This November, five candidates will be vying to be supervisor of District 11. We interviewed Kimberly Alvarenga about her experience, vision and campaign.
Alexander Mullaney: Who are you and what do you do?
Kim Alvarenga: My name is Kimberly Alvarenga and I’m running for District 11 Supervisor. I was raised in the city. My mom and dad met in the heart of the Mission on 24th Street. My mom was a waitress, a Salvadorian immigrant and my father worked for Sunset Scavenger driving a truck and would go to the restaurant where she worked every day for about a year and that’s how they kind of got together and because of that I came about. I was raised in the heart of the Mission when I was a young child. I’m a product of San Francisco schools. I went to Cesar Chavez before it was Cesar Chavez, so I’m dating myself a little bit. Then I went to Visitation Valley Middle School, which is right over the hill here for us in the neighborhood and I went to Woodrow Wilson High School, which is also no longer known as Woodrow Wilson High School, but I spent many hours as a youth in the district growing up and this district is a big part of who I am. My parents separated when I was young and my mother pretty much raised me on her own. She raised me as a domestic worker, cleaning people’s houses and taking care of other people’s kids and trying to make ends meet. I really got a taste for what it’s like for working class people, low and middle income people to struggle every day to make ends meet to feed their kids and give their children everything that they can have. When things got tough for my mom we had to rely on support. We moved into public housing. From the time I was like eight or nine we moved into Bernal Heights, the housing projects called Holly Courts and that’s where I spent the rest of my youth going there. And it’s those experiences, watching my mom work so hard and struggle so much that really framed who I was as a person and what my values and principles are. So it’s because of that I spent the first twenty years of my career in community based organizations primarily helping families around economic justice and housing issues because of my own personal experience. My first job was at Legal Aide. So at Legal Aide I worked on helping families with food stamps navigate that system. Medicare, Medical, Social Security Issues issues. It’s called the public benefits division. Back then it was called AFTC where people relied on benefits and tried to get into school and get out of poverty and I also ran the addiction defense clinic with Legal Aide. I then went on to work at Catholic Charities in the Tenderloin in the family and immigrant division. I continued to help families that were at risk of being evicted to help them out of those situations and then I worked for Bridge Housing, which is the biggest affordable housing constructer in the state at this point, and I ran the social services out of many of their buildings. I would run the services out of a 100-unit building. I also worked for Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center for a little bit. I got to work on the Save St. Luke’s campaign before there was a Blue Ribbon process, just because a lot of the elders and the people in Bernal Heights depend so much on the hospital. In 2008, Tom Ammiano asked me to work for him. I’ve never really seen myself as a politician per se, I’ve always been devoted to helping families and communities but when he asked me I thought it would be a good opportunity to continue to build on the work of advocating for families and so I worked for Ammiano for six years. The entire time that he was in the assembly. I got to learn a lot from him. I learned that you can be involved in politics and have integrity, and keep your integrity whether people agree with you or not. You know. I think he’s been able to maintain that in his life and I learned a lot from him on that issue. I got to work on Save City College, working very close with the community to make sure we saved City College. The issue of domestic workers is really close to my heart so I got to work on that issue. Making sure that women who take care of other people’s kids actually have labor protections and rest breaks. Basic rights that you and I have every day. And so, that’s a bit about who I am… and now I’m working for SEIU 1021 representing, as I mentioned, 54,000 workers. To make sure that working people have a voice.
AM: Did you go to college here?
KA: I struggled through school and didn’t go to college at a traditional age. I dropped out before I got to finish college. I went for a couple semesters to State, but, when I was in my thirties, and I was actually working during the day at the nonprofits that I mentioned. I actually went back to City College. During the day I would work and during the night I would take City College classes and some on the weekends too. So I was able to get enough units to transfer in my early mid-thirties and so I ended up transferring to Mills College. I got a degree in women’s studies and a minor in ethnic studies. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t get the support from City College that I got.
AM: Why run now?
