The SF Mayoral Race: Phil Ting
San Francisco’s assessor-recorder Phil Ting is the city’s property tax man, and he’s one of 16 candidates running for mayor. In this interview with KALW’s Ben Trefny, Ting describes his vision for the future of San Francisco.
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PHIL TING: I’m Phil Ting. I’m the assessor-recorder in San Francisco. I live in the Sunset with my wife and two daughters, Isabella and Madeleine. The best thing about the Sunset is that it’s close to the ocean, so you actually get to see the ocean and get to go to the beach.
BEN TREFNY: So what’s your interest in politics?
TING: Well, for me, my interest really comes from my time as a student and a civil rights activist. For me, it really comes down to ensuring that communities that really haven’t had voices have voices. That’s how I got involved. I really understood that in order to get involved, or to have a voice, you have to participate. It’s so important that people in San Francisco are not just involved by voting, but that they really participate in city government. That’s why we started our website Reset San Francisco. We wanted to get more San Franciscans involved, so that they could have more say in their city government.
TREFNY: So tell me about the Reset San Francisco campaign, and what you bring out there so that people can get involved. What becomes of those conversations?
TING: Well, Reset San Francisco is a community. It’s a community where we’re trying to get folks involved. We’re not trying to get consensus, or agreement. We’re trying to share ideas. We believe that by the debate and argument, we can have better ideas. Let’s ask people, “How can we make Muni faster?” Let’s ask people, “How can we create jobs?” Let’s ask people, “How can we make education better?” Let’s really get their ideas going so we can have this dialogue.
TREFNY: So what happens after you have these ideas? When people share that, what do you do with it?
TING: We try to take ideas that bubble up, and then maybe we’ll have petitions. Maybe we’ll try to increase the amount of information on that issue.
For example, one of the ideas that came out of Reset San Francisco was, let’s have YouTube testimony in city commissions. We haven’t been successful yet in getting city commissions interested yet, but we’ve been trying to get them interested to take YouTube testimony, just like they would take an email or take a letter. Because most of us don’t have time to take half a day off of work to go to the planning commission, or to the immigration commission, or to the rec and park commission, or to the police commission. We just don’t have that time.
When we needed to save our Go Solar San Francisco program, it looked like it was going to be cut or potentially axed out of the budget. We asked our Reset community, “Do you care? What do you think?” They responded. They responded by signing a petition, and we were able to work with the Board of Supervisors and the mayor to restore funding for that program. It’s really important.
So I think there are examples where we want to keep pushing issues. Our campaign is really about a community and offering them solutions today. If they believe we’re offering them something of value, I think we’re going to win. If they think we’re not offering things of value, I think we’re going to lose.
TREFNY: So, you talked about big priorities: community engagement, getting people involved in the political process, communicating, and being able to listen to them. You talked about transit efficiency – being able to improve Muni and the transit system. So what’s one more of your top priorities? I’m looking for three, essentially – so what’s one more?
TING: Jobs. Jobs is right there. We need to create more jobs in San Francisco, and the small business community is really at the core of that. I was proud to help jump-start the Go Solar San Francisco program. Not only did it quadruple the number of solar roofs in San Francisco from 500 to over 2,000, but it also created jobs in San Francisco.
We used to have two solar companies in San Francisco, and people always talk about green collar jobs. You hear the president talk about green collar jobs. You heard Mayor Newson talk about green collar jobs. But you couldn’t point to a single person who actually had a green collar job. Well, now, you have 30 solar companies, and 450 people who actually work for the solar companies at all different levels. And those are jobs in San Francisco, where companies probably actually hire people a good number of San Franciscans.
So what we want to do is have jobs that share our values, like green collar jobs, and we want to make sure they keep those jobs in San Francisco, not just visiting us when they do the work. I don’t think the city should be judged based on how well the few of us do, or how well the wealthy do. I think it’s really based on, “Do the least advantaged have opportunities in San Francisco?” I think that’s how we should judge our city.
TREFNY: Do you think that the least advantaged in San Francisco have those opportunities?
TING: I think right now that window is closing and closing. And, quite frankly, I think right now the least advantaged people in San Francisco seem to be slowly kicked out of San Francisco. That’s my biggest concern. We have a pretty significant income gap, which seems like it’s growing. Our medium home price is almost $700,000. It reached a peak at almost $800,000 a couple years ago. You have only about 20% of the people in San Francisco being able to afford a medium-priced home – and that’s a medium-priced home, it’s clearly not even a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home, that people even think about for large families.
TREFNY: And that’s very common in other parts of the country.
TING: That’s very, very common. In other parts of the country, you can buy a four-bedroom, three-bathroom house for $300,000. So I think we should be concerned. We shouldn’t just accept that it’s okay and somehow the rest of the population can find homes somewhere else.
I think it’s important that have a very aggressive plan to: 1.) Make sure we have more affordable housing at all income levels, not just in the lowest income level, but at the moderate income level; and 2.) Make sure our communities continue to be diverse, at all income levels as well, to make sure we have housing, and that we have a strong public education system, so that you don’t not only do you have to worry about housing, but you have to pay for private schools.
I think it’s so important that we create job opportunities for our San Franciscans. There’s so many people that are out of work, and that’s been really devastating in one part of town, really in the southeast part of town.
I’ve been working really hard to stem the foreclosure crisis, working on that for the past six years. I’ve been working with community groups to educate people and homeowners on the perils of bank loans and what you need to watch out for. These are really key to buying a home. You need to make sure you’re in the right type of situation for yourself. If you’re in the wrong situation, you could be losing your home. I think it’s key to be constantly educating folks about what’s going on.
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