Is Art Torres helping PG&E, helping his son’s political career, or both?

Pub date September 18, 2013
SectionPolitics Blog

As I’ve been reporting on how CleanPowerSF is being blocked by Mayor Ed Lee and his political appointees on the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, one piece of the puzzle that I couldn’t quite figure out was why SFPUC President Art Torres took the position he did, offering little public explanation for his stance.

“His opposition to the rate vote was strange because he didn’t give clear reasons,” Eric Brooks, who has been led the grassroots campaign in support of CleanPowerSF, told us. Torres also hasn’t returned Guardian calls on the issue, and he refused a formal request from Sup. John Avalos to explain his position.

As a former state senator and longtime former chair of the California Democratic Party, Torres certainly has connections to Pacific Gas & Electric and the array of politicians that support it, include Willie Brown. But that just didn’t seem like enough for a senior statesman with a decent environmental record to sabotage San Francisco’s only plan for building renewable energy projects.

But some of my political sources have clued me into another possible motive, and it seems to make sense. Art Torres’ son is Joaquin Torres, who works in the Mayor’s Office and who Lee in February appointed to the Housing Commission, where Torres now serves as president.

And here’s the kicker: those sources also say that Joaquin Torres has already started running for the District 9 seat on the Board of Supervisors, which is now held by Sup. David Campos, who is running for Tom Ammiano’s seat in the California Assembly. And if Campos wins that race next year, Mayor Lee will get to fill it, possibly naming Torres to one of the most progressive seats in the city.

So dad gets to score political points with some powerful friends, and help launch his son’s political career in the process. These motives are beginning to add up.

Joaquin Torres is now deputy director of the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development, “where he leads Mayor Lee’s Invest In Neighborhoods Initiative to leverage City resources across city departments to maximize positive economic and social impact in low-moderate income neighborhoods and throughout San Francisco’s commercial corridors,” the Mayor’s Office wrote in February when Torres got appointed to the Housing Commission.

Sounds like the perfect job for someone being groomed for the Board of Supervisors, where he could have a serious impact on this city’s political dynamic, tipping policies in the neoliberal to moderate direction of expanding corporate welfare programs and speeding up gentrification.

Neither Torres has returned our calls, but I’ll update this post when and if they do. And while this is clearly just political speculation and conjecture, I have a feeling that I’m onto something here. So remember where you read it first.