Deprecated: Assigning the return value of new by reference is deprecated in /home/joelka5/public_html/blog/wp-includes/cache.php on line 36

Deprecated: Assigning the return value of new by reference is deprecated in /home/joelka5/public_html/blog/wp-includes/query.php on line 21

Deprecated: Assigning the return value of new by reference is deprecated in /home/joelka5/public_html/blog/wp-includes/theme.php on line 540
Group 41 San Francisco Architects - Modern Architecture

Earthquake at DBI

Things like this can sort of slip under the “news radar”, but to people like me, they are bona fide earthquakes.  Isam Hasenin, the director of the Department of Building Inspection of the City of San Francisco resigned quietly this past week.  He had held the post for only 18 months, at the personal request of Mayor Gavin Newsom, and with the very specific charge of streamlining and reorganizing the department and what has become an accretion and a mess of tangled thickets for approvals process, tortured reviews and endless delays in building permit issuances.

The most important problem that practitioners like me, and builders, developers and others in the field face is the uneven application of building and planning review standards.  This has been the single most problematic issue at both DBI and Planning for decades, and has grown increasingly worse under Mr. Hasenin’s watch.  Although he has made genuine efforts to eliminate what is viewed as “favoritism” in plan reviews, it is still widely known that the self-same drawings, when reviewed by two different plan examiners can either sail through approvals, or end up in an endless vortex of back-check comments and corrections, seemingly at whim.

One other significant item to his credit is that the Director did institute a long-overdue streamlining of over-the-counter approvals process for smaller projects.  This has enormously improved the lives of we who do projects like interior renovations, cosmetic upgrades and the like, along with larger architectural/structural ones.  However, by “shaking up” the department and requiring that all plan checkers participate in “counter duty” he successfully made many enemies who had become quite comfortable working within their own narrow “comfort zones”.  It’s one of the worst kept secrets that nearly no one down at the department much likes Mr. Hasenin, so no wonder that he has decided to move on.  Of course, the Mayor is putting a positive spin on his “accomplishments” during his tenure.  But there is an iceberg of trouble sitting beneath the calm waters.

What is absolutely critical is the need for stronger leadership from the Mayor. We must have a plan-check process that is **actually** fair and even-handed, and even more important, San Francisco crucially needs to simplify the Planning approvals process and re-empower the Planning Department to exercise its authority over the Planning Code, and not simply refer every case upstream to the full commission.  A huge problem currently is that the full Commission is hearing cases that should never even be qualified to appear before them in the first place.  Planning Staff is legally empowered to reject cases outright, but will not do so, out of conditioned fear generated by a Planning commission that routinely hears, and reverses established Planning Code or Design Guidelines, based solely on Political whim, not on established policy or law.  This is a practice which ruins San Francisco’s credibility as a fair and responsible place to do business as a builder, developer, architect, or any trade professional.  The absence of any change in this area will result in ever rising housing costs, a more difficult regulatory environment, and increasing headaches for San Francisco as a city overall.

Politics 101 teaches us that the more highly regulated an environment, the less successfully market economics are allowed to work, the more the system slowly breaks down.  The collapse of the Soviet Union was a perfect example.  The removal of rent control in Santa Monica California is another excellent recent example of how well it solved problems to remove market controls, in fact **improving** the housing stock, lowering rents, and making the community a better place to live.

Until the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors recognize their complicity in the failure of DBI and Planning to allow the market to self-regulate at least somewhat (without letting San Francisco become Houston, Texas, of course!) and work toward removing controls, making it easier to do business, they will continue to back themselves into a tighter and tighter corner.

Email Joel about this posting at 

Comments are closed.