Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Supe race could see lesbian on SF board


District 11 supervisor candidate Kimberly Alvarenga. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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It has been 16 years since a lesbian has served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Several candidates have vied for a seat over the ensuing years, but none has been successful post 2000 when board seats reverted back to being elected by district.

Union leader Kimberly Alvarenga is aiming to end that drought of lesbian leadership in the city – it has been eight years since a lesbian candidate has been elected to any political office in San Francisco – by succeeding District 11 Supervisor John Avalos, who is termed out of office and has endorsed her bid.

Alvarenga, 47, is the political director of Service Employees International Union Local 1021. She and her wife, Linnette Haynes, have been together 17 years and live in the city's Crocker-Amazon neighborhood, where they are raising their 4-year-old son, Oziah.

In addition to highlighting the lack of a lesbian, and potentially any LGBT members, on the board, Alvarenga has also been vocal about the need to elect supervisors from the city's Latino community, as there is also the possibility of seeing no Latinx supervisors following the November election. Raised largely by her mother in the city's Mission district, her parents were immigrants from Mexico and El Salvador who separated when she was a young child.

"We used to have a bigger voice," Alvarenga said of the city's LGBT community during an editorial board meeting with the Bay Area Reporter. "Also, as a Latina, we need to make sure the voices of our Latino communities are represented on the Board of Supervisors."

District 11 supervisor candidate Ahsha Safai. Photo: Safai for Supervisor campaign

She is facing a tough contest, however, against fellow union official Ahsha Safai, 43, who lost to Avalos in 2008 for the District 11 seat, which includes the city's southern neighborhoods of the Excelsior, Ingleside, Oceanview, Outer Mission, and Crocker-Amazon. A first generation American of Iranian descent, Safai was born in Iran and, at the age of 5, moved with his mother to Cambridge, Massachusetts.

After graduating from Northeastern University in 2000, he and his wife, Yadira, who was born in San Francisco, moved to the city. They live in the Excelsior with their two children.

Considered the more moderate candidate, Safai worked for former mayors Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom and has been the political director for San Francisco Janitors Union Local 87 since 2008.

He secured the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club's endorsement but fell short in earning the endorsement of the local Democratic Party. Meanwhile, Alvarenga secured an early endorsement from the progressive Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club and more recently won the backing of the national Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.

While Safai acknowledged few LGBT people live in District 11, he pledged to be a strong champion of the community's needs at City Hall.

"It is important we have a strong voice in support of HIV funding and the city's Getting to Zero plan to end HIV transmission," said Safai.

A main issue in the race for both candidates has been the need to bring more city services and resources to District 11's various neighborhoods, which oftentimes are overlooked, they contend.

Safai was particularly critical of Avalos's time in the office, criticizing him for focusing on issues like allowing 16 year olds to vote rather than on more everyday needs like potholes, parks, and parking.

"We are tired of being the forgotten part of San Francisco," said Safai, who launched his campaign last October. "Our commercial corridor has lots of vacancies. To me, that is failed leadership."

Alvarenga, who entered the race in December, laid the blame more on various mayoral administrations rather than the supervisor's office. She pointed to Avalos sponsoring the resolution that formed a community benefit district on Ocean Avenue as one example of his focus on the district's needs.

"The issues go across the supervisors for many years and the last three mayoral administrations. It is an inherent problem," she said. "We are largely a working class community so people don't have the time to advocate at City Hall."

As an aide to gay former state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), whose district included District 11 and who has endorsed her, Alvarenga said she has experience working on various issues in the community. While she "doesn't see myself as a career politician," Alvarenga said she is running to be a "nuts and bolts supervisor."

She has formed an alliance with two other progressive mothers running for supervisor this fall, Sandra Lee Fewer in District 1 and Hillary Ronen in District 9, and this week the trio released what their goals for their first year in office would be, such as free preschool for city residents, more navigation centers to assist the homeless, and addressing car break-ins.

In an email to supporters regarding the "Moms with a Vision for San Francisco" platform, Alvarenga noted, "San Francisco needs to become a city that prioritizes the needs of our families. Currently, too many families are facing skyrocketing housing and others costs, and can no longer afford to raise their kids in our city."

During his editorial board meeting with the B.A.R. , Safai stressed that he too will be focused on addressing the issues of working families in District 11. Providing more affordable housing will be a top priority, he said, and "access to childcare will be a big deal for me on the board."

Gay backers of Safai include state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), Supervisor Scott Wiener, and former Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who has dual-endorsed Alvarenga, he told the B.A.R.

While both candidates acknowledge there needs to be citywide attention on addressing homelessness, neither has advocated for seeing the city open a Navigation Center in District 11. Alvarenga was noncommittal when asked by the B.A.R. if she would want to see such a center, aimed at moving people off the streets into supportive housing, in that section of town.

"Citywide we need to look at it," she said. "It is not appropriate for me to make that decision. As the district supervisor, I would want to work with my constituents on it."

Safai, meanwhile, said he believes opening a Navigation Center in District 11 would be a wasted resource.

"We don't have the need in our district. There are places in the city that could use two or three," he said. "We don't even have the space for low to moderate income housing."

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