Photograph by Malia Cohen

Photograph by Malia Cohen

District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen addressing a crowd at a fundraiser at Piccino for a Dogpatch playground last month.

April 2014

District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen Has Formidable Campaign Coffers

Brian Rinker

Five candidates have filed to run for supervisor against District 10 incumbent Malia Cohen this November. The would-be politicians — Tony Kelly, Shawn Richard, Ed Donaldson, Diane Wesley Smith and DeBray Carpenter — have begun, to varying degrees, preparing campaign strategies, solidifying their support and fundraising. But the clear advantage goes to Cohen, whose re-election effort is well underway and financially strong, with slightly more than $125,000 in campaign contributions collected in 2013, according to reports filed with the San Francisco Ethics Commission. In the 2010 election, Cohen raised less than $120, 000 in private donations, with 86 percent of the money coming from outside the district, according to a study by San Franciscans for Clean Government.

Cohen’s donor base is dominated by realtors, developers, property managers and architects. Some are active in the district’s property market, including contributors who work for AE3 Partners, Polaris Pacific and Emerald Fund. Individuals with obvious ties to development and real estate interests account for upwards of $20,000 of Cohen’s re-election campaign coffers. Cohen has also received contributions from the Bay Area Labor Party, California Nurses Association, San Francisco Firefighters, bankers, City staff and a handful of Yellow Cab employees, which is located on Mississippi Street. 

“She is one of the few votes we have on the board we can count on,” said Eric Andresen, owner of West Coast Properties, referring to property owners. He added that Cohen spends a lot of time considering an issue before making a decision. “She thinks like an adult instead of like a child, which is how most of the board thinks. A lot of them have knee-jerk reactions. Malia doesn’t.” If Cohen is re-elected, Andresen, who donated the $500 maximum to her campaign, would “like to see her keep her moderate stand and continue to be thoughtful and reasonable.” He hopes that she ultimately runs for the State Senate or Assembly.

While Cohen works to retain her seat in November, throwing fundraisers and securing endorsements, she refused, once again, to talk about the election with the View. Cohen said she’d only grant an interview if the paper agreed to publish it sometime in the summer, closer to the election. She said it wasn’t strategically advantageous for her to talk about the campaign seven months before voters will select a candidate, adding that she didn’t want to confuse her constituents that she was running in the June election, which features just two ballot measures and the primary between supervisors David Campos and David Chiu for State Assembly.

The supervisor’s strategy of avoiding speaking to what amounts to her hometown newspaper could be emblematic of Cohen favoring a personal political agenda over a community one. Neighborhood activists and rival candidates claim that Cohen has been a no-show for District 10, accomplishing little meaningful work that addresses the issues confronting the district related to public health, the environment, affordable housing, rapid development, public safety and infrastructure. 

Cohen’s first term voting record suggests a politically moderate supervisor in a San Francisco context. And indications are that she’s focused on building a political base to run for a state office. For example, she’s sponsored legislation that bans large capacity ammunition magazines and prohibits pregnancy centers advertising misleading information, issues high on state and national gun control and women’s choice agendas. More recently, Cohen co-sponsored, with cohort Supervisor Jane Kim, from District 6, a “ban-the-box” ordinance that bars employers and housing providers from asking applicants right away about their criminal history. 

As a member of the board’s Land Use and Economic Development committee, Cohen handles all housing and land use related measures, including issues related to planning, rent control, zoning, transportation, homelessness, and the environment.

Development is big business in District 10, with commercial space, condominiums, and apartment buildings popping up throughout the Southside neighborhoods. A collaboration of City agencies, supported by public and private sector funds, are working toward a major overhaul of San Francisco’s public housing complexes. This includes plans to transform Hunters View, Sunnydale, Potrero Annex-Terrace, and Alice Griffith into mixed-income residences, featuring condos, public housing, market-rate and affordable units. The future housing developments will feature retail centers, parks, and community centers. 

Another large project in the district is the redevelopment of Candlestick Park and Hunters Point. The City will hand over the stadium to Florida-based Lennar Corporation sometime in 2015 for demolition. Lennar plans to build a massive shopping center and housing complex on the site, with some 10,500 homes, and oversee the rebuilding of the nearby Alice Griffith housing development. All told, the City estimates Hunters Point redevelopment will attract 30,000 new residents. 

Cohen supports the soda tax, a proposed ballot initiative that would assess a two-cents an ounce levy on sugary drinks, in part as a way to curb obesity and diabetes, public health challenges that disproportionately impact African-Americans and Latinos, who together represent more than half of District 10’s population. The tax has broad support from supervisors considered to be “conservative” and “progressive” alike.

 Cohen fought against adding a 100-bed homeless shelter in Bayview, even publishing an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle outlining her opposition. She argued, unsuccessfully, that the neighborhood already meets the needs of its homeless population and offers plenty of social services, and that a new shelter would concentrate poverty in the City and threaten public safety. The board approved a $1 million grant for the shelter, and is moving forward on rezoning the property next door to Mother Brown’s, which will manage the facility. It will be another six months to a year before construction could begin. 

Cohen supports banning overnight parking for large vehicles on certain streets. And in the face of intense lobbying by Kelly and others, she urged the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Administration to consider permit parking in Potrero Hill instead of lining the streets with meters. 

While voters defeated the 8 Washington ballot initiative that would have approved the construction of a luxury condominium complex on the Embarcadero, Cohen, along with seven other supervisors, supported the project. She also voted for the project, this time in the minority, at the Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC), where a 15-4 vote favored delaying it. But Cohen supported Proposition B, which would require a public vote for proposed developments above a certain height limit, at the DCCC, which voted overall to reject the proposition.

Bayview has been called a “food desert” as a result of the scarcity of outlets vending organic produce and healthy foods. After she was elected, Cohen joined long-standing attempts to bring wholesome foods to the area. She supported efforts by the Food Guardians, a group of residents advocating for healthy food, who succeeded in enticing a couple of corner stores — Lee’s Food Market and Ford’s Grocery — to devote more shelf space to fresh produce and whole grains. But during Cohen’s term Fresh and Easy, which had only recently opened on Third Street, closed, and Cohen has failed to recruit another large grocer to the community. Cohen suggested that Fresh and Easy —which shuttered or sold its outlets nationwide — failed to tailor its products to the community. 

Cohen wrote a letter to the Planning Commission in support of bypassing discretionary review of the new location for the Center for Youth Wellness, on Evans and Third streets. A small group opposed the Center’s location, claiming that the site was unsuitable for children because of nearby truck traffic and the foul-smelling air that wafts over from the sewage treatment plant. The Center’s chief executive officer, Nadine Burke, and its director of development, Latanya Hilton, donated $500 each to Cohen’s re-election campaign. 

“So you want to talk about our girl Malia,” Hilton said, who’s known Cohen personally and professionally for ten years. “She’s has really just been a champion for our organization.” Cohen has worked to coordinate resources within the community, said Hilton, adding that the supervisor is a role model for young women everywhere. “There certainly are a lot of challenges,” Hilton said about the district. “Bayview is the hardest hit, but there are a lot of families here and plenty of beautiful aspects to the Bayview. Malia showcases that beautiful element.”

Shortly after taking office in 2010, Wells Fargo Bank foreclosed on Cohen’s condominium near Candlestick Park after she failed to make payments. The Chronicle quoted Cohen as saying that she was a victim of a predatory loan. She purchased the two-bedroom home in December 2006 for $581,500 with no down payment. Cohen now lives on Kansas Street.

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