Although Supervisor Hillary Ronen’s election win in November was her first political campaign, Ronen is no stranger to City Hall and the many issues in her Mission district neighborhood. After three years as an attorney for La Raza and eight years as chief aide to former Supervisor Campos, Ronen understands what the Mission needs. However, the mantle of responsibility is now on her for the first time as an elected official. SF Sounds checks in with a few questions for SF’s newest supervisor
SF Sounds: What drew you into politics?
Hillary Ronen: I grew up in LA… my dad is an immigrant worker and he came to the country undocumented [from Israel]and always worked minimum-wage jobs when I was growing up… he was a fighter himself and would always stand up against injustice in the workplace, but he would often suffer repercussions for that and I saw the impact that had on him. My mom was a school teacher and she was the primary breadwinner in my family and had to work several jobs. I grew up in a rent control apt that my parents still live in — the same one for 40 years. So these are the issues that have shaped me… I was always a radical student, fighting for justice, then I decided to go to to law school which brought me to the Bay Area.. I went to UC Berkeley. When I graduated, I moved to the Mission and worked for six and a half years as an immigrant and worker rights attorney. I got so frustrated because the law often doesn’t work for poor people and so I decided that I wanted to find a job where I could rewrite the laws so that they actually worked… So when David Compos had an opening, I applied for that job and worked for him for six and a half years… I truly never had an intention to run for office. It was never in my realm of possibility or career path for myself, but what has always been my sort of directing force is that I want to fight for economic, racial, gender equality in this country… and really felt like this was the best way for me to do it. I’m trained, I know what I’m doing…. and I felt like if I didn’t win, if I didn’t run, that we would lose a progressive champion in the district and that didn’t sit well with me.
SFS: Homelessness is an issue that is larger than one Supervisor or even one city to tackle. How can we balance the humanitarian concerns and the growing sanitary and safety needs, especially with regards to parks and children’s playgrounds? We ask because this issue is more acute in your district than anywhere else in the city.
HR: I’m frustrated with this situation. I don’t think there’s enough investment in homeless services and most importantly, creating temporary shelter spaces and permanent affordable housing — which is the absolute only way we are going to solve the problem… without that, we are just moving people around, and that’s what happen[ed in]the Mission in the past years. People move from one street to the next street to the next street and they were all pushed into the Mission from the Embarcadero and from Bayview-Hunter’s Point development projects…What I am going to be doing and prioritizing is building as quickly as possible new shelter space or safer spaces for people even to pitch their tents, so it’s off of sidewalks, away from the front door of people’s homes… There’s human waste because people don’t have a dignified space to go to bathroom or shower. People are in acute mental health crisis and our residents cannot handle that… the only way of solving it is creating those shelter spaces… but we also need the support of housing spots, and what I’m very upset to have learned is that we only have 25 new supportive housing units coming online this year reserved for transitional-aged youth… 25! We are not going to solve this problem at all if that’s the level at which we are creating new affordable housing units. We have got to really just change our urgency level, change our priorities to make sure we are building more supportive housing units, and quickly, because that’s our only answer to this problem.
SFS: Urban development is really the main question for the Mission and the mix between housing, commercial needs, and density. What is your urban development outlook for the Mission?
HR: During the campaign, I made a very clear pledge to build 5000 units in 10 years, so that included the work i’ve already done as a legislative aid over the past couple of years, where we did indeed reach that goal of 500 units/year and I want to keep that going… that’s the type of pace that I think we need to be building affordable housing to make a dent and a difference. I don’t see any other solutions… I am going to be working on several projects to make that happen and I do believe that we need market-rate projects as a funding source of those affordable units. And then, we need fully 100% affordable units and I’m going to be fighting for both… I’m going to be pushing developers to include more affordability in their market rate projects, I’m going to be looking for new sources of funding at the state and federal level. Although, my optimism about that has declined… I had assumed we would have a Hillary Clinton presidency and we would have a reinvestment in housing from the federal level… We can’t solve this problem without a major investment from the federal level. I’m not optimistic that that’s going to happen, so we’re going to have to get creative about what we do locally.
SFS: What is your vision for your district? What are the top three things you plan to focus on as Supervisor?
HR: I’ve talked about my two top issues — homelessness and housing — as those are the issues in our district. but the third is public safety… I chair the Public Safety Committee and so, I’m looking very forward to tackling a lot of the issues we have in the district around property crimes and car break-ins, which is an epidemic in our district. We have an issue of a lot of immigrants, both Chinese speakers and Spanish speakers, that often times are afraid to report crimes when they’re victims because they don’t feel that someone will see them in their language or have cultural sensitivity. So I’m very interested in working with the new police chief to hire more bilingual officers that are able to police the communities and reflect the communities they are policing. I want to be part of making sure we implement police reform and all of the recommendations of the Police Commission and the DOJ report. We have a lot of work to do in our department.
Contact Supervisor Hillary Ronen at Hillary.Ronen@sfgov.org or