San Francisco’s permit expediters coming out of the shadows

People hired to help clients obtain government permits have long operated in the shadows of San Francisco’s City Hall. But beginning this year, those permit expediters must register with The City and report their compensation and the city officials they contacted.

Since January, when the registration requirement went into effect, 40 permit consultants — including Mayor Ed Lee’s friend and most well-known permit expediter Walter Wong — registered with the Ethics Commission.

The requirement is beginning to reveal the scope of the industry that helps ease the process for obtaining permits for things like development or opening a business.

San Francisco’s permitting process has long been described as labyrinthine, cumbersome and very political when it comes to more significant projects. Most of the permits are issued by the Department of Building Inspection or the Planning Department.

The first-ever disclosure requirements for permit consultant were part of a broader package of transparency requirements introduced by then-Board of Supervisors President David Chiu with City Attorney Dennis Herrera. The law was approved by the board in July 2014 and signed by Mayor Ed Lee.

At the time, Chiu said, “We are not saying that these activities can’t or shouldn’t occur. We are saying that it’s important for the public to know when they occur. That transparency is critical.”

While the backers said the proposal wasn’t aimed at any one individual, it came amid criticism over the lack of transparency involving Mayor Ed Lee and his well-connected political entourage including Wong and former Mayor
Willie Brown, who only recently registered as a lobbyist but has long exerted his influence over City Hall.

Wong is among those who registered, according to the records, noting his employer as Jaidin Consulting Group, LLC. Wong’s filing lists two real estate clients for building permit applications. The clients were identified as Marx Okubo Associates, Inc, from which he received $11,530, and Polaris Pacific, from which he received $15,349.

The registration requirement doesn’t apply to all permit expeditor activity. But one must register if they are providing services for major projects, which are defined by the Ethics Commission as a real estate development project with estimated construction costs exceeding $1 million. Registration is also required for services rendered for a “minor project,” defined as those requiring a permit issued by the Entertainment Commission.

Most of the registrants are employed by one of 11 consulting firms, including Pelosi Law Group, Reuben, Junius and Rose, Hanson Bridgett, Bana Consulting and Farella Braun and Martel.

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at

Just Posted

Although The City has been shut down and largely empty, people have enjoyed gathering in places such as Dolores Park. <ins>(Al Saracevic/The Examiner)</ins>
Come back to San Francisco: The City needs you now

Time to get out of the house, people. The City’s been lonely… Continue reading

A surveillance camera outside Macy’s at Union Square on Tuesday, July 28, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Is the tide turning against surveillance cameras in SF?

Crime-fighting camera networks are springing up in commercial areas all around San… Continue reading

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott speaks alongside Mayor London Breed at a news conference about 2019 crime statistics at SFPD headquarters on Jan. 21, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
What the media gets wrong about crime in San Francisco

By Lincoln Mitchell Special to The Examiner Seemingly every day now, you… Continue reading

Vice President Kamala Harris is under fire for her comments in Guatemala earlier this week. (Examiner file photo.)
SF immigration advocates slam Kamala Harris’ ‘betrayal’ to her past

Kamala Harris’ comments earlier this week discouraging Central Americans from traveling to… Continue reading

Youth activists with the Sunrise Movement march along a rural road during their two-week trek from Paradise to San Francisco to call attention to an increase in deadly wildfires as a result of climate change on June 2, 2021. (Photo by Brooke Anderson)
Weeks-long climate march culminates on the Golden Gate Bridge

Lola’s alarm goes off most mornings before dawn. The 17-year-old high school… Continue reading

Most Read