April 2012 was the month when heated debates took place over the redistricting of San Francisco’s neighborhoods. Every ten years the city looks at the population of the city and redraws district lines to ensure fair representation for the supervisors who represent them. The Portola used to be split between district 9 and 10. Yet after much toing and froing, the whole neighborhood landed in D9, along with our hipster neighbors in Bernal Heights and the Mission.
With this change we now have one supervisor who represents all three neighborhoods and that man, right now, is David Campos. We will always attempt to steer clear of any political bias, but we felt that we wanted to know more about what a supervisor actually does. So we at the Portola Planet (all one of us) felt it our duty to drag a camera and notebook all the way down to city hall (4.2 miles) and ask Mr Campos some hard lined political questions.
What took place in reality was we bought him coffee and a muffin and spent a nice hour or so chatting about how much we love San Francisco. We also discussed some interesting things that we would like to share with everyone.
An Interview With A Supervisor
Portola Planet (PP): So first off, describe the role of a supervisor and what that means to the residents of district 9.
David Campos (DC): I think there are about two to three different overarching roles that we have. One is we are a member of the cities legislator, so we pass laws that govern not only your district but over the entire city. So that’s a very important role. Second, and probably more important, is that you serve as a facilitator to the community. Ensure that the nuts and bolts that make a community function well are taken care of. Making sure the streets are clean, pot holes are filled, lights are working, etc.
PP: That sounds like a very mundane part of the job. I mean, you are not literally walking around looking for broken street lights that need repairing are you?
DC: It’s an interesting challenge. Because under the city’s charter we are not allowed to get involved in the day to day operations. Our role is to ensure that when someone in the neighborhood has a concern, the agency involved addresses it. So for example when there is a pot hole and someone calls the Department of Works and for whatever reason they don’t respond, we usually get to know.
PP: Ahh, so you give the innocent citizen a greater voice to get things done. So give us a good example of this in action in your last four years in office.
DC: Err well, so one of the things we have been working on is the issue of the condition of our streets. You know, I have been very frustrated that the quality of the streets in San Francisco, in terms of pot holes and street paving. It’s not where it needs to be.
PP: In comparison to?
DC: Well other cities. There is actually a standard that is followed with regards to the quality of our streets and it’s not at the ideal level. So one of the things that I do is I make a point of going around the neighborhoods and identifying problems. But this leads to another frustration, DPW doesn’t have a lot of money to fix all these streets.
PP: So it’s not a case of negligence, but a problem of resources?
DC: Right. So one of the things we have been working on for a few years is how do we bring more money to DPW? We just recently had something on the ballot that brings more money to DPW to address this problem. So this is a good example of how our ability to pass law can directly help the quality of life for the people in our districts.
PP: So you mentioned there are three roles to a supervisor. The first being the ability to pass law, the second being your responsibility to the district, what’s the next?
DC: Ahh, so besides addressing the specific needs of your district, you are also making sure the city as a whole, collectively addresses issues. The last role is one that I take very seriously, is that we are also here to provide oversight over city agencies. Making sure that, even though we don’t have the ability to get involved in the day to day running of the agencies, we do have a responsibility to provide oversight on how those agencies are run. I am a big believer in best practices. So I have been one of the supervisors who has been calling for more audits and reviews on the management practices of agencies. I really believe we have to make the most of every penny of every dollar spent.
PP: So how effective is the supervisor’s ability of agency oversight?
DC: Well the MTA, which runs Muni, is one of the largest agencies in the city. It has a budget of about 800 million dollars. You know that’s a budget, by the way, that is larger than the budgets of many countries in the world. As we were looking into the management of the MTA, we realized they had not had a management audit in fifteen years. So we called for an audit because we believe that it is best practice, seeing if we are managing this money and the agency well. We were asking this without prejudging it, we just didn’t have any visibility into it. So one of the things the management audit found was that there not sufficient oversight by the board of directors that led to poor management of overtime. Muni accounts for close to fifty percent of the cities total overtime. What we learned during this audit was that over the past two year period not once did the board of directors even discuss the issue of overtime. There was no plan to address overtime. My point is that if you are a business owner and you’re consistently overspending in overtime, you are asking yourself, do I have proper staffing? Is this the best and most cost effective way to run my business? So that audit led to the creation of an overtime plan to curtail those costs.
We also looked into how Muni managed capital projects, such as building a rapid transit system on Van Ness. On average these projects were 526 days over schedule. A year and a half behind. That in turn showed on average they were ninety million dollars over budget.
PP: So an agency with a budget of 800 million dollars could easily miss the approval of a few million here and there. This can easily add up…
DC: Right. So our role as supervisor is not about pointing fingers and laying blame, but more understanding how we can do the best we can to spend the cities money.
