Supervisor Shamann Walton speaks during a Board of Supervisors Government Audit and Oversight Committee hearing on the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department that he called for at City Hall on Thursday, March 7, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

On Guard: JUUL hires former dueling campaign consultants, hinting at big-money ballot fight to come over vape ban

Also: Letters from residents show support for waterfront Navigation Center as well as opposition

On Guard column header Joe

Heavy-hitting lobbyists and campaign consultants recently hired by vape giant JUUL hint at a big-money ballot measure to overturn Supervisor Shamann Walton’s proposed vape ban, should it pass, insiders tell me.

The purveyors of puff plan to start by playing nice.

JUUL has hired lobbyist Chris Gruwell, CEO of New Deal Advisers to be their inside man. No doubt he’ll play a key role contacting supervisors and arguing for a vote against Walton’s ban, or some way to scuttle it before it ever gets that far.

Gruwell is experienced as they come, and represents beloved local transit company Scoot, not-so-beloved “disruptive” scooter company Bird, property management firm Boston Properties and the San Francisco Chronicle’s publisher Hearst Corp., among others.

When and if his effort fails, JUUL’s next three hires step up to the plate: David Ho, Nate Allbee and Mark Mosher, campaign consultants extraordinaire.

Their specialty, their vocation, their raison d’être, if you will, is ensuring San Franciscans vote for their client — which suggests JUUL may be keeping a ballot measure in their back pocket. After all, you don’t buy a gun unless you’re thinking about shooting it.

In an interview Friday, Ho admitted as much to me.

“Right now there’s no campaign, unless we can’t come to a compromise,” Ho said. “I’m assuming they’re getting loaded, locked and ready to go.”

If I were Walton, I’d be quaking in my boots about now.

Luckily for those who care about the health of children who are reportedly getting hooked on vape pens, Walton ain’t me. In a phone conversation Friday, Walton sounded resolute: He will move forward with a vape ban despite any threatened ballot measure.

“It sounds like that’s what JUUL’s gearing up to do,” Walton speculated. “But most irresponsible companies aren’t happy when you try stop them from harming young people.”

And for those who marvel at the insidery wonkery that is San Francisco politics, this marks the first time that Ho and Allbee — who are usually on opposite sides — will join forces since they worked together briefly on Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s comeback supervisorial campaign in 2015.

Ho ran the independent expenditure committee supporting London Breed’s winning mayoral run. Allbee supported Mark Leno and Jane Kim.

Ho stumped for candidate Christine Johnson. Allbee worked for Supervisor Matt Haney, who cleaned Johnson’s clock.

And Ho was the iron knuckle behind Supervisor Ahsha Safai’s winning campaign, whereas Allbee supported Kimberly Alvarenga, who lost by a hair.

Ho says toe-may-toe, Allbee says toe-mah-toe. You get the picture.

Now the moderate and progressive-supporting odd couple is all peaches and cream. All it took was a little nudge from the tobacco industry.

Ain’t politics grand?

* * *

OK, raise your hand if you popped some popcorn and watched, slack-jawed, as privileged, tone-deaf waterfront neighbors lambasted Mayor London Breed for daring (and I mean, the nerve!) to put a homeless navigation center near their sea-blue views at Seawall Lot 330.

I tell you, the town hall meeting that Wednesday night, April 3, was hilarious in its absurdity, and saddening in its predictability. Still, as a born and raised San Franciscan, it rattles me that people could be so cruel to the suffering at their doorsteps.

But I ain’t about mopin’. I sought a cure for what ailed me, and found it, in a public records requests of Mayor London Breed’s emails. And Eureka! Lo and behold! Those emails revealed something truly stunning to me: There are actually waterfront neighbors who want the navigation center to move near their homes.

After that stunner of a waterfront meeting, roughly 39 people emailed Breed opposing the navigation center, but a not-too-shabby 34 people wrote her in support of it. Some even live and work nearby. I’m withholding their names due to the high-intensity hate that’s been zinging about this issue, but am quoting them below so we can all see that support.

One resident — who is also a YIMBY member — said their romantic partner works “two blocks away” from the proposed navigation center, and that they both have children who will soon attend daycare near it. This resident wrote to Breed that “the expansion of navigation center capacity will improve the experience of children all over our city who encounter troubling street behavior on a daily basis.”

They added, “there is absolutely nothing wrong with this site.”

A Rincon Hill resident who lives one block from the proposed navigation center said she is the mother of a toddler. “I am in SUPPORT of this navigation center because I believe we need to do everything possible to combat the severe inequality in this city,” she wrote.

And last but far from least, a twenty-year resident of the neighborhood wrote in support of the navigation center, even though they live just three blocks away from the proposed site.

Of the rude shouting and yelling from the community on Wednesday, this resident wrote, “I searched the faces of those around me, trying to see if anyone felt empathy for the people who were the subject of this project. I didn’t find many.”

Yet I found empathy in her words, and the words of many San Franciscans who want this project to go forward.

And sometimes a little empathy is all you need.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

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