He-e-e-e-e-e-e-s Back! And coming to a neighborhood near you.
Willie Brown's Pay-to-Play lives on!
•••••••••• November 7, 2022 ••••••••••
Willie Brown was Mayor of San Francisco from 1996 to 2006. Many people will describe his tenure as our City’s leader as colorful, exciting, project-centered, and politically oriented. Many others might dismiss passing judgment because they realize how his governance style changed San Francisco during his years as mayor and for many years to come. When asked to opine about the "Brown Years," almost everybody ultimately refers to the “pay to play” mechanics that characterized his administration.
According to Wikipedia, “Brown was known for his shrewd and strategic use of the planning process's details to affect and facilitate development projects on his watch.”
His patronage style, e.g., hiring, and appointing campaign workers, contributors, legislative colleagues, and friends to government positions of influence, was well known. Indeed, during his tenure, he tripled the City's payroll for appointed special assistance from 15 million to 45 million dollars per year. His appointees, qualified or not, filled positions of influence in the 170+ City Departments and agencies. The most important patronage positions to the Brown machine were, of course, in the "land use" Departments such as the Planning Department, Building Inspections Department, The Board of permit Appeals, and in those Departments dealing directly with public projects, etc. Yes, some good projects benefitted the public, but there was an abundance of projects that only benefitted those who had "the Juice" or an inside track to the "workings" at City Hall.
...the residents of the single-family homes West of Twin Peaks, whose homes are their treasure, will be watching how they handle this variance hearing... I know if this could happen to my property, it would become precedent. Neighboring homeowners realize they could easily be the next victim of corruption.”
Thus, the Brown years will always be tainted with the “Pay to Play” image that propelled San Francisco as one of America's most corrupt machine-run cities.
Regimes like the Brown Machine just don't go away with the election of new Mayors. Gavin Newsom did much less for the City than Brown did, even with the advantage of Willie's army, and Ed Lee merely maintained the status quo. The big question now, especially since she will be up for re-election and no doubt will seek higher office, is: where does London Breed stand?
Where is she on the issues that are based on merit and not politics? Will she follow her mentor Willie Brown, or will she show that her administration is independent of the influence peddling and corruption former mayors have engaged in? She will have the opportunity — very soon — to prove what she is like in a very small, personal, and yet potentially explosive example that I will share with you.
I have a neighbor who is a part-time resident and owner of the property located at 820 Laguna Honda Blvd. Over the years, he has blatantly defied and ignored the planning codes and permitting process regarding open space requirements that the City has in place to protect the property rights and privacy of nearby neighbors. The value of my own house, and the privacy of other neighbors has been greatly impacted by the addition of a three-story, 900 sq. foot illegal and unpermitted addition to the rear of his house. It has already encompassed more than 30% of the required rear yard open space. He is now seeking a variance to legalize the illegal and unpermitted addition. Also, he seeks to add on an additional lounging deck that would cover more than 60% of the required open space and sit within 5 to 8 feet of my master bedroom window! Because of the acute angles of the small intersecting backyards of the four neighboring properties, any modification of the open space requirements greatly magnifies the impact of rear or side yard intrusions.
Now, here is the killer! Guess who the attorney is representing him in this obvious disregard for planning guidelines and neighbors' rights to privacy? None other than WILLIE BROWN, the man under whose administration all of the corruption took place that allowed the illegal and unpermitted addition to take place!
During the Brown, Newsom and Lee years, numerous complaints, notices of violations, and stop orders were issued to the owner of 820 Laguna Honda, a very close friend of Willie Brown and a heavy donor to all mayor campaigns. On each and every occasion, the permit process was either ignored by the Chief of the Building Inspection Department, buried, or signed off on. It was the work of none other than Sr. Building Inspector Bernie Curran, another political lackey, now under federal indictment for the same activity in other projects around the City. How many of Willie's other appointees have left City service under a cloud or dubious circumstances? Several more players are involved in the cover-up, but you get the picture. And now Willie and his former Zoning Administrator Larry Badner, are representing the owner!
As a former Supervisor, I worked with Willie Brown from 2001 through 2005. I always treated him with the respect that the office of the mayor deserved. I even found him to have a certain degree of Integrity on some of the projects we worked on together. Bear in mind that this case is not some run-of-the-mill internal permit infraction, but a deliberate effort by a property owner to enlarge the footprint of his residence at the expense of his neighbors' right to privacy, open space and sunshine. As the addition was not properly permitted, the owner is now relying on Brown to legalize the structure, which in its present state already has two balconies and a full patio. But Brown is pushing to add to the remaining open space an additional intrusion of another 192 sq. foot deck that would severely impact my residences' property. Should the owner be granted a variance, it would be nothing more than a reward to someone who has ignored all the rules. It would also provide tremendous resale value if that is the end game here. This one baffles me because I don't know why Brown has taken it on. He knows me well enough to know that I will not be bowled over or intimidated, and I will fight for what is right. I don't know if Willie needs the money or if he merely loves trying to put one over on the people once again!
Whatever the case, I have confidence that the people in positions of influence today, like Zoning Administrator Corey Teague, or Planning Director Rich Hollis, despite having once worked for Willie, or Planner Jeff Horn, or the Planning Commissioners themselves, will do what is the right. I have filed for a Discretionary Review of the entire case leading up to the variance hearing to shine a light on what has happened and how the City allowed this construction to occur. Results of the review should be forthcoming in the next few months, and I am hopeful that the City will take the right course in rectifying this situation.
San Franciscans are fed up with the politics that have virtually ruined our once world-class City. A groundswell of resentment is growing against the blow-ins and unqualified power brokers who have gotten into positions of influence and use their office to help only themselves. I know that the residents of the single-family homes West of Twin Peaks, whose homes are their treasure, will be watching how they handle this variance hearing. As an ex-City Supervisor and a 33-year city executive, I know if this could happen to my property, it would become precedent. Neighboring homeowners realize they could easily be the next victim of corruption.
Our District Supervisor, Myrna Melgar, is aware of the project, and so are all the neighborhood groups. Nothing like this happens in San Francisco without the mayor getting wind of it. It’s a good chance for Mayor Breed to prove that her administration is not just another by-product of the “Brown machine.”
Tony Hall is a former Supervisor for District 7.