CASA’s secret New York junket

42 people flew to Manhattan for a three-day event that had no real policy purpose -- and MTC is stonewalling on releasing the price tag.

During the final meeting of the CASA Technical Committee on December 12, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf let slip that she and unnamed others had recently taken a trip to New York City. No such trip had appeared on any public agenda.

CASA is the organization that is trying to create a “grand bargain” on housing, although it’s really a developer-friendly coup.

My curiosity pricked, later that day I sent CASA’s sponsor, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a California Public Records Act Request asking to see documentation of all monies, public and private, that had passed through MTC to fund CASA. I also asked to see all documents concerning the funding of the New York City trip, including those with information about the participants, the itinerary, and any agendas.

The visitors stayed at the Millennium Hilton, a four-star hotel in Manhattan

In response, MTC has repeatedly given me the runaround. The agency initially replied on December 21, stating in response to both requests that:

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission will require additional time to respond to your request, we anticipate releasing a response by January 11, 2019. As permitted pursuant to Government Code Section 6253, subdivision (c), the additional time is necessary for the following reason(s):

The need for consultation with another agency having substantial interest in the determination of the request or among two or more components of the agency having substantial subject matter interest therein.

On January 10, MTC again responded to both requests, as follows:

We have reviewed our files and have located some of the records responsive to your request. There are no fees associated with providing these records to you, and they are now available through the Public Records Request Center….

We are still compiling the invoices and expenses related to this request. We anticipate additional records will be available by January 31, 2019. We will notify you at that time, and will update you if there are any fees associated with providing these additional records.

The files MTC made available on January 10, reproduced below, contain the itinerary for the New York City trip, which turned out to have taken place on December 5-7, a roster of the Bay Area participants, and a table listing the names of the participants who’d been funded by either MTC or the San Francisco Foundation. MTC sent nothing about the actual costs of the trip or the money that had passed through MTC to fund the overall CASA project.

MTC is stalling. In December, it could have sent everything that it made available on January 10; it didn’t. I know that the agency has substantial documentation of the monies spent for CASA, because as I reported in Part One of my CASA coverage, in response to a CPRA request I’d made on April 23, it sent me on May 18 files documenting such expenditure, including the $450,000 paid to the consultancy co-owned by Jennifer LeSar, the wife of State Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, to “facilitate” the CASA process. Even before the New York expedition, in the subsequent eight months, the agency has been funding CASA. It had information about that funding in December, and it has it now. Why is it refusing it release it until January 31?

CASA’s unpublicized January 25 Sacramento deadline

The CASA Compact is a self-described “legislative package” of ten “Elements,” a bundle of policy recommendations intended to be incorporated into bills by members of the state Legislature.  At numerous public meetings, MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger repeatedly said that all the elements would move forward together.

In fact, as indicated by the chart that Heminger presented at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s January 11 meeting, on December 3, legislators introduced bills incorporating aspects of all the elements in CASA but three: the proposals for a statewide just cause eviction policy, for the statewide privatization of public land, and for a Bay Area-specific “Regional Housing Enterprise.”

CASA Compact Element #

Related Bill(s) in print

  1.  Just Cause Eviction

 

  2.  Rent Cap

  AB 36 (Bloom) [spot bill]

  3.  Legal Counsel [for tenants]

  SB 18 (Skinner) [spot bill]

  4.  ADUs [in-law units]

  AB 69 (Ting), SB 13 (Wieckowski)

  5. Minimum Zoning

  SB 50 (Wiener), SB 4 (McGuire) [spot bill]

  6.  Good Government

 

  7. Streamlining [development approval]

  SB 6 (Beall/McGuire) spot bill

  8.  Public Lands [privatization of]

 

  9.  Funding the Regional Housing      Enterprise

  SB 5 (Beall), AB 13 (Chiu), ACA 1 (Aguiar-Curry)

 10. Regional Housing Enterprise

 

 

With respect to MTC’s refusal to provide full information about CASA’s funding, the absence to date of a bill incorporating the recommendations in Element 10, “Regional Housing Enterprise,” has the greatest relevance. As described in the CASA Compact, the Regional Housing Enterprise would be a new government entity with the authority to buy and sell land, incur debt, levy taxes, and impose standardized zoning across the Bay Area.

My hunch is that a bill to authorize the establishment of such an entity has already been drafted by the office of State Assemblymember David Chiu, and that it will be introduced after the January 17 meeting of the ABAG Executive Board—but only if the Board accedes to Heminger’s request that without approving the compact itself, the board authorize its president, Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbit, to sign the document. MTC complied with a similar request on December 12.

