Hillary Ronen at the debate on Thursday, October 13. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Hillary Ronen, a former immigrant rights attorney in the Mission District and the legislative aide of Supervisor David Campos, will become his replacement in January when she’s sworn into office after handedly winning her supervisor’s race.


On election night, she was a mixture of ecstatic and horrified — she beat her main opponent, Joshua Arce, 57 to 30 percent, but as the results came in it was also clear that Donald Trump would win the presidency. In an interview conducted on Tuesday, Ronen spoke about her thoughts going into local governance under a Trump administration and the host of issues she will face as the new representative of the Mission District, Bernal Heights, and the Portola.

This interview has been edited and shortened for print.

Joe Rivano Barros: What do you think about San Francisco governance going forward in the age of Trump and what you as a supervisor will be able to do to ensure that it remains a sanctuary city?

Hillary Ronen: I think that the role of local governments is gonna be more important than ever. I think that what we’re not going to see from our federal government — protecting our environment, making sure that healthcare is a right for all Americans, protecting immigrants and valuing their contributions to our country, making sure that there’s quality public education for every single child — all of these issues that we hold dear in San Francisco, we’re not going to be able to look to the federal government during the next four years for progressive action.

My role on the Board of Supervisors has become more important than I had imagined. I’m very interested in looking to form relationships with other progressive local officials throughout the country so that as much as possible we can coordinate to come up with responses [to Trump] and introduce those at the same time so that it will be harder for the federal government to stop progressive policies.

JRB: Can you talk about your feelings [on election night] and going into your new role with this new federal government?

HR: It was a very strange night for so many of us. I never really had an overwhelming feeling of excitement because of the heavy responsibility I felt from the first instant of realizing that our next president would be Donald Trump.

On winning the [supervisor’s] race, perhaps what was most satisfying was that my main opponent, Joshua Arce, and to an extent other opponents — their strategy was to attack David Campos and to attack [his] record and history as a supervisor.

Having that decisive victory made it clear that the people of District 9 were very happy with David Campos and his record and his work on behalf of the residents of District 9. It was not only a vindication of his work, but also a reflection that the district continues to hold progressive values.

JRB: Now there will be no Latinos on the Board of Supervisors, and you’ve been placed in the position of representing the Latino district in the age of Trump. What are your thoughts on that?

HR: I take that responsibility very seriously. I’ve been working as both an attorney, organizer, and legislative aide in the main Latino district in San Francisco, so this is not a new role in many ways. What’s really important to me is that I’m not speaking for the Latino community, but that the Latino community speak for itself.

I will have Latino representation in my office in terms of a legislative aide, just as it’s a top priority of mine to have an LGBT representative in this office. Not only will we not have a Latino representative on the Board of Supervisors, but it’s possible we will not have an LGBT representative on the Board of Supervisors either, and that’s something I take very seriously.

JRB: What do you see as your role as a supervisor in pushing the Police Department to reform, and what should we look forward to in the coming months on police reform?

HR: In the coming months we will find out who the mayor is going to appoint as our permanent police chief, and we are going to have an opportunity at the Board of Supervisors to appoint a replacement to the Police Commission for Victor Hwang, who has recently resigned because he has become a judge.

That’s going to be the first role that I will play as a supervisor, making sure that someone who is very interested in meaningful and serious police reform is appointed to that position.

There are many ways to engage [on police shootings]. One is to hold hearings and bring to light what is happening and use the power of inquiry to make sure that we have continued progress and implementation of the reforms that have been suggested, and when that’s not happening to introduce legislation that forces it to happen.

JRB: Yesterday there was a meeting about a memorial on Bernal Hill to commemorate Alex Nieto’s killing. Are you in support of that memorial?

HR: I was at the meeting last night and I am 100 percent in support of the memorial. As I said last night at the meeting to Elvira and Refugio Nieto [his parents] I believe that they are an example of what it means to stand up amidst unbelievable heartbreak and fight for justice. Their dignity and their perseverance, it humbles me to the very core.

I believe their request to have a memorial for their son, who grew up in Bernal Heights, who grew up on that hill, where he was murdered, is incredibly reasonable to me and something that as a supervisor I am committed to working with and fighting with the Nietos to make that happen.

JRB: The progressives have lost their majority on the Board of Supervisors. What do you think about going forward working with moderate supervisors?

