SF Chronicle article on the McGoldrick fundraising/development vote controversy


McGoldrick's link to Mission condo developer
Robert Selna, Chronicle Staff Writer

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The night before San Francisco Supervisor Jake McGoldrick broke with his progressive colleagues and provided the swing vote for a controversial condominium project in the Mission District, he attended a fundraiser sponsored by the lobbying firm the developer had hired to push the project through the Board of Supervisors, The Chronicle has learned.

McGoldrick's decision to attend the event on Monday at Barbary Coast Consulting - to raise funds to combat a recall effort against him - just before the vote by the Board of Supervisors brought withering criticism from affordable-housing advocates who have considered McGoldrick an ally.

"It's shocking that this fundraiser was held for him by the PR firm that was representing the project," said Nick Pagoulatos, a coordinator for the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition, adding that his attendance leaves the impression the supervisor's vote was for sale. "The timing is frankly stupid."

McGoldrick called it character assassination to suggest that his decision was influenced by the fundraising help he received from the developer's lobbyist.

"It should be pretty obvious by this point that I vote with my conscience and that my vote can't be bought," said McGoldrick in an interview at his City Hall office on Wednesday.

Barbary Coast Consulting, formed by former City Hall legislative aide Alex Clemens, is among the top-earning lobbying and political consulting firms hired by developers and businesses trying to influence decision-makers at San Francisco City Hall.

Clemens said the fundraiser had nothing to do with the vote on the project proposed by his client, developer Seven Hills Properties, and that his firm makes a regular practice of raising money for elective office holders and candidates.

"We didn't put the two things together, and we don't put the two things together," Clemens said. "Jake McGoldrick is a tough, independent guy on the board ... . We are involved in the body politic and sometimes raise money for politicians and issues we care about."

The recall campaign targeting McGoldrick is being led by Richmond District residents and merchants who object to positions he has taken that they consider detrimental to small businesses - among them his backing of closing roads in Golden Gate Park to motor traffic on Saturdays.

At issue before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday was an appeal of the city Planning Commission's approval of Seven Hills Properties' plan to transform a closed Kelly-Moore paint store at 3400 Cesar Chavez St. into a four-story building with a Walgreens drug store below 60 condominiums.

The residences are expected to be priced between $500,000 and $700,000, and nine of the units are to be sold at below-market rates to comply with a city law meant to encourage construction of affordable housing.

The Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition and other groups pushing for more lower-income rental housing in the city wanted the supervisors to place the project in limbo while studies of development trends in the area can be completed and to give City Hall time to establish new land-use rules to protect moderate- and lower-income residents.

But the appeal was rejected by the supervisors 6-5. McGoldrick joined Supervisors Michela Alioto-Pier, Bevan Dufty, Sean Elsbernd, Ed Jew and Gerardo Sandoval in the vote that let the project go forward.

Last year, McGoldrick was on the side of affordable-housing advocates when a residential development at 2660 Harrison Street was challenged on similar grounds. Supervisors blocked it pending the development-trend studies under way in the city's eastern neighborhoods south of Market Street.

The fundraiser Monday wasn't the first time interest groups connected to the Cesar Chavez project have contributed money to fight the McGoldrick recall, which backers first hoped to put before voters in November but now are aiming for the February ballot.

Seven Hills Properties and the firm's lawyer, Steven Vettel, contributed $2,000 of the $19,985 that a pro-McGoldrick campaign committee had netted as of July 11, according to the most recent campaign finance statements on file at the city's Ethics Commission.

Fundraising for McGoldrick after July 11 - including contributions made at the event Monday at Barbary Coast Consulting - doesn't have to be disclosed until Sept. 27.

Clemens said he believes the Barbary Coast fundraiser took in about $8,000 for McGoldrick.

Pagoulatos said that McGoldrick, a former San Francisco public school teacher, has long been perceived as an advocate for families and working class San Franciscans and has stood out as a fighter for affordable housing.

For example, he introduced legislation to limit Ellis Act evictions, under which landlords rid their rent-controlled apartments of tenants by committing to get out of the rental business altogether.

In 2002 and 2006, he helped lead a successful drive on the board to increase the number of below-market-rate units private developers are required to sell as part of their new housing projects.

Pagoulatos speculated that the supervisor might be feeling pressured to soften his positions in the face of a recall drive by business interests in his district.

But McGoldrick denied it, saying his accusers are "dwelling in the gutter."

He said he would have voted in favor of the Cesar Chavez project even if his own mother had told him to reject it.

In defending the vote, he noted it had the endorsement of city planners and the Planning Commission in part because it included the nine affordable housing units.

"The Planning Department made it clear how this project was consistent with the city's policies on affordable housing," McGoldrick said. "I look at these things case by case."

Other supervisors came to McGoldrick's defense on Wednesday.

"Jake McGoldrick is a profoundly moral individual and has consistently cast his votes from a principled position and not been influenced in any way by the politics of money," Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin said, adding he himself has received fundraising help from the same lobbyists yet voted against the project.

E-mail Robert Selna at rselna@....

This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle