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Top Central Subway Executive Resigns

Dennis Herrera expected to announce opposition to subway project next week

MAP of Central SubwayJack Baylis, a politically connected top executive at AECOM, the engineering firm leading San Francisco’s Central Subway project, submitted his resignation on Aug. 26.

When reached on Friday, Baylis said he would stay on for another month before starting a new job in December at Shaw, the Fortune 500 contractor based in Baton Rouge, La.

He declined further comment.

While Baylis’ exit is not expected to affect the future of the proposed subway, the news comes at a time when the $1.6 billion project is facing mounting criticism over its ballooning cost.

The underground rail line would link the Caltrain station in SoMa to Chinatown, where residents currently crowd onto overburdened 30 Stockton and 45 Union-Stockton Muni buses.

A scathing civil grand jury report published in July criticized the subway’s design as flawed and said its funding would be better spent on improving existing Muni service.

Local media outlets reported this week that former Supervisor Aaron Peskin, whose district included Chinatown and who was once a vocal supporter of the subway, has changed his mind, calling it “the most expensive project with the least ridership in the country.” Another former supervisor, Jake McGoldrick, slammed the project as “a Big Dig of the West” in a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed last month.

Now, one of the leading mayoral candidates, City Attorney Dennis Herrera, is expected to also announce his opposition to the project early next week, a transportation consultant with knowledge of Herrera's campaign said this week.

The move would pit Herrera against the city’s Democratic establishment. In recent years, former Mayor Gavin Newsom, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer have worked to obtain hundreds of millions of federal dollars for the subway.

But the project’s most vocal backers have been former Mayor Willie Brown and his political ally, the Chinatown powerbroker Rose Pak, who has long argued that Chinatown’s economic development has been choked ever since the destruction of the Embarcadero freeway during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

During his years at AECOM, Baylis enjoyed extraordinary access to the city’s political elite even as he worked out of the company’s Los Angeles office. A gregarious friend of Brown’s, Baylis was spotted frequently at the former mayor’s cocktail receptions and private dinners in San Francisco — or, in the case of Brown’s 75th birthday bash in 2009, in Paris.

In 2007, Baylis flew to China to take a delegation of San Francisco officials traveling with Pak to dinner and returned to California after just one night, according to a former city official who was on the trip.

AECOM did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Gentry Brann, a spokeswoman for Shaw, declined to comment on Baylis' hiring, saying the company did not discuss personnel matters.

Zusha Elinson contributed to this report.

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