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In The News

Councilwoman will not vote on Saltworks

By Michelle Durand
Daily Journal Staff, July 31, 2010

Redwood City Councilwoman Rosanne Foust said Friday she will not fight a political watchdog group’s finding that she shouldn’t vote on matters related to the Saltworks site and will abstain from participating in the future.

Foust heads the business group San Mateo County Economic Development Association which has proactively supported the potential development of the site while simultaneously sitting on the City Council. The council has yet to vote on the plan. In May, however, the council voted to award an environmental review contract. At the request of Menlo Park Councilman Andy Cohen, the Fair Political Practices Commission investigated Foust’s dual roles and found that she violated the Political Reform Act. The FPPC held that Foust’s vote as a public official could affect her private employer, SAMCEDA.

The FPPC noted Foust acted on the counsel of City Attorney Ray Abrams and issued her a written warning that future violations will carry up to $5,000 in fines. Foust could have requested prosecution to defend herself but in a letter to the Daily Journal said she will not take that route.

“As an elected official, I have sworn myself to uphold the law, so I will accept the commission’s ruling. However, the FPPC’s letter contains factual errors and the ruling itself contradicts well documented opinions previously issued by the FPPC in rulings similar to mine,” Foust wrote.

Foust plans to submit a letter to the commission outlining those reported errors and will abstain from voting.

Mayor Jeff Ira could not be reached about how Foust’s absence may impact future council decision-making.

Abrams said he spoke with Foust about her options between accepting the warning and pushing for prosecution, but in the end it was her decision to make. He also maintains that the FPPC is inconsistent in its previous rulings and way too speculative in thinking that other developers, buoyed by SAMCEDA’s favor of the Saltworks site, will join the group as dues-paying members.

While Foust is “very disappointed” in the conclusion, Cohen said he also has some concern that officials “will not get the message from a mere warning and will only tailor their behavior when sanctioned and fined.”

David Lewis, head of vocal Saltworks opponent Save the Bay, has also long questioned Foust’s possible conflict. While the ruling affects her role — or lack thereof — in the future, Lewis sees it as throwing light on the past.

“Look at the past three or four years. This really taints her participation in the entire process to date,” said Lewis, ticking off not only specific votes like that for the environmental review but also related topics like the council decision not to include the site in an update of the city’s general plan.

At the heart of the Foust matter is the future of the former Saltworks site, a 1,436-acre parcel which developer DMB wants to convert into open space, retail and up to 12,000 homes. Although far from approved, the plan has incurred the ire of environmental groups like Save the Bay and neighboring jurisdictions, such as the Menlo Park City Council.

Michelle Durand can be reached by e-mail: michelle@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.

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