Five District 10 Supervisor candidates debated each another in front of an attentive audience last summer, in one of more than a dozen forums likely to take place before this November’s election. The event, held at the Southeast Community Facility, was hosted by the United Democratic, Eastern Neighborhoods Democratic and Willie B. Kennedy Democratic clubs, moderated by Joe Eskenazi, Mission Local columnist. Contenders Gloria Berry, Theo Ellington, Tony Kelly, Uzuri Pease-Greene and Shamann Walton passionately exchanged viewpoints within an overall atmosphere of camaraderie. According to the City’s Department of Elections, Asale-Haquekyah Chandler is also in the race; Neo Veavea is running as a write-in candidate.
Last month, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that as of June 30 Shamann Walton had raised the most campaign funds, $174,738, spending $125,776. Theo Ellington took in $131,921, expended $54,750. Tony Kelly collected $91,121, dispersed $25,847. Uzuri Pease-Greene and Neo Veavea each raised less than $4,000.
Ellington told the Chronicle that he was “confident” about the race, which he conveyed through his self-assured handling of questions during the debate. When asked by contender Berry which of the candidates he’d hypothetically vote for if forced to withdraw from the contest, he conveyed that he hadn’t given it any thought.
In recent San Francisco campaigns alliances between candidates have emerged as an important element in winning ranked choice voting, or instant runoffs, which allow voters to select their first, second and third choices for a position. If no contender wins a simple majority of first choice selections, second choice ballots are tallied until a majority is reached, and so on. The system appears to encourage candidates to align with their competitors to garner second or third choice votes.
During the debate, candidates asked one another questions, and gave opening and closing statements. Audience members also posed a few queries, with Eskenazi handling most of the inquiries. The cover-up of environmental contamination at the Hunters Point Shipyard was a central topic of discussion, including what should be done to resolve the issue.
The Hunters Point Shipyard is San Francisco’s largest redevelopment project since the 1906 earthquake, an effort to transform a former United States Navy Shipyard into a largescale development, with thousands of residential units, commercial spaces and amenities. The area was known to be contaminated, in part, by the Navy’s previous use of nuclear materials on the land. Tetra Tech, a contractor hired by the Navy to test the site for radioactive and industrial contamination, has been accused of extensive data falsification. Political conversation now focuses on what parts of the site need to be retested, who should pay for it and who should ultimately be held accountable. Retesting plans led by the California Department of Health have been criticized as inadequate.
“This is a classic example of our leaders putting politics and money over the wellbeing of Bayview Hunters Point,” said Ellington. “District 10 has been dumped on for far too long. I will no longer stand for this and the community shouldn’t stand for this. This wouldn’t happen in any other District.”
Ellington, who is a Shipyard resident, is participating in a lawsuit against Tetra Tech and developers Five Point and Lennar that claims that testing fraud and lack of transparency about the extent of contamination warrants financial compensation for reductions in property values, as well as potential health implications
All five candidates agreed that Tetra Tech, the U.S. Navy, and the City should be held accountable for their respective roles in issuing possibly unreliable information about contamination levels, and bear financial responsibility for retesting the entire site. Two Tetra Tech employees were convicted for fraud related to the scandal; the company hasn’t been held liable. The U.S. Navy and City also haven’t assumed responsibility for the lack of testing oversight and decision to proceed with development plans even though some thought site clean-up had been inadequate.
Kelly emphasized that from the earliest stages of redevelopment planning there was a fundamental conflict between simultaneously moving forward with building and selling properties while attempting to complete cleanup of the area. He said the site should’ve been fully cleaned up before construction began.
Both Pease-Greene and Berry asserted that the issue of environmental contamination isn’t isolated to the Shipyard but pervasive in District 10. Southside neighborhoods have historically been thought to have high toxin levels due to their industrial past, including the former operations of the Hunters Point and Potrero power plants. According to Pease-Greene, community members need to pay more attention to real estate developers’ plans and ensure that all land targeted for development that’s suspected of being contaminated is properly tested.
