Articles, NOPNA, Politics

SF’s Other Epidemic

In 2020, 235 San Franciscans tragically died due to COVID-19. In the same time period, SF saw nearly three times as many deaths (699) from accidental drug overdoses. Policies such as social distancing, which have saved so many lives by ebbing the spread of COVID-19, may have contributed to social isolation and reduced the likelihood of people being revived from an overdose. 

Though these crises may feel disconnected, the solutions to both should be viewed as complementary, rather than competing, public health priorities. As a society we’ve proven our ability to mobilize relatively effective measures to control/reduce Covid-19 deaths; we need to use the same level of urgency and public health investment to combat the Opioid Epidemic and its growing fatalities.  

Approximately 500 (or two-thirds) of the overdose deaths in San Francisco in 2020 were caused by Fentanyl. Fentanyl, an increasing cause of overdose deaths throughout the US, is roughly 25-50 times stronger than heroin and is often mixed into heroin bags or other pills – catching even experienced drug users by surprise. Due to its low price and decentralized sources, Fentanyl has proven difficult to target using traditional criminal enforcement mechanisms. Rather than address these failures exclusively through enforcement reform, it’s critical to adopt a more holistic approach centered on health and emphasizing proven solutions over social stigma.

So what would a public health approach to preventing drug deaths look like? The CDC and organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance advocate a number of approaches including:

  • readily available testing kits (to identify Fentanyl)
  • data and emerging technologies – from tracking safe drugs supplies, to monitoring over-prescription and guiding decision-making for physicians
  • treatments such as Methadone and/or buprenorphine to address addiction at the point of care
  • access to Naloxone (aka Narcan) which treats narcotic overdose in an emergency situation

In 2020 alone, trained community members (including users and family members) in SF were able to reverse at least 2,600 overdoses with Narcan. The question is not whether these policies are effective, it is how can we make them more readily available?

One obvious answer is to incorporate these services into other health facilities such as emergency rooms or Navigation Centers and to create dedicated locations such as needle exchanges or even better, safe injection sites to test, treat, and trace. Safe injection sites like those in Europe and Canada, which have been proposed by SF elected officials like Senator Scott Weiner and Mayor Breed (whose sister died of an overdose), have been shown to prevent overdose deaths, reduce the spread of diseases like hepatitis C and HIV, and help get users into treatment.

While maintaining the same urgency and coordination we’ve used to prevent COVID-19 deaths, we need to shift from an overly-criminalized focus on enforcement and supply reduction to one characterized by regulation and harm reduction. These solutions require both public backing and investment – a meaningful first step is to support progressive legislation (proposed by SF’s own Scott Weiner) which can make meaningful change.


  • SF Chronicle, “2020 was S.F.’s deadliest year for overdoses, by far.” Link
  • SFIST, “SF Saw Triple the Number of Overdose Deaths Than COVID-19 Deaths in 2020.” Link
  • NPR, “’We Are Shipping To The U.S.’: Inside China’s Online Synthetic Drug Networks.” Link
  • CDC, “Evidence-Based Strategies for Preventing Opioid Overdose: What’s Working in the United States.” Link
  • Homeland Preparedness News, “San Francisco Police Department cites Naloxone success in reducing opioid overdoses.” Link
  • Drug Policy Aliance, “Key Harm Reduction Issues.” Link
  • Deloitte, “Strategies for stemming the opioid epidemic.” Link

Addressing Housing & Retail in NOPA

As part of my work with the NOPA Neighborhood association, I recently launched our first ever land use committee. We announced the committee publicly in the May edition of the NOPNA news; check out the letter below or read the full edition here.


I originally joined NOPNA as a way of giving back and meeting neighbors. What immediately struck me was the role NOPNA played in influencing the decisions that most impact the community: from safety, to transportation, to land use. Conversations about land use with community members, focused on new developments or changes to streets and sidewalks, proved to be the most contentious — and for good reason. New developments not only represent a change to our built environment, they also serve as key contributors to livability, sustainability, and opportunity. NOPNA has the opportunity to engage and amplify the voice of our community in these conversations. For this reason, we’ve decided to launch our first ever land use subcommittee.

The committee will be responsible for tracking and responding to land use and zoning proposals, both residential and retail, that substantially impact our neighborhood. We plan to work with neighborhood groups, government organizations, and the broader community to ensure a diverse perspective in our responses to developers and other impacted parties.

NOPA neighbors will have many opportunities to provide input: we will host information sessions, conduct surveys, and use other communication channels. The committee will meet bi-quarterly and will include board members and other neighborhood residents with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. In taking positions, the committee will be explicit in the projects we focus on and how we evaluate them (e.g., impacts to neighborhood livability, affordability, and sustainability). We want our efforts to be focused and effective.

What excites me most about our work is the opportunity to collectively shape our community through empathy and action and to ensure that new developments make our neighborhood greater than the sum of its parts. If you are interested in joining the conversation, reach out to me at



Supervisor Brown on Housing, Homeless, and Clean Streets

[Published in the November / December edition of NOPNA News]

Vallie Brown is no stranger to NOPA. Prior to being appointed by Mayor London Breed as the new District 5 supervisor, she was a neighbor, community organizer, and legislative aide to both Breed and Ross Mirkarimi. She draws on these experiences when speaking of her vision for NOPA, which centers on three topics: housing, homelessness, and clean streets.

