The Mission district is widely considered ground zero for the forces of change with which San Francisco has notoriously struggled in recent years: soaring housing costs, evictions, the influx of technology workers, the infamous “Google buses” and the displacement of long-standing residents, many of whom are Latino.
Amid such unforgiving turmoil, five candidates are vying for the seat on the Board of Supervisors to lead that community — described by one candidate as being at a crossroads, another in a state of emergency — for at least the next four years.
“We’re in crisis, and I am angry,” said candidate Hillary Ronen, 40, during a recent interview with the San Francisco Examiner.
The District 9 election is eight months away, but with the direction of San Francisco’s politics hanging in the balance, the money is already pouring in, influential endorsements have been declared and candidates are wasting no time in lobbing attacks.
Many consider the race a slugfest between progressive standard bearer Ronen, who works as a legislative aide to the district’s current Supervisor David Campos, and building trades-backed Joshua Arce, also 40, a community liaison with construction trade union Local 261.
The other candidates vying for the post include Edwin Lindo, a board member of the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center and education consultant; Melissa San Miguel, a former policy manager for the National Center for Youth Law; and Iswari España, a training officer for the Human Services Agency.
Retaining Progressive Majority
Ronen says she is part of a larger movement to preserve the progressive majority bloc on the Board of Supervisors, running for one of the three open seats this November with termed out progressive supervisors.
She has secured the sole endorsements of the traditional progressive candidate backers like Service Employees International Union 1021 — the government employee’s largest labor union — and the California Nurses Associations, Unite Here Local 2 and former Assemblymember Tom Ammiano.
Ronen blames the Mission’s crisis on Mayor Ed Lee and his allies for “short-sighted thinking and shutting out community voices and only listening to corporate voices — and their horrible negotiations.”
For the past six years, Ronen has served as an aide to Campos. Before that she was an attorney with La Raza Centro Legal, a group which advocates for low-wage and immigrant workers.
After the candidates faced off for the first time Thursday night at the Bernal Heights Democratic Club, Ronen secured the group’s sole endorsement with 80 percent of the 58 votes cast by members.
Ronen calls Arce the “one conservative candidate in the race” and that “it is very clear” he is the mayor’s favored candidate. She says he is aligned with real estate interests, noting how the Realtors’ lobbyist Mary Jung appointed him to the
Democratic County Central Committee.
But Arce took every opportunity during a recent interview to label himself as progressive. “If you look at my track record of progressive policy wins, it far surpasses anybody’s in this race in terms of delivering progressive policy victories for
communities and for The City,” Arce said.
He points to fighting to shutter polluting power plants in the Bayview and championing a local hiring mandate for construction projects as examples of his progressive agenda. He vows to extend local hiring mandates to the tech and biotech sectors his first day in office.
Ronen lists as her accomplishments Campos’ legislative victories, like regulating tenant buyouts, redress for tenants harassed by their landlords and free Muni rides for youths.
Ronen says Arce is exploiting a campaign finance loophole by running for election to the DCCC this June, which could benefit his run for supervisor. There are no contribution limits for DCCC candidates, whereas for supervisor candidates the maximum is $500. Arce has raised $78,000 for his DCCC race, with $25,000 alone from Local 261, which Ronen suggests means he will bow to the group’s interests.
Other candidates, however, have run for both in the past. Money raised for each campaign must be kept separate.
Arce makes no apologies for the dual campaigns. “It just might be that I work harder than other candidates. I’m running for two elections this year. I have to fundraise for District 9, too,” Arce said.
He refutes the charge he would be unduly influenced by big donors. “Part of my base is working families, part of my base is tenants,” Arce said.
To illustrate his independence, he said he voted for a measure last November that would have imposed a moratorium on market-rate development in the Mission. The measure, Proposition I, was opposed by real estate interests and developers, and lost at the ballot.
Arce condemned Ronen as part of a failed status quo unresponsive to district needs. “It’s not progressive to talk about meeting the needs of our community, but not returning phone calls or emails,” he said.
“People look at the Mission as being at a crossroads,” Arce said. The path forward, he added, is “working with communities and not only that but bringing people together.”
Arce frequently used the pronoun “we” during the interview. He prides himself on a political style he describes as forging unconventional coalitions to achieve policy wins.
Assemblymember David Chiu, Supervisor Scott Wiener and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom are among those endorsing Arce.
More than Arce vs. Ronen
Edwin Lindo, 29, works as a consultant for the San Francisco Unified School District to close the achievement gap among minority students. Lindo, who grew up in the Mission, calls Arce and Ronen the “establishment” candidates.
In contrast to Arce and Ronen, Lindo told the Examiner he supports only creating specific hubs for commuter shuttles, rather than allowing the shuttles to use Muni stops. Ronen and Arce, however, said they were open to eliminating commuter shuttles from using Muni stops. The controversial shuttles are often blamed for contributing to the Mission’s gentrification, and a recent Board of Supervisors vote approved them for another year.
Lindo is also exploring a “traveling employment tax” to generate revenue for housing and transit “from all the people that are commuting down south.”
Ronen has vowed to create 5,000 below-market-rate units within a decade, but Lindo suggests that’s unrealistic, “How come it hasn’t been done already?” He instead is calling for 2,500 units.
Between 2001 and 2013, there were 1,464 homes built in the Mission, of which 97 were below-market-rate included with market-rate development, and 646 were built in 100 percent below-market-rate housing projects.
Ronen said she plans to secure money for more of such homes through housing bonds and a to-be-determined corporate tax, among other efforts.
Arce declined to set a numeric goal for more below-market-rate homes, but said housing is the No. 1 issue in the district.
Lindo said he spoke to Ronen last week about coordinating a ranked choice voting strategy, in which they would seek dual endorsements from progressive supporters, but he said she declined.
Ranked-choice voting is used for local races in San Francisco. Under ranked choice voting, voters rank three candidates. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the first votes, then the second and possibly third votes are tallied.
“They’re making it as though it’s a two-person race. But I guarantee you no one is going to win the first round in November,” Lindo said.
Melissa San Miguel, 29, is an education consultant formerly employed with the National Center for Youth Law, where she helped improve education for foster youth statewide. She is also a native of the Mission, and is the daughter of Peruvian immigrants. Her father worked the swing-shift in the boiler room of the Fairmont Hotel as a member of Stationary Engineers, Local 39.
“Members of the San Francisco political class have a history of ignoring the communities they purport to represent,” said San Miguel. “The perception that this race is between Arce and Ronen, neither of whom grew up in this community, highlights this troubling dynamic. My whole family lives here.”
She said families like hers “deserve a voice at City Hall and someone who understands their struggles.”
Iswari España, 42, works for the Human Services Agency as a training officer. “It’s going to be an uphill battle,” España said of his chances for winning. He worries that the race is dominated by talk that “Hillary is the progressive and Josh is the mayor’s guy” but “the issues aren’t being looked at strategically.”
He said he is running because residents’ needs are going unmet. “Can they make things happen?” España wondered of Arce and Ronen. Noting their endorsements and “connections,” España said, “I don’t have to answer to anybody — only the community.”
Election Day is Nov. 8.