Discover more from Gotham by Susan Dyer Reynolds
Three Bat Friday: Shamann's mentor goes to jail; Preston's in-laws blame the drunk girl; S.F. Police Commission wants to eliminate foot pursuits
Also: Ronen's countdown to freedom ("Olé!"); Stefani's gone sailing; Emeryville's coloring book mayor
In July 2020, I wrote an exposé for the Marina Times newspaper about the corruption within the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) related to a pay-to-play scheme called the Community Benefits Program where joint venture boards made up of firms bidding on large contracts are “encouraged” to donate to favored nonprofits which, of course, inevitably benefits cronies in and around the SFPUC. The mastermind behind the program was Juliet Ellis, the girlfriend of Harlan Kelly Jr. (general manager of the SFPUC) and his chief strategy officer and assistant general manager of external affairs. I first wrote about the couple in my March 2020 column regarding their frequent trips together on the SFPUC ratepayer’s dime, after which the FBI subpoenaed the travel records of Kelly and Ellis. Harlan Kelly also happened to be married to San Francisco City Administrator Naomi Kelly.
In my Community Benefits column, I also made the connection between the Kellys and Walter Wong, a longtime contractor and permit expediter, who agreed to plead guilty to fraud, conspiracy, and money-laundering charges. Harlan Kelly was eventually arrested, and both of the women in his life resigned from their lucrative jobs. But, the Kellys and Ellis weren’t the only ones I mentioned.
Sources within the Community Benefits program told me that Ellis decided which nonprofits would get money (her “friends with community benefits”), and that SFPUC contractor and close pal Dwayne Jones was her favorite middleman with joint venture board developers receiving big gigs. “Dwayne told them what nonprofit donations would help earn the best scores from Juliet,” the source explained. And, it turns out, those nonprofits were often connected to Jones.
I penned a column in February 2022 citing the fact that, despite years of ethical missteps and ties to corruption, the city kept giving Jones millions. Last month, here at Gotham by the Bay, I once again asked “Where’s Dwayne Jones?” Well, as of yesterday, he was in jail on a $50,000 bond after being charged with bribery, misappropriation of public money, and aiding and abetting a financial conflict of interest in a government contract. The District Attorney’s Office and the FBI announced that Jones and Lanita Henriquez, the director of San Francisco’s Community Challenge Grant Program, entered into contracts totaling more than $1.4 million and that those contracts led to kickbacks.
While this may be what they have on Jones right now, I can tell you it’s the tip of a Titanic-worthy iceberg. According to an inside source, Jones has a multitude of city employees to whom he gives kickbacks in exchange for doing his “dirty work” including staff at the SFPUC, the Port, and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. “I assume authorities now have the bank records for Jones and his firm RDJ Enterprises and all this is gonna come out,” the source said. “It's gonna be a bloodbath."
Even after my columns and a report by NBC Bay Area Investigates, Jones continues to do millions of dollars worth of city business. The largest contract, of course, is with the SFPUC, which runs from August 2011 to September 2026. The agreement was originally for $1.3 million, but Jones has charged the SFPUC $3.7 million to date. Jones also has five other SFPUC contracts or subcontracts totaling $410,000, for which he has billed $672,240. Additionally, he has $101,815 in pending purchase orders related to his construction services contract for the SFPUC’s Headworks Facility.
The San Francisco Port Commission has also been very good to Jones. His first work for the agency was a $77,000 contract for public outreach in 2017. RDJ Enterprises inked a second deal that same year for community relations related to the Seawall Resiliency Project. Right before the Port Commission unanimously awarded the $40 million, 10-year deal to their handpicked team, President Willie Adams said, “Dwayne, I love you.” It was an odd moment of blatant cronyism, even by San Francisco standards.
The original fee for Jones’s work on the seawall project was $198,039; in a 2019 amendment, it was raised to $278,421 and, as of late 2021, it was running over at $398,362 — more than double the initial amount.
In 2019, RDJ Enterprises also secured a $75,000 as-needed grant for consulting services, and another $317,894 contract for “environmental consulting” related to a youth employment program.
The most recent mention of Jones came at the August 8, 2023, Port Commission meeting — just three weeks prior to D.A. Brooke Jenkins announcing there was a warrant for his arrest. Brad Benson, director of the Port Waterfront Resilience Program, said they were “working with one of our subcontractors, RDJ, on a learning surge in the Bayview community, focused on youth, businesses, renters, and public housing and faith, faith-focused residents.” Benson said work with Jones and his firm would be “ongoing over the course of the fall.” I think the FBI might have something to say about that.
