Almanac

News - August 4, 2010

State agrees with Andy Cohen's complaint regarding conflict of interest in Cargill case

by Dave Boyce

Rosanne Foust, a city council member in Redwood City, acted in violation of state ethics rules when she participated in a recent decision regarding a proposed residential community on what is now 1,400 acres of salt flats off Redwood City, according to the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

At the request of Menlo Park Councilman Andy Cohen, the Fair Political Practices Commission looked into whether Ms. Foust, who is the chief executive of the San Mateo County Economic Development Association, should have participated in a council decision involving the Cargill Saltworks project, which SAMCEDA endorsed.

The project, which Mr. Cohen and his colleagues on the Menlo Park City Council oppose, would add as many as 12,000 homes and 1 million square feet of commercial space. It would also create or preserve 800 acres of wetlands and outdoor recreational space. Ms. Foust voted on May 24 to approve a contract for an environmental review of the project.

In a July 28 letter, Gary S. Winuk of the FPPC's enforcement division informed Ms. Foust that she "violated the conflict-of-interest provisions" of state government code section 81000, the Political Reform Act.

Asked to comment, Mr. Cohen, noting an editorial attack against him by Ms. Foust's husband, said that his critics "like to make it personal when elected officials are simply trying to do the best they can for the residents of our area."

In a July 30 letter to editors, Ms. Foust said she is "very disappointed" but accepts the ruling and that she will write a letter to the FPPC contesting the "factual inaccuracies and inconsistencies" in Mr. Winuk's letter.

"I hold myself to the highest ethical standards," Ms. Foust noted, and added that she will recuse herself from future Saltworks project matters.

The political reform act "prohibits a public official from making, participating in making, or in any way attempting to use her official position to influence a governmental decision in which the official knows, or has reason to know, that she has a financial interest," Mr. Winuk wrote.

"... it was reasonably foreseeable," Mr. Winuk continued, "that your vote to hire an environmental firm to review the Saltworks project, a vote that moved the project along on its path toward potential approval, could affect SAMCEDA, an organization so interested in the Saltworks project (that) it held a vote to endorse the project and has sent its employees as advocates on the Saltworks project to the Redwood City council's meetings."

Since Ms. Foust acted on the advice of the interim city attorney in Redwood City, the FPPC closed the case with a letter of warning, which will remain in FPPC records, Mr. Winuk wrote.

Ms. Foust can contest this resolution before an administrative law judge or the FPPC, but that would open her up to prosecution, Mr. Winuk wrote.

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