The SF Mayoral Race: John Avalos
John Avalos represents District 11 on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He once organized for the Justice for Janitors Campaign of the (SEIU) Local 1877 and has a degree in social work. He’s third-generation Mexican American, and was among the first in his family to graduate from a four-year college. And he is running to be San Francisco’s next mayor.
KALW News’ Ben Trefny is talking to every one of the 16 candidates for San Francisco’s top office, including Supervisor Avalos. In this interview, Supervisor Avalos explains his priorities for San Francisco, should he become mayor.
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BEN TREFNY: Tell me about your neighborhood.
JOHN AVALOS: My neighborhood is the Excelsior neighborhood which is just over the hill from here. It is a fabulous neighborhood; it is the most diverse neighborhood in many ways except for we’re not very diverse in terms of income – we’re all about working class, middle class people.
TREFNY: So you work at City Hall right now. In a way that’s kind of a world away from the Excelsior neighborhood. For a lot of people, when they picture the northeast side of the city they picture the bay fronts, they picture the financial district. So what kind of worldview do you have coming out of the Excelsior neighborhood?
AVALOS: The Excelsior is like the South Central part of San Francisco. The worldview I have is, I have a city-wide perspective but I have a perspective of a neighborhood that is underserved in San Francisco. There are a lot of neighborhoods that are outside the downtown core that are underserved.
I think a mayor who can really look at all of our neighborhoods across San Francisco can really be forward-thinking in building equity in how we deliver services all over the city. That’s what I provide as a person running from the southern part of the city.
TREFNY: I share your perspective about what parts of the city are somewhat neglected by City Hall. Although the Excelsior/Visitation Valley has a pretty amazing park and playground there at Crocker Amazon.
AVALOS: Yes. We see good things happening. But when it comes to Muni and you’re riding the 14 line down to Daly City, you might get dropped off on Ocean Avenue, and have to wait for the next bus to come, just like people in the Sunset have to – they get dropped off on the N-Judah, they get dropped off somewhere before the end of the avenues.
TREFNY: And sometimes at 19th Street…
AVALOS: At 19th, and so you have to wait for the next N-Judah to come.
TREFNY: …to get the other 30 blocks down to the ocean.
AVALOS: Yes, that’s a common experience people have outside the downtown core of San Francisco. So I think having a series of mayors who think more about the downtown core than about the neighborhood is a part of the problem. I think having a mayor who can think about downtown and the neighborhoods would be a good thing for San Francisco.
TREFNY: Let’s talk a little bit more about Muni. They were studying the Transit Effectiveness Project and started making some reforms. Do you think they went far enough, or what more would you like to see from Muni and how would you fund it?
AVALOS: They haven’t really fully implemented the Transit Effectiveness Project. They studied it. These are the ideas they have. And then they implemented some of the ideas.
Overall the goal of the Transit Effectiveness Project is to bolster the service along our transit corridors like Mission, and Geary, and Market. Part of it that I’m concerned about is that they cannibalize some of the neighborhood routes that get us to the transit corridors to better serve the transit corridors. So you see some diminishment in service at one level, while you are bolstering on another side.
I’d like to see a transit effectiveness project that can actually lift all boats. Certainly we want to be able to make our transit corridor service stronger. I’m all for that, but I want to make sure that we actually are protecting our neighborhood routes as well. To do it we’re going to need some funding. We’ve lost about $65 million a year from the state because they can’t get their act together in balancing the budget. We have to find local sources of revenue. One idea is looking at a local vehicle license fee – we need state law to enable that. Hopefully this year it will get passed and we’ll be able to put something on the ballot that will allow us to collect here locally to shore up Muni, Muni service, our streets, pedestrian safety, and bicycling.
TREFNY: That’s outside of your purview though as mayor of San Francisco, that’s a state funding solution, so how would you do it internally?
AVALOS: I’m not interested in raising Muni fares; I’m looking at a local income tax. We need state law to do that as well. Last year I put on the ballot an increase to the real estate transfer tax for properties that are sold at a cost of over $5 and $10 million dollars – it’s brought in about $45 million to help balance the budget over this year. That’s a significant amount of money. I’m always looking at how we can find progressive tax solutions to help deal with our services. I assure that we have revenue for our services. We do a lot to cut. We do layoffs, we cut service, we raise fees – those are ways to balance the budget, but we should be looking more at how we can shore up our revenue as well.
TREFNY: What does being mayor of San Francisco mean for you?
AVALOS: For me it really means changing how City Hall works fundamentally. I’m very concerned that over the past several decades San Francisco has worked more and more for the wealthiest and the most powerful business interests in San Francisco.
For me being mayor is to be able to tip the playing field to support people and neighborhoods first. I want to support small businesses, so that they are getting better support from the city, that we don’t see fees rising on them. I want to look at our working class and middle class people. How we can build not just luxury housing for people who are newcomers to the city, but how we can build and support the renovations of existing housing that supports working class and middle class people. That has not been a model and approach that people have been willing to take, and I want to do that in San Francisco.
I’m concerned about working families and families who are leaving the city in droves. We are losing our diversity and we’re changing the city over not supporting people who are existing residents, who are working class, and I think we need to have a city that really focuses on that, or else, we lose a lot. We lose a lot.
We lose children; we’re losing children. A city without children is a city that doesn’t have a lot of vibrancy. I keep thinking of the movie “Children of Men” where there’s no children in that society anymore and what does that society become, and it’s obviously a dystopian look at the world but I think we have to figure out how we make this city work for everyone. If we make this city work for families first, then I think we can make it work for everyone.
TREFNY: Providing affordable housing is one solution. What are other ways to retain and bring families back to the City?
AVALOS: I think helping people to feel good about our public education system and assure that we have local jobs as well for residents so they do not have to leave and can work here in the city. If we can figure out how to diversify our economy and assure that we are providing not just jobs for the biotech, tech, and hospitality industry, but how we can look at new industries and help new industries emerge in manufacturing or on our port facilities.
We have all these great facilities on our port that are assets that can be built upon for job creation. We have a dry dock in the shipyard that could be used for retrofitting ships for green technology. Ships could come from all over the world to get retrofitted here in San Francisco. And that could be an industry that could create thousands of jobs.
But we’re not looking at that; we’re looking at how we can support Larry Ellison and America’s Cup, (that are) first and foremost, temporary jobs, or, to give our port land to office buildings and spaces for the wealthy to use.
How can we assure that we have a more mixed approach to our port facilities that can serve more people? That’s what I want to bring and I think having a perspective of like mine, from the Excelsior or Visitation Valley or Lakeview neighborhood helps to give a broader sense of what we can do with our local economy.