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News + PoliticsRemembering Bob Planthold, activist for sunshine and disability rights

Remembering Bob Planthold, activist for sunshine and disability rights

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Upon learning that fellow good-government activist Bob Planthold had died, Maxine Anderson reminded associates of an old African proverb: “When an elder dies, a library burns to the ground.”

Planthold died in his apartment on Jan. 27. He was 73. As of this writing, the medical examiner had not determined the cause of death. A funeral service is set for Friday, Feb. 11, at 2 p.m. at the San Francisco Columbarium, 1 Loraine Court.

Bob Planthold testifies as the Board of Supes. Luke Thomas photo.

Planthold forcefully and effectively advocated for the disabled community, especially when it came to public-transit access, government transparency and participation in the political process. He was the only person to have served both on San Francisco’s open-government watchdog commission, the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, and on the city’s Ethics Commission,

“Bob’s was a rich, interesting library from which we were fortunate to borrow from time to time,” said Allyson Washburn, who chairs the steering committee of San Franciscans for Sunshine, a group hoping to strengthen the city’s government transparency laws. Anderson is one of a handful of people on the committee. (Reporter’s disclosure: I also am on the committee.)

Planthold “brought a breadth and depth of knowledge about SF governance and the [Sunshine Ordinance] to our efforts, as well as ideas—and reminders—for how to move us along,” Washburn said. “He was sorely missed when he stepped aside recently because of his work on the Civil Grand Jury.”

Bruce B. Brugmann, like Planthold one of the original 11 members of the task force, described him as “the classic representative for decades of the San Francisco citizen at City Hall. His passion was open government and a fair shake for the little guy. … Bob was disabled and a relentless advocate for disabled rights in City Hall and beyond.”

Brugmann, the editor and publisher emeritus of the Bay Guardian local news weekly, is also on the San Franciscans for Sunshine Steering Committee.

Paul Melbostad, a local lawyer who served with Planthold on the Ethics Commission, recalled that the two of them refused to be warned off of looking into allegations that then-district attorney candidate Kamala Harris’s campaign organization had violated a spending-ceiling pledge.

Planthold “was resolute that we had to enforce the law against her the same as anyone else,” Melbostad said.

Dennis Herrera, executive director of the city Public Utilities Commission, called Planthold “a good-government advocate in the truest sense of the word.” During the recently ended two decades that Herrera was city attorney, Planthold “was someone who was constantly in my ear. And it was always in  an ethical way,” he said.

Randy Lyman, who covered sunshine issues for the Bay Guardian in the late 1990s, remembered Planthold “as a strong ally of open government. He was always aware of the benefits of open government for disabled people. He was a very conscientious member of the task force, who took matters very seriously.”

As if to underscore Lyman’s recollection, task force Chair Bruce Wolfe noted that Planthold, “in probably Bob’s last official action, … filed a complaint with SOTF that was heard in December 2021, in which he prevailed with … two actions by SOTF. His life’s work has always been on access, so his complaint with SOTF is fitting.”

Task Force member Jennifer Wong said she would always remember Planthold “as a passionate and staunch fighter for government openness and transparency. He always put his whole self into his volunteerism and you could hear it in the way he spoke, see it in the way he carried himself, and even feel it through his emails! His dedication to disability rights also shone through – even in his requests of when/where [San Franciscans for Sunshine] meetings were scheduled. I always appreciated this subtle way of making sure that all of us thought about accessibility more actively. Bob was an amazing person, and he and his work will be sorely missed.”

“Bob was a true activist for the causes he supported,” said former task force member Doug Comstock, who edits the local news website Westside Observer. “Always at meetings at City Hall during the late ’80s and continuing to the present, he was a moving force for the sunshine initiative, but devoted all his energy recently to transportation issues. I often encountered him during the pandemic on the 43 Masonic or the 22 Fillmore, where he continued to exhort me, and anyone who would listen to fight for improved MUNI services. I would love to see a bench dedicated to Bob on the (Board of) Supervisors’ side of the second floor of City Hall, where he spent so much time.”

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