On Jan. 30, District 2 got a new supervisor when Mayor Mark Farrell selected Cow Hollow resident Catherine Stefani to replace him. Insiders quickly praised the decision as savvy; she is generally described as a moderate, but one who is on good terms with the progressives in City Hall.
Stefani was a known quantity to Farrell, for whom she had worked as an aide; before that, she had been an aide to Farrell’s predecessor, Michela Alioto-Pier for a total of nine years, and in 2016 she was appointed a county clerk. In Farrell’s office, she served as his budget aid, and she told the Marina Times she will bring that knowledge of the budget and city priorities to her work as supervisor tackling tough issues such as homelessness and street crime. She recently spoke to the Times about her plans for her time in office.
In early press reports about your appointment to the Board of Supervisors, you were described as a moderate who has good relationships with the progressives on the board. Is that an accurate description?
Yes, I have good relationships with a lot of people. I think it’s the type of person I am. I said at my swearing-in I’m a person who comes from a place of empathy and respect for others. I believe in trying to collaborate with people and looking for consensus on difficult issues.
What do you bring to the board that is unique, that wouldn’t have been provided by another appointee?
Unique? Well, I bring nine years of experience as a legislative aide. Before that I was also on my neighborhood association, the Cow Hollow Association. I also spent the last two years as a department head in City Hall, as county clerk, which was invaluable in being on the executive side.
What are your priorities as supervisor?
I’m definitely focused on public safety. I hear all the time that people just don’t feel safe. They can’t leave anything visible in their cars. They can’t have packages delivered to their homes. Many people can’t walk in their neighborhood or take their kids to the park.
[I am looking into property crime.] As a former prosecutor, I understand the challenges around prosecuting auto burglary crimes and am very supportive of Senator [Scott] Wiener’s bill about changing the threshold for prosecuting auto break-ins.
I’ve already met with the new captain of Northern Station, Capt. Joe Engler, to understand his needs, and I will be prioritizing police resources in our budget. I want to understand what they need to do their job and take a look at that. Police are not the only factors in this equation. I’ll be meeting with [District Attorney] George Gascon to get his [input, too].
Your predecessor, now mayor, Mark Farrell, passed some significant gun control legislation. That is also an area of concern for you. Is there more that can be done, or have the local policy options been exhausted for gun control?
We do a lot in San Francisco, and we do a lot in California. But San Francisco continues to lead the way on this issue and do what we can.
That’s why I introduced the concealed carry legislation [which would ban concealed weapons within 500 feet of public gatherings such as protests and parades], based on what happened last year, [which highlighted] the need for people to feel safe at protests and marches. The idea of concealed carry at protests . . . everyone was concerned by that. We need to lead the way in San Francisco to show we’re serious about keeping people safe from gun violence.
This is one law, but we need to keep talking about it.
Homelessness touches every district in the city. What do you think San Francisco should do about it?
I know the Marina and District 2 has seen such an increase in homeless people and quite frankly frightening street behavior. We have to take a step back and understand how we got there. Our federal funding for homeless services has been declining for decades. San Francisco dedicates a lot of money for homeless populations. . . . San Francisco has been able to stabilize ours.
We have done a lot to stabilize family homelessness, which means the populations on our streets are the truly hard to reach and are suffering from mental illness and addiction. I support Wiener’s [proposed legislation Senate Bill 1045, which expands the state’s conservatorship law to give cities more power to take over care for people who are unable to do so for themselves, due to mental illness or other reasons].
Last year in District 2 we had this homeless individual who was put on short-term psychiatric [watch] multiple times. Some residents in the neighborhood even found his family [so he could be reunited with them, but he stayed on the street].
Retail establishments in District 2 — and across the city — have been hit hard by online competition and huge rent increases. There are many vacant storefronts on all of the city’s shopping streets. What if anything should be done about this?
Definitely we should be doing something about it. I feel so fortunate in District 2; I love our commercial corridors. We have some of the strongest, most vital commercial corridors in the city. We do have some vacancies.
Now, some people meet their needs online — groceries definitely, a lot of consumer goods. So I think it’s important that we rethink what our commercial corridors can be, get together with merchants and the Planning Department and rethink zoning so our merchants can be successful in them.
I’m also looking at the vacancies. It’s not just saying that there are 20 vacancies on Union Street; we need to look at each and every one and see why they are vacant.
Many are vacant because they have leases and they’re waiting for approvals from city departments. Some do have landlords actively looking to lease them. Some are awaiting seismic issues. And some have landlords who don’t care. I think we need to take a hard look at when someone chooses to leave a storefront vacant; it’s a detriment to the neighborhood and it’s not acceptable.
I’m very passionate on this issue. I love our merchants. I’ll be working with our Department of Workforce Development . . to look for ways for small businesses to open and [adapt ] to our changing economy.
I really understand the conditional use process. Nothing is new to me here. . . . People in the [city government] departments are not new to me. I’m excited because I can really hit the ground running on a lot of these issues.
Car break-ins are an epidemic in San Francisco. What should the city be doing to reduce them?
That’s what [will be explored in a hearing I will be holding]. What should we be doing and what does the police department need from us to [deal] with this issue, and what does the DA need from us?
I believe it’s an issue that can be resolved. I won’t take no for an answer.
When I talked to Captain Engler yesterday, he told me that when they had a police officer at the Palace of Fine Arts, parked in the parking lot, keeping watch, they didn’t have any break-ins. So we know that police presence works.
Final question: Will you be endorsing in the mayoral election this June? If so, who?
Right now, I’m just laser-focused on representing District 2. All of the mayoral candidates have long records of public service.
Catherine Stefani’s appointment is to serve out the rest of Farrell’s term, which ends in November 2019.