A city worker uses a power washer to clean the sidewalk by a tent city along Division Street Friday, Feb. 26, 2016, in San Francisco. Homeless people have until the end of Friday to vacate a rambling tent city along a busy San Francisco street declared a health hazard by city officials earlier this week. The mayor’s office says about 40 tents remain, down from a high of 140 tents this winter. The tents have lined both sides of a street under a freeway overpass for months, drawing complaints from residents and businesses. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
The man responsible for keeping the streets of San Francisco clean (who’s obviously a miserable failure) was arrested by the FBI Monday afternoon on charges relating to bribery/kickback schemes. Mohammed Nuru, a Willie Brown protege, is the city’s Public Works Director. He first became an executive in the department in 2000 and was appointed Director by Mayor Ed Lee in 2011.
In an indictment unsealed Tuesday afternoon, federal prosecutors allege that Nuru and Lefty O’Doul’s owner Nick Bovis engaged in a scheme to bribe a San Francisco International Airport commissioner to help Bovis obtain an airport restaurant license. That scheme failed when the commissioner said she didn’t need the money, but the scheme doesn’t have to be complete for the men to be found guilty of the crime they’re charged with, honest services wire fraud.
Nuru also allegedly rigged bids to push contracts for homeless porta-potties and “container shelters” to Bovis, and helped a “billionaire Chinese developer” working on a mixed-use project get the project completed in exchange for a vacation trip to China and a $2,070 bottle of wine.
Mayor London Breed tweeted that Nuru had been placed on unpaid leave as of Monday. San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney said that wasn’t enough.
In a series of tweets, Haney said:
This is a sad day for San Francisco. These charges against Director Nuru demonstrate the need for much broader reforms. We urgently need a top to bottom restructuring of the Dept, with much stronger public oversight, accountability and transparency. The Department of Public Works has vast responsibilities, and for far too long there has been too much power concentrated in the hands of Director Mohammed Nuru with very little oversight.
DPW has hardworking employees who genuinely care about our city and take pride in their jobs; however, the hard work and good intentions of our public servants have been undermined by a director who treats the dept like a one-person fiefdom, where anything he says goes. DPW itself is a behemoth controlling vast areas of SF government, yet it lacks basic public accountability like an oversight commission that most depts have, to set standards and review contracts. It is among the largest Departments in SF to lack an oversight commission. The result has been a recipe for corruption and a complete failure to keep our streets clean. San Francisco has become so dirty that we’re now as famous for human waste and filth on our streets as we are for the Golden Gate Bridge.
It’s sad, unhealthy, and clearly unacceptable and the people elected to run our city should be embarrassed that it’s been allowed to continue this way for so long. It is clear that the conditions on our streets are closely connected to the unaccountable leadership of the DPW.
Over the past year, I repeatedly pushed for basic accountability and transparency from Public Works. On common sense reforms to keep our streets clean, like getting more trash cans, power washing, and 24 hour bathrooms, the answer has consistently been no. DPW allocates hundreds of millions of dollars of public money, and must be held accountable. I’ve been working for months on legislation with the City Attorney that would accomplish these goals. The residents of San Francisco deserve better and it’s past time we deliver.
A few hours later he followed up:
We have the most filthy streets in the country. And our Public Works Director was just charged with extensive public corruption. Of course these are related. Our residents deserve a Director focused entirely on ensuring clean and health streets and sidewalks, not self dealing.
Independent publication Mission Local provided more background on Nuru’s “qualifications”:
Nuru is a man with a scandal-marred past — who also made himself indispensable to city leaders. Neighborhood power brokers, city supervisors, and other members of the “City Family” could dial him at any time about piles of unsightly filth or rubbish in their districts and — poof — it would be removed. Mission Local this month reported that Public Works cleaning crews show up ahead of time to spots on the mayor’s daily itinerary, and power-wash them before she arrives. We are told that Nuru, an able behind-the-scenes politician, did not need to be asked to do this.
Prior to Nuru’s ascension to head of Public Works, he was tarnished by ethical charges regarding misappropriation of public funds for personal uses, retaliatory threats against whisteblowers, and charges of directing city contractors to engage in illegal political activities while on the job.
In 2018, NBC Bay Area reported that some $410,000 had been paid by Public Works to a PR firm that undertook surveys of San Francisco’s disturbing street conditions — and found them near-pristine. That firm, JBR Partners, is operated by James Bryant.
James Bryant, Mission Local explains, is tightly connected to former Mayor Willie Brown and current Mayor London Breed.
Federal investigators said during Tuesday’s press conference that more politicians could be implicated in Nuru’s schemes.