In an indicator of just how many fingers disgraced permit expediter, contractor and confessed federal criminal Walter Wong had in how many San Francisco pies, a settlement with him ratified by the Board of Supervisors last week includes a $387,000 credit to Wong for garbage can parts.
This equipment is referred to obliquely in the actual settlement as “a credit of $386,933.94 for goods and services already received by the City from Alternate Choice, LLC.”
Mission Local, however, has confirmed that these “goods” are garbage-can parts for the much-maligned “Renaissance” bins procured from the Wong-affiliated Alternate Choice in a $5.2 million contract. The parts had been obtained by the city, but had not yet been paid for — and the $387,000 credit offsets a larger $1.7 million fine levied against Wong.
San Francisco is in the midst of a yearslong process of designing and producing a new, custom-made trash can — an exercise that has required a prohibitive amount of time and could result in garbage bins costing more per unit than a decent used car.
The present trash cans, whose woeful performance induced — and justified — the process of designing a can from scratch and building it, were produced by one of the city’s most notorious fixers. And, thanks to this $387,000 worth of cans and parts, the procurement process can go on; without these parts, it would have been even more challenging to maintain our deteriorating extant cans.
Wong, who was swept up in the ongoing corruption probes stemming from the January, 2020, federal charges leveled against former Public Works boss Mohammed Nuru, was born in Hong Kong in 1948 and emigrated to San Francisco 23 years later. He ascended from positions as a janitor and busboy to become a contractor, major landowner and, perhaps most saliently, a permit expediter.
It is hard to understate the amount of control Wong exercised over this city’s Department of Building Inspection, for a generation. He ran a de facto department within a department, seeded with his allies to handle his matters, up to and including former director Tom Hui.
But, as indicated by the garbage can contract, Wong’s interests were diversified. This was also proven by the federal charges to which he pleaded guilty in June 2020. In that case, Wong was accused of participating in a kickback scheme in which he, a contractor, colluded with the manager of the Chinatown Hilton to extract $1.5 million from the hotel’s owner.
Wong copped to fraud and money-laundering charges and pledged to cooperate with the feds. He did: His fingerprints were all over the charges leveled against former PUC boss Harlan Kelly in November, 2020. Kelly was accused of taking bribes from Wong in return for aid in obtaining a lighting contract (Wong ultimately failed to land the contract; jarringly, within the charging documents, a conversation between Wong and Nuru is recounted, in which the latter tells Wong he had no chance at the contract because a competitor bribed Kelly more).
The settlement ratified by the Board of Supervisors last week dings Wong $1.45 million for contracts he received without benefit of the competitive process and $318,000 in ethics fines and fees. He will also not collect $164,000 in work performed but not yet paid for in an emergency Public Works contract.
Perhaps most consequently, however, the settlement bars Wong from permit-expediting for five years — the maximum debarment period allowed under city law.
The notion of getting replacement parts from Wong for the janky and inadequate cans he provided the city was greeted with some degree of bitter mirth within City Hall. One official likened it to a movie in which a villain is visited in prison — say, Hannibal Lecter — and asked to provide a favor.
Mission Local’s questions to Public Works regarding just how many garbage cans and/or parts one gets for $387,000, and how many years of maintenance this is projected to provide, have not yet been answered.