Planning director insults neighborhood activists


John Rahaim, the director of city planning, is the featured speaker at a SPUR forum Jan. 29, and he's got a very special title for his talk. It's called "The Meanies and the War Mongers: Recent planning lessons from SF." Here's the description:

Land use planning in San Francisco is sometimes called a blood sport. John Rahaim, planning director, will discuss the last five years of planning in San Francisco during his tenure, and why that phrase is too weak. Rahaim will look at the accomplishments of planning in the city, the impacts from the last decade of neighborhood plans and the lessons from the war that will guide the Planning Department into the next decade.

Holy shit: Sounds to me like this guy, who gets very well compensated off the taxpayers' dime, has just directly insulted generations of activists who have fought some really dumb development ideas and made this a more livable city. "War mongers?" "Meanies?"Is that the term he uses for people who try to get involved in the planning process? Here's what he told me:

The purpose of the title was to be provocative.  I find it curious that you would make that assumption.  For now I will say that in my experience in SF, there are people on all sides of the development debates who would fit these descriptions.  Other than that, I invite you to the talk.

Okay, provocative is good, but seriously: He's sounding as if these aren't real issues that affect people's lives, that land-use planning isn't central to what we are as a city, and that people who don't just shut up and go along with what he wants are troublemakers. Or as former Sup. Aaron Peskin, who has spent years as a neighborhood activists, notes: "He doesn't want to admit that the best planning in this city is done by those neighborhood organizations and those activists who
challenge and shape literally every piece of planning that comes out of his office."

Rahaim is supposed to be the guy who balances the various interest groups and tries to create acceptable solutions. "Whoever he's referring to, it's demeaning and unprofessional," Peskin notes.

You can show up and ask Mr. Rahaim what he was talking about Tuesday, Jan. 29 at 6pm at the SPUR Center, 654 Mission. It's free for SPUR members and costs $10 for everyone else. Worth every penny of it.



who seek to achieve their ends not throught the ballot box but thru extra-democratic means such as direct action, protests and other strategies that seek to bypass the usually moderate wishes of the silent majority and instead impose a "rule by being noisy" regime instead.

Travel to almost any major world city and you see amazing and fabulous developments, like the waterfronts in NYC, Boston, London, Shaghai, Hong Kong and elsewhere. Sometims it seems like SF is the only city on the planet whose main ambition is to become some sort of Colonial Williamsburg of the west coast - a city frozen in time, a veritable theme park based on the idea that nothing should ever change and nothing new is ever good.

Rahaim's only crime is saying what almost everyone here thinks.

Posted by anon on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 2:33 pm

You must be a realtor

Posted by Guest on Jan. 26, 2013 @ 6:05 pm

Some how I doubt it...

Posted by Orlando Motorcycle Accident Attorney on Jun. 11, 2013 @ 11:28 am

It sounds to me to implement terminology , who gets very well compensated off the taxpayers' dime

Posted by Makita Power Tools For Sale on Apr. 19, 2013 @ 2:37 am

If we can just relax about that as a society and as a city, there are advantages to having that experiment. There are things about the building that don’t work on the street; I wish it was different on some of the street frontages, but all in all, I actually think it’s an exciting new building for the city.

Posted by Jada Pirson on Jul. 01, 2013 @ 10:58 pm

Don't be so sensitive.

Posted by The Commish on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 3:07 pm

This is really tremendous "For now I will say that in my experience in SF, there are people on all sides of the development debates who would fit these descriptions. "

Posted by Buy Bosch Power Tools on Apr. 03, 2013 @ 12:06 am

Only in SF: where your neighbors dictate how and when to use what you paid for, no matter how fucking stupid or idiotic said neighbors are. Fucking Bullshit.

Posted by Not Marcos on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 3:12 pm

Go to Chicago where the architectural decisions are weighed heavily and a planning commission decides whether a new building will fit into the landscape. The downtown is beautiful!

Then we have NY, which will sell the city plots off to the highest bidder with no oversight. There you have a mishmash of horrendous buildings. One is a irregular silver Frank Gehry ripoff (cooper Union) the next is a blueglass and steel minimalist approach sticking out 200 feet over everything else near it. It makes no sense.

Go buy some land in Idaho, join a militia and a gun and live out your libertarian property fantasies somewhere else. We like our little community here.

Posted by Sigmarlin on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 4:17 pm

Do you think that NIMBY bureaucrats designed Florence, Venice, Paris, Kyoto?

No, bureaucrats designed Ottawa, Brasilia, Berne and DC.

Posted by anon on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 4:37 pm

I have to take issue with both your sense of aesthetics and your facts.

