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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Davis General Plan Housing Element Committee Convenes to Some Early Controversy

The Housing Element Steering Committee convened for the first time the other night to a discussion, ironically enough, on the issue of Conflict of Interests. It is ironic that they have this discussion in light of what happened with the County General Plan update and what we reported yesterday where a member was actively pushing a proposal that would directly financially improve his property which was adjacent to the property designated for development at Oeste Ranch.

Former Davis City Councilmember and Committee Member Mike Harrington said at the meeting, “Some people in this room stand to make tens of millions of dollars from our decisions.”

According to the Davis Enterprise:
"Committee members wouldn’t need to recuse themselves because their vote would be one of 15, said Bob Wolcott, Davis’ principal planner. One person wouldn’t be able to sway the vote unless there was a good reason to put housing on a property he or she had a financial interest in."
That is not the principles that the rest of government uses to determine conflicts of interest.

An individual city councilmember is just one of five, and yet anytime a discussion comes within 500 feet of their property they must recuse themselves.

The City is ironically updating its Conflict-of-Interest code:
"Pursuant to Government Code Section 87302, the code will designate employees and officials who must disclose certain investments, income, interests in real property and business positions, and who must disqualify themselves from making or participating in the making of governmental decisions affecting those interests."
These include members of commissions--commissions of course can only recommend to the city council rather than act on proposals and yet they are required to disclose fully their financial interests and they are also required to disqualify themselves from making or participating in governmental decisions affecting those interests. These members not only sit on body as one of seven, but the proposals also generally require a council vote be enacted. The process is thus diffused from an individual commissioner having undue influence and yet they are held to stringent conflict of interest prohibitions.

Why is there a lower standard for the updating of the General Plan Housing Element than for the City Council or Commissions? Wolcott's answer seems fundamentally non-responsive to those key differences. Is his argument because this body is larger? Because it would seem that the same basic principals apply regardless of size.

Many of the members of this committee stand to make large sums of money not only directly from the Housing Element Update but also indirectly in the increase of their property values as the result in changes in the land-use element and the development strategies adopted by this committee.

By the way, two of the members are out--Jeff Adamski and Brenda Little. They were replaced by alternates Kevin Wolf and Lucas Frerichs. Kevin Wolf was one of the big proponents of Measure X while Frerichs is a member of the Social Services Commission and a legislative aid.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting