INGLESIDE, San Francisco — On Jan. 8, District 7 will have a new supervisor. Ahead of the swearing in ceremony, the neighborhood press held a virtual, hour-long roundtable interview with Supervisor-elect Myrna Melgar to gather information about what she plans to do for the district and city government.
The interview jointly conducted by Westside Observer Editor Doug Comstock (WO), Ingleside Light Editor Alex Mullaney (IL) and West Portal Monthly Editor Glenn Gullmes (WPM).
What follows is not a word-for-word transcript but a summary generously prepared by Comstock. The full interview can be viewed on the Westside Observer’s website.
WO: Will you be sworn in on Jan. 8 as usual?
MM: There will be a ceremonial swearing in — it’s not official, it’s more for the community — on Jan. 7 at 10 a.m. Former Treasurer Susan Leal will swear me in. She is someone who is important to me. On the following day there will be a judge to swear us all in. It will all be on Zoom.
WO: Will you actually go into the office on the first day?
MM: I might just go in for the Zoom meeting. I have already gone in to set up the office. I’m so very lucky to be able to keep Jen Low and Erica Maybaum, who are so very knowledgeable.
I will be moving into Supervisor [Catherine] Stefani’s previous office, so it will be right next to the board chamber. I guess it’s considered less desirable (I have the least priority) because it’s right across from the meeting room and the chamber — so a lot of people just go there for general information. But I think it’s a good thing. When I worked at City Hall (as an aide to Supervisor Jose Medina) I just loved being there — it’s such an historic building, and so much of life happens there.
WO: Any preference for president of the board?
MM: I can’t really tell you that, but I can tell you what I’m looking for, and that’s someone who is fair. In our diverse city, I want someone who helps us. All the supervisors have different assets, and we need someone who will bring out the best in all of us. I want someone who can work with the Mayor’s Office and with the colleagues on the board.
WSO: Do you have any preference for committee assignments?
MM: Land Use and Transportation Committee. And also, I want to serve on the Joint City, School District and City College Select Committee. It is really important right now as we move toward school reopening. Then, as a third, I would like the Government Audit & Oversight Committee.
IL: Did you work for Susan Leal when she was a supervisor?
MM: No, I worked for Jose Medina. But she was on that board, along with Tom Ammiano, Sue Bierman and Barbara Kaufman.
WO: The immediate concern for supervisors is the virus and its impact on the local economy and the resulting deficit, can you share any specific thoughts to deal with these problems?
MM: Yes, a couple years ago there was a Prop C, for children and youth, that was passed. And Supervisor [Norman] Yee has been working on funneling that money to childcare providers, and I will continue that work, because childcare and early education are important since if kids have no place to go parents can’t work. Especially women who bear the brunt of that. There are some state and federal sources for assets to cash that we are tapping into; for low-interest loans and grants, the criteria is actually fairly low for small businesses. We may need a public-private partnership to expand the businesses that are eligible. We need as many supports as we can so people can survive. We can expand the Shared Spaces program and transportation must improve if we are going to have any kind of recovery. Then, once we have the vaccine and begin to recover, there is a role for the city to incentivize people to get out to patronize local businesses. We need our fair share of arts funding to get people to come out for the businesses. There’s another area of work that involves the schools. I’m confident that we can come together to support the district to allow the kids to go back to school and provide proper safety for everyone. We need to have a plan by February enrollment, or we will lose a lot of students to the private system, which will have impact on the budget for years to come. There is a roll for the city to work with private philanthropy to enrich our school system and make them so attractive that people want to stay.
IL: Slow Streets were roundly panned by 200 – 240 residents. Do you have any plans to speak with Muni about Slow Streets?
MM: Yes. Sometimes agencies have a cookie-cutter approach to programs, but neighborhoods are so different, that it just doesn’t work. District 7 has been a little more car-dependent than others, but there’s also a role for supervisors to play to make roll out a plan, but also, it’s about public education. I think people can’t wrap their heads around it. I’ve been interested in closing — on Sundays — the stretch of Ocean Avenue between 19th [Avenue] and Junipero Serra [Boulevard], allowing the restaurants to have outside service, bring some art. That could be a version, one day a week, not just closing it off and forgetting about it.
