Willie's Water World Withheld: State Senate Committee Tables Brown-Sponsored Bill That Would Overturn S.F. Ruling, Enrich Massive Engineering Firm

What can Brown do for you? If you're Parsons Engineering, he can get your bill passed in the Assembly -- but not, thus far, in the Senate.
Last week, we reported how former Mayor Willie Brown sponsored a legislative bill that would have changed the state's conflict of interest laws to retroactively overturn a San Francisco city attorney's decision -- and land a $26 million water system job for the gargantuan engineering firm Parsons.

Yesterday, the Chronicle lashed out at AB 746 and urged the State Senate to quash it (it already passed the Assembly, 66-7), echoing a unanimous Board of Supervisors resolution. Yet the Chron couldn't get a hold of the bill's sponsor for comment -- its own columnist Willie Brown.

While the paper couldn't manage to track down its columnist Brown, luckily Richard Procter didn't go AWOL as well. The Chron's man in Sacramento dutifully reported that AB 746 was yesterday pulled from the Senate's Local Government Committee amid questions of its legality by the committee chair, Sen. Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa). Wiggins would like an Attorney General's opinion on whether Parsons putting in a bid on a project it essentially wrote the specs for -- the situation San Francisco opted to avoid -- "constitutes a violation of state conflict-of-interest rules and whether the bill as written would interfere with future conflict-of-interest prosecutions." 

These strike us as somewhat odd questions to ask. Unless we've been misinformed, San Francisco's position is merely that "if challenged" the city would likely lose on a conflict-of-interest complaint -- in other words, the city didn't claim this was a conflict of interest, but that it looked odd enough that the city would be making a dicey move by allowing Parsons to bid on the contract -- and a potential lawsuit from a competitor who didn't receive that bid would delay everything, so why take the risk? As for whether the bill as written would interfere with future conflict-of-interest prosecutions -- isn't that what it's intended to do? This bill would alter the law, no?

Finally, scrutiny of the sort raised by the Board of Supervisors -- and the Chron and SF Weekly -- may be what it takes to derail AB 746. The bill sailed through the Assembly largely because no one bothered to voice any opposition to it. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano told us he noticed Willie Brown's name attached to the proposal, but also noticed it had been greenlighted by the Assembly's Democratic Caucus. No one opposed it. When asked if he wished someone from the city had reached out to him and fellow legislator Fiona Ma -- who also voted "yes" -- he noted that everyone in San Francisco was pressed with budget battles of their own -- but conceded "Yeah, of course." 

If and when AB 746 ever sees the light of day again, state senators won't be ignorant of the fact that San Francisco's elected officials unanimously urged them to dump this bill. As for what Brown got out of all this, he hasn't returned our calls and e-mails. Maybe someone from the Chron will eventually track him down. We hear he has a column there.

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