Supes back ‘champion’ of working class as Planning Commission appointee

San Francisco’s newest member of the Planning Commission is expected to be Maria Theresa Imperial, who came to the United...

San Francisco’s newest member of the Planning Commission is expected to be Maria Theresa Imperial, who came to the United States from the Philippines and founded a nonprofit to help people secure affordable housing.

The Board of Supervisors Rules Committee, which is made up of Supervisors Hillary Ronen, Catherine Stefani and Gordon Mar, voted 3-0 Monday to send Imperial’s appointment to the full board for approval next week.

Ronen said that Imperial will serve on the commission as a “champion” of those who “are so often here to say that working folks, communities of color are not being prioritized and their needs are not being met by the development in this city and that something needs to change.”

Imperial, 33, who lives in District 7, co-founded the Bill Sorro Housing Program in 2009, which is described on its website as “a nonprofit that is dedicated to ensuring vulnerable members of our community have access to affordable housing in San Francisco, and we also advocate for their right to keep it.”

She said her “fight for social justice and racial equity” is informed by “the elders in the Filipino community as well as the advocates in the tenants rights movement.”

“I have been at the Planning Commission hearings many times and there are times that I feel like the Planning Commissioners don’t really ask substantial questions that actually impact the everyday life of people,” Imperial said.

She added, “I have deeply worked in the community.”

Imperial was nominated to the commission by Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee to fill the vacancy created when former board appointee Myrna Melgar resigned to run for election this November as District 7 supervisor. Melgar officially resigned Jan. 29. Imperial would serve out the remainder of Melgar’s term, which ends July 1, and would need to be reappointed to continue serving.

As board president, Yee is responsible for appointing the three legislative branch picks to serve on the Planning Commission. The board votes to confirm them. The mayor appoints the other four.

Imperial’s appointment drew support from groups like South of Market Community Action Network (SOMCAN). She had supported their opposition last year to the seven-story project that would have shadowed a northeast section of Victoria Manalo Draves Park for about eight months of the year.

SOMCAN member Raymond Castillo said that communities like the Filipino community in the South of Market have long faced the pressure of displacement. Imperial would bring the right perspective to “help advance the goals of equity, diversity and economic justice,” he said.

“She has the unique ability to understand the planning development issues that affect communities of concern, which are often not represented equitably on the Planning Commission,” Castillo said. “As a Filipina immigrant who works directly in the community to serve low income individuals and families Theresa will bring much needed on the ground experience of working people to the Planning Commission.”

Groups backing her also included Chinatown Community Development Center and a coalition of affordable housing developers, The Council of Community Housing Organizations, known as “Choo Choo.”

Many of the same groups opposed last year Mayor London Breed’s appointment of Susan Diamond to the commission.

Meanwhile, Breed has yet to announce the next planning director after John Rahaim said last year he will resign at the end of this month.

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