‘What transparency?’ Mayor Breed not disclosing subject matter of certain meetings

City ordinance requires full disclosure of topics discussed on her public calendar

Mayor London Breed has called for “the highest level of integrity and transparency” to “restore the public trust” in San Francisco’s City Hall, which has been shaken by a corruption scandal centered on the Public Works Department.

But the mayor has repeatedly failed to comply with a city ordinance that requires her to tell the people of San Francisco what she discusses in meetings — some of them conducted with powerful interest groups.

The City’s Administrative Code 67.29-5 requires the mayor and other top officials to record their meetings on a daily calendar, listing the attendees, time, place and issues discussed, within three days.

That doesn’t always happen.

For example, Breed did not disclose information about what she discussed with the Union Square Alliance, a business group involved in the response to recent high-profile street crime, at a meeting on Dec. 2.

In another example, Breed did not disclose on her public calendar what she discussed at an Oct. 19 meeting with executives from Five Point Holdings, developers of a massive Hunters Point housing project that has been mired in ongoing environmental and legal issues for years. And activists say that omission was hardly unique.

“What transparency?” asked Bradley Angel, executive director at Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, a nonprofit involved in tracking events at Hunters Point. “The cozy relationships with developers are really troubling.”

Then, on Oct. 15, public records show Breed met with former presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg’s philanthropies team, but the mayor did not disclose why on her calendar, as required. The mayor endorsed Bloomberg, who is worth an estimated $50 billion, for president in 2020.

“Something’s wrong here,” Supervisor Connie Chan told The Examiner. “It’s an administration focused on press and media attention. What will rebuild public trust is accountability.”

The Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, a city committee that hears transparency issues, voted 9-1 in June to find Breed in violation of a city ordinance requiring her to say what is discussed in closed meetings. At the time, Hank Heckel, the mayor’s compliance officer, suggested the mayor would be more transparent going forward, and agreed with the task force that “just saying a meeting is with somebody is not sufficient.”

But public records show the mayor failed to disclose what was discussed at meetings multiple times during one month in the fall of this year, including the meeting with Bloomberg’s team.

The mayor is required to disclose what she discusses in closed-door meetings, but she didn't do that when she met with billionaire Mike Bloomberg's philanthropy team, according to a document obtained in a public records request. (SF City Hall document)

The calendar-keeping is not a meaningless housekeeping task at a City Hall that emphasizes transparency, other city officials say. The City’s civil grand jury, in 2014, found that the public calendar is an important record, and that it must be maintained. “There is useful information in the calendars of City Officials that should be readily available to the public,” the Grand Jury wrote. That usefulness was not met by “calendar entries that did not meet the law’s requirements, particularly in listing the meeting’s subject matter.”

In the examples reviewed by The Examiner, public records show the mayor did not update her calendar within the three-day period required by the city law, often leaving them incomplete for more than a week. After public records requests surfaced and questions from The Examiner and others were raised, the mayor sometimes did add more information about her meetings later, as reflected by further public records requests.

Activists say the October meeting with the Hunters Point contractor is an important example of the need for more transparency. The Five Point executive who met with the mayor that day has been a contributor to multiple Breed campaigns and organized a fundraiser for the mayor with the wife of another Five Point executive in 2019, according to city campaign contributions records and documents on the mayor’s campaign website. Also, Five Point lobbyists met with Breed’s staff about the Hunters Point project four times within two months of the meeting, including the day of the meeting, and the day after. Five Point Holdings did not respond to requests for comment.

Then, two days after the Five Point meeting in October, Breed announced to San Francisco citizens that new environmental hazards had been discovered at the site of the developer’s Hunters Point project. That left neighborhood residents, who are weary of being left out of important conversations, feeling even more mistrustful of City Hall. They describe Breed as far from transparent.

“That’s serious and it’s extremely important,” said Arieann Harrison, a Hunters Point resident and social worker who has followed in the footsteps of her mother, Marie, as an environmental activist for the neighborhood. More disclosure about the meeting is “information that definitely needs to be put out to the public because trust is notoriously compromised” when it comes to Hunters Point, Harrison told The Examiner. “The community is left out of the conversation,” she said.

Breed should have disclosed details about the meeting on her public calendar within three days of the meeting, as required by city law. But 10 days after the meeting, Breed had not disclosed what she discussed with the company, according to documents the mayor produced in response to a public records request. The mayor later changed the calendar entry to add a few words on what she talked to the developer and campaign contributor about.

The mayor supports “total transparency” about Hunters Point issues, Andy Lynch, a spokesman for the mayor, said in an email to The Examiner. “That meeting was generally about the development project at Candlestick Point and not the remediation at Hunters Point Shipyard,” the spokesman added.

Asked if it is a conflict of interest for the mayor, who made $457,782 last year according to city records, to conduct a fundraiser co-hosted by a Five Point executive and the wife of another, the mayor’s spokesman said in an email that, “There is no relationship between the meeting and a fundraiser from nearly three years earlier.”

Breed declined to be interviewed for this story.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story referenced a meeting between Breed and Supervisor Myrna Melgar on Dec. 2. Breed did not attend that meeting. We have updated the story to reflect this.

jelder@sfexaminer.com

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