Last March, Shamann Walton formed a campaign committee to organize his run for the District 10 seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. As San Francisco Board of Education president, Walton entered the 2018 race boasting arguably the highest profile of any of the candidates. He quickly earned endorsements from Mayor Ed Lee, State Senator Scott Wiener, State Assemblyman Phil Ting, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, and San Francisco Supervisors Ahsha Safai and Sandra Fewer. Walton became the first District 10 candidate to cross the $10,000 fundraising threshold that requires public disclosure and, as of October, had raised roughly $50,000 for his campaign.
If Walton appears to have an early advantage in the contest, his standing in City politics which granted it didn’t come easily. Walton spent his early years in public housing in Bayview and Potrero Hill before moving to Vallejo at age 11 with his mother. After his 2014 election to the San Francisco school board, the Vallejo Times-Herald ran a profile of Walton in which he recalled that he “spent several stints in juvenile hall” and “was expelled from the Vallejo City Unified School District on more than one occasion” during an adolescence plagued by fears that he’d “end up dead or in jail by the time I was an adult.”
With the help of a mentor, Vallejo community activist Philmore Graham, Walton graduated from high school and attended Morris Brown College in Atlanta. After earning a Bachelor of Arts in political science, he returned to the East Bay to work at the Boys and Girls Club, and then to San Francisco for a position at the Potrero Hill Family Resource Center, where he eventually became director, and for a Masters of Public Administration at San Francisco State University.
At the Potrero Hill Family Resource Center, Walton became involved with the San Francisco Unified School District. As a school readiness coordinator, he developed kindergarten transition programs, parent workshops, and initiated the annual Peace March by Daniel Webster and Starr King elementary schools, which celebrated its ninth year last June. In 2010, Walton became executive director of Young Community Developers, a workforce training nonprofit in Bayview-Hunters Point that, when Walton took over, had a nine-person staff and a $750,000 annual budget. Under his direction, the organization grew: it now has 40 employees and a $7.9 million budget.
Walton’s first run for school board in 2012 was unsuccessful; he finished sixth in a field where the top four vote-getters are elected. In 2014, he was the second most popular candidate elected. In 2016, he became the board’s vice president. The school board’s leadership positions are determined by an internal vote annually, with the previous year’s vice president typically replacing the president. At the start of 2017, Walton succeeded Matt Haney in that position.
Last year, Walton and Haney co-authored an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle to explain SFUSD’s controversial decision to drop their contract with Teach for America: “Teach for America corps members receive just five weeks of teacher training before taking over their own classroom and make a two-year commitment to teach. The school district is required to pay both a fee to Teach for America and the teacher’s full salary,” they wrote. “After five years, just 17 percent of Teach for America teachers are still teaching in San Francisco, which is lower than half the retention rate of other new teachers.”
They concluded that San Francisco “will never build transformational schools, especially for low-income students of color, if we continue to rely on a teaching model of minimal preparation and short-term commitment,” pointing out that cities “that serve mostly high-income students, such as Walnut Creek or Palo Alto, don’t contract with Teach for America; their school boards would never consider it, and there would be uproar from parents if they did.”
In an interview with the View, Walton presented himself as the candidate whose bona fides had already been proven. “In terms of bringing communities together and effecting change and effecting growth, I have experience in that,” he said. “With me you’ll get someone who not only understands the District from living in the District, but also understands the District from working in the District, understands policies and practical aspects of how to get things done, and I’d be able to hit the ground running from day one.”
Walton is the only candidate thus far who has already been elected to public office. He knows “how to manage budgets” and has “created probably at least a thousand jobs” in District 10.
In 2016, Walton co-sponsored a ballot measure, Proposition O, that pushed for a special exemption for the Lennar Corporation to build five million square feet of office space in the Hunters Point Shipyard at an unregulated pace. Since 1986, San Francisco has capped new office space at 950,000 square feet per year. Under Proposition O, the Shipyard project, for which Lennar won voter approval in 2008, wouldn’t count against this limit.
Critics condemned the measure as a corporate handout, which would allow Lennar to leapfrog over competing developers. In its annual election guide, San Francisco Bay Guardian stated that San Francisco “only has the infrastructure to absorb office space, and the jobs and new people it brings to the City, if there are some controls on how much is built every year. The clear facts, borne out by numerous studies, are that new office space doesn’t pay even a fraction of the cost of providing Muni, fire and police, water and sewer, and other costs it puts on the City.” The defunct paper also questioned “whether moving a bunch of new tech offices into a low-income area will be a gentrification and displacement machine.”
Hoping to bring new jobs to a neighborhood that’d lost its main employer, the United States Navy, in 1974 and had never seen comparable reinvestment, Walton looked at it differently. “If we are going to be serious about countering out-migration of the Black population, then we have to be serious about providing the economic engine that is needed for us to stay, to live and work in the community,” he told the Chronicle, noting that high rise opponents had put forth the 1986 measure capping office space construction to curb the “Manhattanization” of downtown San Francisco, not to prevent development in disenfranchised outer neighborhoods.
With Young Community Developers, Walton had already co-developed 60 affordable housing units at the Shipyard with Five Point Holdings, Lennar’s residential division. Lennar had also contracted with YCD to provide job training and social services for its low-income residents, thus fulfilling part of a community benefits agreement signed by the company that requires it to spend $8.5 million on workforce development in District 10.
Proposition O passed by a narrow margin last November, winning 51.9 percent of votes, thanks in part to $2.1 million donated in support by Five Point Holdings.
Walton is co-developing another 156 affordable homes at Candlestick Point with Five Point Holdings. In his View interview, he cited affordability – alongside safety, transportation, and school improvement – among his top priorities for District 10. “I think making sure the District and the City are more affordable is a challenge that will continue for a while until we make some policy changes,” he said. His primary goals include “keeping the community indigenous and making sure that we manage the growth so that it benefits everyone – because, as you know, we have over 12,000 new homes coming into the District – by making sure that along with the growth we have economic opportunity.”
In his view, the City “needs to do more in terms of developing its own middle-class affordable housing and developing housing for all. With a $9 billion budget, we can act more like the developers developing our City. If we do that as a City and County, we actually can be more responsible and accountable to the communities in San Francisco.”
For the homeless, he advocates “more Navigation Centers, but also actually building more housing to house the homeless, because that’s going to be the most important way to address homelessness: to actually put people in housing. So, I’m already working on strategies with the Department of Homelessness here in San Francisco.”
Walton called himself “a candidate for all the people” of District 10. “We have some strong neighborhoods in the District,” he said, “but they’re kind of separate in a lot of ways: Bayview, Dogpatch, Potrero Hill, Viz Valley; not a lot of connectivity. So, I want to bring that connectivity to the entire District and bring neighborhoods together.”