Neighbors in the Richmond District have been begging their supervisor, Sandra Fewer, to deal with a growing homeless situation known as the 18th Avenue encampment. On Aug. 17, a group of 40 residents and 10 small businesses on Geary Boulevard sent a letter to city departments heads, the mayor, and Fewer. The letter outlined five months of violence, vandalism, crime, drugs, and assaults. Worst of all, a Megan’s Law Registered Sex Offender named Gregory Keith Smith (known by his street name, “Alabama”) was living in the encampment — right across from the YMCA’s daycare. Supervisor Fewer insisted she was powerless, so residents turned to neighbor and supervisorial candidate Marjan Philhour, who guided them in their quest to clean up the camp. San Francisco Police arrested Smith, who was also in possession of a large amount of methamphetamine. Department of Public Works arrived and cleared piles of abandoned furniture, appliances, snow skis, broken “chop shop” bicycles, and even a hospital gurney. SF Healthy Streets came and announced they had available beds. When only one person accepted the offer, DPW told the rest to pack their belongings and leave. Neighbors say the encampment hasn’t returned, but Alabama has — still sleeping and living in an area full of children.
While the 18th Avenue encampment tale has some good points (neighbors working together with the city), it also shows the shortfalls of City Hall. Homeless individuals are still calling the shots, and until officials stop allowing this, San Francisco has little hope of real change. The fact a registered sex offender is arrested and released by lenient judges and a district attorney who seems more interested in his own political agenda than justice for residents is also an issue that won’t be solved any time soon.
What can be changed fairly soon, however, is the makeup of the Board of Supervisors. Here are my endorsements for supervisors running in the Nov. 6, 2020 election. Because many officials are elected by a small margin, every vote counts — as does ranked-choice voting, where candidates are often elected despite not being the most popular choice. I recommend voting only for your favorite candidate in the number one slot and leaving the rest blank.
District 1 — Marjan Philhour
The candidates in District 1 are mostly weak at best, and one of them — Connie Chan — is absolutely the wrong choice. I say this as someone who likes Chan as a person (I met her when she worked in District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s office), but her answers during an online debate showed she would be business as usual — more sympathetic to the homeless than to her constituents. She seemed caught off-guard by the moderator’s questions and had a deer-in-the-headlights quality when confronted with tough issues.
Marjan Philhour not only helped residents resolve the 18th Avenue encampment when current supervisor Fewer wouldn’t, in the debate she gave answers more aligned with the big changes the city needs.
District 3 — Aaron Peskin
While I don’t always agree with Supervisor Peskin, we agree more than we don’t. I would like to see Peskin take a stronger stance on crime and homelessness (that goes for the entire board), but he has an enormous amount of experience writing and passing legislation, a strong record on environmental issues, and a reputation for being able to work across the aisle. Peskin is also one of the few supervisors who sees his job as a citywide role and not just a district role. Most important, he has been there through tough fiscal times like the one San Francisco is currently facing, and has no problem making the cuts necessary to bring the city back from the brink of economic disaster, because he’s done it before.
District 5 — Vallie Brown
I receive a lot of letters from unhappy residents in every district, but by far the most come from District 5. I have personally lived in District 5 (the Haight, Buena Vista) through six supervisors, and current supervisor Dean Preston is by far the worst (and that says a lot). Preston proudly admits he paid for and handed out nearly 1,000 tents to the homeless in the Haight, a neighborhood besieged by violent punks strung out on meth. The last time I visited Haight Street I saw more transients than tourists — and that was before the pandemic.
Residents say Preston is unresponsive, arrogant, and more interested in pushing his own political agenda than helping clean up the neighborhood. He put the “safe sleeping site” at 730 Stanyan Street in the Haight despite the fact that Ida B. Wells, a high school near his own $3 million home on Hayes Street in Alamo Square, was a far better choice. He lobbied for the controversial Homeless Youth Alliance — a group he supported before taking political office — to get the contract for the sanctioned encampment, ignoring other nonprofits interested in the site for different projects like youth soccer. That’s a clear conflict of interest, but Preston doesn’t care — just like, according to the letters I’ve received, he doesn’t care about his constituents.
Vallie Brown was appointed by London Breed to fill her seat when she became mayor, and Dean ran a nasty, personal campaign against her when she came up for election. He beat her by fewer than 200 votes. Time for District 5 to end Preston’s failed social experiment and give Brown a chance to do the job she started.
District 7 — Joel Engardio
For District 7, Joel Engardio is the only candidate to unabashedly endorse my idea of a West Coast version of Austin’s successful homeless program Community First Village. A longtime District 7 resident, Engardio is an award-winning journalist who helps lead Stop Crime S.F., a victim’s rights advocacy group dedicated to public safety by holding the justice system accountable.
The absolute wrong choice is Vilaska Nguyen, a public defender who has received the endorsement (and money) from former public defender and current district attorney, Chesa Boudin. While Nguyen claimed to be a “10-year resident” of District 7, the Marina Times exposed that he moved there less than a year ago from his longtime home in District 11, likely to avoid running against political ally John Avalos, who wants his old seat back — and who, not surprisingly, endorses Nguyen in District 7. If district elections are going to work, you can’t elect a carpetbagger like Nguyen who is more concerned with pushing his political agenda than with helping neighborhoods he knows nothing about.
District 9 — No Endorsement
Hillary Ronen, who has spent more than a decade as part of the City Hall machine, is shockingly running unopposed despite accomplishing almost nothing for the struggling neighborhoods she represents. “It’s a big disappointment,” Roberto Hernandez, known as the “Mayor of the Mission,” told the Bay City Beacon in 2019. Ronen, he said, campaigned on 5,000 affordable housing units, “and she hasn’t built one. We’ve lost over 10,000 people, 8,000 of whom are Latino. We’ve lost 29 businesses. . . . At the end of the day it just seems like it’s not her priority, it’s clear she’s put her energy and time on other things.”
One of those other things was her 2019 legislation to crack down on tenant buyouts and owner move-in evictions — even though in 2017 Ronen and her husband bought into a TIC building where the previous owner did tenant buyouts and an owner move-in eviction. District 9 residents should send a message to Ronen by skipping her on the ballot.
District 11 — Asha Safai
Residents of District 11 have a decent incumbent in Asha Safai, though the bigger issue is who not to vote for. Remember John Avalos? He spent eight years as District 11 supervisor helping to get San Francisco into the mess it’s in today. Now he wants to come back and continue down the same path. Not only is Avalos running on a broken record, his morals are broken, too. He had an affair with his legislative aide who went on “unpaid leave” after the affair hit the press. Avalos’s response? “I felt it was most appropriate for her to find employment outside this office.” District 11 voters should say the same thing to Avalos.
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