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Housing activist, homegrown fighter duke it out to represent District 5

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Dean Preston, left, and London Breed are running to represent District 5 on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Board of Supervisors President London Breed is facing a challenger who has made housing rights his goal in the District 5 race and called out the incumbent as lukewarm.

The district, perhaps the most centrally located in The City and also the most varied, stretches from the edge of Golden Gate Park to the Western Addition. It includes the Inner Sunset, the Panhandle, lower Pacific Heights, Japantown, the Fillmore and Hayes Valley.

The race could influence whether the Board of Supervisors is dominated by the progressive bloc, as is the case now, or the moderates.

Challenger Dean Preston, who is from New York and has lived in the district for two decades, said he decided to run because Breed wasn’t serving many of the district’s needs, especially in relation to the housing crisis.

For Breed’s part, she said her track record extends beyond housing, and that appears to be where Preston’s stops.

Preston has tried to center his election bid on righting The City’s housing crisis, while Breed is touting her local roots and track record of addressing neighborhood issues, including underserved groups.

Preston, a longtime housing rights lawyer and founder of Tenants Together, a state tenants rights group, said Breed has too often voted on the side of Mayor Ed Lee’s moderate bloc in City Hall.

Born and raised in public housing in the Western Addition, Breed, who was first elected as supervisor in 2012 and is now board president, disputed Preston’s characterization of her track record, claiming she is neither moderate nor progressive but an advocate for many who have been left behind.

“The progressive policies in this city have in some ways neglected the low income community,” said Breed, noting that she refuses to pay homage to any political labels. “I don’t do this job in fear of losing it. I do this job to represent the community that raised me.”

HOUSING

At their cores, the two candidates differ on housing in one major way: serious regulation versus working with market forces.

Preston believes government intervention like rent control has been and continues to be the main tool that should be used to create and keep people in their homes.

Breed, on the other hand, also supports rent control but believes government must deal with the real world instead of working toward pipe dreams. In that vein, she said wants to make sure developers are not overly burdened with regulations that will ultimately scare them away.

“There’s no question that when I talk to people in District 5, housing is at the top of their lists,” said Preston, who added that he wants to be known as someone who tackles the housing crisis by making sure those who have been getting rich off the real estate boom pay their fair share.

Breed, who said she has pushed for tenant protections in the past and as a renter understands what it’s like to live with the threat of eviction, thinks Preston’s approach is too severe. She said she has tried to push for what is possible instead of putting forward ideas that will never come to light.

“What I am trying to do is be realistic about what we are trying to do as a city [around housing] and who has access to it,” said Breed, who was criticized by some in the past for pushing hard to make sure The City paid to fix public housing.

One example of their different approaches on the matter is on transit impact fees paid by developers.

“I believe in standing up to developers,” said Preston, noting that such fees should be maxed out.

Breed agreed that developers should pay for transit impacts, and in fact co-sponsored legislation that charges such fees. However, she didn’t back an amendment from Supervisor John Avalos that would have added more impact fees.

“The developers are going to walk away,” Breed said about raising the fees too high.

The district’s other issues include street crime in the Haight-Ashbury, Fillmore and Western Addition areas, and tensions around gentrification and development in Hayes Valley and the Divisadero corridor.

Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously stated Breed did not support The City’s transit impact fee. In fact, Breed supported the fee but opposed a proposal to raise the fee.

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