Body Politic: Amy Farah Weiss’ ‘What If …’ Campaign for SF Mayor

Written by Adriel Hampton. Posted in News, Politics

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Published on May 29, 2015 with 12 Comments

Amy Weiss

Amy Farah Weiss says she’s a YIMBY for mayor who hopes to “awaken the activist spirit of Ed Lee.” (courtesy photo by Jennifer Fedrizzi)

By Adriel Hampton

May 29, 2015

The San Francisco mayor’s race is turning out to be something of a cake walk for Mayor Ed Lee, with folks like former Assemblymember Tom Ammiano and Senator Mark Leno deferring from the race. And the recent announcement by Examiner columnist and travel writer Broke-Ass Stuart (Stuart Schuffman) that he’s planning to run is just a cute stunt, akin to the real estate agents who routinely run to keep their names in the news. Running for SF political office as column fodder is already an h. brown tradition, and while a consistent effort by Stuart could make for good theater, it seems even less sincere than the Chicken John Rinaldi mayoral campaign in 2007. As of Wednesday, with less than two weeks to pay a hefty filing fee, Schuffman wasn’t yet listed as a filed contender for the office at the Department of Elections. His website, which has nothing to do with the race, was also down during the afternoon.

Down For Everyone Or Just Me  - brokeassstuart

Broke-Ass Stuart wasn’t listed on the Elections Department website as of May 27 and his website was down, too. (downforeveryoneorjustme.com screenshot)

Political theater is all fine and good, but San Francisco is struggling with its soul right now, as housing costs continue to skyrocket and the Mission fights for its future. It could use a real issues-based campaign. So when a friend with decade of service in government and civic tech in SF pointed out the campaign of Amy Farah Weiss, the reporter took a look.

Amy works in the medical cannabis industry (“helping older patients heal without the high”) and runs a nonprofit she founded in 2011, Neighbors Developing Divisadero. The co-op resident knows firsthand the struggles of staying put in San Francisco, and talks like a seasoned candidate. She name drops progressive anti-gentrification stalwarts Sue Hestor, Calvin Welch and Tim Redmond like a pro, but also has a pragmatic sincerity that’s deeply her own, with ample working knowledge of the intricacies of SF politics and policymaking.

Her story of deciding to file an intent to run back in December reminded the reporter of his own heartsy run for Congress in 2009. She describes being deeply affected by the November 2014 failure of Prop. G, the anti-speculation real estate tax proposal, and by the savage outside money attacks on Supervisor David Campos in his contest with David Chiu for Assembly.

“It I didn’t get involved, I would feel despair,” Weiss says. “The antidote to despair is action.”

Weiss’ biggest challenge right now is to raise another $2,000 to cover the June 9 filing fee. Not raising money is a quite a hurdle, but getting Weiss on stage in 2015 should help ensure a heartier debate. The reporter chipped in, and you can, too, at Weiss’ NationBuilder donation page.

Here’s more of Weiss in her own words:

BP: You’re campaigning in a race where name brand politicians have decided to sit things out. In conversations with neighbors and voters, how are people reacting to your desire for there to be a mayor’s race in 2015? 

WEISS: Over the last couple of months I collected signatures to offset the cost of getting on the ballot. There were a handful of times that I approached someone in a barbershop, on Muni, or in a café after hearing them complain to someone about the rising inequity, lack of affordability, or trends of displacement in the city. I would whip out my clipboard and say, “I couldn’t help but overhear your dissatisfaction with the status quo. I agree, and that’s why I’m running for Mayor.” All of those folks responded with interest and signed my signature sheet after a brief chat about my experience and priorities. I found that when approaching groups of people at parks or on the street, that it was more effective to start with “Hi, I’m running for Mayor of San Francisco” and pause for a moment, which generally garnered smiles and a genuine intrigue to learn more about my campaign, as opposed to the hesitant looks I received when I started off by asking “Do you want an alternative to Ed Lee on the ballot in 2015?.” That’s interesting, because strangers responded better to my campaign when I projected a confidence in positively shaping the future of San Francisco, rather than just presenting a protest alternative.

There are quite a few people who say “I wish someone, anyone, was running against Ed Lee.” I am confident that I am someone who can intelligently and compassionately seek and speak truth in support of a livable, equitable, and resilient San Francisco. I am a collaborative researcher, an active participant in co-creating solutions, and possess a strong belief in participatory democracy. Most neighbors and voters want Ed Lee to engage in genuine dialogue and debate about the recent past, the current issues, and the future path of our city and region, so there is value in supporting candidates like myself, Francisco Herrera, and even Broke-Ass Stuart who can push for those forums and debates. And don’t forget that based on the last turnout for the Mayor’s race in 2011, this election can be won with approximately 60,000 votes!

