Supreme Court immigration ruling disappoints

Under DAPA, more than 720,000 immigrants nationwide were able to access work permits and driver’s licenses, among other benefits, and had temporary relief from deportation.

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In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling this morning on President Obama’s executive action on DAPA and expanded DACA, Mayor Tom Butt released the following statement:

Under DAPA, more than 720,000 immigrants nationwide were able to access work permits and driver's licenses, among other benefits, and had temporary relief from deportation.
Under DAPA, more than 720,000 immigrants nationwide were able to access work permits and driver’s licenses, among other benefits, and had temporary relief from deportation.
“Today’s Supreme Court ruling on #DAPA is extremely disappointing. Under DAPA, more than 720,000 immigrants nationwide were able to access work permits and driver’s licenses, among other benefits, and had temporary relief from deportation. The law created a more inclusive workforce by driving a more productive economy; it kept families together and allowed families to come out of the shadows; and it provided a clear pathway to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of individuals.

Editor’s Note: Read about Obama Immigration Plan Blocked by 4-4 tie at Supreme Court

Investing in immigrants benefits communities many times over. In Richmond, we know that serving undocumented persons without prejudice improves their access to jobs, thereby enhancing their prospects for independence and prosperity – all to the overall benefit of our city’s health and safety. These efforts are also consistent with our most cherished values of inclusion and equity.

Richmond will continue to be a safe and welcoming city for immigrants, with the aim of proactively counteracting fear and providing families with help and support. We are a Sanctuary City, and will continue to enforce our policies designed to allow all residents to live free from discrimination, hostility, abuse, violence, exploitation and fear.

In addition, my administration will continue to be a member of Cities For Action, a coalition over 100 mayors and municipalities that are leading the effort to support stronger, safer and more economically prosperous cities and counties through immigration action.

Together, we will continue to welcome and embrace new immigrants in Richmond, collaborate with others to shape the national debate on immigration, and promote legal and community-based efforts in support of DAPA and DACA.

The #FightForFamilies continues.”

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10 Essential Questions the City of Concord Should Ask Lennar

The more the City of Concord can learn about a potential candidate before strolling down the aisle with them, the better.

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The City of Concord has an important decision to make. Selection of a master plan developer for the Concord Naval Weapons Station (CNWS) project. The more the City of Concord can learn about a potential candidate before strolling down the aisle with them, the better. It would pay to know more about Lennar and its executives – like COO Jon Jaffe. Two years of in-depth research on Lennar reveals much about the company and its top executives.

Jon Jaffee COO lennar
10 Questions Concord City Council must ask Lennar COO Jon Jaffe

One of the most accurate and prescient whistle-blowers in modern times is Harry Markopolos, author of the book No One Would Listen. He blew the whistle on Bernie Madoff years before he was caught. Mr. Markopolos was, of course, called a liar. And he was dismissed as a crank by the SEC. They ignored his warnings. Perhaps the biggest regulatory blunder of all time. Eventually he boiled down his premises on Mr. Madoff to ten simple questions that the SEC could ask of Mr. Madoff. The SEC never asked those questions.

Following the lead of Mr. Markopolos, here is a simplified inquiry into Lennars background and business practices distilled into ten questions the City of Concord should ask before further consideration of Lennar as a bidder on the CNWS redevelopment project. The answers – or non-answers – could be very informative.

TEN ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS

Question 1: The California Public Employees Retirement System – CalPERS – lost over $922,000,000 in 2007 when the fund was induced to contribute assets to a Lennar and Jaffe-managed entity – LandSource LLC. According to a well-researched lawsuit filed by creditors of LandSource, Lennar used misleading cash flow projections to obtain access to CalPERS assets.

Then, according to the suit, Lennar used inflated appraisals and falsified cash flow projections to borrow 1.4 billion dollars from a Barclays Bank loan syndicate. The loan was secured, in part, by CalPERS-contributed assets. Lennar immediately transferred the loan proceeds to its (and their sister company’s) own accounts. That left LandSource responsible for the interest and principle payments due on the massive debt, but completely illiquid going into a historic economic downturn. Mr. Jaffe knew before the loan was finalized there was no way for LandSource to make the contractual interest and principal payments. How could it? There was no cash left on the balance sheet.

Lennar actions set the table for a massive collapse and subsequent bankruptcy just 13 months later. There is no dispute that CalPERS lost everything it contributed in this Lennar scheme. And it turned out that Lennar, much like Enron, had failed to disclose huge off-balance sheet liabilities  and was concealing its true financial condition from CalPERS and Barclays Bank.