Running for district 9
PP: Gotcha. So why did you run for supervisor of district 9?
DC: Running for office is such a personal thing, and for me, it is about giving back. I’m an immigrant. I came here as a kid from Guatemala and I have been blessed by this country. I have received opportunities I would never have had.
PP: So you were born in Guatemala? What age did you come to the United States?
DC: My parents brought me here when I was fourteen. I was able to get a great education because of this country. I went through the public school system, I was lucky enough to be accepted into Stanford University and then Harvard Law School. You know my parents came here with no money and that someone like me, can go through those educational institutions, get those degrees, I was very lucky. So me being on the board of supervisors is a way for me to give back to the country.
PP: When you first came to the country, was it straight to San Francisco?
DC: I first went to Los Angeles. Then I came up here for Stanford, then law school in Boston. But I knew I wanted to come back to San Francisco. After being exposed to the city when I was at Stanford, I knew I wanted to come back.
PP: What was your first residence in San Francisco?
DC: So in 1997 I moved here and my partner and I lived in Twin Peaks for a bit. I was working at a law firm at the time and after we finally paid off our loans we wanted to buy a property. I was very familiar with district 9 and I knew I wanted to be in that part of the city. We were lucky enough at the time to be able to afford a place to buy so we moved into Bernal Heights. I wouldn’t be able to afford it today!
So I had a choice before I decided to run for office. I had a well-paying job. I was running the legal department for the San Francisco school district. It was a very fulfilling job and I had an accomplished career. But I wanted to be more involved in the policy making and that’s when I decided to run for supervisor.
I thought that even though my role for the school district was very important, I wanted more of a say on the policies that were being created. It was a difficult decision because I knew how challenging elected life can be.
PP: What do you mean?
DC: Challenging as in you are in the public eye. There are also so many competing interests that it is hard to make everyone happy. You know explaining it to my parents was really interesting. They had a hard time understanding why I wanted to give up a well-paid, fulfilling job and if I was lucky, get elected into a job that pays a fraction of before and probably end up working harder.
PP: And answer not only to your boss, but to the 70,000 citizens of your district! So what was your parent’s reaction?
DC: I think because of the immigrant experience, they found it hard to understand why I would take a position that wouldn’t pay the same financial rewards. But they also know, because of the values they instilled in me, that money is not everything.
District 9 getting some attention
PP: So now you are the supervisor. With the recent change in district 9 to now include the whole of the Mission, Bernal Heights and the Portola. How are you going to assure that residents of the Portola are going to get some of your attention?
DC: I’m very mindful of the fact that the Portola is going into a district where you have very engaged and very active Bernal Heights and Mission communities. I actually see that as a positive, because one of the things a supervisor can do is make connections amongst the communities. We already have the Portola Neighborhood Association working with the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center. I actually think that because the Bernal community and Mission community are very engaged, it is very positive for the Portola because they will be a part of that engagement. There is already evidence of this, seeing people like Robert Ramirez (Portola Neighborhood Association program manager) meeting with Eric Arguello of the Lower 24th Street Merchants Association. Or Robert meeting with the executive director of the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center, Rachel Ebora.
PP: Previously for the past 10 years the Portola was divided into two districts, 9 and 10. With it now all in 9, you are saying that instead of looking at each neighborhood, the Portola, Bernal and the Mission, but that it is more about looking at district nine as a whole to work together as a community.
DC: That’s what we are trying to do. I think that another challenge we had when the neighborhood was split was it was confusing for people to know which supervisor to go to. We saw that same confusion in the north Mission when it was split between district 6 and district 9.
PP: Ahh so it isn’t just the Portola that has been united into one district now, but also the Mission?
DC: Exactly. That’s a very positive thing. It allows people to know who the point person is. It brings a level of accountability that wasn’t there before. The fact of the matter is, if you look at the geographical distance between neighborhoods, it’s not that far.
PP: Just the freeway which separates…
DC: You have a freeway and I know that’s a physical barrier and there is a psychological barrier that comes with that too. But I think that this is about breaking down those barriers and as a supervisor it’s one of the roles I play to break down those barriers. Let me give you another example right, one of the things I heard from the folks in the Portola is that we want to raise the visibility of the neighborhood. We want more people in San Francisco to know about the Portola.
PP: [Laughs] Right!
DC: We want more people outside of San Francisco to know about the Portola, right? One of the things we can do to make that happen is to ensure that in these city wide efforts, that the Portola is part of them. One of these examples is Sunday Streets. It is something that kinda started in the Mission and that many people in the Portola are very interested in.
PP: What is Sunday Streets?
