Deland Chan Brings Urban Studies Perspective to SF Planning Commission

Deland Chan, an Urban Studies alumna (with honors) and currently the program’s Director of Community Engaged Learning, is bringing her experience as an Urban Studies student and instructor to her work as one of the newest members of the San Francisco Planning Commission.

Chan was appointed to the San Francisco Planning Commission in May of 2020. She was nominated by Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee, and her appointment was unanimously approved by the full board by an 11-0 vote on May 19.

“I don’t think I could have chosen a more challenging time to join the Planning Commission given everything that is happening amid a global health and economic crisis, recent uprisings for racial justice, and on top of a long-standing housing affordability crisis,” Chan wrote in an email. “Despite this uncertainty, I am excited to be working with my colleagues on the commission, the director, and the people of San Francisco to guide the city's land use and housing policies as encapsulated in the General Plan and the Housing Element.”

Chan is serving the remainder of a former commissioner’s term until July 2022, and at that time will be eligible for a renewal of a four-year term. There are seven members on the Planning Commission, with four appointed by the mayor and three appointed by the president of the board of supervisors.

Chan emphasized her willingness to consider multiple perspectives when delving into the complex issues facing the commission. “I will bring my lived experiences as a Chinese-American woman and daughter of immigrant parents, a renter, and a former public housing resident to serving on this commission, which affords me the ability to understand diverse neighborhoods and to exercise an equity lens.”

Chan received her BAH in Urban Studies, as well as a Masters in Sociology from Stanford and a Masters of City Planning from the University of California at Berkeley. After working as a planner at the Chinatown Community Development Center, she returned to Urban Studies as program staff and instructor. Since 2013, she has led internship, fellowship, and community partnership programs for Urban Studies. She co-founded the Human Cities Initiative, a project based in Urban Studies that promotes a human-centered approach to urbanism through courses, projects, and events such as the annual Human Cities Expo in December. Chan is currently pursuing a DPhil in Sustainable Urban Development at Oxford.

Her undergraduate degree in Urban Studies helped provide Chan “the foundation to understand the various pathways that have gotten our cities to where they are today,” Chan wrote. “I can’t help but think about Logan and Molotch’s ‘urban growth coalition’ in these meetings and the various stakeholders that participate in the planning process.”

Following her May 2020 appointment, Chan quickly began to make her mark on the Planning Commission. In the early weeks of her term, she introduced a motion to direct staff to draft a resolution that would center the Planning Department’s priorities on racial and social equity. The resolution explicitly “acknowledges and apologizes for the history of inequitable planning policies resulting in racial disparities,” and “directs the Planning Department to develop proactive strategies to address structural and institutional racism in collaboration with Black and American Indian communities and communities of color.” The resolution funds community planning by centering the voices of Black, American Indian, and communities of color. The resolution was unanimously approved by the commission on June 11.

Chan’s work on the commission will benefit her students in the Urban Studies program, she said. “I will be well-informed of the latest land use and planning issues in San Francisco, which has historically been one of the strongholds of engaged communities and participatory planning. I hope to bring this real-world experience into the classroom.” Chan noted that she was also looking forward to learning from her students’ perspectives on the issues facing the planning commission.

Serving on the Planning Commission requires a serious commitment of time and energy, often with literally thousands of pages of staff reports, Environmental Impact Reports, and emails from the public to digest before every weekly meeting. “I am still getting used to the physical and mental stamina required of participating in a 7+ hour weekly public hearing in a virtual setting,” Chan wrote. “It does feel a bit like running a marathon each week from my desk!” But the position is informative and rewarding as well. “So far,” notes Chan, “I have been enjoying learning about the issues, getting to know the department staff and my fellow Commissioners, and in general, learning the ropes of this position.”