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    Rafael Mandelman’s Vision for San Francisco

    District 8 will soon have one of our city’s most genuinely thoughtful, hard-working, dedicated and compassionate individuals as its new supervisor: Rafael Mandelman. He served as a San Francisco Bay Times columnist for many years, so nearly all members of our team have had the honor and privilege of getting to know him on both a personal and political level. In terms of the former, we can attest that he has a strong work ethic—walking the talk, meeting deadlines and showing heartfelt consideration for his colleagues.

    We have found that he delivers on his promises, and importantly takes time to listen to others. This is not a minor skill when you consider the number of politicians—exemplified by our nation’s President—who seem to lack sufficient empathy to understand the life experiences of others, and how those can shape political perspectives.

    Mandelman at this point is also an experienced, seasoned politician who has learned that it is better to build, than to burn, bridges. He first ran for District 8 supervisor in 2010, so he essentially has been striving for this position for at least eight years. Even the victor of that race, Scott Wiener—now a state senator—had to admit in a tweet to Mandelman this week on June 6: “You ran a great campaign & earned it. I can tell you from personal experience that it’s the job of a lifetime. So many opportunities to make our great community even better. I look forward to working together.”

    Yet another former District 8 supervisor, Bevan Dufty (now a member of the BART Board of Directors), is also praising Mandelman. Dufty was at Cafe du Nord last night, with numerous other Mandelman supporters, and wisely pointed out that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is poised to have a formidable six-vote progressive majority.

    To provide a better idea of what decisions could soon shape San Francisco, we are publishing an extensive interview that we conducted with Mandelman back in November 2017. It provides an in-depth look at his views concerning numerous key issues, from homelessness to crime.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Several San Francisco neighborhoods comprise District 8, such as The Castro and Noe Valley. What do you believe are the most pressing issues facing some of these neighborhoods, and how might the issues overlap or, conversely, be unique to each location?

    Rafael Mandelman: District 8’s neighborhoods are distinct and have different concerns. For example, vacant storefronts are especially vexing concerns in the Castro and Noe Valley, but other issues are higher priorities for folks living in other parts of the District. Still, there are also issues that cut across neighborhoods. Homelessness and mental illness are more apparent in the Castro, but no one living in San Francisco can escape these problems. Similarly, concerns around property crime, traffic congestion and unreliable public transit cut across the District’s neighborhoods. And parents in every neighborhood want to be able to send their children to a great school that is close by.   

    San Francisco Bay Times: As an out gay man, how do you believe that your life experiences help to inform and benefit your political work in San Francisco?

    Rafael Mandelman: I love our queer community. One of the things that led me to get involved in the SF LGBT Center Board, which I co-chaired for five years, was the Center’s commitment to the idea of a queer community that takes care of each other and leaves no one behind. I had a relatively easy coming-out experience. I had grown up in San Francisco, knew gay teachers at my high school, had seen gay characters in movies and on TV, and I was at the time studying at Yale College, known at the time as the gayest of the Ivies. My friends and family were mostly fine with it (although as my grandmother’s memory failed, I found myself having to come out to her over and over again), but all in all, going gay was pretty darned easy for me. 

    I have always been profoundly aware, however, that my path out of the closet was only so easy for me because so many people—in San Francisco, at Yale, throughout the world—had suffered and struggled and sometimes died to clear a path for young queer kids like me. My deep appreciation of the many ways in which I have benefitted from others’ work and struggles makes me feel a deep sense of obligation to in turn “pay it forward” in our LGBT community and in our broader community.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Please elaborate on your response to the prior question, mentioning why you believe you are uniquely qualified to be Supervisor of District 8.

    Rafael Mandelman: I am proud of my nearly two-decade-long history of engagement around issues and causes that matter to District 8 residents. As President of the City College Board, I fought to keep the College open, while at the same time working tirelessly to fix the administrative and financial problems that had made the school vulnerable. Today, City College is open, accredited for seven years and free for all San Franciscans.

    As Co-Chair of the SF LGBT Center’s Board, I worked with the Center Board, staff and supporters to set the Center on a path of fiscal stability for the foreseeable future through a remodel of the building that added approximately ten thousand square feet of badly needed non-profit office space. Over the last two decades, I have served our city and our community as a Democratic Party activist and longtime member of our Democratic County Central Committee, member of the Jewish Community Relations Council, Commissioner on the San Francisco Board of Appeals, and Board President of Livable City. 

    Professionally, I have worked for seventeen years as a lawyer for local governments and affordable housing developers around the Bay Area revitalizing neighborhoods and building much-needed housing. The challenges facing our City are significant, but so are the opportunities, and I believe my track record of working on issues of neighborhood livability, housing and homelessness, transportation and public education make me uniquely qualified to help restore San Francisco’s reputation as “the City that knows how.”

    San Francisco Bay Times: The North Bay fires remind us how devastating natural disasters can be. Do you believe that District 8 is adequately prepared for natural disasters such as potential future fires and earthquakes? If not, what should be done to improve the preparedness?

    Rafael Mandelman: The wave of natural disasters experienced across the globe this year has been absolutely heart-breaking. Many of us have friends or family who were directly impacted by the North Bay fires or other of these horrific events, and we all know that San Francisco’s day is coming. I remember the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, and we know that it is only a matter of time before a far worse earthquake strikes. 

    The Board of Supervisors can play an important oversight role in ensuring that the City is prepared to respond effectively when a disaster strikes. News stories from earlier this year, about poor communication among city agencies during April’s PG&E power outage and the City’s failure to establish cooling stations during the record-breaking Labor Day heat wave, suggest that we have some work to do on that front.

    Of course, a critical part of any emergency response will come from neighbors, and in that regard, I believe District 8 is in good shape. The District is blessed to have extraordinarily engaged official and unofficial neighborhood organizations; many of our residents have had Neighborhood Emergency Response Team program training (and more of us should); and events like our ubiquitous street fairs and block parties provide an opportunity to build community and meet each other in good times that may prove life-saving and essential in the inevitable event of a natural or manmade disaster

    San Francisco Bay Times: Cleve Jones told us that he believes housing is the LGBTQ community’s most pressing need now in San Francisco. What do you specifically plan to do to address that need, while also maintaining quality of life, giving attention to environmental concerns and keeping reasonable levels of density?

    Rafael Mandelman: I agree with Cleve. Too many LGBT seniors live in fear of eviction and too many LGBT youth come to San Francisco seeking refuge, only to find themselves living on the streets. I believe we can and must increase the City’s housing supply for all income levels, but I believe we need to dramatically increase the City’s production of affordable housing for middle and lower income folks. 

    I have worked for nearly two decades on creating housing, and especially affordable housing, in communities around the Bay Area, and will bring that real-world, practical experience to the policy debates at City Hall. Building affordable housing is not easy, but the elements are pretty simple: it’s really all about land and dollars. We need to identify as many potential sites as possible that the City or another public agency already owns or could acquire for affordable housing, and we need to identify more revenue to use for land acquisition and construction costs. I have worked on multiple housing bond campaigns over the years and will continue to advocate for the City to find more money in its $10 billion budget for affordable housing development, as well, of course, as maximally leveraging State, Federal and private funding.    

    San Francisco Bay Times: As Cleve Jones also told us, there is a need for individuals within the HIV/AIDS+ community to be close to life-saving medical and other services. Many of these individuals, however, have had to move out of the Bay Area due to the rising cost of living here. What can be done to help resolve the problem?

    Rafael Mandelman: When Openhouse and Mercy Housing complete their work at 55 Laguna, they will have created 110 units of LGBT-friendly affordable senior housing with a 40% neighborhood preference. It is a terrific development, but the reality is that we need a dozen more such developments to begin to meet the need. Happily, Openhouse has shown us a model, but now we need to take that model to scale, and as Supervisor for District 8, I will work tirelessly to find the land and funding to build the permanently affordable housing seniors, people with HIV/AIDS and other vulnerable folks in our community need to survive in San Francisco.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Most Ellis Act evictions are used to convert rental units to condominiums or single-family homes. They have led to so many long-time, law-abiding San Francisco residents losing their homes. What can be done to help protect these residents, while also keeping the system fair to landlords?

    Rafael Mandelman: District 8 saw 262 Ellis Act evictions between 2007 and 2016. That’s in addition to the 331 owner move-in evictions in District 8 during the same period. When a tenant who has lived in a rent-controlled apartment for decades is evicted, we all know the odds are slim of that tenant finding another unit in San Francisco he or she can afford. The displacement of these long-term residents from the neighborhoods they helped re-create and re-vitalize is among the saddest and most troubling realities of contemporary San Francisco. 

    I support and have worked for reform of the Ellis Act to prevent its use by speculators looking to make a quick return by flipping and converting rental housing units. I also support local efforts to protect tenants at risk of eviction, such as the City’s small sites acquisition program, which acquires rental buildings that are going on the market and are at high risk of conversion. However, I would be interested in looking at more cost-efficient ways to incentivize property owners to maintain the affordability of units over time. For example, I would like to see the City explore the potential acquisition of covenants over units occupied by long-term tenants to ensure the continued affordability of those units. I also would like to see the City start more strategically funding the acquisition of buildings that are not currently on the market, but have a high proportion of long-term tenants and may be at risk of conversion in the future.

