Mayor London Breed Announces Rich Hillis as New Planning Director
Hillis will bring decades of experience and a focus on streamlining housing approvals to the San Francisco Planning Department
San Francisco, CA — Mayor London N. Breed today announced Rich Hillis has been appointed as Director of the San Francisco Planning Department. Hillis is the Executive Director of the Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture and served on the Planning Commission from 2012 to 2019. Hillis will begin as Planning Director on March 9, 2020.
“Our housing shortage has made living in San Francisco far too expensive and too many people are being pushed out, including many who have lived here for generations,” said Mayor Breed. “Rich recognizes that to address this equity issue, we need more housing in San Francisco for families and people of all income levels, and we need that housing built throughout our entire City. He shares my vision for streamlining the housing approval process and eliminating red tape so we can make the city more affordable and equitable. I’m looking forward to working with him over the coming years, and I’m confident that under Rich’s leadership, the San Francisco Planning Department will continue leading the way to create a more livable, sustainable, equitable, and thriving city for all.”
“I want to thank Mayor Breed for the opportunity to serve as Planning Director during such an important time for San Francisco. The Planning Commission and the Planning Department face significant and unprecedented challenges, especially around housing affordability, and equity, and the decisions we make today will have impacts for generations to come,” said Rich Hillis. “I will bring my passion, experience, and a results-focused, collaborative approach to work with our communities, the Planning Commission, regional and State partners, and City leaders to effect real and meaningful change.”
As Planning Director, Hillis will focus on addressing the housing shortage in San Francisco by working to streamline the Department’s process for entitling new housing and identifying opportunities to create new and more equitable housing opportunities in areas of San Francisco that have not seen significant new housing in decades. He is committed to creating new affordable housing and growing the City’s housing stock without displacing existing tenants or demolishing rent controlled housing.
In addition to focusing on housing, Hillis recognizes that sustaining and building complete communities requires the Department to plan for a more expansive and accessible transportation system, rethink commercial corridors in a changing retail environment, foster the preservation of historic places, and respond to climate change.
As Executive Director of the non-profit Fort Mason Center, Hillis has led the reinvigoration of this San Francisco cultural institution, investing over $60 million into the historic campus and providing a stable and vibrant home to dozens of arts organizations and events. Before joining the Fort Mason Center, Hillis served as Deputy Director of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, where he led several development projects, including the redevelopment of Treasure Island and Yerba Buena Island, and the Octavia Boulevard corridor.
Hillis has an MA in Public Policy from the University of Chicago and a BS from the University at Albany.
In September 2019, Planning Director John Rahaim announced his retirement from the Planning Department after leading the Department for over a decade. As required by the City Charter, the Planning Commission reviewed applications from people interested in the Planning Director position, and recommended five qualified candidates to the Mayor. Following interviews with each candidate, Mayor Breed selected Hillis to lead the Department.
“I trust the Mayor has made the right choice to implement her vision for this City,” said Myrna Melgar, former President of the San Francisco Planning Commission. “The Planning Commission took seriously our responsibility to provide the Mayor with candidates for this role. We solicited feedback from the public about the qualities they wanted to see embodied in the Department’s next leader and I believe Rich has those qualities. Rich articulated a clear vision for equity and inclusion and I believe his knowledge of the City and the Department will be a tremendous asset as we continue to build more housing in San Francisco.”
“In the years I spent working with Rich both on the Planning Commission and on community issues, I have seen him bring a passion for San Francisco and for our neighborhoods to his work,” said Rodney Fong, former President of the San Francisco Planning Commission. “I know he will bring his deep knowledge, willingness to listen and work collaboratively with all, and commitment to equitable development across San Francisco to this new role.”
“Across his many public service roles in San Francisco, Rich has consistently shown that he is both committed to the wellbeing of the city and that he can get things done in our complex environment,” said Alicia John-Baptiste, President and CEO of SPUR. “We look forward to working with him as he takes on our big challenges—building housing, improving affordability, and ensuring the vibrancy and diversity of our communities for generations to come.”
“Rich’s leadership was critical in obtaining the approvals for the Treasure Island development plans at a critical time in the development process,” said Sherry Williams, Executive Director of One Treasure Island. “Even with the loss of Redevelopment and its critical funding, he worked collaboratively and creatively to ensure a future neighborhood that would include residents from all socioeconomic backgrounds.”
“Rich understands the critical importance of our cultural districts and their value in building and sustaining communities,” said Sandy Mori, a long-time Japantown community advocate. “He was a true partner with us during the sale of the Japantown mall, which stands at the heart of the City’s historic Japantown, and helped our community guarantee that the new owners had a legal obligation to respect the cultural role the properties play in the life of the community.”
The San Francisco Planning Department is responsible for guiding growth and development of San Francisco. The Planning Department works with other City agencies and the community to help balance the needs of residents, businesses, and civic leaders to protect the environment and historical resources, create inspiring and livable urban spaces, cultivate neighborhood resilience, and enforce good land use practices.