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.

•Back away from allowing developers to block sunlight in city parks. San Francisco voters approved a measure back in 1984 that essentially halted the construction of any tall buildings that would cast shadows on city parkland. Proposition K has worked remarkably well over the years. But now, with such behemoths as the 100-plus-story tower planned for the Transbay Terminal area and the high-rise condo complex near the Transamerica Building threatening to block out the sun in public open space, the developers are looking for ways to "update" — that is, gut — Prop. K protections. On Aug. 23, a who's who list of big local developers, architects, and lawyers met with city planning officials to discuss the issue (the attendance list, and more background, is posted at sfbg.com). The Planning Commission will get a briefing on the topic Sept. 17.
We don't see the problem with Prop. K — protecting parks from high-rise shadows is pretty basic planning and has been public policy for 25 years. Rahaim should drop this developer-driven plan, now.
•Get Macris the hell out of the Planning Department. Mayor Gavin Newsom and the Planning Commission hired Rahaim a year and a half ago. So why does Macris, the former director, still have an office in the department? Why is he routinely consulted on major issues? When, oh when, will he finally go away?
According to the mayor's press secretary, Nathan Ballard, Macris isn't costing the city any money — a handful of developers are chipping in to cover the cost of his paycheck. That alone is a problem — since when do developers get to have their own paid planner sitting in on office in the Planning Department?
And frankly, Macris has been a shill for big developers all his career. He oversaw much of the massive over-construction that took place in the 1980s, and resisted all attempts at slowing down runaway growth. He's a bad influence on the department, and Rahaim needs to send him packing, now.
Rahaim has gotten a fairly free ride so far, but things are starting to spiral out of control in his department. It's a disturbing pattern, and the supervisors should be prepared to hold hearings and start taking action. *

Comments

The Planning Department has been captured as a regulator by the businesses it is supposed to regulate. Dean Macris is a symptom of this problem rather than a cause. John Rahaim has support for high rise luxury condos encoded into his professional genome independent of any influence from Macris.

One major problem with Planning, as with the MTA and the SFPD, is that even though voters made these departments independent, Prop E (99), Prop D (02) and Prop H (03) are disregarded by these department heads who believe that they work for the Mayor rather than for the City and calibrate their political approach accordingly.

The developers play the same role that the health insurers or big pharma play nationally, which is to finance campaigns to ensure that their views dominate the table, and in the case of San Francisco, to threaten recalls against electeds who do not toe their lines. SPUR, a developer lobbying operation, is playing the role of the Lewin group in the health care debate, as an organization owned by the industry that cranks out bogus reports and studies that are used by susceptible policy makers to keep the music playing even after it is clear that there are no chairs left. Former SPUR president Jim Chappell is now head of Chappell associates:

http://www.linkedin.com/pub/jim-chappell/10/5a/a91

Help you get approved under the plan, hell I practically WROTE the plan! And so the revolving door of development corruption spins out of control.

The Housing Action Coalition is playing the role of "Freedomworks for developers" with Tim Colen playing the role of Billy Tauzin, stoking the resentments of better off white people into a froth of astroturf, irrationally decrying elements in plans which do not exist. Colen's HAC held a "housing summit" in 2008, which was sponsored by crap mortgage crack addict Citigroup:

http://sanfrancisco.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=88&clip_id=5199

Housing fetishism is what led the US economy over the cliff. That view is still dominant within the Planning Department even though the fundamentals would indicate otherwise. California is losing population, housing prices are plummeting like a rock, and will fall even further once interest rates get raised next year. Yet the department is still leading the charge for new luxury housing.

In what other jurisdiction would homeowners countenance elected city officials adding insult to deflationary injury by taking proactive steps to put downward pressure on housing prices while housing faces tremendous deflationary head winds? Are they literally trying to bankrupt 20% of San Franciscans in order to enrich the developers?

Planning supported raising heights around my neighborhood, 16th and MIssion, in a way that would have canyonized the Marshall School at 15th and Capp. They are currently trying to figure out how to raise heights in the Mission, and will be having a forum at the Mission Cultural Center:

Tuesday September 22nd 2009
5:30 - 7:30 pm
Mission Cultural Center Gallery
2868 Mission Street (@ 24th Street)

Visit our website http://easternneighborhoods.sfplanning.org after
September 15th for additional information. If you are unable to attend,
give us a call, stop by our office or drop us a line or an email so we can
get your feedback!

Planning can't figure out how to produce a comprehensive plan that limits growth in order to keep the impacts of development from overwhelming the crumbling infrastructure that we all have to live with, but they can figure out how to entitle higher luxury condos that will end up snarling Muni and costing taxpayers money by draining more services than they generate in taxes.

-marc

Posted by marcos on Sep. 15, 2009 @ 12:49 pm