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Town Hall: District 3 Supervisor Candidate Debate

An evening of political discourse and debate with the four candidates vying for the District 3 seat in the upcoming General Election on November 5, 2024. This is the seat currently held by Aaron Peskin, who will be termed out.

Manny Yekutiel moderated the live and free event, and the general public contributed questions for the conversation. The candidates are Moe Jamil, Sharon Lai, JConr Ortega, and Danny Sauter.

This event took place at KALW's event 220 Montgomery Street events space in downtown San Francisco on Tuesday, January 9, 2024. It was held in partnership with Welcome to Manny's.

Please click the listen button above the photo to hear the discussion.

WEB-ONLY CONTENT: We asked the candidates to answer four audience-generated questions that were not asked during the event. Here are the questions and answers, submitted by email and presented without alteration:

Given that district three is the economic engine and the most dense part of the city, how will you as supervisor balance the needs of district three versus the rest of the city?

Sharon Lai: District 3 is my priority, what’s in the interest of D3 is in the interest of the city. As stated in the question, the health and wellbeing of this District will directly impact the wellbeing for the entire city, as a significant portion of the city’s revenue comes through here as well as being the representative image of the city’s reputation for visitors. As the District Supervisor responsible for the key economic engine for the city, I will work with my fellow Supervisors to strengthen the city as a whole by building agreement and making sure that we set sound economic policies that will uplift all neighborhoods such as building back up our city budget by diversifying our economy with green jobs and jobs that will stay for a long time. Let’s be clear, many issues facing D3 are citywide, regional, if not nationwide, such as crime, homelessness,  affordability, and the drug epidemic. We need to work with partners beyond our paper boundaries if we want to meet the needs of our people.

Danny Sauter: Constituent service will always be my top priority, be it something as small as a pothole or as large as public safety in our neighborhood. As Supervisor, I will be responsive to the 80,000+ residents of District 3 and always accessible with regular town halls, open office hours in the neighborhood, and a staff that knows and reflects the neighborhoods in District 3. We'll balance this with citywide needs in critical areas like public safety, public transportation, and abundant and affordable housing. 

Moe Jamil: As goes District 3, so goes San Francisco. District 3 contains Downtown, Union Square, Fisherman's Wharf and some of the most historic neighborhoods in the city: Nob Hill, Russian Hill, Telegraph Hill and Chinatown. It’s important to the city as a whole for this district to be thriving for local residents and businesses, tourists and workers who come into the city every day. San Francisco is in need of new leadership for broad citywide issues: crime, homelessness, economic recovery and accountability for our city government to ensure clean and safe streets. I look forward to being one out of 11 members of the Board of Supervisors to set policy and direction for the city.

JConr Ortega: District Three (along with District Six) serves the city as, not only the business hub, but tourist destination.  The most important thing we must do is ensure our district thrives is by keeping our businesses and residents/tourists safe. Businesses shut down because of either little to no foot traffic because it’s unsafe and/or shut down because of the ongoing retail theft crisis.  Safety requires a fully staffed and funded police force to not only hit the beat, but have officers who live in the district and contribute to the local economy.  Where my opponents and I differ is they all are “defund the police” supporters and would see our city remove officers than keep them permanently. 

As an individual supervisor, what is the most important city wide and district wide issue to YOU, and how do you plan to push that issue and make a difference?

Danny Sauter: The most important issue both citywide and in District 3 is public safety. We should not accept the status quo of small businesses being broken into regularly, tourists having luggage stolen, or elders being afraid to walk home at night. We can start by having a fully-staffed police department and emergency services like 911 dispatchers and social workers. But that's not enough - we need public safety solutions that are tailored to the needs of District 3 which means hiring more bi-lingual Cantonese and Mandarin officers and getting officers out of their office and cars and into our communities to walk the neighborhood. 

Moe Jamil: The most important issue in District 3 – and across the city – is holding the city government accountable to serve the basic needs of San Francisco residents. These needs include keeping our streets clean and safe and ensuring that our government, city department heads, the Mayor and members of the Board of Supervisors are responsive to the concerns of citizens. Many District 3 residents, and San Francisco residents at large, are unhappy and feel that the city has written them off because their disapproval of the status quo is inconvenient for both the politicians and city workers. I want to change that and ensure the city is responsive to San Francisco’s basic needs.

JConr Ortega: The most important citywide issue to we face is the unsafe environment San Francisco has become, which has been bleeding into District Three. To solve this problem we face in San Francisco and in District Three is my RR&R Plan, which is Remove, Rebuild, Revive.   As supervisor, we will remove the tents from the streets get the homeless/drug addicts into a mobile recovery mission, and arrest to deport drug dealers., we will rebuild our streets and infrastructure., and finally and keeping up part one and two, we will revive our small business structure and we will revive our district and city. 

