News

Greg Tanaka to return developer's contribution

Councilman to return $5K from family whose project he is about to review

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 It won an approval from the Architectural Review Board in February 2015 but the decision was rescinded after an appeal from a nearby property owner.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.

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Comments

26 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 3, 2017 at 11:23 am

I am not surprised that Tanaka took such a large sum of money from the applicant of 429 University, but I am surprised that he thinks "giving it back " now will erase the publics concerns that he not unbiased!.

After all she can give him money and favors in other ways especially if he has shut down his campaign account.
In addition before he returned the 5k Tanaka reimbursed himself for the 20K he personally loaned his campaign, so the 5k from the applicants son could have been part of the funds that went back in his pocket.

In addition the applicant's current Architect ( architect 5 or 6) is Joseph Bellomo, who built, works and lives at 102 University across from the train station. For weeks Tanaka had an illegal oversized campaign sign on the roof of 102 University.
The Sign exceeded the size for legal campaign signs and flaunted the cities sign laws that prohibit rooftop signs.

All of which makes for way to cozy a coalition for Tanaka to participate in the appeal of 429 University.' And calls in to question his integrity.

If he does not recuse himself he will make clear that he does not respect the law or the people of Palo Alto.


8 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 3, 2017 at 12:20 pm

Good grief...must everything be a conspiracy?! Can't someone do something honest from time to time without the entire public being cynical? How about looking at this simply as the guy has integrity and gave it back, when the city attorney told him he didn't have to?

Not every person has cynical motivations. Seems to me others attribute their own cynicism onto others because it's easier to do. What a cynical society Palo Alto has become.

It is so easy to judge other people's intentions in the age of the internet and behind a computer screen. Judging others' intentions without actually talking to that person is exactly the kind of lazy, cynical society we have become and somehow, this is acceptable. I would suggest talking to the man, though even with that, like most people, once a pre-judgment is formed, it's hard to get people to back off of them.

I invite those screaming the loudest about this to take a hard look at yourselves, think about all of the things you may have done wrong in your life that you corrected (even though accepting donations is not wrong, though reviewing that project and accepting donations probably is a bad look), then imagine a lion's den of folks being cynical about your own aims at retribution.

The same people who judge others the most are probably self-proclaimed fearing of a higher power.


27 people like this
Posted by Dan
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 3, 2017 at 2:43 pm

Returning the money is not sufficient. This is not about the appearance of conflict of interest ... it is about an actual demonstrated conflict of interest. The only acceptable thing to do from an ethics standpoint in a case like this would be to recuse himself on this particular development project. The world will survive not having his vote on this one development and he would preserve a much better level of credibility for the future.


35 people like this
Posted by Too Late
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 3, 2017 at 2:52 pm

It's a little too late for Greg Tanaka, who returns money ONLY after he gets caught!

Best thing to do now is resign, Greg!


6 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 3, 2017 at 3:16 pm

[Post removed.]


17 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 3, 2017 at 9:49 pm

No problem. He'll get it back if he votes right.


10 people like this
Posted by @Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2017 at 8:38 am

@Anonymous,
Have you not read the latest news? Kniss, Tanaka, and Fine all got large developer money after the funds would have been reported to the public, frim numerous development interests, not just this amount. In more than one, they deficit soent and made up the deficit afterwards with developer cash. Given the way they waged their campaigns, claiming they were free of developer influence, using the contributions to say they weren't, they should all resign, and if not, residents should recall. Kniss asmitted in the paper that she was worried how it would look to take developer cash. Did she advise Fine and Tanaka to do this? Is this even within campaign finance laws?


8 people like this
Posted by @Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2017 at 8:43 am

@Anonymous,
Clarifying,

Have you not read the latest news? Kniss, Tanaka, and Fine all got large developer money after the funds would have been reported to the public AFTER THE ELECTION, from numerous development interests, not just this amount. In more than one, they deficit spent and made up the deficit afterwards with developer cash. Given the way they waged their campaigns, claiming they were free of developer influence, using the contributions to say they weren't, AND THE ABUSE OF POWER THEY JUST DEMONSTRATED IN SETTING ASIDE YEARS OF WORK BY CITIZEN COMMITTEES ON THE COMP PLAN LAND USE PROVISIONS hey should all resign, and if not, residents should recall. In explaining her late taking of developer cash, Kniss admitted in the paper that she was worried how it would look to take developer cash. Did she advise Fine and Tanaka to do this? Is this even within campaign finance laws?


8 people like this
Posted by @Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2017 at 9:07 am

From the other article: "For Tanaka, a former city planning commissioner who finished second after Kniss in an 11-candidate field, the late contributions totaled $47,895, more than half of the $84,670 total that he received during his campaign and far more than any other candidate reported in the final filing period"

The article also says that Fine received about $26,000 this way, about a third of all the cash he got for the race. Kniss tokk in $20k. All after the three rebuffed claims that they were beholden to developers - does no one remember the campaign?

Returning one $5,000 gift does not fix this. In fact, Kniss made a show of returning a developer check DURING the race.

Remember the pro-development factions forcing a commissioner to resign over taking a terra cotta pot from a home that she thought was empty with a demolition notice on the front? The appearance of collusion to avoid telling the public about what amounts to almost $100,000 in developer-related cash until after the election, in order to appear less beholden to developers during the election, when development is such a big issue now, should mean resignations. Unless they really are boughtvand paid for. Then they should be recalled. If Kniss does not resign, she will never be able to live this down. Voters deserve transparency in their choices and more honesty from leaders.


15 people like this
Posted by Obvious Ethics Violations
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 4, 2017 at 9:11 am

City council members are to act as impartial judges when they rule on the legality of a project, which is why it's called a "quasi-judicial procedure." Would you want to be tried by a judge who took $5,000 from the opposing party but then returned it a few days before the trial because it looked bad? And where the judge could get the $5,000 back again minutes after the trial?

Also, City Attorney Molly Stump does not represent the government nor the court system. She represents only the interests of the council itself. An opinion from her that there's no conflict of interest is like asking a defense attorney if his or her client is guilty. Of course the answer is "no."

Neither Tanaka nor Stump care one whit about honest government. In a city with proper ethics, Tanaka would recuse himself in an instant. And Stump would be looking for a new job.


12 people like this
Posted by Tanaka in the limelight
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 4, 2017 at 12:31 pm

We will be watching this 'quiet' operator to see if he does the honest thing and recuses himself from voting on the 429 University oversized project.
Sometimes the spotlight shines on bias and dishonesty.
Monday it will shine brightly at 7:40 pm on Channel 26.


7 people like this
Posted by Crooked Politician
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 4, 2017 at 7:03 pm

Tanaka is in the tank for developers. His past business dealings and his financial entanglements should be carefully investigated. Someone should shine a light on him and carefully scrutinize his past.


4 people like this
Posted by Recall
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 4, 2017 at 7:06 pm

[Post removed.]


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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