You described your “Yes In My Backyard” campaign as having an element of “No, and…” when it comes to residents getting involved in the planning of their city. What does that look like in the face of something like the proposed Mission District market-rate development moratorium? 

I first immersed myself in the history of San Francisco politics and development when I moved into a rent-controlled apartment at Golden Gate and Central in 2008 and conducted a self-inspired research project to learn about my new neighborhood. Amongst many interesting discoveries, I found out that I directly benefited from the efforts of neighbors from the ’50s and ’60s who rose up to say no to a highway over the Panhandle Park. I was shocked to learn about the devastating displacement of Redevelopment in the Western Addition, but felt inspired by the efforts of activists such as Hannibal Williams and Mary Helen Rogers who organized neighbors to uphold and increase their rights. My own local activism began in 2011 when I joined Divisadero neighbors in pushing back against the displacement of two local businesses by Chase Bank after the Mayor’s office of Economic and Workforce Development and the Planning Department supported the permit without due process of a Conditional Use hearing.

Like many activists, I became activated by saying “no” to development and policies that excluded, displaced, and/or ignored the negative impacts on existing neighbors, independent businesses, shared resources, culture, or the planet. But I realized that since we live in a democracy we are also tasked with finding our righteous and strategic “yes” in support of a livable, equitable, and resilient vision for San Francisco and the greater Bay Area. We often become awakened to the need for action in a defensive move when we organize to say no against harm, but I would like to use local democracy to get us out of the lifeboats and onto the ship so we can help steer this city forward in a positive direction.

In regard to the Mission District moratorium on luxury/market-rate development, it is up to local government to ensure that our neighborhoods and city have a diverse ecosystem of industries, workers, culture makers, and neighborhood/community-serving businesses and organizations. This moratorium creates an opportunity to take a step back so that we can ensure that we grow the Mission in a visionary, inclusive, and holistic way that takes into account the triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit. It’s not enough to just say no to change. We need to think about creative, collaborative, strategic, and sustainable ways to grow our neighborhoods and cities.

You talk about coming from a place of equity in your views on neighborhood development, but property rights are so contentious in San Francisco politics. How do you keep from getting caught in the middle of different factions and just drowned out? 

I am interested in getting people to engage in thought exercises in this campaign cycle in which we use critical thinking, research on existing models, impact analyses, and creativity to identify neighborhood and regional sustainable growth issues and their potential solutions. I do my best to see things from all sides and try to create an equitable win-win situation rather than get caught up in a divisive “us versus them” mentality. For instance, the current process of inviting neighborhood input into the development process at the late stage of the Environmental Impact Review designation isn’t working, because the developer and the Planning Department have already invested significant time and money into the process before the community gets to weigh in. We need up-front participatory planning platforms and processes where neighbors and community-serving planners shape the development of our neighborhoods based upon a need for diversity of services, industries, cultural enrichment, and housing needs. Recently I’ve been proposing the idea to identify a certain number of housing development models with sustainability features and different integrations of mixed-use services and/or light industry that can be promoted to help streamline the entitlement process.

Many people, including myself, share a sentiment in San Francisco right now that it is wrong for low-income neighbors, elders, and culture makers to be displaced from the city that they have lived in and loved. If we truly believe that people can belong to this city and provide value through their extended presence and contributions, then we must be willing to reassess our current policies in the spirit of evolving them equitably. The task of co-creating solutions is best approached with an open mind, humility, a systems-thinking approach, and a desire to align in support of individual and collective well-being. Check out my platform at yimbyformayor.com and add your own ideas and/or improve upon one of my ideas. We are all in this together!

Can you share a little of your vision for the San Francisco of 10 years from now? What does it take to get there?

In 10 years San Francisco should be known as the city that became a leader in inclusive, equitable, and sustainable growth from the neighborhood to the regional level. We can get there by linking regional job growth and corporate prosperity with inclusive housing development and the strengthening of public transit and infrastructure. We can create new processes for streamlining eco-development and supporting financing partnerships between private developers and unions that create housing for a diversity of workers and neighbors at 30% of their income. We can be leaders in promoting a pro-worker economy with a diversity of industries that provide pipelines to prosperity for our high school, community college, and college graduates, in part through the guidelines we create for subcontractors. Thanks to the pioneering work of Tom Ammiano and countless others with Community Choice Aggregation, we are ready for a local clean power boom that will create jobs and support innovation. Thanks to the work of Mark Leno, we are ready to support the research of hemp as a local/regional job creator for manufacturing (already a $500 million industry in California), clean power, and soil remediation. In 10 years I would like to see community safety programs through the SFPD that allow for officers to choose continuous verbal and physical de-escalation training in lieu of carrying lethal weapons. I would also like to see that local government declared a crisis of the Arts and has a variety of programs underway that support culture makers in beautifying, enriching, and strengthening our neighborhoods. I see interim and long-term housing solutions for our houseless population that are beautiful, cost-effective, and treat all of our neighbors with dignity. And I see the use of technology supported by local government to allow for more direct participation in shaping development and legislation.