At the ABAG Executive Board’s November 15 meeting, Heminger stated that the CASA Compact would move forward in the Legislature, whether or not MTC and the board authorized their respective chairs to sign the document. I read that statement as a rhetorical feint designed to bully the members of the board into thinking that their actions are politically inconsequential.

The Association of Bay Area Governments represents the cities and counties of the region. It would be awkward, to say the least, if a Bay Area legislator introduced a bill that would severely curtail local say in land use after the ABAG Board had refused to authorize its president to sign the compact.

January 25 is the last day for a California state legislator to submit bill requests to the Office of Legislative Counsel. The ABAG Ex. Board only meets every other month. If the board refuses to authorize Rabbit to sign the compact, either a bill to enable the creation of the Regional Housing Enterprise will have to be introduced without that authorization, or no such bill will be introduced in the Legislature’s 2019 session.

Which brings us back to MTC’s refusal to release information about the funding of CASA in general and New York City trip in particular until January 31 (if then). Heminger presumably wants to do everything in his power to secure the ABAG Ex. Board’s compliance—including withholding until January 31 or later information about CASA that might incline a majority of the Board to oppose Rabbit’s signing the compact.

The files that MTC made available to me in May included the revelation about the deal with Estolano LeSar Perez Advisors, the consultancy co-owned by Toni Atkins’ wife Jennifer LeSar. The $450,000 contract with LeSar’s consultancy represented a $250,000 add-on to MTC’s original contract of $200,000 with her business. The add-on, signed by Heminger and LeSar and effective on January 1, 2018, stipulated that MTC would pay Estolano LeSar Perez to “Prepare for and Attend up to Nine (9) Technical Committee Meetings” in 2018 at $90,000 a meeting. But in 2018, the CASA Technical Committee met not nine but 11 times. It stands to reason that MTC again extended the contract, paying LeSar’s business another $180,000 for work related to two additional meetings and bringing the total compensation to $630,000.

And that’s just the payments to Estolano LeSar Perez. What about the rest of the funding for CASA in the eight and a half months since I made my initial Public Records Act request about such funding? MTC has refused to make public those expenditures.

The secret New York City junket

The files MTC sent me on January 10 included a table listing the names of 23  participants in the New York trip and sources of their funding that passed through MTC. MTC paid for the public officials; the San Francisco Foundation paid for the participants associated with private entities. Two of the public officials were lame ducks: Nick Josefowitz and Pradeep Gupta. Instead of attending on December 6 what would have been his last meeting as a member of the BART Board, Josefowitz went to New York City on the public’s dime. In the table, TSSF stands for The San Francisco Foundation. I’ve added individuals’ affiliations.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: Josefowitz tells us he paid for his own trip.

Alfredo Pedroza, Napa County Supervisor

MTC

David Cortese, Santa Clara County Supervisor

MTC

David Chiu, State Assemblymember (D, San Francisco) and Chair of Assembly’s Housing and Community Development Committee

MTC

Nick Josefowitz, BART Boardmember and  MTC

MTC

Jake Mackenzie, Rohnert Park City Councilmember and Chair, MTC

MTC

Judson True, Chief of Staff, Assemblymember Daivd Chiu

MTC

Julie Combs, Santa Rosa City Council

MTC

Julie Pierce, Clayton City Council

MTC

Ken Kirkey, Director of Integrated Planning, MTC/ABAG

MTC

Libby Schaaf, Mayor of Oakland, MTC

MTC

Pradeep Gupta, South San Francisco City Council, ABAG Executive Board

MTC

Rebecca Long, Government Relations Manager, MTC/ABAG

MTC

Steve Heminger, Ex. Director MTC

MTC

Vikrant Sood, Principal Planner and CASA Program Manager, MTC/ABAG

MTC

David Rabbit, Sonoma County Supervisor and ABAG President

MTC

Amie Fishman, Ex. Director, Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California

TSSF

Derecka Mehrens, Ex. Director, Working Partnership USA

TSSF

Egon Terplan, SPUR Regional Planning Director

TSSF

Ellen Wu, Ex. Director Urban Habitat

TSSF

Lesley Corsiglia, Ex. Director, SV@Home and CASA co-chair

TSSF

Tomiquia Moss, Hamilton Families CEO

TSSF

Judith Bell, VP of Programs, TSSF

TSSF

Jennifer Martinez, Director of Strategy, PICO California

TSSF

 

These 23 individuals were only part of the Bay Area delegation to New York. The whole group comprised a total of 42 men and women. The full roster was appended to a document entitled “Bold Regional Housing Leadership in New York City; Bay Area Delegation Learning Session, December 5-7, 2018.” (Question: why does a photo of an elephant striding toward the reader appear at the top of the agenda?) Here’s the roster, with affiliations only included for those not listed above:

