Town Hall on Housing, Transportation and Urban Planning also a Political Rally

Antonio Villaraigosa, Lateefah Simon, Jane Kim and David Talbot at a forum at Mission High's Auditorium. Photo: Clayton Koo.
Antonio Villaraigosa, Lateefah Simon, Jane Kim, and David Talbot at a forum at Mission High’s Auditorium. Photo: Clayton Koo.

Last night, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, District 7 BART Board Candidate Lateefah Simon, and Supervisor Jane Kim discussed a host of transportation and housing-related issues–as well as other topics–at a forum at Mission High’s Auditorium. It was hosted by journalist, author, and Salon founder David Talbot.

Although billed as a “Town Hall on Housing, Transportation, and Urban Planning,” the event was as much a political rally promoting Jane Kim’s candidacy for the District 11 San Francisco State Senate Seat–attendees were greeted by a table with campaign posters and hand-outs.

Attendees of the forum were also recruited by Jane Kim's campaign. Photo: Streetsblog.
Attendees of the forum were recruited by Jane Kim’s campaign. Photo: Streetsblog.

This fact was not lost on Scott Wiener’s campaign, which staged a demonstration outside the forum. Volunteers handed out pamphlets–which emulated Kim’s own campaign materials in appearance–that accused her of “voting against $1 billion in funding for homeless housing” and “legalizing sidewalk tents as homes.” Julie Edwards, spokeswoman for Kim’s campaign, said that “Jane put together a forum to discuss solutions. Scott is doing negative attacks.”

Outsideprotest
Scott Wiener supporters picketed outside. Photo: Streetsblog.


For more on Wiener’s views, Streetsblog interviewed him earlier this month. It’s not surprising that Kim’s staffers objected, but from Streetsblog’s perspective the picketing seemed fair game since the forum was unapologetically political: in addition to the ubiquitous Jane Kim-for-Senate fliers and posters, Talbot introduced Kim as “the first Korean-American elected to public office in San Francisco; we hope she will be representing the entire city in the state senate next year.”

That said, housing and transportation were certainly main topics of the conversation, especially for former L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa. “When I ran for mayor, I had the audacity to say we were going to make Los Angeles, the car capital of the U.S.–the gridlock capital–a place where we re-imagined the town.” For Streetsblog readers who may not be familiar with Villaraigosa’s background, he was an early advocate for extending the Wilshire subway–the future spine of the Los Angeles transit system–at a time when subway construction was considered a “third rail” of LA politics. “I first started talking about the ‘Subway to the Sea,’ virtually everyone made fun of me,” he said. “Less than a month after I got elected, papers started asking, ‘Where’s the subway?’”

An old LA Metro promotional poster, featuring then Mayor Villaraigosa. Image: LA Metro
An old LA Metro promotional poster, featuring then Mayor Villaraigosa. Image: LA Metro

And while Los Angeles is celebrating the construction of its subway spine, the Bay Area is trying to figure out how to make sure its aging transit system doesn’t fall apart. “As long as BART is…underfunded, we have a real issue,” said Simon. “We can’t even talk about expansion until we fix our dilapidated and dangerous system.”

Simon, Kim, and Villaraigosa, agreed, however, that transit expansion isn’t an ends in itself; it’s about economic opportunities and solving inequities. “BART has become the spine of this economic ecosystem,” said Simon. “As someone who lives across the Bay, who grew up here in San Francisco, I know very few people who have roots here can afford to live here…I want [BART] to be affordable and accountable.”

And the unaffordability of the Bay Area was a central focus of the talk. “80 percent of housing and development is in my district,” said Kim. “I represent the poorest citizens and the wealthiest zip code as well…our income gap is comparable to Rwanda. The question is, who is the city being built for?”

Lateefah Simon and Jane Kim at the panel on transportation and housing. Photo: Clayton Koo.
Lateefah Simon and Jane Kim at the panel on transportation and housing. Photo: Clayton Koo.

Simon said she is dismayed to see San Francisco policies, in her view, oriented only towards housing the rich. “How dare we not fight and fight like hell for affordable housing! Not $1,800 for a studio, but affordable housing,” she said. “We must demand that the voices of mothers, disable[d], of seniors–people who’ve been forgotten about by so many public officials [are heard]…I’m going to be that voice.”

Talbot relayed questions from the audience via Twitter about the roles of newer transportation options, such as Uber, Lyft, and so-called Google buses. Here the answers were nuanced. Simon talked about how too many areas of the city are transit deserts, where it’s simply too difficult to get around, especially during off-peak hours. “As a woman, if I can’t get a cab in the middle of the city at night, I’m calling Uber.” At the same time, she expressed concern that the city is developing a two-class transportation system. “Uber is part of economic apartheid–some can, some can’t,” she added. “As long as we have that, there’s so much work to do. Everybody has to get somewhere and everybody should have a fast and equitable way to get there.”

