Election 2011: John Avalos on the Owl, Naked Lunch, Grasshopper Pie, and Feeling Mighty Real

Well, it’s that time again. Another election year is already underway here in SF, and it already looks like it’s shaping up to be a corker. With everyone and that’s gonna be on the ballot, we thought it might help to help you get to know the
contenders a little better. So, here’s the BAS 20 Questions With the Candidates 2011!

Next up…

Name: John Avalos

Age: 47

Occupation: District 11 Supervisor

Hometown: Wilmington, CA

Running for: Mayor

Where you’re at right now: On the couch with my kids.

1. Hey John! Welcome to BAS Meet the Candidates! So, how long you lived in the city and where’s your hood?

I’ve lived here for 22 years. After 18 years of broke ass living in San Francisco, couching surfing, renting rooms and all of the above, my wife and I bought a home in the Excelsior. Five days later the housing market crashed. That’s just my luck. But we are happy to have our home in the Excelsior and live in that part of town. Our two kids go to public school there and my wife is a teacher there – it’s a great community.

2. What are the best/ worst aspects about living there?

District 11 is a strong working class/middle class district, with the highest representation of labor households in the City. I have lived in this neighborhood since before it was District 11, and have worked here as a community organizer and labor activist. It has a tremendous feeling of culture and diversity; the “art walks” I created as Supervisor have helped encourage the overall feeling of community, but I would say that the same issues that San Francisco is dealing with citywide are pervasive here: safety, access to well paying jobs, and public transit. As Supervisor I have made it a priority to encourage and create alternative modes of transit, including expanding and add bike lanes and improving Muni service, as well as increase safety around our public transit stops and parks by ensuring they are well-lit and well-maintained. My Local-Hiring ordinance was instrumental in getting residents back to work as well, and as Mayor I plan to expand this to all sectors, not just the building trades.

3. How do you get to work- Foot, bike, public transit or car?

When I’m not campaigning, I ride my bike from my home to City Hall about three days a week. The other days I go by Muni/BART or car.

4. Muni. Is. Awful. Garage or salvage yard?

Garage, obviously, because the salvage yard would only take it as a charity case.

Seriously, Muni needs reform and everyday attention from the Mayor. I intend to give it that attention, and will use a range of tools ranging from scalpels to blow torches and wrecking balls to get things done.

5. If we elect you is there anything you can really do to help get a more dependable overnight transit, BART or otherwise?

Yes. The Mayor and the MTA took away night service, and I would like to restore it. I can’t tell you how many times I spent after hours waiting for the GD bus and walking the great distance to my apartment when I could no longer wait in the cold.

6. It’s pretty hard to make it as a “ broke-ass” in this town, let alone find a place to live. Do you think insane rents, requirements like making several times your rent or having a certain credit score to qualify for an apartment make living here feasible?

No. I’ve been at those apartment showings where 30 people arrive to view an opening and start a bidding war. As a brok-eass person, I never even threw in a bid. If I had a way of guaranteeing rent-controlled apartments for everyone, I would. Vacancy price control will require state law changes and in capitalist Californ-I-A, I don’t think it’ll happen anytime soon but I am an advocate for it.

7. Let’s say the house part doesn’t quite work. When you’re homeless in this town, do you think you really ever can bounce back?

I’ve been without an apartment for stretches of time. One two-month period, I lived with three people, a cat and a dog in a 1-bedroom apartment on Fulton and Scott. All of the people – and the cat – used the bathroom. If you don’t have a cushion to land on, like folks to bail you out, couches, and floors to sleep on, it gets pretty hard. I was lucky to have friends to take me in but not everyone has those relationships. As Mayor, I will work increase opportunities for people to find affordable and decent housing. It would be a big priority of mine.

8. A lot of the homeless are queer kids that come here with pretty much nothing. There isn’t even a hostel in the Castro. Groups like Dimensions, Lyric, etc. do what they can, but they are working on shoestrings. Is Castro Street or even the city itself capable of being not only a beacon, but also a sanctuary?

I always think of a phone call that Harvey Milk received from the young man from Altoona, Pennsylvania. This City is a sanctuary for people fleeing oppression and discrimination from within our own country and often from within our own families intolerant of queer youth.

In addition to addressing the needs and issues of our homeless population, I believe that if San Francisco wants to be a true Sanctuary City, we need to acknowledge and honor the great contributions our immigrant population brings to our culture and our economy. I am running for Mayor to protect and foster San Francisco’s great diversity.

It is what brought me to this city and what continues to attract people from all over the country and all over the world. As Mayor I will seek to stabilize our housing issues by introducing a housing bond that will create a permanent stream of funding for affordable housing in San Francisco, guaranteeing that more of our families don’t end up on the streets; the rental assistance programs I have already created as Supervisor were precisely in order to help struggling families to stay in their homes. As Mayor I will seek to expand transitional youth housing, as well as build more density of housing around transit corridors. I would also seek to extend subsidy programs for low-income people, and create even greater protection for tenants so we can prevent people getting evicted from their homes.

9. One group that hasn’t had any housing problems would be bedbugs. Does the city have a contingency plan on this one?

I have been a strong proponent of increased advocacy and education for tenants and landlords. I have also worked to increase enforcement of nuisances like bedbugs.

