Board of Supervisors President Malia Cohen readies to gavel a decision at a Board of Supervisors meeting. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Board of Supervisors President Malia Cohen readies to gavel a decision at a Board of Supervisors meeting. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Cohen leaves a legacy of police reform

Three women, Katy Tang, Jane Kim and Malia Cohen, are leaving San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors Jan. 8 after years of service.

Cohen and Kim, a moderate and a progressive, are both termed out after eight years, while Tang, a moderate, decided not to seek re-election after serving for five years. Their departure will change the makeup of the board, leaving it more male, more white and more tilted toward the progressive political camp.

Before they leave, the San Francisco Examiner asked them to discuss their top achievements and reflect on their time in office. This is the second of three interviews.

Malia Cohen

After eight years on the job, Board of Supervisors president Malia Cohen said she has at least one vote she regrets, in support of the 8 Washington waterfront housing development in 2012 that was subsequently repealed by the voters through the “No Wall on the Waterfront” campaign.

As Cohen leaves office on Jan. 8, she reflected in a recent San Francisco Examiner interview how she has learned a great deal more over the years that has enabled her to better assess issues like development and police reform.

In the case of 8 Washington, a luxury condo project that promised millions of dollars for affordable housing, Cohen said: “’All that glitters is not gold.’”

Cohen ranks police reform among her top accomplishments during her time as the District 10 supervisor — an effort that largely didn’t gain political traction until the December 2015 shooting of Mario Woods in the Bayview, among a string of other fatal police shootings.

Those efforts include her 2016 ballot measure, Proposition G, which overhauled and expanded the troubled Office of Citizen Complaints and renamed it the Department of Police Accountability. She also backed the District Attorney’s Independent Investigations Bureau, a special unit launched in 2016 to investigate police shootings and misconduct, despite voicing concerns that it has not produced charges against any officers.

With Police Chief Bill Scott taking over in 2017 and Department of Justice recommendations being implemented, Cohen said “we are in a good place.”

She also ranks among her top accomplishments in office 2011 legislation that prohibited misleading advertising by pro-life “crisis pregnancy centers,” and her lead on passing a 2016 tax on sugary beverages. Cohen was also instrumental in efforts to pass a ban on flavored tobacco.

Cohen was also a leader in efforts to create a cannabis equity program, designed to help those impacted by anti-drug policing get a foothold in the legalized recreational marijuana industry. To date, no applicants under the program have received their permits, a fact blamed not only on the limited staffing in the Office of Cannabis but also on the board’s continuous tweaking of the rules.

However Cohen believes she is leaving the program in good hands with colleagues who support it, like Supervisors Norman Yee, Sandra Fewer and Hillary Ronen.

“We’ve set it up to be successful,” Cohen said.

One of the largest issues to face Cohen, and one that her successor Shamann Walton will face, is the the toxic cleanup scandal at the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, a Superfund site undergoing a massive redevelopment by housing builders Lennar and FivePoint.

Employees with the US Navy cleanup contractor, Tetra Tech, hired to clean up the radioactive and toxic material at the Shipyard, were sentenced to prison this year for falsifying data, calling into question the entire cleanup effort.

Those who bought homes on what’s known as Parcel A, where more than 300 homes were built, have pushed to have their area retested. A rescanning for radiation of the site beginning in July 2018 found no health risks for Parcel A homeowners, the California Department of Public Health said in a November 2018 preliminary report, but many residents remain mistrustful.

Cohen said her concerns over the health of those living on Parcel A have been addressed. “It was rescanned. It is clean and safe. I don’t have any concerns.”

The other areas where people are not living, however, remain under reexamination. Cohen said it is important to ensure there is third-party independent verification that the parcels are clean before they are transferred over to The City by the Navy. “I’ve been focused on where people are living at this point. This is going to be an ongoing matter.”

Cohen, who has served as board president since June, wouldn’t say who she thought should be board president next year, a vote that will take place on Jan. 8, after she is gone, but she noted that the president needs to contend with “the push and pull of politics” and have the ability to stand up against varied interests including the Mayor’s Office. She also said the president needs to have peacemaking skills to quell dissension among colleagues.

She said she wants to be remembered as someone who was “thoughtful and fair.”

One of her last acts in office was to introduce a resolution following public hearings when workers and union leaders alleged racist hiring practices by city government. The resolution “acknowledges the City’s collective and urgent responsibility to address inequities in its systems and their ongoing impacts on San Francisco’s communities of color, and affirms the importance of taking legislative and administrative steps to eliminate inequities in the City.”

Cohen will next serve on the state Board of Equalization, after winning the election to that position in November.


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