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In The News

Foust: No conflict of interest over salt flats plan
City attorney agrees council member did not participate in SAMCEDA endorsement

By Shaun Bishop

Daily News, 2/27/10

A Redwood City council member says her job as interim CEO of a pro-business organization that endorsed a massive mixed-use development on the Cargill-owned salt flats in the city does not present a conflict with her public role.

Council Member Rosanne Foust and interim City Attorney Roy Abrams both contend no conflict of interest exists between her job as the interim president and CEO of the San Mateo County Economic Development Association (SAMCEDA) and her elected position.

Redwood City Saltworks — the joint venture of Cargill and developer DMB Associates — announced Thursday that its plans for thousands of homes and hundreds of acres of open space on 1,436 acres of salt flats won the endorsement of four regional business-oriented groups, including SAMCEDA.

The SAMCEDA board voted to "formally endorse the Saltworks 50/50 Balanced Plan because of the vital importance of your project to Redwood City's and the county's future," states a Jan. 29 letter from Elaine Breeze, chair of SAMCEDA's board, to DMB Vice President John Bruno.

Breeze emphasized a need for new housing on the Peninsula and said the project would create a "much-needed economic boom" for the area.

Foust said Friday she is not part of the SAMCEDA board, which voted to approve the endorsement, and pointed out the recommendation came from a board subcommittee, not staff. Futhermore, she said the board has not asked her to advocate for the project as CEO.

"I've been very careful to date as to my saying anything or doing anything that would preclude me from participating at the council level on this project," Foust said. "(The SAMCEDA board is) very well aware of that, and I think there's a lot of respect for my position as an elected (official)."

The Saltworks plan submitted to the city last May proposes building 8,000 to 12,000 homes, 1 million square feet of office space, 436 acres of restored wetlands and 200 acres of parks and open space on the site. The city is planning to hire a consultant in the coming months to prepare an environmental impact report for the project.

The plans have drawn opposition from environmental groups, as well as 92 current and former Bay Area elected officials who released a joint letter Thursday calling for the site to be restored to tidal marsh.

Since Foust took a job as vice president of SAMCEDA in July 2008, opponents of the Saltworks plan have occasionally raised questions about her job at council meetings, with some suggesting it conflicts with her role on the council. Foust was named interim CEO in early February.

David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay, which has spearheaded opposition to the project, said Friday he believes Foust has a conflict in her role as interim CEO, even if she's not a voting member of the board.

"The developer is working closely with, and this project has been endorsed by, SAMCEDA," Lewis said. "And it's Rosanne Foust's job — has been Rosanne Foust's job and now even more so (as interim CEO) — to advance SAMCEDA's interests."

Foust said she is aware of the suggestions there is a conflict, but has been advised at various points by both interim City Attorney Roy Abrams and former city attorney Stan Yamamoto that there isn't one. "I've never hidden my job," Foust said. "I've been very upfront."

Abrams confirmed Friday that he doesn't believe there is a conflict. "Based on what she told me, she did not participate in the recommendation that went to the board," Abrams said.

Besides SAMCEDA, the Cargill plan was endorsed by the Redwood City Chamber of Commerce, the Peninsula Coalition and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

The groups' endorsement "is powerful evidence that we are taking the right approach to solving one of the region's most pressing economic issues," Bruno said in a statement.

Foust also sits on the chamber board, along with fellow council member Jeff Gee and Mayor Jeff Ira. Gee and Foust both said they abstained when the chamber board voted this week on the Saltworks endorsement. Ira did not attend the meeting.

Gee said the chamber's vote, which he emphasized he did not participate in, is a "conceptual endorsement" supporting the development proposal along with continued studies of plans to address unanswered questions about traffic and other issues.


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