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Politics & Policy

Live blog: SF Standard’s District 4 supervisor debate

In the first event of the San Francisco Standard’s election debate series, Supervisor Gordon Mar and challenger Joel Engardio faced off Wednesday evening to discuss the key issues affecting District 4 and the city at large.

Scroll from the bottom up to read in chronological order.

7:32 P.M. And like that, we’re done

The Standard’s editor-in-chief Jonathan Weber thanked both candidates for their time and the crowd gave what felt like a genuine round of applause.

See you all at the next debate!

7:21 P.M. Mar slams large development in D4

Candidates Joel Engardio and District 4 City Supervisor Gordon Mar responds to questions from the crowd at the Irish Culture Center on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022 in San Francisco, Calif. | Paul Kuroda for The Standard

A man asked what the candidates thought about a large development at 2700 Sloat Blvd., right across the street from the venue of the debate.

Mar was having none of it.

He said the 12-story, 400-unit property is a “luxury housing” project that is just “another example of a development here in the neighborhood and our city that is really just driven by profit.” He said it doesn’t meet the needs of the city and “would just be similar to the Westerly,” but eight times bigger.

Mar suggested the project should be subject to discretionary review.

7:17 P.M. Both candidates support labor unions.

Mar took part in a labor protest last week at SFO to support food service workers who have not gotten a raise since 2018. Engardio said he grew up in Michigan in a strong union town and worked at McDonald’s and Red Lobster. So, tie?

7:12 P.M. A father wants answers on Lowell.

A resident named Jim said he and his wife didn’t get interested in local politics until the Lowell High School admissions controversy started. One of his children suggested the change in admissions policy was so disappointing they might as well move to Illinois. He then asked Engardio why he should believe the candidate when he says he’s going to make his family’s life easier.

Engardio said he fought for merit-based admissions at Lowell and he will support families. If they don’t get what they want and need, they will simply flee the city or opt for private schools.

Mar said Lowell is very personal to him, as his daughter attends the school. “I was a very vocal advocate against the school board’s decision when they made the lottery admissions permanent, illegally,” he said.

The supervisor said it’s important to maintain Lowell’s status while also helping marginalized students in the city.

Jim said his daughter feels “marginalized,” which allowed Engardio to cut in and said Mar was absent from this debate. He asked the supervisor why he endorsed Allison Collins when “everyone knew” she wanted to roll back merit-based admissions at Lowell.

7:04 P.M. The polls say supervisors are failing.

An audience member noted that a recent poll by the San Francisco Chronicle shows the BOS has an approval rating of 12%.

“I think that’s sort of high,” he said to laughter.

He then asked Mar: “Are you part of the solution or part of the problem, and why?”

“I certainly don’t dispute the poll and we hear constant complaints from our constituents around a wide range of issues,” Mar replied. “I believe I’ve been very responsive and focused on issues I have more control over,” such as public safety, schools and protecting the unique quality of life in the the Sunset District.

“On a citywide level,” Mar said, “I understand the frustration.”

6:59 P.M. Residents grill the candidates.

The audience came armed with questions for the two candidates. | Paul Kuroda for The Standard

We have entered the portion of the debate in which audience members can ask questions. What could go wrong?

First up, a gentleman asked: “What are the blockers in San Francisco that stop people from investing in affordable housing?”

“One of the big challenges is the acquisition cost of a home,” Mar said.

Engardio said construction costs and delays caused by city approvals can stop “common-sense” projects from being built.

6:48 P.M. Can the Sunset become the ‘Paris’ of the city? 

Mar called out a column Engardio wrote about turning the Sunset District into the Paris of the city by converting single family-homes into six-story housing. Um, OK.

Engardio said he has visited Paris multiple times and the theme of his column was really about getting the “spirit” of Paris into the city. Um, OK.

Engardio—an award-winning columnist, according to his website—noted that people can go read all of his past columns and learn more about his views. You can even read the columns that won third place.

6:43 P.M. Helping people who can’t help themselves.