“I think the shared economy is great,” said Villaraigosa. “But I think they oughta share. I can support commuter buses and the shared economy, but we all gotta have a conversation about what the rules are…and not just for the poor and the middle class but the rules for the wealthy and the powerful.”

Kim was also generally supportive of tech shuttles. “I don’t think we need 200 stops,” she said. “People can walk five or ten blocks. But I agree Caltrain is overloaded; this [the tech shuttle program] is a private solution to a public problem.” she said.

In fact, no one was opposed to them outright, but all had caveats. “I don’t want the tens of thousands of people who catch these corporate buses to be on our roads, all in cars, either. Let’s figure out a real solution to corporate transportation,” said Simon. She and Kim said fees for using city bus stops should be raised and that corporate buses should be available to all employees of the corporations that run them–from the executives to the janitors and security guards.

“They [the buses] ain’t going anywhere,” said Simon. “But let’s find ways to move people in ways that don’t bifurcate.”

  • p_chazz

    I wonder if Jane Kim’s new boyfriend State Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu made an appearance.

  • Side-stepping issues and clearly not proposing solutions.

    “We can’t even talk about expansion until we fix our dilapidated and dangerous system.” Wow, if that’s the case, shut it down and make all necessary repairs versus exposing the public to all its dangers. Setting yourself up for a lawsuit with that comment? Oh, and what about the billions being spent on EXPANSION to San Jose and eBART. What are you doing about stopping that?

    “How dare we not fight and fight like hell for affordable housing! Not $1,800 for a studio, but affordable housing.” $1800 is cheap. Check out the Avalon property on Ocean Ave. where studios start at $3000.

  • RichLL

    The billions in capex being spent on expanding BART is generally not our money but rather state and federal money, that would go elsewhere if we didn’t take it.

    The solution to our area transportation problems is not building nothing and expanding nothing while our population and our economy expands, especially when that expansion is “free”, effectively.

    Ditto the Central Subway.

    And as for “dilapidated”, yeah, but who is Simon kidding? She’s the SJW candidate and, like the ill-fated Feldstein, she’s more interested in social engineering than real engineering.

  • RichLL

    Ooh, good one, Kim broke up his 14-year marriage. This should be entertaining.

  • p_chazz
  • Nothing is “free” in this country. Money is coming out of someone’s pocket. The solution isn’t building ill-conceived projects “just because someone will fund it.” And, for the record, SF taxpayers will be paying for the Central Subway in terms of cost overruns to build it and to operate the ridiculous thing.

  • p_chazz

    Throwing around charged terms like “economic apartheid” isn’t contributing to the discussion. Apartheid was a system that discriminated against blacks by design. No one is systematically excluding people of color from using Uber, and the income gap is not something that transportation policy can really address.

    Also, Uber is not that expensive. Recently, I used Uber Pool which costs less than regular Uber. That plus a promotion made what would have been a $15 cab ride less than $3.00 about the cost of a Muni fare, and I only made one stop before arriving at my destination.

  • RichLL

    Well, I’m sorry, but I cannot share your enthusiasm for building nothing. And these expansions are free in the sense that, given the choice, I’d rather take federal funds than pay more taxes.

    Opposing every new transit option is not a viable long-term strategy. No more nattering nabobs of NIMBYistic negativity.

  • SF Guest

    Well that’s some choice — one who embraces a married husband or one who embraces Trump statues.

  • farazs

    The problem is not how much it costs but the fact that you need smart phone linked to a payment method and some technical know how. The very thing that makes it so convenient for many makes it completely inaccessible for a subset of the population. Surely in due time, uptake of smart phones will increase and the technology will improve and become more accessible.

    Meanwhile, L. Simon gets to garner votes using racial undertones.

  • RichLL

    We’re getting pretty close to the point where a smart phone goes from a luxury to a necessity. On a recent trip to Scotland I encountered a parking meter that was smart-phone enabled. Without such a phone I could not use the meter and therefore could not park there.

    Likewise, I encountered a train station where tickets could only be bought by smart phone but where there were signs indicating “penalty fares” if you travel without a valid ticket.

    It’s just a matter of time, and I hate it too.

    Totally agree re Simon, BTW.

  • playerzero

    I think the plastic payment method is a bigger barrier than the device. I don’t know any numbers but anecdotally (from my own experience), way more people lack credit/debit cards than people who have them probably think. Way more.

  • “Solution” to the housing crisis: tweak the number of affordable housing units that developers have to produce (or pay fees for not producing). Kind of like we’ve been doing. So we can look forward to the same kind of success going forward.

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