KA: I’m running for supervisor because I care deeply about our city and I care deeply about our district. I know what it’s like to struggle every day to make ends meet. I live in District 11, I spent many years of my life here. I’m raising my son here. He’s three and a half. I struggle every day with my partner to make a space for him where he’s thriving and he’s happy and that’s getting to be less and less possible now. Also I’m running to make space at the table for the residents of District 11 to have a voice. I believe that District 11 residents in each individual neighborhood are doing great work and I don’t believe we have gotten the resources that we deserve as a district and we are a district that is working class that has high homeownership rates that has worked really hard to get where they are and we deserve to get some of the same benefits that other districts get, particularly because we are such a working class neighborhood and we need to amplify our voice and get what we deserve and I don’t see that happening. I think this city is in one of the biggest economic booms we have ever seen and we have more coming into the city than we’ve ever seen and I think it’s criminal that this district has such high labor density, such high family density. We have kids and their moms and their grandparents all living in one house trying to make ends meet, working really hard. Working one, two, three jobs, stressed out about property taxes and paying their property taxes, paying their fair share but not getting some of the same attention that some of the other districts do.
AM: What are the district’s biggest issues?
KA: First and foremost the issue of equity is very important at the forefront of what we need in our district. I think what runs across every issue is the fair distribution of resources across the city to our members. One example is the wonderful work that, we have so many volunteers at the McLaren Collaborative that do work to take care of our parks. We have one of the highest numbers of children in our district but our parks rank the lowest and that is an issue of equity, where they belong and where they deserve to be. We have the highest number of kids, one of the highest percentages of children in the city and yet we have one of the highest recidivism rates, where our kids are actually going into the criminal justice system because they don’t have the appropriate resources. We have a mayor who says we have a deficit. He says we have a $100 million deficit and he says the way we should balance the budget is actually by increasing the fees that residents pay for city services. So how can the families that live here pay additional fees for park and rec services when their already stretched thin? That’s just not acceptable. I think that making sure that also with the corridor, resources are there at the administration level to provide economic development money to actually like expand the corridor. I talk a lot to the residents who are struggling to keep their businesses day in and day out. They work 24 hours a day basically to stay open and many of them don’t come out because it’s hard to even talk to each other and work collectively on an issue when they’re working so hard to make ends meet. So creating collaborative models to bring people together to talk about the issues and prioritize the issues together. I am going to be the kind of supervisor, and this is very important to my platform, that’s going to create spaces for people. I want to hear from the residents. I want to hear from the constituents and work with them to identify those priorities, not only to identify those problems neighborhood-wide but then to bring different folks from different neighborhoods together to amplify our voice as a district.
AM: What do you want to do about the historic resources? It doesn’t seem like this area gets the same resources as elsewhere.
KA: I think the community and the supervisor have done a great job to get funds for the Geneva Office Building and Powerhouse. And there’s a process there and those are some of the models that we should leverage. It’s a perfect example of when the community comes together and is organized and is thinking longterm that they could leverage assets citywide to bring in funds to support continuing to identify historical locations and keep them. I think if we continue to do that kind of work and also, in addition to that, look at some of these spaces, like we preserve them and then we use them as community assets. I hear from many residents that “We don’t have spaces in the community for our residents to come together.” Again, we have few clubhouses that used to Parks and Rec, again, back to so many children in this community. The clubhouse at the Excelsior Playground doesn’t even belong to Park and Rec, it’s leased out. So few assets for the community to use and utilize so that we can benefit from it. You know, I’d like to merge both. We preserve our historic locations, we keep them for a long time but we also utilize them for places for our communities to use.
AM: Reminds me of the city’s cultural centers.
KA: Yeah, like Erick Arguello worked very hard, that was a very lengthy process. It was a very hard fight to have but they determined that it was a cultural center and it had historical relevance and therefore it needed to be preserved.
AM: We need Erick over here.
KA: One of the first things I did as a volunteer for the EAG is actually to bring in merchant leaders from three distinct locations. I know that there’s not one model that is perfect. Each area is different.
AM: That’s what makes San Francisco so unique.
KA: And what makes it so wonderful but I thought that a good place to start was to bring in people who have been successful on their merchant corridors. So I brought in Erick Arguello, I brought in Thea Selby who is a merchant leader who started the Haight Merchant Corridor and Deana Davenport who has been the head of the Valencia Street corridor for many years. So we had a panel conversation around what has worked for them, what hasn’t worked for them, what distinguishes them and you know many of them walked the block and talked to the merchants that were here and really provided us with really good feedback about what the possibilities are and for us to actually learn from that and actually build from that as we are developing an economic development plan for our own area.
