many other things. And I thank you so much for taking the time to even talk with us. But it’s such a fascinating story. And I think your understanding of that city, you having been there for so long, your family having been there for — you having seen all different aspects of it must be a great advantage in trying to find a way through it.
London: You know, I’ll tell you, Jon. The reason why I am very unapologetic about being aggressive in making these decisions has everything to do with my upbringing and how I’ve lived in poverty. You know, more than half my life in this city, in poverty, in some of the worst circumstances. In tragedy, the loss, the frustration, the hopelessness — that doesn’t just go away because you want it to go away. It’s a part of who I am. So when making decisions, it always comes from a place of understanding and a desire to see things get better. And I’m never gonna shy away from that. I’m gonna do what I need to do to make the hard decisions. I want our city to get better. I want to improve public safety. It’s not just about getting elected or re-elected. It’s about the fact my whole life has always been dedicated to transforming communities and lives for the better and that is not going to change whether I’m mayor or not. So I’m looking forward to seeing some transformative things and hopefully you’ll come visit us soon and see it for yourself.
Jon: I’d love to! I’d love going around there! Walking around, a little tai chi in the park. [LONDON LAUGHS] Get myself a little focaccia. Come on! I love that place!
London, Yes, yes.
Jon: Mayor Breed, thank you so much for joining us, Mayor London Breed of San Francisco, doing the hard work of getting that place ready for my next visit?
Jon: Let’s get some of them streets polished. I’ll get out there.
London: Yeah, I wanna see you at The Punchline.
Jon: I’ve been there many times. It’s a wonderful, wonderful place.
Jon: Cobb’s and all kinds of other clubs out there. It’s a wonderful city for comedy, by the way. And, and —
Jon: A lot of other things. But thank you so much, Mayor, for joining us. Really appreciate it.
London: Thank you, Jon. I appreciate it.
Interview with London Breed Ends
Jon: Uh, I’m gonna tell you guys something. I like her.
Kris: Yeah. I like her too. She’s so practical.
Jay: We were talking about that, Kris and I, when we were listening to the conversation.
Jay: It’s so hard for people to give real answers and it’s so hard for a mayor to say, “this is hard.” Not for a mayor to say, “I can fix this.” Not for a mayor to say, “I got the solution, lemme tell you what I would do.” And no, actually I was gonna say no hate to Eric Adams, [KRIS LAUGHS] but Eric Adams would not have answered those questions anything like London Breed, I’m sorry.
Jon: Well, you always, whenever you talk to politicians at a certain point you always feel like they’re, you know, on Dance Dance Revolution, you’re watching them and you go, you know, step, repeat. It feels choreographed in a way that is not authentic or real. Her desire, effective or otherwise, is clearly in the place of, “I grew up here. I grew up in a really difficult circumstance, and I would like to find a way to make it less difficult for those who come behind me.” And the moment she really won me is, I think I said, oh, you know, “do you know anything that’s had some real efficacy?” And she goes, “unfortunately no, but—” [LAUGHTER]
Kris: We also stopped for that too, yeah.
Jon: There’s no, there was no like, “oh, the metric” there was, I never felt like I was talking to a politician. I felt like I was talking to someone who cared deeply about fixing something that has no simple solution.
Jay: And even her saying, “and guess what, Jon, a lot of this starts with money.” And you were like, yeah.
Jay: So many people are scared to say, they go, “oh, you have to change the hearts and minds of people.”
Jon: Yes, yes.
Jay: Oh, people need, it’s like she was also describing community in a way that so many people don’t understand how to articulate.
Jay: When she talked about her upbringing and how do you apply those community safeguards, but apply them through the city, she had people that say, “Hey, you probably shouldn’t be out here.” there was never an inflection point where they had to course correct—
Jay: —because you didn’t have to call the police because the stuff that would’ve happened down the road never happened.
Kris: It struck me when she said the thing of like “Don’t touch it. Once you touch it, you own it.”
Jon: And a politician—
Jon: —wouldn’t touch it or would at least try and get some plausible deniability on it. She’s not getting any of that.
Kris: —yeah, we’ve interviewed some other people, are we allowed to say, uh,—
Jon: Hell yeah.
Kris: OK, Governor Newsom, handsome fella but like, you could watch him doing the dance. I mean—
Jon: Yeah but by the way—
Kris: You watched it—
Jon: Like, really handsome fella.
Jay: So handsome that— [JAY LAUGHS] So handsome that people remarked up on it—
Jon: I don’t even—
Jay: —during the filming.
Jon: Can I tell you something? Here’s what was frightening to me is after the interview, I was really hoping to get the rose. [KRIS AND JAY LAUGH] in the middle of it, when I was pushing back on things, I was like, “I’m not gonna, he’s gonna send me home. He’s gonna have to,” and then afterwards I was like, “he’s gonna walk me out to the van and he’s gonna put me in the van.” And then I had to think about like, “what am I gonna say in my confessional? How am I gonna, yeah, that’s right. How am I gonna respond to this?”
Jay: Oh my God, Jon, I think your limo entrance was very funny though, so I think you’re safe.
