Planning Commission Appointee Emphasizes Racial and Social Equity

Community groups cheer the nomination of fellow housing equity advocate Maria Theresa Imperial to oversee development.

Affordable housing advocates rejoiced Monday when a Board of Supervisors committee appointed Maria Theresa Imperial to the Planning Commission.

Imperial, the founder of an affordable housing nonprofit, will fill the commission’s open seat and is expected to join the Planning Commission after the Rules Committee unanimously approved her appointment, sending it to the full Board of Supervisors next week. Imperial co-founded Bill Sorro Housing Program to help residents access affordable housing in 2009, nearly a decade after arriving from the Philippines. She’s repeatedly gone before the Planning Commission to express community concerns and perspectives.

“There are times that I feel like the Planning Commissioners don’t really ask substantial questions that actually impact the everyday life of people,” Imperial said at the hearing. “You have to balance the details and see the bigger perspective. I have learned through Manilatown the history of urban displacement and redevelopment and how it impacts the community — and that’s why we’re here today.”

Imperial was repeatedly lauded for her qualifications, bringing a racial and economic equity lens to development as well as being a “champion” of working-class folks and communities of color by Supervisor Hillary Ronen and others.

Representatives from PODER, Causa Justa, Council of Community Housing Organizations, South of Market Community Action Network, and SoMa Pilipinas spoke enthusiastically in favor of Imperial’s appointment. Hopeful sentiments of a turning tide marked public comment Monday.

“I believe she will not just ask the right questions and say the right things,” said Charlie Sciammas, a lead community organizer with PODER. “She will change the conversation and move the conversation in the right direction. She also has the secret superpower which is the know-how.”

Imperial’s appointment follows a string of departures for the Planning Department and Planning Commission. Planning Director John Rahaim, who oversaw the department through San Francisco’s development boom, said in September that he would retire. Commissioner Rich Hillis resigned a few weeks later in order to be considered as Rahaim’s replacement. Mayor London Breed appointed land use and real estate attorney Sue Diamond to replace Hillis.

In January, Commissioner Myrna Melgar also stepped down for higher ambitions, this time to run for District 7 Supervisor, which Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee will term out of in 2021. Yee nominated Imperial, who also lives in District 7, to replace Melgar. Imperial is expected to be approved at next week’s full Board of Supervisors meeting.

“It should have happened a long time ago,” Imperial told SF Weekly, commenting on the need for community voices in housing policy. “I wouldn’t do this without community support.”

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