San Francisco Planning Department Director John Rahaim announced his resignation in September. (Courtesy photo)

SF community, tenant groups want an “equity champion” to head planning department

More than a dozen community and tenants rights groups are urging the San Francisco Planning Commission and Mayor London Breed to hire an “equity champion” as the Planning Department’s next director.

In September, longtime Planning Director John Rahaim announced his retirement after more than a decade in office. He will continue to serve in the role until a replacement is found.

In a letter penned to Breed and Planning Commission President Myrna Melgar on Thursday, 14 local organizations demanded Rahaim’s successor be representative for low-income and communities of color, which have “traditionally and systematically been hit first and worst by plans, strategies and decisions of City Planners and Departmental policies.”

The letter also calls on City officials to reinforce and expand existing neighborhood-stabilization programs, ensuring that a “racial- and social-equity lens is applied to every step the department takes moving forward.”

“It is time for City policy to prioritize frontline communities of color who are bearing the brunt of this wave of realtor and bank speculation, unbridled development and environmental injustice,” the groups, which include Glide, the San Francisco Tenants Union, the Mission Economic Development Agency, Chinatown Community Development Corporation and the Mission Housing Development Corporation, said in the letter.

Other organizations behind the ask are People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights (PODER), the Chinese Progressive Association, Communities United for Health & Justice, South of Market Community Action Network, New Community Leadership Foundation, Calle 24 Latino Cultural District, SOMA Pilipinas, Coalition on Homelessness and Causa Justa :: Just Cause.

The letter cites a decreasing African American population, which in the last 20 years has “plummeted to roughly 5 percent.” It also states that the Mission District, which historically has been home to a large Latino and immigrant population, “has lost over 25 percent of that community.”

“The City must remedy other alarming trends that face people of color across San Francisco, and this will require a deep commitment from the new planning director to work closely in a committed collaboration with the Mayor’s Office and frontline communities,” the groups said in the letter. “This commitment begins with the hiring committee’s selection of finalists and the Mayor’s selection of a director.”

Per the San Francisco Charter, the Planning Commission is responsible for providing Breed with “at least three qualified candidates for director of planning, selected on the basis of administrative and technical qualifications, with special regard for experience, training and knowledge in the field of city planning.”

The Planning Commission has received as many as 18 resumes, sources tell the San Francisco Examiner.

In September, Planning Commissioner Rich Hillis stepped down from his post to pursue the director job, the Examiner reported previously. Earlier this month, Breed appointed land use and real estate attorney Sue Diamond as Hillis’ successor, though she is not yet seated on the commission.

At least two current Planning Department employees are rumored to also have applied for the director job, although the Examiner could not independently verify this. The application process was open to candidates from across the nation.

Breed has directed the commission to take a 15-minute “Fairness in Hiring” training before reviewing the candidates’ resumes.

On Thursday, the commission initiated the hiring process for the job by setting dates for three closed session meetings on Nov. 14, 21 and Dec. 5, in which resumes will be discussed and candidates interviewed. The commission expects to select a new director by mid-December.

Commissioner Kathrin Moore said Thursday that “becoming planning director in San Francisco is probably one of the most highly coveted positions in the United States.”

Oscar Grande, of the Mission Housing Development Corporation, told the Examiner on Thursday that Hillis’ interest in the director’s job was the impetus for the groups’ letter.

“We felt like today was a good day to begin to demystify this process and let the public in on [the fact that] this is not an appointed [or] elected position. This is a selection and hiring, and the community should have a say in helping the commissioners,” said Grande. “The director has so much weight and influence over leading a workforce of over 240 planners that are or are not planning the future of our communities.”

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