Candidate statement for the 2019 SFBike Board of Directors and my thoughts on this election

I’m running for re-election to the Board of Directors of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. My official candidate statement is limited to 150 words, so these are my unabridged thoughts about this election. If you have feedback on any of this, please feel free to reach out to me at pollock.jeremy @ gmail.

Outline of this post:

2/1/19 Update: Why do 20 former Bicycle Coalition board members and staff oppose re-electing Nic Jay Aulston?
About me
B. My goals for a second term
C. What’s up with the competing slates in this board election?

2/1/19 Update: Why do 20 former Bicycle Coalition board members and staff oppose re-electing Nic Jay Aulston?

This section is also posted separately. I recommend that members vote for the 7 candidates endorsed by SFBC Momentum (Jiro, Kelli, Nic, Preston, Roan, Tyler, and myself) plus the three women of color from Safety Together’s slate (Juli, Meaghan, and Pamela) to support a transparent and diverse Board of Directors for the Bicycle Coalition.

I couldn’t sleep last night, because I couldn’t get this thought out of my head: why do 20 former Bicycle Coalition board members and staff oppose re-electing Nic Jay Aulston, our (probably first ever?) African-American board president, who won a Golden Wheel award for his work with Bicis del Pueblo to build bike culture in underserved communities?

I also wonder why they oppose re-electing Jiro Yamamoto our (probably first ever?) firefighter on the board who brings a unique perspective as a Japanese-American man with 20+ years history in the hyper-masculine, hyper-white, historically racist culture of the San Francisco Fire Department. SFFD have been the strongest opposition to a number of recent bike safety projects, so I’ve really appreciated having his perspective on the board.

Competitive elections among allies and friends like this current Bicycle Coalition Board of Directors election are tricky things. We have sixteen solid candidates and only eight open seats. I think we all would make good board members and would bring different strengths to the Coalition. Ultimately, we all have to make hard choices in ranking the candidates. TBH, I’m a little disappointed that these 20 former board and staff members also don’t support me for re-election, and that my colleagues on the board who aren’t running for re-election didn’t endorse me either (and I acknowledge that’s surely coloring my perspective on all this).

I think I bring a lot to the board. Beyond my public policy and political experience, I have tried to be a voice of empathy and compromise when our board disagrees (with mixed success), and I was asked to be on the “Organizational Strengthening Committee” that is working with a consultant to identify the issues that are holding our board back and how to address them.

But I get it. We don’t necessarily need another opinionated white dude on our board. There are also some lingering hard feelings from my role as a co-founder of Save SF Bike, the group that successfully pushed back against the botched attempt to eliminate member elections of our Board of Directors. Jiro was also an early supporter of Save SF Bike, which I assume contributes to why those former staff and board members aren’t supporting him.

But I would honestly like to hear an explanation for why they don’t support Nic Jay Aulston, and why the Safety Together slate doesn’t support him. Save SF Bike endorsed Nic Jay in 2016, but he wasn’t part of 2015’s divisive bylaws vote or board election. The Coalition’s new strategic plan has a goal to “build an organization whose members, board, and staff reflect San Francisco’s demographics.” One of Safety Together’s three goals is “engaging underserved communities.”

I feel strongly that you can’t say you’re committed to either of those goals if you don’t support re-electing Nic Jay. He’s had a tough year as our board president. He was elected on a split 8–7 vote. He (along with Mary Kay Chin and Jean Kao on the Executive Committee) has had to deal with a lot of white nonsense on our board. And now he’s getting a big, if passive, vote of no-confidence from a bunch of leaders and icons of the Bicycle Coalition. That sucks.

In his 2+ years as Executive Director, Brian Wiedenmeier has made really solid progressive on increasing the diversity of our staff and on repairing relationships with organizations that represent communities of color in the City. I’m also proud that we’ve elected a more diverse board over the past three years. But with Chema Hernández Gil recently resigning, the drama on the board last year, and now this passive opposition to Nic Jay, it seems clear to me that our board is not yet a welcoming space for people of color.

There are several undercurrents of disagreement going on in this election and in the Bicycle Coalition in general that I get into down below, but I think improving our diversity and building a culture of inclusion might be our most critical challenge. Not only because it’s the right thing to do in this era with an openly racist president and fascists rallying in public, but because to build the political power we need to transform our streets, we need to change this misconception that only white dudes bike and build a broader coalition for street safety.

So I’m asking Safety Together slate, and the former board members and staff supporting them: why aren’t you supporting Nic Jay? Brad Williford told me he was the one who put the slate together. I understand that not all of the candidates knew each other, and probably didn’t know all the dynamics of this election, before they launched.

Brad originally agreed to get coffee with me and to try to schedule a “candidate mixer,” but he’s gone radio silent in the last two weeks. I’ve also reached out repeatedly to Amandeep Jawa, the one incumbent on the Safety Together slate who I’ve known a long time, hoping to talk about the election, but he hasn’t replied.

This lack of transparency, or willingness to even talk, really bothers me. Combined with how none of the Safety Together candidates responded to the questionnaire from SFBC Momentum makes the word “Together” in their title feel downright Orwellian.

But that said, I want to acknowledge that this is all complicated and hard to navigate, and however this election shakes out, I want to do my best to resolve these issues. I also want to acknowledge that it’s awkward for me as a white man to be speaking so strongly on issues of race. But I believe that in an effort to be an ally in dismantling white supremacy culture, it’s better to err on the side of talking to much about race instead of too little.

I’m still debating how to rank the candidates on my ballot, but I know my top 10 will be the 7 candidates endorsed by SFBC Momentum (Jiro, Kelli, Nic, Preston, Roan, Tyler, and myself) plus the three women of color from Safety Together’s slate (Juli, Meaghan, and Pamela).

I’ve tried and failed repeatedly to write a feel-good conclusion to this that doesn’t sound trite or preaching, so I’ll just say thanks for reading, and I welcome any feedback or criticism on this post. Here’s to making 2019 a year of uncomfortable, but respectful and constructive conversations!

A. About me

I first joined the Bicycle Coalition back in 2007. I’ve been a regular bike rider my whole life, but when I first moved to San Francisco, it took me six months or so to build up the courage to bike in our City. I love how much our bike infrastructure has improved since then and how many more people are biking. But we have so much more work to do.

When I worked as a Legislative Aide to former-Supervisor John Avalos from 2012–2016, I had an amazing opportunity to work on transportation policy. I worked closely with the Bicycle Coalition on the Employee Bike Access, Unclaimed Bikes, Bike Parking, and Bike Yield ordinances. I worked with the SFBC and the Transportation Justice Coalition to try to get the restoration of the Vehicle License Fee on the 2014 ballot and the sales tax for transportation and homelessness on the 2016 ballot.

I’m particularly proud of my work with the Transportation Justice Coalition to develop the Muni Service Equity Strategy, a data-driven approach to improve Muni service in neighborhoods with high percentages of households with low incomes and people of color. I built on that work to write the first draft of the Recreation and Park Department’s new equity framework, passed by the voters in 2016, to ensure the department is investing in parks in disadvantaged neighborhoods. I’m proud of how the Bike Coalition’s new Strategic Plan focuses on equity and inclusion. I believe the myth that bike riders are all spandex-wearing white dudes continues to hold our movement back. Growing and diversifying the Bike Coalition to better reflect the City’s demographics is key to growing our political power to transform our streets.

I also serve on the steering committee of the San Francisco League of Pissed Off Voters, and I’ve helped write their voter guides for every election since 2005. San Francisco politics and government has basically been the focus of my life for the last fourteen years, and I believe my knowledge and relationships have been an asset to the Bike Coalition’s Board of Directors.

In my years of involvement in San Francisco politics, I’ve grown increasingly frustrated by how things are over-simplistically divided into competing “progressive” and “moderate” factions. The SFBC is one of the very few groups in the City that brings together activists from the City’s progressive and moderate camps. We have a unique opportunity to show how we can break out of these silos to help fix our City. One of my main motivations for running for a second term is to reevaluate our political endorsement process to make it more transparent and inclusive to embrace our member’s perspectives from across the political spectrum.

Some of my other interests: I play guitar and sing in the Beauty Operators, a local bluegrass band, and I helped form Bluegrass Pride, to promote diversity and inclusion in bluegrass by entering a float in the SF Pride Parade. I was also a founding board member of the San Francisco Institute of Possibility, a small arts nonprofit where I helped draft their bylaws and set their strategic direction. I co-founded Fossil Free SF to push the SF Retirement Board to divest from fossil fuel stocks.

I love how biking in the City has created so much community and friendships. We’re lucky to live in a place with so many great group rides like Critical Mass, Bike Party, Midnight Mystery Ride, Butter Lap, etc. I’m excited about building community and relationships among our members and at the intersections with the arts and other communities. Some events I’ve helped organize in the past:

Whether or not I’m re-elected, I want to keep organizing fun and informative events like these. Which leads me to what I want do if I am re-elected….

B. My goals for a second term

  1. Establish a “Board Alumni” program to cultivate that community of members and better engage their talents in the organization.
  2. Engage members in reevaluating our process for making political endorsements and how we support the candidates and campaigns we endorse. I’ve heard loud and clear from both members and political candidates that our current endorsement process is too opaque.
  3. Engage members in reevaluating our board election process. I believe we should adopt term limits, which is generally a best practice among non-profit boards. I also support us adopting a board structure where a minority of the seats are appointed by the incumbent board. I believe this will keep us a member-led organization while also facilitating board members who would either not be willing to run for election or would be unlikely to be elected by our members.
  4. Continue to organize and promote events to build community among people who bike. In 2017, I led the effort to bring back the Bike Away from Work party. I hope to institutionalize that as a board and volunteer-led effort (allowing our staff to relax after a very long Bike to Work Day). I also want to revive the Love on Wheels event and identify a local brewery to re-imagine the Tour de Fat event. I’d love to organize a Poker Ride, possibly with stations where we visit partner organizations or communities. I want to organize a book club to discuss the book Bicycle/Race: Transportation, Culture, and Resistance. Building community among people who bike is key to advancing our work, and it’s a lot of fun.
  5. Identify a tool or forum for inter-member communication. I am excited about the potential for using Salesforce Community Cloud to enable members to communicate and organize around campaigns and shared interests. This would tie these discussions directly to the coalition’s Salesforce database and help us activate and organize our members.
  6. Follow through on the board’s “Organizational Strengthening” effort where we are working with a consultant to identify key issues that are hindering the board’s work and making a plan to resolve these issues.
  7. Create a Board Policy for how we respond to vacancies on the board. We should have guidelines for when the Board should appoint someone to fill a vacancy on the board and how members can provide input.
  8. Engage members in revisiting our donation acceptance policy. Our currently policy is decades old and prohibits donations from oil and car companies. Our brave new world full of autonomous vehicles, Uber, Lyft, Jump, GoBike, Skip, Scoot, etc. is much more nuanced and challenging to navigate. Where do we draw lines? How do we engage good-faith allies in making our streets safer? Should the acquisitions of GoBike and Jump by Uber and Lyft change our relationships with these companies? Should we be wary of venture-funded transportation technology companies that want to monetize our streets and our personal data? These are complex questions we need to answer in a way that respects the variety of members’ opinions.

I’m proud to be endorsed by SFBC Momentum, but I wish this board election presented our members a more-nuanced dynamic than having two competing slates. About that….