In know for fact that Paris and Kyoto were extensively planned- Kyoto was restructured in the 16th century according to a master plan by Toyotomi Hideoshi, and a "bureaucrat" named Georges-Eugene Haussmann extensively reworked Paris in the 1860s (though I think he'd prefer the label of "civic planner" rather than "bureaucrat").

Don't know much about Berne, but I find Brasilia, Ottawa, and DC to be beautiful (at least the parts of DC that actually *were* planned, rather than the surrounding areas that grew all around those parts). Ottawa is extremely clean, and consistently wins awards as having among the best quality of life in the world. Incidentally, a quick google search reveals that Bern does too. Brasilia is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and incidentally occupies the top spot for quality of life and top spot for UN HDI in all of Latin America.

Designing liveable cities is a primary goal of urban planners. If you look at the cases of Ottawa, Bern, and Brasilia, we can say without a doubt, objective achieved! And these are the cities you hold up as failures? We should all be so lucky to live in such failed communities!

Other cities which were planned include some of the most beautiful in the world: Amsterdam, Versailles, St. Petersburg.

And just as a side note, the cities of the world which don't have extensive urban planning by "bureaucrats," but are still regarded as attractive, (besides being so few and far between that you really struggle to come up with good examples to support your point), got that way generally because they have many historic structures which so-called NIMBYs fought to preserve. Just like the "NIMBYs" fighting for historic preservation here in San Francisco, against the forces of runaway development.

But just as a counterpoint, let me give some real examples of *actual* cities without much planning or zoning: Houston and Dallas. Wow. Yuck.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 5:38 pm

Brasilia. They would much rather live in "accidental" cities like New Orleans, Rio, Amsterdam.

A guy in a suit never approached the level of beauty that exists in a city designed more by chaos and nature.

Posted by anon on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 6:03 pm

Your argument is bizarre. If you're making the argument that more people want to live there because those cities are larger, there are several problems with your arguments and your examples.

Amsterdam has fewer people than San Francisco, and there's nothing accidental about Amsterdam. Extensive urban planning went into its whole canal network, and which neighborhoods would go where. Have you ever been to Amsterdam? It even looks like a planned city, because it *IS* a planned city -a beautiful planned city with great quality of life.

The reasons why people wind up living where they do are much more multifaceted than your facile cherry-picked examples imply. I could just as easily say that lots of people live in Paris or St. Petersburg... or Amsterdam (it is the largest city in the Netherlands, and it's planned). And while Brasilia and Ottawa aren't the most populous cities in their countries, it's certainly not because they're planned. Those cities have great quality of life, and people want to live in cities with good quality of life. It's idiotic to suggest that because the total population of the favelas (slums) of Rio or Sao Paolo exceed the total population of Brasilia, then people must prefer living in the favelas to a nice apartment in Brasilia with electricity and clean water.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 8:51 pm

cities planned by some committee of men in suits.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 6:54 am

Until the men in suits come along with a pocket full of cash and insist that the accidental cities need to be replaced with a craptacular condo monoculture.

Posted by socram on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 7:12 am

the NIMBY activists and the housing activists.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 8:07 am

WE don't need housing. Everyone reading this is housed. Few reading this can afford to buy or rent in a new development. Developers need to build housing to make money, they buy elected officials, pay consultants, attorneys and architects and force us to cover their bad bets.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 8:16 am

endlessly whine that affordable housing is being eroded and that rent control isn't working and that not enough BMR housing is being built, blah blah.

This is why the left is ineffective in SF - they all keep arguing with each other. Every non-profit is an island.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 8:46 am

The housing activists are affordable housing employees who want their own meal ticket paid for before everything else.

Developers and the City pay the nonprofits' freight and the nonprofiteers dance with them what brung 'em.


Posted by marcos on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 9:08 am

someone earns a crust on it. Without development, we'd have no Moscone Center, no Westfield mall, no Mission Bay, no ball park etc.

Why would that be better?

Posted by anon on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 9:34 am

The City and taxpayers gets to cover the externalized costs of development, we gets little in return.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 9:47 am

provide things and services that I need.

If there were no need, they would not get built in the first place.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 10:00 am

Housing gets built by fly by night developers who pay off politicians to game the system, not because anyone wants the craptacular condos that the crap down on our landscape.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 10:11 am

If there wasn't, they wouldn't get built.

It indirectly helps the poorer by relieving demand for existing lower-priced housing stock.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 12:21 pm

Troll waves hands instead of making his case. There is no evidence that new luxury construction drives down the price of existing housing to the point where it is "affordable" by the poor.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 12:34 pm

I said it helps, as does anything that increases supply.

