By DAVID DEBOLT | firstname.lastname@example.org | Bay Area News Group
PUBLISHED: July 25, 2017 at 5:02 pm | UPDATED: July 26, 2017 at 9:40 am
OAKLAND — Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney violated city ethics rules by attempting to interfere with a housing development near her West Oakland home, according to a public ethics panel investigation.
The Oakland Public Ethics Commission’s investigators in a report issued July 21 found Gibson McElhaney received free services from JRDV Urban International, a group that helped her delay the development across from her home on 32nd Street, and voted to extend city contracts to the firm.
The ethics commission will take up the matter at its July 31 meeting and issue a final ruling.
Gibson McElhaney did not report the free services amounting to approximately $800, as required by city law, according to the commission. It found the councilwoman voted to extend a city contract with JRDV “a day before she started soliciting and accepting gifts from (them).”
The commission began investigating Gibson McElhaney after an East Bay Express article and two citizen complaints on the apparent violations. The alternative weekly newspaper reported in February 2015 that an appeal of a zoning application for the housing project was prepared by one of her staff members using city resources.
Robert Brecht, the developer of the proposed five-unit housing project, submitted his application in early 2014. It was quickly appealed by the councilwoman’s husband and in December of that year she called employees of JRDV to appear at a planning commission meeting.
An hour before the meeting, JRDV president Morton Jensen met Gibson McElhaney at her home and created an alternative design of Brecht’s development to present to the commission.
The planning commission denied the appeal but Jensen continued to object to the project. Another person acting on behalf of Gibson McElhaney contacted the head of the planning department, Rachel Flynn, according to the ethics commission. Brecht has not applied for a building permit for his project.
In a statement, Gibson McElhaney said neighbors brought the issue to her and the City Attorney’s Office guided her through the process. The councilwoman said state laws on gifts are vague and she did not consider the architect’s work as a personal gift but rather a service for the residents of her council district.
“After multiple defeats before the Planning Department, the lone outstanding issue was whether the design of the project met the City’s open space requirements,” the councilwoman said. “The community felt that our concerns were being ignored so I asked a local respected architect for help on this specific technical question. If I had thought asking the architect for help could implicate the ethics laws, I of course would not have done so.”