Mayor London Breed has tapped Ed Harrington to sit on the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the agency he ran for four years after serving as the city controller for even longer.
Harrington’s mayoral appointment was praised Monday by the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee, where he addressed plans to buy out Pacific Gas and Electric Company and make San Francisco become a public power town.
He comes to the body at a time when the SFPUC is under scrutiny by the FBI as part of an ongoing corruption probe at City Hall that has brought down former Public Works head Mohammed Nuru and several city contractors. The feds have subpoenaed records pertaining to current SFPUC head Harlan Kelly among other officials, as previously reported. Kelly has not been charged with a crime.
When Supervisor Gordon Mar asked Harrington to address the corruption probe during Monday’s hearing, Harrington said there was a need to boost morale of honest workers but weed out any wrongdoers.
“Work with those and really support the staff that are great. At the same time, if someone is not, if someone is working against us, then you take them out,” Harrington said.
Mar also asked the same question of Breed’s reappointment to the commission, labor leader Tim Paulson, whose confirmation was also before the committee.
“To be honest, I have not seen anything,” said Paulson, who was first appointed in April 2019. “I will be diligent.”
He added, “We hope that this department is as clean as I’ve seen it. If there’s something there, I will keep my ears wide open.”
“Right now it is really important for all of us on the Board of Supervisors and members of important commissions like the PUC to really focus on our oversight role to restore confidence and faith in our city government and critical departments like the PUC,” Mar said.
Breed appointed Harrington to the commission for a term ending Aug. 1, 2024. The seat was formerly held by Francesca Vietor.
“I have a history and a love for the organization,” Harrington said of his desire to serve on the body.
Harrington signaled his support of creating a public power structure in The City by buying the PG&E infrastructure, an ongoing discussion among city officials.
“It is pretty clear, to most people anyway, that you can run a public power agency, you can have it cheaper, you can have a better green mix. They do it in LA and Sacramento and Silicon Valley,” he said. “The real issue is how you get from where we are today to how you get to there. How do we buy out PG&E, how do we make sure the system is sustainable, what will that cost, and how do we do all of that without causing some kind of rate shock?”
He said that The City’s creation of a community choice aggregation, something he helped work on as general manager, known as CleanPowerSF, was the prelude to creating public power.
“The only reason for doing that was on the way towards really running your own power operation,” Harrington said. “It is a better way to do it for the people. Is it a better way to do it for the environment? Sure.”
Harrington spoke to the need to resolve “tension” over the way the agency manages land and waterways while also meeting its obligation to customers.
“There is always that kind of tension. I think it’s bubbling up again right now. I’ve always been able to work through those things by having just a real transparent way of dealing with things with people,” he said.
He also acknowledged the need for the agency to be more involved in the Bayview community, where it has a wastewater facility that was for years subject to complaints of foul odors. The SFPUC is in the process of rebuilding the facility now.
Harrington’s more than two-decade career with The City began in 1984 when he worked as the SFPUC’s assistant general manager of finance. In 1992, Harrington became the City Controller, a position he held until 2008 when he left to become the general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which he held for four years.
Harrington was also a top contender in 2011 to serve as an interim mayor, but instead the board picked the late Ed Lee. He also delivered an inspiring “bread and roses” speech to the Board of Supervisors upon his retirement, emphasizing the importance of public service and advising elected officials to pick one or two priorities that would make a real difference in people’s lives.
He has served as co-chair of a Muni working group since June 2019 that was formed to recommend improvements to the transit agency.
The full board is expected to vote on whether to confirm the appointments next week.