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New mayor will appoint majority of Design Review Board, steering future Richmond development

on December 5, 2022

In January, Mayor Tom Butt will leave office, and a majority of the Design Review Board may follow him. 

The City Council rejected Butt’s proposed appointments of two new members to the DRB in a 3-3-1 vote at the Nov. 15 meeting. Vice Mayor Eduardo Martinez and council members Claudia Jimenez and Gayle McLaughlin voted against the appointments. Council member Melvin Willis abstained. 

“I’ll tell you a little secret,” Butt told the council. “We’re not going to have a quorum for the Design Review Board until the new mayor appoints some people.” 

There are six members now on the board, including that of Chair Jonathan Livingston, whose term actually expired. However, he agreed to stay on until a replacement is found. Butt’s appointments would have filled all seven seats, including Livingston’s. Despite Butt’s comments, the DRB does have enough members to make a quorum. 

Martinez, the mayor-elect, will get to fill the two DRB vacancies in January after the council rejected Butt’s appointments. Terms are expiring in March for three other members previously appointed by Butt. That means five of the seven DRB members will be appointed or reappointed by Martinez.

The DRB is appointed by the mayor, with the approval of City Council. It rules on new development projects and exterior changes to existing buildings. With the Planning Commission, the DRB is also an advisory body when a land use decision needs to be made. 

Livingston said he has been “disgusted” with what he sees as a violation of due process for the public in a DRB meeting. Changes to procedure and how the board reviews projects, he said, are causing some project reviews to be bypassed. One project is Terminal One, a 13.8-acre shoreline property near Ferry Point. Livingston said the developer presented the DRB with a redesign that was “not a good design” or “developed far enough,” but seemingly was fast-tracked by the city by looking past the design’s flaws. 

He said he complained about that to Butt. “I said, ‘Tom, I can’t handle this. I’m going to probably quit. I just can’t take it,’” Livingston told Richmond Confidential. “He’s in a bit of a bind if I leave,” he said of Butt. 

Livingston, who has been on the board for over seven years, said he’ll likely leave when Butt does. He does not expect the newly elected council to reappoint him. 

Resignations within the past year and a half by members Macy Leung, Michael Hannah and Jessica Fine created three vacancies on the board — two of which have been filled. 

Leung’s seat was filled by Leah Marthisen and Hannah’s seat was filled by Michelle Hook. Both of those terms will expire in March, along with Kimberly Butt’s.

Rejected DRB applicants Umoja Akbar and David Plotkin have over 30 years of combined experience in architecture. Akbar, a Richmond resident for 21 years, has a degree in architecture and planning. Plotkin is an architect at William Duff Architects who previously served as co-chair of Habitat for Humanity’s Building & Site Committee. 

Council also rejected the Planning Commission appointment of Bhavin Katri, a San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency employee who previously served on the DRB. Katri is an 18-year resident of Richmond and president of the Hilltop District Neighborhood Council, and has a master’s degree in electrical engineering. 

Appointments are not usually pulled for discussion, but resident and Point Molate Alliance member Deborah Bayer voiced concerns about public knowledge of the appointees and noted that a new council soon will be taking office.

McLaughlin agreed with Bayer, saying it was best to wait for the new council to vote.

Top photo: Aerial view of Terminal One (file photo)

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