Sutro Tower ruling sure looks ugly

The Independent, April 28, 1998
(quoted with permission)

In politics, as in real life, it's just as important to avoid the appearance of impropriety as it is to avoid impropriety itself.

By that standard, City Attorney Louise Renne sure blew it last week, because what she did looks about as improper as you can get.

Renne called off a planned hearing in which the Board of Supervisors was to consider disallowing the addition of a 12-ton digital antenna to Sutro Tower. The unusual decision sent shock waves through City Hall and through neighborhoods surrounding the tower - where many residents aren't convinced that the structure is seismically safe now, let alone with an additional 12 tons of equipment hanging from it.

The Planning Commission had earlier ruled that the addition would not present a seismic risk. Neighbors pushed the commission hard for a more comprehensive safety analysis. The commission refused. Neighbors appealed the decision to the board.

Renne's decision sparked disbelief in the corridors of City Hall, for several reasons.

  • It is rare indeed that the city attorney refuses to let the board hear an appeal of a city commission's decision.
  • Renne personally delivered the news to the Board of Supervisors clerk. She usually does not become so intimately involved in such matters.
  • Renne issued her decision after a group of experts appointed by the Planning Commission expressed serious reservations about adding 12 tons to the tower and urged the Planning Commission to prepare a full-scale analysis of the tower's seismic safety.
  • And, lastly and most suspiciously, Renne's reasoning seems to be heavily influenced by, if not lifted outright from, the opinion of Bob McCarthy, a very connected lobbyist who also happens to have served as the head of several of Renne's political campaigns over the years, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for her.

Renne says her relationship with McCarthy had nothing to do with her decision, but when you add it all up it sure looks improper. Meanwhile, residents who live near the tower have some rather frightening scenarios playing out in their mind along with the sneaking suspicion that the public good is getting steamrollered by political concerns.

Politicians - and make no mistake, the city attorney is one of them - wonder why public opinion ranks them below used-car salespeople on the integrity scale. Renne should be above the kind of shameless back-scratching of political cronies that she seems to have exhibited in this case. The Board of Supervisors can right this wrong by thanking the City Attorney very much for her opinion, and then finding a way to get this matter before them so they can give it the full and open hearing that city residents deserve.

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