John Rahaim set to take over as S.F. planning director

Facing serious shortfalls in affordable housing, new plans for downtown skyscrapers and potential redevelopment in The City’s eastern neighborhoods, John Rahaim will takeover as San Francisco planning director in 2008.

The Mayor’s Office announced Wednesday that Rahaim, the 52-year-old planning director in Seattle, would replace Dean Macris, who originally signed on to be interim planning director for three months but held the position for three years.

Macris will stay on as a special adviser to Rahaim, who is expected to start in early January.

In an interview with The Examiner, Rahaim said he toured The City with Mayor Gavin Newsom and other officials three weeks ago and was struck by the prospect of running a planning department in a city undergoing such rapid development.

“There’s an incredible opportunity to develop the old industrial areas along the eastern shore and in Mission Bay,” Rahaim said. “Most big cities don’t have that type of land bank available for development.”

During his eight-year career in Seattle, Rahaim guided a major revision of the downtown zoning that allowed for large increases in residential growth, a prevalent issue in The City, where there are five or six applications for new downtown office high-rises.

Rahaim worked on reclaiming the Seattle Central Waterfront with plans to remove the elevated Highway 99 viaduct, which is elevated much the way The Embarcadero once was. He also revamped major areas such as the South Lake Union community, where he focused on bringing in biotechnology developments, which The City is attempting to do at Mission Bay.

But Rahaim said he is well aware of the debates The City has over new skyscrapers and that those discussions were natural.

“There are places where they fit and others where they don’t. So you have to look at whether high-rises are appropriate in an area or some other form of development,” Rahaim said.

Gabriel Metcalf, the executive director of San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, a public policy think tank, saidRahaim “has his work cut out for him” and will have to be a bridge builder between planning staff, the Planning Commission, the Board of Supervisors and the mayor.

“That’s something that’s maybe harder in San Francisco than in other cities because of our political culture,” Metcalf said.

Rahaim said he was up for the task. “San Francisco’s politics may be different than [Seattle’s], but it’s a matter of degree,” he said. “There’s a high level of involvement and interest and sophistication on planning issues here.”

John Rahaim at a glance


AGE: 52


» B.S. in architecture, University of Michigan

» M.A. in architecture, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee


» Department of City Planning, associate director, Pittsburgh, 1984-99

» Founding executive director of the Seattle Office of Urban Design and executive director of the Design Commission, 1999-2002

» Seattle planning director, 2002-present

– Source: City of Seattle

Ken Garcia contributed to this report.

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