“We’re in a housing crisis and we need all types of housing to ensure we have choices,” she urged in a recent conversation. “We need to ensure all new developments feature as much affordable housing as possible without crushing the project.” By leveraging density bonuses, she pushed two high-profile NOPA developments, at 400 and 650 Divisadero, to raise their inclusionary housing levels to 20% and hopes future developments will achieve 23% inclusionary. At the same time, she aims to ensure inclusionary units for those at various levels of the average median income (AMI), primarily 55%, the lowest range. Finally, she plans to use other tools, such as neighborhood preference, condo fees, and the city’s small site program, to protect renters from displacement and increase the city’s affordable housing funds.

“I can’t go to a community meeting without hearing about the homeless issue,” Brown mentioned, turning her attention to the area’s homelessness. “Anyone who has lived here a while would agree.” Brown supports the recent conservatorship legislation passed at the state level and adds, “we’re seeing what the opioid crisis is doing to people.” She sees Prop C as a critical step to increasing shelter capacity and housing options along with on-site, wrap-around services, a model which has worked in cities such as New York. Lastly, she adds that this is a regional issue: “We need San Jose, Oakland, other cities in the Bay area to come together and solve this homeless problem though money and services.”

Clean streets, her third priority, is intertwined with the first two. She sees programs such as once- or twice-monthly dump days, additional public trash cans, and public education as critical to fighting the neighborhood’s trash problem. She also raised the idea of neighbors “adopting a block” to increase accountability. For those who say these are city issues, she says, “We need to have the shared responsibility for making our city better if we can get people to understand that, then things will get better.”



Vision Zero – Pedestrian Safety Update

Safety by the Numbers Update

(This article appeared will appear in NOPNA’s Feb/March Edition)
The San Francisco Chronicle recently declared 2017 the safest year for traffic fatalities in the city’s history. The proclamation was a step towards the city’s goal of cutting traffic fatalities to zero by 2024, but just how safe are NOPA’s streets and what work is there still to do?
NOPNA recently completed an updated analysis of traffic collision data made available through the Vision Zero initiative. This data, which spans 2005–2016*, provides specific information about traffic incidents including location, street conditions, time of day, and cyclist or pedestrian involvement.
The data points to a decrease in traffic collisions overall, particularly those involving pedestrians and cyclists. When collisions have occurred (such as the fatal collision in October of 2017), they have largely taken place in areas where high volume auto traffic intersects with pedestrian and cyclist paths in our neighborhood (i.e., Divisadero, Masonic, and Fell/Baker and Fell/Masonic intersections). The intersection of Fell and Masonic has been historically dangerous for cyclists (25% of all cyclist-involved collisions), although the last five years have shown a clear improvement. The busy commercial Divisadero intersections at Fell and at Hayes remain dangerous to pedestrians (likely due to a failure of drivers to yield right of way). Meanwhile, incidents on residential streets have remained minimal despite concerns over a growing traffic presence caused by ride sharing services, navigation apps (e.g., Waze), among other factors.
These data point to an overall increase in safety corresponding with safety measures put in place over the last five years (e.g., protected bike lanes, bulb-outs, pedestrian refuges). Continued engineering and education, paired with increased enforcement, will support NOPNA’s priority of making NOPA a safe and welcome destination for all residents and visitors.
Note: Partial data is available for 2017 though NOPNA felt it was not sufficient for a year by year analysis.

Graph 1: Collisions in our neighborhood over the years.  (Area bounded by Divisadero, Masonic, Fell, and Turk) Source: SF Department of Public Health


Table 1:  Total Collisions from 2005-2017 (Numbers in parentheses show collision total for 2016 and 2017)


Articles, NOPNA

Safety – By the Numbers

(This article appeared appeared in NOPNA’s June / July Edition which can be located here)

On busy nights, Divisidero, Masonic, and other NOPA streets are filled to the brim with tourists, date-goers, bike-commuters, and families. With so many pedestrians and bikers on the road, it’s no surprise that traffic safety is a major concern (only confirmed by the recent VisionZero Survey). However, the traffic data needed to pinpoint major hazards and therefore to give insight into necessary safety solutions has been scarce – until now.

NOPNA recently analyzed traffic data provided by the city dating back to 2005. Although collisions have dropped by 40% from 2012-2015 (around 12% a year), pedestrian and bike collisions remain a major concern – 40% of all collisions in the last 12 years have involved either a pedestrian or bicyclist.

Of the 74 collisions involving pedestrians, most occurred in a crosswalk with 70% of those caused by a failure by the driver to yield right of way to the pedestrian. Predictably, the most common intersections for these collisions were popular pedestrian areas – Divisidero between Fell and Turk or Masonic between Fell and Hayes. For bikers, most collisions occurred at stoplights with Masonic and Fell Streets as the most common locations.

Though reminders to look both ways before crossing may seem tired, vigilance remains the most important deterrent of traffic collisions. As our neighborhood continues to grow in popularity, and the number of bikers and pedestrians rise, NOPNA will continue to look at additional safety improvements to slow traffic, protect intersections, and deter other forms of unsafe driving.

Source: City of San Francisco, Traffic Data, 2005-2015