AM: Accessory units. You probably remember a couple of years ago the Asian Law Caucus did a report about accessory units in the Excelsior and they found out it’s the deficit affordable housing. Granny units are essentially where low-income people live. What do you think about that? What needs to be done?
KA: I think we need to… We all know, as we mentioned, this is one of the last working class districts in the city and we do have high density and we do have people who live here and raise their families here. I think it’s very important to preserve the housing that we have. We need to work on ways to improve the housing that we do have to make it more livable and sustainable, not only for the people that live there but also for the neighbors that are also there. Especially due to the lack of affordable options for middle income and low income housing that’s available.
AM: Crime in the area. What would you do in your first term to work with police and other agencies?
KA: I live two doors from Crocker Amazon, my partner and our son were at the park twice when there were shootings there, my partner got mugged at the Bank of America ATM on Ocean Avenue just a couple of months ago so this is an issue that I care really deeply about. I believe that community policing is really, really important. I believe that as we look at some of the problems in the park, a lot of that activity I’m told might be gang related. Scratch that. The important thing is when a police officer walks the beat and has a relationship with the community that they’re in and is there for a lengthy period of time they not only invest in that community but they get to know the people that are there and when there are things that are different that don’t look right or activity that might not fit into that community, they actually are able to tell and prevent it. I think that’s lacking in the district. I don’t think the city has a community-policing program that really helps us prevent crime in an effective way. We have strong neighborhoods in the district, people that care very deeply about their neighbors but the police sometimes come, something happens and they come, and they’re present for a while but it’s that constant relationship with the community and increasing community policing and policies at the city level that strengthen the relationship that our community has with the police. I think that it takes longer when it comes to preventing crime. I mean sometimes, you know, just reacting to the crime that’s already happened.
AM: Balboa Park Station, I think it’s the fifth busiest station in the system but, from my perspective, it doesn’t get the resources it deserves. What you do to work on that area?
KA: I would work very closely with our elected at BART to identify and primarily look at our community members in that area that are affected by the congestion that’s going on at BART to prioritize areas that need to be improved. That whole area I feel has… it’s not just BART, it’s transit in general. It’s like the trains that come by, the metro trains, has been designed primarily for the system and not necessarily for the riders, I believe when it first came about. So, when you look at, you know, the elder who is trying to cross the street, the families that are trying to get to work every day, weren’t the first thing that were thought of when we built that area and then we’ve built on it and it’s made things worse. So, I do think that we need a community led process in partnership with the city, in partnership with BART to improve the area to make it more accessible to our riders and the community members that live here day in and day out to really fix some of the issues around traffic and congestion and walkability.
AM: What really boggles my mind is that the Balboa Station Area Plan suggests starting over and building a new station in Balboa Park. It’s that weird. So I want to touch back on commercial corridors. As you know there’s like thirty percent vacancy rate or non-performing storefronts. There are business attraction issues. What do you want to do for Geneva, Mission, San Jose, etc.?
KA: Well, I’m an active member of the Excelsior Action Group, like I told you one of the first things I did when I saw that business attraction was an issue… You know, the panel we brought together from different neighborhoods. So it was about starting a conversation and bringing in people that are not from here that we could talk about what steps we could actually take to improve the corridor. I will tell you, that so many of the businesses struggles day in and day out, I think one of the things that came out of the panel was the importance of actually creating times to work with the EAG and work with the merchants that are more accessible for the merchants to come together and talk to each other, to be able to strategize and create a community development plan together. You know, maybe those strategies include providing childcare. Creating different times to have their conversations to have a plan. So I’m devoted to really working with those that are on the corridor to improve the district, to bring in new businesses. I’ve been working as a volunteer on outreach for new businesses to develop postcards to send out to all of the businesses to bring new business. I would help to identify new businesses that could come. I think we need more family-centered businesses because we have so many families and children in the neighborhood, it would be great if we focused on bringing businesses that really attract more people that live around the neighborhood to actually come and shop here. To see this as our community to not drive away to the Mission or Serramonte to actually partake and buy things so that they could stay with their children to actually see this as their community.
