State Senate Candidates Face Off in Debate

Kaylee Fagan

May 2, 2016

Word Count: 1,278


City supervisors and state Senate candidates Scott Wiener and Jane Kim found little common ground in Monday night’s debate, where the two tackled complex issues such as homelessness and San Francisco’s housing crisis, and fought to be the most progressive politician in the room.

Accusations flew, tension rose, and audience members didn’t hold back as each candidate questioned the other’s qualifications, policy implications, and even campaign funding.

Kim, a member of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority that oversees the controversial new Transbay Terminal, is considered to be the more liberal of the two Democrats by voters, yet has been criticized for her lack of policy proposals.

Kim debated aggressively during the second of six debates for the state Senate seat, being vacated by termed-out Senator Mark Leno. In her opening statement, Jane accused Wiener of protecting landlords and fighting against rent control, as well as proposing a “mansion tax” and a motion to make community college free statewide.

Supervisor and Bay Area Toll Authority Commissioner Scott Wiener fired back by saying he had written “multiple” pieces of legislation in favor of affordable housing, including student housing, and reminded the audience that he is “incredibly proud” to be endorsed by current State Senator Mark Leno and California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

Wiener was heavily criticized by supporters from Kim’s camp, protesting outside before the debate. Spokeswoman Wendy Aragon described Wiener as  “anti-homeless, anti-low-income, anti-tenant…” while Nora Harrington said “I feel that Wiener represents the Republicans of San Francisco.”

“Scott was previously the chair of the San Francisco Democratic party. So that doesn’t make any sense,” countered Todd David, the political director for Wiener’s campaign. In response to Aragon’s comment, David added, “Scott believes that allowing people to live in tents is inhumane. People deteriorate faster when left on the streets, we need stronger forces addressing the problem.”

Housing and homelessness were the most heated discussion topics of the night, and the candidates used nearly every question to touch on their dedication to these issues.

The housing crisis is a “regional problem” that extends far beyond the gentrified neighborhoods of San Francisco, said Wiener. “The entire Bay Area needs to participate.” Wiener also mentioned that building housing for low-income residents is not the only answer to this problem: “Subsidized low-market housing is important, but we need to expand middle class housing as well.”

“The fastest growing demographic of our homeless population is single, working mothers,” Kim insisted, and was met by applause from the audience. “It sounds simple, but housing is the solution to homelessness,” she asserted, and later pointed out she has “built more affordable housing in my district than anyone on this Board.”

A question about the legalization of sleeping and camping in public places brought out the biggest differences in the candidates, and in their supporters in the audience.

Kim stated her opinion plainly, “I don’t support legislation to criminalize actions that are not criminal…The answer is not to sweep the homeless, it is about investing in housing, and in mental health.” She was again received with enthusiastic cheers, despite her group of identifiable supporters being significantly smaller than Wiener’s.

She also made reference to the controversial sweeps of homeless encampments that took place before the Super Bowl City attraction back in February, calling the practice “inhumane.”

Wiener, who has consistently been accused of criminalizing homelessness, gave some background and attempted to approached the topic with a defensive strategy, appealing to logic.

“We are talking about the Right to Rest Law, sounds great, but it wipes away all our laws based in the use of public spaces,” he began. “Allowing people to live, and ultimately deteriorate and die on the street is not progressive, it is irresponsible–”

Before Wiener could finish his thought, an outcry from the back of the room interrupted him.

“Stop fucking demonizing homeless people!” shouted a young woman who ran out of the room before she could be identified. “Stop demonizing us…” she repeated as she fled.

Wiener didn’t seem shaken by the outburst, after which he continued, “I put my money where my mouth is when it comes to protecting the homeless, but I also value public space.”

The discussion shifted toward public safety, another area in which Wiener has been criticized by Kim supporters for being too far right, ever since he proposed to expand the number of San Francisco police officers in an effort to prevent property crimes, especially car break-ins.

Wiener stood by this decision, calling himself one of the “leading advocates to restaff the police department, and tying the number of police officers to the population growth.” He also accused Kim of saying “police do not prevent crime.”

Kim responded by rolling her eyes. “We can’t arrest our way out of crime,” she said. “I’m not opposed to increasing the number of cops on our streets…but it starts with making sure our cops are actually trained properly and held accountable.”

“California has pursued mass incarceration,” Kim continued. “And we’ve seen time and time again, it doesn’t work…We do know that school prevents crime, that housing prevents crime, and that we should be putting our focus on other issues.”

The candidates mostly agreed when asked about the state’s need to protect the environment and expand public transportation, which Kim described as the “twin issues in this region of the Bay Area.”

The tone remained calm until a question from the audience transitioned into a tangent about campaign funds, where both candidates had more than a few criticisms for their opponent.

Kim accused Wiener of taking contributions of more than $1 million from individuals and companies that “support the landlords of San Francisco,” to which he responded he has received donations from more than 1,800 contributors, saying that it’s unfair to “cherry pick” which donations should be considered problematic.

