After a scandal-plagued year at City Hall, San Francisco Mayor London Breed is going with a familiar name and face for her nomination for the next general manager of the SF Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC): City Attorney Dennis Herrera.
Breed is tapping Herrera for the job four months after the late November indictment of former SFPUC general manager Harlan Kelly, following which he resigned from his post. Kelly was accused of accepting a bribe from permit expeditor Walter Wong, who was himself charged in the wide-ranging corruption probe by federal authorities — and Kelly's wife, Naomi Kelly, would ultimately resign from her role as city administrator as well, though she has not been charged by the feds.
In a statement Monday about Herrera's nomination, Breed said, "Dennis has been a great champion in San Francisco across a wide range of issues from civil rights to protecting our environment, and most importantly he has been someone who always puts the people of this City first. By bringing his experience in office and his commitment to public service to this new position, I am confident the SFPUC will be able to deliver the high-quality services our residents deserve while continuing to advance nationally-recognized programs like CleanPowerSF and pursue ambitious efforts like public power. Dennis is the right leader for the hard-working employees of the SFPUC and this City."
The five-member SFPUC oversees the city's drinking water and wastewater services, and it provides power to the residents and businesses of San Francisco through the CleanPowerSF program. It also sells wholesale drinking water to three other Bay Area counties, and manages the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in the northwest corner of Yosemite National Park, where our water comes from.
As the Examiner reports, Breed's nomination of Herrera may as well serve as a guaranteed appointment. The SFPUC was in the midst of a search process for a general manager, who would need approval from the mayor and Board of Supervisors. But now, his nomination is expected to be put forward by the SFPUC for final approvals, according to the Mayor's Office.
"San Francisco’s public utility needs clean, innovative and decisive leadership to meet that challenge. I am ready to take the lead in ensuring that all San Franciscans have sustainable and affordable public power, clean and reliable water, and, overall, a public utility that once again makes them proud,” Herrera said in a statement. “I want to thank Mayor Breed for this unique opportunity to stand up for ratepayers and usher in a new era of clean leadership at the top of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission."
Herrera, who ran for mayor in 2011 and appeared poised to again in 2017, was seen as a potential mayoral candidate along with Supervisor Matt Haney, though perhaps this sets him with a job that's a bit cushier.
And, this means that Breed gets to appoint Herrera's successor as City Attorney, who will then have to run for election sometime in the next year or so.
Herrera has been a vocal figure in the corruption probe, launching his own investigations into backroom dealings with city contractors alongside the City Auditor. In early March, he suspended four contractors from doing future business with the city pending the results of the federal investigation.