Angela Alioto, mayoral candidate, was born and raised in San Francisco. Her parents are former San Francisco Mayor Joseph L. Alioto and Angelina Genaro Alioto. During her service on the Board of Supervisors, Angela was elected President of the Board. She served as Vice-Chair of the Board’s Finance Committee, Chair of the Health, Public Safety and Environment Committee, and Chair of the Select Committee on Municipal Public Power, a committee she created as President. On January 8, 1997, Alioto left the Board of Supervisors due to term limits.
Her campaign reached out to India Currents and we the opportunity to talk to her one on one. Here is a transcript of the interview:
Vandana Kumar (VK): I publish India Currents magazine. We’ve been around for thirty-two years. India Currents is devoted to the exploration of Indian culture as it exists in the United States, as well all issues of interest to the Indian community. Also on this call is my partner, Vijay Rajvaidya.
Vijay Rajvaidya (VR): Angela, hi. I am a thirty-five year tech veteran from the Bay Area. I joined India Currents five years ago to actively engage with the Indian community.
Angela Alioto (AA): Hello.
VK: One of the things that interested me was that you have really deep ties to San Francisco. You were born here, raised here, educated here, you’ve done years of public service here. Your father was the mayor of San Francisco. So, you must have been influenced by his service. Can you tell us of any incident that may have left an indelible mark on you or something that prompted you down this same path of public service?
AA: I think that the fact that my father was a coalition builder really impressed me in my youth. One of the most important things that stands out to me is when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, we were there with the black Baptist ministers and the other cultures and they all stood together on the steps of city hall and made it very clear to the public that wanted to riot that it was much better to do a peaceful march. So as a consequence of the coalition building that my father did with different communities, we were the only city that did not riot. I think that’s one of the best talents any mayor can have: being able to put communities together so they work for the betterment of the people. That is absolutely essential and that is something that is totally missing today in today’s government.
VR: That’s true.
VK: What year was this?
AA: 1968. Martin Luther King, Jr, was assassinated. Two months later Bobby Kennedy was… those were very tumultuous times.
VR: Angela, I have a question a little bit more to the ground here. I was looking at the last Census numbers and according to the 2010 Census one-third of the population in San Francisco is Asian and there is a growing population of Indian-Americans there, largely young, highly educated, second-generation Indians who have made San Francisco their home. Their main concern is adequate and affordable housing. Can you tell them how this is going to happen in your administration? In particular, if you could elaborate on your idea of prioritizing “density over raising height limits?”
AA: Well, first of all, affordable housing is the top priority problem in San Francisco. And it’s because we have so many new employees that have come to San Francisco who can afford higher prices and, as a consequence, so many people were worked out of the available housing that we have.
AA: The only way we’re going to be able to do anything about this affordable housing crisis in San Francisco is by building more density. We absolutely need to build the 5,000 units that Mayor Ed Lee suggested and along with that we have 17,000 units that are in the pipeline. But as far as it ever being really affordable, depending upon someone’s salary, that’s going to be the problem of the future, trying to figure out what is affordable. Right now, they’re calling affordable housing for any one project that’s done, let’s say they do 25 percent or 30 percent affordable housing, well affordable housing is $130,000 a year salary. That’s not affordable for a lot of people.
AA: The question is where are the people who make $50,000, $60,000, $70,000 where are they going to live? I believe that you have to do dedicated buildings and developments for them. It’s just terrible what’s happened in San Francisco. We have young kids that are making so much money that the price of an apartment, it goes up three to four thousand dollars for a single bedroom, I mean, people can’t afford that.
VK: That is very true. You know, in the last few weeks, there has been much conversation around the issue of San Francisco as a sanctuary city. Can you explain to our readers what is different about your position on this versus the other candidates and why.
AA: I am very surprised that the other candidates came out against me on this. I wrote the original sanctuary city law. I never included dangerous felons. So, in 2016, they amended it and they added dangerous felons. So what my ordinance does is it takes the protection of the sanctuary law away from dangerous felons. In other words, if you’re going to kill somebody, if you’re going to rape somebody, if you’re…going to create mayhem, then you are not going to be covered by San Francisco’s sanctuary law, as you are not covered in the State of California. So, I was very surprised to see my opponents come out against it. Why they want to protect dangerous felons I do not understand.
VR: Yes, that can be of quite a bit of interest to a younger generation as I believe because they also take a certain kind of pride in this position. It’s a good thing to explain the difference and we’ll try to do that. I am going to move onto a different subject matter here.
You know, the Indian-American community is now getting involved in the political process all over the country, as a matter of fact. Currently, we have five Indian-Americans serving in the U.S. Congress. And, this year alone, eighty-eight people are running for various public offices and yet there is no Indian-American county supervisor. You have been one, so I thought I would ask you, how does one become a county supervisor?
AA: Well, first of all, San Francisco is a city and county, so we don’t have a city council, so you’d be a supervisor for the whole city. What one has to do is get involved with the grassroots organizations. Get involved. Go out and register people to vote. Go out and get involved in the community and help with the homeless. Help with the drug abuse situation and the dirty streets. You have to organize and get involved and then put your name on the ballot and run in a district. It should be absolutely foreseeable that a person of Indian descent would be able to be able to be a supervisor in San Francisco. I know that as mayor of San Francisco I will appoint a large diversity of supervisors when an opening comes because I totally believe in the cultural diversity of our city.
VR: That would be of great interest to our readers, yes.
VK: So, Angela, you have run for mayor twice before, but not succeeded.
AA: I just missed it in 2010. I just missed it.
VK: So, what made you decide to run again? I imagine it was not an easy decision?
AA: No, as a matter of fact I have a wonderful life. I am a civil rights trial lawyer, I have four children and five grandchildren, I live in Italy during the summer. I have a wonderful, wonderful life.
