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In The News

Conflict of Interest on Saltworks
Redwood City politician gets warning from state ethics agency

By ZUSHA ELINSON
The Bay Citizen, 7/30/10

The site in Redwood City where Cargill wants to build as many as 12,000 new units of housing
A powerful Redwood City politician involved in the controversial proposed Saltworks development violated conflict of interest rules, according to the state's political ethics agency.

Rosanne Foust's double duty as a city councilwoman voting for the project and the CEO of a pro-business lobby endorsing the project isn't kosher, the Fair Political Practices Commission said in a letter Wednesday.

"If your day job is actively trying to obtain approval for this project, why would you not do that in the evening?" said David Lewis of Save the Bay, a nonprofit that has been fighting the plans to build 12,000 homes on the salt flats in Redwood City.

Foust is CEO of the San Mateo County Economic Development Association, which endorsed the Saltworks project. The giant agribusiness Cargill, which is partnering with developer DMB on the development, is also a member of SAMCEDA.

Redwood City residents have raised concerns about the alleged Foustian bargain in the past, charging that she couldn't remain objective as the Saltworks project continues to come before the council for approvals.

Gary Winuk, chief of the political ethics agency's enforcement division, reasoned in the letter that other developers could be encouraged by the progress of the Saltworks project to join SAMCEDA as dues-paying members.

"The reasonable forseeability of so much as a penny's worth of increased revenue to SAMCEDA because of the advancement of the Saltworks project should have disqualified you from your decision regarding the environmental review," he wrote.

Jim Sutton, a lawyer who defends politicians before the FPPC, but isn't involved in this case, said the ruling goes too far.

"That's stretching the concept of reasonable forseeability," he said. "What is she up there thinking, that 'I should approve this project so I can get more members so I can get a raise'?"

Winuk wrote that Foust won't face a fine, because she relied on the advice of Redwood City attorneys. However, he wrote, "This letter serves as a warning," saying that if she does it again she can expect fines of $5,000 for each violation.

Whether Foust will continue to vote on the project wasn’t known at press time. Foust didn't return a call seeking comment Thursday evening.

The complaint was originally filed by Menlo Park City Council member Andrew Cohen, who has called on Redwood City to kill the project.

Conservation groups like Save the Bay want salt ponds restored to wetlands. Neighboring towns Menlo Park and Atherton voted to condemn the project. And 125 Bay Area politicians, including Cohen, signed an indignant letter of protest, writing, “The era of filling in San Francisco Bay is over — we stopped that destruction forty years ago.”

But plans for the Redwood City Saltworks development have marched forward. At every the turn, the City Council has given its stamp of approval. The city is considering rezoning the space for development, just so DMB and Cargill can build. The council voted last year to begin a lengthy environmental review of the project. On May 24, after a rowdy public comment session, the City Council gave the green light to hire consultants to begin the review.

 

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