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 first of three interviews.
Supervisor Katy Tang opposed cannabis in the Sunset, pushed for increased housing density and passed the strongest workplace lactation policy in the country.
Starting out her government career in then-Mayor Gavin Newsom’s budget office, Tang never had aspirations of becoming a representative on the board. But when a vacancy opened up in 2013, Mayor Ed Lee appointed her, then age 29 and a legislative aide, to represent the Sunset as the District 4 supervisor.
To the surprise of many, the moderate politician decided earlier this year not to seek re-election. She swears she loved the job — although she emphasized how time consuming it was — but wanted to try new and challenging things.
Her colleagues, progressive and moderate, described her as nice, a classy woman, a straight shooter, well-organized and a calming presence at a formal farewell on Dec. 11.
Tang said in a recent San Francisco Examiner interview that her June 2017 lactation workplace law requiring employers provide suitable accommodation for breast feeding and milk pumping is among her proudest achievements.
The law, she said, remains the strongest in the country, and helped to “normalize the conversation” around women and mothers in the workplace. But she said for all the talk of “women power,” the nation remains unwilling to embrace policies like it. She noted that Gov. Jerry Brown had vetoed state Sen. Scott Wiener’s bill that would have required employers to provide a lactation room.
She also ranked Home-SF, a program that lets developers build more units than allowed under code if they increase the percentage of below market rate units, among her top legislative accomplishments. “Not so much the program itself,” Tang said. “I’m proudest of starting the conversation about middle-income housing.”
She also introduced a series of ordinances to help small businesses, including a flexible retail law that makes it easier for a small business to mix and match other enterprises, like a coffee shop that wants to use 30 percent of its space to sell clothing.
She also introduced and passed the plastic straw ban and a fur sale ban, which made national headlines, and pushed for more electric vehicles in the municipal fleet.
Asked how she wants to be remembered, Tang said, “As someone who’s really hard working.”
Tang has yet to announce what she plans to do next and she said that’s because she doesn’t know.
“I’m still figuring it out. I’m doing a lot of soul searching,” Tang said. She added that if she had the time she would like to take a class at City College and learn how to make furniture as a hobby.
Tang, who could have run to serve another four year term, said she has no regrets about walking away. She said she won’t miss the job, only the “tools” that come along with it to help people.
She said the most challenging part of the job was striking a balance between her personal views and what she thought her constituents wanted. That conflict was most striking when the board voted to allow Barbary Coast Collective to open in the Sunset, the first ever pot business to win approval to open in that neighborhood.
When asked how she feels about allowing cannabis into the Sunset, she said, “I didn’t allow it. My colleagues did.” Technically that’s true. The vote was 10-1.
In a somewhat odd match, however, Tang said she loves working with progressive leader Supervisor Aaron Peskin. The two collaborated on a number of policies. Tang said people fear Peskin more than her and it was easier to get things done.
Tang also offers no apologies for her decision not to run. That decision has cost the moderates political power since the progressive Gordon Mar won the District 4 November contest and the board now has a progressive majority. She defended her choice candidate and legislative aide Jessica Ho as someone who is “amazing” and did well by coming in second. “I saw she was genuine about serving,” Tang said of Ho.
Tang said she couldn’t predict the dynamic between the new board makeup and Mayor London Breed, but said she has seen the best and worst of it and believes the dynamic just “ebbs and flows.”
She has met with Mar on two separate occasions since he won. She wouldn’t reveal all of the advice she gave him, only say that she told him he should set aside some time each week to read constituents’ emails.