You’ve said you want to awaken the “activist spirit” of Mayor Ed Lee. What does that mean and how does your campaign do that? 

A friend of mine just lent me a copy of David Talbot’s “Season of the Witch” to read the section about Ed Lee, in which he reminisces about his early days as an activist lawyer in Chinatown. Lee says that he found himself facing off against former classmates who were now working with corporations to try and evict people, and that landlords would see him coming and say “There’s that Communist Ed Lee.”  Fast forward four decades later and now it is Lee who is accused of serving the needs of corporations and developers at the expense of the people. I’m sure that’s not the legacy that Lee wants to leave behind. One of my goals in challenging Ed Lee in this race is to co-create solutions that he or any other candidate can implement in support of the greater good, and to compassionately and intelligently speak truth rather than making Lee (or anyone else) my enemy.

Earlier this year on MLK Jr. Day, a friend of mine was at a screening of “Selma” for SFUSD youth and she told me that Mayor Lee told the kids in a short speech that they had to demand change in order to get local government to respond. With that in mind, Ed Lee should respect that the Mission has become an epicenter of neighbors and culture makers in San Francisco who are pushing back against an agenda that excludes their contributions to local culture and economy and threatens their continued existence as community members. And Lee should come meet with citywide neighbors and candidates like me to co-create a vision for San Francisco that includes all of us.

This is a names and notes blog. Send info to bodypolitic@adrielhampton.com. You can find the 2003-2005 archives of The Body Politic at adrielhampton.com

Adriel Hampton

Adriel Hampton is a writer, investigator, strategic consultant and mindfulness practitioner. He runs The Adriel Hampton Group Ltd. in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and was a founding member of NationBuilder. Adriel is founder emeritus of SF Tech Dems and a board member at Legination Inc. Before joining NationBuilder, Adriel worked for SF City Attorney Dennis Herrera, and for the SF Examiner, Hayward Daily Review and Lodi News-Sentinel. He also founded SF City Camp and Gov 2.0 Radio, and, in 2009, ran for Congress in the East Bay.

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  • PatrickMonkRn

    Adriel, thanks for writing this. Luke, thanks for publishing it. I’m just one small voice, and frequently in ‘the minority’, increasingly so over the last decade as ‘progressive’ voices have been silenced or sold out. For what it’s worth Amy has my support. We need new blood and fresh ideas. Maybe she can start a long overdue conversation about the state of the city and articulate inclusive alternatives. The ‘usual suspects’ were unwilling to challenge the status quo and the ‘special interests’ who have bought and emasculated our political process, no further comment on them. She has had the courage to throw her bonnet into the ring of fire that ‘they’ are going to try and burn her with. I urge everyone to at least visit her campaign site, consider the issues she raises, and support her in any way you can. Thank you.
    Patrick Monk. RN Hospice Case Manager. SF. Ca. 94114.

  • Adriel, I hope you’ll interview Francisco Herrera as well. He has the SF Green Party’s early endorsement: http://sfgreenparty.org/10-campaigns/69-green-party-endorses-francisco-herrera-for-mayor

    • Flubert

      The Green Party candidate got less than 1% of the vote in 2011. Admittedly she was a very weak candidate, but a vote for the Greens is really just a protest vote, much as a vote for Amy is.

      There is no story here. Ed Lee is a popular incumbent who is taking a walk in the park. The only thing that can stop him is a dramatic collapse in the local economy, and there are no signs of that.

      • Terry Baum was running against some stronger progressives, including Avalos, so the field is very different this year. You never know what might stop Ed Lee. Maybe Enrique Pearce will give up the goods on him!

      • Greg

        You never know what will happen in politics. There was a remarkable election in Barcelona just a few days ago. Now every city is different, and things are worse in Spain than they are here. But some of the same problems are happening over there. A few years ago a 35-year old activist named Ada Colau formed a group to fight evictions from abusive mortgage clauses in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse. In 2014 the activists in that group, closely linked to the Spanish protesters sweeping the whole country (their version of occupy), decided to form a local political party.
        As for Ada Colau, there’s a famous photo of her getting hauled away by the police from a bank last year, where they were doing an anti-foreclosure sit-in protest.
        That photo re-appeared on Twitter after the local elections in Barcelona, with the caption “Congratulations Madame Mayor.”

