Play at work, or more at play?

While Newsom's campaign collects from developers, fallout from the Planning Department's internal porn investigation raises questions

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Senior planning staffer Larry Badiner left with a $82,500 payout
PHOTO TAKEN FROM A RECENT PLANNING COMMISSION VIDEO

rebeccab@sfbg.com

There's a long-standing perception in San Francisco that certain development firms are treated more favorably than others thanks to insider politics. And while supporters of Mayor Gavin Newsom say he's cleaned up the pay-to-play culture, a look at the list of contributors to Newsom's run for lieutenant governor at the very least raises questions.

For example, according to campaign filings, Newsom received $6,500 from a business called 706 Mission Street Co. LLC, which was formed to construct a condo high-rise at Yerba Buena Center. The building would also be a new permanent home for the city's Mexican Museum. The 706 Mission project, which has been in the works for several years, is a joint venture between developer Millennium Partners and JMA Ventures, a San Francisco-based real estate investment firm. JMA Ventures contributed $5,000 to Newsom, campaign finance records show, and the firm's president and CEO, Todd Chapman, also made a generous donation of $1,000. Effectively, Newsom's campaign received a total of $12,500 from individuals or firms associated with 706 Mission.

The project has been under the jurisdiction of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency since 2008, when the Redevelopment Commission authorized an exclusive negotiations agreement with the developer for the mixed-use high-rise and museum, to be partially constructed on a parcel owned by Redevelopment and later included plans to integrate the landmark Mercantile Building. The project went dormant in the face of the economic downturn, but it's now moving forward again, and the environmental review of the proposed 600-foot tower falls under the purview of the city's Planning Department. On Sept. 1, Newsom mentioned 706 Mission, a "new, world-class facility," in a press release announcing a new director for the Mexican Museum.

"The Redevelopment Agency and the city are fully committed to the public/private/nonprofit partnership that will eventually bring the Mexican Museum to a new home in the heart of Yerba Buena Center, San Francisco's premier cultural district," Redevelopment Agency executive director Fred Blackwell proclaimed.

Another contributor that demonstrated strong financial support for Newsom's bid is a global technical firm that has a hand in several major infrastructure and development projects throughout San Francisco. AECOM contributed $13,000 to Newsom's campaign, and a handful of people who work for AECOM chipped in smaller amounts totaling $3,600, according to campaign-finance records. In an April 15 news release for investors, AECOM noted that it had been awarded a $26 million contract for construction management of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission's Water Improvement Infrastructure Project. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported in May, the firm was also awarded a five-year, $147 million contract with the San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency for construction management on the Central Subway project. AECOM is also playing a role in a number of major developments currently under review in city planning. It is the prime environmental impact report consultant for the California Pacific Medical Center proposal for a giant new hospital on Van Ness Avenue. It's also completing a traffic corridor analysis for 19th Avenue on behalf of the developers of Parkmerced, a renovation and in-fill project on track to be one of the largest new residential developments in the city.

 

A $2 MILLION BONUS

The Parkmerced developers have helped Newsom's campaign along too. Craig Hartman, an internationally renowned architect with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill who is a design partner for the project, dropped $1,000 into Newsom's hat. Two executives associated with Parkmerced each pitched in another $1,000.