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SFPUC OKs contract for Herrera as next GM

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San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera will become the new general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission November 1. Photo: Ashley Thompson
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera will become the new general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission November 1. Photo: Ashley Thompson  

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission on Tuesday approved City Attorney Dennis Herrera's contract to serve as the new SFPUC general manager. The move sets up a round of political musical chairs at City Hall as Mayor London Breed is expected to soon name Herrera's successor.

If, as expected, Breed taps Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco), then Governor Gavin Newsom would call a special election to fill his Eastside Assembly seat. Already, gay former supervisor David Campos announced he plans to run for the 17th District Assembly seat should Chiu not seek reelection.

The Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club has already scheduled a vote on early endorsing Campos' Assembly bid at its October general membership meeting. Fellow progressive District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney is also expected to seek to succeed Chiu, and whoever wins the special election would need to seek a full two-year term in the 2022 general election.

Breed nominated Herrera to take over the troubled SFPUC in April. Former general manager Harlan Kelly was charged in a federal criminal complaint with taking bribes in the city's corruption scandal that saw the arrest of former Public Works director Mohammed Nuru last year on public corruption charges. Kelly's wife, Naomi Kelly, had served as San Francisco city administrator but resigned in February. She has not been charged in the corruption scandal.

Herrera was elected as city attorney of San Francisco in 2001, and will bring decades of experience serving city residents and advancing environmental policies around clean water and renewable energy through his nationally-recognized office, a news release from the mayor's office stated. In that position, he led the city's efforts to legalize same-sex marriage.

In June, the SFPUC Commission officially recommended Herrera to serve as the agency's next general manager. With the ratification of his contract September 28 by the commission, Herrera will officially begin his new post November 1. According to the commission's agenda, it voted on a $395,000 contract for Herrera.

"With the commission approving Dennis Herrera's contract, I am glad we can now move forward with a new era for the SFPUC," Breed stated. "Dennis's long track record of integrity and ethical leadership, as well as his experience leading on issues from civil rights to environmental protection to renewable energy, has demonstrated the type of leadership he will bring to this new role. I am confident that he is the right person at the right time for this job, and I fully expect the SFPUC to continue moving forward programs like CleanPowerSF and our ambitious efforts around public power. I want to thank the commission and President Sophie Maxwell for their leadership during this process and Dennis Herrera for his willingness to serve."

Herrera stated he's excited to begin a new chapter in his career.

"I can't wait to roll up my sleeves and get to work for all of the SFPUC's ratepayers," Herrera stated. "It's an honor to have this unique opportunity to face the challenges of our time as the general manager of the SFPUC. We are in a historic drought fueled by climate change. PG&E's unsafe and unreliable management of the power grid hampers our ability to meet our climate change goals. Now is the time to make real progress. It's time to further diversify our water sources, boost our water recycling, deliver a state-of-the-art seismically strong wastewater system, and buy the electric grid in the city so we can provide all San Franciscans with clean, safe, and reliable public power. I want to thank Mayor Breed and the SFPUC commission for this opportunity. I couldn't be prouder of the work the city attorney's office has done over the last 20 years, and now I'm ready to join all of the hardworking staff at the SFPUC to meet these challenges together."

SFPUC services
The SFPUC provides retail drinking water and wastewater services to the City of San Francisco, wholesale water to three Bay Area counties, green hydroelectric and solar power to Hetch Hetchy electricity customers, and power to the residents and businesses of San Francisco through the CleanPowerSF program.

"After a thoughtful and deliberative process to select the new general manager, the commission looks forward to working with general manager Herrera to make the SFPUC a model utility of the future, and to tackle the critical issues facing the SFPUC and the state," Maxwell stated. "We want to express our thanks to acting General Manager Michael Carlin for his service these past 10 months."

For nearly two decades, Herrera has been at the forefront of pivotal water, power, and sewer issues. He worked to save state ratepayers $1 billion during PG&E's first bankruptcy in the early 2000s and has been a leading advocate for San Francisco to adopt full public power for years.

In 2009, he reached a key legal agreement with Mirant to permanently close the Potrero Power Plant, San Francisco's last fossil fuel power plant, and secured $1 million to help address pediatric asthma in nearby communities, the release stated.

In 2018, Herrera defeated a yearslong attempt to drain Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, the crown jewel of the SFPUC system, which provides emissions-free hydroelectric power and clean drinking water to 2.7 million Bay Area residents, the release pointed out. He is also leading efforts before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the courts to fight PG&E's predatory tactics to grow its corporate monopoly by illegally overcharging public projects like schools, homeless shelters, and affordable housing to connect to the energy grid.

Herrera sued the five largest investor-owned fossil fuel companies in the world in 2017, alleging they knew for decades that their products caused global warming, and yet they deliberately deceived consumers about their products' known dangers while continuing to promote and profit off them, the release stated. The lawsuit, currently ongoing, seeks billions of dollars for infrastructure to protect San Francisco against sea-level rise caused by the fossil fuel industry's products, including large portions of the SFPUC's combined sewer and stormwater system.

Herrera was first elected as city attorney in December 2001, and went on to build what the American Lawyer magazine hailed as "one of the most aggressive and talented city law departments in the nation."

Herrera's office was involved in every phase of the legal war to achieve marriage equality, from early 2004 to the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark rulings in June 2013, the release stated. Herrera was also the first to challenge former President Donald Trump's attempts to deny federal funding to sanctuary cities. He repeatedly defeated the Trump administration in different cases as it sought to punish sanctuary cities, deny basic benefits like food stamps to legal immigrants, and discriminate in health care against women, the LGBTQ community, and other vulnerable groups. He brought groundbreaking consumer protection cases against payday lenders, credit card arbitrators and others, the release stated. He also brought pioneering legal cases to help young people, including allowing public school students to safely return to in-person education and blocking an attempt to strip City College of San Francisco of its accreditation.

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