He and his wife, Susie Tompkins Buell, split their time between San Francisco and Bolinas. Born and raised in San Francisco, Buell attended Lowell High School and the University of San Francisco. Drafted into the Army, he served for a year in Vietnam in 1969 and was awarded two bronze stars. A retired real estate developer, Buell worked in City Hall as San Francisco's economic development director when Joe Alioto was mayor and held a job as Emeryville's first redevelopment chief.
He serves as president of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission.
He also is president of the board of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy