S.F. City Attorney Accuses Former Member of Board of Supervisors of Illegal Lobbying

Michael Yaki
Michael Yaki, former San Francisco supervisor and current member of U.S. Civil Rights Commission, is accused of violating city’s lobbyist law. (KRON4)
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera is suing a former member of the Board of Supervisors, alleging more than 70 violations of the city’s lobbyist law.

Herrera’s suit accuses Michael Yaki, who served on the board from 1996 to 2001, of failing to register as a lobbyist and other infractions while representing Rescue Air Systems earlier this year. The San Carlos-based firm makes emergency air-supply systems for high-rise buildings that allow firefighters to replenish their air tanks. The company retained Yaki and several lobbying firms to try to persuade the Board of Supervisors to continue an ordinance that required high-rise buildings to be equipped with firefighter air systems. In September, the board dropped the policy in favor of requiring fire-resistant elevators.

The city attorney’s lawsuit, a 468-page document filed in San Francisco Superior Court on Wednesday morning, says Yaki contacted members of the board, Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White and other city officials more than 70 times while the legislation was under consideration. The complaint alleges:

Yaki flouted the lobbyist ordinance in every way. He failed to register as a lobbyist, failed to disclose who was paying him to lobby and how much he was paid, and failed to disclose any of his lobbying contacts. With his identity as a paid lobbyist undisclosed, Yaki sometimes misrepresented who he worked for. When trying to convince two members of the Board to meet with him, Yaki told them that he was “working with constituents concerned about … fire safety,” and he told three other Board members that he was the “attorney for a firm that advocates for increased safety engineering for firefighters.”

Asked to comment, Yaki sent an email response saying his work for Rescue Air Systems was legal:

“There is an exception within the Ordinance allowing attorney representation, and as an attorney I worked within the parameters of the ordinance. My client retained several lobbying firms to handle lobbying on the ordinance when it came to the Board of Supervisors. I look forward to positively resolving this matter with the City Attorney.”

The city’s lobbyist ordinance provides for civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation, or three times the amount of compensation scofflaw lobbyists fail to report, whichever is greater. In a statement, Herrera said, “Yaki himself voted to support the ordinance in 2000 while a member of the Board of Supervisors. … Unfortunately, in the case we’ve filed today, the evidence is overwhelming that Mr. Yaki brazenly flouted a law with which he had no excuse to be unfamiliar.”

Yaki, a graduate of UC Berkeley and Yale Law School, currently serves on the U.S. Civil Right Commission. He also operates Michael Yaki Consulting, which offers services ranging from legal representation to crisis response and communications for corporate clients.

In that consulting role, Yaki recently played a high-profile role in a racial-profiling dispute involving Barneys, the New York City luxury retailer. The company retained Yaki after two African-American customers complained they had been detained after making expensive purchases at the store. In a report on the incidents, Yaki blamed the New York Police Department for profiling the customers and found the company blameless.

Author

Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke (Twitter: @danbrekke) has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.

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