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[whitespace] (CL)ASS REUNION

Playing Favorites

Here they come--the ex-public officials who know that when it comes to connections, you really can take it with you when you leave City Hall

By Will Harper

Illustrations by Steven DeCinzo

THE FIRST MEETING of the city of San Jose's 11-member redistricting committee earlier this month could have been dubbed a class reunion. There, chairing the meeting in room 106 at City Hall was ex-Vice Mayor Frank Fiscalini. Just a few months earlier, Fiscalini sat in the same room as chair of the City Council's Rules Committee. But today he reigned as Mayor Ron Gonzales' handpicked man to rule over the committee in charge of redrawing the lines for the city's 10 council districts--a task that could define every incumbent's future.

"It could be called the 'Political Backscratching Committee,'" a San Jose-based political strategist jokes. "[Appointees to the committee] are there to guard the status quo. Every councilmember will be appreciative of their appointee taking care of their interests."

Sitting across from Fiscalini was another mayoral appointee, Tony Arreola. Until July of last year, Arreola worked as a senior aide to the mayor on the controversial issue of card clubs.

Also joining the reunion: former Councilwoman Charlotte Powers, who, like Fiscalini, was forced out of office in December by term limits. She scored a spot in this room via her council replacement, Forrest Williams, whom Powers backed during the campaign.

The trio had more in common than just being City Hall alumni and appointees to an influential new committee.

Following their stint in public life, they have also all gone to work as "consultants," calling upon their connections and experience navigating city government, to help make matters easier on their clients, developers and private businesses

Arreola and Fiscalini are both specializing in helping developers, many of who need the approval of city officials. Powers, meanwhile, has gone to work for Public Affairs Associates, a lobbying firm with clients like the Bay 101 card club and AT&T, which is currently renegotiating the city's cable franchise agreement.

Fiscalini, Powers and Arreola are among the latest crop of city officials to test the limits of the city's revolving- door ordinance. And local ethics watchdogs don't like it one bit. They're even talking about whether the city should strengthen the law and close the door shut.

Illustration

Take My Advice, Please

YOU MIGHT CALL Al Garza the deadbeat dad of San Jose's modern ethics ordinances.

In 1979, this now legendary San Jose councilmember was indicted for taking a bribe from a developer to fix a zoning vote for an Alviso mobile home park. Garza eventually pleaded guilty to bribery, conspiracy and perjury.

According to former Councilman David Pandori, the Garza scandal inspired a number of reforms: a law barring San Jose officials from accepting gifts from people doing business with the city; a policy requiring lobbyists to register with the city clerk; and an ordinance prohibiting ex-city officials from lobbying City Hall for one year on specific issues they deal with their final year on the city payroll.

But from the time the council first enacted the law in 1980, paid party crashers have always managed to sneak inside.

In 1983, ex-City Councilman Jim Self returned to City Hall representing out-of-state developers. Self managed to persuade the City Council to go against the recommendations of planning staff and allow his client to convert a bank building into medical offices.

Three years later, recently fired City Attorney Robert Logan went to bat for a landowner haggling with the city over an assessment district. His successor, City Attorney Joan Gallo, ruled that Logan--who came back to City Hall as a private consultant only seven months after he got fired as city attorney--didn't violate the 1980 revolving door ordinance.

In the following years, the City Council granted exemptions to council aides Gary Serda and Pete Carrillo so they could go to work for nonprofit agencies doing business with the city and the San Jose Redevelopment Agency. Serda became president of the San Jose Development Corp. in 1990. Two years later, Carrillo took over the Mexican Heritage Corp., which would receive millions of dollars from the city after Carrillo became its chief.

Even when the City Council moved to put another latch on the revolving door during Mayor Susan Hammer's first term, it let one of its own through the door first.

In November 1992, Gallo floated a proposal to the City Council to strengthen the ordinance by barring ex-city officials from lobbying city government--elected officials, commissioners or staff--on behalf of any for-profit entity for one year on any issue. She also proposed exempting officials who go to work for nonprofit organizations a la Serda and Carrillo.

