Gwyneth Borden, the vice chair of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) Board of Directors, recently admitted to illegally lobbying city officials in order to help an Italian restaurant obtain permits for a roof deck, as we previously reported here. Borden, who was appointed to the SFMTA board in 2014 by then-Mayor Ed Lee, previously served on the San Francisco Planning Commission from 2008 to 2014.
During her time on the SFMTA board, Borden reportedly sent 32 emails to six staff members of the Planning Department, personalized emails to all seven members of the Planning Commission, and additional emails to San Francisco Supervisor Dean Preston, as originally reported be Mission Local. These correspondences aimed to secure support for the legalization of an outdoor deck at the Sunset District restaurant Fiorella.
Borden was paid $12,500 by Fiorella for her lobbying efforts, which is illegal when undisclosed. The San Francisco Ethics Commission has voted in favor of imposing a higher penalty than the initial suggested fine of $9,000 – up to a maximum of $37,500, per the SF Chronicle.
The outdoor deck in question belonged to a previous tenant of the building, Park Chow, which had installed it without permits. When Fiorella moved into the location in 2019, the restaurant sought to legalize the non-compliant deck and hired Borden to assist them in obtaining the necessary permits.
Borden, who served on two different city commissions for a total of 15 years, has admitted to the illegal lobbying charges and acknowledges that she should have known better, stating, “I made a mistake, I should have known, I misunderstood that I shouldn’t have contacted another city department at the time” . Described as a well-known open secret, former city hall employees often get paid substantial sums of money for lobbying their colleagues.
The Ethics Commission expressed their doubts regarding Borden's claims of ignorance. Former planning commissioners cited the annual ethics courses and testing that city commissioners are required to complete on ethics guidelines, indicating that Borden should have been well aware of the rules.
According to the Stipulation, Decision, and Order from the SF Ethics Commission, Borden has agreed to pay the administrative penalty, acknowledging responsibility for her actions, and stating that the penalty is a reasonable one. Should Borden fail to comply with the terms of the stipulation, the Commission may reopen the case against her and prosecute her for any available relief.
As the situation now stands, the rooftop deck of Fiorella has been legalized, and the restaurant is currently serving patrons there. This case serves as a stark reminder of the potential consequences public officials can face when they fail to adhere to the rules and regulations surrounding lobbying and financial transparency.