Sunday, August 08, 2004

Subject: PROSF Supervisorial Candidates Questionnaire, Ben Vanderford's Answers

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1. Do you have a clear, written plan for improving the quality of life in the 5th District? What do you consider Quality of Life issues to be and how do you prioritize them?

I have many ideas for improving the quality of life in our district, but what is really important is implementing your ideas and your input to help improve your neighborhood, and that is what I am going to do as supervisor. My responses to the next 8 questions should give you some idea as to how I am going to respond to your concerns.

2. Does your plan address public transportation and parking? Reducing delivery truck obstruction of streets?

First off let me say that I exclusively use public transportation and walking to get around San Francisco, and the entire Bay Area. I am generally pleased with the many public transportation systems, but to improve the common good we need to make our systems even better to lure more people into using them. MUNI is currently missing a lot of revenue via people not paying. One reason for this is because of the monthly pass system and transfer system which tempts drivers to ignore those entering the back door, assuming that they posses a proof of payment.. If we eliminate all passes and transfers in exchange for a lower entrance fee, this would require and encourage everyone to visibly pay in the front of the bus. On the other hand, if the real cost per rider for the taxpayer is much more then the fee the rider pays, then we need to immediately make MUNI free to stop giving the impression that it runs like a normal business where the riders would be paying for all of it. This will help people understand that they are already paying for the system by their taxes, hopefully encouraging them to use it. This would also save money by not requiring fee collection and enforcement personnel.The problem of delivery truck double parking is a small part of the problem of double parking in general. Its essentially a mental epidemic, that people believe its OK to double park if they put their emergency flashers on. This needs to be cracked down upon big time, in order to remind people of the law. The penalty for double parking needs to be quadrupled temporarily, until the attitude of people changes. There can be no compromise on this issue, as the ends never justify illegal means.

3. Does your plan address relationship with the Police regarding broader neighborhood outreach, drug dealing and "quality of life" crimes?

The police do their job well, but there are more fundamental legal problems that prevent them from giving us the satisfactory service that we want. For example, at the last PROSF meeting there was discussion about people sitting in people's private stairwells. Now the cops said they can't really do anything unless the property owner complains. If it happens frequently, then the owner can post a sign giving advanced permission to remove the offenders. It takes common sense, and sometimes a sharp eye, to see that the real solution for this problem is to change the laws giving the police permission to act without the owners consent. A supervisor needs to be able to see this and work on systemic and fundamental solutions to these types of problems. There is a systemic problem with police enforcement in the area of drugs. It can't be an accident that the epicenter for heroin/opiate drug dealing in the entire Bay Area, without exaggeration, is right across the street from the police station on Jones street in San Francisco. Their has been a lot of controversy over the "war on drugs": it has been used to unduly extend powers of law enforcement, it has been used to incarcerate a disproportionate number of minorities, and it engages in dubious sting operations. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that the main "essence" that permeates a gigantic number of crimes is hard drug dealing and sales. By "hard" drugs, I mean those with marked brain damaging and/or strong addictive effects. This group must include alcohol, despite its legal status (it must also include medical grade opiates, far stronger then most street heroin, which almost assuredly the pharmaceutical industry secretly encourages the illicit use of). Solving the drug issue is central to solving most of the crime and homeless issues we deal with.
We aren't approaching things in the right way at all currently. For example, while medical marijuana might be a good thing, its scandalous and shameful that we don't first explore the possible cure for addiction provided by another currently illegal drug, called ibogaine. Amongst all candidates I am in a unique position to work on this issue, having studied the topic for many years and familiar with many of the top scientists in this area.

4. Does your plan address the problem of homelessness particularly in Golden Gate Park and the Panhandle?

Again this is an area where not much common sense is followed, reasoning is murky, and the proper distinctions aren't made. In the Haight and panhandle area, we have a different type of "homeless" problem then is found in any other area in San Francisco. Its called "gutter punks". "Gutter punks" are a whole subculture, in the same way that "goth" or "raver" is a sub-culture, although much more radical. They as a whole might be less likely to be really homeless, but rather hanging out in certain areas such as the Haight or Berkeley is a component of their sub culture. In fact some might be good patrons of many of the Haight's local businesses. We shouldn't take any action to discourage people from hanging out on the streets or anywhere, but we should immediately arrest and penalize anyone doing anything illegal such as drinking. There should never be a climate of fear for doing legal things, however unsightly they might seem to others, but there should be a serious climate of fear of breaking the law. In the larger city however, the main issue is with what are called the "hardcore" homeless. These are mostly mentally unstable people, either because of drug addiction or because of natural causes. Solving these problems is going to require serious reform to the surrealistically run mental health and drug addiction systems, some of which is beyond the jurisdiction of a San Francisco supervisor. Nevertheless, we need people who want to aggressively work towards major changes on this issue, who are not satisfied with the social injustice of "ten year plans" and seek immediate improvement.

