Tomorrow, London Breed will be sworn in as Supervisor of District Five, an area which includes the Lower Haight, Upper Haight, Hayes Valley, the Inner Sunset, the Fillmore, and other nearby neighborhoods.
Last week, we sat down with London at the African American Art & Culture Complex to ask her about the recent campaign, issues facing the district, and her top priorities for her term at City Hall.
We asked readers of our blogs for questions for London, and we posed several of the most common ones to her during our interview. What follows is an admittedly lengthy transcript of our conversation.
Haighteration: Our readers may be familiar with you, but they may not. I’d like to introduce you to our readers, from your growing up, to what steps led you to where you are now. So a high-level, two-minute biography of yourself.
London Breed: OK. I grew up right here, born and raised. I don’t know where the time has gone, but the neighborhood has changed a lot. I was used to people being outside all the time, we had a lot of fun. Although there was a lot of poverty, there was a lot of despair, there was a lot of crime — that was a consistent part of my life. And discovering that there were other opportunities really opened the door to college for me, and I was fortunate enough to go to U.C. Davis.
During the time that I was in school, a lot of my friends and family members were getting killed, and going to jail, and sadly it was really normal for me. But when you’re at U.C. Davis, and you have roommates who have parents who have different situations, and you’re struggling financially and a lot of other things, it just, it’s like, “Why aren’t my friends experiencing this? Why aren’t they here?” So a big part of why I came back to the community had a lot to do with feeling like I should not be the only person who’s able to succeed. And I really care about the people here in this neighborhood and wanted to make a difference.
And so I returned back. I started working at Treasure Island, working as an office manager, worked my way up, became a development specialist, focused on lease negotiations and dealing with the film industry, and I was a secretary, and I balanced a lot of things. Because I wanted to learn, but more importantly, I wanted to be involved with making a difference in the city. Also separately I was volunteering in the community, having mentees, and working in the community during my spare time. This is something that I’ve always done. I’m here because there were people in the community at that time that did it for me, that gave me five dollars or gave me twenty dollars because they knew I was in college, or gave me encouraging words to say “Stay with it,” and so that’s what we’re here now doing.
I’ve been at the African American Arts and Culture Complex for the past ten years. This gave me the vehicle that I needed, to not only enjoy the arts and change a building that I basically participated in when I was a kid — I danced here, I hung out here, this was a place that I would come to for safety, for security, for programming — and so as a Director now, I see it as that same venue for the next generation of young people who live in this community, and the next generation of artists who live in this community. And to be here for the past ten years, to change it into this incredible-looking arts space where anything is possible for the visual and performing arts is just really a dream come true.
The biggest reason why I ran for Supervisor is because even though we have this beautiful world within the four walls of the African American Arts and Culture Complex, we continue to be faced with what happens outside of these four walls. Whether someone’s sadly walking out of this building and getting killed, or someone’s up the street and something bad happens, or our kids go on a field trip and one of their team leaders gets jumped and robbed in front of them — we’re still faced with that in this Center. And I always felt that we can’t just be protective here. We have to make a change so that things don’t happen negatively around us as well. And that’s why we hired a case manager, and we do a lot of social service-related programs in this Center. We’re forced to, because we have too many family programs in the city that get a lot of money but are not stepping up to the plate. So instead of complaining about it, I’m trying to take what little money I have to make that change, and sadly discovering that it’s just not enough. We’re still losing people. The neighborhood is still changing, people are still being neglected. And this great community of what we used to be, with crime and violence and everything else, is becoming divided.
I wanted to bring us together. I wanted to provide the leadership that doesn’t necessarily say, “You have to be this kind of person to be represented.” I wanted to provide the leadership to say, “I don’t care if you’re dirt poor out on the corner, or you’re filthy rich. You deserve to be represented. And you deserve of course to be held accountable.”
My role as Supervisor is to bring all of those forces together. To bring people together to create the kind of community that we deserve to have. And I think that someone who provides good leadership as Supervisor or as any leader has not only the power of the office to do that, but also [should have] the personality to get along with people, to work with people. And I said, “I care about this city, I care about this neighborhood, and I just really want to see someone who’s vested in this — not vested in politics — to be the Supervisor.” That kind of brought me to my decision, instead of just complaining, to do something about it.
H: So you approached it from outside of a standpoint of politics. But you’re getting into that world. Are you at all apprehensive about the reality of the political system in San Francisco, which you’re about to come up against?
LB: Well fortunately I’ve been a little bit of a part of the political system, actively involved in the Democratic Party, working with people, because I know that being involved in politics is how you help to change things.
I do know that it’s going to be challenging. I do know that there are a lot of elected officials who have tried, who have had good intentions, who have wanted to see changes. I just think that my perspective is different than some of the other people who have tried to change it from the outside. I’m coming from an insider’s perspective of someone who spent more than half their life in arguably the worst public housing developments during that time. And still in many cases it’s the same way, it’s not changed a whole lot other than the homicide rate has increased around the area.
I understand what it’s like to live without your toilet being fixed in public housing, and everyone leaves their door open because someone’s toilet may not be working and you may have to go to somebody else’s house, for weeks, to use the bathroom, because you don’t have a choice. Just living that life — people talk about how they’ve been poor, I don’t really get caught up in that. Yes, we got food from the free food program, yes my grandmother was on welfare, yes we didn’t have a whole lot, but she kept our house clean and she took pride in her place, and she took pride in cleaning up the neighborhood, and she fed people and she was good to people. Even though we were poor, we had a community that worked together. When somebody didn’t have something, somebody else helped them. That type of perspective of taking the selfishness out of our decisions in the political arena, I’m hoping that that will help people to support the kinds of policies I want to see pushed through City Hall.
But I’m not discouraged. I’ve been through worse. The campaign, people think, “Oh my God, all the stuff you’ve been through in the campaign” — this is nothing compared to what I’ve been through earlier in my life, what I’ve been through as the Center’s Director, seeing some of the things that we saw here, and losing kids… It’s been worse. And my goal is to do everything I can to make it better.
H: About the campaign. It did seem to get fairly ugly at times, and I know you’re saying you’ve seen worse, and it’s just politics. But, were you surprised by the tone of the campaign, certain moments especially towards the end, when there were personal attacks, and there was less of a positive message being offered by some of the candidates? Did any of that surprise you, or did you go into it knowing that these things get ugly, and some of it would probably be aimed at you at some point?
LB: I actually thought it might be worse than what it was. It wasn’t as bad as I expected.
It’s politics. It’s really unfortunate because it doesn’t set the best example for the next generation. We all made mistakes, all of the candidates, including myself, in how we handled a number of things. But we’re all human. No one is immune to making a mistake. And no one is immune to dealing with attacks when they put themselves out there in the public arena. As a candidate it’s different when you put yourself out there on faith and you hope that people will accept you and support you, but as a candidate who has had the door slammed on her, or had people say “I can’t support you for this reason” — all of the candidates had to deal with that. It’s just what it is.
And it’s unfortunate, but you’ve got to be tough enough to handle it. Because it gets a lot worse behind the scenes. When you have to tell people who you’ve known for a long time — like I’ve had to do as Director for the Center, as a Redevelopment Agency Commissioner, as a Fire Commissioner — “No. No, I’m not going that way. No, I’m not supporting that, and this is why.” Their reaction is really not of my concern, I just try to make decisions that are in the best interests of the city, and what’s right.
H: You managed to beat an incumbent who was very well-funded — and was an incumbent, so had that advantage — and you beat six additional candidates. Do you have a perspective on why you won?
LB: Because I knocked doors. I knocked doors probably more than — I don’t have any data, but I will tell you that I started knocking doors in February, and I was consistent, and I touched every neighborhood. And I didn’t just leave literature, I wrote personal notes on stickies and left them at the doors — “Sorry I missed you, hope you’ll consider voting for me for Supervisor.” I would see people at farmer’s markets, they would say they got my note, which was great.
I think a big part of why I won was because I didn’t talk a whole lot during the campaign about what I was doing to touch voters. I knew what I had to do. Even though there’s debates, there’s all the outside stuff, there’s the papers, I ignored all of that and focused primarily on touching and talking to voters. And getting my base out, which was a big part of the Western Addition, and getting people registered — just really some of the basic Campaign 101. I’ve worked on a lot of campaigns, and it’s a lot of hard work.
I think a lot of the other candidates were putting a label on me as a certain kind of person. I didn’t let that get to me. I stayed and got into voters’ faces. So when the hits started to come, they’re like, “This is not London.”
There’s a lot of new folks in this neighborhood. And a lot of those folks, when I said I was born and raised in the community, they were like, “Oh really? That’s great. We need someone who understands the history and the community and the people here.” These are people who just recently moved here over the past ten years. I think people really liked that. People were tired of people moving to the neighborhood to run because they’re the “progressive” or whatever the case is, but they wanted someone who was genuine, who they knew would work hard, that they could trust and that would fight for them.
H: It seemed like there was a lot of money injected into the race, and if you’re just going door to door, is the money not as much of an issue? Can you run a cheaper campaign?
LB: I don’t think so. I think you have to be able to do both. With my money, I can go through pretty much the whole list and say, “This is my dentist. This is my friend Zane who’s a doctor who was my chemistry tutor at U.C. Davis. This is my friend who’s an HR administrator at a hospital and we were roommates for six months at Davis, USF people, folks I grew up with, my kindergarten teacher…” I worked hard for that money, and I’m proud of every dollar that I got from raising.
And I called those people. I called people that I didn’t know, who I knew could potentially give me money. I called people based on recommending that I call this person or that person. When I stepped into this arena, I had to demonstrate that I was the better candidate. I needed money and I needed votes to do it. So I had no shame in asking. And I got told “no” a whole lot of times. A whole lot. But I am so proud.
I can raise money. You can tell me “no” — I’m OK with that. Aaron Peskin gave me money — you know Aaron Peskin, used to be the President of the Board and was the DCCC chair — I called him twice and got money out of him both times. I didn’t get an endorsement, but I got money. That’s OK. That was OK with me. So whatever it took, I picked up the phone and called people that I thought would potentially give me money for this campaign. That’s how politics works, with no promises other than, “Expect me to do the right thing as Supervisor.” That ought to demonstrate my ability to get in there and convince people to support what’s good for the district and what’s good for San Francisco.
So I do think you need both. As someone who’s running, you have to show people that you have the personality, you have the skills, you have what it takes to be the leader that they can trust, and you’ve got to be able to balance all of that. And I’m really good at balancing a lot of things.
H: Somebody today asked me to ask you about how, even though you won, a lot of “progressive” voters in this district did not vote for you. Which is obviously true, just based on the numbers. What do you say to those people who voted for someone else, how do you reach out to them, and get them to support you as you enter the role?
LB: Not everybody is going to support an elected official, no matter what you do. My goal is to be everyone’s representative. I’ll give you an example.
SEIU 1021, they did a hit piece against me on the campaign. And when they reached out to me, I opened the door. At the end of the day, it’s not about me. I’m a representative, and I have to be available to everyone. So I say to those people, let’s focus on the positive. Give me an opportunity. My door is open. If you’re a District Five resident, then you have the ability to reach out to me just as much as anyone who did or did not support me has the same ability to reach out to me as their Supervisor. So at least give me an opportunity.