Correspondence and documents available indicate clearly that Mr. Jaffe knew well in advance of the transaction that the real estate markets were imploding and that all of the information supplied to CalPERS and the lender to pull off this transaction was knowingly false. He also knew that Lennar was on the verge of collapse. 

Is Lennar willing to publicly disclose to the public, CalPERS, Barclays Bank, shareholders, the SEC, and the City of Concord all of their internal correspondence, emails, reports, projections, cash planning documents, and land acquisition or disposition plans for 2007, and a comprehensive list of all former or current employees involved in LandSource and in any aspect of the land acquisition and disposition process at Lennar? And would Lennar be willing to provide to the City of Concord an estimate of losses to all the victims of this scheme?

Question 2: As recounted in the book Crime and Deception, Lennar was sued by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) in Ft. Myers, Florida for defrauding two federally-insured financial institutions. The counts in the complaint include: Fraud in the Inducement, Constructive Fraud, Conspiracy, Negligent Misrepresentation, Breach of Contract, and Breach of Fiduciary Duty.  And worse, numerous Lennar employees were directly involved in this elaborate fraud. Lennar was contributory to the failure of not one but two financial institutions, leaving  taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars. The federal case number is 2:12-cv-00595-SPC, and was filed in the Middle District of Florida.

According to the FDIC, Lennar executives used inflated appraisals, straw buyers, large undisclosed kickbacks (28%), and falsified HUD-1 forms to accomplish this fraud. Lennar tried to litigate its way out of this crime, but was forced by the FDIC to settle on the courthouse steps. They entered into a sealed settlement agreement with the FDIC. No executives went to jail (as usual).

Is Lennar willing to provide the entire court file, including all exhibits – sealed or unsealed, witness statements, depositions, and settlement correspondence, and the settlement documents to the public, shareholders, the SEC, and specifically to the City of Concord for due diligence purposes? If not, why not? And is Lennar willing to disclose the identity and contact information of all former and current Lennar employees involved in this fraud?

Question 3: Lennar was sued in the state of Maryland for Breach of Contract and Fraud involving a valid and binding land purchase contract. The lawsuit was then amended by the plaintiffs to include three additional counts: Fraudulent Inducement, Negligent Misrepresentation, and Fraudulent Concealment. The Maryland court had learned that Lennar had concealed over 100,000 pages of incriminating documents in encrypted files and agreed to add these new counts. A trial was held on the matter in 2014. The Lennar executives testified, but were viewed as non-credible by the judge. The federal judge agreed entirely with the plaintiff, ruled against Lennar, ordered payment in excess of $225,000,000 to the plaintiff, and tacked on interest and legal fees potentially in excess of $100,000,000. The federal case number is 8:08-cv-01863-DKC and was filed in the Southern Division in Maryland.

Is Lennar willing to provide the entire court file, including depositions and exhibits – sealed or not, to the public, shareholders, the SEC, and specifically to the City of Concord for due diligence purposes? If not, why not? 

Kofi Bonner pitches Lennar to become Master developer for CNWS development
Kofi Bonner pitches Lennar to become Master developer for CNWS development

Question 4: In the above-cited Maryland case, the federal judge, Deborah K. Chasenow, became aware that Lennar and its executives had a pattern and practice of routinely breaching valid and binding contracts, and using and abusing the legal system to evade contractual obligations. Lennar was ordered to produce a list of all breach of contract and fraud litigation pending against Lennar. The company produced a 157 page list, and then had to amend the list to include even more previously-undisclosed litigation. Lennar then moved to seal and conceal this list from the SEC, shareholders, and others.

Is Lennar willing to disclose this list filed in the Maryland case to the public, shareholders, the SEC, and specifically to the City of Concord for due diligence purposes? If not, why not? 

Question 5: Lennar currently has lawsuits in the hundreds filed or pending against the company. The company employs dozens of law firms.

Is Lennar willing to provide to the public, shareholders, the SEC, and specifically to the City of Concord a third-party certified list of all litigation currently facing the company?  What is the annual cost of defending litigation facing the company, and what is the total claim exposure in dollars to the company right now?

Democratic frontrunner Kamala Harris
California Attorney General Kamala Brown, a Willie Brown girl, is the Democratic Party frontrunner for the U.S. Senate

Question 6:  In the City of Santa Clarita, located northeast of Los Angeles, Lennar and Jon Jaffe oversee the Newhall Ranch development project. This is the largest master plan development in the Five Point Holdings Inc. portfolio and is discussed in the previous article on Lennar.  On November 30, 2015, the California Supreme Court stripped the entitlements from the project, citing material deficiencies in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that Lennar had filed in connection with the development. Lennar has been trying unsuccessfully to obtain entitlements and permits for this project for over ten years. The Concord CNWS project will also require an EIR.

