Mission Local checked in this week with Hillary Ronen about her first year on the job as District 9 Supervisor and some of the changes in the neighborhood.
Ronen talked about her goals for building 5,000 affordable units of housing in the Mission over the next 10 years, her priorities for public safety, and the complicated needs evident at the 16th and Mission BART plaza.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Mission Local: You ran on a promise of 5,000 new affordable units in the Mission in a decade — how would you assess your progress on that goal?
Hillary Ronen: I was hoping to get 500 units a year [into the pipeline]. Hopefully, there will be opportunity to catch up.
Over the last two years we were able to put 500 units in the pipeline in during David Campos’ last two years in office. I wanted to keep up that pace, which was five times the pace that we had achieved previously. I fell short — I put about 175 units into the pipeline this year.
The real difficulty is that there’s no new sources of funding. Part of the reason we were able to be so successful the last couple years is because the voters of San Francisco passed a housing bond and had reserved $50 million specifically for the Mission. We had also been able to convince the mayor to prioritize the Mission prior to that, because the Mission hadn’t been building affordable housing for so many years.
I’m pretty impressed with 175 new units in the pipeline. That took a lot of work and a lot of advocacy. So now, I really am looking into the future of finding additional new funding sources to put units in the pipeline and catch up.
I’m going to keep the goal of 500 units a year, even though when I made that goal for myself I was expecting a Hillary Clinton presidency where we wouldn’t be cutting revenue for essential needs of people, like housing.
This endeavor has gotten ten times more difficult under a Trump administration where they’re poised to cut, through the tax bill, services and spending…in the city. And that’s going to have a ripple effect on the state and the city. We just have to get 10 times more creative and aggressive in figuring out how to get there.
ML: What’s surprised you about the process of getting housing approved in San Francisco?
HR: I can’t say that I was surprised by much, other than how expensive it is to build housing in the city. It’s as clear to me as ever that to maintain a balance and a diversity of people and income levels in this city, we need revenue. And on the federal level, we’re certainly going in the complete wrong direction in that regard. The richest of the rich, they’re doing just fine, they don’t need a tax break. We need them and corporations to be paying more so that people all over the country, including in San Francisco, that are either living in poverty or are full time employees like teachers and nurses … [can] continue to live in the city.
ML: What do you make of the YIMBY ballot measure to fast-track affordable housing?
HR: When I first got into office I met with all the affordable housing providers to ask: What can we do to fast-track affordable housing? Most of those measures have already been instituted by the Planning Department and the Mayor.
Again, what we need is revenue. So anything that pretends to be making the production of affordable housing any faster but is not bringing in new revenue might have a tiny little impact but it’s not going to make the big difference. The big difference is getting the revenue to build the 100 percent subsidized housing for teachers, etc.
I don’t oppose it, I just have doubts about how helpful it’ll be.
ML: Do you support London Breed as interim Mayor? Do you see any opposition?
HR: What’s bothering me about the current situation, and what I think is a flaw in our charter, is that it allows, for a long period of time, the president of the Board of Supervisors to serve simultaneously as district supervisor, president of the board, and acting mayor. That’s a real problem.
It’s a separation of powers issue. I think it really denies the people if District 5 a supervisor that’s focused on the district, especially because it would be impossible for anybody to be performing all those roles.
I’m hoping my colleagues and I can get together and agree on appointing someone — and, if it’s London Breed that’s fine, but [someone] who is not serving in those multiple roles at the same time.
ML: There has been lots of change in public safety in the Mission — cameras at Dolores Park, a new Mission Station captain, reprioritization of foot patrols and a promise from the Chief to do better on property crime. What do you expect in this area in the next year, and what do you think needs to be the top priority in public safety?
HR: What I think is the top priority, and I think is always the top priority, is violent crime and making sure we’re protecting people and people feel safe in their community.
I would like to see and have championed and worked hard with the Chief and Supervisor Norman Yee to make sure there’s also focused attention on property crime, particularly car break-ins and bike theft, which are a major, major problems in the Mission. Those are areas that I want to see marked improvement in.
