Go, Team, Go
Last week, I marveled at the moxie of longtime mayoral pal Jacqueline Besser, telling a little story about what seemed to be funny business at the Municipal Railway involving controversy over a $66 million city contract to arrange public transportation for the disabled.
But I must apologize. Last week, I had an incomplete picture of Madame Besser. It turns out she is more impressive than I was able to say. The power she and her husband, lobbyist-lawyer Stephen Besser, wield in San Francisco seems truly marvelous. In just the last few years, these relative newcomers to San Francisco have managed to snag pieces of at least two juicy city contracts, and appear to have a good angle on participating in a couple more. And they've done it with relatively little in their corner.
Except, it seems, an almost golden connection to Willie Brown.
The Besser moxie apparently began to work its magic almost immediately after the pair left Los Angeles and arrived in San Francisco, following their longtime pal, Willie Brown, who'd just been elected mayor. Stephen and Willie had worked together at the same law firm; Willie had appointed Jacqueline to the California Commission on Aging. And now they were all back together in one city again.
Soon, Stephen started representing a garage-management firm that was making a run at city contracts. His wife became attached to one of the firm's bids in early 1997, and, selling herself (quite properly) as a minority contractor, she appears to have provided the extra push her husband's client needed to win a nearly $1 million-per-year contract to manage two city parking garages.
I do not know whether Jackie Besser has any experience in running garages or in providing security for them -- the two things she purportedly performs under the 1997 contract with the San Francisco Parking Authority, a division of the Department of Parking and Traffic. Neither she nor her husband returned my phone calls. Public records list her company, Daja Inc., as a marketing consultant firm. The director of the Parking Authority, Bob Davis, says, "I've never asked her about her qualifications." A joint venture agreement she struck with her husband's client in relation to the parking-management bid says simply that "Daja, Inc., is a women-owned minority corporation which provides, among other things, management consulting services."
At any rate, Jackie Besser wound up with a 42 percent stake in the garage contract after convincing city officials that she could help run and provide security for the two public garages. Eventually, Stephen's client, Parking Concepts Inc. of Irvine, and his wife, as a joint venture partner with PCI, won the competition and began managing the two garages in October 1997 -- after the city's Human Rights Commission, moving in truly mysterious ways, pulled the minority certification of Jackie's nearest competitor, a company that is minority-owned, that submitted a lower bid, and that already held the garage contracts.
But that seems to have been just the beginning of the moxie magic. Whether together or separately, the Bessers (or Team Besser, as I like to call them) have been quite successful in lobbying for, winning, and participating in city business. They are allied with a group poised to win a lucrative traffic management contract at the airport. They are involved with a company in the running to get the aforementioned $66 million disabled transit contract. And Stephen Besser, currently with the L.A.-based law firm of Lewis, D'Amato, Brisbois & Bisgaard, has been so persuasive as a lobbyist that he apparently has convinced a member of the San Francisco Health Services Commission that his client is the best firm to win a contract for long-term health coverage for city workers -- even before the contract for that coverage is put out for competitive proposals.
The picture is slowly coming into focus. Team Besser, it seems, has the type of moxie that works. Stephen lobbies with wondrous results, and his protean wife helps out by offering to do all sorts of tasks required by a juicy variety of city contracts.
Our first topic of discussion: Team Besser and two city parking garages, the St. Mary's Square Garage and the eponymously named 16th Street and Hoff Alley Garage.
In 1996, San Francisco's Parking Authority sought proposals on a management contract for both garages. The con-tracts, as it turned out, were worth nearly $800,000 a year to the winning contractor. Twelve companies inquired after the information necessary to bid on the garage contracts. Nine were San Francisco companies. One was from Oakland. Two were from Southern California.
One of the Southern California companies, Parking Concepts Inc., hired Stephen Besser as its lobbyist. Besser was working for an L.A. law firm at the time, Christensen, White, Miller, Fink, Jacobs, Glaser & Shapiro, LLP.
Willie Brown was already well-acquainted with Besser and the Christensen, White firm. Brown served the firm in an "of counsel" capacity -- that is, as an adviser to the firm, rather than a partner in it -- from July 1994 until he took office in January 1996 as the mayor of San Francisco. Soon after taking office, he entered into a strange arrangement whereby he "sold" Christensen, White the law offices of Willie L. Brown Jr. on an installment plan that has paid the mayor more than $10,000 a year for each of the last three years. As Besser was lobbying the Parking Authority on behalf of Parking Concepts Inc., his law firm was paying the mayor handsome sums of money for "buying" Brown's law firm.