Political Notes: New SF mayoral pick for historic panel receives support

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday May 15, 2023
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Robert "Bob" Vergara has been nominated by Mayor London Breed for a seat on the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission. Photo: Courtesy Facebook
Robert "Bob" Vergara has been nominated by Mayor London Breed for a seat on the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission. Photo: Courtesy Facebook

The latest mayoral appointee to the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission is expected to win approval from the city's supervisors this month. But it will extend a queer woman never having served on the important oversight body since it was created in 2008.

In late April, Mayor London Breed nominated Robert "Bob" Vergara, a longtime social studies teacher at St. Ignatious College Preparatory school, to the preservation panel's Seat 4 designated for a historian. If confirmed by the supervisors, he would serve through the end of 2026.

"I am confident that Mr. Vergara will serve our community well. Attached are his qualifications to serve, which demonstrate how his reappointment represents the communities of interest, neighborhoods and diverse populations of the City and County of San Francisco," Breed wrote in her nominating letter to the supervisors.

The vacancy is due to the April 27 resignation of Richard Johns, who had served in the historian seat for 12 years. Earlier this year Breed had nominated as his successor Victoria Gray, the vice president and director for Bonhams and Butterfields auction house and head of its San Francisco office.

But historic preservationists questioned her credentials to serve in the oversight body's historian seat. Board President and District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who wrote the ballot measure that created the advisory panel and set out who should serve on it, agreed that Gray lacked the required professional credentials and beseeched his board colleagues to reject her nomination.

The supervisors voted 7-4 at their March 7 meeting to sink Gray's appointment, as the Bay Area Reporter reported at the time. The board's rules committee will take up Vergara's appointment at its meeting Monday (May 15).

Peskin told the B.A.R. last week that he is supportive of the nominee. Four years ago Peskin had joined in the unanimous board vote to approve Vergara as a mayoral appointee to the City Hall Preservation Advisory Commission for a term ending January 13, 2024.

"I do not plan to oppose him," Peskin told the B.A.R. Friday.

Also supportive of Vergara being seated is San Francisco State University professor emeritus of history Robert W. Cherny, who had opposed Gray's nomination due to her qualifications. At Peskin's suggestion, Cherny and Vergara met ahead of Monday's vote.

"In our chat I found him to be very responsible and very interested in doing a good job on the commission. I think he will be a responsible commissioner," said Cherny,

who spent five years on the city's landmarks preservation advisory board that became the Historic Preservation Commission.

Cherny told the B.A.R. that he has not heard of any campaign to oppose Vergara being seated similar to what occurred with Gray's nomination. He expects that he will win approval from the board.

Gay District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey, who chairs the rules committee, did not respond to a request for comment by the deadline to do so Friday. He had voted in support of Gray.

Vergara, 64, has taught at the private, Catholic high school since 1982 and served as its director of athletics from 2000 until 2011. He graduated from it in 1976 and went on to earn a history degree from the University of San Francisco in 1982. He also earned an education master's degree from USF in 1999.

As he noted in his resume submitted to the supervisors, Vergara teaches about historical San Francisco events and how they tie into case studies of the United States Constitution. One example he cited was "the same-sex marriage movement beginning with Mayor Newsom's first same-sex marriages in 2004," referring to now Governor Gavin Newsom's ordering city staff to marry same-sex couples despite state law not allowing such unions.

If the rules committee votes in support of Vergara's nomination as expected, it should be approved by the full board at its May 23 meeting.

Two years ago the supervisors had rejected another straight female mayoral nominee for the preservation commission due to Breed's decision not to reappoint its two gay members, which would have left it without LGBTQ representation. It led to Breed nominating Jason Wright, a gay man who is a conservation and preservation specialist, and he was confirmed by the board to serve in a term through the end of 2024.

Amid this year's controversy surrounding Gray's nomination, two out San Francisco State history professors had told the B.A.R. they were interested in serving on the oversight body. Had Nan Alamilla Boyd, Ph.D., or Sue Englander been tapped and confirmed to serve on the seven-person commission, either would have been its first female LGBTQ community member on it.

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