Oakland City Council Sells Public Land to Serial Campaign Finance Law Violator

Posted on July 10, 2019


It was a scene reminiscent of the assassination montage from Godfather 2. In a single  legislative item discussion, the City Attorney okayed selling land to proven violators of Oakland’s Campaign Reform Act; the City Council demonstrated its willingness to sell public land without a now four-month late public land policy ordinance to regulate them; and Mark Sawicki, the Economic and Workforce Development Department, declared that the public lands ordinance itself is dead in the water for the foreseeable future.

The legislative item itself was monumental. The city wants to sell a city owned parking lot to Lane Partners (and a local development partner) so that it can combine the property with other parcels that will, together, create an entire square block project that they then plan to sell to Kaiser for nearly 1 billion dollars. The sale itself is contested by various communities—and by no less than Kaiser workers themselves who find themselves in fruitless negotiations with the corporation and wonder how it can find 1 billion dollars for the project, while also laying off workers.



A Kaiser Pharmacy Warehouse worker who waited several hours to ask council how Kaiser could spend 1 billion dollars on a new building, while claiming it didn’t have the money to keep its workforce.


Shortly before the vote on the Disposition and Development Agreement that would greenlight the sale, I was given a copy of a letter addressed to Council President Rebecca Kaplan from the law firm of Wendel Rosen, et al on behalf of a Lane Partners principal, Andrew Haydel. In the letter, dated May 17, 2019, Haydel’s lawyer admits that Haydel had violated Oakland’s Campaign Reform Act by giving $5,000 to Libby Schaaf’s campaign fund in August, 2016–one month after Lane had been added to the Exclusive Negotiating Agreement for 2100 Telegraph. The letter also notes that the contribution was in response to a solicitation from Schaaf.





This was irrefutable proof that the company the Council was poised to sell public land to had improper dealings with the Mayor —the timing of Schaaf’s solicitation, shortly after the company was added to the Exclusive Negotiating Agreement, also suggests a transactional character. After all, the City administrator and all its attendant departments, including the one led by Sawicki, are under Schaaf’s penumbra.

Lane Partners [as a firm] also donated $1,000 to Council Member Lynette Gibson-McElhaney’s Legal Defense fund last October—another campaign finance violation—though not mentioned by Haydel’s attorney. The donation to McElhaney’s fund is ironic, since its a legal fund for the purposes of defending herself against previous corruption charges.




Kaplan, in possession of the same irrefutable evidence of Lane’s violation to Schaaf, asked Assistant City Attorney Doryana Moreno for a legal opinion on voting to sell public land to companies that had violated the city’s laws on giving money to city officials during negotiations for public land. Moreno replied that there was no prohibition on council voting to sell public land to such companies–despite the intention of the the law, passed to prevent companies from exerting influence on the Mayor and Council members during such land negotiations. The matter died there and then.



Mark Sawicki, Director of the City’s Workforce and Development Department, which leases and sells city land among other things, then performed a public execution of the Public Lands Policy ordinance his office has been expected to produce. Those who follow such things may remember the Public Lands Policy resolution in December, 2018, as the product of months of community engagement and protest by a large coalition of community groups last year. Hundreds of Oakland residents came to committee meetings, council meetings—the Oakland City-Wide Anti-Displacement Coalition included Causa Justa, the Public Advocates, and the East 12th among several others.

The unprecedented legislation obligated Sawicki’s office to return to council by March 2019 with a working proposal for an ordinance on how the city disposes and negotiates the sale of city land, including mandated lease preferences, local majority workforce requirements even for Trades unions, preferences for affordable housing, the creation of a community commission on land sales, and more. March passed, but nothing was heard of the public lands ordinance.

The proposed ordinance finally arrived at Rules Committee three months late in June. But then Sawicki pulled it. At the time, Sawicki told the Rules Committee that his department was having trouble meeting the requirements of the resolution—notably the requirement obligating community input on the Project Labor Agreement that would impose hiring requirements on developers seeking to buy city land. Sawicki at the time suggested that the problems would be cleared up after the council’s legislative Summer recess. Later, Sawicki began to refer to the hold-up as a legal issue, and at last night’s meeting responded that the City Attorney’s office had advised him not to proceed because the community stakeholder meetings had been delayed. I’ve spoken to a couple of people involved in the campaign, and they say the same thing–that Sawicki’s department is dragging its feet on the PLA and putting up roadblocks.

Sawicki plunged one more dagger into the dying legislation last night, by stating he had no idea when the community workforce stakeholder meetings would happen, and thus there’d be no ordinance for the foreseeable future.



Nonetheless, the council voted to issue the DDA to Lane, a serial violator of the Oakland Campaign Reform Act law designed to prevent companies buying votes on public land sales, and they seemed to do so happily with no public lands policy in place. Later in the same night, they voted to lease the civic auditorium to developer and Libby Schaaf contributor, Orton Development. That’s the new “united” council, just getting stuff done.



I’m including a PDF scan of the letter from Haydel’s attorney, Zack Wasserman. Zack Wasserman, himself an apparent serial violator of Oakland’s Campaign Reform Act according to records during his tenure as a principal of Elaine Brown’s OAW, argues that Haydel was unaware of the restrictions on contributing to candidates. It’s possible that as Wasserman argues that both he and Haydel were surprised that individuals and principals of corporations are forbidden from contributing to any fund controlled by an elected city official during the negotiations period for things like buying city land. But it’s not likely.

As a requirement of buying land from the city, the company or individual must produce a signed copy of a form acknowledging that they’ve read and understood the law–that document is kept with the entire package of contract documents and should be readily available to anyone asking for it. The law is clear that it includes any committee controlled by a candidate, information freely accessible from any number of public sources. That Wasserman, himself a prolific fundraiser, a lawyer specializing in advising developers in dealings with the city, as well as a party himself to negotiations with city for public land, would not know these details intricately is beyond belief.

Thus, the implication that “even” Wasserman was initially fooled, and that’s how complex and tough it is for regular multi-millionaire joes to figure out this danged campaign finance stuff, is just, to be charitable, undignified.

One last note. To really get a clear idea of the level of hypocrisy and bad faith the Council exhibited when they voted for the Lane partners DDA on 2100 Telegraph regardless of campaign finance violations: just three years ago, Dan Kalb and Noel Gallo sponsored legislation to hone the OCRA to make sure the language left no doubts about who is included and what funds are prohibited. The ordinance passed unanimously.



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