"However, given the relative insignificance of the two projects cited in your e-mail and Antonini's long-standing reputation as an ethical and hard-working commissioner, we don't have any reason to believe that he would have knowingly and/or willingly violated the state's Fair Political Practices Act."
But the Lusk Street project was by no means insignificant. "They are highly regulated," Welch said of SROs. "You cannot convert them to tourist hotels without going through a very long and cumbersome process. They are valued for affordable housing so highly that the city regulates their conversion to tourist uses." So instead, the "corporate suites," as Welch calls them, masquerade as SROs. The project was approved in the end, but two commissioners Christina Olague and Sugaya Hisashi voted against it.
Antonini told us that he believes 25 Lusk is more than 500 feet away, and as for the restaurant, planning staff recommended approval.
The commissioner told us, "I was the one who brought public attention to the issue of my possible conflict. I believe it is a small issue when compared to my body of work on behalf of San Francisco over the last six years."
The June 5 meeting where Antonini made the disclosure about his son's condo was part of a long and detailed process that will determine the fate of vast sections of Potrero Hill, SoMa, the Mission District, and Dogpatch. The official planning process for the targeted 2,200-acre area began back in 2001, and the commissioners could approve new zoning plans next month before sending the proposal to the Board of Supervisors.
For much of San Francisco's history, the city sections poised for rezoning have been home to light industry and blue-collar jobs. But housing has encroached over the last 15 years, and the planning commission is prepared to allow between 8,000 and 10,000 new units over the next 20 years. That will almost certainly increase the value of land in the area.
Residential developers built thousands of pricey condos in the SoMa District during the 1990s, exploiting another divisive zoning loophole that created waves of animosity across the city and aided in a takeover of the Board of Supervisors by a progressive bloc of candidates.
Live/work lofts, as developers called them, were built in areas zoned for light industrial commercial purposes. Wealthy buyers would ostensibly operate businesses out of their homes or live in them as working artists as the zoning required, but few have complied with the letter or having found ways to narrowly abide by it the spirit of the law.
"The city turned its head," housing attorney Sue Hestor said. "We have 3,000 units that are supposed to be occupied by artists and probably 90 percent of them are not occupied by artists at all. It's blatantly illegal."
Antonini has managed to maintain friendships with local moderate Democrats over the years despite being an elected member of San Francisco's Republican Party County Central Committee. Willie Brown first appointed him to the powerful planning commission in 2002, and he's been a reliable vote for developers and other large business interests. Mayor Gavin Newsom reappointed him in 2004 and earlier this year tried to engineer Antonini's election as president of the commission.