Daly Raises Yarne Conflict of Interest Question

Written by Luke Thomas. Posted in News, Politics

Published on February 11, 2009 with 5 Comments

Supervisor Chris Daly sent a Letter of Inquiry to City Attorney Dennis Herrera yesterday
asking the question: “Is there a conflict of interest?”
with Newsom administration Planning Advisor Michael Yarne.
Photos by Luke Thomas

By Luke Thomas

February 11, 2009

Following on the heels of last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting during which Supervisor Chris Daly rose to condemn Mayor Gavin Newsom’s questionable judgement in vetoing legislation that would have corrected a planning department error, a “typo” that directly benefits Newsom political booster Gus Murad in his bid to secure a spot-zone height concession for a development project in the Mission District, Daly yesterday announced he has sent a Letter of Inquiry to the Office of City Attorney Dennis Herrera to investigate a potential conflict of interest with Development Advisor Michael Yarne.

“I wouldn’t be doing this today if it wasn’t for the debacle last week on Mission Street,” Daly said, referring to the four votes from Supervisors Sean Elsbernd, Michela Alioto-Pier, Carmen Chu and Bevan Dufty that sustained Newsom’s veto.

Yarne works for the Newsom administration in the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development, “coordinating planning and certain planning and land use issues on behalf of the administration,” Daly said. Yarne also serves on the board of directors at the Friends of San Francisco City Planning (FOCP), a non-profit organization that receives “significant contributions from those with development interests in San Francisco.”

Yarne dismissed Daly’s assessment of there being a conflict of interest in his dual positions, calling his charge “political football.”

“It’s unfortunate because it’s wasting city resources,” he said.

“The reason FOCP was formed was precisely to create an ethical means of allowing there to be funding to help the [Planning] department in areas that it can’t get funding for,” Yarne added.

Michael Yarne

Yarne said FOCP generates its funding from an annual fundraising event that includes members of the Planning Department, community groups, and private development interests.

Through a grant application process, those funds are then used to fund education and training for city planners as well as underwriting the costs for planners to attend national planning conferences. He said the annual fundraiser is FOCP’s only source of funding.

“The idea that there’s anything nefarious or untoward or dirty, is just politics,” Yarne said.

Adding to Yarne’s claim, Newsom spokesperson Nathan Ballard said, “There is no conflict of interest. Daly’s accusation has no merit whatsover.”

SoMa land use activist Jim Meko, however, disagrees.

Meko, who also serves on FOCP’s 15-member board with Yarne, said a legal opinion from the City Attorney is warranted.

“There’s no doubt that the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development has begun to exert an enormous amount of influence over planning policy in this city,” Meko said. “It certainly wouldn’t hurt to have the city attorney weigh in as to the legality and propriety of Mr. Yarne holding both positions.”

City Attorney spokesperson Matt Dorsey said he could not confirm or deny his office is in receipt of Daly’s Letter of Inquiry, a standard practice in such matters.

“Because of attorney-client privilege, the City Attorney may not comment or acknowledge requests for legal advice from our clients,” Dorsey explained, adding that if a conflict of interest is determined, the conflicted party will be notified.

Luke Thomas

Luke Thomas is a former software developer and computer consultant who proudly hails from London, England. In 2001, Thomas took a yearlong sabbatical to travel and develop a photographic portfolio. Upon his return to the US, Thomas studied photojournalism to pursue a career in journalism. In 2004, Thomas worked for several neighborhood newspapers in San Francisco before accepting a partnership agreement with the SanFranciscoSentinel.com, a news website formerly covering local, state and national politics. In September 2006, Thomas launched FogCityJournal.com. The BBC, CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News, New York Times, Der Spiegel, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Magazine, 7x7, San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco Bay Guardian and the San Francisco Weekly, among other publications and news outlets, have published his work. Thomas is a member of the Freelance Unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, TNG-CWA Local 39521 and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.

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Comments for Daly Raises Yarne Conflict of Interest Question are now closed.

  1. Marc,

    I haven’t changed my mind. You’d be the best supe from D-6 and the best Mayor. But, you can’t win and you know it.

  2. h,

    Given the recent episodes of land use corruption that plague San Francisco and have really been at the forefront of driving the housing crisis which is running our economy into the ground, I’m more concerned with how we can bring standards of ethics to bear on the planning and entitlement process so that our development patterns are not speculative than on picking a horse in D6.

    The person who can win D6 is the person who can put together and execute the kind of campaign that gets progressive D6 voters to the polls.

    Whether there is anything left of San Francisco worth fighting for is another matter entirely.


  3. Marc,

    Give it a rest on Meko. You’ve been slandering him in public and private for a few weeks now and revealed absolutely nothing of substance. Just trying to get attention? Who do you favor for D-6 successor to Chris?


  4. Yarne also uses the revolving door. Up until he worked for the City, he was a lobbyists, representing clients before city bodies, decision makers and staff in his role as an developer attorney.

    Now Yarne has a major say in who gets to build what, where and how high in his role in the Newsom administration.

    Good to see Jim Meko’s commitment to an abundance of caution on ethics matters.


  5. “There is hardly any one so insignificant that he does not seem imposing to some one at some time.”
    — Cooley Charles Horton