Guiding principles to avoid a mealy mouth

When community groups invite me to speak about the issues featured in my column, the audience often asks how I decide which topics to cover and what positions to take.

I respond by sharing my guiding principles:

1. Encourage innovation, not status quo.

2. Follow common sense, not sacred cows.

3. Negotiate practical solutions with empathy.

4. Protect personal freedoms.

5. Practice fiscal responsibility.

6. Spend public funds only on what works.

7. Measure for results and accountability.

8. Fund social goals with economic growth.

9. Promote community service and charity.

10. Value and invest in education for all.

I also use this list as a new member of San Francisco’s Democratic County Central Committee, the elected governing body of the local Democratic Party. I was recently appointed to an open seat and will have to run in June 2016 for a full four-year term.

Now that I have both a column and a voting record, everyone wants to know if I’ll adjust my views for maximum votes. If only it were that simple. 

Running for supervisor in 2012, I learned that Newton’s third law applies to courting voters. My strong stance on greater access for people and pets in city parks, for example, attracted an equal number of opposite reactions: dog-owners greeting me with smiles and native plant preservationists yelling at me to get off their porch.

I didn’t win, but everyone knew exactly where I stood. I’ve tried to write this column with the same clarity.

In my political role on the DCCC, it was baptism by fire at this week’s endorsement meeting. I voted against a proposition to put additional limits on home sharing services like Airbnb, which meant voting against some of my Westside constituents who support Proposition F.

Then I voted for a proposition to live stream all City Hall meetings and allow time-certain public comment with online video, despite most of my DCCC colleagues and many other office holders opposing Proposition E.

I understand why Westside homeowners (I’m one of them) are concerned that home sharing run amok will disrupt quiet neighborhoods.

Yet homeowners should have the freedom to determine who can stay in their homes, and Airbnb is a worthwhile innovation — as long as it isn’t abused.

I’m against Prop F because it’s a mistake to craft complicated public policy at the ballot box. I’ve consistently said this in my column. Propositions are unchangeable and we live in a world of constant change. We need the ability to be nimble and fix things legislatively as new challenges arise.

I also understand why City Hall officials dread the logistics of making it easier for people to complain at public meetings. Yet San Francisco, known for its tech industry and political activism, should be a leader in connecting residents civically through technology.

Prop E raises valid concerns about implementation and abuse, but this is the rare proposition that allows legislative adjustments and customization. For example, comment can be limited to verified residents if outsiders flood the system. Prop E is designed to address evolving needs, which is why I support it.

My politically minded friends worry that the words in my column will be sliced, diced and used against me. Like a voting record, a forthright column can be a liability. 

Yet hasn’t every good idea required some risk? As a columnist and politician, I prefer to advance narratives that can inspire people to look outside their comfort zone and imagine solutions along new paths. 

Then I try to make my point of view very clear because being mealy-mouthed does not spark imaginations.

Joel Engardio is a member of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee, representing the westside. Follow his blog at Email him at

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