Election 2011: Leland Yee on Tennessee Grillin’, Keeping Your Noggin Healthy via SFPath, the Misery of the N-Judah, and Connecting 4 at Doc’s Clock
Well, it’s that time again. Another election year is already coming to a close and so far it’s been a real corker. With everyone that’s gonna be on the ballot, we thought it might help you get to know the contenders a little better. So, here’s the BAS 20 Questions With The Candidates 2011!
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Name: Leland Yee
Occupation: State Senator
Hometown: San Francisco
Running for: Mayor
Where you’re at right now: My campaign office, at 710 Van Ness. Come on down if you want to volunteer!
Stephen Torres: Hey Leland! Welcome to BAS Meet the Candidates! So, how long you lived in the city and where’s your hood?
Leland Yee: I have lived in San Francisco since I was 3 years old. I grew up in Chinatown, went to high school in the Mission and I currently live in the Sunset.
ST: What are the best/ worst aspects about living there?
LY: I think the best part of living in the Sunset is that I get to enjoy Golden Gate Park with my family. As for the worst…well, I share the concerns of my neighbors about the N Judah. The N line is unreliable and overcrowded. The N is the busiest of Muni’s light rail lines – and I believe Muni needs to get its core lines running smoothly so we can get our transit system back on track.
ST: How do you get to work- Foot, bike, public transit or car?
LY: As a State Senator, I work in Sacramento, so I do have to drive to work. I look forward to working in the city again and having the chance to drive less and walk more.
ST: Muni. Is. Awful. Garage or salvage yard?
LY: Definitely, garage. Muni needs fixing – and we need a Mayor who is willing to make Muni a priority. Current leadership has been lacking in political will – there are ways that we can improve the system from Day 1. As a first step, we need to bring Muni out of the dark ages. San Francisco is one of the world’s technology leaders, but Muni still dispatches with papers and pencils, literally. Let’s begin with computer-aided dispatch systems linked with GPS enabled on-time tracking for bus drivers. Every other major transit system in the country has these except for Muni. Bottom line – if we ever want to meet the voter-mandated goal of 85% on-time performance, then we need to make common sense improvements so Muni can start delivering on the basics.
ST: If we elect you is there anything you can really do to help get a more dependable overnight transit, BART or otherwise?
LY: The city can start working towards a solution whereby BART can run later, but to do that we need a mayor who makes transit a priority. I will work with BART and Muni to move forward on extended late night service. Though required maintenance usually shuts down the entire BART system for most of the night, by running a single-track the same way the DC Metro system does, we could run limited rail service for longer hours and still maintain our rails. BART and Muni need to move in that direction to grow into a truly integrated world class metropolitan rail system.
ST: 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?
LY: No. My family came to San Francisco 60 years ago – when it was still possible to raise a family in this city. If my family came here today, we wouldn’t be able to afford to live here. San Francisco is too expensive for families and for young people, and that isn’t right.
People who work in San Francisco should be able to live here, too. As Mayor, I will focus on true affordable housing. It’s essential that we find ways to increase the affordable housing stock and that means new development with a stock of affordable units so families can afford to stay here – not just studios, but family-sized units in neighborhoods across the city. As Mayor, I will create an affordable housing budget set-aside that the city can bond against, creating a necessary stream of dedicated funding for affordable housing. I am committed to enforcing inclusionary housing requirements as part of any development agreement. I also support rent control and will fight to protect it.
ST: 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?
LY: Absolutely – but only if we avoid the defeatist attitudes that are all too easy when approaching a problem as serious and longstanding as homelessness in San Francisco. As a mental health provider, it’s very important to me to address the needs of the homeless community. There are real solutions to our homelessness problem.
One of the obstacles to “bouncing back” from homelessness is employment. That’s why we must provide workforce development and job training opportunities and advocate for real housing solutions. As Mayor, I will advocate for opportunities for homeless individuals to bridge the gap from homelessness and unemployment to workplace success, like adding flexibility to shelter curfews and lines for beds to make 9-to-5 employment opportunities more accessible. For those with limited skills or experience, opportunities for jobs that pay a living wage are very limited. Workforce development and job training programs provide homeless individuals with the skills to find and maintain employment. The OEWD currently partners with non-profits to provide job readiness services – providing individuals with job training and placement services or the opportunity to enroll in one of the city’s job readiness programs. I will ensure these partnerships continue and prioritize job training programs for the chronically homeless or those at-risk of being homeless—because San Francisco should be a place of success for all.
ST: 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?
LY: Since Harvey Milk’s time, we’ve been telling queer youth to come to San Francisco – a place that will be welcoming to them. However, when they arrive here, there is no place for them and no services available. In fact up to 40% of homeless youth in the country identify as LGBT, and the numbers are even higher in San Francisco. We need to support groups like Larkin Street Youth Services that have the experience and the resources to reach out to queer youth and help them stabilize their lives and get off the street. We also need to face the fact the Castro isn’t affordable even to those who are lucky enough to still have jobs. Making San Francisco affordable again and supporting more targeted services for queer and trans youth will make all of the difference to the kids who want to come here and prove to themselves that it does get better.
ST: One group that hasn’t had any housing problems would be bedbugs. Does the city have a contingency plan on this one?
LY: The Department of Public Health is the agency in charge of our bedbug response, and unfortunately lack of resources has hampered their ability to deal with the problem. DPH simply doesn’t have the staff to effectively inspect the many SRO and apartment buildings that could be harboring bedbugs. We’re not going to be able to get a handle on the bedbug problem until the city is able to devote more resources to DPH’s efforts. As Mayor, I will work to find the resources for understaffed and underfunded programs like DPH’s bedbug abatement efforts. Things are tough for City government across the board right now, but the City can and should play a real role in improving conditions for our residents.
