City Hall Watch: Newsom sees mixed reaction to his PUC appointees

Caught up in disputes over public power and Mayor Gavin Newsom’s move to fire San Francisco Public Utilities Commission chief Susan Leal, one mayoral appointee to the agency was shot down Tuesday while another narrowly passed through.

“If it’s the mayor’s intent that we turn a page, we will turn a page,” Supervisor Bevan Dufty said, casting a vote to reject Newsom’s reappointment of Ryan Brooks to the Public Utilities Commission. Brooks is an executive with CBS Outdoor Inc., an advertising company.

It takes eight votes to reject a PUC appointee. Supervisors Michela Alioto-Pier, Carmen Chu and Sean Elsbernd supported Brooks.

The board was unable to secure enough votes to oust Richard Sklar, a former ambassador to the United Nations.

Dufty criticized Newsom’s decision to get rid of Leal and said it “puts at risk” progress on anumber of key projects, only because Newsom wanted a “team player.”

Sklar said he felt like he was “collateral damage in a battle that’s not mine.”

Alioto-Pier said she was “seeing more politics in this than I have seen in a long time.”

The three members who opposed rejecting Brooks’ appointment also supported Sklar. Supervisor Chris Daly offered the surprise vote that secured Sklar’s reappointment. Daly said he backed Sklar because he has exhibited “political independence.”

“We’re pleased that Ambassador Sklar survived the attempt to oust him,” Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard said. “The board took their pound of flesh by rejecting Ryan Brooks, who has been loyal to the mayor.”

In January, the mayor announced that he was replacing Leal with City Controller Ed Harrington, although technically, the commission would need to vote to end her contract, which it has not yet done. Under the terms of her contract, Leal would be paid $400,000 if she is voted out.

IN OTHER ACTION

TAXICAB DRIVER CHARGE INCREASE: In a 6-5 vote, legislation was adopted authorizing a $5 increase on the charge taxicab companies can charge drivers per shift to drive a taxi; and an additional $7.50 if the taxicab is a hybrid or alternative-fuel vehicle. The law also requires that taxicab companies reduce the carbon emissions from cab fleets by 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2012.

Supervisor Chris Daly introduced legislation that would extend the deadline for medical marijuana clubs to obtain city permits to legally operate from March 1 until Jan. 21 after, he said, The City has been unable to process applications for permits in time. Only one club has obtained a permit so far.

PROPOSED HEAD SHOP MORATORIUM: San Francisco’s counterculture gave birth to head shops, and over the years The City’s pot-friendly attitude has helped the business flourish — a little too much, according to one supervisor who introduced legislation Tuesday that would prohibit any new head shops from opening up.

Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval introduced an “urgency ordinance” Tuesday that would impose a 45-day moratorium preventing any new shops that sell tobacco paraphernalia from opening for business in San Francisco.

These shops are commonly referred to as head shops and sell such items as hookahs, hand pipes and water bongs. Selling drug paraphernalia is illegal, but these particular items are considered legal because the devices are also used for tobacco smoking.

According to the legislation, the “inordinate number” of the shops is contributing to illegal activity such as drug trafficking, loitering, drug use, as well as creating a nuisance for those living near them.

A moratorium can be extended or it can be used to buy time to come up with planning controls such as a special permitting process to allow for more public input on whether a new head shop should be allowed to open for business.

jsabatini@examiner.com

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