by Thomas K. Pendergast
Five candidates for the mayor’s office lined up in the Hall of Flowers at Golden Gate Park in late April to talk about marginalized people, their priority policies for affordable housing, making streets safer and helping the homeless.
Notably absent, however, was candidate SF Supervisor London Breed, who said she could not attend due to a previous commitment.
Four questions were thrown at each candidate. The first was about “marginalized” people, and the results revealed the policy nuances of the contestants.
Each candidate was asked who they considered as “marginalized communities on the west side,” and how they would support those communities?
First up in the electoral batter’s box was Ellen Lee Zhou, who said people making less than $110,000 a year are marginalized in San Francisco because of how expensive it is to make ends meet.
“More than 50 percent of the people in San Francisco are marginalized because their income and expenses are not in alignment,” Zhou said.
Next up was Amy Farah Weiss, who said low-income families, senior citizens on fixed incomes and the homeless are the most marginalized.
“We need to pass Prop. F this June to provide legal counsel for people who are facing eviction,” said Weiss. “As mayor, I will fund that program.
“We need to support Costa Hawkins repeal,” she added. Plus, she would work with small property owners “if those property owners were willing to rent to our work force and families for no more than 30 percent of their net income.”
Former California Sen. Mark Leno said immigrants are marginalized on the west side.
“We need to make sure that we protect our most valuable affordable housing stock, and that is our rent-controlled units,” Leno said. “I would take speculators who are abusing the Ellis Act to court, to stop no-fault evictions and keep people in their homes.”
Former SF Supervisor Angela Alioto said the elderly and tenants are the most vulnerable, thanks in-part to the tech industry’s displacing them.
“We’re running out people who have been here for years, if not even people who were born and raised here,” Alioto said.
She proposes a special “legacy tenant” status for people more than 70 years old who have lived in the same building for more than 10 years, and are current on their rent payments.
San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim also named tenants as particularly vulnerable on the west side of town.
“We have seen a spike of evictions and they are happening in every single district, most notably in the Sunset, District 4, which has one of the highest rates of evictions here in our city,” Kim said. “And, we know that evictions are not evenly given out, they disproportionately impact seniors, immigrants who speak English as a second language and individuals with disabilities.”
The candidates were then asked what their “priority policies would be to address displacement and the lack of affordable housing.
Alioto said “in-law” apartments need to be completely legalized. Also, if commercial property owners leave their shops and stores vacant for more than six months, they should be fined or their property rezoned to allow for residential buildings to replace them.
Kim said a “three-pronged” approach is needed: build more affordable housing, preserve existing rent control housing stock and strengthen tenant protections.
Leno agreed that stronger tenant protections are needed, and illegal Ellis Act evictions must also be stopped. He added that affordable housing mandates within the city’s ordinance for inclusionary zoning projects should be raised.
“We know that there are projects … that can do 35, 40 percent below-marketrate units,” Leno said. “If you’re a project like those projects, then your mandate should not be 19 or 20 percent.”
Weiss said she is the only candidate who has proposed a “vacancy tax plan,” that would be a universal parcel tax for empty properties not being utilized. She would also expand the Mayor’s Office of Housing’s programs.
Zhou said she would push for fair housing policies for small property owners and attack government corruption.
The next question asked was what the candidates’ strategies are for making the city’s streets safer?
Weiss brought up Uber and Lyft ride sharing services, claiming that a recent analysis of a three-month period showed that a majority of moving violations were from Uber and Lyft drivers.
“We have to figure out a way that we can manage that with what we can do on our end, locally,” Weiss said. “We have to think of it in a holistic way.”
Leno addressed a recent spike in auto burglaries during the last few years.
“We have a lot more to do to keep our streets safe and that also has to do with the increase, the epidemic of auto burglaries and car break-ins,” he said.
Kim claimed that 70 percent of all injuries and fatalities in San Francisco occur on 12 percent of its traffic corridors.
“If we invest dollars in re-engineering those streets, we can reduce our injuries and fatalities by over half,” Kim said.
Alioto, on the other hand, was not a fan of some of the work that the SF Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) has already completed.
“The SFMTA is constantly repairing streets, making them dangerous for the elderly, and for the youth and for everybody,” she said. “A lot of what’s happening in safety has to do not just with police officers but also with the SFMTA, what they do and how they do it.”
The last question of the evening was about providing housing and services for homeless people on the west side.
Alioto responded by mentioning permanent supportive housing.
“It worked in the 2000s and in 2011 it was defunded, and the housing for formerly homeless was taken away and given to affordable housing for the new influx of employees” she said. “The only way to work with the chronically homeless is to put them either into permanent supportive housing or permanent supportive medical care.”
Kim had a different take.
“Poverty is a secret on the west side and we see it through the data,” Kim said. “There is a tremendous amount of food insecurity in the Sunset.”
She said there needs to be more support in this area and also more supportive housing built on the west side, and rent subsidy programs must be increased.
Leno said the City needs to expand its capacity to get people off the streets. He said he has a plan to “end street homelessness by 2020.” He also supports permanent supportive housing.
Weiss said that between the police, the SF Department of Public Works and homeless outreach teams, the City now spends between $30-40 million on a “move-along strategy,” which she wants to replace with a “you belong strategy” that works to put people in safe and organized spaces.
Zhou, however, seemed to take the opposite position.
“When I’m elected as mayor, no homeless (people) will be allowed on any street in San Francisco,” she said. “District 6 has the most homeless and the most cannabis stores. That is why drug abuse is related to homelessness; 60 percent of the homeless are on illegal drugs and cannabis.”
The mayoral forum was sponsored by the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco.