CA: Transit Agencies Looking to Trade Leaders

First up is Muni, which plans to begin interviewing candidates this week for its $308,000-a-year plus bonuses top job.

In the interests of saving both time and money, the Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees Muni, is foregoing the usual "national search."

"We have plenty of talent locally," agency Chairman Tom Nolan said.

So far, Nolan says, there are about a half dozen serious contenders - lead among them being San Francisco Public Works Director Ed Reiskin.

Reiskin's only transit experience was the four years he spent as a regional manager with the Otis Elevator Co. back in New York.

On the other hand, he is the clear favorite of Mayor Ed Lee.

Meanwhile, across the bay, AC Transit has kicked off its national search to replace outgoing interim General Manager and former Alameda County Supervisor Mary King.

One of the names being bandied about for the $276,000-a-year job is none other than Debra Johnson, formerly with BART, who is filling in at Ford's old job at Muni.

Road show: San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee heads back East on Friday for a weeklong vacation - including a stop-off at the White House next Monday when President Obama will honor the 2010 world champion Giants.

The trip will also give Lee a break from having to recite the same answer over and over: "I'm not running, I'm not planning on running - and I'm not planning to plan the run," Lee said.

Still, just in case he has a change of heart, some of his mayoral rivals have been taking a closer look at Lee's ties to Chinatown activist Rose Pak and their many trips together to China.

Former Supervisor Aaron Peskin, for example, furnished the manifest of a nine-day trip he took with Pak and Lee - along with other chamber types - back in November 2007 that included a stay at the luxury White Swan Hotel on the Pearl River in Guangzhou, China.

The trip wasn't reported on Lee's economic disclosure forms. Neither were any of the others he's taken over the years while working for the city.

We asked Pak and the mayor's office for proof that Lee had paid his own expenses. Within a couple of hours, we received a faxed copy of a $4,300 personal check Lee made out for the 2007 trip.

"Every trip I have paid for, as required by any official, and most of the trips are personal," Lee told us.

Port pot: Oakland's cash-strapped budget will get as much as a $450,000 tax boost from the city's port - thanks to some hardball politics involving Mayor Jean Quan.

For years, the city has been trying to impose its 18.5 percent parking tax on the port and airport.

The city wanted the tax applied to everything from parked cars and trucks to airplanes and cargo containers.

When talks between the city and port fell apart, the port filed a lawsuit in federal court to block any tax grab by the city.

Sources say Quan was livid.

In May, she appointed Alan Yee - the law partner of her legal adviser Dan Siegel - to the Port Commission, reportedly instructing him to kick loose some of the money.

At the same time, we're told Port Executive Director Omar Benjamin was summoned to the mayor's office and given an ultimatum by Quan's top deputy, Sharon Cornu, to pony up or else.

The muscle must have worked. Because just days ago, the port quietly dropped its lawsuit. Word is that it is now poised to hand the city as much as $450,000, though the exact amount is still being calculated.

Mayoral spokeswoman Sue Piper confirmed only that the two sides are close to a deal. She declined to discuss any of the behind-the-scenes brinkmanship while a final agreement is awaiting the court's sign-off.

Port spokesman Isaac Kos-Read was diplomatic, saying only that "the port welcomes Mayor Quan's hands-on approach to resolving this issue."

EXTRA! Catch our blog at www.sfgate.com/matierandross .

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