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Planning Commissioner Christine Johnson launches District 6 supervisor campaign

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Former Planning Commissioner Christine Johnson is running to represent District 6 on the Board of Supervisors. (Emma Marie Chiang/Special to S.F. Examiner)

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The District 6 supervisor seat is up for grabs, and another major candidate has entered the ring: Planning Commissioner Christine Johnson took her first public step to represent the Tenderloin, South of Market and Treasure Island neighborhoods on Friday.

Johnson pulled the required papers from Department of Elections to fill out and return to qualify for the November 2018 ballot. Her lone major candidate in the race is Board of Education Commissioner Matt Haney, who is aligned with The City’s progressives.

In light of her leap into the race, I wanted to get Johnson’s stance on the issues facing District 6 today: Crime, homelessness and everything in between.

Johnson is viewed as an ally of the moderate wing of San Francisco, and her election could sway the board’s majority.

“I feel really excited,” Johnson told me, because she sees people “with my background and my experience all across the district.” That experience is housing instability and a childhood spent on the move.

She was born in Chicago but raised in New York City — Roosevelt Island, specifically, which she likened to Treasure Island, her first San Francisco home when she moved here in 2004. Now the mother of a 2-year-old, she and her husband live in Mission Bay.

Johnson was quick to distance herself from any critique of District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim, who backs Johnson’s opponent — Haney — and will be termed out at the end of this year.

“I wouldn’t say it’s about critiques,” Johnson said. Under Kim, District 6 has seen a great deal of change, she said, which may now require a “new” approach.
Here’s Johnson on the issues:

On evictions in District 6:
“We have a small site-acquisition program. I would call for a major expansion of that,” she said. “The way to stop displacement is to keep people in their homes.”

The city-led program purchases multi-family rental buildings of 5 to 25 units to rent them to low- to moderate-income tenants.

On the planned evictions and relocation of Treasure Island residents:
The irradiated former naval base is home to a few thousand people. The small slice of District 6 is also a hotbed of planned-yet-controversial evictions to make way for incoming redevelopment there.

“It’s not a case of evictions like people talk about them in the rest of The City,” she said. But what happens if the planned relocations there go awry? “If that isn’t decided, I will have some thoughts on what we are going to do.”

On the delayed Central Subway, which runs through South of Market to Chinatown:
“It’s disappointing the Central Subway has been delayed,” she said. “It’d be great to have more communication in the future … at the end of the day, having the connection north [and] south [through] The City will be a good thing for the district.”

Christine Johnson, who’s running to represent District 6 on the Board of Supervisors, eyes City Hall as she crosses the street on Thursday. (Emma Marie Chiang/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

On the long-fenced-off McCoppin Hub:
McCoppin Hub is a South of Market park that was revitalized in 2014 to the tune of millions. It was ultimately fenced off after some complained that homeless people congregated there.

McCoppin Hub is an example a wider problem, she said. “We have a dearth of places where people can be,” Johnson said. “I am for the creation of parks, alleyways and indoor spaces for people to be.”

Johnson did not explicitly address ways to improve access to the park.

On the Police Officers Association’s ballot measure to expedite implementation of Tasers in San Francisco:
“I’m going to go ‘no comment.’ That’s a topic area I’m still learning a lot about,” she said.

Now, for the tough stuff …

While at the Planning Commission in 2015, Johnson changed her vote on a crucial Airbnb policy requiring the platform to integrate with San Francisco’s Office of Short-Term Rentals.

Through a public records request, I accessed Johnson’s text messages, which revealed she flipped that vote after pressure from then-Mayor Ed Lee’s office. Just this week, the policy Johnson voted against finally took effect — it was subsequently approved by the Board of Supervisors — and we already are seeing it work to curb thousands of scofflaw Airbnb units.

“I think my vote on sharing data opened up a very important conversation that came to a very good conclusion,” she said. “I don’t regret my vote … It was not clear what our registration process or enforcement strategy would be.”

Another nail-biter …

The San Francisco Ethics Commission called out Johnson for a perceived conflict of interest last year: She raised funds from housing developers for SPUR, a local housing and transportation policy think tank, while also voting to approve projects from those same developers at the Planning Commission.

“I disagree with the spirit of their critique,” she said. “I spent a lot of time with the City Attorney’s Office, folks from SPUR, going in detail about what my responsibilities would be. I’m fully confident there was absolutely no conflict.”

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story identified Christine Johnson as a former planning commissioner. Johnson is still on the Planning Commission.

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