A Department of Public Works employee pressure washes the sidewalk along Bryant Street near Division Street as DPW crews and SFPD conduct homeless sweeps near the Mission District on Wednesday, April 25, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Cleaning up Public Works

Haney legislation would break up department, create new agency focused on street cleaning

Supervisor Matt Haney on Tuesday announced a plan to introduce a charter amendment for the November ballot that would split and restructure Public Works, creating a new city department whose chief responsibility is keeping the streets clean.

Under the measure, San Francisco would establish a Department of Street Cleaning and Sanitation, which would set specific standards for keeping The City clean and ways to measure its results citywide.

“We have a huge issue with filthy streets,” Haney told the San Francisco Examiner. “We should have a department that’s singularly focused on solving that problem.”

The “Clean City Act” would remove the street cleaning function from Public Works and place it under the new department, which would have its own department head. The measure would also establish a commission to oversee the department.

Haney said that Public Works currently has a large scope of work under 15 separate branches, from construction management to urban forestry, and fails to give enough focus to another one of its responsibilities — street cleaning.

He likened his proposal to similar restructuring The City has done in the past to provide greater accountability and focus on key issues, pointing to the creation of the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development and the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.

The proposal comes a day after longtime Public Works head Mohammed Nuru resigned from his position. He was arrested last month and faces a federal wire fraud charge for allegedly conspiring with local restaurateur Nick Bovis to bribe an airport commission for a chicken restaurant lease at the San Francisco International Airport.

The City Attorney’s Office and the City Controller’s Office are currently investigating Public Works and other city departments in reaction to the federal complaint against Nuru that detailed five public corruption schemes.

Mayor London Breed’s spokesperson Jeff Cretan said the mayor is waiting for the results of the investigation before moving forward with department reforms.

“The Mayor has said that once the City Attorney and the Controller provide more information from their investigation, we will do whatever work is necessary to address any issues with the departments impacted by these allegations,” Cretan said. “She is absolutely committed to restoring the public trust and taking action to make changes to strengthen our departments, but in order to best serve the people of San Francisco, we want to base our decisions on facts and analysis.”

Like Public Works, the new department would fall under the supervision of the City Administrator who would select its director.

Haney said that since street conditions have “become one of the most high profile visible problems in San Francisco” the person in charge of addressing it should have “a track record, the experience, the creative vision” to effectively tackle it.

It remains unclear how much a new department would cost The City. It is also undecided how the commission would be appointed. For example, for some city commissions the mayor appoints the majority of the members and the board the remainder.

Haney said that The City needs to make a significant change to achieve better results.

“What absolutely cannot be the solution is just thinking that a new DPW director, a new ‘Mr. Clean’ is going to solve the problem,” Haney said. “We need a restructuring of DPW and how we respond to street cleaning.”

Haney announced he is working with City Attorney’s Office to draft the measure and will introduce it in the coming weeks. It would take a board vote to place it on the November ballot.

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