IL: City College is in the district, and as a sometimes employee there, it’s an economic engine for the Ocean Avenue corridor. What can the supervisors do as it faces a budget crisis?
MM: This is a two-hour conversation, but there are infrastructure improvements that we should be collaborating on, such as the retaining wall on Ocean Avenue that is terrible and the overpass that nobody uses. We need to work with the San Francisco County Transportation Authority to consider the institution’s plans because we are interdependent with the college to support business on the street. Prop K transportation money needs to be used with Ocean Avenue, City College and Balboa Park Station. It’s all one corridor.
WO: During your campaign for supervisor you were considered “progressive” on most issues. Does your election indicate that the voters of District 7 are moving to a more “progressive” point of view? The old guard is still there, but they don’t seem to be winning elections lately.
MM: The city as a whole has been moving toward a more “progressive” position. Not everyone votes based on ideology. Folks who have very strongly held beliefs on both sides tend to think that everyone thinks like they do. Right? I know that a lot of the votes transferred. What got me into second place and ultimately into first were from other candidates. I got twice as many votes from Ben Matranga as Vilaska [Nguyen] did, and Emily [Murase]’s votes transferred to me at twice the rate as they did to Joel [Engardio]. Emily is a more conservative candidate, but I know a lot of women voted for Emily No. 1, and for me second because they wanted a woman supervisor. So, gender is a thing too. There are other things like being a mom, having kids in public schools; there a lot more things than ideology. But I think the city, not just the district, is moving to a more progressive point. Demographically the district is changing. There are more Chinese voters, more Latino voters and there are younger families, so people’s points of view do progress.
WO: The proposal to build housing on the Laguna Honda campus has met with opposition from open space as well as public health advocates because, though the original proposal for 160 units was determined to be too big, the chosen developer has proposed building up to 375 units and the site elevation is problematic and too isolated for seniors. What is going to happen there? Do you have any inside information?
MM: I don’t, and it’s an issue I haven’t looked at closely. I know Supervisor Yee was working on this. I think senior housing on Laguna Honda makes sense. But I think we need to look at that whole stretch of land, including the Youth Guidance Center. There’s also that stretch of public housing that has been transferred to the Mission Economic Development Agency and that is scheduled to be rehabilitated. So, there’s a lot of opportunity to think through what we are going to do with this land for something that the community needs, that is sustainable and something that is good for the folks that live there. There is an opportunity to shape that project, but not just that project, but to think through the entire corridor in terms of transportation and amenities. Now, to go grocery shopping people have to go up that hill, to Mollie Stone’s. We can think about development of amenities and social services on the ground floor, there is some room to develop good planning there.
WO: By “amenities” are you thinking of a grocery store or something like that?
MM: A grocery store is possible, but in District 7 we don’t have a comprehensive senior center. I truly want that. We have a growing senior population. Skilled Nursing Facilities is one area in the city where we are lacking, but also lacking just the companionship, congregant meal programs and other social services. There’s a bunch of support that seniors need, both to age in place and also when the get to the point where they need more skilled support. We need to think, not project by project, but as a little village where people can access the things that they need to make it successful. We know that seniors who have community support do better healthwise.
WO: Can you assure that the transportation will be there? Because if the department is going to transfer 500 of their employees to one of the old LHH wings, then you are building housing for 375 seniors that’s 800 people in the same location who need transportation, and you’re taking out parking to do it. How are people going to get to and from?
MM: This reinforces what I am saying. We need to plan for the entire area, not just the project. There’s also, just across Portola, the School of the Arts, and that’s moving to the Civic Center, so the county transportation authority needs to look at planning for the whole area, not just one project and involve the community into what our vision is for the next 50 years. As one supervisor I can’t promise you, but I will push really hard to make sure we plan comprehensively and that the resources are spent in a strategic way.
