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Interview: Angela Alioto and SF's 10-Year Plan

Monday, December 06, 2004

Breaking down political walls

Angela Alioto led the 35-member San Francisco Ten Year Planning Council, which produced a plan this year to end chronic homelessness in The City. Now she's working with a core group called the Implementation Council that is charged with creating 3,000 new residential units with on-site supportive services such as substance abuse and mental health counseling. Alioto spoke with -Examiner reporter Jo Stanley.

EXAMINER: Do you think there are fewer people on the streets now than a year or two ago?

ANGELA ALIOTO: Do I see less true homelessness? No. Do I see less panhandling and that type of thing? Yes, very much so.

Clearly there is a sense over the last three months that something's happening in The City, but that's more of a spirit of accomplishment.

Our plan, the 10-year plan, addresses the 3,000 chronically homeless -- people who are lying on the street, out of it, people who take ambulances twice a week, people that have serious medical problems. Believe me I know every range, from the people that use homelessness as a guise for their own business to the truly homeless, and it's a wide spectrum in this city.

The 3,000 chronically homeless cost 67 percent of the total homeless budget of roughly $200 million a year. You'll hear all sorts of estimates of what we spend, but it's certainly nothing less than $200 million.

If we get the 3,000 housed, it will have a rippling effect on the remaining 12,000. To house one chronic person, with supportive care on the first floor, costs us $17,000 a year instead of one chronically homeless person who lives on the street costing $63,000. People who say you can't do housing, it costs too much, they're wrong. It is literally one-fifth the amount.

Q: A lot of people expected your council's first step would be to work on a $90 million supportive-housing plan that was included in the $200 million Proposition A affordable-housing measure, but that was defeated. Do you think there's any reason to hope for a winning measure in the future, when two recent efforts have been defeated?

A: We're all trying to figure out what to do and how to do it. We're going to try to get one on the very next ballot, it will be March of 2006. It's got to be just for the chronically homeless, though.

It was devastating to me that we lost Prop A. But look, my job is 3,000 people. If A had passed it would have been great, but I can't wait around until another bond, I can't wait around until another election.

I believe, with the people I've now met nationally, that we could have the 3,000 units in the next two years -- public money, private money, profit money, nonprofit money, any money -- donations of apartments, donations of land. I am not going to let political obstacles get in the way of us accepting what we've been offered.

I have retired doctors willing to work at 24-hour clinics; I have doctors from UCSF who are willing to work pro bono without charging a penny. HomeAid does national fund raising for the purposes of building housing for poor people. They come in, they build, and they leave.

I have no problem with that -- I work with the businesses, I work with the unions. But everyone has to understand. This is about the poor, so any special interest you might have, where you might feel that we're stepping on your territory, you've got to step back on this one issue.

Q: State Proposition 63 passed this fall, a new 1 percent tax on incomes over $1 million to go toward community mental health. Its author, state Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg, has predicted San Francisco may qualify eventually for $50 million a year or more. Do you expect some of that money in the coming year?

A: Oh, yeah. We're going to get some of that money. Dr. Robert Okin, who was a Prop. 63 leader statewide, is on our Implementation Council. We are very hopeful a good amount of money will go to mental health at General Hospital and we're hoping it will go to a 24-hour crisis clinic. It can go to housing, as long as there's mental health supports.

But also, there's money from federal government. We have received over $10 million because we did the 10-year plan. I met with Veterans Affairs Secretary [Anthony] Principe, and we're working very hard on that. Forty-five percent of the chronic homeless are veterans. There's money from the foundations; the Rockefeller Foundation has been fantastic.

Mr. Principe's coming out in January, meeting with Mayor Gavin Newsom and Mayor Jerry Brown of Oakland, and there are several properties to talk about. If we could agree on building on a certain property, I see no reason why we could not build 1,000 units.

Q. Is this an approach that could make use of The City's surplus property that's been set aside to benefit the homeless?

A: We could do that. We could talk to the Presidio, we could talk to Fort Mason, we could talk to the shipyards, we could talk to a lot of people. It's an absolute possibility. The question is, why hasn't it been done before? There are a lot of political obstacles. You can't just come into a city and build for free. There are a lot a people who feel they need a piece of that pie.

Q: Do you see greater consensus emerging over what has been a contentious issue for many years?

A: We've never been so together. Look, I've been around a long time in this business, the business of politics. We have never had community-based organizations, the Hotel Council, the Chamber of Commerce, me, Chris Daly, Gavin Newsom, Trent Rhorer, the department heads -- all at the same table. It has not happened since I started in politics, that's 1986. It's never happened.

Q: You've estimated The City spends well over $200 million a year on programs related to homelessness. Could the mayor re-allocate some of that to housing?

A: Absolutely he could. Is it a political nightmare for him? Yes, absolutely it's a nightmare for him. I tell him, blame me. You know what's so great about my role? I am not a politician. I am focused on taking Harry, the Vietnam vet without a leg, off the street. I am not focused on keeping this group and that group and that group happy for my re-election.

I have a lot of people with influence, who are making big money on poverty, who are not on board with me. I couldn't be more delighted to tell them to get lost. People who take people off the streets and take care of them for six months and then put them back on the streets only to have them come back in the program five months later. That does no good for anybody. You don't put drug addicts out on the street, you don't put alcoholics out where they came from and expect them to avoid temptation. That's ridiculous.

Q: Is $350 million still the working number to implement the entire plan?

A: Yeah, that was originally the number. But that's not a number we have to go raise. That's part of what we're already doing with the $200 million and that was over a four-year period I believe.

We are creating our own philanthropy group on the Implementation Council. In Atlanta, after their implementation plan, they raised $100 million. That's what we need to do. Is it feasible? Absolutely. The other night I spoke down in Hillsborough to a group of very very wealthy people, and six people who are major philanthropists gave me their cards and said, "When you're ready, give us a call. We want to help."

Angela Alioto
Age: 54

Profession: Anti-discrimination attorney. Won a $133 million award in a racial discrimination suit against Interstate Brands Corp. and an $11 million battle against Mary Kay Cosmetics.

Political career: Elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1988, left in 1997 due to term limits. Served as board president from 1993 to 1995.

Education: Graduated Lone Mountain College; University of San Francisco School of Law.

Family: Daughter of Joseph L. Alioto, San Francisco's mayor from 1968 to 1976. Mother of four grown children and grandmother of two.

Inspirational figures: St. Francis of Assisi, Dante Alighieri, Mother Teresa.

Influential recent books: "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference" by Malcolm Gladwell, and "The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts and Cultures" by Frans Johansson.

2005: CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES

During the month of December, The Examiner is asking distinguished experts to give their views on the issues that confront our cities, our state and our nation, in the next year and beyond. The subjects of our interviews are leaders in their fields, people of creativity, foresight and innovation, who will help us examine the present with an eye toward the future on the subjects that define us and our times.

Today, in her role as homelessness czar for San Francisco, Angela Alioto discusses a problem that has been called intractable, and tells us that the solution lies in new ways of thinking, and in a new era of cooperation.

"2005: Challenges and Opportunities" will appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays this month in The Examiner.

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