Hours into what was already an exceedingly lengthy and volatile Board of Supervisors Rules Committee meeting, Supervisor Ahsha Safaí removed his glasses, rubbed his weary eyes, and exclaimed to a now nearly empty Board chamber, “who would’ve thought the last item of the day would be so complicated?”
Certainly not J.J. Panzer, who stood at the lecturn with an affable grin on his face as Safaí said the quiet part loud. His confirmation hearing for the city’s Rent Board had veered off the beaten path and into a place neither he nor Safaí had anticipated.
Panzer, Mission Local readers may recall, is the Mission landlord and property manager who earned a degree of infamy in 2015 when he stuck popular brunch spot Boogaloo’s with a rent increase from $4,200 to a parodic $17,500. Panzer, however, subsequently flipped the standard Mission tale of greed and displacement by apologizing to Boogaloo’s management, lowering the rent to a reasonable $7,500, and working to get the restaurant back open. In other words, he helped make things right.
It remains to be seen if his next foray into public life will end so well.
Panzer, a city native and longtime Mission resident, was sworn in as a mayorally appointed Rent Board commissioner at 5 p.m. on Nov. 13, and attended his first meeting at 6 p.m. on that same day. When he arrived, his predecessor, Cal Abe, was still sitting in his chair, unaware that his tenure on the board had ended. Evidently there was some confusion in this appointment and succession process. And that only continued last night.
The Board of Supervisors has 30 days to object to Panzer’s appointment — and, during Wednesday’s meeting, Supervisor Norman Yee raised questions about his eligibility.
Yee asked Panzer if he had read the Rent Board’s incompatible activities policy. He had not. Nor was he familiar with the state government code Section 1126 — incompatible activities. But that’s not really Panzer’s fault: These are issues that, presumably, the mayor’s office, which appointed Panzer, should have explored and briefed him on beforehand. It appears that, too, did not happen.
At issue here is Panzer’s business, the Real Mangement Company. Among other services, it specializes in maximizing the pass-throughs landlords can charge tenants for work on the property. Reading between the lines of Yee’s questions, it’s not a problem that Panzer is a landlord — this seat on the Rent Board is earmarked for a landlord. Rather, it’s that he’s in the business of garnering rent increases for landlord clients, which is highly germane to what the Rent Board regulates.
To wit, the Rent Board’s statement of incompatible activities notes: “No employee, including the director, may engage in an outside activity (regardless of whether the activity is compensated) that is subject to the control, inspection, review, audit or enforcement of the Department.”
That’s a pretty broad statement, but them’s the rules.
At last night’s meeting, committee chair Safaí turned to Deputy City Attorney John Givner for guidance. But Givner could essentially only tell him that he’d have to get back to him on that.
“The questions we should explore after this meeting and before the next Board meeting are with the details of [Panzer’s] business,” Givner told Safaí. “The law we’re discussing doesn’t prevent Mr. Panzer from serving on the Rent Board. The question is, if he serves on the Rent Board and also engages in this business, that may be incmompatible with Rent Board duties and could he potentially face fines from the Ethics Commission?”
That hardly seems a tenable situation.
Givner said he’d meet with Panzer and representatives of the mayor’s office and report back to the Board with his analysis prior to its Dec. 4 meeting. The committee passed along the matter to the full board with no recommendation.
The meeting quickly adjourned. Panzer, surrounded by his retinue of supporters, said he was blindsided by this line of inquiry. But he shrugged his shoulders and said he’d meet with the City Attorney’s office — and this would get settled, one way or the other.