San Francisco is on the verge of increasing reporting requirements for those paid to influence city decision-makers, but some who expedite permits for housing developers and business owners are fighting the proposal for requiring routine disclosure of their City Hall contacts.
San Francisco’s permitting process is notoriously cumbersome and confusing, something
small-business owners, developers and small-property owners often complain about. That challenge has created a demand for so-called permit expediters, those who know the ins and outs of The City’s government process, particularly the Planning Department, Department of Public Works and Department of Building Inspection.
Proposed legislation from Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, which was approved Thursday by the board’s Government Audit and Oversight Committee, would, for the first time, require permit expediters to register with the Ethics Commission and report whom they meet with on a regular basis. It is one provision of Chiu’s larger proposal to increase lobbying transparency.
“There have been numerous allegations and investigations of whether there have been individuals who have inappropriately influenced the process, and no one understands who has actually influenced the process,” he said.
But critics said the proposed requirements would increase costs of the permitting service and slow economic growth. Permit consultant Wendy Aragon was critical of being lumped in with more traditional lobbying activity.
“I make around $60,000 a year,” Aragon said. “If I was a lobbyist, I’d be living a lot larger than that. I provide a service that is administrative and solely that, not to influence anybody else.”
Jim Angelus, owner of Bacon Bacon who faced complaints and permit issues related to business odor, expressed concerns about increased costs to have permits expedited. “I don’t think I’d be here today if I wasn’t able to get through the permitting process. I had to hire a permit consultant,” Angelus said.
Chiu decided to postpone a full board vote on the legislation from June 3 to June 10 to allow for extra time to discuss possible amendments to address concerns of the permit consultants. However, he noted reporting requirements were already relaxed from what he had initially proposed.
Instead of monthly reports, permit expediters would now need to file quarterly reports. And instead of reporting every single contact made, reporting would require the name of each person met with but not the specific times.
“The idea that there be no oversight and no transparency in this area is just not one that I’d support,” Chiu added.
A previous provision that would have required nonprofits to report their contacts with elected officials was eliminated at the urging of nonprofit leaders.
The proposed legislation does broaden the definition of lobbying activity and would eliminate an attorney exemption under the existing law. Another provision would require a developer to disclose donations to nonprofits who have attempted to influence The City on the developer’s project.