SF environmental manager resigns over alleged $25,000 donation
The city’s top environmental official abruptly resigned Thursday amid scrutiny of his alleged solicitation of a $25,000 donation from Recology for his department.
The resignation of Department of the Environment Director Debbie Raphael came two days after a San Francisco Standard article revealed the giveaway, and a day before the city comptroller’s office released a “review Public Integrity” which included an investigation into his actions.
Tyrone Jue, deputy deputy chief executive of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and environmental adviser to Mayor London Breed, announced the appointment Thursday. Jue is also appointed by Breed to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District Board of Directors.
Raphael resigned as political pressure only began to mount. Supervisor Aaron Peskin called for a hearing on Tuesday amid the whirlwind of allegations of potential misconduct and incompetence against the Department of Environment and the “pay to play” policy at City Hall.
“It’s more than deeply disturbing, it really makes me sick,” Peskin said. “And I’m deeply concerned that it’s not nearly over.”
The Standard reported Tuesday that Raphael sought a $25,000 donation from Recology just as the waste management company signed a contract with the city to haul waste to its Solano County landfill in 2015.
The allegations echoed the bargaining at City Hall that led to the downing of former Public Works Department director Mohammed Nuru, who pleaded guilty to fraud earlier this year after accepting gifts from municipal contractors in exchange for municipal contracts.
Raphael, who served as the department’s director for eight years, reportedly sought Recology’s donation to help fund climate change awareness events held under then-mayor Ed Lee. At the same time, the Standard reported, the city was finalizing its garbage haul agreement with Recology.
The Recology executive Raphael asked for the donation, Paul Giusti, played a key role in the Nuru scandal. Giusti eventually pleaded guilty to trying to bribe Nuru.
The Environment Ministry did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Breed praised Raphael’s years of work for the city, including developing its climate action plan, in a statement.
“While this work has been important, issues with the department have been raised recently by the Comptroller and the City Attorney,” Breed said. “Currently, the Ministry’s new leadership will allow us to continue the important work begun under Debbie’s tenure.
Peskin also pointed to recent reports in the Chronicle, which documented recycling advocates’ disappointment in the Department of the Environment’s new SF BottleBank. The mobile recycling program, which apparently exists to make it easier to return bottles and cans for a deposit, was shaped in part by grocery industry lobbyists.
The hearing Peskin called on Tuesday, he said, would be used to analyze the Environment Ministry’s procurement processes.
Recology earlier this year agreed to pay city residents $95 million after investigators investigating Nuru found it had agreed to recommend a 14% rate hike, double the increase in 7% proposed by the company.
Peskin presented a proposal to shift responsibility for tracking — and proposing — the rates Recology charges to San Francisco customers from the Department of Public Works to the comptroller’s office. He will appear on the June ballot.