A YIMBY Action Endorsement Questionnaire. View all November 2018 Questionnaires.

Josephine Zhao

Candidate - SFUSD Board of Education

SFUSD owns a good deal of land in San Francisco. A distressing amount of this land is surface parking lots. Do you think this is a good use of this land? Would building housing on these lots be a better use? How important is this issue to you?

San Francisco has nearly 900,000 people. Each year, there are 8,000 – 9,000 newborns in the City. Our population growth is rapid. According to the ACS of the Census Data, there are ~388K units in the City in 2017, vs ~373K units in 2010, that’s a lesthalgic 3.8% growth over 8 years. At the same time, the City’s population has grown from ~805K to ~884K, that’s roughly +9%. This means, the growth of our housing supply is half of the population growth. One could also derive that rent would double if not more over this time. This contrast is alarming. We must increase housing availability to reduce shortage.

The surveys also estimates that each unit houses ~2.3 people. With the population growth from newborns and new workforce, we need to build >5,000 more units EACH YEAR to maintain this excessive rental price from rocketing higher!

According to YIMBY Actions, 75% of the City outlaws high density. Regulations like HomeSF are reasonable ways to gradually increase housing along the traffic corridors while respect the characteristics of the neighborhood, Also as what’s practical, we have to build infill housing as interim solutions, such as housing over parking, ADUs, educator housing over schools, are all creative ways.

As an immigrant from Guangzhou, China, I think we can borrow the mix-zoning practices in my hometown. We have underground public transit, ground-level shopping, mid-level offices, and high-level housing. You could live/work/eat in the building.

More and more students attending our public schools suffer from homelessness. What do you believe the school district should do to address this problem?

SFUSD should do its share in helping to fight housing crisis, such as maximizing the utilization of SFUSD vacant property by developing mixed use constructions at unused school sites for both the school district and educator housing – build teacher housing on top of a school on district vacant land. I think one reason that SFUSD hesitate to build on its vacant land is the anticipation of future needs to build more schools. If we can build educator housing on top of a school, then we can get around the dilemma.

Also some part of the housing that the school district builds or owns, could also be used to house students in transition, homeless or underhoused students and their families. The housing model at the Buena Vista Horace Mann school is good in providing temporarily overnight shelters for school families.

More and more teachers struggle with the cost of housing. What do you believe the school district should do to address this problem?

First, we should prioritize allocation of the citywide affordable housing boom for educators. In the past year alone, we saw over 7,000 housing units became available from the construction pipeline and of those, over 50% are permanently affordable. We should reserve a large portion of those units for educator housing. However, that cannot be done because giving housing preference by occupation is currently prohibited by the Federal Fair Housing Act. As a board member, I will work with my endorser Senator Scott Wiener and other electeds to ensure exceptions can be made to accommodate educators in the City.

Second, I would propose mixed use zoning for every school site, and allow educator housing to be built on top of a school.

Third, I would develop programs to incentivize small property owners to bring forward homeownership opportunities for educators within existing and in new housing stocks, and allow property owners to offer tenants to become homeowners in place – by letting long time tenants to have first rights of refusal to purchase the unit they live in when the building is put up for sale. We could be doing this in coordination with City’s Down-payment Assistance Program and the Teachers Next Door Down-payment Assistance Program.

Last, we should also make sure that the City and the Supervisors demand an adequate share of Community Benefits for BMR (Below Market Rate homeownership and rental housing) upon construction of new housing.

Getting children to and from public schools is a problem for many parents. A major finding from the SF CTA Child Transportation Study was that “most parents drive their children to school and afterschool programs.” Do you see this as a problem? What solutions do you think the school district could pursue to address this? Please feel free to discuss school busses, shuttles, protected bike lanes, etc.

Just like the Democratic Party’s advocacy on building healthy, livable, and sustainable communities, we should focus on urban planning that centers around a variety housing options, and make it possible for families to walk, bike and take public transportation to schools. It should also incorporate open space, recreation as well as fitness areas for all residents to enjoy.

However, the root cause is to work out the bugs in school assignment, and make sure small children can access schools near their home or their caretakers’ workplaces. For middle schools, feeder patterns should be better implemented and ensure students from a few surrounding elementary schools can be fed into a middle school in the vicinity to achieve diversity and accessibility. I would also advocate for a predictable high school assignment system so that older kids can take public transportation or bike to school.

