You don’t normally hear the words “poop” and “meth” uttered by major candidates in a public debate, but the Tenderloin and South of Market are not your typical neighborhoods. Those words were used repeatedly during Tuesday night’s District 6 Supervisor Debate between YIMBY activist Sonja Trauss, School Board Commissioner Matt Haney, and former-Planning Commissioner Christine Johnson. The candidates laid out their visions for how they would go about fixing what is paradoxically one of the richest, the poorest, and most diverse districts in the city (and maybe the country).
“It’s this bad because our current supervisor was running for statewide office the entire time she was on the Board,” Trauss complained.
“There are things that are accepted, apparently, in District 6, that no one else in the city would have to deal with,” said Haney, who emphasized his experience as Board of Education president, and his past work with the Obama administration. “It’s a total mess. It’s completely unacceptable.”
But the issue of housing dominated much of the debate, with all three weighing in on the late Mayor Ed Lee’s goal of building 5,000 new units every year, with a large percentage of affordable and inclusionary housing.
“This is my issue! This is my question!” Trauss exclaimed when the topic came up. “After building less than 2,000 units a year for 25 years, if we actually built 5,000 units a year every year for 20 years, you better believe the outcome that we’d get would be very, very different. [San Francisco] would be an affordable place, we would really reduce displacement. This is what animated all of my activism.
“I want to take some credit for Mayor Lee making this goal of 5,000 units a year,” she added. “Now it’s so much a part of the conversation that both of my opponents are running on a pro-housing platform.”
“I was pro-housing before the YIMBY party,” Johnson shot back, noting her 14 years of experience with land use, public finance, and community development. “I met Sonja when she came to the Planning Commission and started yelling at me.
“It’s not just about new units,” Johnson continued. “Nearly 60 percent of our landmass is covered in single-family homes. And I’ll tell you, 60 percent of our city is not zoned for single-family homes. We have a lot of single-family homes and two- and three-unit buildings on lots that are zoned for more. We need to make sure we’re maximizing the current zoning that we have.”
Haney argued that a build-first mentality only encourages out-of-town real estate speculators. “If your housing is being built but it’s actually being used as an investment property, how is that actually helping meet our housing needs?” he asked.
“Shouting people down, or getting into these ideological fights, or trolling people on Twitter is not going to get housing built,” he continued. “We need somebody who is actually on the ground and getting things done and building housing. When I was president of the School Board, we actually got teacher housing.
“We have people who I defended as an eviction defense attorney who live in their housing because I fought for it,” Haney added. “We have a situation in our city, where we have some of the highest rent, but we also have a lot of speculation.”
The scooter scourge naturally came up, with Trauss voicing the strongest support for the currently banned two-wheelers. “Scooting is a gateway drug to biking,” she remarked. “They’re a great alternative to Lyft or Uber. “
Johnson was vocal about aggressively regulating Uber and Lyft. “We’re adding cars to our roads,” she complained. “The number one thing we can do is congestion pricing. If we do that, we can still have these services on our streets, without clogging our roadways with well-meaning and sometimes lovely drivers — but they come from Sacramento, because they get bonuses to drive in urban areas where they can get more rides per day.”
Candidates also sparred in various arguments over the school assignment system, keeping San Francisco accessible for families, and middle-class job creation in District 6.
“Our district has tremendous needs,” Haney said. “We’re taking on most of the development, most of the people who live on the streets are here, most of the crime incidents are here, twice as many as any other police district, yet we are not getting the resources to meet that need. That’s not fair.”
The debate was co-organized by the United Democratic Club (formerly known as the Robert F. Kennedy Democratic Club) and the San Francisco Eastern Neighborhoods Democratic Club, and moderated by 36-year San Francisco Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius. Nevius is now a sportswriter at the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, and some chatter on social media questioned the selection of a Sonoma County sports columnist. But Nevius showed himself a pretty sharp moderator with a good grasp of local issues.
“Whatever insanity is going on in the White House, we know that real politics takes place here,” Nevius said. “At a time when people are questioning democracy and if it works, to hear such reasonable and thoughtful candidates makes you realize that democracy starts at the grassroots. And it gives you hope.”
Each candidate made no mistakes and played to their base effectively Tuesday night. All of them got in clever (and obviously pre-prepared) zingers that may well have expanded their respective base audiences.
Pundits will tell you that local November elections don’t really get started until after Labor Day. If Tuesday night was any indication, this contest is already in fifth gear, and very much up for grabs.
Note: This article has been updated to refelct that the even was co-hosted by the San Francisco Eastern Neighborhoods Democratic Club.