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My talk with the mayor

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Seated on a dark wooden bench in a dark wooden hall, my foot bounced up and down restlessly. My left hand held my crumpled page of questions, and in my right was a crushed paper cup that had once been filled with water. I kept checking the time on my phone: ‘What class was I missing now? How much work would I have to make up? When would…’ My questions were swept away as the double doors opened and the others sitting near me turned their heads. “Excuse me,” said the figure to me. “Are you ready?” “Yes,” I responded. Then I got up, and followed Mr. Derick Brown, assistant to the mayor of San Francisco, through the doors.

For several years, homelessness has been the focus of the eighth grade’s service work, and it’s opened the eyes of  my fellow eighth graders to all of the challenges people experiencing homelessness face. After Mayor Ed Lee died on December 12th, 2017, our grade looked into some of the top mayoral candidates’ plans to end homelessness. They ranged from developing neighborhoods in South San Francisco, to adding 1,500 housing units every year. But even with all this research, no one in the eighth grade had a direct connection to a politician to ask about the city’s plans right now. So, when our Director of High School Transition, Kristen Daniel, heard about the 10 minute chats that the interim mayor Mark Farrell was hosting, she rushed around telling us all to sign up.

Weeks later, when I found out that I was accepted to speak to the mayor, my immediate thought was to tell Kristen or Guybe (the Director of Community Engagement). With my computer in hand, I ran around the third floor to find someone, which is how Guybe ended up with my laptop under his nose just a few moments later. “Look, I got it!” I cried. After congratulations from my teachers and friends, I pulled out a piece of paper and, throughout the next couple days, stacked up questions to ask the mayor with input from my parents and friends.  

The morning of April 20th, when Derick Brown called me into the Mayor’s Office, my nervousness, which had been present throughout the week, had vanished and was replaced by determination to learn and enjoy the experience in the palm of my hand.

I was led into a large room with a round table big enough to sit 20, and Mark Farrell stood to shake my hand. After my mother took a photo of us, we sat down at the table. He asked me how old I was, where I went to school, and where I was going to school next year. With my carefully strategized questions, I segued into the discussion of homelessness.

I asked him what he thought the solution to homelessness was. “Housing, definitely,” he said.

“But how will you continue to develop areas and build up while preserving the history of certain neighborhoods, like the Castro?” I asked.

We talked about the beauty of the city, after I asked him how he wanted to preserve what people love about a city like San Francisco. We discussed the growing rent in both San Francisco and Oakland as middle class families have been drifting across the bay.

From there, our conversation drew to South San Francisco and the small towns in Silicon Valley. He told me that if towns like Brisbane were to develop, it would take a large weight off San Francisco’s shoulders because most of the influx in the population are people in the tech industry. If there was a well developed place for them to live, especially a location nearer to Apple, Fitbit or Netflix, there might be a less crowded/expensive city.

“Do you think they will ever agree to develop?” I asked.

“Not unless it’s by force,” he said.

But the city will soon need another place for middle income families and tech workers to live as the numbers continue to rise. From 2010 to 2016, San Francisco’s population grew by almost 60,000, and the housing costs skyrocketed. In the past month, 1,558 homes in San Francisco sold with price tags of $1 million or more.

Yet, small towns like Brisbane believe that developing their towns would change their image and take away what makes them unique, just as building a high rise in the middle of North Beach would take away from what makes our city so amazing.   

Our talk was flying by, and I had forgotten about the time and the worry that I would run out of questions to ask. I was building on what he said, drawing more information out, so I was stunned when Derick Brown stopped the conversation.

“Alright,” he said, “it’s time to wrap up.”