I decided to run for mayor because first of all I know how to take care of the situation with our homeless population and it’s so totally out of control that I can only imagine it getting worse and worse and worse. And I know I am the one person that has the experience to actually get the job done. As you can see with all the tent cities throughout the city, you desperately need someone who knows what they’re doing. Same goes for the drug and alcohol abuse that’s occurring in our city, and our dirty streets. That’s why I decided to get into the race. There’s no question homelessness was the key for me.
VR: You touched on homelessness, so that prompts me to ask you this: you know this is related to the affordable housing crisis in San Francisco. This statistic was interesting to me – a minimum wage worker would have to work 4.7 or approximately 5 full time jobs to be able to rent a two-bedroom apartment. San Francisco has several thousand homeless residents despite extensive efforts by the city government to address this issue.
VR: And you know, this thing is still there. I have read your position and little bit on the homelessness, how you want to do it, but can you elaborate a little more to address this, because this impacts people living over there and also the tourists. It directly affects the tourists also.
AA: I’m sorry, that question is, the first one is about being able to afford to live here?*
VR: How do you plan to address homelessness?
AA: My homeless plan is phenomenal. My homeless plan worked. From 2004 to 2012, we housed more than 4,600 chronically homeless people. It absolutely worked. And they’re still in those apartments. But when things started changing in 2012 and they moved the homeless buildings to affordable housing buildings and then they moved the money around, that’s when we started picking people off the street and we had nowhere to take them. So, that’s the major problem. My plan is on the city website. Just put in the key word “Alioto” or “chronic homelessness”. It’s there, it’s extremely extensive and it absolutely works. It’s a huge success story. I have no idea why they stopped, no idea.
VR: Well, that’s why they have to elect you again, so you can…
AA: I’m telling you, I know how to do it.
AA: I’ll do it again, you’re absolutely right. It’s a matter of taking people off the street, which in 78 hours you know exactly where to put them because you can tell what kind of category they go in, whether it’s drug abuse, substance abuse, or whether it’s mental health, or whether it’s just someone who couldn’t pay the rent for two months and is down on their luck.
VR: Yes, that’s right.
AA: There are very different types of homeless people. And you have to decide what type they are before you start moving them.
VR: I was discussing exactly this with Vandana this morning! Homeless people, they have to spend full-time of the day to just satisfy their basic needs, and it doesn’t leave them any time to think about how to get out of this situation.
AA: Right, right…
VR: You know, the basic requirements can be focused somehow, for taking care of basic needs…
I think being homeless is like…a full-time job.
AA: Oh, it absolutely is.
VK: Angela, so are you saying that the plan you had implemented and suggested earlier as something that worked and then they stopped it? Who stopped it?
AA: The city. When tech started moving into town, the city stopped everything we were doing. And moved the money and moved the buildings.
VR: Okay, we hope we can get control of this problem soon because it’s a beautiful city.
AA: I think working together we can, because, you know, you said something nobody ever says, and that is homeless people are working all day long just to survive, not to get out of homelessness. That’s an excellent observation.
VR: That’s true. That’s why I was telling if we could provide them with basic facilities like where to take showers or where to do things, that itself will leave some time so that they don’t have run around and look for the place…
AA: Right, right, right…
VK: People say, “get off the street, get a job.” Well…
VR: How do you get a job? You don’t have time to look for that.
VR: So coming to the end, I have a kind of capping question. Many candidates for public offices have made special efforts to connect with our community, the Indian-American community, by going to their events, engaging with them culturally and socially, so I was going to ask you, do you have any specific message for our readers and do you have any plans to go and engage with this community in San Francisco?
AA: Oh, absolutely I do. First of all, I’m a third generation San Franciscan. San Francisco has always been an iconic cultural city. We need to cultivate all of our different cultures. So, I have actively, throughout my life, been going to the individual cultures to see how we can get them involved in government, to see how their small businesses are, to see how the quality of life is for them in San Francisco. I have always been actively involved in the Indian community in San Francisco, going back years and years and years. The Indian community has always been very supportive of me, especially the restaurant businesses.
AA: Always, always wonderful, wonderful. And, of course, we have commissioners. We have many Indian commissioners, not enough, but we have many that have been there for quite awhile that are my very, very good friends, so I have always interacted with the Indian community and I will do that as mayor…
VR and VK: Very good to know that.
VK: My sons actually live in San Francisco and I was asking them, “Are you going to vote?” Of course, they are my kids, so they are registered to vote, but when I mentioned your name, they said “well, there’s a restaurant by that name, …”
AA: Yes, that’s my cousin’s. Those are my rich cousins.
VK and VR: [laughter]
VK: So, that’s what they knew! … but I think it’s worth you doing an outreach to a lot of younger demographic as well.
AA: Absolutely. I hope your sons vote for me. It’s very important.
VK: I will tell them.
AA: This is a very crucial election. Crucial. All throughout the last five months, the other opponents have been saying they wouldn’t take money from outside sources, and now, the last three days they’ve all taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from outside sources. It’s just really been a terrible experience of dishonesty.
VK: What do you think is the difference between you (the candidates)? I see London Breed as polling higher, but we know a thing or two about polls! In what way has your campaign been different from hers?
AA: I’m a very people person. I haven’t missed one panel, one debate, one interview. I have been everywhere. London is a very nice person, but she hasn’t participated very much in the election because she has so much money.
She has millions of dollars, over two million dollars they’re spending. Our campaign doesn’t have that. As a matter of fact, we didn’t get the public money that they all got. But having said that, we’re very, very different and I think you can see that in our platforms.
VK: Okay, sounds great. Thank you for spending this time with us.
AA: Thank you so much for taking the time. I really appreciate it. Thank you.