Richard Johns is closer to developers than preservationists

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Hearst Corp. is trying to redevelop the Chronicle Building, a project to be reviewed by the Historic Preservation Commission.
sfgate.com

The controversial mayoral appointment of attorney Richard Johns to historian's seat on the Historic Preservation Commission is being challenged in court by Gertrude Platt and a group of local preservationists calling itself The Prop. J Committee. They are asking the judge to remove Johns from his post.

“Voters approved Proposition J creating the Historic Preservation Commission for the clear and distinct purpose of protecting San Francisco's historic resources. To erode the voter-mandated qualifications and expertise on the Commission undermines the will of the voters and the intent of the law,” Platt, a 14-year member of the city's Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board (which 2008's Prop. J replaced with the commission), said last week in a prepared statement.

The group's press release noted that “Johns is a business attorney and husband to Eleanor Johns, former Mayor Willie Brown's longtime senior staffer and confidante dating back to his tenure as Speaker of the California Assembly. Mr. Johns is not an historian....No testimony or material was presented to the Board of Supervisors to establish otherwise.”

In fact, Johns' resume and comments to the Guardian two weeks ago (when he dismissed concerns about his connections to Brown as “lame” and “silly”) indicate that his only experience in historic preservation has been working for almost 20 years to preserve the Old Mint, by serving on the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society Board of Directors. But a review of that body doesn't inspire much confidence that he'll stand for historic preservation in the face of pressure from developers.

The president of the board is Jim Lazarus, who is the senior vice president for public policy at the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and a regular advocate for greater development of the city. There are other real estate and corporate representatives on that board as well, most notably Martin Cepkauskas, director of real estate for the Western Properties Division of Hearst Corporation, which is the middle of seeking city permits and approval to redevelop its historically significant Chronicle Building, where the paper has been since 1924, adjacent to Mint Plaza.

So we asked Lazarus, Johns, and Cepkauskas about what would seem to be a conflict of interests between board members who are pushing for development and John's new role as a guardian of historically significant buildings. After I e-mailed the trio, Lazarus responded to the group “I will respond to this guy,” to which Johns wrote “good” and refused to answer further Guardian inquiries.

In a phone interview, Lazarus said there was no conflict because “nobody has any financial interest in the Mint Project. It's a pure nonprofit board.” He also made the distinction that “we're concerned with preserving San Francisco history, not buildings.” But in the name preserving history, the society helped create Mint Plaza, a welcoming plaza across from the Chronicle Building that is ringed by restaurants, retail, and office space.

Lazarus personally bought Cepkauskas onto the society's board last year because the Hearst project “will have to do community mitigation and I want the Mint to be the beneficiary of that mitigation.” Yet he denies that there is a conflict between the interests of his board and the Hearst project and that of historic preservation and the public interest.

Lazarus also said “I assume Richard would like to stay on our board,” and Lazarus sees no reason why Johns should resign even though the Hearst project is likely to come before the commission later this year.

Comments

You can't stop em,

Lazarus was Feinstein's Chief of Staff. He's very transparent. I asked about a rumor that the Swells would build condos on the interior of the MInt and he laughed and told me that they couldn't go above the roof line because the first thing they did when they took control was to sell the air rights above the building. None of you are noting that in addition to Johns wife, Eleanor being a former Chief of Staff to Willie that she is presently the Executive Director of the Willie L. Brown Jr. Institute. Effectively, she's Willie's 'bag' lady.

Also, you haven't commented on Jane Kim's objections to Paul Kelly last week (appointment to some 'Relocation Appeals' commission) ... she demurred because he'd been charged a couple of times with sexual abuse while working for the D.A.'s office. What wasn't mentioned was that he was the Asst. D.A. who blew the massive Steve Castleman win over a Port case. He gave away the store and Castleman got pissed and ran for D.A. against Hallinan over it. In short, you can't trust this guy on any level. Tomorrow the Full Board will consider approving his appointment. I hope some of the Progs join Kim in opposition.

Not that Kim is a heroine. She's pushing the appointment of Leslie Katz to another commission and Katz is a total Downtown tool. Albeit, one who voted for a second slot endorsement of Kim from the D Triple C last year.

8 days til Spring Training!

h.

Posted by Guest h. brown on Feb. 07, 2011 @ 6:39 pm

Interesting parsing of the relationship to the developments, and disclosure rules: http://www.sfethics.org/ethics/2011/01/san-francisco-campaign-and-govern...

Jane Kim's vote on Johns certainly was transparent.

Let's hope this blows up. I doubt very much SF voters were sanctioning rule by Willie Brown surrogates last Nov, no matter where they fall in the political spectrum.

"Can't stop 'em?" Well, this is a test of the law for certain, because the facts are a slam dunk.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 09, 2011 @ 12:18 pm