Editorial: We're looking for action by new SF board

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Friday January 13, 2023
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The three gay members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Rafael Mandelman, Joel Engardio, and Matt Dorsey, stand together in the board chambers Monday, January 9. Photo: Courtesy Alice B. Toklas LGBTQ Democratic Club
The three gay members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Rafael Mandelman, Joel Engardio, and Matt Dorsey, stand together in the board chambers Monday, January 9. Photo: Courtesy Alice B. Toklas LGBTQ Democratic Club

Yes, we're excited and optimistic, because for the first time ever, three gay men are serving as elected members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Rafael Mandelman represents District 8 that includes the Castro; Matt Dorsey represents District 6, which includes South of Market; and Joel Engardio is the new supervisor in District 4, which includes the Outer Sunset on the city's western side. Mandelman was reelected, Dorsey was elected after being appointed to the position last year by Mayor London Breed; and Engardio staged a true upset by defeating former supervisor Gordon Mar. Trust us when we say it's not easy to beat an elected incumbent.

The three joined their eight colleagues Monday for the board's organizational meeting to elect a president. The voting went to 17 ballots as Mandelman, District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan, and District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton, the board's previous leader, failed to secure six votes to win. It was District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin who, in an effort to break the logjam, nominated himself and after several more rounds of voting, emerged as the board president on a 7-4 vote. Peskin, an expert on the City Charter and the board's longest serving member, has led the supervisors before and has the ability to bring the different factions together. He will need all of his experience as the city navigates many challenges this year. Those include addressing a looming $728 million budget deficit, adopting a Housing Element with 80,000 units established over the next eight years, and reviving downtown and other neighborhoods as the city recovers from the COVID pandemic.

Dorsey pointed out that 16 years ago, then-mayor Gavin Newsom, now the state's governor, complimented Peskin on his ability to lead the board. Peskin, who had initially supported Walton for a second term as board president, said he had not planned to nominate himself, but with the supervisors deadlocked, he threw his hat into the ring. It was enough to bring the Mandelman and Chan supporters to his side.

During remarks later in the meeting, Dorsey, who openly talks about his recovery from substance use addiction and is HIV-positive, said addressing the city's overdose crisis is one of his top priorities, along with public safety. A former spokesperson for San Francisco Police Chief William Scott, Dorsey also served in that capacity for many years for former city attorney Dennis Herrera (now manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission). He said that residents he talked to during his campaign didn't complain about how much in taxes they pay, but they do want the city to spend public dollars wisely.

Peskin, too, is in recovery. Nearly two years ago he sought treatment after several complaints were raised about his behavior. On Monday, he noted, "This is my 19th month of sobriety" and thanked those who helped him.

During his remarks, Engardio touched on themes he talked about at his January 7 swearing in ceremony. Public safety and education are his two priorities, along with the budget. "San Francisco needs to be a more family-friendly city," he said, adding he wants to end the open-air drug dealing that plagues some neighborhoods, especially the Tenderloin.

He also put nonprofits that contract with the city on notice. He said reports from the city controller "should be taken seriously" and that those agencies that misspend public dollars should be identified and even shut down.

Mandelman acknowledged that he and his colleagues won't agree on everything. He, too, wants to focus on public safety and "try and get those 500 officers" for the San Francisco Police Department, which is short-staffed. He also pointed out that the recent election didn't signal an ideological shift among the electorate. "Voters didn't lurch to the right," he said, "but want a government that works. San Francisco is always more than a city, it's an ideal, a shining city on a hill."

Mostly, though, Mandelman was ecstatic that he finally has more gay colleagues. For most of his first term, he was the only LGBTQ supervisor, and, until recently, the only one in the nine-county Bay Area. (Ken Carlson, a gay man, was elected supervisor in Contra Costa County in November.) "I'm overjoyed to have both of you," Mandelman said to Dorsey and Engardio.

So as this new Board of Supervisors "gets to work," as several said, the priorities are clear to us. Deal with the budget deficit in a way that won't decrease existing services, and try new things like supervised consumption sites — or wellness hubs, as they're now being referred to — to stem overdose deaths and offer a way into treatment for people who want it. The city needs to spend the hundreds of millions of dollars it allocates for homeless services more strategically, and needs to quicken the pace for housing at all levels, but especially affordable and below-market-rate units to help people get off the street. In terms of public safety, more officers are needed, but so are alternatives, like social workers who can respond to mental health calls.

We're looking to Peskin to make strong appointments to the board's committees and for the supervisors to work collaboratively to solve the city's problems. That means saying yes to housing projects instead of empty parking lots. That means standing firm against the Biden administration to try new things like supervised consumption sites. And that means taking a hard look at the budget to eliminate duplicate spending or adjusting contracts with nonprofits if they aren't meeting the necessary objectives and outcomes. Most residents want the city to work better, as Mandelman said. Now is the time for the Board of Supervisors to help make that happen.

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