Joel Engardio and Gordon Mar, from left. | Paul Kuroda for The Standard

How the city will address the homelessness crisis is top of mind for many in San Francisco. Mar said supervisors “will be able to take a firmer hand” into helping homeless people into transitional housing and shelters with initiatives like CARE courts.

Engardio countered that we need more shelter space and housing options, such as tiny homes, to create better opportunities to get homeless people off the street.

He pointed out that many homeless people are suffering from mental illness and applauded a conservatorship law from San Francisco state Sen. Scott Wiener. But, Engardio said, the supervisor watered down that legislation to make it ineffective.

Mar said he personally supported the legislation and brought the issue back to D4, adding that he is working to address ways to provide more options to help people living out of RVs.

6:37 P.M. Can downtown San Francisco be saved? 

The impending real estate collapse in downtown has everyone rightfully worried.

Engardio compared the lack of people coming back to in-office work since the start of the pandemic to the situation in New York City after 9/11. And he doesn’t see a return to in-office work. 

“That’s gone, so we can’t magically bring that back. So we’re going to reinvent what the downtown is,” Engardio said.

He suggested the city should reconfigure streets into promenades, repurpose office buildings into housing and look at incentives to draw investors in the community.

“We need to roll out the red carpet to every entrepreneur and artisan in the world,” Engardio said.

Mar said the future of downtown is one of the most important issues we face as a city, but “I wouldn’t support looking at tax breaks or tax handouts.”

The supervisor said the Twitter tax break was “a handout of tens of millions of dollars” to a small group of companies, and the city should look at lowering the lease rates to create a more diverse economy downtown.

Mar suggested the city could look to convert office space into housing and cultural centers.

6:27 P.M. Stop the presses—the candidates agree on something! 

Mar said he opposes Proposition I and reopening the Great Highway to cars because it would “undo a decade of work” done to address the impacts of climate change and erosion. He also said he supported Prop. J and the work by supervisors and Mayor Breed to find a good “compromise that has worked out really well here in the Sunset District.”

Engardio said this is one of the rare times in which he and the supervisor agree. He noted that Prop. I is actually “fiscally irresponsible” because of the $80 million price tag. “You’re never going to win that war against Mother Nature,” he said.

6:20 P.M. Engardio tells Mar to pick a side on District Attorney.

“I definitely support Brooke Jenkins,” Engardio said, adding that her predecessor, Chesa Boudin, did almost nothing to hold fentanyl dealers accountable.

Mar said he has a good working relationship with Jenkins but his focus has been on crime prevention, noting that the police department’s 9% case clearance rate is an issue that needs to be addressed. Without better police work, he said, the vast majority of crimes aren’t even making it to the DA’s office for charges.

When pressed by Weber, Mar said he has not made an endorsement in the DA’s race. Engardio drew some chuckles from the crowd by telling Mar that if he likes working with Jenkins he might as well endorse her because the other options are terrible.

6:12 P.M. Engardio goes after Supervisor Mar’s Stevenson Street vote.

The first question focused on housing, with Weber noting that District 4 has reportedly done the worst job of building new housing of any district in the city. Supervisor Mar said housing affordability “continues to be one of the most challenging issues” for his district and the entire city.

He noted that housing has been one of his top priorities in his first term, adding that he championed the first 100% affordable housing project in D4, as well as low- and moderate-income units on Irving Street.

Mar also said he has worked to make sure permits and building fees are waived. Engardio did not hold back in going after the incumbent, saying that D4 has “real housing needs” and addressed the crowd directly.

“If you want your children or grandchildren to stay living in the city, we need those options,” Engardio said, adding that Mar opposed the Stevenson Street project—the most controversial vote taken by the Board of Supervisors last year.

“You’re killing and giving away affordable housing that could have been used for our teacher and kids,” Engardio said. “I think it’s important to put your vote where your mouth is.”

6 P.M. The Standard’s editor-in-chief kicks off the debate.

The Standard’s first-ever supervisor debate had a casual happy hour for residents of District 4 to ease into the evening, followed by Jonathan Weber introducing both candidates—Supervisor Gordon Mar and challenger Joel Engardio—while also asking the audience to limit any boos and jeering.

And we’re off!