5. Does your plan address environmental issues such as street noise, loud concerts in the parks (presently part of continuing negotiations with the Recreation and Park Department), litter and trash in streets and parks, inadequate street and sidewalk cleaning in the Haight? Will you support City and private agencies dedicated to improving the local environment?

Every candidate is going to answer yes to this question. But lets take a look, for example, at what happened with the noise issue in Golden Gate park. Essentially it was found that Park and Rec was giving away the venue for free to people they were friends with. What we need is a Supervisor who is obsessed with exposing and excising government fraud and waste such as this. Its going to take someone who has absolutely no connections with anyone in city hall today, is not funded by anyone and therefor isn't beholden to anyone. To demonstrate my strong principles on this issue, I am raising and expending absolutely no money on my campaign, so that I will be completely outside suspicion in this area.

6. Does your plan include strict Environmental Impact Statements for all proposed City and individual Development Programs and projects? Strict requirements for adequate parking facilities in all new development? Maintenance of neighborhood character regarding height and density?

EIRs are a pretty tricky system. What groups really want is a veto power over all construction they have a problem with, but with the EIR they need to try and make an argument that fits with the topics that an EIR talks about. I am happy to give the neighborhoods this type of veto power, because although I believe in the concept of private property, the actions taken on that property can have a very great and adverse effect on others, especially in the long term. Neighborhood character is something I support wholeheartedly. In fact, I don't think our city has enough of it already. Our city has one tenth of the potential unique character it could have. We need to make it a general planning policy that any new construction should be more unique, beautiful, environmentally friendly and long term sustainable, then what was there previously. We need to make sure our historic and beautiful buildings are preserved. Density is also a contentious subject. Some advocate for higher density to reduce sprawl, and that makes sense, but it makes sense to concentrate in the areas where increased density would be appropriate, such as downtown. For example, the JP Morgan Chase building is about 20 percent empty, many floors don't even have proper ceilings installed. Why can't that be converted into rental housing?

7. Does your plan support small businesses and include Ombudsman services for dealing with City agencies? Ombudsman services for residents to guide them through the Planning Department, Recreation and Park Department, Board of Permit Appeals, Departments of Public Health, Inspections and Traffic?

Ombudsman services define the essence of what I would be doing as a supervisor, both for individuals and businesses. I will be the point of first contact and final responsibility for all of these services, and be your advocate. My entire political platform is centered around serving you, above and beyond any particular ideas or agendas.

8. Does your plan include City efforts to promote and facilitate an increase in home ownership in the 5th District (one of the areas of lowest home ownership in the City)? Does your plan include City efforts to reduce conflict between tenants and landlords and provide mediation services to avoid expensive lawsuits?

Home ownership is a major driver of economic stability, and lack of home ownership is a major cause of economic inequality. The key to home ownership in this district is building a legal infrastructure to allow more cooperative home ownership. I'm not just talking about the limited equity kind like St. Francis Square. Rather the key to really making everything affordable is offering all sizes of parcels and rooms available for sale. The goal is that if I'm paying 200 a month in rent to live in a closet in a shared apartment, I should be able to buy the closet space in a shared cooperative, get a loan that has a 200 a month payment, and start building equity. Rental stock is good, insofar as it allows greater liquidity, and we must bear in mind that cities like San Francisco and Oakland serve a good purpose in the larger bay area by having a large rental stock, but nevertheless we must work hard to increase the amount of people who own housing.

9. Finally, if you are elected 5th District Supervisor, will we be able to contact you and will you pledge to respond to local 5th District needs? Will you attend neighborhood association meetings, 5-Together and Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods meetings? Will you be accessible to all your constituents?

If elected to district supervisor, you will be able to contact me in all the ways you are able to contact me now, in addition to seeing me in person at my office. In the office I will be at the front desk, there will be no receptionist. You can walk right in at any time and talk to me about anything, you are my boss. The word "supervisor" in the title is a misnomer, it should be "representative".

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