On Guard: Help stop SF government sleaze 

After years of allegations of slimy deals, real action appears to be taking place to clean up city government — or, at least, a small part of it.

Last week, City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed suit against Port Commissioner Mel Murphy, alleging that when Murphy was on the Building Inspection Commission, he flouted the very rules he was in charge of enforcing.

A poll released Monday by No Wall on the Waterfront, a group focused on limiting high-rise waterfront developments, shows 80 percent of the 569 registered voters polled last week want Murphy fired from the Port Commission. The poll has a 4.3 percent margin of error.

Mayor Ed Lee has also called for Murphy’s resignation. But why now? The City has known for years that Murphy is as crooked as Lombard Street.

Here’s the short version: Murphy is a former president of the Building Inspection Commission, and when he wanted to upgrade his numerous city properties he allegedly used his influence to bypass paying more than $168,000 in permit fees. Murphy is also accused of illegally quintupling the home where he lives, which in 2013 crumbled down Twin Peaks and rained debris on his neighbors.

What makes this uniquely San Francisco sleaze is how well-known it was.

The Board of Supervisors acknowledged it in March 2013, when Lee appointed Murphy to the Port Commission and the board approved it.

“We need people who follow the rules and believe in the letter of the law,” Supervisor John Avalos said to the board just before the vote. “I don’t believe Mel Murphy has done that.” Other supervisors came to Murphy’s defense.

“I’m supporting him today because he’s genuine,” said Supervisor London Breed, who is now board president. “Unfortunately, we all make mistakes every now and then.”

Supervisors Katy Tang, Scott Wiener, Norman Yee, Mark Farrell, Jane Kim, Malia Cohen and Breed all voted to appoint Murphy to the Port Commission.

The appointment was significant because now a guy with a questionable track record is one of five commissioners in charge of approving lucrative multimillion-dollar waterfront developments.

Supervisor Scott Wiener said he supported Murphy due to his “long history in the community,” but since the appointment “we’ve learned quite a bit, and it makes sense for Mel to step aside.”

Murphy did donate more than $20,000 to retire Lee’s campaign debt, and he also contributed to several supervisors’ campaigns. Does this mean pay-to-play politics is alive and well in The City? That’s hard to prove.

But if so, what are you gonna do about it, San Francisco? Murphy is not the only guy out there with questionable ethics.

Airport Commissioner Larry Mazzola was reappointed by Lee despite accusations of nepotism as he tried to hire his own nephew (despite numerous disciplinary actions). Retirement Board member Wendy Paskin-Jordan was reappointed despite heavily investing in a firm called GMO, which handles $400 million of San Francisco’s pension fund.

The voters in The City can change all this. Write to your supervisor (email addresses can be found at www.sfbos.org) or the mayor (mayoredwinlee@sfgov.org) and show them your outrage by telling them you won’t vote for politicians trading cash for favors.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each Tuesday. Email him at joe@sfexaminer.com.

About The Author

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Born and raised in San Francisco, Fitzgerald Rodriguez was a staff writer at the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and now writes the S.F. Examiner's political column On Guard. He is also a transportation beat reporter covering pedestrians, Muni, BART, bikes, and anything with wheels.
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