While Newsom's campaign collects from developers, fallout from the Planning Department's internal porn investigation raises questions
BADINER GETS $82,500
At a Feb. 18 Planning Commission meeting, when the department's proposed budget came under review, commissioners noted that Rahaim was in the unenviable position of having to lay off four to six staffers in order to balance the budget. Noting that a great deal of effort had gone into attracting fresh talent and hiring younger planners, several commissioners expressed hope that they wouldn't be the first to go. Rahaim responded that, given the union's seniority rules, his hands were tied to an extent. In light of that conversation, Servetnick suggested that the porn e-mails presented a convenient solution for a director faced with a thinly stretched budget. All of the five who were fired were 50 or older.
At the same time, others who closely follow city planning rejected the idea of any ulterior motive. Sue Hestor, a land-use attorney who seems to have her finger firmly on the pulse of San Francisco development, told the Guardian that she'd heard plenty of rumors, but wasn't necessarily buying the hype. Charles Marsteller, a former director of Common Cause and a keen observer of the planning process, said he had little reason to suspect that what had happened was anything more than responding to inappropriate conduct.
Zoning Administrator Larry Badiner, a 28-year veteran of the department who critics say was friendly to high-end developers, was fired in the wake of the porn investigation along with three lower-level staffers — but he appeared to walk away with a better deal than his subordinates.
A Guardian sunshine request revealed that Badiner received a six-month severance package amounting to $82,500, plus benefits he was eligible for that could have amounted to more than $57,000 (but may be significantly less). In exchange, he agreed not to sue the city. None of the other planning staffers who were terminated appear to have received such a payout.
Meanwhile, Badiner may not have been the highest-ranking city employee to be snagged in the porn investigation. An e-mail address of dlmacris[at]aol.com was included on an e-mail provided to the Guardian that contained a rather tame pornographic image.
The planner who sent the e-mail was fired after the porn investigation, and so were three of the recipients. Former Planning Director Dean Macris, who more recently served as a special advisor to Newsom, stopped working for the city around the same time Badiner and the others were terminated. Mayoral spokesperson Tony Winnicker told the Guardian he could not discuss anything related to how or why Macris left city service.
Rahaim said he had no choice in the Badiner severance. "The issue with Larry Badiner was required as part of a MEA labor contract. It requires a payout in any situation where a person is terminated or laid off." He added that the firings were "strictly because of inappropriate use of city resources and also because of the type of material" that was being viewed. There was "absolutely no other reason."
And he insisted that no developers get favoritism: "I have no idea who's contributing to whose campaign."
At least one response to the rash of firings commended the planning director for taking action. "I applaud your efforts to address hostile working conditions related to gender and sexual preference, which have long existed in the Planning Department," a retired senior planner wrote to Rahaim shortly after the firings. "There is, perhaps as you have realized, a deep undercurrent of unresolved and unpleasant practices which perhaps finally led to the present complaints."