Jones has been a mentor to many in the City Family, including District 10 supervisor Shamann Walton. In fact, just five days prior to Jones’s arrest, Walton posted a group photo that included Jones sitting across from him at a restaurant. “My first dinner together since the pandemic. Always mentor and be mentored!” the caption read.
As I wrote in 2020, the most prolific beneficiary of the Community Benefits Program is an organization called Young Community Developers, a “non-profit community-based service education, training, and employment placement service provider to San Francisco’s underserved (Bayview/Hunter’s Point) community residents.” Not only was Jones the executive director from 1998 to 2003, but Walton held the six-figure position from 2010 until he joined the Board of Supervisors in January 2019. During Walton’s tenure, an enormous amount of money flowed to Young Community Developers. Of course, Walton was endorsed by Harlan Kelly (surely it can’t hurt to have a close friend in the District 10 supervisor’s seat where most of those Community Benefit dollars are doled out).
Another close friend of Kelly, Jones, and Walton currently runs Young Community Developers, Dionjay Brookter, who was deputy director under Walton from 2010 through May 2016. I don’t know where he finds the time, but Brookter is also the CFO of the controversial Urban Alchemy, another Community Benefits favorite given a multimillion-dollar contract to patrol the troubled Tenderloin as “ambassadors” in an effort to lessen the role of police. Until I exposed the conflict of interest in October of 2021, Brookter was also a police commissioner, so he was essentially running funds out of the police department and into a nonprofit where he controlled the finances. Mayor London Breed clearly felt Brookter had too much time on his hands and wanted him to continue monitoring law enforcement, so in 2022 she appointed him to the Sheriff’s Department Oversight Board. (If you’re reading this DionJay, you misspelled “Sheriff’s” on your LinkedIn page. Sorry, the editor in me just can’t help it.)
My predictions from 2020 were pretty accurate when I wrote that I had a feeling at some point the FBI would knock on the doors of Harlan Kelly, Juliet Ellis, Dwayne Jones and others regarding the SFPUC Community Benefits Program. While Ellis was subpoenaed, she hasn’t yet been indicted, but with her ex-boyfriend Harlan found guilty on six of eight fraud counts by a jury in July and her best friend Dwayne sitting in the slammer, she shouldn’t be sleeping well. Frankly neither should Walton and Brookter. As my dad used to say, “You are the company you keep.”
Overheard at City Hall: Multiple sources tell me that District 9 supervisor Hillary Ronen has a countdown on her phone of her days left in office, and that she has “completely checked out.” Rumor has it she plans to take her kids and her husband, Francisco Ugarte, who manages the immigration unit for the Public Defender’s Office, to live in Spain for a year. I wonder what that means for their Bernal Heights condo? Hopefully they remember to register their unit on the vacant building registry.
The in-laws of District 5 supervisor Dean Preston have prevailed in a lawsuit brought by a woman who fell off the roof of their 18-unit Marina apartment building by blaming the victim. The woman, Sara Mast, filed a personal injury lawsuit against Goosby Family Trust, LLC after she fell off the roof of that building during a Blue Angels watch party (no wonder Preston wants to ban the flashy flight demonstration squadron).
On August 14, the case was dismissed “with prejudice.” Preston’s brother-in-law, Kevin Goosby, was the family representative. Essentially the Goosbys argued that the building was old, and they don’t need to make the roof safe because they haven’t done any improvements that would trigger bringing it up to code. Then they blamed the victim for being drunk. Mind you, the Goosbys make around $50,000 a month in rental income from that four-story complex (one of a number of properties in the Goosby family trust), yet they haven’t done improvements or bothered to bring it up to code. You would think “tenant activist” Preston would be pressuring his in-laws to do something about that.
Among the attacks on Mast and the excuses for Preston’s in-laws made by the Goosby family’s legal counsel:
A reasonable person would see the sky and the lights from the neighboring buildings and not mistake that opening for just another part of the building.
It would have been obvious that it was opening to the roof of the building not meant for a public gathering as there are no guardrails or guardrail-high parapets.
There are no code requirements for any additional safety measures to be taken.
