Abandoned Burma Ban
The city's new purchaser, Ed Lee, has punched two big holes in the ordinance prohibiting S.F. from granting contracts to companies with business ties to the repressive regime of Myanmar, formerly Burma.
The biggest loophole comes 17 lines into 15 pages of regulations Lee proposed to clarify the ordinance: "The Ordinance does not apply to construction or to the purchase of real estate," Lee writes. A second exempts companies with "non-equity" arrangements in Myanmar. That's where a firm has no direct corporate presence in Burma, but only partnerships with other companies that sell within the country.
The proposed regs have direct implicaions for bidders on an approximate $165 million contract being offered by the airport for construction of a "people mover." Just listen to a lobbyist for one of the contenders. "The real question here is who told Ed Lee he could amend the ordinance," says Barbara French, of Solem & Associates. "Who's pulling the strings? Who is the puppeteer?" The Solem firm represents ABB Diamler-Benz Transportation Inc., a bidder for the airport job that thinks a weakened Burma ordinance benefits its competitor, a U.S. subsidiary of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.
Mitsubishi's subsidiary has significant financial connections to an auto distribution operation in Myanmar, though perhaps not significant enough to trigger the ordinance. But future moves contemplated by Mitsubishi, which have been reported, could put its U.S. subsidiary out of compliance.
Lee's regs could cure any problem, which has drawn attention to Mitsubishi's local lobbyist, William Coblentz, an S.F. lawyer, longtime Democratic Party fund-raiser, friend of Mayor Willie Brown, and former airport commissioner. Coblentz denies having pulled any strings with Lee or with anyone else. "We have let the facts speak for themselves. We simply outbid the competitor," he says. "The conspiracy theory is out there, but it has no substance."