Newsom will vote on campaign donors' projects

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On the front page of the Chronicle Aug. 12, California Watch reported that Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom has been promoting the interests of campaign donors in San Diego and San Bernardino. It’s nothing criminal, but it looks bad – and it’s just the start.

Newsom, who sits on the state Lands Commission (one of the few critical duties of the Lite Guv) has received thousands of dollars in donations from interested parties looking to exploit San Francisco’s waterfront, public records show. And he will be voting on the future of their projects.

Newsom received $2,000 for his 2014 campaign from two lawyers, Neil Sekhri and Mary Murphy. Both attorneys are at the law firm Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, and are involved with the controversial 8 Washington project – which comes before the Lands Commission Aug. 14. Since part of the site of the most expensive condos in San Francisco history is state Tidelands Trust property, the state has to approve the deal. Newsom will be one of three members voting.

The future site for the Golden State Warriors arena is along the waterfront. The decision to turn over that land to private investors will come before Newsom’s panel, too – and Newsom has received more than $6,000 from interested parties.
The Strada Investment Group, which is representing the Warriors as a development consultant, gave Newsom $5,000, records on file with the Secretary of State show. Jesse Blout, real estate investor for the group contributed $750. Scott Stafford, principal, contributed $750. Marty Glide, chief executive officer of the Warriors, contributed $2,000 Newsom’s campaign.

Aaron Peskin, former supervisor and a foe of 8 Washington, issued a press release Aug. 13 calling on Newsom to recuse himself from voting on that project. Newsom’s office hasn’t responded to us, but it’s a safe bet that’s not going to happen. Newsom didn’t get where he is by stiffing campaign donors when they need him on a big vote.

There’s another  problem with the Lands Commission vote on 8 Washington. According to former City Attorney Louise Renne, the commission can’t vote on a project that doesn’t actually exist.

Her argument, laid out in an Aug. 7 letter to the commission, is simple: More than 31,000 San Francisco voters signed a petition demanding a vote on the project – and the Department of Elections has certified the referendum for a citywide vote. That can’t happen until November 2013. “Under these circumstances,” Renne wrote, “you do not have a currently valid 8 Washington Street/Seawall Lot 351 project before you for consideration. Approvals of the project are suspended by law.”

Does the commission even care if what it’s doing is legal? Anyone placing bets?

UPDATE: We just got a statement from Newsom's chief of staff, Chris Garland, who told us that the Attorney General's Office and the Lands Commission legal staff agreed that none of the panel members have a conflict of interest.  "The lieutenant governor has enjoyed the support of parties on both sides of this issue and is capable of looking at the item impartially and doing what is right for the state," he said. "This isn't a matter of contributions; it's matter of calling balls and strikes on an important project."

Okay then.