SF supervisors' panel forwards police panel pick with no recommendation

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Monday June 27, 2022
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Debra Walker's nomination to the San Francisco Police Commission will soon go to the full Board of Supervisors for a vote. Photo: Courtesy Facebook
Debra Walker's nomination to the San Francisco Police Commission will soon go to the full Board of Supervisors for a vote. Photo: Courtesy Facebook

Longtime lesbian artist Debra Walker's nomination to the San Francisco Police Commission moved forward June 27, with the Board of Supervisors rules committee sending it to the full board but without a recommendation.

District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan, who sits on the committee, said during the meeting that she would not be supporting Walker's nomination because she wanted someone with more experience in police reform work.

Walker, 69, was nominated by Mayor London Breed June 1 to replace Malia Cohen, a former supervisor and current elected member of the state Board of Equalization. Cohen stepped down earlier this year as she's running for state controller. She advanced to the November general election where she will face off against Republican Lanhee Chan, after placing second in the June 7 primary.

Walker currently serves on the city's arts commission. She was a strong supporter of Breed's 2018 mayoral campaign and co-chaired the arts and tourism committee that advised her on policy matters during her transition that summer.

As the Bay Area Reporter previously reported, if Walker is confirmed by the board, she will return LGBTQ representation to the powerful police oversight body. It has been more than a year since Petra DeJesus, a lesbian and attorney, resigned from the closely scrutinized police commission on April 30, 2021. Last December, the supervisors rejected two transgender applicants who had sought to succeed DeJesus and instead seated Jesus Gabriel Yanez, a program director with Instituto Familiar de la Raza.

There was no public comment at the rules committee meeting. Chair Aaron Peskin, who represents District 3, also had little to say.

Chan, however, said the city is at a "critical juncture" regarding public safety and she felt the police commission should have a member who has "worked around criminal justice reform."

Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who also sits on the committee, said he would be supporting Walker's nomination. "I think you have a lot to bring to the commission. I think you have done the work," he said, noting that Walker is a former president of the progressive Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club. He noted Walker would return LGBTQ representation to the police panel.

During the meeting, Walker said that she was "interested and excited to engage in dialogue" and work to reform the police department. "I've been meeting with a lot of people in the community."

She also said she wanted to see if the many programs around public safety could be more connected.

Peskin worded the motion to forward Walker's nomination to state "without recommendation" so that it would be unanimous.

One of the police commission's tasks is to conduct disciplinary hearings on charges of police misconduct. In an interview with the B.A.R. when she was nominated, Walker said she would thoroughly review each case brought before the seven-member body and be as transparent with the public as she could be. She would strive to do the same whenever there is a police officer-involved shooting.

"If I am seated and approved by the board, I will be making sure we get all the information and the public knows what happens," she said. "It is upsetting whenever there is a shooting of any kind."

Prior to serving on the arts commission, Walker served as a tenant representative on the city's Building Inspections Commission between 1999-2019.

Walker did not return a request for comment. The full board is expected to soon take up her nomination, likely at its July 12 meeting as it is off next week for the July 4 holiday.

Board of Appeals nominee Alex Lemberg, left, will be voted on July 12, while Paul Woolford's nomination to the Public Works Commission was approved June 28. Photos: Courtesy Twitter and screengrab  

Other out nominees
The rules committee unanimously approved moving forward two other out people for commission posts. One was approved at the board's June 28 meeting while another was continued to the July 12 meeting. There was no public comment on either nominee.

Alex Lemberg, a nonbinary person and attorney, was nominated by District 10 Supervisor and board President Shamann Walton to an unexpired term on the city's Board of Appeals that runs through July 1, 2024. In introducing Lemberg, Peskin used the wrong pronouns but Lemberg stated in an email to the B.A.R. that he wasn't offended.

"It was nothing personal," Lemberg, 34, said.

In a brief phone interview, Lemberg said they are honored to be nominated.

"I'm very much looking forward to serving on the Board of Appeals," they said. "It has quite a bit of power and is pretty substantive."

During the meeting, Peskin noted the board is a quasi-judicial body that is the final administrative review process for appeals relating to a wide range of city determinations.

At the June 28 board meeting, Walton moved to continue the vote on Lemberg's appointment to the July 12 meeting and that passed 10-0 (Supervisor Chan was absent.)

Finally, architect Paul Woolford, a gay man, was unanimously approved to a seat on the city's new Public Works Commission. Proposition B, which was approved by voters in 2020, established two commissions — public works and sanitation and streets. Both commissions are expected to have their first meeting in July, which will be a joint session to review various commission duties. Prop B also created the new Sanitation and Streets Department.

Woolford was named to the architect seat on the commission. He said that he served for eight years on the arts commission. Peskin asked him about potential conflicts of interest because he is a design principal for HOK's San Francisco studio. But Woolford said he understands when he needs to recuse himself — he reviewed ethics requirements when he was named to the arts panel and again more recently, he said — and stated that he doesn't personally benefit from any city contract awarded to HOK.

Woolford's nomination was unanimously approved 10-0 at the June 28 meeting.

Updated, 6/29/22: This articles has been updated to state that Alex Lemberg's appointment was continued to the board's July 12 meeting. Paul Woolford's nomination was approved by the full board June 28.

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