Planning Department staffer seeking director’s position

Planning Department veteran Miriam Chion has submitted an application to fill the position of the department’s director, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

Chion for the past year has served as the department’s Housing and Equity Manager.

She is one of 16 candidates reportedly vying for the position. In September, long-time Planning Department Director John Rahaim announced his retirement after more than a decade in office — he continues to serve in the role until his replacement is hired.

Former Planning Commissioner Rich Hillis also stepped down from the commission in September to apply for Rahaim’s job, the Examiner reported previously.

Last week, more than a dozen community and tenant groups penned a letter urging the San Francisco Planning Commission and Mayor London Breed to hire an “equity champion” as the Planning Department’s next director, citing the need for a representative for low-income and communities of color, which they said have “traditionally and systematically” been hit hardest by the departments’ strategies and policies.

Chion, who is of Peruvian-Chinese descent and was born and raised in Lima, Peru, immigrated to the United States in 1987. She speaks fluent Spanish.

She first joined the Planning Department as a planner in 1989, but left in 2004 to teach at a number of universities, including U.C. Berkeley and Clark University in Massachusetts, where she developed a masters program in community development.

She also served as the director of planning and research for the Association of Bay Area Governments, a regional planning agency, from 2009 to 2017, and as Policy Director for the Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative in 2018.

In her most recent role as housing and equity manager, Chion is responsible for designing housing affordability strategies and has shaped the Mission 2020 Action Plan and cultural districts.

As director, Chion would be overseeing a department of some 240 planners.

San Francisco is experiencing the convergence of multiple challenges, said Chion, including “economic polarization, increasing housing cost and in-fill development with less funding from the state and federal government.”

“What we are facing is a structural urban challenge that requires strategic structural response from planning,” she said.

Chion said that her priority as director would be to build “trust across communities,” and identified her strength as having “the [cultural] competency and ability to engage and have conversations in each community,” including the “development community, equity community and philanthropy community.”

“There are a lot of changes happening in The City right now and that won’t stop,” she said. “We have to listen to communities about the solutions they are crafting within their own communities.”

An issue that she plans to address if selected as director is the loss of Single Room Occupancy hotel units in Chinatown, on which the community relies to meet its housing needs.

“We are at-risk of losing that housing stock, either to another income group or because it has not been well maintained…some of the strategies will need to target that,” Chion said.

The Planning Commission on Thursday reviewed candidates’ resumes in a closed session meeting, and another meeting is scheduled for Nov. 21. Interviews with candidates are expected to begin on Dec. 5.

The commission will forward a total of three applications to Breed, who will select The City’s next planning director.

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

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