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Revitalize Alameda Point – City Staffers on SunCal’s Payroll

Dear Editor,

I am forwarding to you a copy of a letter Jean Sweeney has sent out detailing the money paid to Alameda City staff by SunCal.

In effect, our City government which we elect is just an extension of Sun Cal. Those Council members who permitted this arrangement have sold our government and themselves to SunCal. Staff members on the SunCal payroll are permitted to attend meetings of the Council, ARRA and CIC held in private which we, the citizens, cannot attend and then can they can tell their real employer SunCal exactly what goes on there – while at the same time lobbying in the meetings for SunCal’s interests.

At one meeting of the Alameda City Council I have told the Council that I resented the staff openly lobbying the Council during meetings on behalf of SunCal. Debbie Potter who is paid $132,00 by SunCal was allowed to give a ten minute speech assailing the idea of a “public trust” for Alameda Point — the position we have set forth in opposition to the SunCal plan.

Of course, we were not allowed to reply. The Council sat there mute while she held forth. Not one of them objected to this outrageous intervention — at least it took place in public. Only the citizens are not allowed to speak. What happens in private during the day-to-day conduct of Alameda City business can only be imagined. Note too that the Director of Development Services in charge of ARRA and the contested development of Alameda Point, Leslie Little, is paid $44,832 by SunCal while Jennifer Ott, the Redevelopment Manager, is paid $40,914.

We can assume that all of them are working hard while wearing their City/Redevelopment agency hats to see that the SunCal initiative passes! I say that this violates all the democratic norms of American democracy: we have, or ought to have, government by elected officials, not government by bureaucrats on the payroll of private corporations — in this case a huge, secretive hedge fund, D.E. Shaw, which is the financial backer of the 30-times-bankrupt SunCal Companies. The Council ought to repudiate this arrangement immediately — and any of them that allowed it ought to resign for having betrayed the public trust. “Public Trust” — a concept that is foreign to the majority of our City Council. That’s something I’ve learned during ten years of watching them closely.

— Arthur Lipow, Alameda

4 comments to Revitalize Alameda Point – City Staffers on SunCal’s Payroll

  • Santa Claritan


    Your letter was forwarded to me because it describes two similar situations we are facing in the Santa Clarita Valley. Your disgust at the biased conduct of a city employee whose position is funded by a developer is completely justified. Obviously, the woman does not understand that as a public official, her duty of loyalty lies with the residents of Alameda, not with the party whose fees paid to the city fund her salary.

    There is no state law solution to this problem. However, there are applicable federal criminal laws, currently being used to prosecute both ex-Governor Blagojevich and all of the recently arrested mayors in New Jersey which would be of help. Under the Federal criminal code, all public employees and elected officials owe a “duty to render honest services” to the public.

    If they are not doing so in the City of Alameda, your remedy is to write a detailed letter to the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, Joseph P. Russoniello, who has Federal prosecutorial jurisdiction over your county. Your letter should detail exactly how the City of Alamenda funds this woman’s pay checks, and detail exactly what she has been doing which shows she is failing to render honest services to the public in her position with the City and instead showing loyalty to and lobbying for SunCal. The more detail, the better. If your city makes audio tapes of its redevelopment meetings, include a copy of the meeting tape where she made her presentation as described in your letter above. As the concluding paragraph of your letter, specifically ask that the woman be criminally prosecuted under the U.S. Code sections mentioned below, for her failure to render honest services to the citizens of Alameda.

    When you examine the conduct of other city employees, elected officials, and consultants paid to prepare documents which a city staff member would otherwise prepare (e.g. EIR drafting consultants) you may find similar overt pro-developer conduct. Write a similar letter to the U.S. Attorney, detailing what the person is doing in terms of breaching their fiduciary duty to the citizens of Alameda by showing their loyalty to the relevant developer.

    The type of conduct you describe is similar to that of three members of the Clark County, Nevada Board of Supervisors who were convicted, approximately 4 years ago, of using their offices for the benefit of a local strip club owner. Literally, the Supervisors were overtly lobbying for the strip club owner, when issues concerning the permits for his club came before that Board of Supervisors. Obviously, the conduct you describe by Alameda city staff is also overt lobbying for the entity whose fees pay the staffer’s salary.

