Reformer removed - Page 2

Environmental health director led progressive programs, resigned after mysterious investigation


Sources familiar with the situation told the Guardian the investigation started with a whistleblower complaint filed against Bhatia, which led department officials to try and determine whether there was a conflict of interest associated with his role as a nonprofit board director.

But Bhatia reacted strongly to this allegation, which was also alluded to in a San Francisco Chronicle article. "It's just not true," he said. "I'm not on the board of any nonprofit that receives any money from the city."

Some high-ranking health department officials do work with nonprofit organizations that deal closely with the city. As the Bay Guardian previously reported ("Friends in the Shadows," Oct. 8, 2013), Chawla is a board member of the San Francisco Public Health Foundation, which raises funds for DPH and functions as a city contractor. Sue Currin and Roland Pickens, CEO and COO of San Francisco General Hospital, respectively, serve on the board of the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation. The vast majority of private donations to the city's safety-net hospital are collected through that nonprofit entity.

Bhatia sits on the board of Human Impact Partners, an Oakland-based nonprofit with 11 staff members dedicated to tackling health equity issues. "I was pretty careful to draw the line," he said of that role.

"I think the real question is, for me, what facts did the city use to justify their actions? It seems arbitrary," Bhatia said. "As far as I know, all of the work I was doing was part of the mayor's agenda. This came out of nowhere, and it apparently has no basis."

Last October, a group of his professional colleagues wrote to the health department to voice concern that his removal would cause key environmental health programs to fall by the wayside.

Among the initiatives he was moving forward was a Community Air Pollution Risk Reduction plan, which sought to establish new policies for alleviating respiratory problems associated with air pollution hotspots. Since concentrated air pollution occurs within some of the city's priority residential development areas, that new set of proposed regulations would apply to new and existing real-estate development projects.

"The City began drafting the [risk reduction plan] in 2010 and was to have adopted a plan by 2012," supporters wrote in an Oct. 1 letter. "We are puzzled by a recent City presentation on the timeline for the CRRP, which suggested that a plan was not yet drafted."

Chawla said the plan continues to move forward. She also acknowledged that, in general, Bhatia "has really brought a lot of great ideas and work to the health department, and that is something I value and anticipate will continue."

The air pollution risk reduction plan wasn't the only place where Bhatia's work overlapped with development and housing issues. Adelman described how Bhatia had conducted a health impact assessment, a formal study to determine the health outcome of a policy decision, on the potential health benefits of requiring developers to build onsite affordable housing units as part of new construction projects.

He was also engaged in an effort to improve the environmental health division's code enforcement against housing hazards, such as mold and pests, and pushed for an open data initiative to make housing inspection records publicly available.

"We don't really want to believe this is happening," Paloma Pavel, president of Earth House Center and cofounder of Breakthrough Communities, said of the investigation against Bhatia and his subsequent departure. Patel and cofounder Carl Anthony, both former directors of the Ford Foundation, authored a book and created a nonprofit dedicated to advancing environmental justice and regional health equity.

"It's a terrific loss for our region's environmental health," she said of Bhatia's departure.



collective responsibility among those appointed by our elected officials.

A loose cannon is always going to struggle where it is important to tow a party line in support of a shared vision.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 5:05 pm

I'd hope that the bureaucrats in a major city would be part of the "100,000 flowers that bloom," each using their talents to deliver and foster innovative programs and services. Mayor Lee is a Willie Brown protege so it's not surprising he wants everyone marching in lock-step formation.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 5:54 pm

And if you frustrate the boss, you end up without a job.

Same everywhere. Nothing to see here.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 6:06 pm
Posted by Guest on Jan. 07, 2014 @ 6:17 pm

We all can agree whistleblower programs are necessary mechanisms for reducing government fraud and abuse. What checks and balances are in place for false accusations? What was Barbara Garcia's role in this?

As a tax-paying citizen, what was the total cost of this witch-hunting exercise? What of the city attorney fees charged to DPH and DPH staff time allocated for digging up "evidence"?

A nearly 5 month investigation to find nothing? Doesn't SFDPH have anything better to do?

Posted by JoeD on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 7:55 am

Why can we not simply fire officials who make trouble and are not on message?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 8:05 am

Yes, let's fire individuals who actually think critically and use their platform to actually push for a just and healthier society.

Paper-pushing bureaucracies = fail whale

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 8:19 am
Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 8:34 am

if you read the story. The department head fired the employee.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 8:46 am

That is why it is called a chain of command.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 10:32 am

In the tripartite divided model of government, the legislative branch sets policy and the executive branch implements it. The Mayor is clearly overstepping his authority when he uses his personnel discretion to bypass legislative policies.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 9:21 am

Unless a city employee is directly elected, the Mayor can fire him or her. Or have them fired.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 10:33 am

1 - status quo/neo-liberal agenda/free-market public health
0 - progressive, healthier city

People should be angry that one of the leading advocates for a healthy San Francisco got axed. Rajiv and his department spoke truth to power and held elected officials, developers, and restaurants accountable.

