Editorial: Our choices for SF supervisor
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San Francisco voters who live in supervisorial Districts 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11 have a chance to dramatically change city government when they go to the polls next month. Presently, the board comprises six progressives and five moderates, resulting in some tension between the supervisors and the mayor. The outcome could flip the board's majority to the moderates. There are also 24 local measures on the ballot, and we'll be explaining those recommendations later this month.
For now, we recommend the candidates listed below for supervisor.
District 1: Sandra Lee Fewer
Sandra Lee Fewer has served on the San Francisco school board for eight years and, in that time, has spearheaded changes in the school district, some of which have helped LGBT students. The mother of a gay son, Fewer was an impressive candidate in our editorial board meeting, demonstrating a solid understanding of city government and the issues affecting the Richmond district, which has a majority of renters â€" 60 percent â€" and many seniors.
Housing is a top concern for Fewer. She pointed to Airbnb regulation, which she maintains needs to be decided by the board and not at the ballot box. While on the school board, Fewer authored a resolution allowing evicted students to remain in their school until the end of the year. "I've never seen a wealth gap this large," she said of the city's affordability crisis. She organized the effort to build 115 units of affordable housing on school district surplus property.
Fewer sees her work as a balancing act. And that comes through in her views on police accountability. Significantly, her husband is a retired San Francisco police officer, which gives her a unique dual insight into the complex problems confronting the department over excessive force, shooting deaths, and the other scandals that have plagued SFPD. She supports Proposition G, which would give more power to the Office of Citizen Complaints, including authority over its own budget and performance audits to examine how SFPD handles claims of officer misconduct and use of force. Fewer questions the outsized role of the SF Police Officers Association and why it's the only bargaining unit. "Let's hear from other groups," she said, referring to affiliate police associations for officers of color, LGBTs, and others.
Her husband, she said, was in a police shooting while on the force. "I think it took 10 years off his life," she said.
She does not approve of the POA's recent ad campaign and newsletter snafu (in which it made fun of Black Lives Matter by showing a dog with the caption, "Black Labs Matter").
"Black Lives Matter was born out of death," she said, accusing the POA of "mocking" serious issues with the dog photo. "It's completely insensitive."
Yet Fewer praised beat officers for the tough job they have. "It's hard to serve the public when they're hating you," she said.
Fewer believes in shared governance, taking various positions on local ballot measures. And she believes that the Board of Supervisors has shirked its responsibilities at times. Last year's Proposition F, the Airbnb measure, "should have never been on the ballot," she said.
On schools, she's adamant that there be "no two-tiered system," she said. "Public transparency has to be equitable."
Overall, Fewer impressed us with her deep understanding of the city and its myriad issues. We think she'll vote on the issues as she sees them, and not be beholden to special interests, whether moderate or progressive.
We liked her commitment to confront the issues facing our city and her willingness to listen.
District 3: Aaron Peskin
When Aaron Peskin returned to the Board of Supervisors after winning election last year to complete the term of former colleague David Chiu, the board immediately lurched left. Facing only token opposition for a full four-year term this year, it's clear that Peskin will continue to be a force in city politics. Yet he doesn't always toe the progressive line, and, in fact, has taken on issues outside of his North Beach district, most notably the sinking and leaning Millennium Tower in the South of Market area. Expect to hear much more as Peskin leads the board's inquiry into what city planners and inspectors knew during the tower's construction.
He supports the ballot measures that would rein in the mayor's power, noting that shared governance has worked on bodies such as the planning and police commissions. Ballot measures this year would allow supervisors to appoint three members of the Municipal Transportation Agency's board (Prop L) and create a new commission to oversee housing and development (Prop M). The mayor's housing office, Peskin said, spends billions of dollars yet there is no public access to discuss affordable housing and other projects.
We may not always agree with Peskin, but he has elevated the tone of the board and taken on issues that might not have received adequate attention.
District 5: London Breed
Board of Supervisors President London Breed has demonstrated leadership during her first term. As the supervisor for one of the city's most progressive districts that includes the Haight and Western Addition, Breed, who grew up in public housing, has not forgotten her roots in the neighborhood.
"I am affected by crime," she said. "My community wants the police there, but they want respect from the police and that takes time."
She praised acting police Chief Toney Chaplin, and said that while she doesn't know him well, she likes what he's doing around implicit bias training. "He's changing the conversation," she said, adding that she had joined with Supervisor Malia Cohen to sponsor Prop G, the police oversight measure.
On housing, Breed has fought to keep people in their homes and in their neighborhoods, worked to prevent rent increases, and developed and supported creative ideas to build more affordable housing. She scored a big win recently when she successfully took on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which had tried to end her legislation prioritizing neighborhood residency preferences in housing projects. Now there will be a pilot program for those preferences. She wrote the legislation requiring developers to include the highest amount of affordable housing in city history in the Divisadero and Fillmore corridors.
She is a strong ally of the LGBT community, often working with gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener. She has secured funding for numerous youth programs, including Larkin Street Youth Services, which serves LGBTQ young people, and the Homeless Youth Alliance.
Breed has also worked on environmental issues, including taking the lead on CleanPowerSF, "the single most important thing San Francisco can do to combat climate change," her website noted. Going forward, Breed plans to work on source reduction and education to get the city to zero waste, efficiency improvements, and litter and runoff reduction programs. Breed authored and passed legislation â€" the third in the nation â€" to provide safe, convenient disposal of unwanted medications, a program that has already kept over 32 tons of pharmaceuticals out of the bay or landfill, according to her website.
"I feel in my heart I've done a good job as supervisor," she told us. "At the end of the day I feel confident of my record."
We think Breed is an excellent supervisor who has created positive change for her district â€" and the city.
District 7 (ranked): 1: Norman Yee, 2: Joel Engardio
If Breed is viewed by some as "too moderate" for her district, Norman Yee is the opposite, some view him as too progressive for the more conservative West Side. Nonetheless, he faces few challengers and will likely win re-election. We haven't always agreed with his positions, but he does demonstrate concern for neighborhoods. His constituents don't want clusters of medical cannabis dispensaries and they don't want short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods. They do want safer streets and an equitable share of the city's budget. Yee has delivered on those issues.
He held the first hearing on pedestrian safety and secured an additional $450,000 in recent years to address safety issues in District 7 and expedite safety measures along Sloat Boulevard, according to his website.
He worked with the SF MTA board to implement the free Muni for seniors and people with disabilities program and joined city officials and residents to help small businesses, including the formation of a community benefit district and the Taste of West Portal event.
Yee's most viable challenger is Joel Engardio, a columnist and gay man who ran against him four years ago. He is campaigning on a platform of reducing the city's budget. He's trying to build a larger coalition this time around, and told us that the district has a lot of same-sex couples. He said that 15 percent of District 7 voters moved there in the last five years.
He is in favor of more housing, particularly along transit corridors. Housing creates demand for retail, he noted. About 70 percent of district residents are homeowners, the opposite of the rest of the city, he said.
On public safety, Engardio wants the police department to continue working on reforms that former Chief Greg Suhr initiated. "We all need each other," he said.
Engardio says his campaign is about connecting with the community, adding that if elected he would be responsive to his constituents.
Yee seems to have the backing of District 7 residents, but Engardio also represents a sizable number of them who are concerned with runaway spending. Either would be a good choice.
District 9 (ranked): 1: Joshua Arce, 2: Hillary Ronen
District 9, which includes the Mission, will get a new representative as David Campos, a gay man who has served eight years, is termed off the Board of Supervisors. Campos has had a mixed record in office, and we haven't always agreed with him. Candidates vying to succeed him are distinguishing themselves from his term.
Our first choice is civil rights attorney Joshua Arce, who impressed us with his platform of more affordable housing, increased support for local businesses, and improved public transportation.
Raised with Latino traditions, Arce, who speaks Spanish â€" along with several other languages â€" describes himself as a "progressive moderate," leading some to wonder where he fits in along the city's famously liberal spectrum. But we think Arce would be a good fit for the district.
He wants to see more housing built in the district, which hasn't seen significant new residential development â€" at all levels, he said. "District 9 has been a political dynasty in many ways," he told us. "I'm anti-establishment. Our district isn't for sale."
He noted the "wave of fires" that occurred in the Mission, and criticized Campos for dragging his feet on an ordinance to require sprinklers in residential buildings. "I've already got the ordinance written," said Arce, adding it would be ready on Day 1.
He raised questions about Campos' ill-fated moratorium on housing development in the Mission, saying it banned investment in affordable housing and had other problems, though he did support it on the ballot. He bemoaned the fact that there has been no long-term planning in District 9 and the missed opportunities as a result.
Arce is an ally of the LGBT community and has a trans brother-in-law. He said it's important to appoint qualified LGBTs to the city's numerous boards and commissions.
We weren't planning to recommend a second choice in this race, but Hillary Ronen surprised us with her energy and commitment. A longtime aide to Campos, Ronen now has to answer a lot for her boss' policies. But she knew that would be the case when she decided to run for the seat.
"I do want to say I take very seriously being a white woman in a Latino district and a straight woman in an LGBT-centric district," Ronen, who is fluent in Spanish, told us. "I am very committed to having LGBT representation in my office. I'm going to make the LGBT community the forefront. There's more to do than ever."
She pointed to her work on the LGBTQ adult homeless shelter that Campos spearheaded. (One of his best moments as a supervisor was calling a hearing on LGBTs and homeless shelters, which shined a light on the awful homophobia and transphobia that the city has yet to fully address as it seeks to reboot its homeless services.) The shelter project took years, mostly due to permit and construction issues, but now provides beds for 24 people.
Ronen has sought to differentiate herself from her boss. "I love David, but you're not the same person as your boss. I'm going to the board new. Politics is a long game; there are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies," she said. "I'm a woman â€" a mother. I'm different."
She supports the Bryant Street housing project, which Arce opposes, noting that it will create over 200 market rate and 189 affordable units that will be built at the same time. She said the moratorium is a dead issue.
"I don't want to stop good projects," she said, adding that there are 750 units in the pipeline in the Mission right now. She said Campos' office is working on the sprinkler ordinance.
All in all, District 9 residents would be served well by either Arce or Ronen. We're giving the nod to Arce because he has some big ideas (BART at 30th and Mission) and a lot of enthusiasm. But Ronen would also be a solid pick.
District 11 (ranked): 1: Ahsha Safai, 2: Kimberly Alvarenga
The Excelsior, Ingleside, Outer Mission and other neighborhoods that make up District 11 will also get a new supervisor as John Avalos is termed out of office. The leading candidates are both union officials: Ahsha Safai, a straight father who ran eight years ago, and Kimberly Alvarenga, a Latina lesbian mom making her first bid at public office.
Both candidates said that getting an equitable share of the city's budget is a priority. Safai fought to secure $4 million in funding â€" mostly from a trust â€" to revitalize Balboa Park and said the project was desperately needed due to the high concentration of kids under 18 who live in the district. He also worked to protect the Mission Child Care Consortium, to secure and rebuild St. Luke's Hospital, to limit the spread of medical cannabis dispensaries, and to create more affordable housing.
He said that he would be a strong voice for HIV funding, and continuing the city's Getting to Zero initiative to dramatically decrease HIV transmission, and supports services for LGBT youth.
But mostly, he's running to be a neighborhood supervisor, and said residents have voiced frustration over the status quo.
Alvarenga would be the first lesbian elected to the board in 16 years. She was raised in the Mission but has lived in the Excelsior since 2008. A former aide to gay Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, Alvarenga has a lot of policy experience that would be put to good use at the board. She, too, bemoaned the state of the district's parks and wants to see funding increased. Noting that voters passed Prop B in June to put park funding back at prior levels, Alvarenga said the measure "needs teeth." "We need to start advocating for it," she said. "We need more Rec and Park clubhouses in the district that has the most kids."
On public safety, Alvarenga's a proponent of community policing, and told us that officers need to get out of their cars, get to know residents, and conduct foot patrols.
Describing herself as a "nuts and bolts" supervisor, Alvarenga said she would institute office hours in different neighborhoods to hear residents' concerns because District 11 is largely made up of working class families, who often can't afford to take time off from work to attend daytime board meetings.
"I'm not just one thing," she told us." I'm a mom, Latina, LGBT. That's what makes me a unique candidate."
Either candidate would bring a neighborhood focus to District 11. Safai is our first choice because he has a track record in the district. But Alvarenga has the experience of working in government, and has worked on issues such as increasing the minimum wage and paid sick days that should resonate with voters.