HR: As I said during the election, there’s not a member of this Board of Supervisors that I don’t think I can work with. While the clear-cut lines of moderates and progressives have shifted again, on single issues, the lines aren’t always so clear.

On police reform for example, I’m really looking forward to working with Malia Cohen and London Breed, who when we do the strict divides fall on the moderate side of the line. We’re going to be able to work really well together. I hope that is the case as well on immigrant rights issues, on the environment as well.

There will be fights, and hopefully we’ll be able to win hearts and minds with strong arguments and great community campaigns to pass the measures that are really important to us. When we don’t, we can always go to the ballot.

JRB: What do you think about the tactic of appealing market-rate housing projects hoping for an eventual delay?

HR: I really am hoping to create a new dynamic, where developers come and work with me and my office and the community from the get-go and offer higher levels of affordability to try to stave off the showdowns that we see during these appeals. That’s just a better system all around — it’s better for developers who want predictability, it’s better for the community who have a million other priorities rather than fighting project after project after project.

I have made this campaign pledge of building 5,000 units of affordable housing in a decade, and a lot of those units will come through market-rate projects. My interest in seeing market-rate projects built is to see them with as much affordable housing in them as possible.

Developers who want to come and work with me towards that common goal, please do so, I can’t wait to work with you. Hopefully the community will be in agreement with that.

JRB: There was a sales tax that failed to pass on the November ballot that would have provided funding for homeless and transit services. You’ve said you want to build more navigation centers for the homeless. How do you find the money for that with this budget shortfall?

HR: I’m very frustrated, and I’ve also learned a lesson with the sales tax. I was supportive of the sales tax, but seeing how it all went down I think it was a set-up. I will never in the future support a budget that is balanced on a future tax that may or may not pass, especially one that the mayor is going to set up as the solution to all our problems and then do nothing to campaign for its passage. Now it is being used as the excuse for not being able to pass any type of programs.

I am going to continue to fight for those navigation centers. I am not going to allow the mayor to pit one service for low-income San Franciscans against another, which is what the mayor is doing right now, pitting homeless services against free City College, against street trees, against guaranteed legal representation for undocumented immigrants, using the sales tax as one excuse.

I am going to be fighting for other types of budget cuts.

JRB: Finally, what are you most looking forward to in the next four years?

HR: I am very much looking forward to finally working on achieving the promises that I’ve been making for a year. I want to start working on building affordable housing, on building navigation centers and removing tent encampments from the Mission, on creating a universal preschool program, on fighting for immigrants, the climate, healthcare, and against a Trump administration that attacks all the values we hold most dear in San Francisco.

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1 Comment

  1. “I really am hoping to create a new dynamic, where developers come and work with me and my office and the community from the get-go and offer higher levels of affordability to try to stave off the showdowns that we see during these appeals.”

    So housing developers are going to have to negotiate on a project-by-project basis with Ms. Ronen if they want to get their projects approved.

    That sounds like a lot of “backroom-wheeling-and-dealing-uncertainty” that is ripe for abuse and extortion.
    It’s the kind of approach that will kill projects and stifle supply.

    I thought that we were supposed to be a nation of “laws-not-men”?

    Ms. Ronen, you are now a legislator.

    How about legislating? — i.e., reforming the counterproductive laws currently surrounding housing creation in order to make it a “by-right”, lower cost, speedier and more certain process.

    You know — a sensible/predictable process where if a project sponsor follows the WRITTEN Laws and Codes then they will be able to quickly and efficiently construct their project which will result in dramatically increased supply and lowered housing costs for everyone.

    That is the only way that your going to have a chance in Hades of getting to your “5000-units-in-the-Mission” goal.

    You realize that in the past decade, that a little over 21,000 units total — IN THE ENTIRE CITY — were built, right?
    About 25% of those were so-called “affordable” (i.e. subsidized units).

    So, even with all the “construction going on everywhere” that many are complaining about, we were able to create another 5000 subsidized units in the entire city over the past 10 years.

    If you are truly committed to your stated goal — and its not just another empty campaign promise– then you’ve got radically reform the currently disfunction system — at scale. That’s not going to happen with your “negotiate-with-me-project-by-project” strategy — you will fail.

    You’ll end up being just another lying politician.

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