The real legacy of SF’s planning director

Displacement and gentrification -- while the Planning Department sought to 'accommodate growth.'

Editor’s note: The Chron yesterday presented its report on the record of John Rahaim, who ran SF’s City Planning Department for the past 12 years. We have a different perspective.

John Rahaim was planning director during a period that saw the worst displacement of vulnerable SF residents since the days of Justin Herman.

This happened not through demolition by the ruthless Redevelopment Agency bulldozers of that era, but through gentrification by the soulless “invisible hand of the marketplace” and its accompanying amoral “investment” of today.

Gentrification and displacement was happening just down the street from the Planning Department’s HQ

Because “Accommodating Growth” was the top priority of the Planning Department under Rahaim. But “Community Stabilization” was and is only an empty promise. And the morality of growth itself and its consequences was never even a question.

When you go through the list of city programs in the Planning Department’s draft Community Stabilization Strategy, there are several dozen great-sounding concepts. But all of them have only a tenth of the money they would need to make a real difference – money for housing programs, small business programs, employment programs, etc.

It’s the Planning Department’s responsibility to say that! But it never did and never does. instead … these utterly inadequate programs are cited to justify continued development approvals.

When you go through the requirements and the limits for new development, there are many ideas for leveraging the huge new values created for land owners and developers through zooming rents, up zonings, streamlining, and state density bonuses — but most are rejected or greatly watered down due to financial “infeasibility” for developers despite those windfall land profits.

(Just wait to see the upcoming official Planning Department reaction to the now-proposed increase in the Jobs/Housing Linkage fee for new office buildings and hotels— still only 36 percent of the amounts actually needed to build the necessary affordable housing according to the Planning Department’s own studies. That’s “infeasible,” of course!)

It’s the Planning Department’s professional and moral responsibility to say “no” sometimes until windfall land profits are replaced by needed new public benefit resources. But it never did and never does. Instead … “infeasibility” is cited to justify continued development approvals.

Get the picture?

Bottom line: so even when weak stabilization plans are undeniably failing our city’s people and their communities, the development still must go ahead at the San Francisco Planning Department — no matter the community destruction that will result.

Because the real truth is WEALTH CREATION FOR THE ELITE and their professional servants is ALWAYS TOP PRIORITY! Not our people. Not their communities. They just get what little may — or may never — “trickle down.”

And to add insult to injury, Rahaim’s department continues to quibble about the impact of new development in vulnerable neighborhoods accelerating their gentrification. The planners want “more data” to prove it even happens — even though it’s happening right in front of their very own eyes just blocks away from Planning Department headquarters.

But saddest of all … there is no reason to expect the next “nationwide search” for a director of planning to be any different or better. Nationally, they’ve all been drinking the Accommodating Growth Kool-Aid their whole careers. They just don’t have the moral courage to say: “Stop!”