Aaron Peskin - Biography
Aaron Peskin (born 1964) is a former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He was first elected to the Board in 2000, and was re-elected in 2004. In January 2005, his colleagues elected him President of the Board.
Peskin was born and raised in Berkeley. His mother, Tsipora, an immigrant from Israel, taught at UC Berkeley; his father, Harvey, was a professor of psychology at San Francisco State University. Peskin attended UC Santa Cruz. He is married to land use attorney Nancy Shanahan.
Before entering politics, Peskin was an environmental activist and water rights negotiator for a non-profit organization which brokered passage and use rights for tribal lands. He first came to public notice as president of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers, where he co-led the effort to save the Colombo building (it was going to be made a Chinatown branch of City College) and prevent a Rite-Aid drug store from moving into the Pagoda Theater. He is a member of the South End Rowing Club and an avid outdoorsman, having hiked the John Muir Trail in 2006 and 2007. Peskin can be seen most mornings in his Speedo swimming in the San Francisco Bay. He reassured San Franciscans after the Cosco Busan oil spill that the water was safe by stripping down to his Speedo and going for a dip in front of a local television news crew
Peskin was first elected in December 2000, along with other progressive neighborhood activists who had cut their teeth on Tom Ammiano's mayoral campaign. When he was sworn into office, Peskin described District 3 (it comprises Chinatown, North Beach, Nob Hill, and most of Russian Hill) as the "living room" of San Francisco.
As Supervisor, Peskin is known mostly for siding with a self-described progressive majority on development issues, often being at odds with the policies of mayors Gavin Newsom and Willie Brown. He authored an amnesty on unwarranted "in-law" apartment construction as a strategy to counter rising housing costs and to promote fiscal conservatism in city spending.
In 2004, Peskin was unanimously elected President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Peskin was re-elected by his colleagues for a second two-year term as President in 2005. Peskin also serves as a member of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, an agency responsible for regulating development in, on and immediately surrounding the San Francisco Bay.
Peskin has sponsored legislation to curb the Ellis Act, a state law that allows property owners to evict tenants by going out of the rental business. This law has led to many tenancy-in-common conversions of apartment buildings in San Francisco by tenants who desire to own property, and real estate promoters seeking to make ownership opportunities available (and thereby earning fees and profits), especially in Peskin's neighborhood of North Beach.
Peskin angered his progressive allies by supporting legislation to bring Home Depot to San Francisco.
Peskin has also come under criticism for his actions involving North Beach nightclubs and festivals. Due in part to actions by Peskin, the 52-year-old North Beach Jazz Festival was canceled in 2006. In that year, the Board of Supervisors voted to prohibit alcohol sales at the fair because of political pressure from Peskin, who has close ties to the Telegraph Hill Dwellers Association, which wanted a ban on alcohol sales. Festival organizers said that without the sales the festival couldn't turn a profit, so they canceled it. "He's using these people (the Telegraph Hill Dwellers) as his foot soldiers to get even with me for not supporting him," said Marsha Garland, executive director of the North Beach Chamber of Commerce, an organizer of the festival who endorsed an opponent of Peskin's during his 2004 re-election bid.
Peskin, working with the Telegraph Hill Dwellers, temporarily shut down the Savoy Tivoli, a North Beach landmark, when he had city officials rescind the Planning Commission order that had allowed the bar to operate without a restaurant. Along with Supervisor Chris Daly, Peskin was instrumental in canceling the San Francisco Grand Prix, a world-class bicycle race held in the years 2001 to 2005, because the race's backers owed the city money. Peskin's critics alleged that the race was really cancelled because it inconvenienced his North Beach constituents.
Peskin, who was termed out of his office at the end of 2008, supported David Chiu for the District 3 seat on the Board of Supervisors (Chiu, who was elected, now serves as Board President). Peskin was elected to the Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC) where he now serves as its chair.
When politically knowledgeable people gather to talk politics in San Francisco, Peskin is frequently mentioned as a potential mayoral candidate in 2011. In January 2011, he was a candidate for Mayor to fill the unexpired term of Gavin Newsom, who resigned to become Lieutenant Governor of California, but was not chosen by the Board of Supervisors.
In 2007, Peskin authored a charter amendment to increase San Francisco Municipal Railway (MUNI) funding and implement agency reforms. The measure, Prop A, which received over 55 percent of the vote was a response to a pro-parking measure, Prop H, funded by The Gap founder and republican billionaire Don Fisher. Fisher spent lavishly in support of Prop. H, a measure that would have undone numerous transit-first measures in downtown San Francisco.
In 2008, the San Francisco City Attorney and the Department of Human Resources launched an investigation into allegations that Peskin threatened the jobs of city employees. According to a letter obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle, Peskin made a series of harassing drunken telephone calls to officials at the Port of San Francisco and said he would eliminate their jobs and cut funding to the agency because staff members disagreed with him. San Francisco city law prohibits members of the board of supervisors from interfering in the business of city departments and qualifies such activity as official misconduct. Numerous complaints have been lodged against Peskin with the City Attorney. On February 1, 2008 Mayor Newsom told The San Francisco Chronicle that people around City Hall had been complaining about Peskin's behavior for years.