The Other Power Bloc

Gretchen Schrafft | November 27, 2013 | Story Politics

With an unprecedented building boom in our midst, the city’s seven-person Planning Commission wields more control than ever, from rejecting plans for your neighbor’s deck to approving the 1,070-foot-tall Transbay Tower. While commissioners in past eras were often lackeys of the mayor, the current bunch—three appointed by the President of the Board of Supervisors, four by the mayor and approved by the board—are decidedly less predictable.

Pro-Development Index (PDI): 1= Don't defile my city 10= Build, baby, build

Bill Sugaya
Appointed by: Peskin in 2006
Day job: Historic planner, Carey & Co. Architecture & Planning
Pet peeve: A disregard of city policies
Worldview: Argues for balancing the preservation of the city’s historic and cultural je ne sais quoi with progressive city politics. He supports the city’s transit-first policy, but is fickle about increasing heights on the waterfront.
Commission highlight: Safeguarding Japantown’s heritage by working to protect buildings, festivals, and street fairs (as well as the neighborhood’s aging Japanese population) from encroaching gentrification.
PDI: 3

Cindy Wu
Appointed by: Board president David Chiu in 2012
Day job: Community Planning Manager, Chinatown Community Development Center
Pet peeve: Anything that harms affordable housing or decreases rent-controlled stock
Worldview: “Show me that you’re delivering on many city goals in a large development project. If not, it seems mostly profit-driven.”
Commission highlight: Voting in the minority against the 8 Washington luxury apartment complex. Wu contends that for the value of the land, the public benefit should be higher.
PDI: 2

Richard Hillis
Appointed by: Mayor Ed Lee in 2012
Day job: Executive director, Fort Mason Center
Pet peeve: Poor attempts to mimic surrounding buildings in a neighborhood
Worldview: A self-proclaimed “land-use and development geek,” Hillis directed the massive transformation of Octavia Boulevard as head of the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development.
Commission highlight: Turning down both a Pet Food Express on Lombard Street and a Chipotle in the Castro on the grounds that more formula retail would hurt existing small businesses.
PDI: 7

Gwyneth Borden
Appointed by: Newsom in 2008
Day job: Head of corporate citizenship and affairs for IBM in the western states.
Pet peeve: Control freaks
Worldview: Merging economic and community benefits by encouraging plans that demonstrate “the ground-floor experience”—features that add up to give a neighborhood its unique character.
Commission highlight: Voting in favor of the Transbay Tower, which she sees as the future hub of downtown. What will be the tallest structure west of the Mississippi, “will reshape and refocus downtown in a way that hasn’t been done in many years.”
PDI: 6

Rodney Fong
Appointed by: Ex-mayor Gavin Newsom in 2010
Day job: Former owner-operator of the Wax Museum
Pet peeve: Clustering—commission-speak for too much of the same type of development within a few blocks
Worldview: Housing equilibrium: “Mansions are just as important as affordable housing.” And long-term vision, echoing his family ties to San Francisco that stretch back to the 1800s: “I ask myself, will this be better for S.F. not just tomorrow, but 20 years from now?”
Commission highlight: Presiding over the 8 Washington hearing: “The Embarcadero has come a long way. It yet can go much further.”
PDI: 8

Michael Antonini
Appointed by: Ex-mayor Willie Brown in 2002
Day job: Dentist
Pet peeve: Parking space shenanigans
Worldview: “You wanna be Detroit? you wanna be Oakland? You wanna be a place no one wants to be?” Antonini supports large development projects, unit mergers, and formula retail to keep middle-class families and businesses in the city.
Commission highlight: Fighting unsuccessfully against downsizing plans for the new California Pacific Medical Center Cathedral Hill hospital. “It will still be a regional hospital, but it could have even been bigger. It could have rivaled Stanford.”
PDI: 10

Kathrin Moore
Appointed by: Ex–board president Aaron Peskin in 2006
Day job: Principal architect, MooreUrban Design
Pet peeve: Sloppy design
Worldview: Likens the decision-making process to “sailing in the America’s Cup in heavy winds and not being able to bail out.” During votes, the feisty commissioner often finds herself sailing the waters alone.
Commission highlight: Voting against the 706 Mission project—a plan (which passed) to build a luxe apartment high-rise atop the new Mexican Museum. “Sell me a museum, but don’t pretend it’s something that it isn’t,” she says
PDI: 1

Originally published in the December issue of San Francisco.

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