WO: Would you speak up for a separate CEQA for the project, rather than depending on the original one for the LHH rebuild?
MM: To be honest, I have not read the EIR for that project and so I would have to see if it is adequate or not. I just don’t know.
IL: The Planning Department and the supervisor’s offices are doing outreach for housing right now. How are they doing so far?
MM: I have not participated in that, so I don’t know how that is going.
WPM: In Sweden, because of COVID-19 a lot more people working from home, as well as a lot of people leaving the cities, they discovered that as much a one-fifth of the workforce is likely to continue working from home. So, they are looking at converting office space to housing. San Francisco is already the second densest city in the U.S., so can we adapt office space to meet our housing needs?
MM: We’ve already done some of that, a few. But I want to be careful of doing that without data. Where we have zoned for office, we have deliberately thought about amenities, infrastructure, transportation, sewer, water, etc. Those assumptions may not be the same as for housing. Even though it’s a space, it could be apples and oranges or it could be a solution, I just want to be thoughtful and deliberate about it. I think along business corridors, we could allow for second-floor offices, which we don’t now in District 7. Having a lawyer on the second floor, with little foot traffic might work together with a restaurant on the first floor, that kind of interaction might work. But I think we should add more housing on the commercial corridors. It has worked on Ocean Avenue because the residents shop and go to the restaurants. Neighborhood serving retail in the age of GrubHub and Amazon is different than it used to be. So we need more housing to make everything work together.
WO: Despite an aging population we have a shortage of accessible nursing home care for seniors in San Francisco, there are no plans to increase skilled nursing capacity either at LHH or UCSF, despite massive expansion plans by UCSF. Seniors face transfer out of county for Subacute SNF Care, post-acute SNF rehab care and, tragically, for long term care for chronic illnesses like advanced Alzheimer’s. Please give us your thoughts how we can take care of our seniors?
MM: We have a Medical Services Masterplan, which says that we want more Skilled Nursing Facilities—just because we say it doesn’t mean we do it. What we need is some kind of incentive, because, over time, the economics of skilled nursing have worsened. Not just the acute skilled nursing, but everything in between. So, for example, the MOU for the UCSF Expansion might be an area for negotiating more SNFs. We have some leverage right now, though they are not under zoning jurisdiction, before the MOU goes to the Regents for approval.
WO: Could UCSF expansion include negotiations to increase general SNF and sub-acute SNF in an MOU and do you support having the board of supervisors hold a public hearing on the UCSF-CCSF MOU BEFORE the MOU is part of the Long-Range Development Plan considered by the Regents?
WO: There is a broad public perception that the mayor, the board of supervisors, the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force and the Ethics Commission have remained complacent in the face of widespread corruption and growing scandals in city government, requiring the U.S. Attorney, the FBI and the criminal branch of the IRS to take the lead in “cleaning house.” Do you see a role for the board in correcting this situation? If so, what specific steps do you propose they take?
MM: I want to be careful not to stray out of my lane, about an ongoing investigation, but the appropriate players are law enforcement. I do think, and this is why I want to be on the Government Audit and Oversight Committee, that there is a vacuum in terms of our system. Having worked in government and non-profits my entire life, and been through countless audits, I can tell you that when things go wrong it’s because there is a lack of rules or enforcement of rules. There’s a lot of accountability that is not there, there’s a lack of transparency, there’s nepotism, there’s no proper training. When the [San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency] can’t bring projects in on time and within budget, such as the Crosstown Tunnel, and they have problems with sexual harassment among employees, I see a correlation. When your buddy is hired rather than a more qualified candidate, that is corruption, I think. That flourishes when there are not systems of accountability and transparency. In private companies, sexual harassment training, for example, is implemented as a standard. In the city, only managers are trained. It is appropriate for the supervisors to make policy in that area, to set rules, hold hearings and hold departments accountable. And this kind of getting into the weeds is something I like to do. But U.S. Attorney [David] Anderson is doing a good job and I trust he will do it appropriately.
