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District 7 supervisor race: Five candidates focus on reducing property crime

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Despite their differing solutions, five candidates in the running for the District 7 seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors have made rampant car break-ins and property crime a top issue in the November election.

Supervisor Norman Yee, who is at the end of his first term as supervisor of the area that stretches from Lake Merced to Mount Sutro, is running for re-election against candidates Ben Matranga, Joel Engardio, John Farrell and Mike Young.

Yee is the only progressive in the bunch. During a meeting with the San Francisco Examiner’s editorial board last week, the candidates spelled out their positions on a variety of topics from property crime, to housing, to San Francisco’s ballooning budget.

Yee, a former member of the Board of Education, said he has increased the number of police officers in the district by a dozen and is against Proposition R, a ballot measure aimed at curbing car break-ins, vehicle thefts and home burglaries through the creation of a Neighborhood Crime Unit.

“There’s no point in creating a new unit,” said Yee, noting that the San Francisco Police Department could coordinate such efforts “right now” without the ballot measure through de-centralized police units at neighborhood stations.

Instead, Yee is working to gather a task force to look into increasing police staffing, which has long been stuck below the 1,971 officers mandated in the City Charter.

Matranga, a frontrunner in the race based on endorsements and fundraising, said he considers public safety the No. 1 issue in the race and also wants to increase police staffing. He has been endorsed by the police, firefighters and deputy sheriffs unions in San Francisco.

“We just don’t have the size of force that is needed to effectively deal with a rise in property crime,” Matranga said.

Matranga, who worked for a decade in the private sector before heading the Vision Zero initiative to reduce pedestrian fatalities in San Francisco, said Yee was until recently an ineffective supervisor and criticized his support for Proposition L.

Prop. L would split appointments to the transit board between the mayor and Board of Supervisors in an effort to make the board more accountable. At present, the mayor appoints all seven board members.

“This idea of somehow the board not being accountable — they’ve always been accessible, they’ve always reached out to folks,” Matranga said.

Yee said splitting transit board appointments is “good government.”

Engardio, a moderate and former journalist who previously was a columnist for the Examiner, said he would follow the recommendations of a Civil Grand Jury report on property crime in June, which pointed out a lack of coordination between police and prosecutors.

“A lot of this is gang-related activity and there needs to be a special lens through which this is dealt with,” said Engardio, who is also a leading challenger.

Engardio said he would be an independent supervisor on the board and hire an investigative reporter as an aide. He is interested in trimming the City Hall payroll ahead of an economic downturn.

“In the good times is the time when we should actually go in and maximize efficiency to figure out where we can save money and also put money away,” Engardio said.

Young, a Realtor and former city budget analyst, also called for an updated minimum staffing level and more coordination between the District Attorney’s Office and police, as well as the courts, to decrease burglaries.

Young said he would manage growth and housing near developments like Parkmerced and the Balboa Park Reservoir. One way to mitigate San Francisco’s housing woes, he said, would be to move residents into 10-by-20 foot Conex shipping containers.

“I myself have lived in a Conex in Afghanistan,” said Young, a former U.S. diplomat and Army reservist. “It was actually pretty comfortable. I wouldn’t do it long-term. But I survived.”

Farrell, a real estate broker, put the property crime problem in San Francisco on the lap of the District Attorney.

“A lot of these felonies are now misdemeanors, and we have to get tougher on the repeat offenders,” Farrell said.

Farrell is also a supporter of Proposition Q, from Supervisor Mark Farrell, which would ban encampments on city sidewalks and authorize city officials to remove them 24 hours after offering shelter.

“We have to get the people off the streets who need help,” he said. “We have to get them to services they need, especially the people who are mentally ill and the people with drug problems.”

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