Berry called for a moratorium on any new building projects in the Shipyard until all necessary testing and cleanup is completed. She said she’d work with City Hall on this issue and personally research companies contracted to do testing to ensure that they follow ethical standards.
Walton spoke about several family members who lived near the Shipyard who died at young ages from illnesses that could’ve been caused by the contaminated land. He called for Tetra Tech to pay for re-testing the site, and said that the City should ensure that the company is never again involved in development projects within its jurisdiction.
Walton said his professional experiences well-equip him to be supervisor, especially his previous role as a San Francisco Board of Education member, during which he dealt with citywide issues. Many Districts face similar problems, he said, and share common geography and infrastructure, such as the waterfront, necessitating a supervisor who can work effectively with other neighborhoods. Walton also pointed to his experience as executive director of Young Community Developers, a Bayview-Hunters Point nonprofit which contributed to the building of affordable housing units while providing job training for local residents. He also served as an economic mobility task force member for HOPE SF, which works to build and maintain public housing in District 10.
All the candidates were concerned that District 10 has been subjected to substantial development without corresponding infrastructure, amenities or environmental protections, as exemplified by the Shipyard fiasco.
Kelly, who has been endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America, asserted that the District faced systemic racism, and called for getting to the roots of the problem, such as geographically concentrated pollution, high unemployment rates, and a lack of parks. He said that provision of free City College and eliminating poverty will make communities safer. “Safety is not more cops,” Kelly said. “Safety is fewer reasons to call the cops.”
“The more skill-sets a young person has the better they will do and the better decisions they make,” said Walton. “We need to provide police offers with resources so that they can spend time in the community and get to know young people, build relationships.”
In addition to eliminating educational disparities, and increasing the availability of drug addiction treatment services, tackling police brutality is one of Berry’s top priorities. The 2015 police officer shooting of Mario Woods in Bayview, with no subsequent charges filed, sparked local outrage. Berry wants to take a “tough” approach to the issue while encouraging community patrolling initiatives, officers spending more time getting to know residents.
Berry also called for District Attorney George Gascón to resign for not holding officers accountable for excessive use of force. According to a 2017 Mission Local article, 19 people have been killed by San Francisco police officers since 2011; Gascón closed 11 of those cases without filing charges. Protests by Bayview activists followed the killing of Jessica Williams in 2016 by a police officer in Bayview. The cop involved in the shooting, Sergeant Justin Erb, wasn’t charged. However then-Police Chief Greg Suhr resigned in the wake of protests related to several shootings by officers citywide.
“All of the available evidence suggests Sgt. Erb faced a volatile and unpredictable situation looking uphill at an approaching car when he fired his gun at Williams,” the DA’s office said in a statement.
“I’m flabbergasted that the DA is saying it is okay to shoot at a person who appears to have been fleeing in a car,” San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi told the San Francisco Chronicle. “How can you justify shooting a person when you easily could have stepped out of the way?”
All the candidates cited making housing more affordable as a top priority. They also echoed one another’s desire to see more grocery stores in the District. Walton advocated for greater access to healthy options, such as through food pantries that supply quality produce for low-income households. Pease-Greene suggested that in addition to having increased choices to procure healthy food there should be an expansion of programs that deliver nourishing foods to the needy. Ellington said he met with a group of pastors in the District who said that the number one issue facing seniors in their congregations is hunger.
“The Supervisor is actually supposed to work for the people in their community,” Pease-Greene said, in a backhand criticism of the current Supervisor, Malia Cohen, who is running for the Board of Equalization. “I don’t want to use this as a stepping stool. I want to give a voice to those who are not being heard and not being listened to.”
“We all have friends who have been pushed out of San Francisco and if we don’t change radically and work much harder to keep us here, a lot of us aren’t going to be here,” said Kelly. “So, we have a choice this November. We can double down on fighting systemic racism and inequality and we can finally use the budget, our land and power to work for opportunities and justice for everyone. We’re not going to get that change from politicians. We need an advocate with experience, values and commitment to stand up for us and our neighborhoods instead of big developers, big companies and big banks.”