Not everyone can afford to live in the world's favorite city.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 12:40 pm

It helps developers.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 25, 2013 @ 10:29 am

Recursive logic: In a capitalist system, if there is no demand at the offered amount, prices fall to the level where there is. That is the market rate. It is called supply and demand. The only way to support a higher than demand-based market rate is through subsidies.

Saying that it relieves pressure on the poor is another fallacy - that there are sufficient products at every price level to meet every need. You gloss over this by externalizing the cost: The cheaper units you suggest the poor move to are not part of the market you reference. If a family has to move to Stockton for affordable housing, they are no longer San Francisco renters.

Posted by Guestest on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 1:33 pm

There are plenty of affordable homes in the Bay Area that might suit those of lower means. the problem is the balkanization of the Bay Area into little fiefdoms, meaning that people see towns as competitors and rivals rather than just suburbs of each other.

San Francisco is really "downtown Bay Area" and lots of people would not normally expect to be able to afford downtown prices.

Indeed, Oakland's rent are probably half of SF's and it is just minutes away. But people have a sense of entitlement and think they "deserve" to live in SF. They don't.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 1:46 pm

the Bay Area.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 2:29 pm
Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 2:55 pm

I would love it if there was no Moscone Center especially if the housing was still there instead of being torn down! No Mission Bay?If by that you mean that Mission Bay would not have been filled in with the remains of Rincon Hill so that the Railroad Barons could construct their rail yards, I would be really down for that, and if you left Mission Creek above ground and day-lighted Islais Creek as well, that would be great! No I mean really great!
Westfield Center you may recall used to be the Emporium and would be a trade I would go for in a second. And the ballpark that really is just a yuppie anchor-baby machine, well I like it but I would also prefer to have the Seals Stadium back instead of Potrero Center and then we could put the ball park back at Valencia and 16th, smaller ball-barks that felt more neighborhood like. Yeah I am liking this plan of yours alot!

Posted by Guest on Jan. 26, 2013 @ 6:21 pm

Seals Stadium was at 16th & Bryant. My Gramps was a Seals fan & it broke his heart that the Seals were snubbed by MLB, which is why I always preferred the 9ers to the Giants

Posted by pete moss on Apr. 03, 2013 @ 7:50 am

and the developers will lose money.

That doesn't seem to happen, ergo your assertion about a lack of "need" is false.

Posted by anon on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 8:56 am

WE are not buying that housing because WE do not need that housing and WE cannot afford that housing.

THEY build that housing so that THEY can sell that housing to OTHERS who need and can afford that housing.

Did you not learn the difference between pronouns and objects in English class?

Post prop-13 education strikes again. Problem?

Posted by marcos on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 9:06 am

From 600K TIC's to 6 million dollar penthouses.

You appear to be arguing that no home should be built if you personally cannot afford to buy it.

Posted by anon on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 9:32 am
Posted by Eddie on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 9:42 am

in any half-decent neighborhood where you'd actually want to live. Average sale price is around 750K or so.

Posted by anon on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 9:56 am

for all levels. Only a minority of San Francisco residents can afford a $600,000 apartment.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 10:07 am

which is the typical couple in SF now. That's just 3 times their annual combined income

Posted by Guest on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 10:17 am

Maybe in your neighborhood. Maybe among new residents. But not citywide.

The data are from 2009, but there's no way the median household income has increased from $70,000 to $200,000 since then.

This data is more recent. Median household income is about $73,000 as of 2011.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 10:35 am

I thought the typical tech workers had millions in stock options proceeds with which to purchase the home of their dreams in cash? Make up your mind!

Posted by marcos on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 10:46 am

Aside from BMR, the lowest unit on the market is $550K at the SOMA Grand for only $826/sf!

Posted by marcos on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 10:08 am

That's probably a studio or small 1BR though. Which of course is all the typical new arrival IT worker needs.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 10:18 am

The best part is the view of the affordable units at Trinity Plaza from the $2400/mo unit.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 10:23 am

What a trollish lie. Developers build housing to make money and that is celebrated and lauded. When San Franciscans oppose that in order to demand housing for those who need it as well as to protect our housing investment from devaluation due to a flood of inventory as homes languish in foreclosure, that is a very good thing.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 9:45 am

price of your crappy little condo in the mission would be reduced, so don't worry your pretty little head about that.

SF RE has recovered from it's 2008 lapse, as anyone trying to buy a home now can testify - multiple offers and overbids are the norm again. Foreclosures are a non issue.

Posted by anon on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 9:58 am

Once Bernancke stops the quantitative easing, get back to me on this.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 10:10 am

issue to those San Francisco residents facing them, especially in the southeastern neighborhoods.

Narrow perspective troll.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 10:13 am

"The point was that accidental cities are more attractive than cities planned by some committee of men in suits. "

The point has been extensively refuted. See above.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 8:30 am