The timing of Gallo's proposal made practical sense on one level. At the end of the year, four councilmembers would be out of a job because of the city's new term limits law. But her timing perturbed some outgoing councilmembers, and Mayor Susan Hammer worked to postpone enacting a tougher ordinance. Hammer delayed a vote for one year--conveniently allowing Councilwoman Pat Sausedo to slip in and lobby for developers like Shea Homes, who had major projects on the drawing board in San Jose

Blackout Period

BUT EX-SAN JOSE OFFICIALS who have been limited by the one-year lobbying ban say the ordinance is working fine, thank you.

Joan Gallo, the former city attorney who wrote the current version of the law, had to stay away from San Jose City Hall during her first year with Terra Law. Gallo recently registered as a lobbyist representing AV Base in its efforts to persuade airport officials to lease the company hangar space.

"It [the one-year lobbying ban] focused my client-base outside San Jose," Gallo says. "I'm a land-use lawyer. Up until January, I wasn't able to ply my trade in San Jose."

The key to complying with the revolving-door ordinance is simple: Don't call a former City Hall colleague on behalf of a client for one year.

"Now, that doesn't keep someone from advising someone else on how to deal with the city," says Erik Schoennauer, who quit his job as chief of staff to Councilwoman Pat Dando last summer to start his own consulting company.

Schoennauer is an interesting example of how a growing number of ex-city officials are tiptoeing along the edges of the revolving-door ordinance.

Schoennauer has a clever piggyback arrangement with his father, longtime San Jose Planning Director Gary Schoennauer.

The elder Schoennauer retired from his city post in February 1997 and has since launched his own consulting firm, The Schoennauer Company, which has boasted clients like Divco West, one of the key players in Cisco Systems' planned $1.3 billion headquarters in North Coyote Valley.

Since Gary Schoennauer doesn't have to worry about the one-year ban anymore, he talks regularly with councilmembers, political aides and planners--some of whom he hired in his 20-plus years as head of the planning department. Erik Schoennauer's main client just happens to be his dad. So while Erik can't call City Hall, his dad can.

Others in the growing network of bureaucrats-cum-consultants may have less ingenuous business arrangements than Schoennauer, but they still are managing to cash in on their government expertise.

Illustration

Shill We Dance?

FORMER Vice Mayor Frank Fiscalini works as an associate at Silicon Valley Advisers, a lobbying firm with several clients doing business with the city of San Jose including the Palladium, which is negotiating with the Redevelopment Agency to be the master developer of the Agency's $500 million revitalization plan.

"What I'm doing here is really serving as a mentor to the people in the office," says Fiscalini, who still regularly lunches with mayoral budget and policy director Joe Guerra, Fiscalini's onetime chief of staff. "I'm not working on any city projects, because I can't."

What he can do is recruit new clients and tell his partners who to call in the planning or public works departments or on the City Council. "Somebody else in the office just has to do to the leg work and contact work," Fiscalini explains. "I've pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I have to work a year this way."

Tony Arreola, a senior aide to the mayor until last July when he went out on his own as a land-use consultant, also avoids City Hall these days. But that doesn't mean he can't brag about his access potential--Arreola often boasts that he regularly plays golf with Mayor Ron Gonzales.

"He [Arreola] tells me all the time," laughs political consultant and lobbyist Ed McGovern, who enlisted Arreola's fundraising help in helping get Nora Campos elected to the San Jose City Council in a March 6 special election.

Arreola, who refuses to name his clients, is currently acting as a representative for the Rubino family, according to registered lobbyist Jerry Strangis. Strangis, who represents the Capital Expressway Auto Dealers Association, says he recently met with Arreola to discuss the Rubinos' desire to rezone a parcel of land they own near the Capitol auto mall from new car storage to residential. Should the Rubinos seek city approval for the zoning change (which the car dealers oppose) after July, Arreola will be free to walk into the mayor's office and lobby his golfing buddy.

Despite the revolving door's limits on former city government officials selling access for a year, it doesn't bar them from doing so entirely.

Take ex-Councilwoman Charlotte Powers, who went to work for lobbying firm Public Affairs Associates after she finished her term in December. Powers still can lobby former colleagues on the various regional transportation boards she has served on during her council tenure like the Valley Transportation Authority and Metropolitan Transportation Commission. VTA will be especially lucrative in the coming year because voters just approved a 30-year, $6 billion sales tax that local leaders hope will help pay to bring BART to San Jose. And sitting on the VTA board is none other than Forrest Williams, the councilman she helped get elected.

"She's got regional contacts we don't have with her work on MTC and VTA," says Ed McGovern of Public Affairs Associates. "If we want to expand into the East Bay, she brings those contacts with her."

Scott Strickland, who quit his job as chief of staff to Councilwoman Cindy Chavez less than a year, also has taken advantage of his regional contacts while scrupulously avoiding City Hall.

Strickland also refuses to name his clients. But Santa Clara City Councilman John McLemore, who sits on Caltrain's board of directors, says Strickland represents Herzog, a rail company competing with Amtrak for Caltrain's operating contract.

Illustration Land Bank

THIS PAST YEAR ALONE, however, at least six former councilmembers or their aides have either gone to work for lobbying firms or started their own consulting businesses. Jude Barry, Mayor Ron Gonzales' longtime chief of staff who resigned in December, is the latest to join the consulting ranks. New San Jose Chamber of Commerce President Jim Cunneen tapped Barry last week to help devise, among other strategies, government advocacy strategies for the venerable business group. Barry himself, though, won't be directly lobbying anyone--just advising the Chamber how to lobby.

The sudden boom in shill work has inspired the Santa Clara County Association for Good Government, a nonpartisan local ethics watchdog group, to look more closely at San Jose's revolving-door policy.

"Is it ethical to trade your years of public service for the city to people who are bargaining with the city?" asks the association's president, Berkeley Driessel. "We think it's questionable."

Driessel says that over the next few months his six-member board will study how to improve and strengthen the law.

One possibility, he says, is that the city could extend the lobbying ban to regional agencies like the VTA and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. The mayor appoints San Jose councilmembers--like councilor-cum-lobbyist Charlotte Powers--to the regional posts. Those agencies, however, have no revolving-door restrictions for board members, sources say.

Driessel says his association plans to compare San Jose's law to other revolving-door policies.

Comparatively, San Jose's ordinance is among the most stringent in the Bay Area.

San Francisco's prohibits ex-supervisors from lobbying board members. Two weeks ago, new Supervisor Aaron Peskin raised the idea of also barring former supes from lobbying any city commissioners or administrators, which would make it like San Jose's. Peskin also wants a two-year lobbying ban.

Santa Clara County government, meanwhile, has a one-year lobbying ban for ex-county employees, and a lifetime ban "on matters in which the employees personally participated." The standard is slightly different for members of the Board of Supervisors, who aren't subject to the lifetime ban but can't lobby for four years "related to matters under a board member's official responsibility."

In spite of the restrictions, County Counsel Ann Ravel says she can't recall a time in the past decade where the revolving-door issue came up. She suspects that's because there's less development on county land than in the city of San Jose. According to mayoral budget and policy director Joe Guerra, builders added 4,500 units of housing in the city last year--more than the rest of the cities in the county combined.

And with the mayor now talking about opening up Coyote Valley--San Jose's largest remaining stretch of open land--to residential development, the more city officials there will be looking to get a piece of the action.

Sources say there have been no talks inside city government about revamping or strengthening the ordinance.

That's because the ordinance doesn't need tweaking, according to former city officials walking along its edges.

But Almaden Valley neighborhood activist Dennis Mulvihill, who successfully pressured the Board of Supervisors to adopt an ethics and campaign-finance ordinance in the mid-'90s, isn't so sure.

Mulvihill acknowledges that someone like Fiscalini is meeting the letter of the law, but wonders whether the ex-vice mayor and others are complying with the spirit of it.

Mulvihill says even if Fiscalini, for instance, doesn't call his old city colleagues for his clients, people in the bureaucracy no doubt will find out that the former vice mayor is backing someone.

"People know Fiscalini's hand is there," Mulvihill argues. "He may be wearing gloves, but his hand is still there. He's too close to it."

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From the March 29-April 4, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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