Hosts

  • Judith Bell
  • Fred Blackwell, CEO, The San Francisco Foundation
  • Steve Heminger
  • Heather Hood, Deputy Director, Enterprise
  • Geeta Rao, Director of Connected Communities, Enterprise Community Partners

Bay Area Delegation

  • David Chiu
  • Julie Combs
  • Leslye Corsiglia
  • Dave Cortese
  • Michael Covarubbias, Chair and CEO TMG Partners and CASA co-chair
  • Amie Fishman
  • Matthew Franklin, President, MidPen Housing Corporation
  • Pradeep Gupta
  • Kate Hartley, Director, San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development
  • Nick Josefowitz
  • Vicki Joseph, Senior VP, Citi Community Development
  • Amy Kenyon, Program Officer, Ford Foundation
  • Jennifer LeSar, President and CEO, LeSar Development Consultants
  • Jake Mackenzie
  • Jennifer Martinez
  • Derecka Mehrens
  • Jacky Morale-Ferrand, Housing Department Director, City of San Jose
  • Tomiquia Moss
  • Alfredo Pedroza
  • Maya Perkins, Programs Manager, Facebook
  • Julie Pierce
  • Denise Pinkston, Partner, TMG Partners
  • David Rabbit
  • Matt Regan, Senior VP, Government Relations, Bay Area Council
  • Libby Schaaf
  • Egon Terplan
  • Ellen Wu

Staff

  • Cathy Atria, Development Officer, Enterprise Community Partners
  • Jorge Kalil, Regional Program Consultant, Enterprise Community Partners
  • Ken Kirkey
  • Rebecca Long
  • Brian Mayhew, CFO, MTC/ABAG
  • Darin Ranelletti, Policy Director for Housing Security, City of Oakland
  • Gregory Schiefelbein, New York Tri State Director, Citi Community Development
  • Vikrant Sood
  • Judson True

What’s problematic about the New York trip isn’t just the secrecy about the expenditure of public funds; it’s also the secrecy about the point of the trip and its legislative and political consequences in California. The purpose of the three-day “Learning Session” was stated at the top of the agenda:

  • Learn about New York City housing finance and governance structures that delivers [sic] housing affordability to five boroughs and 8.5 million people
  • Explore applicability to the Bay Area with peers and build a shared understanding of roles, structure, and resources needs to sustain an effective regional housing funding and financing program
  • Jumpstart a discussion about a state and local strategy needed for bold structural regional change

Translation: get information and make connections that will facilitate the creation of the Regional Housing Entity. The attendance of Assemblymember Chiu and his chief of staff strongly suggest that he’s the legislator who would carry the relevant bill.

Here’s the schedule of events:

Wednesday, December 5

Daytime   Check in at hotel (Millennium Hilton New York Downtown—55 Church St, NY)

6:00 pm    Welcome Reception at 2ndfloor bar of Millennium Hilton

7:30 pm    Dinner on own

Thursday, December 6

8:00 am    Meet in Millennium Hilton Hotel lobby to walk (15 minutes) transit to Citi

8:30 am     Arrival and check-in through security (Light breakfast provided)

9:00 am     Welcome and introduction(Citi—388 Greenwich St., New York)

  • Robert Annibale, Citi Community Development and Inclusive Finance
  • Fred Blackwell, The San Francisco Foundation
  • Steve Heminger, Metropolitan Transportation Commission/Association of Bay Area Governments
  • Heather Hood and Geeta Rao, Enterprise Community Partners

9:45 am      Keynote: New York City Context—New York Deputy City Mayor Alicia Glen

                Conversation facilitated by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf

10:45 am    BREAK

11:00 am    Opening Panel and Discussion: Housing New York

                 Moderator: Ingrid Gould Ellen, Furman Center [NYU]

                   Speakers:

  • Rachel Fee, New York Housing Conference
  • Maria Torres-Springer, NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development
  • Michelle de la Uz, Fifth Avenue Committee and Planning Commission

12:30 pm  LUNCH

1:30 pm    Deep Dive Workshop: Funding and Financing Housing Preservation and Production

               Moderator: Judi Kende, Enterprise Community Partners

               Speakers:

  • Richard Froehlich, New York City Housing Development Corporation
  • Kirk Goodrich, Monadnock Development
  • Molly Park, NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development
  • Anthony Richardson, NYC Housing Development Corporation

3:00 pm   BREAK

3:15 pm    Panel: Protecting People in Place

               Moderator: Joan Byron, Neighborhoods First Fund

               Speakers:

  • Lucy Block, Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development
  • Randy Dillard, Right to Counsel NYC Coalition
  • Moses Gates, Regional Planning Association
  • Councilmember Antonio Reynoso, NYC Council

