Palo Alto Councilman Greg Tanaka, whose campaign received $5,000 from a developer whose project he is set to review Monday night, said he is returning the money to avoid the perception of a conflict of interest.
As the Weekly had previously reported, Tanaka's campaign benefitted from several major contributions from developers who gave money after the final pre-election deadline for disclosures. This included the contribution from Andrew Wong, whose family is trying to win approval for a four-story mixed-use building at 429 University Ave.
The divisive project has been in the city's pipeline for more than three years. It won an approval from the Architectural Review Board in February 2015 but the decision was rescinded after an appeal from a nearby property owner. The City Council ultimately agreed that the project on the corner of University and Kipling is not compatible with the surrounding area and requested revisions.
In October, the Architectural Review Board considered the latest proposed design and voted 3-0 to reject it. At that hearing, then-Chair Robert Gooyer said the "project is going backward" and complained that the applicant isn't addressing what the board requested.
Despite the rejection, the Wong family is hoping for a different ruling from the council, which will consider it on Monday, Feb. 6.
In a recent interview with the Weekly, Elizabeth Wong said that she believes the Architectural Review Board was "tainted" by the slow-growth faction of the City Council. As such, it was unable to render a fair decision.
"The ARB became influenced by the residential faction of the council and was unable to render a fair and impartial," Wong said.
The appellant, Michael Harbour, had his own concerns about the process, particularly after learning about the Wong's contribution to Tanaka. He told the Weekly that he believes this is a conflict of interest and requested that City Attorney Molly Stump look into the issue.
Stump did not respond to the Weekly's inquiries Thursday but Tanaka said she had told him that there is absolutely no conflict and that he is allowed to participate in the review. Even so, because the November contribution was made in such a close time proximity to the review, he has instructed his treasurer to return the money to the Wongs.
"The only reason I'm returning it is because of the proximity," Tanaka told the Weekly Thursday evening.