Northside SF
Cover Story:
District 2's new supervisor, Mark Farrell, is eager
to make changes at City Hall

Mark Farrell
Mark Farrell, 36, was born in District 2 and raised in the Marina, in a flat near the Palace of Fine Arts. He attended Stuart Hall, then St. Ignatius before graduating from Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, where he was on a baseball scholarship. “I’m a Jesuit boy through-and-through,” he says. After earning his master’s degree from University College Dublin, Ireland, he went on to the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Farrell met his wife, Liz, while at Loyola. She’s a former morning producer at KTVU Channel 2, and currently writes a column about raising children for the Marina Times. The Farrells have two small children and live in Jordan Park. Where? That’s a little section of town just west of Laurel Village.

Farrell was elected supervisor for District 2 in November 2010 in an upset victory. The Democratic Party leadership, including then-Mayor Gavin Newsom, and then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had endorsed his main challenger, Janet Reilly.

“The campaign was really a family affair,” he says. “My parents, who still live in the Marina, rang doorbells and stood outside the Safeway, talking to everyone they could.”

Northside San Francisco spoke with Farrell at his City Hall office, just three weeks into his term.

“Mark is the ultimate workaholic,” a worker at City Hall observes. “I don’t know how his staffers can keep up with him.” It was end of the day, nearly 6 p.m., and Farrell seemed reluctant to leave the office. 

Northside S.F.:  Let’s start with the Bridge Motel on Lombard. What’s going on with that? I know some neighbors think it’s a blight and a haven for crime. 

FARRELL: There’s a relatively new ownership. There continue to be some problems with the tenants, but I think it’s moving in the right direction. Even before I was sworn into office, I kept close touch with the neighbors on this. I don’t think that there are the acts of aggression that we saw [in the past]. There are a number of people running for mayor right now. I don’t want this to be a political issue; it’s a public safety issue, and to work with Captain Mannix at Northern Station. You know, her brother runs the Richmond Station. Brother and sister police captains – and they grew up in Jordan Park.

Northside S.F.:  I imagine that you’ve been watching what’s being planned for the Edward II Hotel, on Scott at Lombard. (The Mayor’s Office of Housing, Larkin Street Youth Services, and the Community Housing Partnership would like to convert the hotel into studio apartments for “at risk” 18 to 24 year olds.)

FARRELL: I’ve been tracking this very closely. It’s going through the planning process right now with an environmental impact report. It has not been calendared yet at the Planning Commission to evaluate the special-use district that they’re requesting.

Northside S.F.: Do you have a position on this?

FARRELL:  I have to say that I don’t like the way it was handled. I generally think it’s a bad place for a home, but if it were to come before me at the Board of Supervisors, I have to keep an open mind. I hope it’s not so far down the road that the community will not accept anything. But for it to be right for the community, I think it needs a ton of changes.

Northside S.F.:  A ton of changes? For example?

FARRELL:  For instance, putting someone in there during all hours of the night to watch the property. That’s not part of the budget right now. Look. I want to be clear about something here. We have to be careful in District 2 that people don’t say, “Well, sure, you think it’s great to have transitional housing – as long as it’s not in my neighborhood.” There’s also one going forward right now in District 2, across from the Muni yard on Presidio Avenue that is an existing community center. It’s being worked out at [the] Planning [Department], as well. But the community is very supportive of it. We have to be very clear, and careful to say, “This isn’t a NIMBY thing in District 2.” If we have issues with a project, it’s an issue specific to that project.

Mark Farrell and family
Mark Farrell with wife, Liz, and their two children.

photo: Iris Rowlee
Northside S.F.:  I know you’ve already introduced a measure that would rescind the ban on new restaurants in the Upper Fillmore. How do you prioritize the things you have to deal with?

