by Donna Martinez
Former Senior Writer and Editor, John Locke Foundation
The San Francisco Planning Commission issued a renovation permit to a developer, who then decided to completely tear down the home that was deemed historic. Now that developer is being subjected to the commission’s power to enforce the rule — and to make an example of him.
Earlier this week, the planning commissioners voted 5-0 to order Johnston to build the exact replica. They also want him to put up a sidewalk plaque that would let people know the original Neutra house was demolished.
Commissioner Dennis Richards says a lot of house flippers are trying to dupe the city.
“Demolishing a $1.2 million house and replacing it with a $5 million house only makes the affordability that much worse in the city,” he said. “We’re finding there’s an epidemic of these kinds of things happening.”
He hopes this ruling will send a strong message, “if a developer has even a thought of demolishing a house illegally, I’d like them to go up to 49 Hopkins and take a look at the plaque, because this is what’s going to happen in the future.”
Even though I don’t like how this commission used its power, the rules are the rules. The developer should have either (1) appealed for a tear-down permit, (2) figured a way to renovate as approved and then sell, or (3) walked away from the deal.
Government rules should be imposed with great care and as a last resort. Folks might be surprised to learn the extent of the power that can be used by commissions and boards — folks who are unelected and are not directly accountable to voters and taxpayers. For more than half a dozen years now, North Carolina policymakers have shown a commitment to a broad array of regulatory/rules reform. They understand that fewer barriers unleashes growth and the opportunity that follows. Still, there is much left to do, and the John Locke Foundation is the leading voice for regulatory reform.