A tattooed man with long grayish hair and a big smile sat quietly next to me outside the office of Supervisor David Campos, as I waited to interview Campos. The man looked like he had something important on his mind. He asked, “Do you mind if I get 30 seconds with the supervisor before you go in?” “No problem,” I replied.
“I thought I would take a chance and just come down here,” the gentleman said.
Apparently he had just dropped in on Campos, hoping to get some help with a problem that seemed to weigh heavily on his mind— judging from the preoccupation showing in his eyes.
Campos stepped out of his office exactly at 1 p.m. — our appointed time — and invited the man into his office after checking with me. A few minutes went by.
That gentleman then popped out of Campos’ office with a huge smile on his face, apparently very relieved. He shook my hand before heading out the door. He looked like he had gotten what he needed.
Campos then invited me into his expansive office and thanked me for allowing him to shave off some time for the stranger. I never asked about what they discussed, as that did not seem to be my business. But I was really impressed with the genuine kindness and concern exhibited by Campos toward the stranger.
We spent a few moments making small talk and getting to know each other, while I confirmed what I already knew about him. Campos came to America from Guatemala with his family when he was a young boy. He graduated from high school in Southern California at the top of his class and then went on to graduate from Stanford University and then from Harvard Law School.
Campos entered the public service sector in 1999 as a deputy city attorney. He was elected Supervisor of District 9 — the Mission, Bernal Heights, and Portola – in 2008. He lives with his partner Phil Hwang. They were married in early 2014.
After the introductory formalities, Campos was asked a series of questions about the state of things in San Francisco, which were recorded for more accurate recounting.
Q: “What drew you into politics?”
A: “I think my background as an immigrant is the reason I am in public service. I feel that I have been extremely lucky to receive the opportunities that I have received from this country. And when you have so much that has been given to you then you have an obligation to give back. This is my way of giving back — by being in public service.”
Q: “What needs to be done about San Francisco housing?”
A: “I am glad that we are recognizing that there is a crisis — before you can deal with a crisis you have to acknowledge that it is a crisis. We need to make sure we focus on the building of affordable housing. I think that when you lack affordable housing, then the solution should be to build more affordable housing. Most San Franciscans are not able to afford luxury condos that cost several million dollars. On the short term, we need to do whatever we can to help people who are facing eviction stay in San Francisco, and we have number of strategies to help do that.”
Q: “What is the city doing about protecting renters?”
A: “We have a two-prong strategy — on one hand, we have to amend the state law [Ellis Act], and the second strategy is that we need to work on the local level and take immediate action on the local level so people are not pushed out of the city, as it will take time to amend state law. We have a number of proposals introduced — including legislation that we passed which is now law — that tries to prevent tenant harassment by some landlords. We provided a cause of action which the tenant can bring to the rent board to provide added protection to tenants. The second piece that we are working on is a proposal to increase relocation costs in the event of Ellis Act evictions so that evicted renters receive the difference between what they are paying and what the fair market value of a similar unit would be in San Francisco — and they would receive that money for two years.”
Q: “Do you have any plans in progress or concepts of how to implement affordable housing?”
A: “Yes, one of the things that the city has to do a better job of is identifying government properties that can be used to build affordable housing on. There are examples. There is a vacant lot on Mission and 16th Streets that belongs to the San Francisco Unified School District that could be used to build affordable housing, and I think there are many properties like that owned by the city, the school district, or City College that we should be looking at to develop affordable housing on. We should also find funding that was funded by proposition C that provides some money for the city to build affordable housing, and we should leverage that money with money from the State and Federal Government.”
Q: “How long have you lived in the city?”
A: “Since 1997.”
Q: “Is the “Tech Boom” a big cause of the housing crisis?”
A: “It is a factor, but I don’t believe in pointing a finger or vilifying the tech companies — but I do think it is important to recognize that they are having an impact on the cost of housing. What I am trying to do is develop a dialogue with these companies and their workers, because they are part of the community and we want to integrate them into this community, and we want them to be a part of the solution. They also donate a lot of money. We are asking them to help us push for affordable housing, and push for changes in state laws like the Ellis Act, and local laws designed to protect tenants. We want tech companies to be part of the solution. And at the same time we want them to pay their fair share to the communities that they come into.”
Q: “There are grumblings that the city is changing toward the right? Do you have any insight on that?”
A: There is a question mark about how much San Francisco has changed. I still think that San Francisco remains a progressive city, and that there are still many of us who believe that his is a city that should continue to allow low-income and middle-income people to stay here. I feel people like me are advocating that regular people are able to live here. You shouldn’t have to be a multimillionaire to live in San Francisco. What we are seeing with the affordability crisis is a shift. People are saying — and not just low-income — but also middle-income people are saying that maybe the pendulum has swung too far the other way, where we focus so much on the creation of wealth and the building of luxury housing — and that the city needs to pay more attention to the middle class, lower income, and working class people — and that’s what I am trying to do.”
Q: “What’s your favorite aspect of San Francisco?”
A: “It’s diversity. I think San Francisco’s biggest asset is the people. That’s why I feel this crisis on affordable housing is so important, because it has the potential to make the city less diverse.”