Say hello to weaker air pollution laws, noisier streets, less open data.

Rajiv's replacement? Ask your supervisor.

Posted by GuestX on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 8:08 am

will always be less than stellar.

What's new about that?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 8:21 am

Can you now repeat that in German for us?

Posted by CitiReport on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 9:51 am
Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 10:42 am

If the company has more than 2000 employees, then half the board of directors must be elected by the workers. When you have that, the corporation becomes a lot more ethical and responsive to human needs. Doesn't seem to hurt them competitively either. Probably helps.

I recently read a story about a German auto company that wanted to locate a production facility in Tennessee. Seems the workers over in Germany don't want to play the divide and conquer game either, even when it's not themselves who benefit. They insisted that the American workers have representation on their board as well!

US politicians in Tennessee were apoplectic with rage at such a thing. They put the kibosh on that plan because of some legal technicality, insisting that in the US, the only representation workers could have was through a union. So the Germans promptly set about organizing the workers into a union. Of course the US ruling/political class hated the idea, because they were afraid it would set a bad (read: good) precedent.

Don't know how it all worked out in the end, but the story just shows the irony of using Germany as an example of authoritarianism or something, when we're living in the most undemocratic state in the western world right here. If only we were more like Germany!

Posted by Greg on Jan. 09, 2014 @ 9:02 am
Posted by Guest on Jan. 09, 2014 @ 9:19 am

You know that's just intellectual masturbation.

If I spoke German, I'd love to. I actually have distant relatives who moved there without speaking German, and they're doing a heck of a lot better than they would be here.

I've actually entertained the thought of leaving (actually made a serious push for it at one point), but there are many, many reasons why one might stay in a place that's generally not the best. Family, work, etc.

I may yet do it someday, but right now it's just not practical. In the meantime, there's nothing wrong with looking at other countries and seeing what ideas work to make people's lives better. Only an ignorant jackass would think that we have nothing to learn from other countries.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 09, 2014 @ 12:28 pm

how great some other nation is compared to here. And if I was that down on my homeland I would make every effort to go where the grass is greener, supposedly.

German isn't that hard to learn for an English speaker and a total immersion class would give you a working ability in a few weeks.

Or perhaps you just take for granted everything that is great here?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 09, 2014 @ 1:24 pm

SF just lost a tireless advocate for a fair and just San Francisco to petty politics. What else is new?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 8:11 am

Politics and money trump science and social needs every time. The machine fears the informed, clean functionary who pushes policies contrary to its economic interests in a depoliticized fashion backed up by unassailable research.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 8:25 am

First off, who thought it could get worse than Mitch Katz?

Second, Bhatia and his team were remarkably consistent in their putting the interests of San Franciscans first. Clearly that could not be tolerated by corporate toadies beholden to the Brown/Newsom/Lee cavalcade of corruption.

You are expendable.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 9:22 am

caught you posting to political website all day long at work, he might decide to fire you anyway.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 10:34 am

Most firms with their eye on success at their mission would not throw away talent for such a picayune reason. Since Ed Lee has no interest in his government succeeding on the merits, that is no interest in delivering public health services, then firing Bhatia was easy. Since Ed Lee did want to give business a free pass on causing health threats to San Francisco, he axed Bhatia.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 10:52 am

have had, but rather that his role was also political and, since he was not elected and Ed Lee was, his politics have to be consistent with the directions from above.

Civil servants have to work with their political boss regardless of who it is and whether they agree with their policies or not.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 11:06 am

The settlement indicates that there was no wrongdoing on Bhatia's part and that Ed Lie's action was arbitrary and capricious, costing San Franciscans not only our health, but $155K. Where is the whining about throwing other people's money around for your own aggrandizement?

Posted by marcos on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 12:03 pm

His sins may have been enough for a firing but not at the level to be sure of a criminal conviction

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 2:40 pm

They paid him to leave.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 09, 2014 @ 8:32 am
Posted by Guest on Jan. 09, 2014 @ 9:17 am

“Time and time again does the pride of man influence his very own fall. While denying it, one gradually starts to believe that he is the authority, or that he possesses great moral dominion over others, yet it is spiritually unwarranted. By that point he loses steam; in result, he falsely begins trying to prove that unwarranted dominion by seizing the role of a condemner.”
― Criss Jami, Salomé: In Every Inch In Every Mile

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2014 @ 11:49 am

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