Mission Supervisor Hillary Ronen sat down with Mission Local to talk about issues relating to her district.

This is a monthly series – this interview has been edited and shortened for print.

ML: Calle 24 recently blocked GoBike and other bike share companies from operating in the cultural district/SUD. Do you see these companies as the gentrifiers?  

Ronen: I don’t see it that way. I like the idea of bike share, I supported the red bus-only lanes – I think that the more efficient [and green] we make public forms of transportation, the better for the neighborhood.

Having said that, I understand where Calle 24 and members of the community are coming from. We are in this horrible reality in San Francisco but it’s happening all over the country that when you bring infrastructure and improve the neighborhood, that people who have lived there for a really long time, when that infrastructure was lacking, are being pushed out as it’s becoming more attractive and people want to move in to take advantage of that infrastructure.

That’s real, that happens. So I understand where that concern is, but does that mean that we should stop all improvement of the neighborhood including improving public transportation, or more infrastructure to make biking more common?

No, I think what we need to do, and what I’m engaged in, is making sure as much land and housing is taken off the private market as possible, so that we can maintain it as affordable in perpetuity. And so that we can stabilize the neighborhood and the residents that are already there and can bring back many people that have already been displaced.

I wish that Motivate [the bike-share company behind GoBike] had done more outreach. I don’t know if they have done sufficient outreach in the neighborhood. I think they understand that themselves, which is why they’ve sort of paused the next expansion. They will do more outreach and then try to get majority buy-in for any place that they place the bike stations.

I do not think that they are appropriate for 24th Street itself. We have been working for ages on streetscape design for that commercial corridor that is highly used and is already a transit corridor with busses and a BART station on the other end.

I’m not the decision maker – but my personal opinion is that 24th Street is not the appropriate location for those bikes, but in the surrounding Mission community, I’m not opposed to bike shares.

ML: Who is the decision maker, and how much influence does a group like Calle 24 have in these scenarios?

Ronen: I think it’s like any organized community group. They are one voice in the community that happens to have a membership that is large and weighs in with that membership.  If there are other community groups, those weigh in.

I’m a big fan of Calle 24 and Erick Arguello and his leadership – he is fighting to maintain the Latino Culture and history in the neighborhood. He fights to make sure that the Latino community isn’t displaced at even a more rapid rate, and is fighting to get people back to that it continues to be a diverse, vibrant neighborhood where people of all income levels can live.

I often think Erick Arguello is unfairly demonized and blamed when he is just a community leader who is standing up and organizing to improve his community. I have had a great experience working with Erick. I have immense respect for him.

Having said that, it’s one organization with a voice, and a voice that I take very seriously. But my job is to listen all the voices in the neighborhood and then make the best decisions when hearing those voices.  

Policing and Homelessness

ML: Does it concern you that the Mission Station is only holding community meetings once a month?

Ronen: Without talking to the captain, I don’t want to opine about that. I haven’t had a chance to understand his philosophy on holding meetings and what’s productive. And what makes the community most safe and makes sure that people’s voices are heard and leads to more corporation amongst everyone – businesses, residents of the community.

I want to hear what he has to say about that and why he chose to make meetings every other month, but I honestly haven’t had that chance.

ML: How many people have been placed at the Mission’s new Navigation Center (1515 South Van Ness) and how are you evaluating its progress?

Ronen: We are getting close to 100 people – close to capacity. Which is great news and also a little worrisome because we have not been able to clear encampments in the entire Mission. We want the Mission to be encampment free and we want homeless people to be in humane spaces that are safe and where they have access to services and can get the help they need to exit homelessness – that’s what a Navigation Center does.

We will see what happens. People who are at the Navigation Center and have been there for about a month now are working with counselors to hopefully leave and be transitioned into an even more stable housing situation and that will free up space.

None of this could happen fast enough. The Mission could not clean encampments fast enough, and homeless people, most importantly, could not get a break from the harsh reality of the streets fast enough. We need to get folks inside and give them access to services. I have urgency all the time around this issue.

ML: What will police enforcement/policy look like around tent encampments in your district once the 1515 South Van Ness facility closes?

Ronen: I’m working very hard to get a replacement center. As [the story] broke in the news, I have been working with Assemblymember Phil Ting to be able to purchase and secure a site that could be a permanent Navigation Center so that we have space to continue the progress and maintain the progress that we have achieved through this time.

We are actively looking for a site right now that will hopefully be open in time so that we have a place for people to go.

ML: And that site will be in the Mission? And will it serve a specific population, such as the chronically homeless or exclusively those homeless in the Mission?

Ronen: Hopefully – in or near the Mission. It would be heavily Mission-focused, just like what we are doing at South Van Ness.

ML: Right now the goal is to remove tents from the streets in the Mission – and that involves police enforcement.  Will police enforcement continue to be a strategy to prevent re-encampment?

Ronen: I don’t know how heavily police enforcement has been involved. It’s not the police removing people from the streets, it’s the Homeless Outreach Team to work with residents of encampments, giving them opportunity to move to some place that’s much safer. For the most part people are going, they are excited.

When the mayor and I went to visit, all we heard over and over again was thank you, this has been a miracle in our lives and such a needed break from the streets. That (movement) has been for the most part voluntary.

Once an area has been cleared, we want to maintain it clear. But I would say that there is so much emphasis from some people on the police role and I don’t think that’s the primary role here.

It’s the HOT team that goes out and does incredible work to move people to a much safer place.

ML: But we did just see an encampment clearing on Brannan and 9th that did not involve the HOT team, but was led by police.

Ronen: That is not because of the center at 1515 South Van Ness. So what I refuse to believe is that it’s either permanent housing for every individual or we are going to allow unsanctioned encampments on the street.

What I am trying to say we need an interim solution. We cannot have these large scale encampments that are unsafe for everyone involved. We need spaces for people to be.

I’m fighting so hard for these Navigation Centers because when an encampment gets too big and unsafe, if you don’t create permanent spaces for people to go, then this type of crack down happens in a very inhumane way.

To hear or read comments that the Navigation Center is somewhat responsible is ludicrous – we need more capacity, more safe humane places for people to be. We cannot wait four, five years for more supportive housing. We have to fight constantly to create more supportive housing, I’m doing that as we speak. But that does not mean that in the interim we accept the status quo and allow people to languish in our streets in unsafe conditions.