This November, incumbent District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee faces five competitors to keep his seat at the Board of Supervisors. Read this interview about his term.
Alexander Mullaney: Tell me about your first term.
Norman Yee: I think it’s been good. In general you always want to do more but when I look at some of the issues I feel good about there were existing stuff that had been sitting around for a long time and didn’t get to go too far and we were somehow—maybe it was the right timing or the right place at the right time type of thing—where we were able to move it. One of the things being the Ingleside Library open space was just sitting there, then the Safeway on Monterey. That issue was resolved.
AM: What do you see yourself working on this year?
NY: I would say that there are some basic issues that I will always be working on and continue to work on because they aren’t finished. Additional safety is really important to me. We’ve done some things in the district and I feel pretty good about it but it’s not finished, it’s never going to be finished. My whole advocacy policy for children and families will continue.
AM: Anything in particular this year?
NY: I’m actually pushing family housing. I’m pushing this new development, the language around that to define it as a city definition. So that’s actually going through the process right now. City Planning has been a chore to do that and then I asked them to also develop this definition, which they already had to be truthful, because I made them do it two years ago… All I asked was to give me the elements that you think are important and I won’t tell anyone you did it. So they actually did it. So now I’m going to make it official and I asked them come up with some policy around these issues where we could give some incentives for developers to actually build family homes.
AM: Participatory budgeting. Looking back at the past three years, what does the future look like?
NY: Well, as you know, we just had a deadline. I don’t know how many projects came in. I’m guessing it’s about the same number as last year, about forty. And this cycle we’ve actually got more money which is kind of cool and we’re the only ones doing it at this point so if I were to control the future I would say it’s going to continue until it’s either not doable or people are not satisfied that it’s not doing enough then I would say forget it, let’s just go back to the traditional way of doing things. But I love it for many reasons. I just feel that it empowers the communities and the residents. I’ve gotten a couple of projects that weren’t funded for participatory budgeting but that the concepts were so good that I had the city look at them and actually ended up supporting them.
AM: Homelessness in the district. What do you see going on?
NY: Relative to the city District 7 doesn’t have a big number of homeless populations. However it has increased and it’s noticed by people who aren’t used to it especially by people on [the West Portal] corridor. There’s a few on Ocean. I think at least I know one guy for a while was just sleeping in front of the Ingleside Library doorway. You ever notice him?
AM: Yeah, there’s three or four.
NY: Three or four?
AM: There’s the larger man who sleeps by the library…
NY: Well, I would say 35 to 40 years old or so. I talked to him a little bit. He just feels comfortable there. But here there’s a few more than there so I think it was the end of November, sometime around then, I had the [Homeless Outreach Team] come and do a walk through with the beat cop over here because the beat cop didn’t know of all the services but what he did was all the different spots where people would be staying. Unfortunately when the HOT team came through we actually didn’t see any homeless individuals but they at least knew where they were going to be sleeping. They said they’ll come by once in a while in the evening to see if they can talk to them and be some help.
AM: So you were the lone dissenting vote about funding the mayor’s new centers for homeless.
NY: No, it was a vote where people could donate. I didn’t vote against the donation or the transition center. What I voted against was the… What wasn’t included in there was that it doesn’t matter how much money the City gets. They don’t have to show the Board of Supervisors anymore. And I said, No. And there was a similar piece of legislation with another donation pot of money, which I voted against as well and I stated why and so forth. A few people voted against it with me for that reason. What happened with that vote is that I didn’t get a chance to say anything. It was like, Oh shit, we’re already voting and I just decided to vote no. The Mayor’s Office knew why. It was about transparency. It was like, No, why aren’t you showing… we’re not talking $10,000. I mean what if someone donates half a million to you? You’re going to spend it without any check or balance? So that was my argument. So, yes I was a lone vote.
AM: What is your role on the Board of Supervisors?
NY: Well, definitely I’m one of several strong voices around pedestrian safety. I think what’s happened is I’m one of the people who has paid more attention to trying to figure out different ways. I’m not program staff, but because of my background in developing projects it’s easy for me to think of things. So I would constantly think of things like student crossing guard. The other role that I play really is around children’s issues in general. I would say I’m very strong in saying, “That doesn’t make sense and this makes sense.” In particular child care and early education. I would say, everybody knows that I’m the expert on the Board and they would defer to me on those issues and I continue to push for it so it’s one of those that everyone would support but nobody knows how to push it. My recent legislation that was passed on Tuesday was an inclusionary childcare legislation and it includes the concept of providing some in the high rise units, residential units, to be a licensed family childcare facility. Something that, where nobody was going to think about it. I would say. I mentioned earlier about family housing, I think my role is a lot of people are pushing for affordable housing but nobody’s talking about family housing and it’s important. All the stuff I’m doing is about how do we keep children’s families in San Francisco. Really, when you look at a lot of the stuff I’m doing, it just flows right into that concept.
