Power struggle for Planning Commission erupts

A behind-the-scenes battle for power on the Planning Commission came to the forefront after members of the board publicly accused the Mayor’s Office of trying to orchestrate who presided over the group.

At Thursday’s commission meeting, Vice President Christina Olague took issue with the Mayor’s Office, saying that members of Mayor Gavin Newsom’s staff had approached others on the commission in an effort to install commission members appointed by the mayor as president and vice president.

“I don’t think members of the Mayor’s Office should interfere with an independent commission,” Olague, who was appointed by then-Board of Supervisors President Matt Gonzalez, said at the meeting. She added that she did not believe Newsom was “party” to the “pressure,” after talking to him about it Tuesday.

At Thursday’s meeting, commission President Dwight Alexander, appointed by Newsom in 2004, requested that any vote on the commission’s leadership be delayed until February, contrary to established rules. When the commission members nonetheless voted to maintain the existing leadership that keeps Alexander in the president’s seat and Olague as vice president.

Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard denied that members of Newsom’s staff pressured commissioners.

The commission president presides over meetings and has control of the group’s calendar, allowing that person to focus on subjects of interest to them, according to commission Secretary Linda Avery. The Planning Commission is comprised of seven members: four appointed by the mayor and three appointed by the Board of Supervisors president, with one representative from each making up the president and vice president typically, according to sources.

In recent years, the once-contentious commission has become cooperative, according to several commission members. Sources inside City Hall, who did not want to be identified, confirmed to The Examiner that the calls were made from theMayor’s Office to some commissioners.

“We all know what’s happening here,” said Commissioner Hisashi Sugaya. Sugaya, who was appointed by Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, voted in support of keeping the status quo.

With the exception of Alexander, the other three mayoral appointees — William Lee, Michael Antonini and Sue Lee — voted against keeping the current leadership in place. Non-mayoral appointees, Olague, Kathrin Moore and Sugaya, along with Alexander, approved the motion.

dsmith@examiner.com

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