Early indicators

Supervisors reject preservationist position, raising concerns about development -- and revealing a little of their political philosophies

Sup. Jane Kim is shaping up to be a swing vote between moderates and progressives

Land use politics and the way development decisions are made at City Hall fed San Francisco's ascendant progressive movement over the last decade. So in the wake of a still-unfolding political realignment, an early key vote is making some preservationists and developer foes nervous.

At the center of that concern is Sup. Jane Kim, who broke with her progressive colleagues Jan. 25 to be the swing vote in the board's 6-5 approval of attorney Richard Johns to the historian's seat on the Historic Preservation Commission. Progressives and preservationists opposed the nomination on the grounds that Johns isn't a historian and that he has close ties to former Mayor Willie Brown, a friend of developers whose longtime chief of staff was Johns' wife, Eleanor.

And they're suspicious of Brown's support – both overt and stealthy – for Kim's supervisorial campaign (see "Willie Brown and the accusations of machine politics in D6," 10/16/10, Guardian Politics blog).

Kim didn't explain her vote at the full board meeting, and her comments at the Rules Committee (which she chairs) and to the Guardian that Johns "was qualified" and she could "see no reason not to support his nomination" irked many of her progressive supporters who consider development the big issue.

Feeding concerns about the potential blunting of historic preservation and other tools used to scrutinize development projects was the Jan. 25 announcement by Sup. Scott Wiener that he is calling for hearings into whether the commission is improperly hindering development and other policy priorities.

"The Historic Preservation Commission — and I supported the creation of the Historic Preservation Commission — has become an increasingly powerful commission reaching into a lot of different areas of policy in the city," Wiener said during the discussion of Johns' nomination, citing housing, parks, and libraries as areas the commission has affected. "It's important to have a diversity of backgrounds and viewpoints on this commission, and if we're going to have a committee made up exclusively of advocates for historic preservation, only advocates, that is a problem."

Former board President Aaron Peskin, who led the effort to create the commission through the voter-approved Proposition J in 2008, disputes the allegation that the commission has become too powerful, as well as the claim that Johns is qualified to serve in the historian's seat, one of six seats on the commission that now requires professional qualifications.

"The facts do not support Sup. Wiener's allegations," Peskin told us, noting that the Board of Supervisors and the mayor retain the authority to decide what is and isn't historically significant. Yet Wiener said that even commission- and staff-level actions affect other city goals. "The conducting of a survey does have legal impact," Wiener told us.

But Peskin said San Francisco has very few protected buildings compared with other major U.S. cities, something voters sought to change through Prop. J, and Peskin said he was disappointed that Kim didn't support the law's dictates. "This is the second time in 2011 when the slim alleged progressive majority has not stayed together," he said, referring also to the election of David Chiu as board president.

Peskin and others who fight land-use battles say they don't yet want to jump to the conclusion that developers might have an easier time with this board. "It's my profound hope is that this is a learning experience," Peskin said of Kim's vote.

Veteran land use attorney Sue Hestor noted that neither Kim nor Wiener has a record on land use issues by which to judge them and she didn't want to make a big deal of their Jan. 25 actions. Yet she said that development is a huge issue in the Tenderloin, SoMa, and Rincon Hill areas that Kim represents, so there are major tests of her progressive values coming soon.


How much money has Sue Hestor made over the years preventing housing from being built?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 02, 2011 @ 8:59 am

about 5 dollars

Posted by Guest on Feb. 02, 2011 @ 9:08 am

Who knew she worked pro bono! Amazing! 35 years of working for free ~!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 02, 2011 @ 10:08 am

I've been involved with campaigns Sue has worked on for about 6 years and she didn't get paid a dime for any of them.
Sue is an amazing woman.

Posted by guest2 on Feb. 02, 2011 @ 10:38 am

Too bad most all of those campaigns over the past six years were lost.


Posted by Guest on Feb. 02, 2011 @ 11:58 am

Sue has done more to gentrify San Francisco than any one developer.
Every wealthy neighbor who doesnt want their view blocked hires her. There is literally not a single apartment building greater than 20 units that she hasnt been hired to try and stop.

She is definitely the darling of the have's and the enemy of the have nots.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 08, 2011 @ 12:51 pm

Both Wiener and Peskin make good points about how much power this commission should have. Should this commission's main focus be preserving history or impeding any or all development? I'm not sure.

What really concerns me is the fact that Supervisor Kim voted for a Willie Brown lackey to serve on this commission. What make Johns qualified? The fact that his wife worked for Brown? (I don't think so.)

Does he have a degree in historical preservation? Has he ever taken a college-level class in historical preservation?

Posted by Common Sense SF on Feb. 02, 2011 @ 1:17 pm

Peskin just wants to use 'historical significance' as a technical loophole to stop whatever he wants (or whatever Sue Hestor wants stopped). See: library, North Beach.

The Melvin Belli building, gutted in Peskin's Dsitrict while he was Supervisor is as historical as they come. A gold rush era theater that survived the '06 quake. When they ripped it apart history buffs sneaked up in the night to steal bricks. But the developers weren't looking to build anything that threatened Peskin's view from Telegraph Hill so they had free reign to do as they wish. But don't try to touch a 50 year old asbestos filled library in North Beach.

Posted by Homer on Feb. 02, 2011 @ 2:27 pm

This issue couldn't be hotter.

The Eastern Neighborhoods will be facing the devastating post 2008 job our progressive reps handed to developers... A nuclear bomb that will wipe out thousands of low income properties.

Watch for major foreign money to roll into town. For example the same Taiwanese company that is now playing PC games with the Brisbane Baylands (3rd Street SP lands Pt 2).

In this city, even the progressive media is terrified of linking up to the devastating crap that developers and banks have done nationwide.

How many San Franciscans lost their homes due to variable rate mortgages?

No, we aren't seeing housed being torn down like we saw inland or to the south, but then maybe nobody seems to be doing the footwork to see what has happened.

City hall isn't where the damage is being done, and nobody is covering it, so it goes, if a tree falls in the forest and nobody sees it happen...

Posted by Guest on Feb. 02, 2011 @ 6:32 pm

Peskin says the commission isn't very powerful. But he's upset this Johns fellow was nominated to the commission that is supposedly not so powerful. Those positions don't really square.

Posted by The Commish on Feb. 03, 2011 @ 4:26 pm

Is it time to vote Jane Kim off the Progressive Island then?

Anybody who shows any sort of nuance or sense of compromise does not deserve to be part of The Cabal.

Lift thy stones and begin the execution.

Posted by Barton on Feb. 03, 2011 @ 5:42 pm

I think it's time for Jane to pledge her allegiance to the "progressive" cause...

Posted by Flowers on Feb. 03, 2011 @ 10:18 pm

Willie Brown got Kim elected. Kim returns the favor - one of many down the road.
good old politics...

Posted by Guest on Feb. 04, 2011 @ 12:16 am