In The News
Residents Concerned Over Councilmembers’ Dual Roles
Three city councilmembers were boardmembers of the Chamber of Commerce when it spent more than $50,000 to oppose a controversial ballot measure.
By Stacie Chan
Redwood City Patch, 7/1/11
The Redwood City Chamber of Commerce spent more than $50,000 in 2008 to oppose Measure W, a ballot measure aimed to prevent development on all parks and open spaces in Redwood City, including the Cargill salt ponds.
At the time, current councilmembers Jeff Gee and Rosanne Foust and Mayor Ira were on the board of the Chamber, concerning some residents that their objectivity on the current Cargill development proposal could be compromised.
“As councilmembers, they’re supposed to be representing their constituents, but as chamber board members, they’re supposed to be supporting business and the chamber is in favor of the Cargill project,” said resident Marsha Cohen, a vocal opponent of the project. “That’s a conflict of interest."
However, Mayor Jeff Ira, current chamber board member and in 2008 as well, said that this was “absolutely not a conflict of interest.”
“We were fighting something that was poorly written that went through the backdoor to attack Cargill,” Ira said.
Measure W failed to gain a majority support, with 62.6 percent of voters voting No. It would have required two-thirds of voters to approve any development on open spaces in Redwood City, including the Cargill salt ponds.
The current 1,433 acre mixed use Cargill development project will undergo its second Notice of Preparation scoping meetings at the end of summer.
Ira emphasized that the chamber was concerned about the blanket measure that could have stifled certain development in that area. He recalled that homeowners along Valota Road protested the measure at council meetings because Measure W could directly impact their homes.
However, Executive Director David Lewis of Save the Bay, an environmental group that had initiated the ballot measure, said it would have only required a vote if homeowners had wanted to drastically change their home to a development not in accordance with zoning.
Resident Nedra Moore of the Friends of Redwood City, a local environmental group, said that the measure was not targeting Cargill, but trying to preserve open spaces and parks.
Councilmember Jeff Gee, who was the 40-member board’s president at the time, said that this was the first campaign that the chamber had ever actively supported. Typically, the chamber writes letters when it supports or opposed a cause, according to Gee.
“But this time, it merited more than just a letter. And for the first time ever, we became active,” Gee said.
He said the measure would have amended the city’s charter to require a super majority to approve land use decisions.
“Everyone knew the chamber was against it,” Ira said, recalling the many “No on Measure W” mailers that totaled $18,643. “It’s not like we were trying to hide it.”
The chamber has expressed support for the Cargill development project, but is free to support any causes it wishes as long as it files an independent expenditure report if this amount totals more than $1,000.
It failed to do so in a timely manner, but the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) ruled that “No evidence was found to indicate the lack of disclosure was anything more than negligent,” according to the report. The chamber was fined $3,000, with $5,000 being the maximum fine.
In 2010, the commission issued Councilmember Foust a written warning that she could not vote on Saltworks issues while holding her position as Executive Director at the San mateo County Economic Development Association (SAMCEDA.) She currently abstains from all council matters on the subject.
“For those who are paranoid that [the council] has already made a decision, we’re going to let the process play out,” Ira reassured.
Councilmember Gee self-labeled the council “information junkies” and promised that it would seek all the information from the environmental impact report before making a final decision.