Any argument that Defendant Goosby could have theoretically prevented Plaintiff's fall from the roof would be a ‘red herring’ because Defendant Goosby owed no duty to protect Plaintiff from the consequences of her unforeseeable, voluntary risk-taking. In other words, had Plaintiff not been intoxicated to such a high level, she would have noticed that she was stepping out onto the roof and needed to exercise caution. In fact, even with her level of intoxication, Plaintiff understood that she was going onto the roof. Plaintiff cannot use her voluntary induced state of intoxication to claim that she was unaware of the obvious peril.
Because there is no evidence that there was any necessity or any other circumstance that made it foreseeable Plaintiff would choose to encounter the apparent danger of the roof at night, as a matter of law, Defendant Goosby owed no duty to prevent Plaintiff's voluntary, unnecessary and uninvited risk-taking.
Plaintiff’s level of intoxication would cause severe impairment in reaction time, divided attention tasks, information processing, and visual function.
Before the incident, she would be measurably severely impaired.
She would have serious difficulty with perception of her environment, coordination and balance, ability to focus on the task at hand, visual-spatial memory (remember locations), and executive functions (how to go from point A to point B).
She would likely exhibit staggering gait in new environments, and difficulty maintaining balance when navigating places she has never been before.
She would not be able to control her body … even if she saw something and tried to avoid it, she might not be able to do so.
She would more likely than not show high risk-taking activity and a lack of impulse control.
She would significantly struggle with cognitive tasks in that she would not be able to process information and make a decision.
Sounds an awful lot like the behavior exhibited by the fentanyl impaired drug tourists in the Tenderloin, which, thanks to redistricting, Preston (begrudgingly) represents, yet Preston considers them innocent victims devoid of any self-accountability. “Rather than follow the plan backed by health experts that would bring everyone together except the fringe but well funded we-only-want-police-abstinence-and-nothing-else crowd, the Mayor regressed to Giuliani-esque talk of ‘tough love’ & arresting addicts,” Preston tweeted in May. It appears Preston only believes in tough love for drunk girls who fall off the roof of his in-laws’ rental property.
Speaking of the Marina District, a contentious meeting about the harbor brought out a bevy of boats but no board. District 2 supervisor Catherine Stefani recused herself from representation because her husband owns a boat in the marina. The grassroots group "Keep The Waterfront Open" collected over 2,500 signatures opposing plans that would remove boats located at Gashouse Cove — part of the Marina Small Craft Harbor since the 1960s — so that PG&E can “decontaminate the water.” Along with removal of the wooden slips and the only public fuel dock in town, the view of bobbing masts would be gone forever. Critics say the plan is really about the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department’s desire to accommodate much larger yachts, which would further restrict views from the Marina Green but would increase revenue flow to the agency, all while allowing PG&E to save millions by doing doing a less than adequate cleanup of its toxins under the water of the adjacent Gashouse Cove.
With Stefani abstaining, city charter says "the privilege of the floor shall not be granted, for any purpose, to persons other than officers of the City or their duly authorized representatives. This rule shall not be suspended except by unanimous consent of all Supervisors present,” which leaves residents without representation from their elected supervisor and at the mercy of her often unpredictable colleagues.
The San Francisco Police Commission continues its quest to turn the city into a giant obstacle course in order to force officers into their own twisted version of American Ninja Warrior. The Commission has already eliminated the ability for officers to engage in car pursuits of suspects in most situations under DGO5.05, a general order containing 13 pages of how, when, where, and why police can do so. Now they want to enact DGO 5.25, an order “to provide officers with guidance regarding when to initiate, continue, or end foot pursuits.”
One of the most disturbing aspects of the order reads, “Officers shall weigh the necessity of immediate apprehension (including, but not limited to, the severity of the crime) against the danger to the pursuing officer(s), the fleeing person and the public.” The order adds, “When deciding to engage, not to engage, or discontinue a foot pursuit, the officer’s decision must be evaluated based on the facts and totality of the circumstances known to the officer at the time the decision was made rather than evaluated using the benefit of hindsight.” Clearly, not a single member of the Commission has ever been put in this situation.
The group Stop Crime SF has a form for residents to “tell the un-elected Police Commission you adamantly oppose DGO 5.25 and to stop creating unnecessary, dangerous, anti-common sense policies that render SFPD unable to enforce our laws” here.
