“I think District 10 is the future of San Francisco,” said supervisorial candidate J.R. Eppler. “District 10 will see the most change over the course of the next decade than other parts of the City. It is the place where all of the problems the City is currently experiencing will either be exacerbated or come to a better resolution.”
The 38-year old Eppler is running for office for the first time, though he’s been involved in several political campaigns, including knocking on doors in Nevada for Barack Obama in 2008, volunteering for Dennis Herrera’s 2011 mayoral effort, and serving as outreach coordinator for his now rival Tony Kelly in the 2014 Board of Supervisors election. He’s been a civic presence since moving to Potrero Hill in 2010, that same year becoming secretary of the Potrero Hill Democratic Club and joining the Potrero Boosters, which he’s served as president for the past five years.
Eppler described himself as a father, husband, attorney and neighborhood advocate. His wife, Kate, is a librarian at the Main Branch, and is on the board of the Green Benefit District. The couple have a two-and-a-half-year-old son, Frank, that Eppler “hopes to be able to keep in the City.”
Eppler is a board member of Friends of Dogpatch Hub, which is trying to establish a community center at the former police station at 2300 Third Street and serves on the steering committee for Gateway to Potrero, which wants to redesign the landscape under Highway 101 between 17th and 18th streets. He’s been on several task forces, including the Railyard Alternative Study, commissioned to examine bringing Caltrain to Downtown; Transportation 2045, looking at future transit options; and the University of California, San Francisco’s Dogpatch Community Task Force, convened to identify measures to mitigate the adverse consequences of that institution’s expansion into the neighborhood.
“One of the reasons I am running is I have seen the importance of the district supervisor’s office in helping the neighborhood achieve its goals,” Eppler said. “When we’ve been aligned with the supervisor’s office we’ve been able to achieve good outcomes.”
According to Eppler, current District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen demonstrated how neighbors and the supervisor’s office can work together to solve issues; he hoped to expand on that model. “I think I’ve done that for Potrero Hill and Dogpatch as Boosters president. I want to do that for the whole of the District,” he explained.
Eppler originally hails from Oklahoma City. His father was a produce manager at a grocery store; his mother sold department store cosmetics. He attended public schools where, while the majority of students were European-American, almost 40 percent were non-White, including the Classen School of Advanced Studies.
“In fact, the first time I was ever in an environment that lacked diversity was when attending college,” he said. Eppler was referring to Stanford, from which he graduated in 2002, earning honors for a thesis on environmental economics. After a year teaching middle school math in San Bruno, he enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he simultaneously earned a law degree and a master of business administration in finance and strategy.
After working for seven years for large firms doing corporate transactional law, Eppler opened his own law office in 2014. “My emphasis now is with small businesses,” he said. He provides pro bono legal counsel to Friends of Jackson Park and the Community Awareness Resource Center in Potrero Terrace, and is on the advisory board of OneJustice, which provides legal aid to underserved communities.
Eppler believes that District 10, and particularly Bayview, has been “historically underserved” by the City and County of San Francisco. That deficiency, he said, acts as a “tax on communities that are already stressed.” Eppler pointed out that in many parts of the District residents need to own and maintain a vehicle “to have any sort of economic life, whether to get to the grocery store or a job,” while wealthier communities have greater access to public transportation. The District needs a strong advocate, he said, to ensure that its needs are met as its population grows.
Transportation has been one of Eppler’s main advocacy areas with the Boosters, which he said helped secure $98 million from the Mission Rock and Pier 70 projects to help address that need. He cited Pier 70 in particular as one of his greatest successes with the Boosters. In addition to negotiating a compromise to ensure that Irish Hill remains visible from Illinois Street, the Boosters pushed for additional housing and less commercial space in the development. Housing has less impact on traffic than commercial property, Eppler explained, and meets a current need.
Eppler is concerned about housing affordability, which he described as a citywide crisis acutely felt in District 10. He believes that it’s crucial to ensure development is both inclusionary for lower and moderate-income levels and fits the neighborhood fabric, with space for parks, retail and community uses. “We can’t have a coherent community that’s constructed of independent vertical subgroups,” he explained.
Eppler believes that the Planning Code should be modified to mandate provision of amenities that’re often gained through intense negotiation by community groups. “We know that these things are possible economically for developers because we’ve been able to achieve them, but it shouldn’t be left to the effort of volunteers in the neighborhood.”
Eppler supports deployment of Navigation Centers to address homelessness, but called them incomplete. “Navigation Centers are an expensive way to take people off the street for 30 days,” he explained. “It would be better if we had temporary housing, with services for people to move into after they exit the Navigation Center and before they are moved into permanent supportive housing. This will prevent some of the relapses people have when they get back out into the streets and that intensely stressful situation.”
Eppler is optimistic about new Police Chief Bill Scott, praising his focus on community patrols. However, he added, “We need retraining on de-escalation with the Police Department. There has been an unfortunate tendency for officers to turn to their weaponry when it may not be necessary.”
While Eppler believes there’s a strong group of candidates in the District 10 Supervisor race, he claims that his consensus building skills and detail-oriented approach separate him from the pack, including Kelly, with whom he continues to share many of the same objectives. “I am a hands-on participant in issues. I get down into the documents. I read the things that need to be read,” he said. “The issues we are dealing with are very large issues in the District, but it’s going to take someone that can focus down to the detail of a single comma, a single sentence in a piece of legislation to address them effectively.”
Eppler added that he’d provide multiple pathways with which to communicate with citizens as a core foundation of his office. “I can’t be a good district supervisor without hearing directly from constituents. As Boosters president, I’ve had a policy of listening to anyone on any issue and having small meetings to discuss any topic. I would do exactly the same thing as district supervisor,” he said.
Community leaders praised Eppler, though stopped short of endorsing him or any other candidate. According to Mark Dwight, San Francisco Small Business Commission president, Eppler is “incredibly knowledgeable and highly involved at the grass roots level.”
Katherine Doumani, who has worked with Eppler on efforts associated with Friends of Dogpatch Hub, called him a “straight shooter.”
Alison Heath, of Grow Potrero Responsibly, said that Eppler does an “exemplary job bringing together people with diverse opinions and interests.”