C. What’s up with the competing slates in this board election?

I’m not gonna lie, it’s been a challenging couple of years serving on our board. When we talk about biking, we get along great. I’m particularly proud of how we worked together to develop our Strategic Plan. But when we debate internal, governance issues (how we run these elections, how the board communicate with members, etc.), too often we fall into factions and don’t trust each other. It’s been a dramatic three years for our board as we’ve become more diverse — both ethnically/racially and diverse in our opinions on non-profit governance issues.

I wrote about these issues in last year’s election in a piece I called, “SF Bicycle Coalition Elections Don’t Have to Be Rorschach Tests for Our Fears.” Many of these issues and fears are still at play in this election, but I’m hopeful we’ve made some progress.

A little background
Prior to 2015, these elections were sleepy affairs, where the incumbent board cultivated a slate of candidates and they were usually the only ones who ran. There are pros (a more cohesive, efficient board) and cons (a more homogeneous board susceptible to group-think) to that approach.

That all changed when the board made a hamfisted attempt to switch from members electing our board members to the incumbent board appointing new board members. I co-founded a group called Save SF Bike that successfully advocated to keep our board member-elected. But that debate was fierce, and it’s left some hard feelings we still need to work through.

I’m glad that this year, our Save SF Bike crew decided to close up shop, because we feel the Bicycle Coalition no longer needs saving. Some of our folks wanted to continue advocating for transparency and member-led activism in the Coalition, so they created a new group SFBC Momentum. That brings us to the slates endorsing candidates in the 2019 board election.

This year’s slates

  • SFBC Momentum: a group organized to “protect and expand members rights, democracy, and active power in the SF Bike Coalition.” They held a series of public meetings to develop a process for endorsing candidates, including a questionnaire they sent to all the candidates. The questions were decided on through a ranked choice voting by their members. Probably the most provocative questions are if the Coalition should accept donations from autonomous vehicle companies or TNCs like Uber and Lyft. They’ve currently endorsed 7 candidates for the 8 open seats. (Full disclosure: I’m on their organizing email list, but I have not attended any of their recent meetings and have not been involved in their endorsement process.)
  • Safety Together: their platform and priorities are to “prioritize protected bike lanes, engage underserved communities, and get more people biking.” They’ve currently endorsed 8 candidates for the 8 open seats. I don’t know how they decided on which candidates to endorse. Unfortunately, none of their candidates have yet responded to the SFBC Momentum questionnaire. This lack of transparency has led to suspicions about their motivations similar to the questions folks had about last year’s SFBC United slate I wrote about in the “Present Fears” section of my ramblings last year. I don’t know most of the Safety Together candidates, but they seem like a great bunch of bike advocates. I encourage them to answer SFBC Momentum’s questionnaire to help build trust and better inform our members.
  • Recommendations from the incumbent board: The current members of the board who aren’t running for re-election voted to recommend 8 candidates, 3 endorsed by SFBC Momentum and 5 endorsed by Safety Together. Interestingly, they endorsed only 1 of the 4 incumbents running for re-election. They will be posting a blog post on these recommendations soon.

You can vote for as many candidates as you want!
This election uses Ranked Choice Voting, so you can vote for as many of the candidates as you want. I don’t know how I’m going to vote yet, but I’m sure I will rank candidates from both slates. I hope we can find some ways for candidates and members to talk more.

Our board’s occasional internal disagreements are not unique. It’s common for passionate activists to have disagreements about strategies and tactics, and it’s hard when we disagree on things we care so much about like the Bicycle Coalition. I want our board to harness our diversity of opinions and the diversity of our networks so that we all feel our voices are represented by the Coalition. To do that we need to build trust so we can speak frankly to each other. We need board members who are ready to engage respectfully in difficult conversations. I think the ability and willingness to do that is what I will prioritize highest when filling out my ballot.

Let’s get together and talk about all this stuff! I’m hoping we can schedule an “election mixer” for candidates and members to get to know each other during this election. To be notified about that, or if you have feedback on any of this, please feel free to reach out to me at pollock.jeremy @ gmail.