U-Haul names Concord Top Growth City

U-Haul names Contra Costa County’s largest city, making Concord No. 1 on the its Top 10 U.S. Growth Cities for 2015.

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Blending the convenience and business opportunities of the Bay Area with the escape of the California countryside and residential life, Concord California enjoys advantages that many people shop for in a hometown.

concordlogoU-Haul truck sharing customers seem to agree. They generated a steady stream of arrivals last year in Contra Costa County’s largest city, making Concord No. 1 on the U-Haul Top 10 U.S. Growth Cities for 2015.

Growth rankings are determined by the net gain of incoming one-way U-Haul truck rentals versus outgoing rentals for the past calendar year. The annual migration trends report was compiled from more than 1.7 million one-way U-Haul truck transactions that occurred in 2015. All cities were considered, regardless of size.

Concord is the top growth city in the U.S. because it confirms what our residents already know: with a high quality of life, job opportunities and a varied housing stock, Concord is a diverse, family-friendly city with activities and attractions that appeal to young and old alike,” said Marilyn Fowler, president and CEO of the Concord Chamber of Commerce.

 

 

U-Haul locations here saw 57.2 percent of truck rental customers coming into the city as opposed to leaving.  It welcomed 7 percent more U-Haul arrivals year-over-year, while its departures dropped 5 percent over the same span.

While U-Haul migration trends don’t correlate directly to population or economic growth, the growth cities data is a strong gauge of how well cities are attracting and keeping residents.

Located just 30 miles northeast of San Francisco, 16 miles southeast of Vallejo and 14 miles west of Antioch, Concord offers an attractive and picturesque option to Bay Area and Silicon Valley commuters thanks to its access to Interstate 680 and State Route 4.

“In conjunction with a great location, Concord remains one of the few affordable cities in the Bay Area and is surrounded by cities that offer sustained job growth,” said James Bostwick, U-Haul Company of East Bay president. “With a centrally located BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station, residents can easily travel throughout the Bay Area without dealing with vehicle traffic.

“It has everything a resident could want or ask for and continues to improve upon what it has to offer.”

This is the third California location to make the U-Haul U.S. Growth Cities list. The rest of the Top 10 includes: 10. Missoula; 9. Manteca; 8. Manhattan; 7. Henderson; 6. College Station; 5. Chicago; 4. Madison; 3. Austin; and 2. Roseville-Sacramento.

More on Concord

  1. Concord has a thriving, historic downtown scene featuring shopping, dining and nightlife. The Sunvalley Shopping Center draws crowds for its diverse mix of established retailers and small businesses with local flavor. It is home to Waterworld California, a popular summertime spot for families and teenagers.
  2. Nestled between beautiful Mount Diablo and Suisun Bay, Concord has been recognized as the best place in California to raise a family and has been designated a Tree City USA honoree for 33 consecutive years, according to the city’s website. It encompasses 31.1 square miles and is home to nearly 130,000 residents.
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How Lennar swindled CalPERS and why Concord might be next

Given the pattern of unethical business dealings documented not just by Marsch, but also Cook, it’s not to far fetched to assume that financial hijinks could ensue if Lennar is named the Master Developer of the Concord Reuse Project.

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lennar-calpers-concord

A new book is available on Amazon that every Concord City Councilmember and concerned citizen should: Crime and Deception: How Lennar Corporation Swindled America’s Largest Pension Fund, by Nicolas Marsch III.

Up front, let’s be clear that the author, Nicholas Marsch, and Lennar (NYSE:LEN) just don’t get along. In fact, in April 2015, a Florida appeals court ruled in favor of Lennar’s $1-billion judgment against Nicolas Marsch, himself a developer. So reader beware that Crimes and Deception, at just 138 pages, is not unblemished journalism. In fact, the Kindle ($9.99) edition I reviewed read like a rant.

Crime and Deception purports to show how Lennar Development allegedly picked the pockets of CalPERS. More importantly, if true, it also indicates how a company could use the same tactics to do the same to Concord if it is selected as Master Developer for the Concord Naval Weapons Station Reuse Project by the City Council.

According to Marsch, the pension fund that got duped is CalPERS, which manages pension and health benefits for more than 1.6 million California public employees, retirees, and their families. As of July 2015, CalPERs assets stood at more than $301 billion with a stated return rate of 2.4%.

In Crime and Deception Marsch attempts to build a case against Lennar and its CEO Stuart Miller for alleged fraud and deceptive business practices that are, “consistent everywhere they do business.”

The Cime and Deception narrative begins in 2007, when Lennar posted a $1.9B loss and found itself exposed to “hundreds of off-balance sheet entities that saddled the company with enormous obligations, including billions of undisclosed debt, not unlike Enron’s off-balance sheet chicanery…” writes Marsch. Lennar began to scramble for cash by “strong-arming” suppliers and contractors while engaging in withering litigation to breach contracts.

Marsch alleges that in 2007, Lennar received a package of assets from CalPERS worth nearly a billion dollars and then executed a “crafted and skillfully executed plan conceived and carried out by Lennar executives to use LandSource LLC, a Lennar controlled entity in Florida as a vehicle to defraud CalPERS and other victims.”

LandSource was a holding company that held several long-term residential and commercial redevelopment properties, including Newhall Ranch, located in Valencia California. Crime and Deception asserts that “court records show that Lennar’s secret plan was to loot, bankrupt, and then buy out the LandSource interests for pennies on the dollar.

According to Marsch, here’s how Lennar swindled CalPERS.

Lennar Corporation Stuart Miller CEO
Lennar Corporation Stuart Miller CEO, photo courtesy Forbes

First, Lennar proposed that CalPERS contribute real property assets to LandSource in return for a large share of the reorganized enterprise, which included Newhall Ranch, a 21,000-home community near Los Angeles. Lennar would remain manager of the new LLC that would develop and manage the assets over years, even decades, to bring ongoing investment returns to CalPERS’ large stable of real estate holdings. What happened was Lennar “leveraged up the assets of the LLC, including the assets contributed by CalPERS, and immediately stripped out the desperately needed cash” it need to avoid bankruptcy.

On March 1, 2007, Lennar got Barclays Bank to float a syndicated loan of $1.4B to LandSource, based on Lennar’s inflated appraisals and fraudulent cash-flows at a time when most banking and housing professionals knew the real estate market was near or at its high point just before the 2008 housing crash. On the same day, “Lennar arranged and paid out to themselves and its sister company LNR (another struggling Lennar venture), a ‘special dividend’ comprised of the entire loan amount of $1.4B. This payout essentially stripped the LandSource balance sheet of all its cash. Left only with a $1.4B loan obligation with no assets to pay it back, LandSource filed bankruptcy one year later.

Amazingly, in a circular shell game, the inflated cash flow estimates presented to Barclay’s as the basis for the loan to LandSource were based on projections by Lennar based on it purchasing land from LandSource at some future date. But Lennar had no money to buy the LandSource assets even if they did want to buy. Lawsuits filed by 5,000+ unsecured creditors littered the hallways of court buildings across the country citing that Lennar fraudulently obtained $1.4B via its manipulation of LandSource assets.

CalPERS lost its entire investment of nearly $1B, and Lennar bought back a 15% stake in Newhall Ranch in 2009 for just $138M.

fred-buenrostro
Fred Buenrostro, who was scheduled to be sentenced July 29 after his bribery conviction while CEO of CalPERS, will now be sentenced Dec. 10. Sentencing will take place in U.S. District Court in San Francisco six years after his conviction. Photo Courtesy Sacramento Bee.

At the time, CalPERS was known for its pay-to-play, “activist,” and “sharklike” investment swagger, fully realized by its then CEO Fred Buenrostro. Buenrostro refused to act to protect its 1.6 million members from a billion dollar heist of its assets, and told reporters, “It was decided that the prudent decision was that we just cut our loss and move on.” Later, on July 11, 2014, Fred Buenrostro pled guilty of bribery, conspiracy, and depriving the citizens of the State of California of honest services. Such matters are for CalPERS members to pursue with their leadership.

Marsch claims that in the final phase of Lennar’s scheme, Lennar had manipulated the LandSource bankruptcy process and ended up with partial ownership and full control of LandSource’s real estate assets for pennies on the dollar.

March’s book may be a rant, but I have included credible links to independent corroboration so we know these events and cases did take place.

We know Marsch alleges that a pattern of fraud on partners, investors, and lenders and counter-parties is the way Lennar does business. Rant? Maybe. But he cites numerous instances involving Lennar including but not limited to:

  • A federal judge order that Lennar pays a plaintiff $250M in St George’s County in Maryland, in the IStar Financial case involving the Settlers Crossing case.
  • Lennar was sued by the FDIC in November 2012, for defrauding two federally insured banks involving The Terraces at Riverwalk, in Ft Myers, Florida.
  • Paradise Palms v Len Paradise, an LLC, part of Lennar Homes LLC

And if you think Marsch is just a crank that lost a lawsuit, then think again.

See this analysis by another independent source with no financial axe to grind, from a June 2010 posting in the SF Public Press, by Christopher D Cook. Cook is an author and award-winning investigative journalist who has written for the Los Angeles Times, Harper’s, The Economist, Mother Jones, The Christian Science Monitor, and other national publications. Cook’s article details the taxpayer bailouts Lennar has finagled from the feds, in addition to it’s influence peddling in Congress (click link nearby for entire article). Here’s an excerpt about LandSource from that article:

Witness CalPERS, the giant state pension fund, which lost nearly $1 billion in a land deal with Lennar. LandSource Communities Development, a Lennar-led, 15,000-acre project in Southern California, went bust in 2007 amid the credit crunch — after Lennar sold most of its stake to CalPERS. Two years later, LandSource — itself a Lennar creation — filed for bankruptcy. Lennar then returned “to buy back, at a substantial discount, a chunk of the Newhall Ranch development north of Los Angeles that it sold for nearly $1 billion to the California state retirement system in 2007,” the Los Angeles Times reported in July 2009.

After leaving CalPERS and its partners with huge losses, Lennar reported to its shareholders that “we recognized a deferred profit of $101.3 million” on the deal, according to its 2008 annual report to shareholders.

Lennar secured an additional boon from the LandSource bankruptcy in July 2009: title to 650 acres of the former Mare Island Naval Shipyard, site of another troubled Lennar redevelopment.

lennar mare island bankruptcy
June 8, 2008, Lennar Mare Island LLC, which has been involved in redeveloping the former naval station at Mare Island for eleven years. petitioned for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, along with its parent company LandSource and 19 other Lennar-related subsidiaries. Photo courtesy SFBG.com

The Mare Island multi-use project, which Lennar took on jointly with LNR Property, itself a Lennar spin-off, went south with the housing economy. After building and selling 500 homes between 2004 and 2006 — far short of original plans for 1,400 homes — the firms filed for bankruptcy in 2008. Having reorganized and shed debt, Lennar now controls the lucrative waterfront land.

The LandSource debacle could symbolize more than just poor investing by CalPers and smart dealing by Lennar. According to Builder magazine, Pali Capital analyst Stephen East “suggested in a research note there is a possibility that the LandSource partners could be sued under ‘Bad Boy’ clauses, claiming misrepresentations were made, since the deal deteriorated so rapidly.”

“The bigger question for LEN [Lennar] is what remains for all the other JV’s [joint ventures] sitting out there,” East added. “LandSource is one of the largest and most visible, but it could well be a harbinger of things to come.”

How Concord might be next

If the citizens of Concord believe in learning from history, and Marsch’s or even Cook’s analysis has some ring of truth, here is how Lennar’s business practices, documented above gets us closer to the possible peril the City of Concord could face if it names Lennar the Master Developer for the Concord Reuse Project.

Recapping examples from Marsch and Cook, and much closer to home, let’s consider some Lennar projects in California. We know about the Newhall Ranch (Los Angeles) law suit where CalPERS lost its money (but did not engage in the lawsuit because it had “moved on.” Let’s review:

Second, note that, “After the LandSource bankruptcy proceeding wound up, Lennar was back in full control of the LandSource assets and changed the name of LandSource to Five Points.”

In July of 2015, Five Points announced an initial public offering!

Today, through an 8-K SEC filing Miami-based Lennar announced that the “entities that own Newhall Ranch, Great Park Neighborhoods which is on the former site of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, and The San Francisco Shipyard and Candlestick Point will be combined, together with the existing Five Point Communities management company.”

Under the agreement, Lennar will contribute its ownership interests in each of the three real estate communities (and the management company) and will receive units of membership interest in subsidiaries of Five Point Holdings, according to the filing.

J. P. Morgan estimates that Lennar would own 33% of the company after an IPO.

And finally, carefully inspect Section 20 from Lennar’s Term Sheet submitted to the City of Concord in its application for Master Developer, regarding “change in control.”

Section 20:  Change in Control; Stock/Share Transactions. Developer shall not, without the City’s consent, allow a transfer in the direct or indirect interests in Developer to any person or entity or allow a change in control of Developer unless immediately following any such transfer or change, Lennar Corporation or another entity approved by the City (or the potential new public company described in Section 21 below) directly or indirectly owns 25% or more of the economic interests in Developer. Nothing in this Section 20 shall restrict transfer or issuance of shares on a public market or a merger or similar transaction.

Section 21:  Developer’s ultimate parent company, Lennar Corporation, recently made a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announcing that it had agreed to contribute its interests in the Hunters Point Shipyard/Candlestick Point projects in San Francisco, Newhall Ranch in Los Angeles County, and Great Park Neighborhoods in Orange County, to subsidiaries of Five Point Holdings, Inc. The contribution is conditioned upon Five Point’s completion of an initial public offering of its common stock. If consummated, the contribution would result in a new publicly traded company that, through subsidiaries, would assume responsibility for these large-scale, multi-year, California military base reuse and redevelopment projects. The Project is not part of the contribution.

However, given the Project’s similar size, character, and need for similar expertise, it is possible that Lennar would seek to transfer its direct or indirect interests in the Project to a subsidiary of the new public company (which could include Five Point Communities, which jointly submitted the original response to the RFQ alongside Lennar, or an affiliate). Day-to-day management and staffing of Developer are not expected to change and will remain under the leadership of Kofi Bonner. In connection with any such proposed transfer, Developer would provide the City with appropriate financial, management, and other customary information regarding Five Point requested by the City prior to City considering any DDA for approval, so that the City may determine in its reasonable discretion whether Five Point has sufficient financial capacity to undertake the Project.

Following this line, while Lennar says it probably won’t sell off the Concord Project to Five Points, we see that Lennar plans to own the required 25% or more of Five Points that satisfies the critical condition.

According to the Wall St Journal (Jul 7, 2015)

Lennar formed Five Point in 2009 to oversee massive redevelopment projects it had taken on in California. Those include multiyear projects to redevelop into housing and commercial uses the former naval shipyard at Hunters Point in San Francisco and the former El Toro military base in Irvine, Calif. Five Point is developing six projects in California spanning 50,000 potential home sites and 20 million square feet of commercial space.

Five Point’s consolidation will shuffle its ownership. A few investors in some of its projects, including Barry Sternlicht’s Starwood Capital Group and Michael Dell’s MSD Capital, intend to sell some of their stakes as part of the eventual IPO. Lennar, meanwhile, will retain an estimated one-third ownership stake as Five Point’s largest investor. (cf. Builderonline cites “J. P. Morgan estimates that Lennar would own 33% of the company after an IPO”).

In San Francisco, Five Point, Lennar and affiliates are moving ahead on development of the former naval bases at the Hunters Point Shipyard and Treasure Island, having drawn new financing for them after $1.7 billion in funding from China Development Bank fell through in 2013. The state-run Chinese bank withdrew partly because of its leadership transition at the time and partly due to challenges with American tax requirements, people familiar with the matter said. Lennar and Five Point since have landed financing from other lenders and from investors in the EB-5 visa program.

Tim Grayson fundraising
Tim Grayson says he leads the field in campaign contributions for the 2016 14th Assembly District race.

The Contra Costa Bee has previously reported on the go-to EB-5 visa program operated by Golden Gate Development with its principals, former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown and his PR Guy, Steven Kay. Richard Eber has also connected the dots of questionable campaign contributions from Golden Gate Development and other Lennar business associates to Concord Mayor Tim Grayson, who will vote on the Master Developer selection along with perhaps three other Councilmembers.

Here’s the deal, by satisfying the condition of 25%+ ownership in Five Points, Lennar could, without approval from the City of Concord, transfer the Concord Reuse Project to Five Points, where it has minority but controlling interest.

Alfred Hitchcock famously noted, “you don’t introduce a gun into the plot unless you want it to go off. Why put such language in a term sheet unless you were planning to use it? The language in Sec 20, 21 are clearly included in Lennar’s term sheet for a reason.

The lennar-urban-topographical for proposed master developer plan for Concord naval Weapons Station
The lennar-urban-topographical for proposed master developer plan for Concord naval Weapons Station

Given the pattern of unethical business dealings documented not just by Marsch, but also Cook, it’s not to far fetched to assume that financial hijinks could ensue if Lennar is named the Master Developer of the Concord Reuse Project.

Hypothetically, given the terms sheet submitted by Lennar, what I would do after I was named Master Developer for the Concord Reuse Project is this:

I would use the Concord Property as a land bank, and have my own home builder division buy land on the cheap from myself to build and sell market rate single family homes at a huge profit. I’d ride that pony hard until I smelled the next downturn. Then, I would halt building.

At this juncture, or even before, I would transfer (sell) the Concord Reuse Project to some entity that I have a minority but controlling interest in, say %30 percent. I’d get a high price for the land sale (to myself from my 30% self) based on wildly inflated evaluations which, as we know, happen all the time in the housing market (see housing bubble of 2008). I’d take those proceeds to the bank with a big grin on my face.

Meanwhile, the addition of the Concord Project’s aforementioned, wildly estimated value into the balance sheet of the new entity would certainly give that entity’s value or stock a bounce. This is when I would sell my 30% share in the new entity. Oh happy day.

During the following, inevitable down market, with mounting debt, scarce resources, and depleted assets to further develop the Concord Project, the tanking new entity would look for a way to dump underperforming assets that are not producing income. I’d then show up in my stretch limo and buy back the Concord Project (now free from any City of Concord conditions) for a song.

Then I’d do whatever I want I with it. I could sell the land back to the Navy, take the money and run, and let them start over. But I’d probably make sweet sweet deals with groveling local builders and the Prince(s) of the City without Guy Bjerke looking over my shoulder. Heck, I’d create a new company to build a stadium for the Carolina Panthers. Then sell that off after construction bogs down, then….

Rinse. Repeat. Anon.

Does this follow the pattern Marsch and Cook document? You be the judge.

Will it happen? Good question.

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Concord Mayor must choose between ethics and mere legality in accepting campaign contributions from Lennar

Lennar campaign contributions force Mayor Tim Grayson to choose between the merely legal or to take the higher ethical road when taking money from interests with business before the Concord City Council

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There’s good news and bad news for Concord Mayor Tim Grayson, after his campaign took contributions from business partners of Lennar-Urban, which has multi-billion-dollar business before the Concord City Council as that body selects a Master Developer for the Concord Naval Weapons Station reuse project.

Tim Grayson fundraising
Tim Grayson says he leads the field in campaign contributions for the 2016 14th Assembly District race.

The good news is, Grayson broke no law. The bad news is, his action is perceived by many in the community as highly unethical.

According to the California Political Fair Practices Commission (FPPC), Concord Mayor Tim Grayson legally accepted contributions of more than $16,800 for his 2016 Assembly campaign from firms affiliated with Lennar-UrbanLennar is competing with Catellus to be selected by Concord City Council as the master developer for the Concord Naval Weapons Station project

A spokesman for the FPPC said, “it was not their [candidate’s] job to scrutinize who contributes to office seekers but rather create an environment of transparency to allow the public to determine if these donations are proper.”  This means with the FPPC, if candidates properly fill out forms 700 (Financial interests) and 460 (record of donations) according to the law, their job is done.

On a local level Concord City Attorney Mark Coon stated, “All Concord City Council members attend the League of California Cities New Mayors and Council members Academy, which, in collaboration with the Institute for Local Government, includes extensive training in ethics principles and ethics laws.”

As part of the training, Coon said council members are provided with a written document entitled, “Doing the Right Thing: Putting Ethics Principles into Practice in Public Service.” The purpose of this document is to illustrate principles such as:

  • How commonly held values apply in the public service context;
  • The importance of appearances in ethical decision-making;
  • Various types of ethical dilemmas
  • Dilemma resolution techniques.

In addition to attending the above-described training, all Concord City Council members and members of the Concord Planning and other Commissions must complete mandatory ethics training after they are elected/appointed, and thereafter every two years, as required under Assembly Bill 1234, Coon added.

Kofi Bonner
Kofi Bonner is regional Vice President of Lennar Urban, a finalist for Master Developer for the Concord Naval Weapons Station project

With such an important vote looming for the Concord City Council, easily a billion-dollar business decision for the victor, should Grayson have accepted money from Lennar with such an obvious conflict of interest staring him in the face?

In a press release earlier this week, Grayson attempted to gloss over pointed ethical questions raised by the Contra Costa Bee, comments on Claycord, and also in a news report by Lisa White in the Contra Costa Times.

Grayson stated that campaign contributions were not solicited by him from either Lennar or Catellus. Grayson went on to explain, “As Concord’s Mayor, I stand by my long-standing commitment to a fair, honest and competitive process for selecting the best Master Developer for the Naval Weapons Station and for our Concord community.”

Should the citizens of Concord take Grayson at his word and accept this explanation and business as usual? Are his constituents to conclude that since no strings were directly attached to the donations, he can carry out his responsibilities in voting for master developer without being prejudiced by funds from Lennar affiliated vendors likely to gain huge contracts and commissions?

To Mayor Grayson’s credit, he did not deny knowing who the entities that contributed to his Assembly race. Obviously he knew or was familiar with the advertising agency people, Steven Kay, Willie Brown’s personal attorney, and Engeo Engineers of San Ramon, CA. Others like Scarbourough Insurance lurk in the periphery.

This brings us to the ethical considerations of any candidate receiving donations to their campaigns with obvious conflict of interests  being involved.

As an example Congressman Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) does not accept money from alcohol and tobacco related donors. To make sure the wrong people do not give him contributions, he has his treasurer and other campaign staff scrutinize donations when they are received.  DeSaulnier said “There are cases when I had to return checks” but expressed no regret in doing so.

Contra Costa Supervisor Karen Mitchoff faced a similar predicament as Tim Grayson. She recounts:

I have returned contributions (after they were deposited) when I learned that I would be voting on a contract for the Central Contra Costa Solid Waste Authority in 2014.

I did not realize at the time I accepted the contributions that I would be within a time frame where I would be voting on the contract so I returned the amounts immediately. All is accounted for on my campaign finance statements.

Offering the benefit of the doubt, Tim Grayson, being relatively new to politics having only been elected to the Concord City Council less than five years ago, did not understand the consequences of not carefully analyzing who is giving him money for the Assembly race. Donations from labor unions, real estate interests, and those affiliated with the Garaventa family seem  appropriate as these concerns have supported Grayson in the past.

Supervisor Karen MitchoffBut the Lennar people are another story. It appears that Grayson did not think about how the public would perceive these donations. His wife Tammy, who is currently serving as Treasurer for his Assembly campaign, most likely did not raise a red flag when Lennar related checks rolled in.

There is a big difference between counting the cash when the collection plate is passed around at church services or receipts are tabulated at an ice cream social compared to an Assembly Race. Many people, including myself, were looking at the form 460 records for donations to Grayson’s Assembly campaign from January 1, 2015 — till the end of June, that wondered what Grayson and company were thinking would happen when the facts became known?

Based upon the comments posted in the Contra Costa Bee and the Claycord blog, (A Contra Costa Times editorial is expected next week), it would be wise for Grayson to apologize for accepting the money from Lennar, return the funds to them, and recuse himself from voting on the Naval Weapons Depot contract.

With the exception of this matter with Lennar, Grayson has had an excellent of record of public service.  This was indicated by his receiving the most votes of anyone participating in the Concord City election of 2014.

It remains to be seen should Grayson make amends for his error in judgment whether his constituents in Concord and elsewhere in the Assembly District forgive him and choose to elevate Concord’s Mayor to a post in the Legislature?

It should be considered that Tim Grayson is neither the first nor last politician to make a poor decision and be able to have a successful career.  Certainly this has proven to be true in the past from Richard Nixon to the Clintons where the public was able to forgive their leaders from perceived sins and support them once again.

catellus-rendering*1200xx6002-3376-328-0Tim Grayson will need to take a hard look at things prior to the Concord City Council meeting next Tuesday evening where it is scheduled to go into closed session to discuss the selection of the Naval Weapons Depot master developer.  Before that takes place the proceedings are expected to be opened with a public comment period where Grayson may face tough questions from the audience.

In any event, the City Council has a critical decision to make between and Lennar and Catellus; for the powerful impact it will have on the future of Concord as well as living up to the level of transparency and fair dealing the community expects. It is critical that the best candidate, whether Catellus or Lennar, is chosen to become the Master Developer on the Naval Weapons project.

That choice should be made on the merits with political considerations as well as personal ambitions should be thrown out the window.  Too much is at stake to do anything less.

 

 

 

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Public records: what cities and districts in Contra Costa County don’t want you to know

Cities in Contra Costa County balk at Grand Jury findings and recommendations to improve transparency of municipal and county records and spending

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A recent Civil Grand Jury (GJ) report documents how the cities, special districts, and boards & commissions in Contra Costa County, and County government itself, have dragged their respective bureaucratic feet when it comes to improving public’s right to access to public records.

public records access
The Contra Costa Grand Jury report shows County, cities and districts are falling behind in making public records more accessible to citizens.

The Compliance and Continuity Committee report (GJ Report #1501 below, beginning on page 25) evaluates municipal performance for compliance with a number of findings and recommendations from a number of past Grand Jury reports. GJ report topics ranged from training employees on how to report child abuse, to planning for technology, status of detention facilities, and improving county emergency operations.

But most interesting is its analysis of the disappointing progress toward implementation of California’s Public Records Act in Contra Costa County. Shockingly, but not unexpected, all but a few cities in Contra Costa are not in compliance with the GJ’s recommendations.

On a positive note, all but a few have implemented some of the Grand Jury recommendations. At the same time most have determined, for one reason or another, that certain recommendations are not worth the trouble.

Here’s a brief summary of the report that begins on page 25 of the embedded PDF below.

1. What is the California Public Records Act (CPRA)?

The California Public Records Act, passed in 1968 (California Government Code Section 6250-6270), is similar to the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). When passed 47 years ago the legislature declared, “access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state.”

The CPRA declares that, “maximum disclosure of the conduct of governmental operations [is] to be promoted by the act by promoting prompt public access to government records. In sum, the CPRA is, “intended to safeguard the accountability of government to the public.”

2. Who is covered or not?

The CPRA covers all state and local agencies, including: (1) any officer, bureau, or department.; (2) any “board, commission or agency” created by the agency (including advisory boards); and (3) nonprofit entities that are legislative bod- ies of a local agency. (§ 6252(a),(b)). Many state and regional agencies are required to have written public record policies.

Exemptions include Courts (except itemized statements of total expenditures and disbursement (§§ 6252(a), 6261); The Legislature (§ 6252); Private non-profit corporations and entities; Federal agencies, which are governed by FOIA, U.S.C. § 552.

3. What is covered?

CPRA “Records” include all communications related to public business, “regardless of physical form or characteristics, including any writing, picture, sound, or symbol, whether paper,…, magnetic or other media.” (§ 6252(e)) Electronic records are included, but software may be exempt. (§§ 6253.9(a),(g), 6254.9 (a),(d))

According to Bryan Montgomery, City Manager of Oakley California, "using ImageSIlo software, we've been able to comply with the Grand Jury recommendations."
According to Bryan Montgomery, City Manager of Oakley California, “using ImageSIlo software, we’ve been able to comply with the Grand Jury recommendations.”

Documents and information not covered include Employees’ private papers, unless they, “relate to the conduct of the public’s business [and are] prepared, owned, used, or retained by the agency.” (§ 6252(e)); some bespoke computer programming; and records not yet created (no rolling requests for future documents are allowed). Additional records are exempt, including attorney-client discussions, records that impair a body’s deliberation process, only if the need for secrecy outweighs the public interest.

For more about the CPRA see Ballotpedia. Download the Pocket Guide to the California Public Records Act, a detailed 2 page document which was funded by the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation of the Society of Professional Journalists. See also Californians Aware for open forum laws.

In 2003, California passed the Brown Act governing open meeting laws. In 2004 California voters passed Proposition 59, which amended the state constitution to explicitly recognize the “right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business,” and to provide that, “the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny.”

By 2012, Counties across California began implementing their own, so-called Sunshine Laws. These went beyond the specifics of the CPRA. See Contra Costa County’s own Better Government Ordinance of 2012, that brought some Sunshine to government meetings, especially those of Special Districts, Boards, and Commissions. The ordinance addressed failures to make available records including meeting schedules and announcements, making agendas available, records of business conducted, monies spent, and allowing public access and comment at public meetings.

California Public Records Access Project

48 years after CPRA

Half a century later, according to the 2014-2015 Contra Costa County GJ,

The (CPRA) Act, however is complex and flawed. Employees responsible for fulfilling CPRA requests do not always respond in the manner required by the law. Contra Costa County has adopted a Better Government Ordinance; it allows the public even greater access to government records and information and clarifies some of the uncertainties of the ACT. The practice of making public records available on a governmental entity’s website is an economical and practical means of complying with the Act.

5. What are the Grand Jury findings and recommendations?

In its report Grand Jury 1405 published in May of 2014, the GJ found that a) response to CPRA requests by cities and special districts [within the County] is uneven; b) that many employees tasked with dealing with CPRA requests from the public are ill-trained; and c) that many valuable records including Form 700 (Economic Interests of elected officials and appointed board and commission members), annual audits (!), travel & entertainment expenses, and supporting agendas and documents for public meetings, could be made available on city operated websites.

The GJ recommended that 1) cities and special districts ought to adopt policies expanding the rights of public access to public records. 2) That agencies better train employees dealing with CPRA requests. And 3), Those agencies consider making certain records:

(This list is important for analysis below)

a. Statements of Economic Interests
b. Employment Contracts
c. Annual Audits
d. Travel & Entertainment expenses
e. Agendas and supporting documents for public meetings

6. Brief survey of who has or hasn’t stepped up.

As for Item #1 (adopt policies of rights of public access). The 22 agencies in compliance include:

– Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors
– City of Brentwood
– City of Lafayette
– Town of Moraga
– City of Oakley
– City of Orinda
– City of Pinole
– City of Richmond
– City of Walnut Creek
– Oakley Elementary, the Brentwood, Lafayette, Moraga, Orinda, Pittsburg, San Ramon USDs, and County office of education
– Contra Costa Water District
– Pleasant Hill Parks & Rec
– Diablo Water District
– West Contra Costa Health District
– Contra Costa Fire Protection District
– Crockett-Carquines Fire Protection District

Thats’ it. 13 months later, 26 agencies from the City of Antioch to Mt Diablo Unified School District, report that this recommendation to support the public’s right to public records, “requires further analysis,” or “will not be implemented because it is not warranted or is unreasonable.”

Compliance with Item #2, to train employees working with CPRA requests has been better received by all but the City of Walnut Creek, Lafayette School District, Walnut Creek and West Contra Costa Unified School Districts, plus the Kensington and San Ramon Valley Fire Protection Districts.

Valerie Barone, City Manager Concord California
“Tracking and posting the information as expenditures occur would place an additional burden on sorely overburdened Administrative and Information Technology staff.” — Valerie Barone, Concord City Manager

Recommendation #3 is the battle field. Only six municipalities or districts are in full compliance having implemented all five items listed above. Congratulations to: El Cerrito, Hercules, Oakley, Brentwood USD, Oakley Union Elementary SD, and the Contra Costa Water District.

Recommendation #3 must be a puzzler, as the City of Pleasant Hill, Moraga School District, Moraga-Orinda Unified Fire District, say they require further analysis of the matter. The Moraga-Orinda Unified Fire District has declared they will not implement any of the five recommendations listed. Overall, 33 other agencies, including the County, cities, and districts have declared that they will implement some of the recommendations but not others.

7. Breakdown of objections; a pattern forms

Many agencies report that some or most of these sticking points will be implemented at some future time. One common grouping appears to implement section c and e (travel & entertainment expenses and meeting agenda and documents) but eschews implementation of items a, b, and d. There are variations, but the most common sore point is making access to travel & entertainment expense reports easily available to the public on the agencies’ official website.

8. Reasonable explanations

It’s more than a little curious as to why some agencies have already implemented all of the recommendations and some have not, will not, or continue to dither.

The City of Oakley in East County, for example, has already implemented all of the items recommended by the GJ report, including all those found listed in Recommendation #3. Oakley’s City Manager Bryan Montgomery told the Contra Costa Bee,

My recollection is that we felt comfortable stating that this recommendation has been implemented when we have, through a software program called ImageSilo, made all public records available through our City’s website. I believe many of these other cities have similar software, but they may not have scanned all of the listed items.

The largest city in the County, Concord, reported that it will not adopt a policy to expand the right of public access to public records. It has implemented the training for handling CPRA record requests. And it has implemented Recommendation #3, sections a, b, c, and e, but considers section d (travel & entertainment expenses) unwarranted and not reasonable.

According to city Manager Valerie Barone,

The Mayor and City Councilmembers travel only to and from activities deemed part of their responsibilities as elected officials. The funding for these trips is approved as part of the annual budget at a public meeting.

All travel requests and reimbursements are processed according to City Policy for compliance with state law and Concord’s own rules.

Tracking and posting the information as expenditures occur would place an additional burden on sorely overburdened Administrative and Information Technology staff. As you know from having been on the Measure Q Oversight Committee staffing was reduced by 25 percent during the recession and workloads were not.

Add our short staffing to the fact that almost no requests for this information have been made by residents or anyone else for that matter. In fact, in my three plus years as City Manager I’m not aware of a single request.

We would and do make the information available if requested by any member of the public or media–but as I’ve said, if that happens its rare. Consequently, I believe that Concord’s approach strikes an appropriate balance between the City’s commitments to both fiscal responsibility and governmental transparency.

9. And then there’s Tom Butt, the Mayor of Richmond.

The Contra Costa Bee sent the same request for information (see below the embedded PDF) to Mayor Butt on June 23. The letter asked if Butt or the Richmond City Attorney could please comment on Richmond’s decision to not make records, particularly contracts and entertainment & travel expenses, available on that City’s website. Butt did not answer.

The Contra Costa Bee sent a second request on June 29 and Ccd the City Attorney, Bill Lindsay. Neither responded as of July 3rd. Unfortunate but educational.

Butt lavishes praise on left leaning fellow travelers at the Contra Costa Times, SF Chronicle, East Bay Express, and the UC Berkeley journalism students that publish the Richmond Confidential. But he makes no bones about his dripping disdain for the Contra Costa Bee and any other independent news sources who aren’t down for the struggle and with whom he doesn’t agree; finding ideological demons and personal grudges wherever convenient. In fact, he publicly disparages opponents real and imagined not as a private citizen, but in his capacity as an elected member of Richmond City government. Classy.

butt mail abuse
Flaunting his title as elected official, Richmond Mayor and political hack, Tom Butt disparages private citizens and their First Amendment freedoms.

Yet, when it comes to public access to the business he conducts for the City, Tom Butt, the Robespierre of Richmond, cleverly hides those records from public scrutiny because

Mayor Tom Butt uses his own business email account to conduct City of Richmond business.

email gate clnton
Just like Hillary Clinton, Tom Butt uses his personal email to conduct City of Richmond business.

Yes. Just like Hillary Clinton, Tom Butt, the Mayor of Richmond, is hiding behind the use of his own business email address for his elected capacity as the Mayor of Richmond. He doesn’t have to disclose or be accountable for any emails to that address. Furthermore, on the City of Richmond website,

Mayor Tom Butt also lists his company’s phone information as the official way to reach the Mayor of Richmond.

Butt, who founded an architectural firm in 1973, makes a lot of money in and around the City of Richmond on both public and private contracts. But there’s no telling what mingled business, pay to play, or personal pograms Butt is concocting on behalf of himself or the City of Richmond. You don’t need to know.

To their credit council members Beckles and Myrick manage to use official City of Richmond email accounts. Unfortunately, Councilmembers Nat Bates (@comcast) and Gayle McLaughlin (@definingyourdestiny(!)) also use their personal emails for city business.

You ask…”what happened to the claim that CPRA “Records” include all communications related to public business?

10. The Empire Strikes Back!

The problem is public officials elected and otherwise use private non government email addresses for official government business and communications (with residents..or worse) as a clever way to avoid Public Records requests laws.

Most recent case law in California (Smith v San Jose, 2014 in Superior Court Appellate Court) holds that individual office holders are not “public agencies,” so they have a right to withhold “personal communications.”

There’s transparency and fair dealing for you in the workers’ paradise of California and the tragic-comedy that is Richmond city government teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

The battle for transparency and unmasking self-styled Grand Poobahs like Tom Butt and their disdain for the public’s rights is ongoing. If the results of the Grand Jury report is any indication, the public is losing.

Last year, Governor Jerry Brown and the Democrat controlled State Legislature tried to limit severely the public’s right to know what their government is up to by pulling $20 million of state funding for local government agencies to respond to requests made under the Public Records Act, that was originally signed by Governor Ronald Reagan.

Report 1501 ComplianceAndContinuityCommitteeReport by ContraCostaBee

Letter to Tom Butt at his business email address of June 23

Hello Tom, I’m writing a story for the Contra Costa Bee, on how various cities are (or not) implementing the Grand Jury report 1501 / recommendation #3 re disclosure of certain public records under the CRPA on their websites.

The recent GJ report on Compliance notes your city and may others in Contra Costa County have not or will not implement some or all of the recommendations (see beginning page 30 of PDF attached below).

It is interesting to note a pattern in either cities accept items a,b,c,e and reject d

or

a is rejected with b,c,d,e implemented.

Your city as rejected (b – contracts) and (d travel & entertainment expense reports)

Could you or City Attorney or City Manager please provide comments on

1) the recommendations in general and issues municipalities’ reporting capabilities, and

2) the reasoning your specific items recommended in the GJ document.

Thank you in advance for your cooperation. Please call me with any questions.

HTML source for the Tom Butt Profile Page on the City of Richmond Website as of July 3, 2015.

<span class=”Subhead2″>Contact Information</span>
<div class=”Hyperlink”><script type=”text/javascript” language=”javascript”>// < ![CDATA[
// < ![CDATA[
arrEmail1 = new Array(“<strong>tom.butt”+”@”+”intres.com” +””);
// ]]></script>
<a class=”Hyperlink”>Email</a></div>
510-236-7435 Office

510-237-2084 Home

510-232-5325 Fax

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John F Baldwin, Contra Costa’s Congressman, 1955-1966

John F. Baldwin compiled a strong record on public works projects and civil rights against a growing Democratic tide.

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John F. Baldwin
John F. Baldwin was Contra Costa’s Congressman from 1955-1966

As June 28 is the 100th Anniversary date for one of Concord’s past leaders, Jason Bezis has submitted this report in two parts on John Finley Baldwin, Jr. John F. Baldwin was Contra Costa County’s congressman for eleven years, from 1955 to 1966.

A progressive Republican with deep local roots, John F. Baldwin compiled a strong record on public works projects and civil rights against a growing Democratic tide. His road and flood control legislation dramatically transformed the area, facilitating its rapid suburban development. He died in office at age 50. This summer would have been his 100th birthday.

Baldwin’s paternal grandfather, Robert O. Baldwin (1828-1908), and great-uncle were ‘49er-era California pioneers who crossed overland from Summit County, Ohio to Placerville, Calif. from March to July 1850. They settled in October 1852 in the San Ramon Valley near what became Danville. His great-uncle’s diary observed, “[W]ild cattle were roaming over the valleys at will.” R.O. Baldwin and wife Mary Cox were San Ramon Valley community pillars. R.O. Baldwin served for many years as a Danville school district trustee. The golden wedding anniversary celebration of Robert and Mary in 1908 in Danville was a major event, attended by well-wishers from across the county.

His father John F. Baldwin, Sr. (1873-1956) and John, Jr., born June 28, 1915, grew up on the Baldwin farm. It began in 1853 as a stockraising and onion- and wheat-growing operation. It was one of Contra Costa’s first two wheat farms, along with Elam Brown’s farm in today’s Lafayette. J.P. Munro-Fraser’s “History of Contra Costa County” (1882) says, “[T]hese two gentlemen were the pioneer wheat-growers of Contra Costa, a county which thirty years thereafter has its every arable space one waving field of grain.” (p. 56). Wheat became the county’s leading crop in the late 19th century, exported to Liverpool, England and other points through massive marine terminals lining Carquinez Strait from Crockett to Port Costa to Martinez.

Eventually walnut and pear orchards predominated on a Baldwin farm that grew to nearly one thousand acres. The San Ramon Valley branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad was constructed through the Baldwin ranch in 1891 (today’s Iron Horse Trail). Tract homes and Interstate 680 now cover the former Baldwin estate on the valley floor southeast of downtown Danville.

The future congressman graduated from San Ramon Valley High School in Danville in 1931 and from U.C. Berkeley in 1935. He worked for a publishing company for five years, before enlisting in the Army in 1941, where he utilized his business skills in the Office of Fiscal Director. He received a medal from the Italian government in 1946 for his role in de-valuing the lire currency. Baldwin returned to California to attend Boalt/Berkeley law school, from which he graduated in 1949. He formed a law partnership in Martinez with a member of the prominent Bray family.

Fueled by rapid growth associated with the wartime Richmond shipyards and early postwar suburban development in the central county, Contra Costa population tripled in the 1940s. This justified creation of a new congressional district in 1952 that encompassed the whole of Contra Costa and Solano counties. For the first time since statehood a century earlier, Contra Costa was destined to send a resident to Congress. Military employment and contracts were important to the district, which included Mare Island Naval Base in Vallejo and Naval Magazine, Port Chicago (later known as Concord Naval Weapons Station), Army installations in Benicia and Pittsburg (Camp Stoneman) and Travis Air Force Base near Fairfield.

Baldwin challenged two-term Assemblyman Robert L. Condon (D-Walnut Creek) for that new congressional seat. A brilliant trial lawyer and a silver star World War II Army infantryman, Condon was a pioneering post-war Bay Area liberal Democrat in an era when Republicans controlled the region’s federal and state legislative delegations. Condon was an unabashed economic and social progressive, with close ties to organized labor at a time when private sector unionization was near its zenith.

John F Baldwin’s political associates included State Senator George Miller, Jr. (father of future longtime congressman George Miller III) and Bert Coffey, a local labor leader who was very active in Democratic politics. Condon was a gregarious Irish-American who seemed to live larger than life, like an ancient Greek tragic hero. Alcoholism was his fatal flaw.

The 1952 Baldwin-Condon congressional race was a notable skirmish in the national battle for political control of suburban America. Democrats Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman had occupied the White House for five consecutive terms since 1933; Democrats also had controlled Congress for 18 of the previous 20 years. In 1952, the Dwight Eisenhower/Richard Nixon Republican ticket sought not only to defeat Democrat Adlai Stevenson, but also to bring in new Republican congressmen like Baldwin on its “coattails” to re-gain control of both Congress and the White House for the first time in a generation.

In October 1952, Eisenhower boosted Baldwin when he traveled through the congressional district. Eisenhower addressed a crowd of 3,000 at Fairfield/Suisun railroad station, introduced by Baldwin. (Donald Doyle, then the Republican candidate for Assembly in central and eastern Contra Costa, accompanied Eisenhower and Baldwin on that train ride. In a 2005 interview with the author, Doyle recalled that Eisenhower referred to the city of Martinez as “Martin-Ess” to the horrified amusement of Contra Costa dignitaries.) That same month, President Truman addressed a rally for Condon and other local Democrats at what is now Oakland’s Kaiser Convention Center. Truman also met with Condon at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel.

The battle lines were drawn for Election Day, November 4, 1952. Condon was expected to do well in industrial waterfront cities such as Richmond, Vallejo, Pittsburg and Antioch. Inland towns, farms and ranches comprised Baldwin’s base. Would the new suburbanites decide the outcome? [To be continued in Part II.]

~ Jason A. Bezis is a Lafayette attorney. E-mail: JBezis AT Yahoo.com

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Cheapest gasoline in Concord

cheap gas in ConcordCheap gas has always been a great feature of Concord, California. But where inside Concord is the cheapest gasoline?

It was not too long ago, in October of 2012 to be exact, that gasoline was selling for $5.00 a gallon or more. Now, the cheapest gasoline is hovering around $3.00 a gallon.

A survey of 14 Concord gasoline stations on Saturday, November 15, 2014, reveals where a motorist can obtain the cheapest gasoline in Concord.

See the nearby image to find the cheapest gasoline in Concord.Clcik thru the image to find the cheapest gas throughout the Bay Area.

The prices listed do not include the usual 9/10th of a cent per gallon that makes up the final retail price. Also, note some gasoline stations charge extra for using a credit or debit card. Some require memberships like Costco and Safeway.

Happy Motoring.

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