Mission Local sat down recently with District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener to talk about issues affecting San Franciscans and Mission residents. This interview is the first in a series of biweekly conversations between Mission Local and the supervisor. Readers with questions can send them to MissionLocal@gmail.com.
Mission Local: You recently introduced legislation on pedestrian safety. Why is walkability important to the average citizen?
Scott Wiener: Having walkable neighborhoods, people get to know their neighbors. It increases public safety if people are out on the streets. It’s good for the environment and you get exercise.
We want to make sure that people can walk in not just a safe way, but a comfortable way. So having shorter crossing distances at intersections; having bulb-outs [enlarged sidewalk corners], where you have better eye contact between turning cars and pedestrians so they’re more likely to see each other; [and] having plazas, so we have good public spaces where people can gather and hang out.
Guerrero Street is a mess when it comes to pedestrian safety. Guerrero has really fast traffic. It’s challenging for pedestrians, and we need to take every opportunity to upgrade it.
Right now we are in the process of working on every single curb corner in the city to upgrade them for those yellow ADA ramps. We need to make sure as we’re doing that, we’re saying, OK, should we rebuild it with the exact same dimensions, or should we consider bulbing out?
I’m very focused on trying to find the funding to upgrade the intersection [of 18th Street and Dolores] because it’s incredibly heavy pedestrian traffic there on any nice day in Dolores Park. That intersection needs to be bulbed out and to have better, more visible crosswalks.
ML: Many San Franciscans consider you to be politically conservative on some topics, such as sit/lie legislation and the Harvey Milk Plaza legislation you got passed last year that prohibited camping there. Do you agree with the characterization that you have a conservative side?
SW: I think I’m a good liberal Democrat. People love putting firm labels on you in San Francisco. The fact is that if you look at my views, I try to make the right decision for whatever the problem is.
On nightlife I’m probably the most lefty member of the board. Also on a lot of budget issues around health and human services, I’m extremely supportive of that funding. But I think public spaces need to be usable by everyone. When people turn public spaces into their own personal living room or bedroom and start camping out there, it makes it not usable by everyone.
ML: What are your thoughts on how to address problems of homelessness in San Francisco?
SW: I think there are two components — [on the one hand, to] provide access to services, whether it’s mental health, drug rehabilitation, housing or job training. On the other side, there have to be standards of behavior … in the public realm. You can’t just set up camping sites anywhere. You can’t urinate and defecate anywhere you want.
ML: What are your thoughts on alcohol permit restrictions in the Mission?
SW: I’ve been very vocal in not supporting the Mission alcohol restrictions because I think they are so draconian and have undermined really good new businesses and existing ones — like the Roxie Theater. So I think in some contexts we have to be very careful of moratoriums and dramatic restrictions that can have very unintended consequences.
ML: How would you envision changing those restrictions?
SW: I would like to repeal the entire thing. David [Campos] does not agree with that. We’ve agreed we’d like to co-sponsor something. One of the things we’re looking at is internal transferability, so that licenses can be transferred within the district.
So right now if you’re a big supermarket or full-service restaurant, you’re exempt from it. But for everyone one else — if Valencia Whole Foods wanted to sell organic beef and wine, they’re out of luck right now. [Internal transferability] would allow them to purchase a liquor license from another location within the district and bring it into their establishment.
ML: How did you become known as the guy behind the nudity ban that passed last year, when you were not even that passionate about the issue?
SW: I’ve never had an issue with public nudity, and we’ve always had some public nudity in the Castro. But right around the time I took office, it started becoming this seven-day-a-week thing. A few guys started hanging out there, and word got out, and we had guys driving in from Walnut Creek and Santa Rosa because they couldn’t get naked were they were. So they would drive in, take off their clothes, leave it in their car and stand out at Castro and Market. There were days when there were like 12 or 14 of them there. It was really uncomfortable for a lot of people; it’s a major transit hub, and we have three elementary schools within a few blocks of there.
I kept waiting and thinking it was going to run its course. During that 20-month period, there were people who were absolutely beating me up, saying why aren’t you doing anything about this?
I met with some of the naked guys and I told them that they had turned public opinion against public nudity, and that the stuff at the plaza needed to end. It became clear there was no way that was going to happen. That’s when I introduced the legislation. Despite what some people said, the legislation had majority support among gay men in the Castro.
ML: You’ve also been characterized in the media as a straight arrow, and not outgoing but more reserved. Do you agree with that?
SW: I’m not like the life of the party. I’m not the crazy guy at the party that’s entertaining everyone. I wouldn’t say I’m shy, but I am somewhat reserved. Part of me is an introvert. But I’m not as boring as has been portrayed. Let’s put it that way.