Trump says feds will punish San Francisco over filth, needles and pollution. City leaders fight back

President Trump visits the Otay Mesa Port of Entry in San Diego on Sept. 18.
(John Gibbins / San Diego Union-Tribune)

President Trump ratcheted up his attacks on California over its homeless crisis, threatening San Francisco with some type of violation notice for what he described as environmental pollution.

He said “tremendous pollution” was flowing into the ocean because of waste in storm sewers, specifically citing used needles. It was unclear what Trump was referring to, and there was not clarification about what rules San Francisco supposedly violated.

“It’s a terrible situation — that’s in Los Angeles and in San Francisco,” Trump said, according to a pool report from Air Force One. “And we’re going to be giving San Francisco — they’re in total violation — we’re going to be giving them a notice very soon.”


RELATED: Trump says California cities ‘destroying themselves’ with homelessness

He added: “EPA is going to be putting out a notice. They’re in serious violation. … They have to clean it up. We can’t have our cities going to hell.”

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler declined to comment on the president’s statement. Asked about it at a news conference Thursday morning, Wheeler responded: “I can’t comment on potential enforcement action.”

President Trump’s plan to get homeless people off L.A. streets is to eliminate layers of regulation to make it easier and cheaper to build more housing. But it’s too simple to link that approach with that of his liberal antagonists in California.

Sept. 19, 2019

Mayor London Breed called Trump’s remarks “ridiculous” and said storm drain debris is filtered out at city wastewater treatment plants so that none flows “into the bay or ocean.”

San Francisco has long struggled with problems of human waste and needles on the streets in the Tenderloin district, where many addicts and homeless people are found. The city set up public toilets and last year announced formation of a special six-person “poop patrol” team to clean up the human waste.

The city also announced funding to hire people to pick up used needles.

Many of those needles came from the city itself. The health department hands out an estimated 400,000 clean syringes a month under programs designed to reduce the risk of HIV and other infections for drug users who might otherwise share contaminated needles.


RELATED: Trump’s big idea to fix homelessness is to do what California is already doing — sort of

In a statement, Breed said the city is fighting homelessness by adding 1,000 beds to shelters and wants to pass a $600-million bond to build affordable housing and increase services for people with addiction and mental illness.

Trump’s comments are the latest in his ongoing critique of the homeless problems in major cities. While aboard Air Force One en route to San Francisco on Tuesday, Trump said he was considering the creation of an “individual task force” as a possible solution to homelessness, without providing more details.

“We can’t let Los Angeles, San Francisco and numerous other cities destroy themselves by allowing what’s happening,” he said, adding that the homelessness crisis is prompting residents of those cities to leave the country. “They can’t believe what’s happening.”

L.A. Police Chief Michel Moore and HUD Secretary Ben Carson met Wednesday to discuss housing issues, including homelessness, at the request of Carson. The Housing and Urban Development secretary toured the skid row area, stopping into the Union Rescue Mission and the large, tent-like facility behind it. The Rev. Andy Bales, the mission’s chief executive, has touted the facility as a cheaper alternative to getting people off the street.

Carson, who implied he was Trump’s surrogate on skid row, did not provide concrete details about how the administration could help California’s homelessness problem, but he said the federal government and the state should work together with local organizations.


“The things that I have seen that work extremely well around this country — and I’ve traveled extensively — are the things where federal, state and local governments are able to work together along with for-profits, nonprofits, philanthropic organizations, faith-based organizations,” Carson said.

California officials have largely been wary of the Trump administration’s intentions, concerned that the president wants to use homelessness and urban ills as a wedge for the 2020 campaign. But they have said they are willing to work with him.

Times staff writer Anna Phillips and the Associated Press contributed to this report.