He then asserted that 75 percent of his funding has come from within his own district, while “the majority” of hers has come from outside of the city. A claim which he summarized with “People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.”

Kim said 60 percent of her contributions have come from within the city, and the rest come from supporters “all over the country that want to support women in politics and a Korean-American in politics.”

She took this time to say she is the first Korean-American to be elected to the Board of Supervisors, and will be the first in the state Senate once elected.

“The real difference here is, I actually deliver results,” said Wiener, when asked what he thinks is the most defining difference between himself and Supervisor Kim after the debate. “I don’t want to talk negatively about Kim, or say anything bad about her. But you can be the most tried and true progressive, and still get nothing done,” he added.

“I think we have quite a few differences,” Kim laughed in response to the same question. She said she believes their biggest disagreement is how to deal with the housing crisis, and explained, “He just wants to build, and let the market take its course. But every time, the market is going to build luxury. We need to start building for middle and low income.”

Wiener’s political director, Todd David, said he was “completely perplexed by this statement because it is factually incorrect.” He explained, “The way the planning commision and law of San Francisco works is that a certain percentage of all housing built must be affordable housing… It’s the law. So this is false.”

“Jane has a majority of donations from outside of San Francisco who have no idea about the rent issues here,” said David.

BATA Votes to Loan $100 Million to City of San Francisco to Finish the Controversial Transbay Terminal

Kaylee Fagan

April 18, 2016

Word count: 670

The San Francisco city government received a loan of $100 million from the public agency controlling tolls at most of the Bay Area’s major bridges Wednesday, in hopes the city will finally be able to complete the replacement Transbay Terminal, which is more than 40% over budget and beset with controversy.

Bay Area Toll Authority commissioners, joined by Metropolitan Transportation Commission officers and representatives from City Hall argued for nearly an hour regarding the project’s lack of oversight, the terminal’s potential significance within the Bay Area, and the terms of the loan, which will be paid back at an “attractive” interest rate within ten years.

“This program is quite a while in coming,” said MTC Chief Financial Officer Brian Mayhew, who gave a presentation in favor of the deal, adding, “After many long hours, we’ve come to an arrangement that, I feel, will make everyone happy.”

Every year since breaking ground, The Transbay Project has suffered repeated cost increases and construction delays that have caused the project to exceed its original budget 4 times since 2010, bringing the current estimated cost to $2.4 billion, according to MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger. And that will only cover the first phase of the project.

The total project cost is currently estimated at $4.5 billion, according the project’s oversight committee, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, made up of representatives from SF City Hall, Caltrans, and others.

Several BATA commissioners expressed concern that this loan will not be the last, given the project’s unpredictable expenses in the past.

“Where does it stop?” asked Commissioner Scott Haggerty of Alameda County, who described the decision as “not a very good deal at all” for the BATA. “Let me put it this way,”  Haggerty challenged the loan by making this comparison: “We are currently a couple hundred million short in a new Raider’s Stadium, do you want to pay for that?”

“We are obviously here reluctantly,” responded San Francisco City Controller Ben Rosenfield, who attended the meeting on behalf of City Hall and the TJPA. Rosenfield reminded the committee, “Staff from our governments have been working on this for over a year…The city and county [of San Francisco] have never defaulted on this kind of deal, and we never will.”

To date, the MTC, which manages funding for transit and transportation all throughout the 9-county Bay Area, including BATA, the subgroup designated to distribute funds from the region’s state-owned toll bridges, has already invested more than $350 million to the project, and have been paying $3.6 million annually to maintain the temporary terminal, located on Main and Beale streets.

This is a regional project,” pointed out Commissioner Scott Wiener of San Francisco, who said the Transbay Center will serve not only San Franciscans, but the entire Bay Area and West Coast.

Wiener expressed optimistic support for the loan, calling it a “bitter but necessary medicine” that the BATA must take in order to complete the “very influential” project. He then praised the City and County of San Francisco for “stepping up” and “risking their credit” to see this program through to the end.

In response to skepticism about the city’s ability to finish construction and pay back the loan on-time, Wiener added, “Looking forward, we have to look for ways to empower the TJPA…and learn any lessons that need to be learned.”

“This project makes our new building on Beale Street more valuable,” joked Commissioner Adrienne J. Tissier, as an awkward chuckle erupted throughout the room. She was referring to the MTC’s controversial decision to move its main office from 8th Street in Oakland to San Francisco’s SOMA district, a decision which has cost more than $150 million to date, and caused an uproar of media and public attention, according to MTC spokesman John Goodwin.

“That may be controversial for some, but I had to weigh in,” she remarked. The MTC is scheduled to begin holding meetings in the new Beale Street office by the end of May, and has chosen to sublease office space with several contractors, in order to offset the overwhelming cost.