WO: Do you feel Muni needs a separate, and special, dedicated funding source, so as to prevent the drastic cutbacks now in force?
MM: I do.
WO: You have indicated support for CEQA and concerns about SB50, could you share your thinking about Regional Housing Needs Allocation and [State Sen. Scott] Wiener’s newly introduced bill SB10?
MM: First, I want to say how much I respect Sen. Wiener. But I see things a little more nuanced. That’s why I didn’t support SB50, and this exclusionary zoning we have today was the result of both zoning and financing. Just upzoning will not fix the problem without financing. I think it creates more speculation. I have said to Sen. Wiener that I want to see accompanying financing if there is going to be any upzoning. I don’t believe the market will just take care of it. On one side we need the money, but on the other we also need the community’s input. How are you going to know what the community needs if it’s not the people who actually live there having a say so? RHNA is a useful marker for putting numbers into what we need and how we relate to other cities around us. We are using the RHNA numbers in the Capital Plan to measure how much affordable housing, middle-income housing and market-rate housing we need. However, for decades, we haven’t produced enough middle-income housing. As the District 7 supervisor, I am very interested in focusing on that, component, and I think it will help the city as a whole. We have a great neighborhood here and I think more middle-income housing will make for a more sustainable district.
WO: Regarding the recent attempt by the board of supervisors to cancel the Marina Time’s contract to publish public notices: Should neighborhood newspaper’s editorial views determine whether they are granted city contracts?
MM: Absolutely not, it’s a first amendment issue.
IL: You have some ideas about [the Department of Building Inspection], what can we expect related to that?
MM: I do not put any blame on the staff at DBI, but if you go to Oakland and apply for a permit, you can do it online and it brings up the history of entitlements on the property, all the building inspections, the violations—everything in one place. It is amazing. It’s 10-year-old technology yet we don’t have that here. That opens the way for corruption to seep in. Papers can get lost or be altered, etc. You can expect me to support the department to bring their service into 2021. And a system that in integrated with Planning, Fire and Health Departments so it’s easier for the public to access and it’s transparent. Another area is the code. The supervisors often clean up the zoning code, but they don’ do the same for DBI. Things that are OK with the planning code may not be OK with the building code. That clean-up makes it work together and gets rid of redundant requirements and it is something that I want to do.
IL: Office hours have not been consistently held by your predecessor do you have plans for holding office hours and outreach to the community?
MM: I do want to do that, and after we get the vaccine, and we can all get together safely, I will establish consistent hours and I want to create a system online that shows where we are because this is such a big district, if we pick the Inner Sunset, the Merced Triangle will be so far away. I would like to be in the district more than at city hall.
WPM: Looking at the edge of the City, we have the Cliff House closing, discussions about whether to open the Great Highway, and then the erosion problem between Sloat and Skyline; what should we be looking at in terms of the edge of the city?
MM: It’s been a battle against nature for decades, and the Army Corps of Engineers has done a lot of studies about what we can and cannot do there, I want us to invest wisely, and picking a fight with mother nature seems rather futile.
WPM: Have you been in contact with the efforts to rescue Edgehill? Regarding the land-swap?
MM: I have assured the Department of Real Estate that I am very interested in going forward with that.
WPM: Have you heard about the rash of porch pirates that has been going on around the neighborhood?
MM: It doesn’t surprise me, people are shopping online and people are desperate. We are vulnerable because our much of our housing stock has porches, not locked gates as in other parts of town. When I talked to Chief [of Police Bill] Scott about property crimes and enforcement. He is thinking in terms of foot patrols, which is unlikely to solve the problem in residential corridors like ours. We spoke about Taraval Station, which has had recent leadership problems and he assured me that he would keep me informed. I don’t know that I have an answer to the problem.
WO: Thank you much for your time Supervisor-elect.
MM: Oh, Thank you.
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