S.F.’s environmental official resigns over alleged $25,000 donation – The San Francisco Examiner

The City’s top environmental official abruptly resigned on Thursday amid scrutiny about her alleged solicitation of a $25,000 donation from Recology for her department.

Department of the Environment Director Debbie Raphael’s resignation came two days after a San Francisco Standard story revealed the gift, and a day before the city controller’s office is expected to release a “public integrity review” that included an inquiry into her actions.

Stepping into Raphael’s role on an interim basis is Tyrone Jue, who is the assistant deputy general manager for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and an environmental advisor to Mayor London Breed, who announced the appointment on Thursday. Jue also serves as Breed’s appointee on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District Board of Directors.

Raphael quit as political pressure was only beginning to mount. Supervisor Aaron Peskin called for a hearing Tuesday amid the swirl of allegations of potential misconduct and ineptitude against the Department of Environment and “pay-to-play” politics in City Hall.

“This is more than deeply disturbing, it really makes me sick,” Peskin said. “And I am deeply concerned that it’s not close to over.”

Peskin told The Examiner that he would drop his push for a hearing following Raphael’s resignation on Thursday.

The Standard reported on Tuesday that Raphael solicited a $25,000 donation from Recology at the same time the waste management company was inking a city contract to haul trash to its Solano County landfill in 2015.

The allegations echoed the dealmaking in City Hall that led to the downfall of former Department of Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, who pleaded guilty to fraud earlier this year after accepting gifts from city contractors in exchange for city contracts.

Raphael, who served as director of the department for eight years, allegedly solicited the donation from Recology to help fund climate change awareness events organized under then-mayor Ed Lee. Simultaneously, the Standard reported, the city was finalizing its deal for trash hauling with Recology.

The Recology executive from whom Raphael requested the donation, Paul Giusti, played a key role in the Nuru scandal. Giusti ultimately pleaded guilty to attempting to bribe Nuru.

The Department of the Environment did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Breed lauded Raphael’s years of work for the city, including the development if its Climate Action Plan, in a statement.

“While this work has been important, issues with the Department have been raised recently by the Controller and the City Attorney,” Breed said. “At this time, new leadership at the Department will allow us to continue the important work started under Debbie’s tenure.”

Peskin also pointed to recent reporting in the Chronicle, which documented the disappointment of recycling advocates in the Department of the Environment’s new SF BottleBank. The mobile recycling program, which ostensibly exists to make it easier for people to return bottles and cans for a deposit, was shaped in part by grocery industry lobbyists.

The hearing Peskin called for on Tuesday, he said, would be used to analyze the Department of the Environment’s contracting processes.

Recology agreed earlier this year to pay $95 million to city residents after investigators looking into Nuru discovered that he had agreed to recommend a rate hike of 14%, double the company’s proposed 7% increase.

Peskin introduced a proposal to shift the responsibility of tracking – and proposing – the rates Recology charges San Francisco customers from the Department of Public Works to the Controller’s office. It will appear on the June ballot.

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