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State agrees with Andy Cohen's complaint of conflict of interest in decision on Cargill Saltworks project

 

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.

Comments

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Posted by Thank you Andy!
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 30, 2010 at 12:41 pm

This is a very important turn of events.

Ms Foust should not have participated in (nor should she in the future) decisionmaking related to the Salt Works project given her paid position with SAMCEDA.

There are others on the Redwood City Council that have an appearance of undue bias (in favor of this huge project) as well. California caselaw clearly provides that a discretionary decision needs to be made by unbiased decisionmakers without conflicts of interest. All such decisionmakers could be subject to legal action forcing them to recuse themselves.

I hope all of the members of the Redwood City Council heed this wake up call in Redwood City (and beyond).

Thank you, Councilmember Cohen for having the courage to properly put this issue before the FPPC!


Like this comment
Posted by Davena Gentry
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jul 30, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Thank you Councilmember Cohen for taking such action. I've been concerned with the way the Redwood City Council was pressing ahead as if no one's concerns were being heard. Conflict of interest is a significant one! (I wonder if any received political contributions from Cargill, DMB, etc)?

And thank you to the entire Council for having the courage to take a position against this proposed massive development!


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Posted by Tom
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 30, 2010 at 2:25 pm

Kudos to Andy Cohen who has had to put up with personal smears from Foust's husband, ex RWC Mayor Jim Hartnett (one of Cargill's closest advisors). Hopefully, this action against Foust will make more people in our area aware of Cargill and what they are trying to do. Google Cargill and find out what kind of corporation this really is. These are bad people!


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Posted by Lou Covey
a resident of Woodside High School
on Jul 30, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Considering that Cohen and Fergusson receive campaign contributions from the Loma Prieta Chapter of the Sierra Club, on organization that opposes the development, maybe they should have recused themselves from voting on the council's condemnation of the only plan proposed for restoring wetlands on that spot.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 30, 2010 at 5:56 pm

1 - Thank you Andy for filing this complaint
2 - All of our local elected and appointed officials should note how promptly Andy's filing was responded to and they should not hesitate to request guidance from the FPPC BEFORE they vote on an issue about which they may have or be perceived to have a conflict of interest.


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Posted by Council Observer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 31, 2010 at 10:08 am

Andy is at last showing independence from Gail Slocum. Good for you Andy. You have come a long way.


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Posted by Blogger
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 31, 2010 at 12:15 pm

What has really happened here is that Andy Cohen has used a governmental agency to attempt to stop a project he doesn't like in another city. Mr. Cohen and his backers have used the FPPC before to attack local politicians.

Cohen has successfully manipulated the system to eliminate an elected representative in another city from representing her constituents on the most important project Redwood City has seen in years.

The FPPC is a group of highly paid state attorneys (complete with pensions) who need a reason to live. This 'conflict' for Foust is very weak. Cargill is simply a member of an organization she represents. Even the city attorney believed there was no conflict. Fabricating conflicts keeps the FPPC busy (reviewing it cost the taxpayers at least $100,000) and helps a political opponent who can't win on the merits of his position.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 31, 2010 at 12:53 pm

We are fortunate that the State of California has an excellent law on conflicts of interest and a body, the FPPC, charged with administering that law.

Blogger claim that Cohen is 'manipulating' the system because the FPPC ruled against Foust. I suspect that Blogger would have been cheering both the law and the FPPC had the FPPC ruled in favor of Foust.

We are a nation of laws and better for it.


Like this comment
Posted by Another POV
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 31, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Dear Blogger,

You have the focus of your "blame" exactly backwards. The person who caused this problem was Rosanne Foust herself. She should have known (and did know) better. Many people had asked her about this. She was repeatedly warned that she was skating on very thin ice by remaining on the SAMCEDA payroll during and after the SAMCEDA vote to support Cargill.

Andy's inquiry with the FPPC on Foust's self-created conflict only affected ONE person on a council that has many other Cargill supporters. And this was NOT about Foust taking a campaign contribution from them, either as another poster implies. I believe the grounds here were about her getting a salary from SAMCEDA - meaning that even if she later was thinking of voting NO on Saltworks, she would would have the fear of likely losing her livelihood, making it a patent financial conflict of interest that is forbidden.

This turn of events alone will not "stop" the Saltworks behemoth, but it is a sign of some of its weaknesses that make it ultimately doomed, both substantively and procedurally.


Like this comment
Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 31, 2010 at 1:14 pm

Blogger -

The fact that the independent FPPC in Sacramento - who has no dog in this fight and probably couldn't care less about it - found a serious conflict of interest and yet the interim city attorney for Redwood City thought there was no conflict, should worry you... A LOT.

As we know from other nearby cities, even city attorneys are not without their own conflicts... they have a clear stake in protecting and furthering the interests of their clients, the Council Members.

As the article states: "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...' As such, don't blame Mr. Cohen for bringing this to our attention. Blame Ms. Foust and the interim city attorney for a serious ethical lapse.


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Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Jul 31, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Blogger missed it by a mile.

Rosanne Foust could have solved this a long time ago by contacting FPPC herself. Instead she chose to contact an interim City attorney who gave bad advice. Its not the first time RWC attorney's have given bad advice. So many people warned her.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 31, 2010 at 1:49 pm

When an elected official, sensing that they may have or be perceived to have a conflict of interest, asks someone whom they have hired to rule on that issue they are fully expecting to be given a 'no conflict' decision.

How much better it would be for all concerned for such an official to seek a disinterested, arms-length opinion from the FPPC. It is easy, it is simple and it is quick.


Like this comment
Posted by Interested
a resident of another community
on Jul 31, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Oh yeah right. The FPPC is in Andy Cohen's pocket................What drivel.


Like this comment
Posted by Lou Covey
a resident of Woodside High School
on Jul 31, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Blogger is wrong it claiming the FPPC is in the bag, but that doesn't mean the FPPC was right, either. The only people who "warned" Ms. Foust were those who were, in fact, threatening her with this action. She sought competent legal counsel and received it, but the FPPC does not act within any area of law. Their decision is strictly their opinion. And in this case, it was stupid. Ms. Foust is an employee of SAMCEDA and receives a salary for running that organization. She is not in charge of making policy. Claiming she receives financial benefit from approving an EIR study is like claiming she benefits from US agricultural policy because she buys a hamburger at McDonalds.


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Posted by Foustian
a resident of another community
on Jul 31, 2010 at 8:55 pm

Just tune into RC Counci mtgs. , like Finger Ave, Kentfield/Union where neighbors protest big developments as significantly impacting their neighborhood.
Watch and listen as Jersey girl Foust acts in snarly, condescending put downs to these hard working folks trying to protect their homes and kids from the big time development interests.
Cut from the same cloth as Meg and Carly.


Like this comment
Posted by Redwood City Woman
a resident of another community
on Aug 12, 2010 at 9:59 pm

Andy Cohen is a hero!


Like this comment
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Aug 16, 2010 at 5:39 pm

Has anyone noticed that PG&E has changed the Smart-Meter TV Ad.

Rosanne Foust has been removed from it or they are showing a different one and now Mr.Jim Wunderman is starring in it.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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