The record shows that Lennar has historically failed to perform on a timely basis on their master-planned developments. In the Mare Island project, Lennar has under-performed on this project for almost 20 years. And Lennar financially impacted the city of Vallejo badly when they put the Mare Island project into bankruptcy.

Why should the City of Concord consider awarding the CNWS contract to Lennar, given the demonstrable inability of Lennar to obtain entitlements on a timely basis, chronic under-performance on project timelines, and a proven track record of causing huge losses for partners, investors, and municipalities by conversion, mismanagement, and bankrupting large master planned communities under their control?

Question 7: Keith Jackson, a long-time fixture on the Lennar payroll and a principal political advisor to Lennar in the Bay Area was recently indicted for felony bribery, money laundering, grand theft, and campaign finance fraud. These indictments followed previous indictments for gun-running, drug-trafficking, and murder-for-hire.

Which Lennar employees are most closely associated with Mr. Jackson, and how is Lennar involved in these felony counts?

keith jackson arraignment
Keith Jackson, a PR consultant for Lennar, on his way to arraignment for racketeering, conspiracy to commit arms trafficking with Leeland Yee, narcotics trafficking and murder for hire. Lee and Jackson (in addition to other prominent California politicians from Northern California (e.g. Kamala Harris, and Lennar Urban President Kofi Bonner) are closely associated with former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown,

Question 8: Lennar was found in the Jenkins report commissioned by the City of Concord to have orchestrated secret maximum-dollar campaign contributions to former Mayor Tim Grayson to improperly influence his decision on the CNWS contract.

Why did Lennar employees and consultants decline to participate in the investigation process? Which Lennar employees were involved in this scheme, and how was the scheme implemented? Did Keith Jackson play a role in this scheme? What do the Lennar executives know about the unusual circumstances involving the investigation of the Lennar role in the Grayson campaign contributions?

Question 9: The CEO of CalPERS at the time Lennar fraudulently obtained assets from the pension fund in 2007 was Federico Buenrostro.  Mr. Buenrostro has subsequently pled guilty to taking bribes in a pervasive pay-to-play scheme as CEO and manager of the pension fund. In one instance, according to his plea, Mr. Buenrostro accepted paper bags and and shoe boxes full of cash in a Hyatt hotel room in Sacramento. Mr. Buenrostro stated in his plea that he was responsible for the administration of CalPERS financial affairs. These duties included overseeing ongoing investments and prospective investment decisions in connection with CalPERS administration of billions of dollars in assets. Given the toxic pay-to-play environment at CalPERS, it would have been difficult or impossible for Lennar to deal with the fund without also dealing with Mr. Buenrostro. 

Did the Lennar executives make arrangements with Mr. Buenrostro to overlook the blatant theft of nearly a billion dollars in assets from the fund? What were the arrangements?  Was Keith Jackson involved in this process? Real estate fraud, at least after the fact, is easy to ferret out. It almost always involves inflated appraisals and fabricated cash flow projections. Why didn’t CalPERS pursue Lennar and Mr. Jaffe as managers of LandSource for fraud, and try to recover assets on behalf of the fund?


willie brownQuestion 10
: Top law enforcement professionals were consulted in the process of researching the book, Crime and Deception. The main areas of this research were: what is the criteria to establish a pattern and practice of fraudulent behavior, and what elements are required to qualify under RICO statutes (Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations). Their research showed that when the national pattern and practice of Lennar and its executives is analyzed under RICO statutes, that the executives, including Jon Jaffe and CEO Stuart Miller, qualify for prosecution under numerous counts. These counts included Bribery, Mail Fraud, Wire Fraud, Obstruction of Justice, Witness Tampering, Extortion, Money Laundering, and Bankruptcy Fraud. All that is required to prosecute are two counts over a ten year period. The Lennar executives clearly over-qualify under that metric.

Our law enforcement professionals also confirmed that Mr. Jaffe himself has been accused of maintaining illicit offshore accounts and that he has been associated with a known money launderer.

Is Lennar or are any of its executives under criminal investigation at this time (not including Keith Jackson)? If so, where, by what agency, and in regard to which of their activities?

SUMMARY

I hope that the City of Concord can benefit from the extensive and in-depth research available on Lennar, its executives, and its business practices.  This information could help city leaders make a more informed decision on selection of a trustworthy and capable developer for the CNWS redevelopment plan. And what has been shown here is the tip of the iceberg.

