SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A bold experiment has kicked off in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood Thursday. The Tenderloin Merchants Association created an environment for outdoor dining like San Francisco has seen in many other parts of the city.
The mayor of San Francisco said Thursday this is the worst she has ever seen the Tenderloin neighborhood. In an effort to clean up and improve things there, the city is bringing outdoor dining along with law and order.
City Hall says more than 400 tents have been removed from the Tenderloin in an effort to improve conditions there.
"These are businesses that have taken a huge hit. It's already hard to operate a business in this neighborhood and definitely during COVID, so we are hopeful that people are going to come out and support these businesses and this community," said San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents this district.
The street closures will begin at 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Thursday to Sunday, for the next three months.
Lek Potharam owns Tender Restaurant and praised the efforts of the city to clean up this neighborhood.
"It's clean today and I'm happy at least I can walk and people can feel we're back to doing the business," he expressed while setting tables and chairs outside.
Meanwhile, not far from there, the city attorney was announcing a different approach to cleaning up the Tenderloin of drugs.
"Last year alone, 441 people died from drug overdoses in the city and the Tenderloin had the highest overdose mortality rate of any neighborhood in the city," revealed Dennis Herrera.
Twenty-eight people, identified as drug dealers, will be forbidden from entering a 50 square block area of the Tenderloin and parts of South of Market from Van Ness Avenue to Ellis Street and Geary Boulevard to Mission street, now called the Protected Zone.
The 28 identified do not live in the neighborhood and have been arrested at least twice for selling drugs in the past year. The arrests led to criminal charges for allegedly selling fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine.
"If you come to the Tenderloin, you'll be arrested and your drugs will be confiscated," added Herrera. Also, if caught, they could be charged up to $6,000 per violation.
City officials agree this has to be coupled with drug treatment options, mental health programs and ways to stop the suppliers.
Even though this district is more associated with drugs and crime than a night out on Thursday evening, the streets closed to traffic to allow for outdoor dining.
Supervisor Matt Haney says Tenderloin businesses already face many obstacles and now there's the pandemic to contend with.
Haney was there Thursday and he helped lift spirits by exclaiming, "Do you believe in the Tenderloin?"
"Yeah!" diners responded.
Some customers Thursday night said they had to give the Tenderloin a try after doing the same in so many other neighborhoods.
"I saw like Mission Street, Valencia, they are full," customer Mario Barajas said. "I can't imagine the Tenderloin eating outdoors so I was like I need to go out there and support."
The street closures are on Larkin Ave. from O' Farrell to Eddy and Golden Gate Ave. from Larkin to Hyde. They will last from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Thursday to Sunday for the next three months. The dining event hours are from noon to 7 p.m.
You can see what restaurants are participating on the Tenderloin Merchants Association's website.
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