Supes question giving contract to top lobbying firm

An influential lobbying firm that also contributes money to candidates running for the Board of Supervisors was granted a three-year city contract for up to $175,000, drawing criticism from some supervisors who said they opposed it on principle.

The San Francisco County Transportation Authority, made up of members of the Board of Supervisors, voted 6-3 Tuesday to approve a contract with Barbary Coast Consulting to perform public outreach when it comes to a slew of transit projects, including the Van Ness and Geary Boulevard bus rapid transit projects.

Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, along with Supervisors Michela Alioto-Pier and Sean Elsbernd, voted against awardingthe contract. Supervisors Bevan Dufty and Gerardo Sandoval were absent.

“I just did not feel comfortable voting to approve a contract to a group that does a lot of lobbying on projects here at City Hall,” Elsbernd said on Wednesday.

Two years ago, the firm contributed thousands of dollars into what ended up being a failed effort to pass the controversial Proposition J, the so-called Workforce Housing Initiative, which critics said was pro-developer. On its Web site, the firm celebrates its recent victory in helping developers win approval of a 1,600-unit housing development on Rincon Hill.

In recent years, Barbary Coast Consulting or its partners have contributed thousands of dollars to local candidates, with some of the money going to Supervisors Chris Daly, Jake McGoldrick, Sophie Maxwell, Peskin and Elsbernd, according to campaign contribution statements filed with the Ethics Commission.

Given that partners in the firm make campaign contributions, “turning tax dollars around to them just didn’t seem appropriate,” Elsbernd said.

Peskin said he would have “preferred for them [the Transportation Authority] to go back out and get somebody to do public outreach that is not a lobbyist.”

The consulting firm serves such clients as Nordstrom, Comcast and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, according to its Web site. Officials at the firm declined to comment Wednesday.

“The reason why I voted in favor of [the contract] was because there was a process that the Transportation Authority went through that seemed transparent,” Daly said. He emphasized that the notifications for the position were sent out to a number of entities that provide the service and an independent review board picked Barbary Coast as the top candidate.

“I generally do not like to vote against the recommendations of an independent panel when the process seems fair,” Daly said.

Peskin said that even though the contract was legal he does not “feel comfortable being lobbied by people who are on the public payroll. It just seems inappropriate to me so I cast a dissenting vote.”

McGoldrick dismissed concerns over the contract. “I certainly understand their feelings. I understand the basis of their vote. They should propose some changes in law,” he said.

jsabatini@examiner.com

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