Library Architect, Special Interests Finance Measure N Campaign
The architects and engineers who wrote the proposal for a new main library at Kaiser Center donated $7,100 to the campaign hammering at Oakland residents to approve Measure N.
Donald Schnee's Group 4 Architecture Research and Planning with offices in South San Francisco is the design firm. Rumsey Engineers also worked on the palace library proposal.
Group 4 received at least $2,345,000 in City contracts. After landing an initial deal for $270,000, the company received another $2 million of library contracts without having to bid for them. The office of city auditor Roland Smith questioned the no-bid awards. (Report, Feb. 8, 2005) Instead of taking action, the city council tried to deprive the auditor of his budgeted staff.
It is against Oakland law for someone awarded a City contract (for professional services among other things) to contribute to – bribe, if you will – a politician who holds Oakland office or is running for office. (Municipal Code, 3.12.140) Schnee's Group 4, Rumsey Engineers and the Yes on Measure N committee evade the law because they donated to a ballot measure, not a candidate. Pardon us, but the arrangement still stinks. Contractors should not finance spending campaigns that directly benefit the contractor.
Councilmember Quan runs the campaign for a palace library. (Maybe that is why one-third of Measure N's neighborhood money would go to her district, shortchanging the rest of Oakland.) Quan has a history of unethical and corrupt campaign financing. Less than a year ago, she raided the City treasury for more than $11,000 and printed 95,000 brochures used to campaign for an increase in the Landscape and Lighting Assessment tax. Now Quan takes donations from the architect and engineering firms that have profited and stand to profit more from Measure N.
(Update: After the election, councilmember Quan said, "I'll ask anyone for money for the libraries. Do a few City contractors give money to politics? Yes, and they should." (North Gate News Online, Nov. 15, 2006))
Additional special interests have contributed large sums to the Measure N campaign.
California Waste Solutions of San Jose, owned by David Duong, contributed $5,000. "Fourteen years ago, his company needed a large
loan from the City of Oakland just to get started. Today, California Waste Solutions and its ubiquitous gray recycling bins haul in nearly $30 million in annual revenues, thanks in part to Duong's close relationships with several city council members, and his no-bid recycling contract to collect Oakland's bottles, cans, and paper." (East Bay Express, Sept. 20. 2006)
Measure N fundraiser: $1,000 tickets?!
The De Silva Group of Dublin handed over $5,000. This contractor has many projects and properties in Oakland, including the controversial Leona Quarry project.
The Hotel & Motel Association of Oakland gave $2,500. They might like a palace library so tourists can dash in and out of another site, but the hoteliers hardly have the needs of neighborhood branches at heart.
Stephen Jones, who owns security firm National Command Link Network 20 in Concord, gave $10,000. The firm provides guards to governments. What City or Port contracts does it seek?
ORPN found all contribution figures in reports filed with the city clerk. For a summary list in .PDF file format ready to print, click here.
A well-heeled business person might give one or two hundred dollars out of the misguided sentiment that a palace library is good for Oakland residents. It is a different story when businesses give thousands of dollars. Like the architect firm, the contributor stands to gain directly, or it expects favors from councilmembers on other business.
If a wealthy person really thinks a palace library is such a great thing, let him organize the monied elite to contribute to a capital construction fund, just like Seattle's wealthy did for their new library. In Oakland, though, you float Measure N bonds and lay the burden of repaying them on modest homeowners.
Next time you see a lawn sign for Measure N, remember the special interests that paid for it. The funders of the Measure N campaign are motivated by private greed fed at the expense of Oakland residents.
Vote No on Measure N!
– Oct. 6, 2006
Special Interests Pile On Big New Contributions
In addition to previously reported contributions to the Measure N campaign (see above), special interests have brought the total money raised to more than $150,000. This amount is a huge sum to spend trying to convince people to build a downtown palace library. Among the contributions:
- The architect firm that wrote the proposal for a new main library at Kaiser Center made another four-figure contribution. Along with the engineering firm, a separate business, their total contributions are now $10,000.
- Townsend Public Affairs of Irvine is a lobbyist for the City at the State capitol. In 2004 it had a $48,000 a year contract to do public relations work for the Oakland Museum. So owner Christopher Townsend contributed $2,500 to the campaign for Measure N.
- Last July the city council signed off on a $250,000 contract to Public Financial Management of Philadelphia for advising the City in negotiations with the police officers' association. This obviously partisan contract followed the supposedly neutral contract that PFM won in 2005 to audit an overtime spending "problem" at the understaffed police department, an audit that City Auditor Roland Smith said he could do as part of his office's regular responsibilities. The payback for these contracts: a $2,000 contribution to the Yes on Measure N campaign. Are we to think that a Philadelphia firm really believes, for thousands of dollars, that Oakland has just got to have a palace library?
- Signature Properties in Pleasanton, the firm that received a sweetheart deal from the City for the Oak-to-Ninth development, contributed $5,000. Perhaps owner Michael Ghielmetti wants to make sure he can crawl through traffic from Oak-to-Ninth up to Lake Merritt to check out a book, but more likely he is buying cheap insurance that, for example, city attorney Russo will continue to use every power he has to frustrate public review of the megaproject.
- The Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union 342 contributed $5,000 from their office in Concord. They can lust after lucrative work on a library conservatively estimated to cost more than $733 a square foot, but how many Contra Costa plumbers will take their children to a library in downtown Oakland? Also, the Electrical Industry Advancement Program in Dublin, apparently a joint operation of unions and electrical contractors, contributed $10,000. Joining the crowd was political committee of the Northern California Carpenters, who tossed in $2,500.
- Zions Management Services Co. gave $3,000. Presumably, this firm is the Zions Management Services Co. subsidiary of Utah's Zion Bancorporation. Which is more likely: do the Zion executives want to fly in to check out a book from Oakland, or do they smell business handling the library bond issue and other City money management?
- There appears to be plenty of City banking business to go around. The investment banking firm of E. J. De La Rosa in Los Angeles contributed $3,000. De La Rosa floated bonds for the Redevelopment Agency last year.
- Macias Gini & O'Connell, an accounting firm, has done auditing work for the City. It dutifully contributed $3,000 to the campaign.
- The Jones Hall law firm tossed in $5,000. The firm's website says all its attorneys "practice exclusively in the area of municipal finance as bond counsel." If Measure N were to pass, guess who is in line to handle the legal paperwork on $148 million of bonds?
The contributions were reported in a required campaign filings that covered only October and the first day of November. Two-thirds of the $76,000 raised came as tainted contributions in large amounts. The Yes on N campaign is not a grass roots movement.
From business hand to Quan's hand
It is financed not by a broad array of small citizen gifts but by a handful of special interests who apparently owe a favor to City Hall insiders or who expect to get a favor soon.
Another Urgent Reason to Vote No on Measure N
Although the basic reasons to vote No on Measure N are found in the arrogant, inequitable use of funds specified by the proposal itself, special interest contributions from businesses with City contracts give us another urgent reason to defeat this money juggernaut.
It is a violation of elementary public ethics that councilmember Quan, leader of the Yes on N campaign, even accepted such contributions to the point that they overwhelm all other interests. (We do not know how actively she solicited them.) The Yes on N campaign poses this challenge to Oakland residents: Can private business interests set the shape of City priorities and spending based on their personal gain?
– Oct. 26, 2006; updated Nov. 3