FARRELL: There’s a balance between having meetings with people from all of the city departments. I wanted to meet with all of them. I’m already antsy about what must be done. We’re going to be introducing a number of things – jobs, incentivizing jobs. We have a 9.5 percent unemployment rate in San Francisco. It’s really grim. But City Hall hasn’t done much about it at all. My background is economics, and I want very much to take on these sorts of issues that affect people in their daily lives. Passing ordinances about banning Happy Meals and introducing a resolution condemning Rush Limbaugh – that sort of stuff has no business being here. We’re not a foreign policy body. I don’t like what Rush Limbaugh says, but we have a big budget deficit, we have a big unemployment rate. We have to focus on that.

Northside S.F.:  The national media like to pick up on the quirky activities of San Francisco government. It’s good copy.

   The stuff that gets picked up by the national media does not shed a positive light on our city. I don’t find that amusing. I want our city government to be a serious entity, a model, opposed to being a laughing stock. We should be leaders on real issues.

Northside S.F.:
 Real issues like jobs – what can you do about jobs?

[In] study after study from the federal government to the local government, the number one way to increase employment is to cut payroll taxes. That’s a simple fact. It depends on our priorities. You may want to prioritize social services, or public safety issues, that all depends on what you want to do. You don’t make decisions about finances in a vacuum. You don’t rob Peter to pay Paul. For me, putting people back to work is the biggest concern right now.

Northside S.F.:  Not easily done … 

 No, it’s hard. We only have four people, I believe, on the Board of Supervisors, who have ever worked in the private sector. It influences a perspective, for sure.

Northside S.F.:  Another big matter coming up is the move of the California Pacific Medical Center (on California Street in Jordan Park) to the site of the former Cathedral Hill Hotel (on Van Ness and Geary Avenues).

 Yes. The California campus of CPMC, the old Children’s Hospital, would be sold, as the campuses are consolidated into the Cathedral Hill property. Everybody is talking about Cathedral Hill, but the California campus is a huge deal. It will have an enormous impact on the neighborhood. The main topic now is Cathedral Hill. The state demands that all hospitals must be seismically sound. CPMC hospitals are not. But it is very difficult to upgrade an existing building. It’s incumbent on me to be playing a central role in these plans. It affects District 2 in many ways.

Northside S.F.:
 The dispute over the future of the boat rental concession at Stow Lake is a very emotional topic. What is going on here? (The McLellan family held the lease on the concession for 65 years. But they were recently outbid by an out-of-state operation.)

  It is very emotional. I have memories of growing up at Stow Lake. I think it’s too bad. It really is. I talked to the operator and the Rec and Park Department. There was a bidding process that was done carefully and openly. After lengthy thought, and months of deliberation, a winner was selected. For the Board of Supervisors to overturn that decision is a high burden. I think decisions by departments have to be respected. That’s their job. I would rather see more authority vested in the departments and commissions. If the board keeps getting involved, it undermines the infrastructure in the government.

Northside S.F.:  You’ve been in office for – what? – three weeks?


Northside S.F.:
 Do you like it here? Are they being nice to you? 

Yes, they are treating me well. What you realize very quickly is that you can have a very big influence on people’s lives in a positive way and make a difference. That’s very exciting. You have to treat it with respect, but it’s very exciting.

Northside S.F.: What surprised you about the job? 

A lot of things. We tried to order a magazine last week. We had to fill out six different forms [for] The Economist. Do you believe that? I’m coming from the private sector, never ran for office before, was never in government before. Things like that do shock me. 

Northside S.F.:  Did the outcome of the election surprise you?

I never contemplated losing. Honestly. So it didn’t surprise me. But what the election meant, and what the job means, surprises me. It exceeded my expectations. For example, what it means to be a supervisor, I didn’t grasp right away. But I’m getting it more and more as times goes on. It’s been an awesome experience.

Northside S.F.:
  Does Michela Alioto-Pier give you advice?

Absolutely. She was very supportive of my campaign in a very big way. She’s been a mentor in ways and a friend in other ways. I’m very lucky that we have a great relationship. As a supervisor in District 2 for seven years, she has a great deal of advice to give. I’m also lucky that one of her legislative aides, Catherine Stefani, stayed on. Catherine, combined with Margaux Kelly,
who is my other legislative aide and was my campaign manager, make a great team.

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