By Thomas K. Pendergast
A new group of Richmond District residents started earlier this year. While they are not “political” in the partisan sense, they have become very much involved in the District 1 supervisor race.
Save Our Amazing Richmond (SOAR) started out with a few like-minded people last January but quickly grew to close to 300 members, they claim. Since forming, the group has held three on-line candidate forums.
Marie Hurabiell, co-lead of the organization, said it all started for her while browsing through Nextdoor.com, the online neighborhood networking website.
“It was kind of a wake-up call seeing how people were acting around the time of the November election and becoming concerned at the lack of civil discourse in our country for a long time now, going back probably 30 years at this point,” she said.
Hurabiell was born and raised in San Francisco’s Richmond District by a family that goes back generations in the City. But connecting with Nextdoor.com showed her vitriolic dialogue was now a regular feature of discussions between her neighbors.
“Seeing the level of nastiness at that time, it really made me sit back and take stock and say: ‘You know, we can do better here,’” she said.
She started reaching out to her friends and community, asking how they could come together “instead of being so divisive.”
In April they launched a website, http://www.soar-d1.com.
“We’re trying to educate the electorate and not come with an extreme bias. We wanted to be a group that comes with an open perspective,” she said.
Ward Naughton, the other co-lead, is a Richmond District resident who has been involved with other local citizen efforts concerned with homelessness.
“It started when (Supervisor) Sandra Lee Fewer announced she would not be running again, then named Connie Chan as her choice to replace her,” Naughton said. “I don’t think anybody knew much about (Chan). And people said: ‘OK, well, how would she approach the issues?’ And then: ‘who else is running and how would they approach the issues?’
“I think there was just sort of a pent-up feeling by residents that they wanted to better understand how each of the candidates would specifically put together action plans on the top issues,” he said. “And the top issues were homelessness and small business assistance with all of the shops that are closing in the Richmond. What can somebody in elected office do working with the residents, how can we support these small businesses?”
They decided to hold candidate forums on each of those issues.
Naughton said they end each forum with a list of simple yes or no questions to “cut through the political speak and say: ‘Let’s just talk about specific actions. Will you do this or won’t you?’”
When he first came to SOAR meetings, “none of us talked about political parties,” Naughton said. “It was all issues-based. It was how each of these candidates addressed these top issues. And everybody sort of loved that. And they said: ‘That’s definitely the way to go on this. That’s what’s critical to us.’”
Like Naughton, Hurabiell said she has been involved with community organizations before, so she is drawing on that experience to help her with this one.
SOAR members are invited to fill out surveys on what they want to ask the candidates running for District 1 supervisor, what is important to them and what topics they would like to see addressed.
“People seem to be getting very energized, and that’s exciting to me,” she said.
They’ve had three candidate forums so far. The first was a meet and greet, get to know the candidate type of forum; the second was focused on homelessness; the third was on economic development, what’s going on with business in the City.
“We want a vital economic community for all of us,” Hurabiell said. “I think a lot of us are really worried right now. The pandemic has only exacerbated things, but it was a problem before. Where are our small businesses going?”
Naughton said SOAR members want a supervisor who will work with them after the election. They might also have more candidate forums in the future, perhaps focusing on other issues, such as crime.
The ultimate goal of SOAR is to foster a greater understanding of the issues that are specific to the Richmond District and then to find out from the candidates how they will address those challenges with specificity.
“We want to help educate the residents and then also get from the candidates what exactly they’ll do,” he said.
He describes SOAR as non-partisan, where all are welcome to join.
They have made no endorsements, and he doesn’t know if they will, although he does expect that they will probably come out with a summary of findings in terms of the issues.
“And then from that I suspect we might say: ‘This is the candidate we think addresses the issues the most thoroughly,’ but it’s unclear yet whether we’re going to do that,” Naughton said.
“We will summarize the findings and I think from that people will be able to make a decision based on whatever issue,” he said.
“We are a caring group of volunteers who have no structure to our organization as of yet and we kind of like it that way,” Hurabiell said. “We’re very democratic – small ‘d’ democratic – in the way that we are approaching (this). ‘Anybody can do anything,’ or ‘pitch in in a way that makes sense to you.’
“We want to allow people to be as engaged as they want to be and allow people’s enthusiasm to dominate what they do…. We’re just running on passion right now. That’s our fuel.”
For more information, visit www.soar-d1.com.