How will Christina Olague balance loyalty to Mayor Lee with the needs of the city's most progressive district?
But he said Olague's land use expertise and progressive background will likely count for more than any bitter pills that she's asked to swallow. "Sometimes, as a policy maker, you have to push the envelope and say we can get more," he said. "It helps if you're willing to say no to things and set boundaries."
When we asked Olague to lay out her philosophy on dealing with land-use issues, she said that her approach will vary: "I have a very gray approach, project by project and neighborhood by neighborhood."
Only a couple weeks into her new role, Olague said that she's still getting a lay of the land: "I'm in information gathering mode, meeting with neighborhood groups to try to figure out what their issues are."
But Olague said she understands that part of her job is making decisions that will disappoint some groups. For example, after Mayor Lee pledged to install bike lanes on Fell and Oak streets to connect the Panhandle to The Wiggle and lessen the danger to bicyclists, he recently stalled the project after motorists opposed the idea.
"I'm a transit-first person, for sure. I don't even drive," Olague said of her approach to that issue, which she has now begun to work on. "We'll try to craft a solution, but then at some point you have to fall on one side or the other."
THE "JOBS" FOCUS
One issue on which Olague's core loyalities are likely to be tested is on the so-called "jobs" issue, which both Lee and Olague call their top priority. "Jobs and economic revitalization are very important," she told us.
Progressives have begun to push back on Lee for valuing private sector job creation over all other priorities, such as workers' rights, environmental safeguards, and public services. That came to a head on Jan. 26 at the Rules Committee hearing on Lee's proposed charter amendment to delay legislation that might cost private sector jobs and require extra hearings before the Small Business Commission. Progressives and labor leaders slammed the proposal as unfair, divisive, unnecessary, and reminiscent of right-wing political tactics.
But when we interviewed Olague the next day, she was reluctant to criticize the measure on the record, even though it seemed so dead-on-arrival at the Board of Supervisors that Mayor Lee voluntarily withdrew it the next week.
Olague told us job creation is important, but she said it can't squeeze out other priorities, such as protecting affordable rental housing.
"We always have to look at how the community will benefit from things. So if we want to incentivize for businesses, how do we also make it work for neighborhoods and for people so that we don't end up with where we were in the Mission District in the '90s?" she said.
Olague also said that she didn't share Lee's focus on jobs in the technology sector. "There's a lot of talk of technology, and that's fine and I'm not against that, and we can see how it works in the city. But at the same time, I'm concerned about folks who aren't interested necessarily in working in technology. We need other types of jobs, so I think we shouldn't let go of the small scale manufacturing idea."