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The ‘forgotten’ district: Supervisor candidates promise equity in D11

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The Excelsior District seen from Twin Peaks in San Francisco, Calif. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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Those running to represent San Francisco’s diverse, working-class southwestern neighborhoods promise to get City Hall to remember District 11.

The candidates vying this November to take over the seat currently held by termed-out Supervisor John Avalos say for too long the community has missed out on the prosperity enjoyed elsewhere in San Francisco.

Empty storefront vacancies and poorly scoring parks are among the complaints in the neighborhoods like the Excelsior, Ingleside, Mission Terrace and the Outer Mission.

They vow to change that.

The top fundraisers in the race are the more moderate Ahsha Safai, a political director for SEIU Local 87, the janitors union, and the more progressive Kimberly Alvarenga, the political director of SEIU 1021, the city workers’ largest labor union.

The other candidates in the race include Francisco Herrera, a musician and educator, Berta Hernandez, a community health educator, and Magdalena de Guzman, a public school teacher.

There are key differences among the two apparent frontrunners, as laid out in a recent editorial board meeting with the San Francisco Examiner attended by Safai, Alvarenga and Herrera, though all five candidates were invited.

Safai supports equipping police officers with Tasers; Alvarenga does not. Safai opposes all but one of the four progressive measures — Propositions H, L and M — that would reduce the mayor’s power. He supports Proposition D, placed on the ballot by Avalos, which would remove the mayor’s board appointment power.

Meanwhile, Alvarenga supports all four measures, including Prop. H, which would create an elected Public Advocate.

“We need some checks and balances in The City right now,” Alvarenga said.
Herrera, a Green Party member, largely calls attention to capitalistic pressures impacting long-term residents and criticized the “politics of money and treating the market as if it’s a god.” Herrera said he would foster stronger community engagement that would counter the way Democratic politicians have addressed the issues in the past.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE

Political contributions also offer insight into the candidates.

Safai has raised $139,958, including contributions from the Police Officers Association and the construction trades union Local 261. Alvarenga has raised $78,153, which includes contributions from director of the San Francisco Tenants Union Jennifer Fieber, former District 6 Supervisor Chris Daly and well-known public health advocate Roma Guy.

A significant amount of money from political groups is also impacting the race. Third-party spending to support Safai totals $384,327, including $309,303 from San Francisco Firefighters Local 798, which has received $300,000 from the political committee Progress San Francisco, a group funded by tech and real estate leaders.

Alvarenga’s third-party spending support totals $74,685, a majority of which has come from SEIU 1021.

But as the money pours in, residents inundated with ads and mailers likely will have one main question on their minds: Who will earn District 11 its fair share?

“The general vibe in our district is that we are treated like the forgotten part of The City,” Safai said.

Put another way, Alvarenga said, “We don’t get the equity that we deserve in our district.”

Among the concerns is a lack of economic vitality along the commercial corridors, evidenced by empty storefronts.

“Our commercial corridors are the only ones in The City whose tax revenues have gone down over the last five years,” Safai said.

Safai spoke of creating a community benefit district, a tax credit for businesses to hire “hard to employ” residents and working with building owners to let artists use their empty spaces pro bono.

Alvarenga favored a “blight tax” to hold landlords “responsible for the rest of the community.” She said she would like to see workforce housing for families along the commercial corridors and to have the Recreation and Parks Department clubhouses opened more often.

Both have ideas on how to improve the San Francisco Police Department.

Alvarenga said there is a need for increased citizen oversight of the Police Department. “We need more police officers to get out of their cars,” she added.
Safai supported changing the process for screening future police officers to help increase the diversity of the rank and file, but didn’t provide details for how that could occur.

Another candidate in the race, Hernandez, a self-described socialist, wants to dismantle the SFPD altogether and use the department’s more than $500 million annual budget to pay for programs to address the root causes of crime.

Hernandez said she got into the race because she has witnessed how the political system had led to conditions “deteriorating in many aspects fundamentally for communities of color and working class people of The City.”

Her campaign effort includes the message: “Help us to elect the first Socialist Supervisor of San Francisco.”

De Guzman emphasized the significance of having a school teacher’s voice on the board. Her campaign highlights making garbage service more affordable for low-income residents in an effort to combat litter and illegal refuse dumping in the neighborhood. She also vows to continue to talk to residents with as much frequency as she did when on the campaign going door to door listening to their stories.

Alvarenga was born and raised in San Francisco. She worked for Tom Ammiano, when he was an assemblymember, as the district director responding to constituents needs and helped fight to keep City College of San Francisco an accredited school.

Safai has worked for The City for the administrations of former mayors Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom, which includes serving on the Housing Authority Commission before his removal as part of Mayor Ed Lee’s shakeup of the agency. At the time, Safai defended the head of the troubled agency, though he said he now regrets having done that and blamed his position on not having accurate information.

In some ways, Safai has framed the contest as a referendum on Avalos, who is an active supporter of Alvarenga, by suggesting the district is “forgotten” in part because of how Avalos has approached the job.

Safai faulted the current supervisor for not becoming president of the board.
“Becoming board president means a different level of allocation and resources for our district,” Safai said.

Avalos told the San Francisco Examiner during a separate editorial board meeting that one of his biggest regrets in office was not to “cut a deal” with then-Supervisor Sean Elsbernd to become board president.

It shouldn’t be overlooked that Avalos was among the loudest voices to initiate the call for equity.

In 2013, Avalos call for a city budget proposal that addressed resource inequity and most recently fought to have equity measures in the voter-approved set-aside June ballot measure for park funding.

In recent weeks, Avalos has provided members of the media a four-page list of his accomplishments for the district during the past eight years in an apparent effort to counter Safai’s criticism.

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