Francisco Herrera: Why I Am Running for SF Mayor
by Elena Shore, New America Media
(Editor’s Note: Francisco Herrera, the only Latino candidate running for mayor of San Francisco, says he decided to launch his campaign when he realized the city was losing its diversity. He was interviewed by New America Media editor Elena Shore.)
How were you influenced by where you grew up?
I’m originally from the city of Calexico, on the U.S. side of the border. On the Mexican side is Mexicali, which is the capital of the state of Baja California Norte. So I grew up in a very interesting dynamic where I’m from the U.S., in a small city, but we’re in the neighborhood of a major Mexican city.
One of the largest Chinese populations [in Baja California] is in Mexicali. So much so that when I was a little kid, on several occasions I used to go with my friend Daniel Wong to Chinese school on the Mexican side of the border.
So I grew up in this multi-ethnic experience … And on the U.S. side, in my city, was a large farmworking community.
Were your parents farmworkers?
My father was, my mother grew up on a ranch. I’m very much from the countryside, and proud to be a ‘Chicano hick,’ as they say.
My parents were very politically involved. My father at some point became the mayor pro-tem. And so early on, I knew electoral politics.
How has San Francisco changed since you first came here?
I came to San Francisco in the early ‘80s, first as a Jesuit seminarian studying to be a priest in the Jesuit religious order… Later I started doing human rights work where we established refugee houses and pushed for sanctuary city ordinances throughout the state and throughout the country … helping people who were fleeing war, torture and violence.
Since I’ve been here, I’ve experienced two or three waves of gentrification. But this particular one that started about four years ago has come with a certain belligerence and violence, a real disrespect of the elderly and people with less means.
Somebody on the Board of Supervisors once, about a year and half ago, had the audacity to say, ‘What are we going to do about the mariachi problem in the Mission?’ And I’m going, ‘The mariachi problem? Well, the only problem mariachis have is they don’t get paid enough, pay them more.’ But for someone to feel that they could say such a racist comment in public, I just thought something has really changed in the environment here, that there’s a plan to kick us all out of here.
That’s one of the things that made me take on the campaign. When the usual suspects announced that they were not going to run against Ed Lee, I thought, you know what? I have documents, I’m a citizen. How many people can’t even vote, would die to participate in a more full way? And here I am, I need to be responsible.
At that point, we’d seen the fire on 22nd and Mission that killed one person, displaced 24 families, we’d seen the other mysterious fire that killed a young Arabic girl and her father on 24th and Folsom, Alex Nieto had been murdered, Amilcar Perez Lopez had been murdered. I thought, this is too much, we need to do something.
San Francisco is a city known for its diversity, yet we’ve seen an exodus of African Americans and Latinos, and the city is now projected to be majority white by 2040. What is your plan to stop this trend?
When that report came out, I said, ‘This is an alarm.’ We need to keep the diversity. And we need to push companies like Twitter and the other tech companies to hire our people, to do local hiring.
How would you do this?
The problem has not been the market. The problem has been lack of political will to defend and protect the citizenry of San Francisco.
My plan is to prevent evictions and help people who are here, who are disabled, who are the elderly, who’ve made this city, be able to stay; Secondly, to protect those who are in danger of losing their place through city programs; Number three is to produce more housing for working people. Over half of the city workers cannot live in San Francisco. That damages the democratic process because you can’t vote where you work.
With a land trust, you create a fund that helps people be able to buy a space where they’ve been. The mayor could do it today: ‘We have a housing crisis, therefore we’ve determined this area a place to build for affordability.’ In the Mission, we’ve identified up to 13 spots where we could build up to 3,000 units where working families can live.
Do you support the mayor’s plan to increase the height limits for housing in different parts of the city?
I do not support his plan to do it across the board. The last thing we need is a Manhattanization of SF. We have studies that show that within these heights, we could build even more than 100,000 new units. I wouldn’t do it across the board, but I’m willing to look at places where it would make sense to go beyond the height limit.
How would you differentiate yourself from Mayor Ed Lee when it comes to City College, which has been a lifeline for many San Franciscans and is now facing the threat of loss of accreditation?
I teach at City College and am a member of AFT 2121. I would work closely with the teachers to put forth an effective City College that responds to the needs, not just of graduating students, but people who want to retrain and recreate their careers.
The folks that have been doing the work have done a great job at being able to expose, and I would work stronger to change, those who have been attacking City College through their accreditation process.
Another area I would work with is to increase the number of classes that involve technology, and well as the level, to help people in their ability to seek work in technological firms.
There are city funds that we can use to inform the community that City College is alive and strong and producing. There might be some subsidies we can create to help people stay at City College and build up attendance.
There are fabulous teachers art the highest level. It’s important to work with teachers, many of whom can’t afford to stay here because their salaries are not commensurate with the cost of living.
What kind of plan would you propose to address the city’s homeless and very low income, as well as the organizations that serve them?
We need to stop evictions, the runaway housing market that’s inflating prices, and work with organizations like the Coalition on Homelessness and others because they have a five-year plan already that they’ve been working on. We need to stop criminalizing and putting the blame on the homeless. There’s a long road to homelessness, and it’s not always disclosed.
San Francisco continues to be a city of people who care, but we’ve been run over by a group of investors who do not care and have created an environment of angst and fear. The housing crisis is the central issue that has been destabilizing our communities in San Francisco. We need to look at regional rent control, and also commercial rent control. Small businesses, many of which are immigrant-led, are essential to our city.
(Reprinted with permission from New America Media)