Lennar COO Jonathan Jaffe – pictured above – asserted in a recent communication to the City of Concord that all of the information in the book Crime and Deception was comprised of “false allegations” and “unsubstantiated” claims. But despite Mr. Jaffe’s protestations, the record clearly shows a consistent pattern  – Lennar has been sued by the Federal Government for fraud. Lennar has been sued by counter-parties to valid and binding contracts for fraud. Lennar has been sued by creditors for fraud. And Lennar is attempting to conceal the evidence that the company has been sued by hundreds of others for fraud, and a lot more.

Perhaps Mr. Jaffe isn’t telling the truth. Again. Just ask the 1.6 million men and women who depend on CalPERS to safeguard their savings from a lifetime of work, and lost nearly one billion dollars in another Lennar scheme.

If Lennar is the only remaining bidder on the valuable CNWS project, then the citizens of the City of Concord deserve considerably better than this choice. Why would the City of Concord even take a chance on having an experience like mine, and so many others? Perhaps the choice of master developer should be decided by those most affected by this important decision – the citizens themselves.

All research for this article is available to the City of Concord at any time. Please email any request for more information to info@swanmountainpress.com. There are also two websites available now that provide additional information about Lennar: www.crimeanddeception.com and www.crimeanddeception-newhallranch.com.

Editors Note – Nick Marsch has been involved in extensive litigation with Lennar over project accounting, conversion, and management issues and has written a book about them detailing his experiences.

 

 

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Investigation of Concord Reuse Project allegations finds fault with Lennar, City Manager, Council

Lennar’s orchestration of campaign contributions to Mayor Tim Grayson’s Assembly campaign constituted a form of lobbying prohibited by the Agreement to Negotiate, and the removal of the recommendation of Catellus from the final staff report resulted from an illegal serial meeting.

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On September 24, 2015, Catellus Development, through its attorney Hansen Bridgett, wrote the City of Concord alleging improprieties by Lennar Concord, LLC, in connection with the Master Developer selection process for the Concord Naval Weapons Station Reuse Project. Catellus, a finalist in the section along with Lennar alleged that Lennar violated the terms of the Agreement to Negotiate with the City of Concord by lobbying City Council.

A Special Investigation was authorized and completed by Michael Jenkins of the law firm Jenkins & Hogin, LLP, of San Francisco. The report details the applicable law and analysis of the relevant issues and found that,

Lennar’s orchestration of campaign contributions to Mayor Tim Grayson’s Assembly campaign constituted a form of lobbying prohibited by the Agreement to Negotiate, and the removal of the recommendation [of Catellus Development for Master Developer] from the the final staff report resulted from an illegal serial meeting.

Kofi Bonner
Kofi Bonner is regional Vice President of Lennar Urban, a finalist for Master Developer for the Concord Naval Weapons Station project
Furthermore, the report states that records show that the contributions from Lennar associates to the Assembly campaign of Mayor Grayson were in fact solicited by Kofi Bonner of Lennar.

Importantly, the report concludes that the Agreement leaves the consequences, if any, of such lobbying, within the Council’s discretion.

The investigation found no merit “with any other of Catellus’s other allegations. Despite promises of cooperation Lennar declined to be interviewed and elected to to limit Lennar’s participation, as did former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, who consulted with Concord Mayor Tim Grayson, even though Brown is a known close associate of Kofi Bonner of Lennar Urban in San Francisco,

See the 43 [page report below. Readers can download the report from this site or from the City of Concord Reuse Project Page

Concord CNWS Jenkins Report

The report reveals that City staff including then City Attorney Mark Coon, then Director of the Reuse Project Negotiation Team Michael Wright, and others expressed dismay to Catellus in hopes that it would note send a letter stating its allegations as it may delay the selection process.

The report also discusses the meaning of the term “lobbying” both in its common everyday meaning as well as its technical legal parameters. The report describes the language of the lobbying prohibition was intended to be used in its commonly understood meaning, not its technical legal meaning. The prohibition of lobbying was inserted as a codicil/side agreement to preclude “an end-run by either finalist directly or indirectly to the decision-makers. According to the report, “This interpretation was understood to be accepted by staff and both developers.”

The word “lobbying” in Section 11 is listed with “discussions” and “negotiations,” two other verbs suggesting that the finalists are to avoid any activity that might be perceived as attempting to influence decision-makers. The exclusion of campaign contributions in the Political Reform Act has no bearing on Section 11; if the donation of campaign contributions was meant to influence Mayor Gray, then the contributions violated the lobbying prohibition.

Concord Mayor Tim Grayson-state-of-cityJenkins states, “I reject the argument that the lobbying prohibition in Section 11 excludes campaign contributions. It is fair to conclude that the agreement bound both Catellus and Lennar to refrain from engaging in any discussions, negotiations or any other actions intended to influence any City Council or Planning Commission members, or other City employees or officials.”

