Q&A: District 11 Supervisor Candidate Michael Lai Talks About His Campaign

Michael Lai, a childcare entrepreneur, talks about his vision for District 11 if elected to the Board of Supervisors in November.

Man with campaign sign.
Michael Lai is a candidate for District 11 supervisor. He moved into the neighborhood in February. | Anne Marie Kristoff/Ingleside Light

Entrepreneur Michael Lai has launched his campaign for District 11 supervisor recently, joining EJ Jones, Roger Marenco, Adlah Chisti, Jose Morales and Chyanne Chen in the race.

Lai, who moved into the district in February, was elected to the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee in March. He started his career in San Francisco 10 years ago with a mission to improve education to pay forward the opportunities that transformed his family’s life when they came to the United States from China in the 1990s. To that end, he founded the micro-daycare network Tinycare.

“There's just so much exciting community energy and, with my lens as an organizer, I ask how do I empower and build community?” Lai said. “That is actually how the district is going to thrive and also have the people power to advocate and not be as forgotten.”

While his professional focus has mostly been on education, his political campaign centers around creating childcare in good education systems, public safety with an emphasis on police staffing, pedestrian welfare and clean streets, housing for all income levels and small business revitalization.

“I'm not a politician but people want new competent leadership and that's what I've brought in different ways,” Lai said. “The district needs resources.”

The Ingleside Light caught up with Lai to discuss his plans for office, if elected.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity

What inspired you to run for supervisor?

The story of D11 is my family story. We're first-generation Asian immigrants. We came with $100 in our pockets. My mom bussed tables at a Chinese restaurant. I see myself here. There are more kids here than in any other district.

As a public school kid, I would go to the public library after school. I'd play sports at the YMCA and in the local park. When I grew up, my parents were able to rent and buy and that exists in D11. It's one of the only places in San Francisco where that still exists. I want that for my future kids but increasingly in San Francisco, I think dysfunction in the Board of Supervisors is preventing that from happening. That sort of striving for a better life, that diversity and opportunity from existing. When I ran for the DCCC this March, I knocked on hundreds of doors in the Excelsior and I just kept hearing over and over again these immigrant stories and people who felt kind of forgotten. I heard questions like, why has Persia Triangle been just sitting there since 2019? It's not a park yet. I heard people say, why does Balboa Pool have such limited hours? Why are people just, you know, Hollywooding down this Vienna Street? There's no enforcement. I don't feel safe with my kids and my elders. I felt this pull to bring new leadership. People wanted change. They want competent new leadership to fight for the district and fight for the city. I spent the past five years running a network of children's schools to fight for housing for teachers. Already tackling two of the biggest issues in the district, which is child care and workforce housing and I want to bring that energy to fight for this district.

What issues in District 11 aren’t being addressed?

One is police staffing. When I talked to the captain of Ingleside Station and heard that it is fully staffed with 120 officers and we're at 71 right now. I’m sure Taraval which covers the OMI part of the district is in the same boat. That leads to more property crime which leads to less officers for enforcement, that leads to slow response times. Police staffing is a huge city-wide issue that would be my number one priority. That would really help the district.

Pedestrian safety: I keep hearing from parents that Slow Cayuga Street is the longest slow street in the city and SFMTA has been very slow in implementing speed cushions and traffic calming. There is this library over on the OMI side that has been in the works since 2018 and the current location that's being proposed on Brotherhood Way. Brotherhood way is basically a speedway. There are so many elders there who walk across the street to that H Mart there and so pedestrian safety is a really big issue.

Small business and vibrancy. I live off Mission Street and have become friends with a lot of small business owners. There are 50 vacancies. They say foot traffic's been down 50% while their costs have gone up like PG&E. Ocean Avenue is doing a little bit better vibrancy-wise with Whole Foods but retail theft is an issue.

Good schools are another one. I just want the best possible thing for my child. I want my children to have a better life than I did. I hear about the hours at Balboa Pool being so limited. I heard about the Mission Science Workshop on Mission Street that is potentially getting budget cuts in this cycle. I hear about the fact that the school closures from SFUSD this November might disproportionately impact some schools in the district and I just can't help but feel like there are these challenges, that this is an amazing place that has often gotten the short end of the stick in terms of resources.

How would you plan to combat these issues?

As a supervisor, you have different levers for each of those issues. If you talk about police staffing, the main levers that I would have is being a part of the budget process to make sure that we are putting adequate budget into recruiting, that we are coming up with really creative solutions for recruiting and retaining officers and first responders. Maybe that's childcare, maybe that's work with housing, maybe that's retention bonus or maybe that's like signing bonuses. I'd say the budget is a really big lever to the extent that there are ordinances to be passed to make it faster and easier to recruit. I would say pedestrian safety, a lot of that is working with the agencies. Working with SFMTA, working with the agencies and making sure that we are doing everything possible to prioritize our community in their execution. It’s different depending on the issue. I would say schools-wise, like right now, this is with my hat on as a DCCC member, I'm actually playing a role in helping to recruit some school board members who are running for the fall. I think it's really important to have a good relationship with the school board and my background in education. Also advocacy and organizing, being able to organize and turn out the community to advocate for good representation when it comes to things like school closures things like that.

Why should people vote for you?

My family's story is the story of D11. It used to be Italian, Irish and Scottish farmers. The OMI was one of the first places that Blacks could buy housing after World War II. This is a place of diversity and opportunity. It's where people have always gone in San Francisco to seek a better life and that is my and my family's story. I get it. I'm a first-generation immigrant. My mom bussed tables at a Chinese restaurant. I went to public schools. I want to continue to fight to keep opportunity alive here so that story is still possible. I bring competent, new, energetic leadership to that fight for a district that's often forgotten.

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