Progressive supervisors call for SF planning commissioner to resign

UPDATE Dec. 24, 2019: Since this column published Monday night, Supervisor Hillary Ronen has become the fourth member of the Boards of Supervisors to call for Dennis Richards to step down from the Planning Commission.

Ronen said in a statement: “I have been a big fan of Commissioner Richards and respect his years of good work. However Planning Commissioners should not be removing rent controlled units from our housing supply even if the intent was to make the property safer. I spoke with Commissioner Richards and told him he should resign from the planning commission.”

The original story follows below:

Apparently flipping homes and buying out tenants is enough to earn the ire even of your allies in this city.

San Francisco’s elected leaders are calling for Planning Commissioner Dennis Richards’ ouster after it was revealed he used “buyouts” to urge the tenants of a home he purchased to leave before fixing it up and seeking to sell it for a significantly higher price.

He also got into a very public dispute with the Department of Building Inspection after inspectors alleged he was doing work on the home beyond the scope of his permits, causing him to step away from his position last week.

Now, perhaps unexpectedly, it is Richards’ own political allies from the Board of Supervisors’ progressive flank calling for him to step down.

Newly sworn-in Supervisor Dean Preston led the charge Monday as the first progressive to break ranks and publicly call out Richards.

“It is not ok for a SF Planning Commissioner to buy a building occupied by rent controlled tenants, buy out the tenants, and flip the building,” Preston wrote on Twitter. “While I have great respect for his intellect, hard work, and independence as a planning commissioner, I think that Commissioner Richards should resign from the commission.”

Then two other dominoes fell: After I contacted every supervisor to ask them their position on Richards, Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Matt Haney both told me they also wish Richards would step down. Haney followed with a tweet.

Richards is under a microscope from tenants and housing advocates for buying out the tenants of a Mission District home he and an associate bought for $2.7 million and, after investing in some improvements, intended to sell for $7.5 million. He paid the tenants $25,000, $75,000, $75,000 and $125,000, respectively.

Richards also failed to file those buyouts with The City, as required by local ordinance.

In The City, where rent is sky-high and otherwise humble homes sell for millions, these maneuvers from a planning commissioner who has himself railed against speculators and evictors came across as the height of hypocrisy.

“The thing that’s been unclear through this whole tumult is the fact that Commissioner Richards and his partner did not register buyout agreements with The City as required by law,” Peskin told me by phone, Monday.

(I should add Peskin was speaking to me despite undergoing hip surgery and feeling no small amount of physical pain. Obviously, this issue rose to the level of taking the call.)

“I appreciate Supervisor Preston’s recognition of that fact and join him in his admonition,” Peskin added. “He should resign.”

Haney also had respect for Richards’ past work, but hoped he would see how this latest news made keeping his position difficult.

“I believe he should step down,” Haney told me Monday. ”I’ve worked with Commissioner Richards in the past and have respect for the work he’s done, but it’s clear to me he should no longer serve on the Planning Commission. I think engaging in tenant buyouts and flipping houses are not activities compatible with being a Planning Commissioner.”

Since Richards’ tenant practices exploded into headlines, community advocates have been floating the names of long-standing tenants rights advocates, including ones from the Mission District. My fellow San Francisco Examiner columnist, accurately seeing this desire bubble up in the community, wrote extensively about the need for a more diverse planning commission.

Haney agreed that people from the community are champing at the bit to weigh in on San Francisco’s most important commission in the current rental and housing crisis.

“There are a lot of folks out there with extensive land use experience that the community would be excited about and could step up and take his place,” Haney said.

The rest of the Board of Supervisors were contacted Monday. If they send a statement along I’ll update this column.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter.

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