We’re going to have someone in Mission Station that is focused exclusively on [property crime], and that will be a point person that the public and myself can go to to find out what the strategies are to address these issues and what the accountability is.
ML: Regarding Alice, a homeless woman living in a chair in front of Burger King on 16th Street, and your plans for exploring conservatorship programs and mental health: In examining the existing infrastructure, what have you found? A conservative estimate says that 30 percent of the homeless have mental health issues … even with the existing 400 beds, that’s hardly enough. What can be done for people with mental health needs that aren’t being addressed?
HR: I can’t even get confirmation of how many beds we have for people with mental health illness and substance abuse. I can’t get that number. I haven’t been able to get that number over a week. I think that illustrates a problem. Granted, it’s been the hardest week in the city ever [Editor’s note: with the death of Mayor Ed Lee].
Another thing that’s a problem is that the Department of Public Health oversees those beds and the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Services isn’t coordinating with the Department of Public Health on that.
When I sought to get a bed for Alice, for example, I went to Barbara Garcia and worked exclusively with her on that, and there was a whole separate system. I already am starting to see a bunch of issues and gaps in the system. But the truth of the matter is, it’s so complicated that I don’t even understand it enough to know where to begin to work with the departments to fill gaps and make changes.
We’re going to go tour all of this system and all of the agencies that have beds, the psych wards at General Hospital, the Hummingbird center that’s meant for people with substance abuse disorders. We really want to look, having had the really heartbreaking experience with Alice, where there was a 63-year-old woman living outside Burger King on a chair for three years. And the fact that, only after weeks of work were we able to get her inside for a week before she decided to go back to the streets. There’s nothing we could do, more than just continuing to try to convince her to come inside. I think she’s in grave danger on our streets, and there has to be a way of doing better here. I don’t understand that yet, but I am hell-bent on understanding the system so that we can improve and make it better.
ML: Why didn’t she want to go?
HR: I don’t know. She made up every excuse under the sun.
ML: What’s the progress on 16th Street Plaza, where you have been cleaning up every Wednesday? How long will you continue to clean it up?
HR: Yes, there’s been progress, it’s much cleaner than it was before. And from the city, we’ve met with the LEAD program, which is a program to divert low-level drug dealers to service and employment training.
That program is going to be much more focused on the 16th Street BART station, and we’re working on getting dedicated HOT [Homeless Outreach Team] team members for that station. We’ve also seen much more consistent cleaning and longer power-washing of the station. But what we haven’t gotten from BART is a promise to continue it. I will be calling for a hearing in January where we will ask the BART manager to come and report and explain why that promise can’t be made.
What we’re hearing is that people are worried that there’s not the funding, and if there’s a promise made at 16th Street station, they’d have to make that promise for every other station. But the point that I’m making is that I don’t know a single station in the city other than maybe Powell, maybe Civic Center, that needs the kind of attention that 16th Street BART station needs.
I think that treating all BART stations equally doesn’t make any sense. There are some that are much more in need of constant attention, and there’s no doubt in my mind that 16th is one of those, and I’m not gonna stop until we fix it.
ML: With increasing scrutiny and pressure on immigrants from the federal government, what can be done at the local level to protect immigrants and help them find resources?
HR: I think we’ve done a lot of what can be done already, which is to have one of the strongest sanctuary city laws in the country, which we are hell-bent on maintaining, no matter how the Trump administration attacks us.
More important, I think, is making sure that we have a robust system of legal services for immigrants facing deportation or even just those who want to understand their rights and how to protect themselves and their families.
We could always use more attorneys, especially for families that are detained. We have the beginnings of a very robust and quality system. Supervisor Campos was able to get enough representation for unaccompanied minors in deportation proceedings. That’s guaranteed for San Franciscan youth. Sandra Lee Fewer started a great program in the public defender’s office to have attorneys for detained immigrants. We have a pretty amazing system in place.
We could always add more resources to that system and we will continue to fight to do so as needed, but I think San Francisco is one of the safest places for immigrants to be in the country.