The campaign is over now. That’s what I said to SEIU and other members who did not support me. The campaign is in the past. I called the Mayor, members of the Board of Supervisors called me and reached out to me, and there’s a lot of people apologizing, “Oh I didn’t support you” — don’t apologize to me for not supporting me. Let’s talk about how we work together because we all care about what happens in San Francisco. Let’s move forward with positive energy, to try and get the things done we need for the city. That’s my message to them or anyone else who feels concerned about that.
I can’t help but be me. I know what kind of person I am, I work hard, I’m honest, I care. But I’m not a pushover, and I will tell you the truth about my opinions. Half the art in this Center sometimes, I look at it, and I don’t want it to go up. But it’s not about me. It’s about what’s best for the community. These artists deserve an opportunity to exhibit their art. Who am I to say that I don’t like that, or I don’t like this? It’s not just up to me. I’m representing a whole lot of people. So my goal is to be open-minded and to listen and to be available.
H: You say that you had calls with other Supervisors and the Mayor — do you have good relationships with them? Anything surprise you from those conversations?
LB: Nope. I have a lot of respect for my colleagues going into this situation. Even before I decided to run, these were people who treated me with respect. It’s just that they chose not to support me. It didn’t mean that they treated me bad though. They went out of their way to reach out to me. I’ve met with pretty much all of them, and they’re open to the kinds of things that I like and care about. A lot of them are expressing interest in helping me with the kinds of things that they know are important to this district, helping me develop better relationships with people that I may have difficulty having good relationships with — so I’m really optimistic, I’m really excited. It’s going to be a great year for District Five and for our city. I’m happy.
H: You’re starting the job as Supervisor in a couple weeks. Do you have a top priority or first issue that you want to tackle? Anything legislatively that’s top of mind for you?
LB: There’s a few things, but two things stick out as being really important issues, not just for this district but for San Francisco.
One of those issues is jobs. When I talk about jobs, I’m not just talking about the underemployed. I’m talking about having the kind of one-stop job center that anyone who’s unemployed can walk into, and research and get the kind of assistance they need, to maybe revamp their resumé, or look at what the possibilities are, or what have you. I want a one-stop center that connects people, period, who are unemployed, to real tangible long- or short-term job opportunities more quickly than it has.
We met a lot of incredible people on the campaign trail, many of whom volunteered for my campaign. Many, in my mind, I’m thinking, “This person is a perfect customer service person, and would be great to deal with people where we’re lacking in customer service in some of our city departments.” I just think of the possibilities of connecting the right people with the right employment opportunities. I want the one-stop to be more about not just getting somebody a job, but getting them the right fit, so they’re happy in their careers and we have a thriving workforce. Not a day goes by where someone’s not sending me their resumé, asking for a job, stopping by my office — and this is not just since I started running for Supervisor, this has been for years. I’m like a job broker for the community. [laughs]
So, we just really need help and support, case management, follow-through, just keeping people in general in this city employed. Let’s not just import a workforce to come and work at Twitter, with the buses picking them up — what about the people who are here? How do we prepare the Galileo High School students, the Technology high school, for Twitter opportunities? We start with internships. We have got to come out of the four walls of the high schools, and everyone in separate departments — we’ve got to start working together to bridge the gap, making connections. Jobs is a priority for me, for all San Franciscans.
The second priority is housing authority, and public housing in San Francisco.
We have a large number of public housing developments in this district, and I have some real concerns about what’s happening with those developments, and the lack of opportunity, for the amount of money that’s spent. The lack of opportunity for the actual residents in those places. I want to make sure that not only are the properties being managed appropriately, but also that the security is the right fit for the housing development. And then finally, that we are doing everything we can to invest in the people of those areas, not through a handout, but through a real opportunity of long-term support, and that we don’t price people out once they, for example, get a job for the city. Yes, all of a sudden their rent goes up, but then, based on the federal guidelines, if they hit a certain threshhold, all of a sudden they don’t qualify for public housing. We have to give people a window. Give them priority on the next step, at some of the affordable housing developments that come up.
So I’m not just talking about tackling an issue and just focusing on one thing. I’m talking about long-term success, so that public housing is what it’s meant to be, which is just a way, when people fall down temporarily, of getting them to the next level. We have got to do better at investing in people. Housing authority will be a priority, because that will make a difference if we do it right.
H: That’s a big issue. It seems that it would take some time to have an impact.
LB: Yep. It’s not an overnight problem. I just ask voters to be patient with me and to trust my judgment, and to of course provide their feedback or opinions, to help me do what we need to do. This is not a one person job. I provide the leadership, I’m accountable to the voters and to the city, but I want to make sure it’s an open process in making these decisions.
H: One issue that’s come up in the Lower Haight — we’ve had an uptick in crime, at least smaller crimes, in the last year or so. There have been several community meetings with police present. Residents will show up, describe what’s happened to them. Police will say, “We’re understaffed. We have a certain number of officers, and their allocated throughout the district based on the crimes that are reported. And so if people in the Lower Haight aren’t reporting that they got mugged, or that their car got broken into, then we’re not going to allocate enough officers to the Lower Haight.” And that’s just sort of been the state of things. Police seem to be saying there’s only so much they can do. Just be careful walking down the street. Don’t use your phone. If it’s night time, walk with someone else. Which is common sense stuff. But I think at the same time, I think a lot of people are frustrated that this is the best we can do, given that we pay our taxes, we think we’re making safe choices, it doesn’t seem like using your phone should be something abnormal that you shouldn’t be able to do…
I’m wondering what, if anything, a Supervisor can do to address this. Is it a matter of educating the public more about safety? Is it making sure the Police Department has more funding, so they can better allocate resources? Is it just a matter of better information, that the police don’t know what’s going on, and maybe there’s a reporting issue there? Or is it just the systemic issues that you’re talking about, where maybe there are longer-term issues that are causing crime in the neighborhood, and it’s not going to be fixed by having more cops walking the beat?
