July 17, 2002


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Best laid plans?
Mayor puts Planning Commission on hold

By Cassi Feldman

In a crafty maneuver that stunned city hall, Mayor Willie Brown withdrew all of his proposed appointees to the San Francisco Planning Commission July 15, before the Board of Supervisors could even vote on them. "I am advised that there are not six members on your Board that will confirm my nominees," he wrote in a letter to Board of Supervisors president Tom Ammiano.

His move prompted two major reactions. Some consider it a victory that the mayor abandoned unpopular choices like Hector Chinchilla and William Fay. The former commissioners and their cohorts are blamed for rubber-stamping hundreds of live-work and dot-com developments despite neighbors' concerns.

But others suspect the mayor is just trying to prevent the commission from having a quorum that would favor community interests. "This is government by sabotage," land-use expert Calvin Welch said.

If there is no Planning Commission in place for 90 days, projects could automatically be approved under the state's Permit Streamlining Act. That notion seemed to infuriate Sup. Jake McGoldrick. "If Willie Brown is willing to wreck the city so he can play dictator, it's in his face," he said.

Under Proposition D, approved by voters in March, the mayor and board were supposed to share appointments to the commission, with the mayor given a majority (four out of seven) and the board given final say over his nominees.

On July 9, the board's Rules and Audits Committee recommended approval of only one of the mayor's choices: former public relations manager Jon Ballesteros. His other nominees were harshly criticized. Witness the following slightly edited exchange between Sup. Tony Hall and Fay, whom the mayor appointed last year:

Tony Hall: What is your background in planning?

William Fay: I'm an orthodontist.

TH: Did you have any experience at all with the planning rule?

WF: No I don't.

TH: Did you put your name in for that commission or were you selected?

WF: I was selected by Mayor Brown.

TH: Did he give any indication why he was selecting you for that commission?

WF: No.

TH: Because you're a good dentist?

WF: [Laughing] Maybe because I don't hurt people.

TH: That's amazing.

Fay and Frances Lee, another Brown nominee, were both voted down. The board split on Chinchilla. "The mayor's choices were damned if they did, damned if they didn't," explained Brown's press secretary P.J. Johnston, arguing that the board seemed to reject anyone with too much or too little background in planning. "It's clear that contrary to stated goals of Prop. D – which were the mayor and the board sharing power – it's clear that the board wants to use its confirmation power to control every appointment."

But Brown isn't the only one who feels that the intent of Prop. D has been thwarted. "It's unfortunate that the mayor chose confrontation," McGoldrick said at the board's July 15 meeting, at which Ammiano's picks were unanimously approved. "He's ignoring the will of the voters." E-mail Cassi Feldman at cassi@sfbg.com.