ST: Like a lot of people in town, I have Healthy SF (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?
LY: We have managed to do something that no other city in the country has been able to do – extend care to every resident, regardless of ability to pay. As Mayor, I will work hard to see that we continue to improve the system. I want to extend coverage to mental health services. Unlike the interim Mayor, I want to close the health savings account loophole – so the money businesses charge you for employee health care actually goes to employees. I am proud of the progress we’ve made, but there is still work to be done. As Mayor I will commit to making our health care system the envy of the country.
ST: Speaking of healing- How long do you think before it’s possible to smoke a joint without having some kind of illness?
LY: I support a patient’s right to safe and legal access to medication. I was also supportive of Prop 19’s efforts to legalize marijuana – I think that we are wasting scant law enforcement resources prosecuting non-violent marijuana users. I strongly oppose the recent actions of the US Attorney’s Office against cannabis production and dispensaries in California.
ST: 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?
LY: Nightlife is an important part of the economic fabric of our city. I was sad to see the Eagle close it’s doors – it was an important and uniquely San Francisco cultural landmark. As part of my plan for jobs in San Francisco, I have a comprehensive plan to promote nightlife through services like extended late night transit hours and city caseworkers dedicated to proactively helping business owners from landing in a situation where they are forced to close their doors.
ST: 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?
LY: The best way to keep San Francisco diverse is to make it affordable again. The unsustainable path the City is currently on leads away from diversity. If only the very wealthy can afford to live here, the city is going to end up pretty homogenous. That’s not the San Francisco I grew up in, and that’s not the San Francisco people come from across the country to live in. We need affordable, family sized housing. We need a housing policy that focuses on the fact that housing should be affordable to all income levels. We need to make sure that affordable units are always part of the mix in new development, and that affordable units are places people will actually want to live. We need to fix our schools so that families aren’t being forced out of the City so that their kids can get a good education. We need to admit that as a City we are failing our African American community, and as a result we are in danger of losing that community. We need to make every neighborhood safe, livable, sustainable and affordable. In short – we need to fight for a San Francisco that has room the 99% too.
ST: Who’s your local hero?
LY: Tamara Ching. Tamara, the mother of San Francisco’s transgender community, is a tireless activist and a longtime friend. We ride together in the LGBT pride parade every year, and I was with her in 1999 when she was named a special parade martial. We have been friends for decades, but we started working together on HIV issues in the Asian Pacific Islander community. Tamara has consistently educated me about issues relating the queer and transgendered communities, and even when we disagree on issues I feel better educated about them after talking to her. Her good work in the community has made San Francisco a better place, and I sincerely admire her for that.
ST: 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?
LY: a) I’m really more of a tea drinker, but my staff is crazy about Four Barrel. So if the folks are Four Barrel are reading: if you ever decide to serve tea, let me know and you’ll definitely have a new customer.
b) Mitchell’s mango.
c) Tadich Grill. I’m a traditionalist.
d) That’s a tough question, because there is so much variety in the city. Favorite is too hard to pick, but the campaign office staff really looks forward to Papalote Fridays.
e) New Asia.
ST: What’s your favourite cheap bar? Your poison?
LY: I’m not a big bar goer, but I’ve enjoyed the few staff meetings we’ve had at Doc’s Clock. We certainly engaged in better Connect Four strategy than campaign strategy in those meetings. When I do grab a beer, I’m pretty partial to the local stuff. San Francisco has some great local brews and I’m a big fan of Anchor Steam’s Humming Ale.
ST: What’s your favourite cheap grub spot?
LY: There’s always good, affordable food to be found in Chinatown. It’s hard to pick just one place when there are so many great little restaurants. I also love the Tennessee Grill in the Sunset. It’s been a family favorite for years.
ST: What’s important in San Francisco right now?
LY: What isn’t important in San Francisco right now? This is a critical election – public power, HealthySF, a municipal bank—and even the sanctity of our votes— are all on the line. We can change the conversation in San Francisco, we can kick the powerbrokers out of City Hall and we can work together to make sure that San Francisco finds progressive solutions to all of it’s problems.
Tired of PG&E spending money on ballot initiatives and not on pipeline maintenance? We can fix that. Tired of businesses charging a fee for worker healthcare and keeping the money for profit? We can fix that.
Vote for change.
ST: Why is San Francisco important right now?
LY: This country needs San Francisco. San Francisco serves as a model to other cities for what is possible. We implemented universal health care. We strive to be a transit-first city. We have a plan for real clean energy solutions that will run the whole city’s power grid on clean, green energy. We could be the first city in the country to start a municipally owned bank to invest in our community and small businesses, and to keep our money out of the institutions that are foreclosing on our neighborhoods. In short, San Francisco’s values and policy solutions are those demanded by the 99%.
Right now, we are in the midst of an election that will define the future of the City. Will San Francisco be a city for working people and progressive values or a playground for the rich? Will it be possible for powerbrokers to steal votes and buy this election or will independence and transparency prevail? Our City is at an important cross-roads. The country needs the progressive solutions that San Francisco can offer. We can’t forget that on election day. It’s time for real progressive leadership for San Francisco.
ST: People like to sing about this place a lot. Perfect San Francisco song:
LY: I’m partial to Otis Redding’s Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay.
Thanks for answering our answering our twenty questions! Good luck on Tuesday!