Sharon Lai: Resources - The most important test is how we handle the $800 million budget deficit while addressing my top four priorities for the district and for the city: personal safety, homelessness, affordable housing, and economic development. The city cannot function without adequate funding and resources. We need to be creative on how we get it, leverage it for more (such as Prop A housing bond to build more affordable housing), and to make sure that it is spent responsibly. Police staffing, affordable housing, clean streets, homelessness and mental health services…it all takes funding. Related, the city needs knowledgeable leadership to improve morale and performance across city departments. Our city departments will function more effectively with proper oversight and non-politicized guidance. As a supervisor, I will not have any administrative authority over departments, but I will leverage the carrots and sticks available to my office to hold management accountable, align incentives for better performance, and support good governance practices to deliver more impact for our constituents with fewer resources. We know that can be done with political will and agile leadership, as we have seen during the pandemic when the city was able to mobilize action quickly and when I delivered a tiny homes pilot at record low cost and record speed.  I plan to advance the resources challenge by actively engaging with the community to inform tough decisions ahead, and importantly, by collaborating and expanding consensus with my colleagues on the Board. As evident in my track record and my early endorsements from a diverse set of perspectives ranging from Catherine Stefani to Shamann Walton and Rafael Mandelman to Aaron Peskin, I’m focused on solutions, not politics. 

Please identify and describe the hurdles of removing conservatorship protections for our obviously disturbed, violent, and destitute homeless neighbors.

Moe Jamil: We do not need to change our existing laws – we need to hold city departments and city agencies accountable for enforcing the laws we have. It's inexcusable that in a city with a budget of $14 billion dollars we have not figured out how to supply enough mental health beds, get folks who desperately need treatment into treatment and hold accountable the agencies and individuals who are responsible for performing these functions. Someone who enters into conservatorship will need to get help, get stabilized and exit conservatorship when they can show they will no longer be a danger to themselves or other San Francisco residents.

JConr Ortega: What’s stopping the city from executing Gov. Newsom’s plan is the lack of structure both personnel and plan to ensure we have a safe transition into city care and eventually out of city care. Apart of the RR&R plan is to ensure we properly document and fulfill the needs and requirements, both financial and operational, of those who we will be treating. 

Sharon Lai: This is an important and personal topic for me. As a City, we fail to support and care for our most mentally ill residents. I see the impacts of this failure on our streets every day, as I’m sure all San Franciscans do. I’ve also seen efforts such as shelter without the appropriate supportive services fall short in addressing the needs of those who are in such acute distress. Conservatorship is an important tool to get folks into care, but we need to invest in longer term treatment to ensure people don’t just end up back on the street. In San Francisco we only have 94 city-contracted treatment beds for people under mental health conservatorship. For each one of our existing mental health beds, there are hundreds of more people who need help. SB 43, a recent state law, opened a window for expanding conservatorship which needs to go hand in hand with more mental health treatment beds. As Supervisor, I will work to expedite local programs to help people who cannot help themselves by expanding mental health beds to match state efforts, as well as invest in workforce development to expand trained professionals needed to fill these important roles. 

Danny Sauter: We need to expand access to treatment but also increase the places in which we mandate treatment through programs like conservatorship. San Francisco must act swiftly to implement the state's new expanded conservatorship program. We must first lower the number of instances in which someone must have a 8 different psychiatric emergency holds to be eligible for conservatorship. This has resulted in keeping too many people on our streets who need to be in supportive services. Alongside this, we should remove bureaucratic hurdles that are holding back supportive housing and getting new mental health beds open. 

How do you feel about organizations like Together SF influencing elections? And are you expecting, or have you received contributions or the endorsement of either Together SF or Grow SF?

JConr Ortega: Organizations who galvanize involvement in elections is a good thing, however, we must always take care when selecting individuals organizations while at the same time ignoring other organizational involvement. To the understanding, TogetherSF and GrowSF, have fantastic members, are Political Acfion Committees that cannot endorse. I don’t expect, nor would I turn down glowing support from either organization, but their decision entirely lies with them.

Sharon Lai: I believe that civic engagement and advocacy are essential elements of a thriving democracy. Organizations play a crucial role in representing diverse perspectives and shaping discussions around policy changes. Together SF, Grow SF, and Abundant SF emerged from various frustrations over specific issues. However, it is equally important to ensure transparency, accountability, and a fair representation of all voices in the political process. My commitment is to prioritize the well-being and concerns of the entire community, bringing forth change through an open, inclusive and representative democratic process. I have not received contributions or endorsements from Together SF or Grow SF. My priorities lie in advocating for increased affordable housing, protecting renters, addressing homelessness, supporting small businesses, and advancing public safety. My commitment is to focus on my constituents' needs, and that commitment will always come first.

Danny Sauter: San Francisco is a city rich with civic organizations and involvement in our Democracy. More groups active in this discourse is a healthy thing as long as it's clear what their priorities are and how they make endorsements. I have not received an endorsement from the groups listed. 

Moe Jamil: Organizations can try to influence elections but what truly matters to me is the vote of confidence of the individuals residing in District 3. Those are the people and families I will fight for everyday – and who I have been fighting for every day. Those individuals, my neighbors, are who I'm counting on to support me in my effort of becoming their next Supervisor.

Ben joined KALW in 2004. As Executive News Editor and then News Director, he helped the news department win numerous regional and national awards for long- and short-form journalism. He also helped teach hundreds of audio producers, many of whom work with him at KALW, today.