  • BarryEisenberg

    It is a lie that Tom Ammiano has “deferred” from the Mayoralty race in 2015. Did you ask him yourself to verify that? He told me in front of a roomful of people about a month ago at the Bernal Democratic Club that he is still open to it and will not decide until the June 9th deadline. There are a lot of moving parts, including who might or might not run for State Senate. Please do your due diligence before spreading false information. There is even an active Run Tom Run group on Facebook with a couple of thousand or so members formed explicitly to encourage him to run in order to save San Francisco. No unknown candidate is going to have any effect on the race against Lee so please give it a rest.

    • Flubert

      Maybe, but Tom will be 74 shortly after the election and the last thing an old man needs is a humiliating loss in his silver years.

      So Tom will run if and only if he thinks he can win, which means if he is significantly funded. Can you talk about his funding strategy?

    • Amy Farah Weiss

      Hi Barry. I was at two different events where Tom Ammiano advised us to put our efforts into the next Mayor’s race (aka 2019) because this one seemed to be unwinnable. But maybe he has had a change of heart because of the groundswell of neighborhood action, and if so, I would LOVE to run alongside him on a ranked-choice voting platform. That being said, don’t underestimate the ability of someone who truly cares about well-being and participatory democracy to have an impact.

  • GroveResidentsRightsResource

    Amy’s hypocrisy continues to stun me. I tried to speak to her privately in Jan. about an issue in the neighborhood we both live in, and the resolutely uncaring, anti-resident, pro-displacement views she espoused to me in person were a stark contrast to the progressive rhetoric I’ve seen her spout in the press and on the web as part of her campaign. I was shocked. I’m left with the impression of someone who’s very, very good at the San Francisco political game, espousing a veneer of sweet, progressive-friendly rhetoric as a cover for slavishly following the money.

    She made it very clear that in her own neighborhood, she felt money should get to do what it wants, and that residents should shut up and roll with the gentrification steamroller, without recourse, even as it rolls them right out of their houses. She sided outright with whatever neighborhood economic bullies & wealthy business interests from elsewhere cared to do, and argued strongly that residents should not protest the desires of wealthy business interests, even at cost of being driven out of their homes. I know, it sounds incredible, and completely at odds with the rhetoric she so convincingly spouts for reporters. It was really repulsive, and left me determined to do anything in my power to keep her away from political office. These are NOT progressive views, they’re the same neoliberal BS that’s destroying this city. I’m consistently aghast at how at odds her public statements are with what she espoused to me privately.

    Please help preserve SF’s livability and culture by NOT supporting Amy Farrah Weiss’s political ambitions. Please don’t let her get anywhere near the halls of power, or, considering what I heard coming from her own mouth, we’re all going to be sorry.

    • Amy Farah Weiss

      When you approached me at the Bean Bag Cafe I truly felt concern for you in your complaints about the noise from an establishment at Divisadero and Grove and listened to you for over 20 minutes, trying to come up with possible solutions. There is no need to try and slander someone’s name and reputation because you are frustrated with the noise of living in a city near a commercial corridor.

      Once again, I’m sorry that you feel somewhat trapped in your current apartment because of the noise up until 10PM, but I was honest in saying that I didn’t know what more could be done after offering suggestions of sound-proofing and working with the restaurant. I hope you find a solution that works for you.

      Please be fair, because you are my neighbor and we have much in common. Your critique of me is truly out of line.

    • energylife

      @GroveResidentsRightsResource
      Based on your comment history, you sound like a real twat. Suck it up and deal with it, you live in a city. Move to the burbs if you want to live in quiet, you disgruntled fart!

  • AnnGarrison

    During the second week of May, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) finally approved not-to-exceed rates for CleanPowerSF, moving the City’s local renewable energy program one step closer to launch. Ed Lee, one in a long line of PG&E mayors, and his Public Utilities Commission appointees had held this up throughout Lee’s time in office, so I asked D10 Supervisor John Avalos why it was finally happening and he said, “Ed Lee’s running for mayor again.”

    The fact that Ed Lee, despite being an unpleasant PG&E politician, finally felt compelled to get out of the way of clean power to make himself a more appealing incumbent, reminded me of the value of activist efforts, including John Avalos’s mayoral race in 2011. Sometimes it takes time to see the consequences of a campaign that doesn’t elect its candidate, but John came in a decent 2nd, so Ed Lee had to note that he had a constituency. And, since that election, there have been few issues John Avalos put more energy into publicizing than the Ed Lee/SFPUC/PG&E blockade of CleanPowerSF. I talked to him about that for KPFA a couple of times and I kept asking, “What’s your strategy?” because it seemed the mayor could throw up a roadblock at every turn. Finally I understood that his strategy was to make San Franciscans aware that Mayor Ed Lee and PG&E were standing in the way of renewable power. And it worked. Even if the City has to put up with Ed Lee for another four years, that much has changed.

    So I wish similar success to Amy Farrah Weiss.