LB: I’m actually really excited about tackling this problem, because there’s a number of issues here. Now, what we are faced with with crime has a lot to do with lack of opportunity and lack of employment. We think we should tell people, “Just get a job.” But there are people who grew up not understanding what that means, not even having dads around, or not watching their mom go to work, and not really knowing what steps they need to take to change their lives.
When you grow up with a dad who is telling you, “Hold the door open for a woman,” and you don’t get it at first, but over years, subconsciously, you know when you see a woman you should hold the door open, you don’t know where it came from. So we’re dealing with a population, and I know because I’m a part of that population, I grew up the same way, where certain things are normal, sadly. Basically you did what you had to do to get money. Now, with the cell phone theft, I’ve had to send people to go get phones back from people, because I know a lot of the kids and the families. I think what we have to do is tackle those people who are committing those crimes, and get to them, provide them with the services they need and hold them accountable.
One of things we had a few years back, we had six people get shot, we had all these folks getting killed, it was really really bad. We started a program here, where we were funded by the Department of Justice, and we picked the ringleaders from every area, who were the biggest problems. We paid them a stipend, and we made them take ballroom dancing, we made them attend Dr. Marshall’s Alive and Free Workshop at the Omega Boys Club, they met city officials, they had to take etiquette classes where they learned how to eat, they went to Delancey Street, they had to learn what fork to use, and they were occupied and learning and growing.
The good news is, two of those boys are second year at San Jose State. One of them is at City College. Two are working for Goodwill, and one is working for the DPW Apprenticeship Program. But sadly, one of those boys was killed. We’re talking about a lot of money we had to spend, but not in the bigger scheme of things in terms of what we give nonprofit organizations, just to provide some guidance and consistency to change someone’s life. And during that year, during the summer, we had zero homicides when there were expected to be way more. We had hardly any crime. So we have got to target these organizations and aggressively go after them. It includes stipends. We can ask people to participate in programs every day, but how are they going to eat every day? How are they going to take care of themselves every day? They’re just trying to get by. And part of that is trying to get a little bit of money to get some food or whatever they’re trying to get. That’s one of the issues.
The second thing is, we have a lot of businesses moving into the area, right across from public housing, and not even reaching out to people in the neighborhood. We have got to do a better job of connecting businesses and the business community to people in the neighborhood. It can’t just be you walk by someone every day and don’t look them in the eye and speak. You’ve got to know who people are. That changes things considerably. When you look someone in the eye and say “hi,” you smile at them, don’t look away from them. We have to learn how to be a community again. I know Jimmy who owns the store on Page and Webster. I know Nicole whose family has owned Two Jacks forever. They don’t usually have any problems, because they know the community, they have good relationships with the community. So we have to make those relationships better. But that means opportunities. If people have opportunities, relationships develop, people are talking to one another, people are paying attention to people and their surroundings instead of walking around in fear.
The other side, sadly, is yeah, we’re not living in utopia. Even I’m careful. I know the kids, and I could probably get my phone back, they don’t usually touch my car or whatever, but I’m not going to walk around talking on my phone and not paying attention to my surroundings. As much as we may want to do that, unfortunately life will not stop if you’re not on your cell phone.
And then finally, we have got to get more police in these stations. I know there are three academy classes next year for the police department, I’m really excited about that. And my goal is to do everything I can to increase the number of police officers at Northern Station by I’m hoping ten — I know it’s going to be a challenge — and then also Park Station. It’s going to be very hard to increase the number of police, because the police presence has diminished over the years. We have got to do better about staffing up our departments. It shouldn’t be an emergency where we have to hurry up and get more officers — we have folks retiring left and right. We have to get ready for those. What better candidates than kids who are graduating from high school in San Francisco, giving them a priority if they’re interested in being police officers? Or other San Franciscans who are looking for employment opportunities?
The last thing I’ll say is, Leela Gill, who is a part of the North of Panhandle Neighborhood Association, a big person on public safety, has organized this NOPNA Safety, where there’s team captains on each block, who help alert the block of things that are going on, how we can do better, keeping people up to date. And we have a neighbor and merchant association in the Lower Haight, I get the information, I know your blog is really helpful in finding out what’s going on, but I think we can do better in terms of communication by maybe setting up captains in each of those areas, and people being on the lookout, and being aware of surroundings, knowing who’s who.
It’s going to take a lot of work and coming together, and I do have plans to tackle it aggressively when I get there. And a big part of that is holding nonprofits accountable to provide services for this population and not just neglecting them. And yeah, locking people up after they commit a crime, holding them accountable that way, once you’ve crossed the line, consequences occur. But my goal is prevention. Let’s stop crime from happening in the first place by holding people accountable to provide the programs they should for this population, and work to make the right changes in order to address the issues for this population, and balance that with additional police officers and awareness and bringing the community together so they’re talking to each other and know each other.
H: Do you see yourself being very hands-on, in terms of bringing people together? Getting merchants and residents together, getting people in public housing to meet other people in their neighborhood? Our most recent Supervisors — Ross Mirkarimi, he would walk the beat and get to know everyone, he would show up at events, he made it sort of a point to be a presence. Christina Olague, she had only a year, but she seemed less of a visible presence, at least in our neighborhood, and relied more on people coming to her with concerns. She made herself available, but you’d have to seek her out, whereas Ross was more on the ground. Do you see your style as being more like one or the other?
LB: My style is more proactive and preventative, and often prevention is underappreciated. I’ll give you an example.
The things I would do as Supervisor are the things I’ve done as Director of the Center. When we had issues with guns, we basically quietly did a gun buyback program, where me and a couple of guys got some cash, went into public housing to the people we knew who had the guns, and we basically gave them money to give us their guns and I took them to Northern Station and gave them to the Captain.
For me, a lot of the things I’ll do as Supervisor are not going to be things that get a lot of attention… My style will be about how to keep the neighborhood safe, and stop things from happening, and just because I’m out there and out and about — I don’t need to be out there to know what’s going on. I just need to make sure that I stop something from happening. And I’ve effectively done that over the years, and I know that I’m not necessarily going to get a lot of attention or support for that, because it’s not going to be in some cases something that I’m going to be able to talk about.
My goal is to make sure that I’m consistently available through open office hours. And I mean out in the community. I’ll meet you guys at Cafe International, I’ll meet you at Palmyra, I mean open hours in terms of being available to people. Also, staying in close contact with the merchant and neighborhood association presidents. Already, I have Jarie Bolander who is the chair of the District Five Neighborhood Council, he is going to convene each of those groups, meeting quarterly, but we’re also putting together a District Five summit, so we can figure out proactively what we need to do for our community long-term, and not just these bandaids that fix problems temporarily and don’t provide long-term solutions.
So my approach is going to be different. Luckily I know the community. I like to eat in the community, I go to the cleaners in the community, I get my nails done, I’ve been going to the same places for many many years. I’ll be at events. I’ll be accessible to people. But oftentimes the real work doesn’t get done that way. The work gets done behind the scenes sometimes.
H: People definitely have some recurring issues that they asked me to bring up with you. Some might fall into the category of things that are not under a Supervisor’s purview, but basically it’s a lot of quality of life things.
H: Our blogs cover Hayes Valley, Lower Haight, and Upper Haight, so these issues cover all three. In some parts of Hayes Valley, parking seems to be a big issue there. Our readers say they find it impossible to find a parking spot, and some suggested having a residential parking permit program cover the whole neighborhood. I think that may be the MTA’s role, not yours, but that came up a lot in the comments.
LB: Let’s talk about not being able to find a parking spot in Lower Haight!
LB: I believe you have to get a certain number of signatures, there’s a whole process with MTA, I think there’s like 200, to be able to have a residential parking permit area, but the reason why I think it’s bullcrap and I’m bothered by it, is because in the public housing developments, there are residential stickers required for parking, and I don’t think they went through any process.
Because we get people who come from everywhere in San Francisco because it’s easy to park here, I truly support there being residential parking passes. And I think that based on a certain income, there could be a waiver of a fee for low income people.
H: Is that something that you would want to address as Supervisor?
LB: Uh, yeah. [laughs] It’s not a top priority, but it’s something that I’m definitely interested in for the Lower Haight. I personally know that there are specific people who don’t live in the neighborhood, who will come during street cleaning, and move their car, and move it back, and hop on the bus, and they don’t live where they are. They leave their car, motorcycle, whatever, just parked forever. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for us to do a Monday through Friday, so people aren’t taking advantage of the work thing. I’m definitely open to that.
H: In the Upper Haight, there have been a number of incidents recently with people being threatened by people on the sidewalk, they’re aggressive, and it’s a quality of life thing that Sit/Lie was supposed to address. And that was obviously very controversial. But I wonder what more can be done, other than sort of the context of the other opportunities that you were talking about, creating jobs and other things that young people could be doing other than sitting on the streets, to make the Upper Haight more livable for the people who live there and walk down the streets?
LB: Aggressively crack down consistently on the drug selling that happens in that area. I personally have experienced some not-so-great situations and even physical altercations myself. I definitely was prepared to defend myself. It wasn’t pretty. I grew up hanging out in the Haight, and even then when people were hanging out on the corner, smoking weed, it wasn’t like people were being aggressive toward other people. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with people hanging out and having a good time. I think the problem is when you start to be aggressive, or when you throw something at somebody, which happened to me once, or you see somebody defecating in the street — because I shop in the Upper Haight, I love it, and I’ve just watched as the past couple of years, I’m like, “What has happened?” It’s just a different place, and I’m not happy with what it’s become.
I think we have to get aggressive with law enforcement. I’m not saying this as if I’m proud, but I’m the only one of the candidates who supported Sit/Lie. I didn’t support Sit/Lie because I thought it was going to fix the problem, I just thought it would bring attention to the problem in a different way so that the city could begin to really aggressively address it a little bit better from a law enforcement perspective.
It needs to be addressed, the drug component of it, because you have people sadly who are substance abusers, and the question is, are all the programs filled? And the other thing is, when people are ready to kick the habit, do they know what to do or where to go? Do we have the ability to… really let people know there are opportunities? Not that we’re forcing anyone into any treatment or any programs — I want there to be compassion with law enforcement — but I think if someone’s breaking the law, there needs to be consequences.
