The District 5 Showdown

Incumbent Supervisor Vallie Brown and Opponent Dean Preston Debate District 5 Issues at USF 

The District 5 race came to USF on Thursday, Aug. 29 when district voters and members of the USF community hiked up Lone Mountain to see the fourth candidate forum between the two leading candidates for the district’s supervisor: Dean Preston and incumbent Supervisor Vallie Brown, who was appointed to finish the rest of then-Supervisor London Breed’s term prior to becoming Mayor. November’s special election is set to be a close contest, as both candidates are neck-in-neck in terms of fundraising. The conversation, which was moderated by politics professor James Taylor, lasted an hour and a half and included questions from the audience which highlighted the differences between Preston and Supervisor Brown.  

During the 90-minute event, both Preston and Supervisor Brown discussed topics ranging from transportation planning, homelessness, affordable housing, and even improving Muni. The Foghorn talked to both candidates and has compiled a breakdown of each of their positions on all the pressing issues.

The Diversity of District 5

One of the first questions asked was about how Preston or Supervisor Brown would prioritize issues in a district as large and diverse as District 5. District 5 consists of a large part of the city, encompassing Haight-Ashbury, the Western Addition/Fillmore, the Inner Sunset, Lower Haight, Hayes Valley, Alamo Square, and Lower Pacific Heights, to name just a couple of neighborhoods. 

When asked about how the district’s diversity would affect their priorities, Supervisor Brown and Preston both agreed that there needs to be a focus on its most vulnerable residents, such as the homeless and those who are low-income. Preston elaborated by criticizing the city’s current homelessness initiatives and discussing his main platform of getting rid of real estate speculation.

What is the “Soul of the City?”

Both Preston and Supervisor Brown were asked about the “soul of the city,” and each had different positions. Supervisor Brown discussed her interpretation of the “soul of the city” as being the African American community that once prospered in the Western Addition/Fillmore neighborhoods, where she talked about the failed redevelopment that occurred decades ago. She added that under her watch as a supervisor, business has increased at some of the bars in the area, and a new community hub space has been developed.

In contrast, Preston took on the question through a real estate lens, as his main platform revolves around the housing crisis and “rampant real estate speculation.” He made the case that the “soul of the city” is being “crushed” by housing developers who are trying to displace people who currently live here with their “market-rate housing.” Preston added that this housing is unaffordable to residents because the city has not enacted policies to regulate the housing market.

Transportation, Better Muni, TNC Regulation

One of the issues on which Preston and Supervisor Brown clearly disagreed on was transportation — specifically about increasing Muni’s efficiency and performance as a public transportation service, as well as what the city is going to do about app-based transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft. 

In terms of improving Muni, both candidates agreed that better Muni service would allow some competition to exist between TNC apps and Muni. Addressing how she would work to make Muni better, Supervisor Brown recalled hearings she held to determine why there is a shortage in Muni operators, which has often caused massive delays in Muni service, as Muni is short 400 operators daily. 


“There are buses sitting in the yards — brand new buses, no one there to drive them.”

Supervisor Brown

Her hearings found that the lack of drivers were because many Muni operators live outside San Francisco and commute to the city because their previous contract did not pay them enough in wages to qualify them for affordable housing, with a large number of drivers also quitting to find higher-paying jobs for other transportation agencies in the Bay Area where the cost of living is cheaper. Supervisor Brown has since negotiated a new contract with Muni operators, which she hopes will help solve the operator deficit. 

Preston, on the other hand, said that he hopes to tax TNCs at high rates in order to fund Muni. He feels that Uber and Lyft “have been operating illegal cabs” and that they have congested the streets of San Francisco. Preston also said in an interview that he wants faster and more accessible Muni service, as San Francisco is a transit-first city, and he thinks that a “world class city like San Francisco, deserves world class public transit.”

Preston notes that he feels that with the reduction of TNC vehicles, the city would be less congested and Muni would be able to operate faster. 

Another point of contention was over whether or not San Francisco can regulate TNC companies. Supervisor Brown held the position that the city is already doing the best it can because the regulation of TNCs is a state issue, as companies like Uber and Lyft are regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). However, Preston said that despite the fact that the city can’t take major action in terms of restricting TNC service, the city and its agencies such as the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and the San Francisco County Transportation Authority should be doing more to enforce existing laws and start “playing hardball” with the companies by enforcing traffic laws and citing TNC drivers for violations such as dropping-off and picking-up passengers in a bike lane or in a no-stopping zone like bus stops.

Homelessness, Navigation Center

The Foghorn asked about each candidate’s plans on homelessness. Preston circled his answer back to his position on the housing crisis in San Francisco, discussing his work as a tenants’ rights activist and how the exuberant cost of housing has caused people to become homeless. Preston mentioned his work on Proposition F, a proposition that would allow those being evicted a right to legal counsel. Preston is also advocating for better substance and drug abuse programs. In his interview with the Foghorn, he was quick to note that he was the first to talk about a navigation center in the district after coming up with the idea in his 2016 run against then-Supervisor Breed, and will look to build one if elected.

Supervisor Brown on the other hand also agrees that there should be a navigation center opened up in the district, but she believes that there needs to be a focus on mental health and substance abuse. Supervisor Brown also discussed the need for transitional housing. 

Affordable Housing, Market Rate Housing

Another big clash revolved around the issue of affordable housing — more specifically, the differing views of the two candidates about on market-rate housing. Preston believes that capitalism has failed the city, driving housing costs beyond the affordability of the average resident. He believes that the city needs to focus on building affordable housing units to support the middle class.

Supervisor Brown believes that capitalism and the principle of supply and demand will help push market-rate housing forward. She said that focusing on building smaller apartments, such as one-bedroom apartments, would help solve housing issues. In an interview, she was proud of the fact that she is not pushing for luxury condos, but rather apartments and small units that people actually want and need. 

District Attorney Pick and Endorsements

The Foghorn wanted to know who both candidates were endorsing for San Francisco District Attorney (DA), which will be included on the ballot in November. For the first time in a century, there is no incumbent running for the position, leaving the door open for four candidates to potentially make a change in San Francisco’s criminal justice system. Supervisor Brown is endorsing Suzy Loftus, while Preston is endorsing Chesa Boudin.

Dean Preston:

  • District 1 Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronan, District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin, Democratic Socialists of America (sole endorsement), San Francisco Tenants Union (sole endorsement).
  • For a complete list of Preston’s endorsements, visit www.votedean.com/endorsements-1.

Supervisor Vallie Brown:

  • Mayor London Breed, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, State Assemblymember David Chiu, San Francisco Democratic Party (sole endorsement), and YIMBY Action (sole endorsement).
  • For a complete list of Supervisor Brown’s endorsements, visit www.votevallie.com/endorsements.

“Good Turnout”

The Leo T. McCarthy Center and Masters of Arts in Urban and Public Affairs program organized the forum. David Donahue, director of the McCarthy Center, thought that the forum went well and said in an email that it “exceeded our expectations for turnout and as a learning opportunity. We had good turnout from students and from members of the community living in District 5. USF students asked great questions that highlighted the similarities and differences between the candidates.”

Taylor also thought that the forum went well, but noted that, “there is never enough time at an open forum. I personally gave both candidates so much time in answering their questions, I had to be hurried a few times.”

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