Mayor Breed’s choice for Planning Commission clears first hurdle

Appointee Susan Diamond says she ‘wants to hear from all communities’

Mayor London Breed’s appointee to the Planning Commission Susan Diamond heads to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday for a confirmation vote.

Diamond would serve the unexpired portion of Rich Hillis’ four-year term ending June 2020 after Hillis vacated his post in September to try his luck at becoming the next Planning Department director.

The commission is currently weighing which three people to submit to Breed to pick from to become the next Planning Director.

The vote Tuesday comes after the board’s Rules Committee sent Diamond’s appointment to the full board for consideration in a 2-1 vote without a recommendation.

“There is so many differences of opinion that we want to leave it to every board member to make their own choice about whether or not to support your candidacy,” Supervisor Hillary Ronen, Rules Committee chair, told Diamond after the vote. Ronen also said, “I am prepared to support your appointment today.”

Supervisor Shamann Walton voted in opposition because he wanted to support Diamond with a recommendation for approval at the board. “I definitely will be supporting this appointment,” Walton said. He praised her for her accomplishments working with nonprofits.

In 2011, Diamond formed her own law firm representing nonprofits undertaking what she said were “transformative real estate projects.” Her clients included Temple Emanu-El and Jewish Community Center of San Francisco.

Prior to her legal work for nonprofits, Diamond worked for a big law firm for 28 year, beginning in 1983 with Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison LLP, “representing companies seeking entitlements for their headquarters and other facilities around the Bay Area.”

Supervisor Gordon Mar made the motion to send the appointment forward without a recommendation. “We need a Planning Commission that shares the experiences of those being displaced, that looks like the communities we are losing,” he said.

Mar’s comments came after members of groups like PODER and SOMCAN criticized Diamond for not having reached out with them nor worked with them in the past. They also argued she was ill-suited to represent communities of color facing displacement.

Charlie Sciammas, an organizer with PODER, a nonprofit that advocates for low-income Latinos in the Mission and Excelsior neighborhoods, said that Diamond has no track record for “protecting and stabilizing vulnerable communities and developing authentic dialogue with those communities most impacted by development decisions.”

After listening to her critics, Diamond said that “my decision to leave private practice representing for-profit developers was a statement about what I thought was important going forward.”

“No, I haven’t worked directly with any of the people or the organizations who spoke out against me today, but I will be the kind of commissioner who has an open door,” Diamond said. “Not all commissioners take calls. I will be one of those commissioners who wants to hear from all communities ahead of time.”

Ronen noted that “underlining” many of the concerns expressed about Diamond is a “fear” about who will become the next director of the Planning Department.

“There is a lot of fear that one or more of those names won’t be someone who is going to have this equity lens and this anti-displacement lens at the forefront of his or her mind. That’s a concern for me as well,” Ronen said. “I don’t know how much, quite frankly, the person that we appoint at the Board of Supervisors is going to impact that.”

She added, “Mr. Hillis was one of the more moderate voices on that commission. I don’t think that Ms. Diamond’s appointment will lead us further in that direction.”

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