Even Democratic candidates in a left-leaning city district have political differences.
All of the candidates for District 9 supervisor called for Police Chief Greg Suhr to be fired weeks before he eventually stepped down, for instance, except one: Joshua Arce, a civil rights attorney and community liaison for a local labor union.
Arce is also the only candidate to support tasers for the police. Hillary Ronen, the chief of staff for Supervisor David Campos, and Iswari España, a training officer with the Human Services Agency, directly opposed arming the force with tasers.
Ronen and Arce do share ideas on housing, however, both saying taller buildings and higher density are needed in the Mission District. España and Melissa San Miguel, an education advocate, say the area’s character must be preserved and “over-sized structures” kept out.
For the last 35 weeks, the four candidates vying to replace termed-out Supervisor David Campos have weighed in on dozens of topics during our weekly question series. The sharpest differences have come in the questions that addressed the firing of the former police chief, housing density in the neighborhood, and their status as political insiders or outsiders.
Arce, unlike the other candidates, held back in calling for the resignation of Police Chief Greg Suhr during the 17-day hunger strike undertaken by the Frisco Five outside the Mission District police station.
At the time, one of the hunger strikers, Edwin Lindo, was a candidate for supervisor who was adamant that the chief should resign for any meaningful reform to take place. Ronen, España, and San Miguel echoed that call, saying reforms could only move forward when the department showed that even its top brass could be held accountable.
Arce disagreed, however, saying that Chief Suhr would be best positioned to lead reforms. He and España also welcomed the endorsement of the Police Officer’s Association. Arce said that he was “uniquely positioned” as the son of a police officer to bridge the gap between the police force and communities of color, while España said he would only seek the endorsement if the union supported his “views” on the community.
Ronen was more critical, calling out the “racist language and bullying tactics” used by leaders in the police union when addressing calls for reform. She too, however, said she would welcome the union’s endorsement if it would “indicate their desire” to reform.
Arce has also come out in support of tasers for the police force — unlike Ronen and España. San Miguel was unclear in her answer on tasers but said a cultural change would be needed first.
Responding to the police shootings of Alex Nieto and Luis Gongora Pat, all of the candidates emphasized de-escalation and said that to prevent such shootings, the culture of the police department needed change. Ronen in particular decried “cowboy action” in police encounters with subjects like Gongora Pat.
Most of the candidates say they are pro-density and want to build more in the neighborhood — if that means more affordable housing in the Mission District. Ronen has said that housing in the Mission District could go higher if it resulted in a “meaningful amount of truly affordable units,” and she renewed her pledge to build 5,000 units of affordable housing in the Mission District during her tenure.
Arce said that “every option” for building more housing “must be on the table,” and has consistently attacked Ronen and Supervisor Campos for a dearth of affordable housing construction in the Mission. He has pledged to build 2,000 units — both market-rate and affordable — in the area south of Cesar Chavez Street.
España came out against density, citing cramped living quarters and “over-sized structures” as the “wrong solution to our housing crisis.” San Miguel said she was “open” to increasing density if it allowed for more affordability, but only if such density fit within the “character of this neighborhood.”
All of the candidates have rallied against the major market-rate housing projects — one a nearly block-long project on Bryant Street and the other at the 16th Street Bart Plaza — to hit the Mission District since January.
Outsiders vs. Insiders
Both Arce and Ronen have shown themselves willing to point to past experience as evidence that they have the ability to get things done, while España and San Miguel emphasize their role as outsiders to the political process.
España’s has said people feel apathetic about local government because they are “simply fed up” with career politicians, and that his campaign would provide “a voice, an outlet, and a choice” for those tired of the Campos administration.
San Miguel too has railed against the “petty politics” at City Hall that she said fail to produce results, and has said the district needs “homegrown leadership” from someone like her.
Ronen and Arce, on the other hand, have pointed to their resumes to convince voters they have needed policy chops.
On housing in particular, Ronen has said that Campos’s office is partly responsible for the 455 affordable housing units approved for the Mission District in the last eight years, while Arce has said that as a board member at Mission Housing he has the “hands-on” experience to build more affordable housing in the district.
Ronen and Arce both say tech shuttles need only be regulated, since they take drivers off the road and therefore reduce greenhouse gas-emitting congestion. España, on the other hand, said the shuttles add to traffic, inconvenience drivers and cyclists, and eliminate parking spaces.
He said the program should be rolled back; Ronen said more housing is needed in the South Bay before the program is no longer needed; and Arce said current transit is already maxed-out and that the program boosts city revenue. San Miguel did not answer the question that week.
Arce and San Miguel went against a proposed tax aimed at tech firms. España was for it, writing that it would raise millions and that it was “beyond” him that the city might kill the proposal “over the argument that businesses will suffer a loss.” Ronen was not specific, saying she wanted a fairer tax structure but also did not want to unfairly target tech workers.
Ronen and España came out strongly against sweeps of encampments when the city decided to crack down on Division Street tents in February, saying the city should focus instead on streamlining services and replicating the Navigation Center model. Arce did not specifically address the issue, and San Miguel was not yet in the race.
Arce has spoken about adding more housing stock to prevent homelessness, while San Miguel has said that there is a moral failure amongst city officials for not creating a quicker way for homeless people to exit the streets.
Bernie vs. Hillary
Two of the candidates — Ronen and España — said they would support Senator Bernie Sanders when he was still in the running to be the Democratic candidate. Only Arce said he would support Hillary Clinton. San Miguel did not answer the question.
Ronen and Arce support the legalization of recreational marijuana on the California ballot this November, while San Miguel has said she supports cannabis dispensaries. España is more skeptical, saying that he supports dispensaries but that there are too many in the Mission District, giving youth a “false sense of reality of the consequences of use and access to the drug.”
And in late August, all of the candidates revealed that they were all renters and that none of them owned property. San Miguel has been in the district the longest, she said, having been born and raised in the Mission. España has been in the neighborhood for 15 years, Arce since 2009, and Ronen since just 2015 — though she has lived in the district for nine years previously and worked here for 15.
Ronen and San Miguel live in the Portola, while Arce and España live in the Mission.