Editorial: City Planning's latest mess

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When, oh when, will Dean Macris finally go away?

EDITORIAL The San Francisco city planning director, John Rahaim, has kept a fairly low profile since taking over the troubled department in 2008. But some serious problems are starting to fester on his watch — and if he and the planning commissioners don't clean up the mess, the supervisors need to step in.

Rahaim remains somewhat in the shadow of the former director, Dean Macris, who is responsible for some of the worst San Francisco development problems of the past three decades. And the Macris influence is still very heavy in the department. But Rahaim needs to step out and show that things are going to change. For starters, he should:

Scrap the plan to privatize environmental review. As Rebecca Bowe reports on page 15, the department is looking at bringing in outside consultants to help clear up the backlog in the Major Environmental Analysis division of the Planning Department. It's a horrible idea — the environmental consulting firms that do this work make most of their money from developers, and that's where their loyalties will always lie. The city planning staff is by no means perfect, but at least the unionized MEA staffers have some ability to demand that builders follow the rules and that environmental impact reports are relatively honest. The whole idea comes (not surprisingly) from the big developers, particularly Lennar Corp. at Hunters Point and the consortium looking to redevelop Treasure Island; they're worried about the short-staffed Planning Department's slow pace of project review. But we don't see those developers helping raise new revenue for the city — money that could allow planning to hire more staff.