Last week, we wrote about how Supervisor Scott Wiener was trying to push back the preservationist movement from conserving every crumbling building and sign in our fair city. As it turns out, some preservationists could potentially gain -- personally-- from marking every tree, park, and library as historic.
Wiener was rather blunt in his complaint, claiming the Historic Preservation Commission is unbalanced, consisting of only members who favor conserving all aspects of the city. In a move that certainly delighted urban developers, Wiener has called for a hearing to discuss how to better balance the city's past with the need for its future.
"If we have a commission made up exclusively of advocates for historic preservation -- only advocates -- that is a problem," Wiener said.
But there's a less obvious problem than preservation commissions wanting to preserve things. Some of the commissioners are historic consultants themselves -- and could benefit personally from their decisions.
Here is the backstory: The city hired a local historic preservation
consultancy firm to conduct surveys that would help the commission and the
city create historic districts. That firm, Page & Turnbull, used its own formula to decide what properties would be deemed worthy, and decided that more than 600 properties in
SOMA would become part of a new historic district.
So anyone who owns a property in a historic district and wants to do anything to it would hire historic preservation consultants to guide them.
Charles Chase, for instance, is both chairman of the Historic
Preservation Commission and a project director for Architectural Resources Group, a local historic preservation consulting company. His company, along with Page & Turnbull, is listed as one of the 19 selected consultants that could be hired to help with redevelopment projects in historic districts.
Is this creating a scenario where commissioners and planners could potentially benefit from creating larger Historic Districts?
Concern about this type of conflict of interest is starting to surface at City Hall. In a letter from Townsend
Street Associates, Raymond Bregante, the managing partner, calls Chase and the commissioners out on this very issue.
"Has the [Planning] Department created an unintended appearance of a
conflict of interest by allowing a consultant to increase its potential
client pool by proposing and justifying new property for historic
preservation in SOMA?" Bregante wrote.