A Whole Foods in San Francisco closed. Now a political fight looms.

The company did not provide specifics on what the safety concerns were, but District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey, who represents the mid-Market neighborhood the store is located in, told SFGATE on Tuesday it’s what one might expect: retail theft and individuals suffering from mental illness and/or substance abuse having outbursts in the store.

“That was my supermarket and you see that stuff all the time,” Dorsey said. “Those are issues Whole Foods employees shouldn’t have to deal with. Do I wish Whole Foods had talked to us and found a way to stay? I do, but I refuse to blame them for responding to an issue we should have been addressing all along.”

Almost immediately after the news of the closure broke, Dorsey, who was a spokesperson for the San Francisco Police Department before being appointed supervisor last year by Major London Breed, revealed that he was working on a charter amendment that would mandate a minimum number of police officers in the city.

That announcement is significant, as a charter amendment would require the approval of San Francisco voters in the next citywide election (slated for March 2024), as opposed to mere adoption by the Board of Supervisors. It’s also likely to be a controversial proposal, as progressives on the board have been skeptical of increasing the size and funding of the city’s police department.

The amendment will hit the ballot outright if the Board approves it. If they don’t, or if the board insists on revisions Dorsey and his co-author, District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani, do not find acceptable, Dorsey said he’s ready to gather signatures to place his preferred version on the ballot.

“I’m committed to do it if I have to, I think I have the support for it,” he said of a signature-gathering process he estimated could cost $1 million. “I’m not facing my own election for a few years and I’m happy to do the heavy lifting.”

Dorsey said he was convinced that adding more police officers would ameliorate the problems that led to Whole Foods closure. He said that when the department is understaffed — the amount of full-duty officers is the lowest it’s been in decades — it diverts resources to higher priority calls such as homicides and assaults, as opposed to retail theft.

As for whether police want to be responding to mental health or substance abuse calls?

“In my experience they understand police work is about keeping order,” he said. “We do conflict with behavioral health issues with people overwhelming a supermarket to steal, but what we saw at that location is what appears to be addiction-driven theft.”

The charter amendment is still in its early stages. Dorsey said details — such as the methodology used to set a minimum number of officers as well as a mandatory recruitment and retention fund — will be ironed out over the coming months. Critically, the amendment would enshrine these requirements into the city’s charter, thus removing the issue from the board and mayor’s annual budgeting process.

“I don’t have a lot of confidence that City Hall is going to solve this problem,” he said. “I have pulled the research, looked at all the mayors’ proposed budgets over the years, and see that the police budget is often the first people look to cut.”

It has all the makings of the city’s next major political fight, and Dorsey believes that in the end, the voters will be on his side. His optimism isn’t unwarranted: He won re-election over challenger Honey Mahogany last year after learning into public safety concerns, and elsewhere in the city, District 4 Supervisor Joel Engardio branded his opponent Gordon Mar as out-of-touch on crime and won. And of course, progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin was recalled thanks to voter fears on public safety.

“I’m on my 11th month as a supervisor and 80% of the calls I get from people come back to some answers that include, ‘We don’t have enough police officers for that,'” he said. “I’m tired of saying, ‘We’re working to solve that.’ In good conscience, I feel I had to announce this now.”

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