SAN FRANCISCO — City Attorney Dennis Herrera announced Feb. 20 that he has reached a settlement agreement in his litigation against former San Francisco Supervisor Michael Yaki for violating the city’s lobbyist ordinance.
Herrera’s lawsuit, filed last December, alleged no fewer than 70 legal violations during the time Yaki was paid to advocate for a firefighter air replenishment system vendor in the legislative process that revised San Francisco’s Fire Code last year.
Under terms of the proposed agreement, which will not become final unless approved by the Ethics Commission and Board of Supervisors, Yaki will pay a total of $75,000 to the city over a period of nine years; register as a lobbyist and file all disclosures as required by law; and complete a lobbyist training session offered by the Ethics Commission.
The item was approved by the Ethics Commission at its Feb. 24 regular meeting. A separate settlement with former retired state fire marshal Ruben Grijalva, which also involves lobbying on behalf of the air system vendor, was also approved by the commission. That pre-litigation agreement requires Grijalva to register as a lobbyist retroactively; file monthly disclosures; pay the required $500 registration fee; and complete a lobbyist training session offered by the commission.
Stuart Gasner, an attorney for Yaki, told The San Francisco Chronicle, “We are satisfied by the terms of the settlement and look forward to its approval.”
“These proposed settlements should send a strong message that the San Francisco Lobbyist Ordinance has teeth, and that we city officials take seriously our duty to protect transparency in our legislative process,” said Herrera. “I’m grateful to both Mr. Yaki and Mr. Grijalva for engaging in settlement negotiations amicably, and for agreeing to fair resolutions that will avoid further litigation costs. I’m also thankful to members of the Board of Supervisors, their aides and other city officials who cooperated with us in our investigation.”
The settlement agreement with Yaki, which includes no admission of liability, is believed to represent the largest payment to resolve alleged violations for unreported lobbying activity in California history if approved. (A recent high-profile case against Sacramento lobbyist Kevin Sloat by the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission, which settled for a record fine of $133,500 last month, involved Sloat’s violations of gift and contribution limits for lobbyists — and not unreported lobbying.)
According to the complaint Herrera filed against Yaki in San Francisco Superior Court on Dec. 4, 2013, the former supervisor “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 board members, 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. Yaki himself voted for the ordinance in 2000 while a member of the Board of Supervisors.
Yaki’s client, San Carlos-based Rescue Air Systems, Inc., 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 in 2012, 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 Hayes-White’s declaration.
Yaki engaged in extensive lobbying efforts for more than a year on Rescue Air Systems’ behalf to retain the FARS requirement. According to the city’s complaint and supporting declarations, the former supervisor lobbied fire commissioners, 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.
The 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 Fire Code amendments unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors in September, which Mayor Ed Lee approved on Oct. 3, 2013.