Every time I go up there now, it’s always something. And I’m like, “Really?” I’m still going to go up there, I’m not scared or anything, but it’s like, “Really? Every time?” So we’ve got to get a lot more aggressive on that issue, and I’m prepared to do what’s necessary. I don’t think people should have the freedom to openly use drugs in public, to openly sell drugs in public, to openly physically put their hands on anyone, to defecate in the streets — I mean, you can say whatever you want to say. You can call somebody a name. Freedom of speech. But when you start crossing the line, and start making people feel like you’re going to put your hands on them by being aggressive or in their face, or invading people’s personal space — I have a personal space boundary. Don’t invade my personal space. [laughs] So we’ve got to be a lot more aggressive in how we deal with that issue.
H: Do you think that’s another area where if there were more cops in the area walking the beat, there would be less of that?
LB: I definitely think that that’s part of it, having more law enforcement out on the streets. But we can’t keep handicapping our police officers. Because the other side of it is, if they do something wrong, or this happens or that happens, all of a sudden they’re on trial and losing their job.
I come from a place where, as we grew up, we did not like the police. The police came in, they arrested people, often for selling drugs, they sometimes inappropriately put their hands on people, beat them up, that kind of thing — that’s where you cross the line. There was a level of fear of the police, where people said, “I don’t want to get arrested. I don’t want to go to jail.” Now there’s no fear. There’s no fear of consequences for actions, for breaking the law. It’s like the police are wrong for arresting you, because you wouldn’t cooperate and they had to chase you and then hold you down in the wrong way. So [police are] tiptoeing around doing their job, because they’re like, “That’s like twenty minutes of dealing with this belligerent guy here, when I could just let it be.”
And there are good cops and there are bad cops, just like there are good people and there are bad people. And we have got to do better about maintaining a good relationship with law enforcement, giving them the support that they need when they’re out there doing the right thing, and holding them accountable when they do the wrong thing, and not just assume every police officer is out there doing the wrong thing. So yeah, we could put a bunch of police officers out there, which will help, but do we have police officers that feel like they are ready to rise to the occasion, and be that deterrent for the public, or do they feel like, “Let me try to avoid situations because this is the liberal progressive Haight, and I will have all these people attacking me, trying to get the Chief to fire me.” We’ve got to take the politics out of law enforcement, and let people do their job, and again hold them accountable when they’re wrong. Part of being a police officer is getting tough with people, getting rough with people in some instances. We know what it is to cross the line, but we have to give people flexibility in being able to do their jobs.
H: So the district is almost too progressive for its own good? We’re so sensitive to someone’s civil rights seemingly getting infringed upon by a police officer maybe doing their job aggressively that it’s actually causing police officers to not want to do their job?
LB: Yeah. And I have a brother in jail. Law enforcement and my family, they’re like, there’s a love affair here. [laughs] A love affair of arresting my family, my brother. You know, of all the people in the world who could have issues with the police, I don’t, and I work effectively with them to help facilitate what happens in this district — that says a lot. We have to be more open-minded about allowing to do what they have to do, because when we need them, we need them. And I’ve needed them so many times over the course of the years.
In the majority of those cases, it’s been a great outcome, fortunately. But we also had to get rid of a cop who was just a terrible cop, starting stuff with kids, whispering in their ears — you know, just a terrible person who should not have been on the force. And I did everything I could to get him out of this district, but I felt like he should have been fired.
People look at me, like, “Well, the police supported her, she’s pro-law enforcement” — yeah, I am. I know what it’s like to live in fear. I know what it’s like to live in a place called O.C. – Outta Control. It really was out of control, it wasn’t pretend. And I lived in that chaos. I was a part of that chaos. So I know what it’s like. And if you continue to let that build, then I’m dealing with the result of it. I’m dealing with the loss of my brother to the criminal justice system. He’s in jail because he was out of control. If he had had more structure, more discipline, more accountability in law enforcement, who knows. He could be here doing some of the same things I’m doing. So from my perspective, law enforcement is important. People need to be held accountable for their actions, there need to be consequences. And we need to be a lot more aggressive than we have been to protect the community. We may not like it, but we need structure. I’m just as liberal as the next person, but especially with kids, with kids who don’t have fathers, I want to see more structure, more discipline, more accountability early, so that when they get older, they know that there are potential consequences for their actions.
H: I have one more policy question, and I don’t know whether this is something you can do anything about, but that’s for you to tell me. The cost of housing, living in this area, has gotten crazy. It seems like even just in the past year or two, rent has gotten crazy, the number of places available to rent is very low. It’s getting to the point where it’s hard to live here. It’s hard to move to this area, and if you live here already, you either feel like you can never leave, because you’ll never find lower rent, or you look around and there’s nothing, so you settle for a situation you might not otherwise want because you can’t afford anything else. And buying, that’s not even an option.
LB: [laughs] If we get about ten people together we can buy a two bedroom.
H: Exactly. Is this just the free market at work, that it’s a desirable place to live, and there are a lot of good-paying jobs, and people are flooding San Francisco so rents are just naturally going up? Or is there anything that can be done to address this, from a political perspective?
LB: I’ll tell you, that’s a really really challenging one. I too am suffering from that. I pay a lot of money for rent, but fortunately I have rent control. And I had to get a roommate, especially because I was taking a lot of time off to run and just balancing everything, paying for school… And I want to stay here. This is my home. But many of my friends have had to leave. Some of them got city jobs where they’re making a good salary, but again, priced out of public housing. What’s next? A roommate situation? Well they have two kids. So they definitely have to leave the city in order to find something that they can afford. It used to be where the Mission or the Bayview was more affordable, and now it’s not.
What everyone talks about, as a gimmick, is “affordable housing.” I served on the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency Commission. We build tons of units of affordable housing, only to watch as people who live across the street from these units, who deserve to have access to these units, because of the lottery system and an organization — I’m not going to call any names, but they’re very organized, and they monopolize a lot of the affordable housing developments. So what happens to the person suffering through six roommates who wants to go to the next level? What happens to the people who want to come out of public housing and go to the next level? What happens to the people who suffered through, listening to the hammers and the construction and the lack of parking and everything else, why do they not have the ability to access this affordable housing? It’s because there’s one small group of people who control it, and they could care less who actually gets it.
