City Attorney Dennis Herrera in 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)

City Attorney Herrera OK’d as new SFPUC head

Appointment likely to bring further changes to City Hall

Longtime City Attorney Dennis Herrera was officially cleared Tuesday to become the next general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, opening the door for even more changes to the makeup of City Hall.

Herrera is set to begin in his new role overseeing water and power in San Francisco on Nov. 1. Under a five-year contract unanimously approved Tuesday by the SFPUC, his salary will start at $395,000 a year before benefits — a raise compared to the $342,000 Herrera previously earned in salary and benefits as city attorney.

“This has taken a little bit longer than we have wanted it to,” SFPUC Commissioner Tim Paulson said ahead of the vote. “It’s time to put this, after all this period of time, into place so that we do have a general manager.”

Mayor London Breed first nominated Herrera to the post in April, after former SFPUC head Harlan Kelly became implicated in the corruption scandal surrounding former Public Works head Mohammed Nuru. Kelly stepped down last November when the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged him with fraud for allegedly accepting bribes.

Herrera has served as city attorney since 2001. His office has recently made headlines for conducting its own investigation into the same corruption scandal that took down Kelly, and in March reached a deal for trash hauler Recology to refund ratepayers $95 million that the company overcharged residents.

His transition is also important because of the broader ramifications it will likely have on local and state politics.

As The Examiner previously reported, Mayor London Breed is widely expected to name Assemblyman David Chiu as the next city attorney. That could trigger a heated race for his seat between candidates like Supervisor Matt Haney and former Supervisor David Campos, chief of staff to District Attorney Chesa Boudin.

In a statement, Herrera said he was embracing the new role at a time when the state faces a historic drought driven by climate change, and challenges spurred by PG&E’s “unsafe and unreliable management of the power grid.”

“Now is the time to make real progress,” Herrera said. “It’s time to further diversify our water sources, boost our water recycling, deliver a state-of-the-art seismically strong wastewater system, and buy the electric grid in The City so we can provide all San Franciscans with clean, safe and reliable public power.”

Breed said the transition will usher in a “new era for the SFPUC.”

“Dennis’s long track record of integrity and ethical leadership, as well as his experience leading on issues from civil rights to environmental protection to renewable energy, has demonstrated the type of leadership he will bring to this new role,” Breed said in a statement. “I am confident that he is the right person at the right time for this job.”

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