I can’t figure out why someone hasn’t sued the Commission for going beyond the scope of their duties. According to the Commission’s city webpage, their mission is “to set policy for the Police Department and to conduct disciplinary hearings on charges of police misconduct filed by the Chief of Police or Director of the Department of Police Accountability, impose discipline in such cases as warranted, and hear police officers’ appeals from discipline imposed by the Chief of Police.” Nowhere does it say they will create laws that govern how officers do their actual day-to-day jobs. Members of the commission aren’t elected, they’re appointed by the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors. In recent years, the commissioners have become more anti-police (think former commissioner John Hamasaki), snarking at citizens on social media for having the crazy expectation that SFPD will be there when needed and allowed to do their job. I don’t see what purpose the Commission serves outside of making the citizens of San Francisco and its already beleaguered police force feel more frustrated and less safe. If it were up to me, the commissioners would be the ones in pursuit — whether by car or by foot — of new jobs.
Across the Bay in Emeryville around 5 p.m. Sunday, August 27, over 300 juveniles responded to social media “calls to congregate” near the AMC Theater at the Bay Street mall. The chaos resulted in multiple fights, a shooting, a stabbing, and a temporary closure of the theater according to Betty Yu of CBS Bay Area. The chaos continued at a nearby Target store, where “kids” were witnessed “pulling items off shelves, creating disorder, and shoplifting.” So where was Mayor John J. Bauters? According to his social media, he was “living outside for the entire month of August” as he does every year.
I wasn’t familiar with Bauters until Emeryville residents began chiming in about his bizarre methods of “leadership,” which he often ends with the hashtag “GoOutside.” Well, those 300-plus teens sure got outside.
Some of his constituents call Bauters the “coloring book mayor” because on August 21 he tweeted, “I was asked recently for tips on how I stay focused through days filled with long meetings. My top three things: I color, I build things, and I drink lots of water. Research shows that those of us who doodle or draw retain 29% more info. I like to color flowers and animals.” Interesting, because my research shows that constituents prefer their mayor on the next plane back home when a crisis strikes.
We have a tie for Tweet of the Week (yes, I know it’s “X” now but “X of the Week” doesn’t have the same ring). Both have to do with San Francisco’s opioid and homelessness crises (which, less face it, are one and the same).
First up is a tweet from community advocate JConrBOrtega who managed to get a picture with Coalition on Homelessness Executive Director Jennifer Friedenbach during a rally held in front of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals just before they heard Friedenbach’s lawyers at the A.C.L.U. fight the City Attorney’s arguments against an injunction forbidding the removal of homeless tents anywhere in San Francisco.
Ortega, who is formerly homeless, tweeted, “Friedenbach’s smile disappeared as soon as she read my sign. But we had a strong showing today in support of getting the homeless sheltered by removing the injunction.”
The second Tweet of the Week comes from phenomenal photographer @thomashawk who often uses his art form to capture the city’s best — and worst. Today’s tweet falls in the “worst” category. Hawk tweeted, “San Francisco Supervisor Dean Preston and some of his pro fentanyl friends held a little rally on the steps of City Hall today. ‘Make Ikea into a Safe Consumption Site,’ read one sign. ‘Downtown is for drug users,’ read another. ‘Police are terrorists’ read one of the tshirts. It was a fairly small get up, but Dean, who stuck pretty close to Jennifer Friedenbach most of the time, seemed to enjoy the adulation of his fawning fans on the steps of City Hall. Meanwhile, a few blocks away on Market street, a guy was shooting up dope in public as people walked by …” For Hawk’s photos of the rally you can check out his flickr album by clicking here. If you’re acquainted with San Francisco’s far-left, pro-drug-pro-homelessness crowd, you’ll see some familiar faces.
We also have a Retweet of the Week related to the pro-drug rally — a heartbreaking irony pointed out by President & CEO of @ycombinator Garry Tan, who tweeted, “They washed off the names of 2,500 overdose victims written in chalk by the mothers of those victims like @Gina_MADAD so that Dean Preston and his open air drug den squad can flaunt their pro death policies...”
The Final Word goes to Gina McDonald, co-founder of Mother’s Against Drug Deaths (MADD), who posted that it was the San Francisco Sheriff who directed Public Works to remove the memorial — which a group of supporters had worked on from 7 p.m. until 2 a.m. — because it was considered “graffiti.“ Fortunately the memorial was preserved in photos and on film.
Between 2020 and 2023, a shocking 2,485 people have died in San Francisco from drug overdoses. The fact a city that allows addicts to die on the streets considers honoring their names on those same streets to be “graffiti” says it all.