That’s number one. Number two, you have some people being pushed out of affordable housing, and then you have others that are moving into that housing. And sometimes, the people who are in these different public housing developments — and I’m not discriminating against anyone, but sometimes they’re not even U.S. citizens — we are not doing enough to look at the people who are here now, and how we can help protect the folks who are here now and give them access to affordable housing. We’re so concerned about people coming from another state, or people coming from another country, making San Francisco attractive for everybody — except people who live here!
And I don’t mind people coming and moving here. I love diversity. I love meeting new people with new experiences. I love the different cultures — I think it’s great and makes San Francisco what it is — but we’re also continuing down a really dangerous path of wealthy and poor, and no in between. No place to go for the middle class. No place to go for the people who have stepped right out of poverty. No place. And the fact that I’m holding on for dear life, and I’m now the Supervisor — it’s really scary to me. We’ve got to look at all this affordable housing that we build, and how do we really give people opportunities. We get money from the federal government for housing, and they require a lottery system. But is it really diversity if one ethnic group monopolizes the lottery and gets all of the affordable units? That’s not diversity. And Proposition 209 has gone away, so you can’t do things a certain way with universities, and diversity has changed on that level… I mean, we’re almost going backwards.
So, as Supervisor, there’s no easy fix. But what are we doing wrong, and what can we change in terms of housing for people that qualify, but also giving some sort of priority. I’ll give you an example. We have SEIU 1021 members, probably the lowest-paid city workers in San Francisco. Some of them are my friends, right out of public housing, live in the East Bay. What are we doing to maybe give low-wage earner city employees priority in this public housing? What are we doing to connect people to real affordable housing? That’s one of the issues.
The other issue that we’re dealing with is people who have a monopoly on being able to do whatever they want to do. Like the Fillmore Center. They are not under rent control. They have raised people’s rents anywhere between — from what I know from personal friends — twenty to forty percent. One of the guys who I know who is a manager for Laundry Locker, he had a thirty or thirty-five percent rent increase. And he was so livid, he said, “I don’t know what to do. I guess I need to pay it, but when I’m looking at other places, it’s really expensive. So I just don’t know what to do.” And to put someone in that situation means you’re trying to push them out.
So there’s a whole other gentrification going on right now, and the Fillmore Center is right at the center of it. They want that turnover, they want that tech money, they want that tech employee to come pay huge amounts of rent so they can make all this rent money. And we have got to start to figure out what works to keep people on a similar wavelength. And that’s a really hard thing to do, especially with people who have private property. There’s no easy fix. But I do think we have to look at expanding rent control. Because there is no way someone should be given a notice like that. You’re saying “I want you to move out,” when you give someone a rent increase of twenty-five, thirty, forty percent. You’re saying, “I want you to leave.”
Sadly, sometimes the politics that come into play when you’re trying to deal with this type of situation, is so bad and so destructive that people just back off. It’s really really hard to change it. You have different groups that are trying to protect their interests. They want to make their money, or they want to claim to be the savior of the people who are in these situations. But everyone is making money on those ends. Meanwhile, we’re here suffering in our apartments, trying to figure out, “OK, if I change the dining room into a bedroom, then I can get another…” [laughs] I mean, these are real scenarios that we’re dealing with.
The other thing that we’re dealing with is that there are a lot of small property owners who won’t rent their properties out, not just because of rent control, but because of the laws that protect renters, because they’ve had bad experiences with tenants. And I’m not here to say I’m pro property owner, because I know that’s like a taboo in District Five. I’m a renter.
I love my landlady. She’s an amazing lady, she’s so sweet. She’s just a good person, and I’m so lucky to have her as my landlord. And she’s so happy to have me as her tenant, because the tenant before — my landlord is ninety years old. And the tenant before me, his grandmother died, he was never on the lease, he was kind of squatting — she didn’t go up there and see what was going on. He didn’t want to leave, stayed for six months. Not only did she have to hire a lawyer to get him out of there, she had to spend all this money because it was a mess. And when I was about to move into this unit, I asked her when I could move in, and she said, “Honey, I need someone in there right away, because I’m running out of money.” And to have someone that old look at you, and tell you that, because of what she went through, and she was just scared because she didn’t know what kind of person she was going to get, at that age to go through that? That’s not OK.
And I’m not saying that we need to protect landlords, but we need to look at each case on a case-by-case basis, because there are some abusers out there. There are some people in rent-controlled units who own property and will not give up their rent-controlled unit. Somebody can really use that unit. So some of these laws need to be explored so that some of these opportunities are made available to people, which will hopefully, if done right over the years, drive down the price of rent.
But I don’t know. I don’t have the answer. But I do know the abuses. And if we can get to the core of those, and pass policies that help to change those things, and hold people accountable in the right ways, we can strike a balance, so that more of these units are on the market, and people aren’t getting priced out of these markets. Or maybe there are incentives we can offer to these property owners. I know a lady who has three units on McAllister Street. She refuses, after one situation with a tenant, to rent any of it. It’s the house she grew up in. She’s just like, “I’m not going to rent it out.”
H: She doesn’t need that rental income? She’s OK just leaving those units unoccupied?
LB: She says it will cost her more money, based on what she had to do with the one situation that was really bad. They ended up staying there for a year rent-free, and the stuff she had to do with the repairs — those are the stories consistently that I’ve heard. And I’m only hearing one side, but with small property owners — she has Social Security, I don’t know if she has any debt or anything — it might be more cost-effective to just say, “Forget it.” And in my mind, I’m just like, “Sell it!” But what can the city do to incentivize helping to put these units that are empty on the market? I want to figure out a good way. Part of that might be a housing summit, bringing together apartment associations, tenant associations, these are groups that don’t get along or talk to each other. We need to come up with some real solutions. Because I like living with people, but I shouldn’t be this age and need a roommate. [laughs] It’s either a husband or a roommate, take your pick.
H: I think it’s a similar case with retail storefronts, where there are many that have just been empty for years, there are several in our neighborhood, and for whatever reason, the property owner does not feel the need to rent that space out. It’s just an empty space, blighted, dark at night, nobody’s taking care of it — that could go on the market and somebody would snap that up, but they’re not trying to rent that out. People have suggested this before on the blog — why don’t we penalize property owners who don’t utilize a street-level space? Because there is a communal benefit to having that space activated. I don’t know if you have the right to penalize a private property owner for not utilizing their space — maybe if they don’t want to use it, they’re within their rights to not use it — but there is a negative effect to that for the rest of the neighborhood, in the same way with residences. There’s a cost to the city overall, because there’s such little supply, there’s a cost to just having a space and not using it.
LB: And I’ll tell you, I think each situation is different, and they should be assessed. And there should be an assessment as to whether there’s an incentive or a penalty. But I’m not opposed to looking at legislation that holds people accountable to somehow making their space available. And one of the biggest challenges is, because I grew up in this neighborhood — there were always businesses open, on Lower Haight and Fillmore — but you didn’t have as many cars, people were walking and taking public transportation, and also people didn’t go other places to get things, like a Target. And so the local businesses were needed. Now there’s been changes, and we’ve not adjusted to what the need is.
But a part of it is, the city is greedy. It charges people so much money, for everything. The Ice Cream Bar that opened in Cole Valley, a quarter of a million dollars to open that Ice Cream Bar.
LB: Permits, advance payment for water bill for six months, all kinds of stuff. Two years. The stuff that she went through was ridiculous. If you want to open a business in San Francisco, you have to be almost wealthy, or you have to take money that you could otherwise maybe buy a house with, and invest in a business that you don’t know if it’s going to succeed. Whereas before, when I was growing up, it was like, “Oh, Mr. Bennett has a shop, you want to go in there and sell some ribs?” We could do this, do that… But now there’s a whole host of regulations. It’s also extremely expensive, the rents for commercial space.
In San Francisco, where we don’t even have a population of a million people, what are we doing with [a budget of] seven billion dollars? That’s what I’d like to know. I think we’ve got our priorities mixed up. And everybody’s talking about how we need more. We need more? What are we doing with what we have? We don’t even have a fully-staffed police and firefighter force in this city. And then we’re nickel-and-diming the small business owners? They don’t even own the property, they’re leasing the property.
So, I’m open to the possibility of legislation that would help get us to a longer-term goal. A bandaid only works for so long, but what do we do long-term? How are we going to revitalize the Haight and take it up a notch? How are we going to revitalize the Fillmore and take it up a notch? We’ve got to be more creative about how we change these laws to make sure there are thriving businesses, the quality of life in San Francisco is great, and part of that is the small businesses that serve the community.
H: You’re being sworn in next Tuesday.
LB: You’re invited. Everyone’s invited.
H: Thanks. It’s open to the public?
LB: It’s open to the public. 10am, at the South Light Court at City Hall. Kamala Harris, the Attorney General for our great state, is going to be swearing me in. And the reason why I did this — the chamber is very limited. They’re only giving each Board member sixteen tickets. I couldn’t have people from some of the developments around here walking up to the chamber and getting sent to a room to watch on a screen. I couldn’t do it. And with six members getting sworn in, everybody has their own friends and family. So, I felt that I needed to do one that was open. I know what it’s like to be excluded. I never want anybody that I’m involved with to feel like they’re not welcome somewhere. So it’s open to anyone. Folks can RSVP if they want — it just helps us with the chairs. It’s first-come first-served.
H: How many people can it hold?
LB: So far we have — I’m paying for it all, and I ordered two hundred chairs, but we have over two hundred RSVPs already.
LB: This is just a proud moment for so many people. My family, the community, the kids — even the teenagers look at me different. You know how teenagers are. But now they see me, and they’re like… they’re really proud. I’m excited to be that person to show them that you can do whatever you want to do. Never let your circumstances dictate your outcome. So I just wanted everyone to be in the same room. That was really important to me. I think the room can hold three or four hundred people. So I’ll probably have to increase it to three hundred chairs. We’ll do the press section. But everybody’s really excited. One of the kids from our program is singing the Star Spangled Banner. I’m just excited.
H: And then you’re the Supervisor, and work begins. Feeling good?
LB: I almost feel like, “Pinch me. Is this real?” It’s kind of like, every day that I wake up, I’m like, “I really won.” But also, every day I’m running into somebody, and people are kind of crying, and I just know that it’s doing a lot for them. But my goal is not to be the only one working here. My goal is for all of us to be doing our part. So, I think it’s going to be great. I’m excited. Yeah.
Thanks to London Breed for taking the time to chat with us. Tomorrow’s swearing-in ceremony with Kamala Harris occurs at 10am in the South Light Court of City Hall, with a reception following at 6pm at the African American Arts & Culture Complex, 762 Fulton Street. If you’d like to attend either event, you’re asked to RSVP to 415-692-3556 or firstname.lastname@example.org by 5pm today (Monday).