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Carla Short to head DPW as city looks for permanent director

Carla Short, head of the San Francisco Department of Public Works Bureau of Urban Forestry, will now lead DPW as interim director, city officials announced Thursday.

Short was appointed to replace Acting Director Alaric Degrafinried, who announced last week plans to step down for an assistant general manager position with BART. Degrafinried’s last day is Friday.

Shortly after federal prosecutors charged and arrested former DPW Director Mohammed Nuru for alleged fraud and taking bribes, former City Administrator Naomi Kelly appointed Degrafinried as acting director in February 2020. 

Mayor London Breed applauded Short’s appointment, saying:

She has a demonstrated track record as a successful leader, and I know that her commitment to this city and passion for her work will serve the department well during her time as Interim Director.”

Short spoke with SFBay on West Portal Avenue while she met with crews performing work under the department’s CleanCorridorsSF program.

Jerold Chinn/SFBay Soon-to-be Interim Director of the San Francisco Department of Public Works Carla Short and City Administrator Carmen Chu speak with a DPW crew member Isaac Baker on West Portal Avenue in San Francisco, Calif., on Thursday, August, 19, 2021.

She said her priority is stabilizing the department as DPW embarks on another leadership change and while the Covid-19 pandemic is still ongoing, adding:

“I know a lot of folks and I know the organization and so I hope that I can provide that stability.”

Short, who earned a master’s degree in Environmental Management from Yale University, has been with the department since 2004 when she was hired as The City’s Urban Forester. 

She has stepped in over the years to fill other roles; she served as the deputy director for operations in 2019 and as the deputy director of the Bureau of Street-use and Mapping.

Short also wants to make sure department employees are acknowledged for the work they have done, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, adding:

“I do think sometimes it gets lost that these folks are all essential workers. They’ve been working throughout the pandemic and doing their best. I want people to hear that and see that.”

In terms of changes to the department, she said:

“I definitely believe we are not broken, but we want to look at the ways that we can improve and we can respond to concerns.”

The department faces a staffing shortage with a need for many laborers and skilled tradespeople positions, Short said. Arborists are also needed to maintain more than 124,000 trees the department was tasked with when voters passed Proposition E in the November 2016 election.

A hiring freeze implemented last year across several city departments has been lifted for DPW, allowing the department to move toward filling open positions.

Short said she will not apply for the permanent director position and plans to return to the Bureau of Urban Forestry once a new director is chosen.

Joining Short on West Portal Avenue Thursday, City Administer Carmen Chu spoke highly of her ability to provide steady leadership as city officials conduct a nationwide search for a permanent director.

Chu said:

“She is someone who has really deep knowledge of the organization, someone who has been in operations and even served as the head of operations and those are all the folks who are out here helping to keep our streets clean and making sure that we’re painting out graffiti and doing all of that work.”

Chu said The City wants to cast a broad net in finding potential candidates because “San Francisco deserves the very best.”

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