New planning director is Newsom’s call

The search for a permanent city planning director is now in the hands of Mayor Gavin Newsom, who is reviewing three candidates presented to him by the Planning Commission.

Responsible for shaping The City’s development policies as well as managing its planning department staff, San Francisco has not had a permanent director since November 2004, when The City’s former planning director, Dean Macris, agreed to temporarily take the job.

“This is my third time I’ve served as director,” said Macris, 75, who first took on the job in 1980, during the tenure of then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein. “My earlier thought was I’d be in the job for three or four months.”

Macris said he was eventually charged with rebuilding the department, which at the time was struggling under staff shortages, a backlog of permits awaiting approval and public distrust of the system’s fairness.

The search for a new planning director has been a confidential process that, until now, has been conducted by the Planning Commission. The names of the three candidates on the final shortlist handed to the mayor a few weeks ago have not been made public.

Newsom said he felt the weight of the decision in front of him.

“Land use is at the heart of governing any city, and issues of land use are the most critical and controversial,” said Newsom, who said he expected to make a decision in the coming weeks.

San Francisco’s political battles about development projects are legendary, often pitting homeowner groups, environmentalists, affordable housing advocates, “smart-growth” advocates and community activists against one another.

Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, a public policy think tank, said the job of a planning director is “especially hard in San Francisco because people do not agree with one another about what we want The City to be like in the future.”

Andrew Ball, president of Webcor Builders, which has its corporate offices in San Mateo and San Francisco, said politicians and special interest groups in The City have a history of getting in the way of Planning Department decisions.

“We have to have a process that everybody is entitled to, to be able to rely on the consistency of the laws that are in place, and have a fair, open and transparent process,” Ball said.

beslinger@examiner.com

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