AM: So striking the right business mix.
KA: Yeah, striking the right balance based on the folks that live here. And I do know, from the people that I see at EAG meetings and in the district that people do drive out and do drive far. And also from talking to the merchants I feel like they’re struggling also every day to provide more support for them in terms of being able to get loans to improve their businesses, to expand their businesses. I think a lot of the small business owners also need some assistance on their rights. I’ve talked to a number of merchants who have been taken advantage of by landlords. A lot of our business owners here are immigrants. Chinese immigrants or Latino immigrants that do not know all of their rights like how they could improve the location that they’re working out of to make it accessible but also keep it legal. So, I think there are multiple issues that are alive in the district, but I would work in partnership with them to improve it.
AM: Park and Rec. We have the worst parks in the city by their scoring standards. How do you work with the general manager and get the resources and have them really activate and improve the parks?
KA: An experience that I’ve had that I’d like to share. You know, having worked with an elected official for six years and having run the constituent services and having not only the legislative experience but also having experience responding to constituents that have needs in their districts is really benefitted me. Like, when we saw the situation at the Excelsior playground as an example of a Parks and Rec situation where the playground was in dismal condition and it took the residents who live there to get the attention of the media to come out and take pictures of it. But as a follow-up on that, I would step up, you know, because I understand the process and I understand the stakeholders, so I stepped up and I organized with residents to do a walk through with park and rec staff and we did a walk through with parks and rec staff and there were some changes that had been made to a certain scale after the media gave it attention, but that work had kind of, you know they kind of piece meal it and as soon as it doesn’t have the attention the work kind of stops because the squeaky wheel gets the attention. You know we have families in this district that are so busy working late that they don’t have time to be at the mic at City Hall public comment. So I scheduled a walk though, had parks and rec staff come out along with our residents and we identified certain areas that needed to be fixed along with them. Some of that was making sure there are appropriate signs in multiple languages at the park, making sure the swings were actually fixed. Getting a commitment that the swings would be fixed, getting a commitment that the lights that hadn’t been fixed got fixed, painting the benches, we even got to the point where we would have a training program where they would bring a person out four days a week that was in a training capacity to help staff at the Excelsior Playground. And that, to me, is an example of what you get when you advocate and you know how to organize to get the best or the most out for the community. So that was just an example, but from that we created the first Friends of the Excelsior playground and that’s an example of how I would work as a supervisor sin partnership with our residents because I understand the citywide system and how to advocate for it and demand the resources that we deserve coming to us that don’t always come our way.
AM: Do you know about Merced Heights? It’s pretty much the same situation.
KA: Yeah, over in the OMI. And there’s great work by residents going on right now from what I understand. But I think the deeper issue is really like it’s unfortunate that because we’re working class we don’t get the attention we deserve as a district. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some great work going on. It’s amazing the work that some folks are doing in this community day in and day out, but yeah. It’s definitely a priority for me if I’m elected.
AM: How will you win?
KA: People power. We just had our kick of last Saturday right in this building. We walked the majority of the district already. We have people who care deeply about this city. They might not be the wealthiest people but they care really deeply about this district and i think we have the people that care about this district that are going to be knocking on doors and are going to be walking the streets to make they are making a difference. I have strong support from the labor community, I just got endorsed by UESF, the teacher’s union, SEIU, nurse’s, the building trade, the iron workers gave me an endorsement, the electrical workers gave me an endorsement, so I feel like our campaign really speaks to the issues of the working class people in this district and in the city and I feel really supported by them and we’re going to run a really strong people-led campaign about the issues that really matter for us. That’s how I’m going to win—talking to every voter.
AM: Are you using public financing?
KA: I’m the first candidate running in this district to qualify for public financing and it’s really a wonderful equalizer because I don’t have the money that my opposition does. And, you know, when you have a lot of people in your campaign, like when you have people power in your campaign and a people’s campaign, those are the most important resources. You can’t buy that. You can throw money at that, but you can’t buy people’s respect and I think if we do the hard work and we talk to as many voters as we can, that’s the hard work of winning a campaign.
AM: Do you have any words for your opponents?
KA: I wish you luck on the campaign trail.
This article first appeared in The Light’s May 2016 print edition.