Joshua Arce ’00 was 17 years old when he ran first ran for office. Still in high school, he vied for a spot on the Board of Trustees for the Los Angeles Community College District. He lost narrowly, but his passion for public service was born.
After 15 years as a civil rights and environmental attorney, Arce is now running for a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. If elected in November, he’ll represent District 9, which includes the Mission, Bernal Heights and nearby neighborhoods. He’s won endorsements from prominent California officials, including Lieutenant Governor and former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, Secretary of State Alex Padilla and state Democratic Party Chair John Burton.
“As a city, we are at a crossroads, with an ongoing affordability crisis and divisions and anxiety in our neighborhoods,” Arce says. “For me, running for the Board of Supervisors is a chance to build a broad coalition of community members from all walks of life so we can come out on the other side in a positive way.”
Arce grew up in a blue-collar Latino family in the San Fernando Valley. He was the first in his family to attend college when he enrolled at UCLA. He majored in political science and became active in the California Democratic Party, opposing ballot measures that attacked immigrant rights and affirmative action. In 1994, while still in college, he ran for State Assembly. He got the Democratic nomination but lost to a Republican opponent.
After graduating in 1997, he enrolled in UC Hastings with support from the Legal Education Opportunity Program. Working in the civil justice clinic to represent tenants facing eviction made a big impression. “I learned how the underrepresented and disadvantaged communities I worked with as a political activist could really benefit from the legal skill set,” he says.
When he graduated, after a short stint as a computer programmer, Arce started a civil rights law firm with two UC Hastings classmates. They spent three years representing tenants, employees and victims of housing discrimination. In 2006, Arce decided to launch Brightline Defense Project, a nonprofit advocacy group that focused on environmental justice and local job creation.
“I felt that the deck was in many ways stacked in the courtroom,” he says. “What if you were able to fix issues ahead of time through good policy and better laws?”
A major win came when the group created a coalition that convinced former Mayor Newsom to shut down San Francisco’s Potrero Power Plant and abandon a plan to build new fossil fuel plants. Brightline’s advocacy also helped pass a law guaranteeing local hiring for major public construction projects in December 2010.
In 2012, Mayor Ed Lee appointed Arce to the city’s Commission on the Environment, where he became the first Latino president. “I really wanted to bring environmental initiatives back to the grassroots. I brought the commission to meet out in neighborhoods for the first time and established community initiatives around recycling and solar,” Arce says.
He joined San Francisco’s Democratic County Central Committee, which governs the local Democratic Party, in January 2015, although he was not elected for a second term in June 2016.
If elected supervisor this fall, he hopes to use his experience building broad-based coalitions to create jobs, expand affordable housing and build environmentally sustainable communities. His time at UC Hastings is coming in handy along the way.
“I’m fortunate to use my degree on an everyday basis in approaching challenges, thinking through solutions and working with others,” Arce says.