Leno Says He’ll Follow a Collaborative Approach to a Better San Francisco

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In the wake of Mayor Ed Lee’s unexpected passing in December, a special mayoral election will be held on June 5, with the winner occupying the post until 2020. One of the frontrunners, Mark Leno, served two terms in the State Senate, from 2008 until 2016, representing the 3rd and 11th Districts, was a State Assemblymember from the 13th District, and, from 1998 to 2002, worked as District 8 Supervisor.

“I intend to shake things up,” Leno announced, when he filed for his spot in the race on January 8.  He pledged to publicly denounce, renounce, and reject all independent expenditures made on his behalf or against other candidates.

“San Francisco voters should know who is trying to influence the outcome of this race, and what interests they’re representing,” he said.

Leno told the View that an important element distinguishing him from other mayoral candidates is his legislative successes stemming from a collaborative political style and ardent dedication to achieving results for the communities he represents.

The City has rapidly changed since recovering from the Great Recession, with steady population growth, congested streets and a now low unemployment rate. Amidst this atmosphere, Leno wants to find solutions to homelessness and housing unaffordability.

“Given that we create a job a lot faster than we create a unit of housing, we need to be more comprehensive and holistic about how we approach the jobs/housing balance, as well as the infrastructural demands,” he said. According to Leno, San Francisco needs to finding immediate solutions to reduce the number of individuals living on the streets. He favors the concept of a Mental Health Justice Center, proposed by District Attorney George Gascón, where those with significant psychological issues could be diverted from the County jail to be assessed, diagnosed and treated. Leno suggested that the Center could work in conjunction with the State’s No Place Like Home Program, enacted in 2016, under which San Francisco is eligible for $100 million to build permanent housing for the homeless, providing a place for formerly displaced individuals who’re eligible for mental health services to be housed after leaving the Center.

Leno explained that it’d be easier for the City to curb increasing numbers of homeless people by helping them remain housed, through such initiatives as providing rental assistance and identifying vacant single resident occupancy units.

“We may have upwards of about 2,000 empty SRO units currently in San Francisco,” he said. “If we can work with the owners of these properties to address some of their concerns as to why they’re keeping these units empty right now, and partner with them along with the supportive services, it could make a real dent in the number of people who are living on the streets. The homeless population is somewhere around 7,000; half of those are living on the street every night.”

With San Francisco’s rental rates the highest in the nation, and home sales prices averaging upwards of $1.5 million, Leno commented that houses are now often viewed as speculative commodities instead of places where people live and lay down roots. He called for more engagement with the business community to do a better job of hiring locally to curb the displacement of San Franciscans.

“Most of the new hires for the tech industry are coming from outside of the City,” said Leno. “If we’re hiring locally, we don’t have to build a new housing unit because that individual already lives in our community. We don’t have to expand Muni capacity because that individual is already using Muni.”

Leno plans to comprehensively assess City departments to identify those that’re functioning well, and ones that warrant significant changes. As a small business owner since 1978, Leno said he’s familiar with and appreciates the challenges facing merchants in the City, and wants to ensure that there’s a small business voice on every major municipal commission.

Southside residents have long voiced frustration about the large amount of new construction in their communities, while public amenities, such as parks, expanded public transit, sidewalks and streetscape improvements, have been developing at a much slower pace. Leno acknowledged that the City’s response has been inadequate, focusing on special interests to the detriment of the public sphere. He advocated turning the tide through negotiations with developers to get the best deal for public benefits.

Citing numerous reasons for San Francisco’s low population of children, Leno suggested more monies for the arts as a way to make the City more livable for youth and their parents, who often struggle to find appropriate activities outside the home. He said that San Francisco’s expenditures on the arts is among the lowest in the country, and suggested that a surcharge on entertainment tickets could bolster funding for arts education for young people.

Leno claimed that he likes to bring people with different perspectives together to find common interests for the betterment of the wider community, a perspective that was detailed in an August 2016 Los Angeles Times article, in which reporter John Myers chronicled Leno’s early career as a sign printing storeowner through his elected positions, highlighting the politician’s collaborative nature. A consistent champion of LGBT rights, Leno’s reputation is one of forging connections across the political spectrum to further legislative goals.

“Through the years, his causes have often led to substantive change, in part because of what friends and even foes agree is his unmatched perseverance. Leno, the author of 161 laws, rarely gives up,” Myers wrote.

A View editorial board is interviewing candidates for mayor, which include Angela Alioto, Michelle Bravo, London Breed, Richie Greenberg, Jane Kim, Mark Leno, Amy Farah Weiss and Ellen Lee Zhou, who will be profiled in future articles.