SF Mayoral Forum on Urban Agriculture

There are 16 candidates for mayor of San Francisco, but last month, I was able to narrow my choices down to the four candidates who attended a mayoral forum on urban agriculture: John Avalos, Terry Baum, David Chiu, and Tony Hall. Actually, I narrowed my vote down to three of these four after Terry Baum, the Green party candidate, referenced a “deeply powerful experience” she had with a gerbil. (I wish I were kidding).

The other candidates had quirks as well. Tony Hall constantly referenced his work restoring Lake Merced and punctuated his responses with statements like, “that’s how things get done!” or “that’s leadership!” I cringed when Chiu, the president of SF’s board of supervisors, boasted about being “the only candidate who attended Burning Man this year”. (I couldn’t help but think, shouldn’t he have been campaigning for mayor instead?).

That said, running for office in SF must be painful. Every organization that deals with food, farming or water was at the forum, trying to extract some sort of promise from the candidates: one organization asked for 12 new gardens or farms by the end of the candidate’s first year in office, another wanted a commitment to restore Hetch Hetchy, SF’s water source since the early 1900s. Others wanted the candidates to comment on issues that are far outside SF’s scope, like California’s Prop 13 or public school curriculum.

I was more interested in what they thought about urban agriculture and as expected, all said they supported urban ag, green school yards, and water conservation.  But they had often had different ideas about how to implement changes: Chiu suggested promoting green roofs by offering expediting permits (versus a tax incentive). Avalos thought we could set up shared gardening supplies, like tool lending libraries. Chiu echoed this idea, pointing out that he’d worked with Department of Public Works to share graffiti removal supplies with local merchants.

Despite what we’ve come to expect from those running for office, at times, the mayoral candidates gave answers that seemed refreshingly honest. I appreciated that Avalos refused to commit to the 12 new garden sites in his first year, saying that he thought he could make it happen in his first term, but “realistically, it’d be hard to do in the first year.”

I liked that Chiu acknowledged the city’s “very, very significant capital needs” as reasons why certain projects, like restoring Hetch Hetchy, weren’t realistic, and I was entertained by Hall, who had no qualms about announcing the public officials he’d fire once in office (per Hall, the head of Parks and Rec “has got to go” as well as the head of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC)

If you want to learn more, the candidates also provided written answers to a questionnaire.


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