This November, incumbent District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee faces four competitors to keep his seat at the Board of Supervisors. Meet cadidate Joel Engardio.
Alexander Mullaney: Tell me about your background.
Joel Engardio: I grew up in Michigan. General Motors factory town. Saginaw. The more famous city just south of us is Flint. Michael Moore country. So I grew up in that kind of environment. Basically his famous movie Roger And Me was basically filmed during my high school years so I lived that. I’ve lived that experience that was portrayed in the film.
AM: Where did you go to college?
JE: I went to Michigan State with a journalism scholarship and worked on the state news newspaper there. I was trained in journalism when newspapers were still newspapers just as the Internet was about to take off. So I consider myself classically a shoe -leather-to-the-sidewalk journalist but I had to quickly pivot for survival and moved into multimedia and other advocacy and [public relations] work.
AM: When did you move to the city?
JE: So I came to SF in 1998 to work for SF Weekly.
AM: What’s your day job?
JE: It’s a start up called Doctor on Demand. Basically we are trying to make healthcare more accessible and affordable and so you can see a doctor live on your phone via video without having to drive across town and wait in the waiting room and all that. The price point is lower than going to the urgent care here in West Portal or something like that.
AM: Why did you run in 2012?
JE: I ran because I had been in San Francisco since ‘98. A lot of the time working as a journalist, sometimes covering City Hall and I felt like some of the journalistic skill set could be used within City Hall. I mean it’s one thing to cover City Hall and be the watchdog—and that’s an important role—but I thought, “I’ve done that but what if I took that mindset from the inside.”
AM: What’s compelling you to run again?
JE: I still want to take all the things that I write about in my column [for the San Francisco Examiner], I still want to put them into action.
JE: The overarching themes: homeowners in the western side shouldn’t be City Hall’s ATM. Why do we have a $9 billion budget that has doubled since 2004? Are we getting our money’s worth? Crime is spiking. Why did the incumbent vote against more police officers? And then there are other big picture things that I think would be deemed controversial but I think in the long run would be beneficial for everyone and that’s that talk about density. What is the westside going to look like? Should we be building housing along transit corridors?
AM: What do you think about participatory budgeting?
JE: It’s a nice concept that people feel like they have some ownership of where the money can go but in District 7 there has been a lot of angling for playground funding. Sadly it kind of becomes the Hunger Games of playgrounds because West Portal is getting one but Golden Gate Heights didn’t and Miraloma Park didn’t. I feel like it’s important that something as important as playgrounds the supervisor really needs to go to bat and fight for all of them in the district and not try to pit one of them against the other based on who can create the best proposal but really should be going to bat for everybody because the GGH playground was literally the poster child of worst playgrounds on the Rec and Park website. When they would a picture of look how terrible our playgrounds are they took a picture of GGH and it was given an F rating but now it’s given a C rating, so what’s that all about?
AM: Homelessness in the district. What are your thoughts?
JE: To address homelessness we first need to address mental health. When you’re seeing people be psychotic on the street or screaming or using the street as a toilet, there are mental health issues going on and we need to address it. Right now we have the behavioral health court, which is great but it only helps people once they commit a crime. But someone shouldn’t need to be a victim of a crime before someone in pain and suffering gets the help they need. So we need to expand on Laura’s Law and actually medicate people who need medication. Because if you’re in psychosis you can’t benefit from any services. You need to be in your right mind to know what you need and what you want. So I’m definitely a proponent for giving medication to folks.
AM: Do you have any goals for work you would do on the board of supervisors?
JE: While you’re an advocate for your district you have to think of the city as a whole. Mental health is a big one that I would focus on. I’d also focus on housing. We can’t just build a moat and a wall. We have to figure out how we’re going to prepare our infrastructure for the people who are coming to San Francisco while figuring out how our kids and grand kids are going to have a spot here. The westside will have to play its part but I think there are ways to manage it so that everyone benefits.
AM: What are your thoughts on the Affordable Housing Bonus Program?
JE: Of course this issue is bringing out people with pitchforks but when you see pitchforks you know that there’s fear and anger and emotion involved and you can’t discount that because those are real feelings and we need to say why are you feeling angry and fearful? But we have to take a deep breath and get beyond that initial reaction and understand what’s really going on, right? What are people afraid of? What are people angry about? How does this proposed policy fit into that? In the big picture, what Supervisor Katy Tang is doing in District 4 I think is courageous because think about if you live on a transit corridor and you’re on the Judah or Taraval line and you just pass 19th and the train says, “Alright, we’re switching back, everybody get out.” That’s a big inconvenience, but why does that happen? Everything is strapped thin on the other side of town and they need the trains and there’s not enough density to warrant beefing up the transportation further west but if Katy Tang was able to provide some more density just on the transit corridor you would have more demand out there and the transit would run better.
AM: How would you work with the mayor?
JE: I would work well with the mayor. I would try to work well with Supervisor Aaron Peskin and everyone on the board because you need to. You can’t go in there throwing bombs, right? You have to go in there are try to build a consensus and make things happen which means compromise and working with people with a lot of different agendas and ideas.
AM: West Portal’s commercial corridor. How do you see it growing in your term?
JE: Losing La Boulange was a big blow to the neighborhood. People were hungry for it, pun intended, and really happy to have it and sad to see it go. Trying to work to bring in comparable establishments that people want, services that people want. As for the future of the district, this idea of building some housing along West Portal Avenue. You’ve got these banks with parking lots. They’re single story. This is a great opportunity for real dynamic ground floor retail for shops that people actually want and will use and the housing above it that young families can live in or seniors can downsize to. I hear stories of seniors who have homes and they’re thinking “Well I can’t climb the stairs much anymore but where am I going to go? I’d like to stay in my neighborhood.” Well what if there was an elevator condo in the neighborhood that I could live. I could still get on the Muni. I could still go to a show at the Opera or the theater and still have a dynamic life. So I think a lot of people can benefit from this idea of common sense development and not just come out with a pitchfork against it. Because in the long run it’s going to be helpful for everyone.
AM: How about Ocean Avenue? Same question.
JE: The incumbent supervisor supported the vape shop and people didn’t want a vape shop. It’s not like there’s anything inherently wrong with a vape shop but first things first. Where’s the bakery, where’s the things people want? We should be getting that first. And again the idea of development along Ocean Avenue makes a lot of sense because the people who live in the single family home neighborhoods off to the side, they would love to walk down to a vibrant shopping district and get what they need but it’s not there right now.
AM: How are you going to win?
JE: Just the old fashioned way. The shoe leather on the side walk way. Just knocking on doors, house meet ups and really just connecting with people with the ideas and running a campaign that talks about a vision for the future. Not just pandering to or reacting to fears or anger but channeling that into what can we do to create a district that we want our kids and grand kids to be able to live in?
AM: Any words for your opponents?
JE: Thank God for democracy. We’ll all present our messages and see how people react.
This article first appeared in The Light’s March 2016 edition. It has been updated.