On Guard

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Is the death chamber at San Quentin headed for extinction? Maybe.




"The only thing I care about," Sen. Leland Yee proclaimed at a press conference outside City Hall Sept. 26, "is the Central Subway."

The mayoral candidate called the press conference to announce that he wants the high-profile Chinatown transit project to move forward — yet he has concerns that it could be jeopardized by recent revelations of apparent waste, fraud, and abuse relating project contracts.

Yee announced he'd submitted a public records request to Mayor Ed Lee's office, asking the interim mayor and candidate to turn over "all correspondence between the Mayor's Office or the City Administrator's Office and CCDC or powerbroker Rose Pak."

The media event was prompted by reports in the San Francisco Chronicle revealing that the Chinatown Community Development Center (CCDC), an affordable housing nonprofit and Central Subway subcontractor closely aligned with Lee, had received about $750 per hour to attend project meetings, $578 per visitor for outreach, and $25,000 to host a single community meeting, figures he rattled off during the press conference.

"Those are the kinds of abuses, those are the kinds of mismanagement that has been going on, and we really need to put a stop to that," Yee said, adding, "We now have a chance of derailing the Central Subway. And I, for one, am going to do everything that I can to ensure that the Central Subway, in fact, is built. But we cannot do that when you have these kinds of golden chairs, these kinds of waste and abuse ... So what we are now asking is just simply the right of the public to know what's been happening."

Reached by phone, Rev. Norman Fong, who will replace outgoing CCDC executive director Gordon Chin in October, said he was concerned that his nonprofit organization — which has a mission of building affordable housing for low-income residents — had become a target for mayoral candidates looking to score political points. "I'm learning that politics is dirty," he said.

Asked about the exorbitant payments to CCDC highlighted in the Chronicle, Fong said, "they're all lies." He pointed to a response penned by CCDC attorney Gen Fujioka in the local political blog Beyond Chron, charging that the numbers were inaccurate or distorted and taking San Francisco's paper of record to task for what he deemed "faked 'facts.'"

Yet it was tough to discern independently whether the math was fuzzy without the documents in hand. Recognizing this, Fong said his organization planned to address the issue publicly on Sept. 28 and make contract documents available on its website. "CCDC wants to be totally transparent," he said. "We have nothing to hide."

Meanwhile, Yee and CCDC aren't the only ones at odds when it comes to discussing the finer points of the Central Subway deal.

On Sept. 19, retired Judge Quentin Kopp, a Central Subway opponent, mailed a letter to the Little Hoover Commission, an independent state oversight agency, urging it to conduct an audit of the use of state funds allocated to the Central Subway. Kopp cited an annual cost increase of $15.1 million (according to the Federal Transportation Administration) to San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) operations, increased travel times, and a dramatic decrease in projected ridership to back up his argument that "the project makes no sense from either a transportation or financial standpoint; it will result in a continuing waste of funds and inappropriate expenditures."