If you thought it was easy to earn the right to work for free in this town, you stand corrected.

We’re not sure if it was classist angst over a trip to Palm Springs, or legitimate concerns over the exact nature of H. Ruth Todd’s corporate role at her architecture firm that stalled her appointment to the brand-spanking-new Historic Preservation Commission, but something did the trick on Thursday.

Maybe it was neither, but as we learned full well on Tuesday, appointments in this town, even to unpaid, volunteer boards, are never easy, and rarely simple enough to be taken at face value.

Ms. Todd, a former historic preservation architect at Stanford and now-partner at local firm Page and Turnbull, got the nod for the one of the two architects’ seats on the HPC from Mayor Gavin Newsom. Standing in her way from the volunteer position were a parade of self-styled historic preservation watchdogs from umbrella group SF Preservation Consortium, who objected to her appointment for several reasons, the main one being that her firm has received about $800,000 worth of contracts for planning and design work from the city in the past few years.

Visibly irked that she’d be so grilled on a Thursday morning, Todd stated that she “wouldn’t work 50-60 hours a week if I wasn’t a dedicated historic preservation; the only reason I’m excited about taking this volunteer position is to [work on historic preservation] outside of the office.” And what’s more, she has plenty of letters* from preservation-minded folks all supporting her — they just couldn’t testify today because they’re at their conference in Palm Springs, to which Ms. Todd is jetting once Supervisor Chris Daly is done waving his gavel in her general direction.

But it wasn’t Daly who pulled the vintage rug from underneath Ms. Todd’s antique armoire: it was Supervisor David Campos. Campos noted that in paperwork submitted to the California Secretary of State (and on every public listing we could find) Todd is listed as both a principal partner and a member of Page and Turnbull’s Board of Directors, two no-nos to which only the following rebuttal could be proffered (and we are paraphrasing): “Well, she’s not REALLY a director.”

Ever the Harvard-educated lawyer, Campos laid down the jurisprudence thusly.
“Meeting the legal requirements for compliance with ethics law is the bare minimum of what you’d expect from a candidate,” he noted. “I expect even higher levels of compliance with the spirit of ethics laws.”

Something else that intrigued us: Ms. Todd stated that she and her husband split their time between her Pacific Heights apartment and his home in West Marin. Proposition J states that a Historic Preservation Commissioner must be a resident of the City. We are not casting aspersion upon Todd, and we believe her fully when she says she is registered to vote and receives her mail in the 94115 (or 94109, she didn’t want to give up her exact home address for fear of gadflies. We understand). Either way, we asked for a clarification on the nature of that rule from the City Attorney’s office, who have not yet replied.

So what is it? Director, partner, West Marin farmer or Pacific Heights woman-about-town? Maybe all of the above, but volunteer judge of historic preservation might not be on the list, as a motion rejecting her appointment was forwarded to the full board.

But from where we stand — or sit, on second-hand furniture, while we wait for our first unemployment check to arrive — that doesn’t sound so bad. After all, you’ll always have Palm Springs, Ms. Todd.

*You can read letters for and against H. Ruth Todd, and all of the filings relevant to her appointment, here.

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