Editorial: LGBTQs needed on homeless panel

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday March 1, 2023
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Mayor London Breed. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Mayor London Breed. Photo: Rick Gerharter

San Francisco Mayor London Breed has had a mixed record on appointments, particularly when it comes to the LGBTQ community. While she has nominated and seen approved many LGBTQ people over the years, there have been missteps. In 2021, she nominated four straight people (over a period of time) to the city's Historic Preservation Commission. One of them, Christina Dikas, was rejected by the Board of Supervisors rules committee and ended up withdrawing her nomination after realizing she would not have the support of the board. This whole episode came at a time when Breed chose not to reappoint two gay members of the preservation panel. Breed then nominated an LGBTQ person, Jason Wright, to the preservation panel, and he was approved.

Last year, Breed named three straight women to the school board after the recall of three commissioners. One of them, Ann Hsu, wrote a racist response on a candidate questionnaire that sunk her campaign for a full four-year term and she was ousted last November. (Breed's other two nominees, Lisa Weissman-Ward and Lainie Motamedi, were successful in their election campaigns.)

Now comes news that one of Breed's nominees to the city's new homelessness oversight commission, Vikrum Aiyer, a straight man, fudged his resume regarding his education and worse, billed U.S. taxpayers for personal expenses that totaled more than $15,000 when he worked in former President Barack Obama's administration. Aiyer, a technology executive, now calls those actions "a grave mistake," according to published reports in the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Standard. Breed was aware of the transgressions, which included Aiyer stating on his resume that he had a master's degree when he left a graduate program early, and the mayor's office told the Chronicle that he accepted his mistakes.

Suffice it to say, Aiyer should withdraw from consideration, and failing that, the Board of Supervisors should not approve him for the post. This homelessness oversight commission, which was created when voters approved Proposition C last year, is brand new and needs stellar members, including those who have experienced homelessness and LGBTQ people, many of whom are impacted by homelessness, especially queer youth and trans people. Breed should nominate a qualified LGBTQ person if Aiyer withdraws or is rejected by the supervisors. (The Board of Supervisors will nominate the other three members of the homelessness commission and its picks should include an LGBTQ person as well.)

The mayor, who did not support the ballot measure that created the new oversight panel, also nominated three other people: Katie Albright, CEO of Safe and Sound; Jonathan Butler, Ph.D., a social epidemiologist and associate director of the Black Health Initiative at UCSF and executive director of the San Francisco African American Faith-Based Coalition; and Sharky Laguana, the former president of the city's Small Business Commission and nightlife advocate. These three people seem highly qualified and deserve a fair hearing by the supervisors. They each bring a unique perspective to provide oversight to the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. This city department has a $600 million budget and, until voters passed Prop C, no formal oversight. Thankfully, that is about to change.

With all the qualified people in San Francisco, the mayor should have nominated someone without Aiyer's baggage. While he has apologized, his previous attitude for the expense billing (that it was standard practice for officials at his level) is troubling and not accurate, according to reports. Additionally, investigators found that once his credit card was reactivated, Aiyer continued to charge impermissible expenses, the Chronicle reported.

Aiyer's nomination sends the wrong message to city residents, whose taxes in large part pay for the homelessness services the commission would provide oversight on, and to the unhoused in the city who rely on the department's programs. The city should not be inaugurating a new commission — or any oversight panel, for that matter — with a member who has so carelessly disregarded the public's trust and taxpayers' dollars.

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