“The first amendment claims are a red herring. The issue here is whether Lennar acted contrary to the Agreement.”

In regards to the contributions, the report describes two possible conclusions; that Lennar’s solicitation of these campaign contributions from its associates to to Mayor Grayson’s campaign were “anonymous — magnanimously— without expectation of receiving anything in return.”

This would be consistent with Mayor Grayson’s insistence that he was unaware of the relationship between the the contributors and Lennar until the issue was brought to light by this news site, the Contra Costa Times, and others. Grayson reiterated this line again on February 11 in a Council meeting, with an impassioned, “I am not a crook” speech proclaiming that his vote is not for sale.

tim grayson dances with the devilYet his campaign consultant Mary Jo Rossi, a former associate of Willie Brown, was quite aware of the associations of the donors and made efforts to get the donations made before a campaign contribution reporting deadline to show Grayson had a purportedly insurmountable lead in campaign donations.

According to Jenkins,

The contributions materially assisted Mayor Grayson to demonstrating his fundraising prowess early in the campaign, possibly giving hime and advantage over hs competition.There is no evidence that Lennar and Mayor Grayson collaborated in this endeavor [editor note: not withstanding Mary Jo Rossi as possible go-between] or that Mayor Grayson was even aware of it at the time. Nevertheless, the fact that Lennar concealed its involvement by using at least one proxy to donate at least one contribution to Mayor Grayson’s campaign suggests a clandestine effort to advance its interests in the selection process, whether or not it actually did so. Regard in that way, the contributions would constitute lobbying within the meaning of Section 11 [of the non-lobbying agreement both Master Developer finalists signed.]

As for the removal of the staff recommendation of Catellus as Master Developer from the final staff report to Council, the record shows that the original agreement did call for a recommendation from staff; that Council rememorialized this decision shown in the minutes of a closed session of September 15, 2015.

After the deadline for final term sheets from each finalist, a flurry of rumors were ginned up (some anonymously) against Catellus: favoritism by one of Michael Wright’s team, Catellus could be acquired, pressure put on staff to accept an amended term sheet by Lennar after the deadline, Catellus secretly negotiating with Seeno, Catellus gifting Warriors tickets to some city staff, etc. Jenkins states that, “each of these allegations was investigated by Mr Wright, Mr Ramiza, and/or the City attorney and determined to have no merit.”

All of these late allegations “came at the 11th hour as it became more and more obvious to the Council that the Negotiation Team preferred and would be recommending the Catellus term sheet.” This culminated in three Councilmembers communicating to City Manager Valerie Barone their desire, in violation of the legal agreement and its September 15 decision noted above, to remove the staff recommendation favoring Catellus from the final staff report. “Ms Barone discussed the recommendation issue over an intense two-day period with Mr Wright and Mr Coon and ultimately directed Mr Wright to remove the [Catellus] recommendation from the report.”

This action, was the final straw for Catellus which prompted the letter to the City from Hansen Bridgett.

Valerie Barone, City Manager Concord CaliforniaEven so, Ms Barone has publicly stated the removal of the recommendation was her decision. Yet, according to Jenkins, Ms. Barone had no authority unilaterally to countermand a Council decision made in the original agreement and then again on September 15.

Ms Barone’s explanation is belied by the email trail. The communications between Ms Barone and Mr Wright show clearly that Ms Barone had heard from threeCouncilmembers (Grayson, Hoffmeister, and Birsan) who wanted to exercise the recommendation from the report. These communications suggest that Ms Barone was under considerable pressure to do so.

NEXT STEPS

Section 11 provides that the City Council may, in its discretion, disqualify a developer that engages in lobbying in violation of its provisions; specifically Section 11…In my opinion, Lennar engaged in lobbying activities that are prohibited by Section 11. It is up to the Council to determine whether it agrees with this conclusion.

Jenkins notes several options including, disqualification of Lennar, continuing the selection process with two bids, or terminate its agreement and its negotiations with Lennar. In any event, Jenkins states that both Lennar and Catellus be informed that the City intends to apply the ordinary meaning of the word “lobbying” and that campaign contributions fall within that definition.

However, at the Special Session of City Council February 11, Mayor Hoffmeister mentioned the need to discuss the definition of lobbying, as if this was still an open question.

Concord City Council will meet February 23rd to publicly discuss the Jenkins report and its findings. But if past history is any indication, having rejected the recommendation of staff, its quite possible that Council might also reject the findings of the report it paid for.

