By Matthew Hose
The race to replace Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee in District 7 is heating up, as five major candidates have raised a total of more than $350,000 one month ahead of the election.
The major candidates on the Nov. 3 ranked-choice ballot now include Deputy Public Defender Vilaska Nguyen, journalist Joel Engardio, former Planning Commissioner Myrna Melgar, former Board of Education member Emily Murase and small business owner Ben Matranga.
Yee, who was elected to the position in 2012 and reelected in 2016, is being termed out of the office.
District 7 encompasses most of the southeastern portion of the Sunset District, with borders at Judah Street to the north and 19th Avenue to the west. The district includes San Francisco State University, Parkmerced, the San Francisco Zoo and Lake Merced. Outside of the Sunset area, the neighborhoods of West Portal, Mt. Davidson and Forest Knolls are also in the district.
The District 7 race is one of only two supervisor races on the November ballot that do not include an incumbent candidate. The other is District 1, which includes most of the Richmond District. Current Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer decided not to run for re-election.
The contest in District 7 has attracted the most campaign contributions of any of the five upcoming contested supervisor races, according to the San Francisco Examiner.
Leading the candidates in fundraising is Nguyen, who is a progressive criminal trial attorney. As of Sept. 15, he raised $103,100 in campaign funds, and he garnered the support of former state assemblymember Tom Ammiano and current supervisor Dean Preston, along with the San Francisco Labor Council.
At a virtual candidate forum hosted by Sf.citi on Sept. 9, Nguyen said his first priority if voted into office would be to answer calls to defund the police by working toward criminal justice reform such that armed police officers are not sent to every crisis.
“Sometimes we shoulder them with too much responsibility to intervene in mental health crises where they’re not properly trained to be assisting someone,” Nguyen said.
The next biggest fundraiser was Engardio, a columnist and the vice president of the neighborhood group Stop Crime SF. He raised $96,800 for his campaign and is endorsed by State Sen. Scott Wiener and Supervisor Catherine Stefani, along with Sheriff Paul Miyamoto. At the candidate forum, he emphasized quality-of-life issues, noting that San Francisco needs to “get the basics right” with clean streets, less crime and better services for residents.
Meanwhile Melgar, the former president of the San Francisco Planning Commission, raised $73,450 for her campaign and gained the endorsements of the San Francisco Democratic Party and a number of supervisors including Fewer and District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar, as well as Yee and State Assemblymember David Chiu.
Melgar said the city needs to tackle its self-made problems in homelessness, childcare, public schooling and housing costs.
“I think we’re struggling as a city to deal with our challenges … we have not planned for our growth in population,” Melgar said. “We have created one housing unit for every eight jobs, and we have not kept pace.”
Murase, who served two terms on the San Francisco Board of Education and was the director of the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women, raised $50,100 toward her campaign and garnered the endorsements of Assemblymember Phil Ting and the Small Property Owners of San Francisco. She emphasized her position as the only candidate who has been elected to office; Melgar was appointed to the Planning Commission in 2016 by Mayor Ed Lee.
Noting that District 7 is composed of 40 different neighborhoods, Murase said that the City needs to expand its network of strong neighborhood associations to create micro-communities that are “strong and resilient.” She held up her efforts to organize the Lakeshore neighborhood into the Lakeshore Acres Improvement Club as an example.
“These neighborhood networks really create the last mile of community building, whether it’s crime, public safety issues or wrapping themselves around schools,” Murase said.
And Matranga, who raised $30,100 in funds, emphasized that the first thing he would do as supervisor is work to cut red tape for small businesses, which he said face fees, inconsistency and uncertainty when they try to open up shop. He proposed eliminating all small business fees that cost more for the City to collect than they provide in revenue.
“(Small businesses are) all struggling, and they’ve been struggling for a while,” Matranga said. “I think the city has been taking a back seat for a while.”
He also encouraged voters to vote “yes” on Proposition H, which would streamline the permitting process for small businesses opening in the city.
The forum hit on a number of other topics, including homelessness, the digital divide in remote learning, and keeping tech workers who may now permanently work remotely living in the City.
The candidates had a variety of ideas to address the entrenched crisis of homelessness.
Nguyen said he wanted to make it easier for folks in the city to clear up their records – including expunging old infractions, misdemeanors and bench warrants – to ease the way to finding a job, “which I believe is the biggest factor in preventing someone returning to the unhoused lifestyle.”
“Some things that are overlooked for us can be a major detriment for someone to move forward,” Nguyen said.
Engardio proposed expanding conservatorship laws to compel treatment for the most mentally ill folks on the streets.
Matranga said it would be necessary to implement a full coordinated entry program that can differentiate between the different types of homelessness people face and provide the appropriate interventions for them.
Matranga bemoaned the “sugar high of City Hall,” saying the Board of Supervisors likes to do easy things like submit ballot proposals to tax CEOs but not hard things like hold homeless programs accountable for results.
Besides homelessness, the COVID-19 pandemic loomed large at the debate, as candidates discussed remote learning for students and the city’s Shared Spaces Program, which has repurposed parking spaces and sidewalks to create outdoor dining areas for local restaurants. While most candidates indicated a tepid endorsement of the program – noting that they would support it with the community’s backing – Melgar issued a stronger endorsement of keeping shared spaces in place after the City reopens.
“I think it’s been really great and a life saver for restaurants, and I want to keep it going,” Melgar said.
Melgar said at the forum that an important part of the pandemic recovery would be helping childcare providers stay afloat. She proposed repurposing money from an existing childcare fund to provide grants so those providers can survive.
“Business recovery will depend on parents being able to have their kids in childcare,” Melgar said. “Otherwise we will not be able to have workers go back to work.”
On another note, Engardio said he wanted to bridge the digital divide by providing “fiber for all,” meaning access to fiber-optic Internet for every home in the city.
“Fiber infrastructure is the 21st century version of filling potholes,” Engardio said.
Nguyen said he supported efforts to cancel rent and issue mortgage forbearances during the pandemic, while other candidates said they didn’t support cancellation of rent, but temporary delays and eviction moratoriums.