BREAKING: Breed’s Rent Board appointee resigns

Facing a possible rejection at the Board of Supes, Reese Isbell steps down and the mayor appoints a respected tenant lawyer to the job.

Reese Isbell, Mayor London Breed’s recent appointment to the Rent Board, resigned that position this afternoon, meaning the full Board of Supes won’t be voting Monday on rejecting his appointment.

Breed appointed Kent Qian, a lawyer who serves as a non-voting alternate, to the voting position as a tenant representative; he was sworn in this afternoon. Isbell will serve as a board alternate.

Mayor’s Office bungles appointment, has to back down.

Qian, who works as a deputy city attorney in Oakland, is a former staffer with the National Housing Law Project.

Tenant activists said this was a significant victory. Tommi Mecca, who works with the Housing Rights Committee, and Deepa Varma, director of the Tenants Union, issued this statement:

Thanks to strong advocacy and organizing by tenants, as well as a great deal of concern voiced by supervisors, we will now have two experienced tenants rights lawyers to represent us on the Rent Board Commission. This couldn’t be more important in San Francisco right now, given the continuing displacement and affordability crisis. We appreciate this change of heart from the administration. However, we are still concerned about the breakdown in the process, and look forward to a more direct relationship in the future, in which the mayor consults with tenants rights groups about commission appointments, as mayors have done for the past 40 years, regardless of political affiliation.

The entire episode was clearly bungled by the Breed Administration, which failed to do the standard outreach to tenant groups before making the appointment. Tenant groups, including the Tenants Union, the Housing Rights Committee, and the Community Tenants Association, contacted the supervisors to ask that that the appointment be rejected. Sup. Hillary Ronen called a Rules Committee hearing.

At first, Breed refused to back down – but as of today, it was not clear that she had the four votes she would need to keep Isbell on the board. Seven supervisors were prepared to vote no, and one more would have been enough to overturn her decisions. That would have been a major defeat.

In fact, if Isbell survived only on a 4-7 vote, it wouldn’t have looked good.

The entire episode has also raised the question of whether the mayor should control all the appointments to the Rent Board. That worked fine for 40 years when mayors across the political spectrum honored the process and worked with both tenant and landlord groups.

If Breed’s not going to do that, there may be a move to split the appointments between the mayor and the supervisors.