Joel Engardio on San Francisco Issues
As a westside homeowner, I believe neighborhoods of single family homes are a unique part of San Francisco's diverse mosaic. Yet I also know that building more housing will help middle income residents become homeowners — and we want to keep families from leaving San Francisco. Restricting supply only drives prices higher. With community input, we can preserve westside neighborhoods of single-family homes while building housing along transit corridors served by trains. The new homeowners will revitalize commercial districts. We’ll also create housing for our kids and grandkids.
[Click to read Joel's essays on housing]
Better public transportation service and increased infrastructure is vital to meet the needs of San Francisco's growing population. It is necessary to fully fund MUNI and BART, but the agencies must be held accountable for how the money is spent and how efficiently they operate. Now is the time to take bold action to prepare for the future by investing in the subway tunnels we regret not building decades ago. This includes MUNI tunnels from West Portal and along 19th Avenue to Daly City BART, Geary Boulevard from downtown to the ocean and from Chinatown to Fisherman's Wharf. We also need a new BART tunnel across San Francisco Bay.
[Click to read Joel's essays on transportation]
At more than $10 billion, San Francisco’s budget is out of control. It has doubled since 2004 — and nothing is twice as good. Philadelphia has twice as many people as San Francisco — with similar city and county responsibilities — but with a lower budget. San Francisco has 30,000 city employees, one for every 28 residents. Our unfunded liability to provide healthcare for all those employees is in the billions of dollars. City Hall needs to spend less and save more for down times. We must investigate how our money is being spent, measure programs for results and only pay for what works. Your home is not City Hall’s ATM.
[Click to read Joel's essays on fiscal responsibility]
San Franciscans don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods. Property crime is high, including tens of thousands of reported car break-ins evert year. Meanwhile, too many criminals are not prosecuted relative to other parts of the Bay Area. We must ensure our police department has the resources it needs to keep pace with our growing city. All branches of law enforcement must work together so that more people who commit crimes are brought to justice. Joel is Vice President of Stop Crime SF, a group of San Franciscans working together to reduce and prevent crime in our neighborhoods while holding public officials and the criminal justice system accountable.
[Click to read Joel's essays on crime and safety]
Our confounding school assignment system makes kids into commuters, adds cars to the streets and produces schools less diverse than a simple neighborhood system would. We must allow more families to walk their children to school. This will strengthen communities, reduce traffic congestion and allow for more family time at home. We need more public magnet schools in language, arts and sciences. And we should provide advanced classes for high-performing students. These programs are attractive to parents choosing private schools or leaving San Francisco for public schools elsewhere. Public schools must compete for and retain middle and higher income families so students at all income levels can benefit from the additional PTA resources.
[Click to read Joel's essays on education]
When it comes to managing our parks and open space, we must not forget that San Francisco is an urban city of 850,000 people and growing. We should not restrict recreation for people and pets in our parks to introduce so-called “native” plants that need replanting when they don't take. It costs unnecessary millions. A big city cannot be preserved as if it were Yosemite. We should respect the environment while understanding that an urban setting requires we provide access to open space for all people and pets. San Francisco is beautiful, but not all of it is natural (Golden Gate Park and much of the westside was originally sand dunes). We should be careful in judging which trees are “native” before spending scarce resources to tear out and replace what has been growing for a century. Above all, our parks are for family and individual recreation.
[Click to read Joel's essays on parks and recreation]
We must address homelessness with compassion and accountability. Tent encampments on our sidewalks are unsafe, unsanitary and unacceptable. We can offer assistance without allowing unruly behavior. We must review the contracts with all the non-profit organizations that City Hall uses to provide homeless services and investigate where money can be saved by eliminating redundancies. One-third of the homeless population in San Francisco has a mental illness and we must treat the underlying condition. We should expand the Behavioral Health Court — a program for mentally ill people that works — and strengthen conservatorship laws so so the people suffering on our streets can get treatment.
[Click to read Joel's essays on homelessness]
A humane society should make caring for mentally ill people a priority. Many are homeless, but we first must address the mental illness. When someone is suffering from psychosis, housing and job services can't help him if he won't take his medication. We should allow authorities in egregious cases to require people to take the medication they need to function. It's respectful, compassionate and essential.
[Click to read Joel's essays on mental illness]
I'm a dog person and know that dogs are loved as members of many families. Dogs are good for kids, seniors and our soul. They bring neighbors together and help build community. We need more shared, open space for families and responsible dog owners to safely play and relax together. We can also be good stewards of the environment without overly restricting where people and pets can go in our parks. San Francisco is an urban city of 850,000 people, which means the foremost mission of our parks should be recreation and outdoor access for everyone.
[Click to read Joel's essays on dogs]
The definition of progress is forward movement and continuous improvement. We won’t solve San Francisco's housing crisis or transportation challenges by being stagnant, looking backward or shouting at history to stop happening. We need to embrace the future, embrace change and manage it with common sense solutions. We all want an efficiently-managed city, buses that run on time, clean parks, places for dogs to run and kids to play soccer, schools we can walk to and more places to live whether we are renters or aspiring homeowners. Getting this done will take innovation and helping people who fear change understand how it can work for them.
[Click to read Joel's essays on innovation]
The best way to fund our shared social goals is through job-creation, innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit. A robust economy will pay for the parks, roads, police and fire protection, healthcare and programs for the less fortunate that we care about. While the tech industry is an important driver of San Francisco's economy, we must realize that we cannot live on apps alone. Small business is the backbone of our city and neighborhoods. We have to make it easier for small businesses to open and operate by streamlining City Hall's many confusing and unnecessary regulations.
[Click to read Joel's essays on economic growth]
The tech community is an important contributor to San Francisco’s dynamic economy and culture. Tech workers are creators and artists. They are our colleagues, friends, neighbors and family members. They make San Francisco more interesting and diverse, continuing a long history of newcomers transforming the city for the better. It is important to encourage and facilitate tech workers to engage in political discourse. All of San Francisco can benefit by embracing the benefits of tech and innovation.
[Click to read Joel's essays on tech]
As a gay man, I arrived in San Francisco looking for a better life like many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who came before me. I met my future husband in San Francisco when I didn't think we would ever be allowed to legally get married. It was a triumph to walk down the aisle with him. But in many parts of the world — including my husband's home country of Taiwan — the freedom to marry still does not exist for same-sex couples. Even in the United States, LGBTQ people do not have federal protections against employment or housing discrimination. There is still more work ahead to ensure that all LGBTQ people can live fully and equally.
[Click to read Joel's essays on LGBTQ issues]
My political philosophy is individual liberty and government accountability. I served as a member of San Francisco's Democratic County Central Committee, representing the westside. I currently serve on the board of directors of the United Democratic Club and the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club in San Francisco. I am guided by the following principles: (1) Encourage innovation, not status quo. (2) Follow common sense, not sacred cows. (3) Negotiate practical solutions with empathy. (4) Protect personal freedoms. (5) Practice fiscal responsibility. (6) Spend public funds only on what works. (7) Measure for results and accountability. (8) Fund social goals with economic growth. (9) Promote community service and charity. (10) Value and invest in education for all.
[Click to read Joel's essays on politics]
Sign Up & Learn More
Get a monthly email with links to Joel’s column in the San Francisco Examiner and news about local politics and community events.