Kris: Yeah, you had a good one.
Jon: You know, that’s my, I’m a comedian [JAY LAUGHS] and give that, but—
Kris: You have to make your good impression.
Jon: For all the, you know, and I don’t want to impune whatever sincerity he has, but yeah, it’s a style that is explicitly political.
Kris: And it’s different, like sometimes you’re like, “oh, he’s thought about how to answer this question before,” not, “oh, what are you doing?” He’s giving a rhetorical response to kind of evade—
Jon: like a Moog, a Moog synthesizer. [KRIS LAUGHS] You program in different, you know, [JON MAKES FART SOUND WITH MOUTH]
Kris: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Jon: This one is a fart sound. [KRIS LAUGHS] Um, can I tell you what was different? The thing that really hit me with Mayor Breed when people talk about the conditions in a city, and it’s so, you know, “these f***ing people are taking a s*** on the sidewalk while I’m trying to have a latte sitting on” and the, what she was saying is, no, that’s someone’s aunt.
Jon: You know, and she was this beautiful person in the community and gave flowers, and now she has dementia.
Jay: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
Jon: And yeah, she has episodes and she comes on the street and it brought a humanity to the people that were, that are generally just considered extras in your movie.
Jon: About how inconvenienced you are when you’re at a cafe. And that, boy did that hit me hard.
Kris: Her humanity overall. Like even when she was talking about addiction.
Kris: She’s like, you know, people are gonna be addicted to stuff. We have to figure out what to do with it.
Jon: Yeah there’s no sugar coating.
Kris: And that’s so absent from everything. That we are— humans are imperfect and we have an imperfect way of going through the world. And that’s going to kick up some issues. And that’s something we have to deal with on a level as a society.
Jay: And even Jon, you and her both brought up the fact that people who live in impoverished areas —
Jay: — also have opinions about why things aren’t going the way they want.
Jay: And why things are messed up. So it’s not just very wealthy people saying, “Oh, I can’t even go to this part of town that I want to because it’s so messed up.
Jon: That’s right.
Jay: It’s people that have to live in those conditions 24/7 that say—
Jon: Yes —
Jay: “I would love it if you could get this person some help and that —”
Jon: And talk about and think about quality of life.
Jon: Because whenever you hear from those cities, the complaints are, “I’m doing well and this is diminishing my quality of life.”
Jay: “This is ruining my Instagram picture.”
Jon: “My quality of life sucks cuz I live in the midst of this and I can’t escape it. I don’t have the means, I don’t have the education, I don’t, I don’t, I can’t get out, but I still want my life to have quality.”
Jon: As a baseline.
Kris: Everybody wants to enjoy a coffee.
Jay: Because Jon, for those people in those impoverished areas, it’s not a thought exercise.
Jay: It’s not hypothetical.
Jon: That’s dead on right. And it’s so crazy that it becomes so entrenched.
Jon: And in the same way that sort of wealth has an incumbency, I think poverty has an incumbency as well.
Jon: And you have to find a way to overcome that advantage that poverty has over people because it really does.
Jay: You describe it as like gravity sometimes, Jon.
Jon: Well think about, think about how many people had to lift her up —
Jon: — to get her out of that morass.
Jon: I mean, not that she didn’t have to do the work herself, but how many people at how many inflection points —
Jon: — had to lift her up to get her out.
Jay: But that’s what community is, that’s what community based —
Jay: — governance can look like when applied correctly. But it takes funding, it takes time. And it also takes Black people and brown people being able to say, “No, this is my opinion on this cuz this is where I live.”
Jay: And so many people are afraid to say that because then you come off as a bit of a hypocrite when like, it is tough. It’s very tough as a Black person or a brown person who lives in an impoverished area to say, “Listen, I don’t give a f*** about being pro-police, anti-police. What I am pro is my neighbors.”
Jay: “So I would like it if my neighbors felt better this week.”
Jon: Felt safe, felt like they could go places with impunity. Yeah. But boy, it’s, as you start to roll it back, you realize we, we really only attack things at that crisis level. Like, we really only —
Kris: Absolutely. Yeah.
Jon: The person has to be on the street already naked and screaming before we end up intervening.
Jon: And there’s gotta be —
Jay: You know, who brought that up on the episode? Jay Jordan.
Kris: Jay Jordan.
Jay: He said “we have a response.”
Jon: You know why? Because Jay Jordan is the s***, because from now on —
Kris: He’s very absolutely the s***. Yeah.
Jon: Yeah. That should be, that’s, that should be the title of his podcast.
Jon & Kris: Jay Jordan is the s***
Jon: Totally agree. Guys, excellent. I do want to thank Mayor London Breed for spending time with us. Kris Acimovic, Jay Jurden as always. That’s “The Problem with Jon Stewart” available on AppleTV+ because if I don’t plug it I will be dragged into the ground by promotional gremlins and carried away.
Jon: That’s it, kiddies. Great job. See y’all next week.
Jon: “The Problem with Jon Stewart Podcast” is an Apple TV+ podcast and a joint Busboy Production.