AM: What are your thoughts on the Affordable Housing Bonus Program?
NY: I voted against many things because I felt that it would hurt the character of our neighborhoods. At the same time I’m not against housing. I’ve supported several of the projects on Ocean Avenue and just trying to work through the Balboa Reservoir so part of it is the balance. It’s important to me that I listen to the residents, and they know I have. Because we talk about CEQA and there was some legislation that that made it is easier for people just to bypass CEQA and people couldn’t protest and go against it. And I said, No. I fought against it and I actually won. There are certain things around zoning like in-laws. It’s a battle whether we want in-laws or not and I didn’t support some of the legislation around in-laws because it didn’t make any sense to me anyways.
AM: How do you think Ed Lee leads in this part of town?
NY: You got to ask other people. I try to work with people I would rather not. I have a working relationship with every single board member and the mayor. I could tell you that I worked with him on some of the issues and been successful. He’s supported me in trying to get the pedestrian safety issues. He could have fought me since I’m the only one doing participatory budgeting and there’s some sense from his department folks to just not allow that. And I told him how important it was for me and for the district and he supported it. So I mean those are not things that people would hear about, but I have to work with him so if it’s… To be fair… That could be a whole different interview because you would have to balance all the things I agree with and things I don’t agree with.
AM: How do you see West Portal’s commercial corridor growing in the next five to 10 years?
NY: I might as well talk about all of the corridors, there aren’t that many really… Probably West Portal and Ocean are the most active in trying to make changes and, you know, West Portal is pretty established but you can see if you walk and look at what’s new here, it’s taking away little bit of the old restaurant flavor that’s been around for 50 years. Several places have closed down and we’re going to miss it but people also really like the fact that Squat and Gobble is here and Vin Debut. It’s cool to have that. What’s the Italian restaurant in the middle of the block here? Anyways, it’s an upgrade in terms of restaurant so in a way what I’ve seen is that slowly having an upgrade whereas Ocean is actually faster in terms of the upgrade but they had so much room to grow. I’m still looking forward to the Japanese restaurant that’s supposed to open. We’ve been talking to them. I have to pay a bit of attention to the Molly Stone area. That seems to be OK. I just sort of monitor it and make sure there are not a billion vacancies. Right now Taraval is the same thing, you know, pay attention to it and make sure everything is OK. It’s nothing like West Portal or Ocean Avenue. To me, Ocean Avenue will be growing closer in terms of as a business corridor to what West Portal is. And I worked really closely with both groups in terms of saying, you know, what do you need? Participatory Budgeting isn’t really where I help them… Ocean Avenue has the new benefit district and they want to get one here and they actually got grant money to hire someone to help them but after they tried they decided it’s not going to work.
AM: You’re the incumbent with three opponents. How are you going to beat them?
NY: To be honest, I don’t know who they are. I mean, I know Joel because he ran last time but the other two, I have no idea who they are. Somebody said I sat right next to them last night and I had no idea. I mean, the main thing is to continue doing what I’ve been doing which is: resolve issues. There are some things I already talked about which are a priority to do within the district. The senior services are really important to me because I feel like we really have a lack of that. Open space, which I didn’t talk about too much, that’s something I’m very pragmatic about my approach. I don’t want to try to take on too many things so, as you know, we’ve finished Ingleside [Library garden]. West Portal Playground is almost ready. I’ve been working with that group for two years and we’re so close to getting all the money we need. And I started that process with Golden Gate Heights park. So, there maybe like a year and a half behind West Portal in terms of help with the funding. And I just initiated the beginning of stuff with Miraloma Park and I don’t know how fast they can move. The speed of how fast we can move on projects is based on how well the neighborhood can organize and I tell each one of them that I’m not going to do anything until you guys agree on what you want help with. It doesn’t make sense for me to play referee if they are divided on the project. And West Portal did that.
AM: Any parting words?
NY: I’m running because I think there are a lot of things that can be done and continue to do whether it’s for San Francisco in general or for the district. Many of the projects I got started, like the playground, I want to get done. I don’t want to leave the next person going, “What happened to this project?” Of the three parks and playgrounds I’m talking about I’m really hoping I could get two of them done in the next four years outside of bond money. I think that’s a big accomplishment because I don’t think that’s ever been done before. It’s usually bond money that supports it.
This article first appeared in The Light’s March 2016 edition. It has been updated.