Why should a Republican dentist decide what gets built in San Francisco?

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Michael Antonini

The Board of Supervisors is almost evenly divided on confirming Mayor Ed Lee's appointment of Republican dentist Michael Antonini to his fourth four-year term on the city's powerful Planning Commission. After delaying its decision at each of its last two board meetings, the board is expected to finally decide this Tuesday.

Sup. Malia Cohen appears to be the swing vote between the progressive-to-neoliberal bloc of supervisors that would rather see new blood that is more reflective of San Francisco's values and priorities, and the board's moderate-to-conservative bloc that wants to keep Antonini there as a sure vote for whatever developers want (a bloc that strangely includes progressive-turned-mayoral-shill Sup. Christina Olague, a former planning commissioner who said during the July 17 discussion that she doesn't agree with Antonini's politics and that more diversity was needed on the commission, but that she's voting for him anyway while offering this hollow threat: “This may be the last time I'll support this kind of move that doesn't support a diverse body.”)

Sup. Sean Elsbernd, who led the charge for Antonini, fairly effectively picked apart some of the vague and misleading “diversity” arguments made by some supervisors who oppose the nomination, a discussion that Examiner columnist Melissa Griffin dramatized in yesterday's paper. And everyone praised Antonini as a hard worker.

But almost the entire discussion skipped over what should be the main point: Why the hell is San Francisco even considering appointing a Republican dentist with no particular land use expertise to a fourth term on the Planning Commission?!?! Shouldn't someone else – preferably not a rubber stamp for developers – be given a chance to serve the city? And why isn't Mayor Lee – whose main political benefactor and economic adviser, venture capitalist Ron Conway, is also a longtime Republican – paying a political price for this ridiculous appointment?

While supportive supervisors praised Antonini as thoughtful and fair, I can't gauge that for myself because this supposed public servant hasn't returned my phone calls. But I'm not sure it would have mattered because his voting record shows he is a consistent vote for developers and their interests, as even Griffin acknowledged in an otherwise supportive column.

Board President David Chiu came the closest to telling it like it is when he said, “Every person who has reached out to me from the northeast neighborhoods has asked me to oppose this nominee.” And for good reasons: Antonini is a right-winger who votes against neighborhood interests every single time. Not just neighborhood interests, but city interests as well, as shown by the commission's approval earlier this year of a CPMC project that was found to have fatal flaws that were then exposed by supervisors.

Elsbernd argued that the board should give deference to the appointing authority, noting that he's often voted for nominees whose politics he doesn't agree with, including Olague. And there certainly is some value to have different perspectives on appointed bodies. But when we grant a Republican dentist tenure in shaping what this embattled city will look like for generations, and pretend that his ideology is less important than his work ethic, we make a mockery of the political system that is supposed to reflect the values and interests of city residents.