Supervisors panel backs gay SF planning commission nominee

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday September 19, 2022
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Derek Braun received a recommendation from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors rules committee to serve on the planning commission. Photo: Courtesy Strategic Economics
Derek Braun received a recommendation from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors rules committee to serve on the planning commission. Photo: Courtesy Strategic Economics

A strategic economist received the backing of a San Francisco supervisors committee Monday to serve on the city's planning commission. If the full board approves him, Derek Braun will return gay representation to the powerful oversight body.

Braun, 39, is employed by Berkeley-based Strategic Economics, which has several contracts with the city's planning department. Braun has not worked on them, and all should be completed by the end of the year. He has received guidance from the city attorney's office stating that he doesn't have a conflict of interest that would prevent him from serving on the planning commission.

As a principal at the firm, Braun has been working with South San Francisco officials to update their city's affordable housing impact fees for new commercial and industrial development activity. He also worked with Oakland officials on a new plan for the East Bay city's downtown area in terms of its economic development and housing needs.

"My work really lies at the intersection of market and economic conditions, and understanding that to fulfill the goals and visions in the communities I work," said Braun, who is Japanese American. "I am coming to the planning commission because I really want to share this expertise and engage very closely with our local community and local communities."

The supervisors' rules committee voted 3-0 at its September 19 meeting to support Braun's nomination. Mayor London Breed named him to succeed former planning commissioner Frank Fung for a term that ends June 30, 2026.

"I think he would be a good planning commissioner," said gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who added that he has known Braun for several decades but only recently learned about his professional background.

District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who chairs the rules committee, said of Braun that he "certainly knows" the analytical side of "the complicated world that is city planning. I personally was pleased to see his understanding of the human side of planning and nuances that are involved in the planning process."

The committee's other member, District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan, said, "While I am skeptical, I will be supporting Mr. Braun."

The full Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on Braun's nomination when it meets September 27. The 11 members can either confirm him or reject his appointment.

They will also take up the reappointment of mayoral appointee Rachael A. Tanner, currently president of the planning commission. The rules committee also voted 3-0 Monday to recommend she be confirmed to a new four-year term.

The planning body hasn't had an LGBTQ member since Dennis Richards, a gay man, resigned in March 2020 after he sued the city's building inspection department alleging it had retaliated against him for taking critical stances against it. The city and Richards settled the lawsuit in March for $1.8 million.

A member of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Braun is also a member of the planning think tank SPUR. A renter who doesn't own a car, he had been a resident of the Castro for 11 years but moved recently and has called the city home for 13 years.

San Francisco, he said, "is a place I love and a place I found opportunity."

As for the planning commission, he said he is coming to it "very open-minded." Issues he wants to focus on include housing affordability, protecting current residents and tenants, and cultural displacement.

"I see this as a critical issue," said Braun, adding that supporting locally owned businesses, particularly those owned by people of color, is also among the issues he wants to address.

Braun received a Bachelor of Science in management from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio in 2005 and went on to earn a Master of Planning 
from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles in 2008.

He has provided analysis to cities throughout the Golden State. Several colleagues with whom he has worked wrote letters in support of his being named to the San Francisco Planning Commission. Tony Rozzi, who lives in San Francisco and is a city planner for South San Francisco, noted that Braun and his firm, Strategic Economics, "have been the backbone" of the public process for the Peninsula city's update to its general plan.

"Community planning is emotional business — and Derek finds a way to balance stakeholder angst with logical, fact-driven analysis," wrote Rozzi. "Derek is also extremely kind and thoughtful. I can't imagine a better appointment to the Planning Commission if you are seeking impartial, results-focused project review."

Sam Ingelman, a resident of San Francisco's Castro district, praised Braun's "expertise in and passion for urban planning and community development" having known him for 14 years.

"I think both his professional expertise and temperament would be assets to the Commission," wrote Ingelman. "I am also excited that Derek would bring his lived experience and perspective as a member of our LGBTQ and AAPI communities to his service."

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