Engardio’s First Town Hall Meeting Covers the Sunset’s Many Challenges

By Thomas K. Pendergast

At his inaugural town hall meeting on Feb. 9, newly elected District 4 Supervisor Joel Engardio faced more than 50 people inside the SFPD Taraval Station talking about RVs parked near Ocean Beach, housing and the homeless, drug addiction, hate crimes and police staffing.

The first supervisor to upset an incumbent in the Sunset since district elections were reinstated in 2000, Engardio now faces the same issues his predecessor Gordon Mar did; with the job of making policy, yet staying nimble at big-city political maneuvering, while simultaneously representing residents of the largest geographical district in San Francisco.

And according to Engardio, it is also the first time in years that the D4 supervisor and key city officials are politically aligned.

“I have hope because this is the first time you have a police chief, a district attorney and a mayor who all like each other and are on the same page,” Engardio said. “We’ve suffered through many community meetings where the police department points the finger at the DA, the DA points the finger at the police department and blame each other for all the problems and hate each other and don’t work together.

“This is new. We haven’t had this before. So, I’m very hopeful that we can get our act together and make some positive change,” he said.

One of the first issues he wants to tackle is hate crimes against Asians, especially the elderly.

“I’m reaching out to the Asian community, especially the monolingual and Cantonese-speaking community. I want to introduce Kit Lam, who is on my staff and is doing a really great job,” he said. “Kit is going around and meeting all the owners of businesses in the Sunset who speak Cantonese, so we’ve been connected to what’s going on. And we’re doing the same through Chinese-language media.

“And as for public safety for Asian-Americans in general, it’s my job to advocate for resources that we can bring into the Sunset.”

Bringing those resources to the Sunset, however, will be challenging because the SFPD is short of officers throughout the City.

He said San Francisco is down about 500 officers right now. Taraval Station has 65 officers.

“That sounds like a decent number, but four years ago it was 130. We’re half of where we were four years ago,” Engardio said. “And the number needed … the bare minimum at Taraval Station, is actually 85.”

“On any given night, there might only be three or four officers patrolling all of the Taraval District … the largest geography of any of the police districts and it extends from the ocean to Twin Peaks, Golden Gate Park all the way to Daly City. It’s vast. It’s 130,000 people who live in that area,” he said. “It could take 20 minutes to get from one end to the other.”

He discussed a new program where retired police officers can be rehired at a lower pay rate than “full officers,” and although they would not carry weapons, they would get radios.

District 4 Supervisor Joel Engardio shared thoughts and ideas with members of the community at the Taraval Police Station. Photo by Thomas K. Pendergast.

“They know what they’re doing. They can walk up and down the street and they know what to call in and what not to call in,” he said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have the resources right now for a beat officer to walk up and down Irving Street.”

Another crime issue has been brewing in the Outer Sunset along the Lower Great Highway, where RVs line the curbs and some people living in them have caused trouble for local residents.

“It was hell living out there last year, the motor homes that were getting arsoned and blowing up out there, women getting raped in parking lots, it was horrible for all of us,” local resident Michael Nohr said. “The City is not handling the situations that we’re dealing with in an adult manner. It’s like having a child in the middle of the room shooting up heroin and we’re just watching it, and we’re going ‘well, they have rights, and we really can’t do anything about it.’ Well what about the other people’s rights that are being affected by what’s going on?”

“There’s not a lot we can do. Our hands are tied by our Police Commission, who sets policy for what we can do and how police officers can and cannot enforce existing laws,” Engardio said.

“Our hands are also tied by the courts. Some judges have ruled that we cannot tell people they are not allowed to have a tent or be in an RV if we can’t offer an alternative for them to go. And our city attorney is fighting that ruling because it really ties our hands with what we can do.”

While building more housing might help in the long term, for now there are mental health and drug addiction problems contributing to this situation and to crime in general.

“There’s a push for harm reduction, which is basically saving lives, making sure that if you’re going to use fentanyl or shoot up heroin, we’re going to make sure you don’t overdose,” Engardio said. “And then the abstinence-recovery is where you’re expected to go into recovery and not use the drugs. And in my view, we should use every tool in the toolkit. Harm reduction has a role and abstinence-recovery has a role.

“We need to have this holistic approach and we also have to have an accountability aspect as well because we need to make sure we’re focusing on the source of the problem – the dealers who are dealing the deadly Fentanyl in the first place,” he said. “We have to make sure we are prosecuting the dealers and getting rid of them because they’re providing the product that’s killing people.”

When someone asked Engardio what his plan is for building new housing, he called for creating more family housing, with more two- to three-bedroom units and raising building heights along commercial corridors and transit lines up to five or six stories, with ground-floor commercial spaces.

The City is under pressure from the California state government to build 82,000 units by 2031, a difficult task considering that San Francisco averaged 2,550 units a year over the past two decades, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The state’s mandate would require the City to build more than 10,000 units each year.

Adding to the challenge is the requirement that 46,000 of the 82,000 units must be affordable to low- and moderate-income households.

Cities that do not meet the state’s requirement face cuts in funding for housing and transportation and could also trigger the state to override local authorities in approving affordable housing projects.

“And so, if we don’t live up to that, we’re going to lose a lot of funding,” Engardio said.

He brought up the alternative commonly known as “builder’s remedy,” wherein if the City doesn’t comply “all bets are off” and developers can bypass local scrutiny.

“I think it’s important that we be in compliance and we work to show that we are doing what we can to build housing. And then, if we are proactive about it, we can build the housing that fits our needs,” he said. “Whereas, if we resist it and just say no to everything, then we could get hit with a builder’s remedy; I don’t think anyone wants that.”

2 replies »

  1. As usual, we find a lot of hack right-wing “remedies” with no thought behind them.

    It is WRONG to sweep the unhoused in the middle of the night and confiscate and then (even) sell their belongings!

    More cops do not make anybody safer. Cops need to arrest suppliers, not dealers. Dealers will just be replaced.

    Unfortunately, cops seem to be good at only killing Black men!


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