The city must provide all its residents with low-cost and useful ways of preventing and eradicating bedbugs. If I’m not elected Mayor, I’m thinking about going into the exterminator business, like William Lee in the film Naked Lunch (based on the novel by William S. Burroughs).

10. Like a lot of people in town, I have Healthy SF (now SFPATH). Mostly okay, but some people are waiting up to a year to get really important screenings, tests, etc. One nurse told me you can try to speed things up by going to the emergency room. Universal healthcare is a critical asset in this town, no doubt, but should we be worried?

I believe that quality health care is a basic right that every American ought to possess. That is why I support single payer health care, and why I campaigned for it when it was on the ballot in 1994. In San Francisco we have taken steps to address the health crisis of the uninsured through the Healthy San Francisco program, which I wholeheartedly support; however, the public health care facilities on which Healthy San Francisco participants rely have been under attack due to budget cuts. As Supervisor I have been a champion of public health and fought back against proposed cuts.

As Mayor, I will continue to fight to maintain essential health care services, including preserving services at SF General, the pharmacies, and other vital medical services, in the effort to ensure each citizen’s access to quality health care. Healthy San Francisco is a noble program but it needs to go further to keep our City healthy and our families here. As Mayor I would build upon Healthy San Francisco to fully guarantee health access for everyone.

11. Speaking of healing- How long do you think before it’s possible to smoke a joint without having some kind of illness?

I believe you’re asking for trouble if you do any more than 10 tokes an hour. Do that for several days on end, and you’re a goner.

12. These 7×7 miles seem to be getting a lot more square with every year that passes. Other cities seem to have more of a handle on things like street fairs and nightlife. Is the fun in the city destined to go the way of, say, the Eagle?

Not if I can help it. While I don’t always get to dive into the nightlife scene the way I’d like to, I know it’s a big part of what makes this city so wonderfully fun and creative.

Nightlife is also a big part of our local economy. We should be encouraging it, not inhibiting it or attacking it with heavy-handed police practices.

We need more outdoor facilities in the areas where nightlife is most concentrated.

Moreover, revelers need to be a bit more thoughtful about how they interact in neighborhoods.

13. Diversity seems important to San Franciscans, but is it also endangered? Folks seem both pissed and scared. Has this “ Girl of the Golden West” forgotten who her people are?

I believe many of San Francisco’s problems with diversity can be solved by increasing awareness among neighborhoods and communities. I am a supporter of community-based solutions to our citywide problems, through programs like community policing, where the police officer on the beat is on a first name basis with local merchants, or neighborhood beautification projects, where residents team up and revitalize storefronts in their district. The collaborative process of sharing a common goal encourages relationship-building between neighbors, increases awareness of issues like homelessness, racism, and immigrant rights, and generally improves people’s attitudes towards diversity in their communities.

14. Who’s your local hero?

Tom Ammiano, Eric Quezada, Lorena Melgarejo, Peter Bratt, Ana Perez

15. Every American city has deep-seeded, local subjects of debate, where one has to take a side. What is your stance on the following: What is the best a) coffee; b) ice cream; c) cioppino; d) burrito; e) dim sum?

Coffee: Sumatra runs through my French press. Martha Bros coffee straight out of the urn.

Ice cream: Mitchells’ grasshopper pie and mocha fudge

Ciopinno: Can’t pronounce it, can’t eat it

Burrito: Viva el Toro, Viva Zapata. Unlike my fellow candidates who have been wined

and dined at $100 a plate dinners, I’ve been wined and dined at some of the best taquerias in town…on my own dime.

Dim Sum: I can’t even begin to recall all the great places I’ve had dim sum

16. What’s your favourite cheap bar? Your poison?

The Uptown! Bourbon on the rocks. Maker’s Mark will do.

17. What’s your favourite cheap grub spot?

Pork Store.

18. What’s important in San Francisco right now?

Access to affordable housing, well-paying jobs and a quality education.

19. Why is San Francisco important right now?

As I said earlier, San Francisco is still a beacon, not just for people and families from

all over the world, but for fellow Americans who are attracted to our inclusivity. Rather than rest on our laurels and the historic reputation of San Francisco’s embracing nature,

I believe now more than ever we should be proactive about attracting new cultures, new people, new immigrants, to continue to expand our City’s diversity and our progressive attitudes.

20. People like to sing about this place a lot. Perfect San Francisco song:

“I Left My Heart in San Francisco” after a Giants victory at the ballpark. Other than that, I’m quite partial to “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” by Sylvester. This song is featured in a documentary about the life and times of Harvey Milk, and captures the spirit of a great period in San Francisco history.

Thanks for answering our answering our twenty questions! Good luck in November!

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About the author

Stephen Torres - Threadbare-Fact Finder

Stephen's early years were spent in a boxcar overlooking downtown Los Angeles. From there he moved around the state with his family before settling under the warm blanket of smog that covers suburban Southern California. Moving around led to his inabilty to stay in one place for very long, but San Francisco has been reeling him back in with its siren song since 1999. By trade he pours booze, but likes to think he can write and does so occasionally for people like the SF Bay Guardian. He also likes to enoy time spent in old eateries, bars and businesses that, by most standards, would have been condemned a long time ago.