SAN FRANCISCO — City Attorney Dennis Herrera on Dec. 4 filed suit against former Supervisor Michael Yaki for more than 70 violations of the city’s lobbyist ordinance during the time Yaki was paid to advocate for the interests of his client, Rescue Air Systems Inc., in the legislative process that revised San Francisco’s Fire Code earlier this year.
According to the complaint filed in San Francisco Superior Court, “Yaki flouted the lobbyist ordinance in every way” by failing to register as a lobbyist, failing to disclose the amounts and sources of payments for lobbying, and failing to report his lobbying contacts. The complaint, which was filed with 15 accompanying declarations from Supervisors David Chiu, Scott Wiener, John Avalos, David Campos, Eric Mar and Norman Yee, legislative aides, fire commissioners and S.F. Fire Department Chief Joanne Hayes-White, alleges that Yaki misrepresented his identity as a paid lobbyist when trying to set up meetings with five supervisors.
The city’s lobbyist ordinance provides for civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation, or three times the amount of compensation scofflaw lobbyists fail to report — whichever is greater. Yaki himself voted to support the ordinance in 2000 while a member of the Board of Supervisors.
“San Francisco’s lobbyist ordinance is a good government cornerstone that brings needed transparency to our local legislative process,” said Herrera. “It imposes a simple requirement on lobbyists to disclose the nature and extent of work they do for their clients, and other paid advocates have managed to comply with it thousands of times. Unfortunately, in the case we’ve filed today, the evidence is overwhelming that Mr. Yaki brazenly flouted a law with which he had no excuse to be unfamiliar. Our lobbyist ordinance fulfills a very important function in our local government, and its aggressive enforcement is essential to the legitimacy of the law itself.”
San Carlos-based Rescue Air Systems manufactures a patented “firefighter air replenishment system,” or FARS, which San Francisco’s Fire Code has required since 2004 for new buildings with a height of 75 feet or more. When city policymakers undertook their periodic revision to the local Fire Code beginning last year, Hayes-White was among numerous city officials to oppose extending the FARS requirement because the San Francisco Fire Department had never used or trained on the system, and because firefighters “do not have confidence that the air coming from the FARS pipes is safe and breathable, or that the system has been checked and maintained on regular basis,” according to the fire chief’s declaration.
Yaki engaged in extensive lobbying efforts over a period of more than a year on Rescue Air Systems’ behalf to retain the FARS requirement, Herrera said. According to the city’s complaint and supporting declarations, the former supervisor lobbied fire commissioners, S.F. Fire Department officials, staff in the Mayor’s Office, and members of the Board of Supervisors and legislative aides to extend the legal requirement for an air replenishment system that only one company, Yaki’s client, manufactured.
The City Attorney’s Office’s investigation secured evidence of at least 70 lobbying contacts, including more than 10 lobbying meetings with supervisors and their legislative aides and more than 50 emails to city officials on behalf of Rescue Air Systems’ interests in the Fire Code revision process.
Yaki’s lobbying efforts ultimately proved largely unsuccessful. San Francisco’s Fire Commission passed a motion recommending that the FARS requirement be altered to offer developers a choice of whether to install FARS or a firefighter service elevator to facilitate oxygen delivery. That recommendation was adopted as part of the San Francisco Fire Code amendments unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors in September, which Mayor Ed Lee approved on Oct. 3.
Yaki told The San Francisco Chronicle that his actions were permitted under the ordinance: “There is an exception within the ordinance allowing attorney representation, and as an attorney I worked within the parameters of the ordinance. My client retained several lobbying firms to handle lobbying on the ordinance when it came to the Board of Supervisors.”
The former supervisor runs Michael Yaki Consulting, which has offices in San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C., and is a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. He served as district director and senior advisor to Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco).