Erstwhile acting Public Works boss Alaric Degrafinried. San Francisco Public Works photo.

The head of the San Francisco Public Works department has left his position — and, this time, the FBI was not a factor.

Mission Local has confirmed with multiple sources that Alaric Degrafinried, who took over the scandal-plagued department in February, 2020, after the arrest and charging of erstwhile Public Works boss Mohammed Nuru, will leave city employment, jumping to a high-ranking position at BART.

Degrafinried will be the assistant general manager of administration at the transit agency, overseeing the consequential areas of labor relations, procurement, and human resources. He had worked for the City of San Francisco since 2007.

The loss of Degrafinried was described as a blow by city officials who’d come to appreciate his steadiness and projection of honest and ethical behavior. Multiple officials described him as a straight-shooter who did not play politics — making him, essentially, the anti-Nuru.

“Overall, I think he’s done a good job in a challenging role at a challenging time,” said Supervisor Matt Haney. “He’s brought a steady, ethical hand to a reeling department that is still deeply broken structurally. He even stood up for the public bathrooms when there was internal pressure to remove them.”

In the wake of l’affaire Nuru, Haney successfully pushed Proposition B, which created oversight boards and split the Public Works Department into a Department of Public Works and Department of Streets and Sanitation. Prop. B, however, also requires the leader of the new Public Works department to be an architect or engineer — which Degrafinried, who has a law degree, is not.

He would have required a waiver to continue on in his current position, and there was much doubt whether he was being considered for the post — hence his decision to relocate to BART.

Sources tell Mission Local that newly installed city engineer Albert Ko will be the new acting head of Public Works.

It’s a department that continues to be plagued with alarming structural problems and vulnerabilities. During a Board of Supervisors hearing in March 2020, Degrafinried admitted that more than half the higher-ups in his department were “acting” directors — including Degrafinried himself.

“My concern is that it’s a lot easier to manipulate ‘acting’ people than permanent,” Supervisor Aaron Peskin said at the time. “No disrespect to Willie Lewis Brown, Jr., but he would not reappoint commissioners, so he allowed them to stay on on a day-to-day basis; he could get rid of them.” 

The upshot here was that Public Works had been run in such a way that a less-ethical leader could’ve easily exerted undue influence. Especially if, as Haney asserted at that hearing, the department had been hiring workers with minimal civil service protections, who could then be leaned on to serve as Nuru’s de-facto personal army.

Following that March, 2020, hearing, Degrafinried surprised his Public Works colleagues by telling the media that he planned to put his hat in the ring to run the department full-time. One colleague clapped her hands in surprise and happiness.

Evidently, much has changed in the last year and a half.

Haney is pushing for a nationwide search to find a full-time director to succeed Nuru and Degrafinried, and to fill the two vacant posts atop the newly split department.

“Alaric was solid as a transitional leader at a very dark time at DPW,” Haney said. “The guy oozed integrity and, needless to say, that’s something we need more of at DPW and across city government.”

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Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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6 Comments

  1. So I guess BART will be even more inefficient if anyone at MUNI has a hand in their operations. Both agencies are some of the worst mismanaged underserved companies that do little to build a reputation worth mentioning.

    1. …except that he had no hand in Muni, he was the acting GM for Public Works. If you’re going to make disdainful comments, at least know which agency it is that you disdain.

  2. Read the article again. This is a huge loss for DPW and cynically they have driven out an honest hard working manager, first they have had in a long long time over a technicality. It is really sad to see this continue to happen. The last three heads of DPW were engineers. Remind me how that worked out again?

    Huge loss for DPW and amazing hire for BART. Mr. Degrafinried is a rare breed that seems so lacking in top ranks of government these days. I wish him the best.

    1. Ed Lee. Ed Reiskin. Mohammed Nuru. None of them were/are registered engineers with the state. Look it up.

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