DC: So Sunday Streets happens a few times a year. We are trying to make it happen at least once a month. On a given day, a whole main street/corridor is blocked off. There are no cars, no traffic. People can walk, ride a bike, skateboard…
PP: So it’s not necessarily a commercial thing, it’s just a community saying let’s block off a street, go hang out, have a BBQ…
DC: But it also can have a commercial component. What we are seeing with Sunday Streets in the Mission is, it isn’t just those local to the neighborhood, but we also see a lot of people outside the neighborhood coming in. The merchants have actually benefitted tremendously from that. So I know that certain people in the Portola are considering having Sunday Streets come to the Portola. The fact that is has been happening in the Mission all this time, creates an opportunity for the Portola to work with them and learn what they did to make it happen, what mistakes were made and how they could do it better.
PP: Does this happen in Bernal as well?
DC: It happens in the Mission, China Town.. But Bernal hasn’t done anything yet.
PP: Ah ha, so another chance for the Portola to “one up” the Bernal? Nothing like a bit of friendly inter-neighborhood competition.
DC: [Laughs] Exactly, absolutely…
A pocket park on San Bruno Avenue
PP: So the planned pocket park at Burrows and San Bruno, what has been your involvement with this?
DC: Well we were involved from the beginning when people started talking about this. Our role was to support the effort in different ways. We connected the neighborhood activists [and] with the city agencies that are responsible for making this happen. DPW, Rec and Park and also other outside agencies such as CalTrans. We helped them get a good understanding of what needed to happen within the bureaucracy to make something like that be finalized. There were applications for funding we supported.
PP: Do you know if the request for funding has been approved?
DC: I think that some of it was. When something like this happens, when there is an interest on the part of the residents of the neighborhood, what we do is make sure we work with them to connect them with the right city agencies and also ensure the agencies know we are supportive of this.
PP: Facilitation is what I am hearing here. Telling people “you need to speak to them” and they know that you are on this making sure something is going to do something about it.
DC: Yes, and then you know once a park is built. It is about making sure it is maintained and used.
PP: Cool, that is going to be exciting. Because that whole San Bruno Avenue corridor has a lot of potential and there is a lot of change already happening.
DC: Let me give you another example of where I think the cross collaboration between communities is going to be helpful. One of the things we did with the 24th street corridor is we engaged in a community planning process. We provided some funding for the community to work with the city planning department, the mayor’s office, the residents and the merchants to see what they wanted that wanted that corridor to look like. We went through that process for about a year plus. I would like to see that happen with San Bruno Avenue, and again, the lessons we learned with the 24th street corridor are lessons we can learn when planning the future of the San Bruno Avenue corridor.
PP: Is this something that has started?
DC: Not yet, that is something we are working on that we would like to kick off.
PP: This leads nicely into the rumors about the Avenue Theatre that CVS has an interest in taking over.
DC: This planning would involve discussions about that. You know, what is the neighborhood interested in having that corridor look like? What are the specific things they would like to see? What are the concerns? The priorities? One of the things we found out with 24th street was concerns around lighting. So we spent a lot of time dealing with that. Cleanliness of the streets was another big concern. So I think having a forum or a process to have these discussions is very useful. It leads to understanding what the needs are. Do we need another CVS type establishment?
And finally… McLaren Park?
PP: So my final question, McLaren Park. It’s a big part of the Portola. How does that play into the plans for district 9?
DC: Look, McLaren Park is now part of districts 9, 10 and 11 and in many respects that’s a very good thing, because now you have three supervisors working on this. I really believe we have to make an investment in our parks and recreational spaces, because for me, these spaces are about more than just recreation. It’s also a public safety issue. Giving young people opportunities to do something positive, after school, in the summer. It’s a health issue as well right? Because of the ability to engage in recreational activities, simply going for a walk, keeps all of us, of any age, healthy. So I’ve been a big advocate for the city in providing more resources to McLaren Park. We have been fighting for a few months to get more money into a bond that is on the ballot in this November’s election. We have close to ten million dollars being dedicated to McLaren Park.
PP: Wow, that’s a big chunk.
DC: It is a big chunk of money. I don’t think it goes far enough. But it does show the level of commitment the city has. We are going to continue to push really hard to ensure it gets this ten million but also more money comes in.
PP: So if that money does happen, where does it go? Right to Recs and Park?
DC: It goes to Rec and Park, but always in the process of developing a spending plan they take into account the concerns and input of the community.
Our interview ran right into another scheduled meeting with David, so we ended up saying our thanks as we packed our bags. He was very welcoming and open about everything we discussed and I hope the readers of the Planet have also found this an interesting read. You can contact David via the information on his city website. You can also sign up to David’s newsletter, Campos Connect, and keep informed of things taking place in his office.