    San Francisco Bay Times: There is concern that San Francisco is losing its diversity in all respects: racial, economic, age-related, LGBT and more. What specifically can be done to help improve overall diversity within District 8 and the city as a whole?

    Rafael Mandelman: Housing unaffordability is the greatest threat to diversity in District 8, the city and indeed the region. As I have said, we need to build more housing affordable to folks at all income levels. But we also need to ensure that all San Franciscans are in a position to benefit from the economic opportunities being created in our midst. That’s why I want to see the City work with the Unified School District to ensure that every public school in San Francisco is a great school, and it’s why I am so proud of my work to save City College and make it free for San Francisco residents. As a Supervisor, I will continue to work with the School District, the College, great non-profits like JVS (which works with unemployed people to help them find them meaningful and sustaining work) and our local employers to ensure that the incredible economic opportunities being created in our city and our region reach the greatest number of our people.

    San Francisco Bay Times: A large percentage of homeless individuals in San Francisco are LGBT youths, many of whom have escaped places—be they their families, other states or countries—where they felt threatened. How can the city best help LGBT homeless youths?

    Rafael Mandelman: San Francisco has earned a reputation as a city of refuge for LGBT people, but, as we have discussed, the reality of the housing crisis means that too many LGBT youth arrive here to find a much harder and less welcoming place than their forebears in decades past. We are lucky to have a set of amazing non-profits working with this population, from Larkin Street to LYRIC to the LGBT Community Center, but we need to do much much more to create pathways off the streets for youth. 

    We need to move forward with the creation of a Navigation Center specifically focused on moving youth out of homelessness, and we need to work with nonprofits like Larkin Street to create more long-term housing for formerly homeless youth. Next month, I will be introducing a resolution at the City College Board of Trustees directing our administration to explore options for the creation of housing for our homeless and at-risk students, and as a member of the Board of Supervisors, I will continue to be a strong champion for this cause.

    San Francisco Bay Times: The Castro feels less safe to us lately. Members of our team have experienced multiple instances of theft, expensive-to-repair car window breakages and intimidating encounters with mentally ill people. Discussions with store owners reveal that many share our concerns. In fact, while we were having one such discussion, a store owner had to stop a gang of shoplifters. To what do you attribute the perceived increase in crime, and what steps do you plant to take to make The Castro and other neighborhoods within District 8 safer for residents and visitors?

    Rafael Mandelman: The Castro is a neighborhood in need of some serious love and attention. I have been spending time in the Castro since I was in College, and I share the sense that all is not well in the neighborhood. Mentally ill and drug addicted folks are being left to rot on our sidewalks, petty property crime is on the rise, and I am hearing too frequently about friends and acquaintances getting assaulted.

    Better policing is only part of the solution, but it is an essential part. Although groups like Castro Community on Patrol do great work, we need actual police officers walking a beat in the neighborhood, and I am pleased that the new police chief has expressed a commitment to increasing neighborhood foot patrols. We also need the police to prioritize investigation of property crimes, and again I am pleased that the new police chief, with some prodding from the Board of Supervisors and outraged neighbors, is committing more resources to that effort. Part of improving safety also involves getting mentally ill and drug addicted folks into the care they need (more on that below), which will free up our police to do more of the traditional police work we expect them to do.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Per the previous question, many chronically mentally ill people and substance abusers are living on the streets of District 8. What can be done to humanely help them, while also keeping the district safe for residents, business owners and visitors?

    Rafael Mandelman: My mother struggled with mental illness for much of her life and was homeless when I was younger, so addressing homelessness and mental illness are personal and particular priorities for me. We do not currently have the facilities we need to compassionately care for the mentally ill, so instead we do something much more expensive over the long term: we just leave them to cycle from street to hospital to jail and back again. 

    We need many more psychiatric beds at SF General and elsewhere for folks in immediate crisis, and we need to establish longer term facilities for folks who may be stabilized but will not remain stable if released to fend for themselves. We need to significantly beef up our public guardian office so that we can pursue conservatorships over folks who cannot care for themselves, and I believe San Francisco needs to initiate a conversation among doctors, lawyers and civil libertarians about changing the State law standards for involuntary commitment to allow us to more easily get folks into care who clearly cannot care for themselves, but may not meet current standards for a 5150 hold or a conservatorship.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Please mention anything else that you would like for our readers to know.

    Rafael Mandelman: One of the few things I regret about running for Supervisor is that the demands of the campaign have required me to step back from regularly writing for the paper, but it is a treat to be back for this issue at least. My great thanks to the publishers, staff and contributors for the labor of love that is this publication and the opportunities it has afforded me to communicate with our community over the years.