Second-best time for tree planting is now

Running for supervisor against an incumbent is a tough but worthy endeavor, even if they tend to win. Incumbents need to be challenged because elections should be about ideas and choices that shape our future — not a coronation.

That’s why my second-place showing against incumbent Norman Yee and three other challengers for District 7 supervisor feels like a success. Thousands of voters embraced my campaign’s forward-looking message, which will ultimately influence the direction of our city.

Never before had a candidate for District 7 supervisor campaigned openly about the need to build more housing. San Francisco’s westside is historically change-averse and conventional wisdom said you do not talk about building anything new in the land of single-family home neighborhoods.

Yet my campaign worked to organize a coalition of multiple generations who realize it is in their best interest to accept change where it fits. For the westside, that means protecting single-family home gems like Miraloma Park, Forest Hill and Balboa Terrace. But also building a few stories of new housing — with community input — above retail along the Muni train lines of Taraval, Ocean and West Portal Avenue.

More middle-income housing would allow the kids and grandkids of longtime residents to raise their own families in San Francisco. Seniors who want to downsize from large homes and stairs would have the option of elevator buildings to stay close to the neighborhood they love. New housing would also rejuvenate our commercial districts by creating demand for better shops and amenities, which is something all residents want.

The fact that my campaign — and its view on housing — won thousands of votes on the westside can only mean that we moved the needle on one of San Francisco’s most pressing issues.

There are many issues raised in my campaign and facing our city that I will remain focused on:

n We have to treat mental illness if we’re going to end the suffering of a large number of our homeless population.

n Neighborhood-based schools are better for building community and would be more diverse than our confounding assignment system.

n Recreation for people and pets must be the priority for parks and open space in an urban setting.

n We need a lot more fiscal discipline to get San Francisco’s $9.6 billion budget under control because your house is not City Hall’s ATM.

I’ll continue writing my column in the San Francisco Examiner with the angle of how to bring more common sense to City Hall. I look forward to working with groups dedicated to housing and transportation solutions.

My campaign always talked about housing in tandem with the necessity to build more transportation infrastructure. Tunneling the M-line from West Portal to Parkmerced (and beyond to Daly City BART) is something I’ve championed. The idea was rejected 40 years ago and we are paying for that lost opportunity. Imagine having been able to ride a true, end-to-end subway with double the capacity all this time.

There are many things we regret not doing when we had the chance, like building more BART tunnels. That’s why I included the following proverb in my stump speech: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.” My campaign was about planting seeds with a vision for what San Francisco can be.

My supporters can be proud of the seeds we planted. We will certainly see sprouts before long, even if we didn’t win this election. The great shift in demographics and mindset happening on the westside is on our side.

Our message will become the winning view and our kids and grandkids will thank us for giving them a future in San Francisco.

Joel Engardio lives west of Twin Peaks in District 7. Follow his blog at Email him at

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