Busing has been cut due to budget, and it isn’t popular for many families for the limited access to their children in case of emergency. Before the assignment system can be improved, we can look at solutions like Kangaroos, a smart phone based shuttles for dedicated carpools for kids, as well as adding protected bike lanes and other ways to ensure children’s safety.

As a School Board member, I will prioritize streamlining the assignment system in order to reduce the school needs on transportation, the stress that the commute brought to the families, and the impact on the environment.

YIMBYs care deeply about integration and healing the wounds of redlining and exclusionary zoning. These policies deliberately result in segregated schools. SFUSD has a lottery assignment system designed to fix this segregation problem in our housing, but it has not resulted in vastly more integrated schools. What do you see as solutions to this complex problem?

SFUSD had tried both neighborhood schools & full lottery models, and neither was a full success. It has now rested in a compromise in which neighborhood assignment for elementary schools, and the feeder pattern for the middle schools – where a few nearby neighborhood schools are fed into a middle school to achieve diversity.

Full lottery assignment offers the promise of diversity. But when it was tried, it was met with a massive uproar from the parent community. Families want predictability and minimum commute, which neighborhood schools provide. Families leaving SFUSD, but not necessarily the City, has resulted in SF having the largest number of private & parochial school per capita in U.S.. About half of SF’s school age students are in private and parochial schools.

Our City is neighborhood oriented. SF’s minorities are made up of Asian-33%, Hispanics-12% and African Americans-6%. Most fight to stay in the neighborhoods they have built – Chinatown, Japantown, Latino Culture District, Fillmore… Neighborhoods predetermine the makeup in the schools within.
The 2010 reform of school assignment brought diversity within neighborhood schools. As an advocate in the 2010 Neighborhood Kindergarten Assignment and the Middle School Feeder Pattern, I’m proud to help bring diversity and predictability to the school assignment.

Yet, the best way is to improve the performance of EVERY school, so that families of all backgrounds have no hesitation to send children to any school.

There are serious geographic equity issues with our schools. Additionally, as some districts are growing their housing supply, adding more and more children, the lack of quality schools everywhere is becoming an increasingly urgent issue. How do you plan on addressing the issue of access to quality schools in every district and opening more schools?

First, we must improve the quality and offering in every neighborhood schools – there are schools in the Southern & Eastern corridors that are under enrolled. Families living nearby rather commute to the West/North side, and create overcrowding in the Western/Northern side schools. We must provide additional training and support to these schools first.

Second, in areas where new development are anticipated, like at SOMA, Mission Bay, we must anticipate the needs to build school and add them to the district General Plan accordingly. There is only one major high school in the NE part of the City – Galileo High, but John Burton High, John O’Connor High, Thurgood High are all miles away in the SE part of the City, leaving families from Chinatown to SOMA to Dog Patch with little options except charter, private or parochial schools.

We must build schools in the District vacant/under-utilized lands, in addition to create SFUSD real estate plan for future growth.

Is there anything else you think our members should know about your candidacy? Links, references, endorsements, etc?

I’m a member & the only true YIMBY in the line up. I have been working with Sonja, Laura, Bobak and many members as early as 2015. I have personally gone to City Hall & testified on YIMBY causes. I have organized over 100 community members to support YIMBY’s rally in 2017 on the affordable housing rate.

I have organized two dozen people to testify for a renter-turned-homeowner. He wanted to add a “pop-top” living space, within the zoning requirement, on top of his building to accommodate a growing family. But his plan was blocked by the next door neighbor whose building has more floors. The DR got appealed to the BOS, and our collective testimonies helped this first-time homeowner secured his housing needs.

Because of my track record on pro-housing work and also able to the respect of neighborhood characteristic, I am endorsed by State Senator Wiener, Asseblymember Chiu, Mayor Breed, Supervisor Tang, and among others, who advocate for YIMBY’s causes.

I’m also endorsed by:
Fiona Ma, Board of Equalization, President
Carmen Chu, San Francisco Assessor-Recorder
Vicki Hennessy, San Francisco Sheriff
Emily Murase – SF Board of Education Commissioner
Mark Farrell, Former Mayor of San Francisco
Joel Engardio, Westside Advocate
Lee Hsu, Member of SFMTA Board of Directors
Kat Anderson, Recreation and Park Commission
Matthew Rothschild, Former Chair SFDCC
LiUNA! Laborers Local 261
Northern California Carpenters Regional Council


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