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Concord Mayor’s campaign advisors pressured City Attorney for critical vote

Sutton and Rossi’s arguments about the legality of Grayson’s campaign contributions were more about ensuring Lennar won the lucrative Concord Master Developer selection with a quick vote rather than exonerating Grayson.

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The official investigation and report into charges of impropriety in the Master Developer selection process for the Concord Naval Weapons Reuse Project (CNWS) will be released soon.

Michael Jenkins was hired by the Concord Interim City Attorney to look into allegations by Catellus Development that Lennar Urban and/or its close business associates lobbied members of Concord City Council in violation of the contract language governing the CNWS Master Developer selection process. This follows the discovery that Lennar business associates also made significant contributions to Concord Mayor Tim Grayson’s 2016 Assembly campaign.

Public records obtained by the Contra Costa Bee, from its September 2015 Public Record Act request, reveal more questions than answers regarding the activities of Tim Grayson’s campaign advisors, as they clearly pressured the Concord City Attorney to ignore a call by Catellus for an official investigation prior to City Council making its Master Developer selection.

City Attorney Mark Coon: Prior to his tragic suicide, Coon was placed under extreme pressure by then Mayor Tim Grayson to ignore a request from Catellus to delay City Council’s September 29, 2015, Master Developer selection vote.

l1AEJbdSConcord Mayor Tim Grayson: What were his motivations both as Mayor of Concord and that of a candidate for the Assembly? Why did Grayson push so hard for the Master Developer selection vote prior to the conflict of interest charges being settled? Why did Grayson inform Coon (via Jim Sutton) that delaying the Master Developer vote could lead to legal actions from Lennar? Where did he learn this information and why was Grayson not concerned with possible litigation against the City from Catellus?

jimsuttonJim Sutton (Attorney to Grayson’s Assembly campaign): Why was Sutton used as a go between for conversations between the City Attorney and Grayson? As the Mayor spoke to Coon on a regular basis, why did he need Sutton to express his views on the matter? Was Sutton working solely on Grayson’s behalf in pressuring Coon to allow the vote, or was his primary interest representing powerful San Francisco interests, including that of former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown and others to help secure the CNWS Master Developer selection for Lennar?

Why was Mary Jo Rossi (Grayson’s Campaign Manager for the Assembly) lobbying Mark Coon, October 5th, with an email imploring him to ignore the Catellus complaints and allow the Master Developer vote as originally scheduled? What does Rossi’s appeal to Coon have to do with Tim Grayson’s campaign for the Assembly as normally election matters are separated from official city business?

An example of the pressure on Coon can be seen in an email he received from Jim Sutton, dated September 25th:

From Jim Sutton

To Mark Coon@cityofconcord

CC Tim Grayson & Valarie Barone

Thank you Just left you voicemails. Mayor Grayson wanted me to reach out to you to let you know that he does not support the decision to postpone vote-because he’s already confirmed that conversation with Willie Brown was about his Assembly campaign, not Lennar; because there’s no legal basis to postpone the vote; and he concerned that the City would be exposed to legal challenge by Lennar if it took such action

I will try you again.

Tx. Jim Sutton

On October 5th, Mary Jo Rossi sent Mark Coon a copy of an email sent to her and Grayson from Sutton October 4th, stating his legal opinion that no campaign laws were broken.

Why did Sutton try to influence the City Attorney?

Were Sutton, Rossi, and Willie Brown (with whom Grayson consulted) working on behalf of Grayson’s campaign or Lennar’s interest to win the lucrative Master Developer contract?

  Sutton Rossi Correspondance to Concord City Atty by ContraCostaBee

There was likely no new information being imparted to Coon that he had not heard before from Sutton. For that matter why would MaryJo Rossi as a campaign manager try to influence city policy? Is such conduct ethical or appropriate? Isn’t such activity limited to registered lobbyists?

Naturally Sutton, whose law practice specializes in skirting campaign finance law, failed to mention Willie Brown’s Attorney and business associate Steven Kay, (a contributor of $4200.00 to Grayson’s Assembly race last June) and Brown himself are partners in Golden Gate Development, which has financed Lennar Projects by selling EB-5 green cards to rich and well-connected foreign nationals.

Under these circumstances is it proper for Grayson to accept gratis political advice from the former Speaker of the Assembly no matter what the law says? Other than his interpretation of campaign laws, Sutton never addressed ethical issues of his client’s conduct.

The record shows Sutton trying to influence Mark Coon with veiled threats of legal actions by Lennar that at the time were laughable at best. And are we supposed to believe a high priced attorney like Sutton would go to the mat for a minnow such as Grayson instead of the sharks he normally swims with including Gavin Newsome and Kamala Harris?

maryjorossiIt very well could be that Sutton and Rossi’s arguments about the legality of the campaign contributions—to say nothing of the obvious taint of pay-to-play—were more about ensuring Lennar won the Master Developer selection with a quick vote rather than exonerating Grayson.

As it turned out, Mark Coon did not cave into the efforts of Tim Grayson, Jim Sutton, and Mary Jo Rossi to proceed with the selection of the Master Developer as originally scheduled. Coon stood his ground for the integrity of the process and the need to investigate Catullus’s charges that Lennar broke its agreement to not lobby the City Council.

A blind man can see that Tim Grayson’s political career and important business matters before the City Council of Concord were hopelessly intertwined. Conflict of interest matters have yet to be settled.

Another unanswered question is why City Manager Valarie Barone instructed the City Staff to remove its recommendation of Catellus to be Master Developer. Barone, in an interview with the Contra Costa Times, said it was her own decision. But records reveal marks in the margin of her own edits of a penultimate staff draft report recommending Catellus that, “Council desires to ‘own the decision'”.

Council’s “desire” was obviously communicated to Barone with more than a wink. That this critical edit to the staff report was made so late in the process casts further doubt on the process, which contractually required Concord City Staff to make its Master Developer recommendation and the Council to vote it up or down.

It is a black mark in these politically correct times when governments, that eagerly speak of transparency, instead bury valuable information that has to be recovered under the Public Record Act in California.

Hopefully, the forthcoming report that is scheduled to be issued by Michael Jenkins in the last week of January will answer many of the questions of what transpired with the selection process on the Naval Weapons Station Reuse Project.  Unfortunately, whatever conclusions Jenkins makes will likely not satisfy the many factions that favor either Lennar or Catellus.

With $3 billion on the line, much is at stake with all the players involved. Hopefully when the dust settles, the best decision for the City of Concord and its residents will be made without interference from special interest groups.

 

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Concord City Council contravenes staff recommendation of Catellus Development as Master Developer of Naval Weapons Station Reuse Project

All but the final draft made public for the September 29th City Council meeting consistently declared the Catellus offering was superior to the Term Sheet extended by Lennar

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catellus-rendering*1200xx6002-3376-328-0The Concord City Staff recommended Catellus Development as Master Developer of the Concord Naval Weapons Station Reuse Project, the Contra Costa Bee has learned from documents it requested under the Public Records Act. All but the final draft that was eventually released and made public for the September 29th City Council meeting consistently declared the Catellus offering was superior to the Term Sheet extended by Lennar Concord, a  wholly owned subsidiary of Lennar California, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lennar (NYSE:LEN).

Yet the final document submitted September 29 had been edited to simply recommend that the Concord City Council choose between the two competing proposals from Catellus and Lennar. The severe redaction, according to markup notes in the margin by Concord City Manager Valeri Barone instructs staff to remove its recommendation of Catellus from the headline of the final document and recommendation portion of the Staff report presented to Concord City Council at the end referring to “the desire of Council to own its decision,” whatever that means.

  Concord Master Developer Recommendation Drafts

In the early drafts the City Staff based its selection of Catellus on, among other matters, that the Catellus proposal was more collaborative and the fact that the City of Concord would receive far more money from the Catellus proposal than Lennar’s.

cnws draft summary txt
In Doc # PGR_000398 the draft summary text states that the Catellus deal is more collaborative and would bring more net money to Concord than Lennar deal.

The decision to quash the City Staff recommendation overlooks the agreed upon process that up front determined that City Staff would release its recommendation and that City Council would vote that recommendation up or down. Now, pressure from City Council on staff has unilaterally scuttled that process to which all parties had initially agreed upon.

This suspicious rewrite of the final document comes after demands by Catellus Development for an investigation into whether Lennar had, in breach of contract, attempted to suborn members of City Council, chiefly Mayor Tim Grayson, with campaign contributions and other perks including but not limited to expensive off the books “campaign” strategy council from former San Francisco Mayor and close associate of Lennar, hizzoner Willie Brown Jr. These charges combined with revelations of Lennar’s alleged unsavory business practices, call the Master Development process further into question and darken the fairness and possible legality of the entire selection process.

valerie_barone_concord_unfunded_liabilitiesAccording to Lisa White of the Contra Costa Times, “City Manager Valerie Barone said she decided to leave a recommendation out of the staff report.” But the record shows some sort of request or demand to own the selection had been communicated to her by members of Council. If Barone had actually held this belief, why did she not edit out the original recommendation until the penultimate or final draft submitted to Council?

Concord City Council could still “own” the Master Developer selection by voting to accept or reject the City Staff recommendation. But the last minute deletion of the recommendation of Catellus Development as Master Developer clearly points to pressure from members of City Council to give wiggle room for members pushing for the selection of Lennar, instead.

Obviously, the implications of this critical redaction are enormous.

The files in the Public Records Act dump from the City’s third-party attorney contains over 1300 pages in about 127 PDF files. We believe the City of Concord will post these records (and those from two other PRAs) on its own or some other download site. We could be mistaken on this.

However, You are welcome to download the compressed folder (315MB) here. If you and something interesting please share it the comments or create your own post to submit for possible publication on the Bee.

Unfortunately, the files selected and sent to the Bee could not contain, according to j, Leah Castella of Burke Williams & Sorensoen LLP, documents City of Concord has chosen to withhold documents that:

  • would reveal the deliberative process of the City Council related to the Concord Naval Weapons Station
  • some documents contain confidential attorney/client communications
  • the release of some documents  would violate personal privacy of third-parties
  • and finally, the “public’s interest in nondisclosure of the record clearly outweighs the public’s interest in disclosure of the record.”

 

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Cheese Zombie Apocalypse in Concord

The wildly popular Cheese Zombie served for years to students at Mt Diablo Unified School District cafeterias has become the subject of a tasty trademark scandal.

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The wildly popular Cheese Zombie served for years to students at Mt Diablo Unified School District cafeterias has become the subject of a tasty trademark scandal.

pattys original cheese zombieFor many Mt. Diablo School District students and graduates, those wonderful puffs of pastry wrapped around a nice gooey cheese center were the best part of the school day. Invented by MDUSD bakers Helen Ballock and Decla Phillips as a way to use government cheese giveaways, they quickly became a staple part of the student’s diet.

However, there is a trademark battle cooking over the name “Cheese Zombies.”

Eric Giacobazzi, a year 2000 graduate of Northgate High School and a resident of Fairfield, applied for and obtained a trademark on the phrase “Cheese Zombies” in 2009.

According to Giacobazzi, CHEESE ZOMBIES is the only federally registered trademark he owns. He applied for the trademark in 2009. “My intent from the beginning was to do the right thing, to protect my new business by obtaining a trademark as countless other businesses do. I am currently selling our Cheese Zombies at several locations, waiting impatiently for this litigation to be complete so I can focus on my business.

On the other side of the zombie war is Patty May, owner of Patty’s Original Cheese Zombies in Dana Plaza. Healthier lunch menus forced a change on the way MDUSD prepares cheese zombies today with the required oats and whole grain wheat, so Patty opened her own bakery in March 2013, because of the demand for the original recipe cheese zombies. After receiving a letter from Eric, she is challenging the trademark registration.

Patty worked at MDUSD as a Bakers Trainer for six years, mostly at Clayton Valley High School.

Patty Original Cheese Zombie
Patty’s Original Cheese Zombies is open 6:00am to 7:00pm, and is located at 4115 Concord Blvd #62, at the Dana Estates Plaza, in Concord CA

The issue, explains Pete Tormey, who is representing Patty’s Original Cheese Zombies, is whether or not the name cheese zombie is generic. In other words, “is there another name for a cheese zombie? If there isn’t, then the name is generic and can’t be trademarked.” Like trying to trademark the word hamburger or taco, there is just no other way to say it, so the law won’t give you exclusive rights to the name.

Giacobazzi argues the litigation filed by Patty May in 2014 is off base, that the MARK is generic, but CHEESE ZOMBIES is not generic. “Words like “pizza” or “bagel” are generic words to describe bread products. The phrase CHEESE ZOMBIES is not generic for filled bakery products,” as May contends. Giacobazzi asserts that CHEESE ZOMBIES is valuable intellectual property, and he used legitimate trademark law and process to legally obtain the trademark.

Tormey estimates that MDUSD has sold over a million cheese zombies since Helen and Decla came up with their recipe. Decla explained that they would pass along the recipe to other school districts at conferences, so cheese zombies can now be found on school lunch menus as far north as Spokane and as far east as Missouri.

“The fact is,” says Giacobazzi, May wants to use the trademark to promote her own business further validating our point—the MARK is not generic.

So is Cheese Burgers eligible for a trademark? Or Cheese and Crackers? Hot Dog? Will Giacobazzi sue MDUSD for its continued use of Cheese Zombies on its school cafeteria menus?

Giacobazzi did not send the Bee  retail locations for his Cheese Zombies.

Patty’s Original Cheese Zombies is open 6:00am to 7:00pm, and is located at 4115 Concord Blvd #62, at the Dana Estates Plaza, in Concord CA

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