4:30 pm   Discussion: Today’s Reflections and Key Take-Aways for Bay Area

             Conversation facilitated by CASA Co-Chairs Fred Blackwell, The San Francisco Foundation; Leslye Corsiglia, SV@Home, and Michael Covarubbias, TMG Partners

5:30 pm   Walk to reception (10 minutes)

6:00 pm   Reception: Evening Bar at Smyth Hotel(85 @. Broadway, NY)

8:00 pm    Dinner on own

Friday, December 7

8:00 am   Meet in hotel lobby to walk (12 minute)/transit to Enterprise Community Partners

8:00 am   Arrival (Light breakfast provided)

9:00 am   Welcome and Reflections(Enterprise Community Partners NY office –1 Whitehall St., 11thfloor

9:30 am   The Housing and Transportation Connection

  • Michael Repogle, Deputy Commissioner for Policy, NYC Department of Transportation
  • Carolyn Grossman Meagher, Director of Regional Planning, NYC Department of City Planning

10:00 am   What Should We Do as a Region? Reflection Across Sectors & Conversation with MTC, ABAG and State Elected Leaders

            Moderator: Assemblymember David Chiu, CA District 17 (San Francisco)

11:30 am  Next Step Commitments and Closing—Fred Blackwell, The San Francisco Foundation and Steve Heminger, MTC/ABAG

12:00 pm  Transit to Chinatown Tour

12:30 pm   Chinatown Tour: Ensuring Inclusion in a Hot Market

                Lunch at Golden Unicorn—18 E. Broadway, New York

  • Ron Moelis, L&M Development
  • Thomas Yu, Asian Americans for Equality

4:30 pm   Learning Session Close

 

It’s sad that the executive directors of non-profits that have done important work in behalf of the Bay Area’s most vulnerable residents—specifically, Working Partnerships USA’s Derecka Mehrens and Urban Habit’s Ellen Wu—went along for the ride.

But that public officials—above all, elected public officials—Chiu, Combs, Cortese, Cortese, Gupta, Josefowitz, Mackenzie, Rabbit, and Schaaf—chose to participate in this secret junket is beyond sad: it’s reprehensible. The others, whatever their dedication to the public good, were all acting in a private capacity. By contrast, elected officials have an obligation to the people they represent, an obligation that presumably includes either insisting that their official activities are publicly noticed or refusing to participate in activities that ought to be so noticed and aren’t. Did they lack the guts to stand up to Steve Heminger—which would be bad enough—or, much worse, did they lack the integrity to realize that what they were doing was wrong?

For surely this trip was Heminger’s baby. He has a record of taking lavish excursions paid for by the public. In 2014 Bloomberg News reported that since 2012, Heminger had “flown to conferences at destination including Tokyo, Sydney, Beijing, and Vienna, using tickets totaling more than $45,000 in taxpayer dollars,” including a $13,000 ticket for a flight to Sydney—“almost eight times the cost of a coach ticket to speak at an Australian transportation summit.”

In November, the East Bay Times ran an editorial under the headline “MTC to discuss affordable housing at posh Wine Country retreat,” describing and deploring the overnight confab costing $29,000. As the editors wrote, “the 7 ½ hours of planning meetings could have and should have, been held in one day in downtown San Francisco, where the transportation commission two years ago moved into a new $256 million regional government building” that’s “accessible by public transportation.”

“Seriously,” they commented. “You can’t make this stuff up.”

Add to this inventory the New York City outing. MTC could have paid a few smart graduate students to research housing finance in New York City and posted their research online. Instead, it used a still-undisclosed amount of public money to stage what amounted to a three-day secret social networking event for some of its best buddies. One of those buddies was ABAG President David Rabbit.

On January 17, the ABAG Executive Board ought to tell Rabbit, and for that matter, the other board members who made the trip—Supervisor Cortese, Councilmember Jake Mackenzie, Councilmember Julie Combs, and Councilmember Julie Pierce—that the board is going to delay any action on CASA until it receives a detailed written report about the trip and its policy outcomes, in particular, its implications for the creation of a Regional Housing Entity. Add to that a detailed report about the cost of CASA, including the cost of the trip.

They should also ask Rabbit and his fellow travelers to state whether they think that public policymaking ought to be conducted in the furtive manner in which it was conducted by CASA, most of whose meetings occurred behind closed doors and without public notice.

The compact recommends that the Regional Housing Entity should be governed by “an independent board, with broad representation to MTC, ABAG, and key stakeholder groups that helped develop the CASA Compact.” That means a public-private board dominated by the interests that dominated CASA and the makeup of the Bay Area delegation to New York: Big Real Estate, Big Tech, and Big Philanthropy. Their track record raises the question: Does regionwide democratically accountable governance have a future in the Bay Area?