California state toxics director leaving for San Francisco job

jortiz@sacbee.comMay 1, 2014 

The oft-embattled head of California’s toxic-substance regulator announced Thursday that she will leave her state post at the end of this month for a local government job.

Debbie Raphael, director of the Department of Toxic Substances Control, is stepping down from a job she has held since 2011 to take over as director of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment. She will get about a $20,000 raise from the $141,000 she earns annually now, according to state controller’s office data.

“It was a tremendously difficult decision,” Raphael said in a telephone interview, describing her time with the state as has having “a phenomenal learning curve – that sometimes (turned into) a roller coaster.”

Matt Rodriquez, secretary of the state Environmental Protection Agency, said in a statement that Raphael is a “dedicated and talented public servant” and thanked her for leading Toxic Substances.

Raphael, 54, leaves behind a department that has taken some public relations hits over the last few years. Last May, the department’s chief deputy director resigned and announced her retirement after the Fair Political Practices Commission opened an investigation into a complaint that she had a financial stake in companies the agency regulates.

Not long after that, reports surfaced that the department had spent millions of public dollars to clean up contaminated sites across state but failed to bill the polluters.

Earlier this year, the department rolled out its first-ever list of toxic consumer products to great fanfare, intending it to send a strong message to manufacturers and consumers. Some critics in the environmental movement, however, were disappointed that it took the department six years to flag just a three categories of toxic goods.

Despite those choppy waters, Raphael said she is leaving by choice to get back to her local government roots.

Raphael returns to San Francisco where she worked five years at the Exploratorium as an exhibit designer in life sciences before moving to Santa Monica as an environmental program manager. She hired on with the San Francisco Department of the Environment and worked there for 10 years before coming to the state.

A few years ago, before coming to Sacramento, Raphael applied for the job she will start on June 2.

Then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom picked someone else.

Raphael said losing the job was “lucky” because it opened the opportunity to work at the Toxic Substances Control Department where she hopes she will be remembered for launching the consumer products list and “ushering in a climate of transparency and accountability.”

Call Jon Ortiz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1043.

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