    You are not alone in this problem, in that in Los Angeles County, a planning staff position is paid-for by a mega development company. Just a few days ago we discovered that every time a resident of the Santa Clarita Valley makes a California Public Records Act Request for documents concerning any of that developer’s projects, this County employee communicates with the developer’s land use attorney before supplying (or refusing to supply) documents in response to the request. In the mind of this Los Angeles County staffer, it’s as if the developer’s lawyer has the power to decide which County file documents are produced (or not produced) in compliance with the public records act. In that situation, we are preparing a request for criminal prosecution of not only the County staffer, but also of the developer’s lawyer with whom the County staff person communicates.

    It’s important to understand that U.S. Attorneys are political appointees of each President. Most U.S. Attorneys currently in office are “hold over Bush Administration political appointees”. President Obama has the right to replace each U.S. Attorney, and the senior Justice Department staff members are in the process of evaluating whether to “keep” each U.S. Attorney throughout the United States. As a result, when you send your letter(s) to the U.S. Attorney for Northern California, send a “CC” to the Public Integrity Section of the Justice Department in Washington. Lately, Bush-appointed U.S. Attorneys have been said to be “far more interested” than in prior years, in terms of prosecution of public official wrongdoing, as a means of showing Attorney General Eric Holder that they are “unbiased”.

    Make sure to send both the letter to the U.S. Attorney and the letter to the Public Integrity Section of the Justice Department by Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested. There’s no need to send a CC to the culpable City official(s) or the developer for whom they are acting.

    The relevant U.S. criminal code sections, to mention in your letter, are 18 USC 1341, 1343, 1346 and 1349.

    The crimes alleged in the “criminal count” against a biased City or County employee arise under Title 18 of the U.S. Code, Sections 1341 (mail fraud), 1343 (wire fraud), and 1349 (making it a crime to attempt or conspire to do acts set forth in Sections 1341 and 1343). Section 1346 defines the term “scheme or artifice to defraud” as used in those sections.

    Title 18, Section 1341 makes it an offense to use the mail or any private or commercial interstate carrier in connection with a scheme or artifice to defraud or intent to defraud.

    Title 18, Section 1343 makes it an offense to use any wire, radio, or television communication in interstate or foreign commerce in connection with a scheme or artifice to defraud or intent to defraud.

    Title 18, Section 1346 defines “scheme or artifice to defraud” as “a scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services.”

    Title 18, Section 1349 also makes it an offense to attempt or conspire to commit a scheme or artifice to defraud or intent to defraud under Chapter 63, and provides that the offenses are subject to the same penalties.

    What is particularly interesting about this sort of crime is that it is not necessary for the U.S. Attorney to show actual bribery of a public official. The mere demonstrated lack of neutrality on a public issue, over which the public employee has influence. is enough for a criminal indictment. What is interesting about a “failure to render honest services” prosecution is that the question of whether the public employee breached his/her duty to render honest services to the public is a JURY question. Generally juries have an instinctive dislike of public employees who overtly favor private businesses. In the Clark County Supervisor prosecutions, one of the most effective trial witnesses was a “mere citizen” who constantly complained about the developer-biased conduct of one Supervisor-defendant who blatantly, publicly showed partiality towards the developer.

    The way this sort of Federal crime is plead by a U.S. Attorney is as simple as follows:

    “From in or about 2008 to the present, in the City of Alameda, in the Northern District of California, defendants Suzy City Employee and Paul Developer Employee did, conspire with each other and with others to devise and participate in a scheme to defraud the City of Alameda and the people of the City of Alameda of the honest services of Suzy City Employee, in furtherance of which the mails and interstate wire communications would be used, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1341, 1343, and 1346; all in violation of Title 18 United States Code, Section 1349.”

    Elected officials and public employees in California, who deal with developers on a regular basis, have become accustomed to acting in developers’ favor with absolute impunity, simply because under the Bush Administration, the only prosecutions under the “duty to render honest services” code sections were political prosecutions against Republican party enemies. Times have changed. The current Attorney General has repeatedly said he and his subordinate U.S. Attorneys will enforce laws to protect the public interest against all violators, regardless of their political affiliation or race.

    Washington based legal newsletters indicate that the Justice Department is actively looking for more “crooked public officials” to prosecute across the country. Make sure to nominate your own local, crooked public officials for that project.

  • Stan

    They did the same thing in New Mexico and almost got away with it! They have been paying off legislators for so long, I have to wonder why the feds have not slammed the door on this company.

  • barb

    Well thanks again Santa Claritan, and to Jean Sweeney. Now if everyone out there reading this will take the time to jote a note to the US Attorney following the details above, maybe we can get at least the appearance of honesty out of our public servants, if not our elected officials.

  • barb

    jot a note (not jote a note)