Soccer Complex Hearing Postponed Following Allegation of Mayor's Conflict of Interest

Monday's public hearing for the San Rafael Airport's proposed soccer complex was rescheduled so Mayor Gary Phillips, who has a lease with the airport, could obtain written approval from a state agency that will allow him to participate in the decision.

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The planned public hearing on the 's proposed soccer facility has been postponed following an allegation that Mayor Gary Phillips should recuse himself from the meeting due to a conflict of interest.

Phillips, who has a lease with the airport for a private hangar, requested written direction from the Fair Political Practices Commission, a state agency that strives to enforce objectivity in policy decisions, to confirm that he may lawfully participate in the decision. 

"The city has been processing the soccer facility application for more than five years and it is obviously a significant local land use decision," City Attorney Rob Epstein said in a statement. "Under the circumstances, I think it is appropriate for the mayor to seek a pre-decision ruling, and for the city to delay the hearing on the matter until that ruling is obtained."

According to the FPPC, a public official must recuse himself from any decision where he has a financial interest in the outcome. San Rafael resident Barry Taranto first brought up the potential conflict of interest during the open public comment during a City Council meeting last month.

The decision to postpone the hearing was made by Assistant City Manager Jim Schutz and Epstein, who reviewed the allegations of conflict and determined that there is no disqualifying conflict.

"This opinion is shared by the mayor's private counsel, Vigo G. "Chip" Nielsen, a well-known expert on political law," Shutz said in a release.

Despite this opinion, Nielsen notified city staff that he intends to request that the FPPC provide a written ruling to confirm that Phillips may participate in the decision.

The planned recreational building, which was first proposed in 2004, was . The complex will house indoor soccer fields and courts with spectator seating, offices, food and beverage service and meetings rooms. There will also be two outdoor soccer fields with parking and exterior lighting.

The City Council meeting was scheduled for Aug. 6. City officials did not give a new date for the meeting.

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Mary Hanley August 02, 2012 at 01:20 AM
Of course Phillips should recuse himself. IMHO it is the close, personal, and professional relationship between the Mayors Phillips and Boro and the Airport Owner/Operator that has allowed this project to come this far in the process. The property is below sea level, protected by levees, 160' from an active runway, on a property with deeded restrictions for "no further development", and located between the forks of Gallinas Creek - habitat to the endangered California Clapper Rail, in fact one of the largest habitats in the North Bay. The property should be protected, not developed. And if that isn't enough, the City received a warning from Caltrans, Division of Aeronautics, that group activity (especially children) is not advisable so close to an active runway. The lack of soccer fields is a sorry situation in Marin County, but is this a suitable location? I think not!
John Parulis August 02, 2012 at 01:48 AM
Not only has Gary Philips signed onto the airport "friends" list of Joe Shekou, so had San Rafael City Planning Commissioner, Larry Paul, who "designed" the first draft of the Soccer building. Joe knows how to cultivate friends in high places apparently...
Sandra Florin August 02, 2012 at 01:49 AM
Not only that, but Mr. Philips was on the City Council in 2004 when the San Rafael Manager at that time wrote to the project developer saying: We on the CIty Staff are very supportive of the Project and So is the City Council. This was more than a year before the first public hearing on the subject. So the fix has been in on this project for a long time.
Molly Tuveson August 02, 2012 at 01:56 AM
He should recuse himself since he is personally involved with Joe Shekou and the airport.
Elaine Reichert August 02, 2012 at 02:40 AM
If he were ethical, he would have recused himself a long time ago. Now he's hoping some lawyer will allow this travesty to go forward. The incestuous relationships of our political players boggles the mind and sickens the stomach.
Todd Klempan August 02, 2012 at 03:05 AM
According to the statements in the article above, it would seem like a conflict of interest for Mayor Phillips to be involved in the political end of deciding what is to be done with this space. It may be unclear exactly how he would benefit from this, but since the connection is there, it can be construed to involve cronyism at the least, and monitary gain at the worst. If he truly has nothing to gain, distancing himself would be the honorable thing to do, even if he personally would like to see the soccer fields there.
Andi Cole August 02, 2012 at 03:16 AM
Well said Todd. Mayor Phillips has attended events at the airport which are in violation of the airport"s use permit, and if he stores his antique cars at the airport in his rented hangar, that is also a violation. So it would seem the mayor has an ethical problem if he votes on this project.
Bonnie Monte August 02, 2012 at 04:01 AM
Of course he should recuse himself. This is clearly a conflict of interest and smacks of backroom dealings. Shameful!
Sherri Patterson August 02, 2012 at 04:26 AM
Mayor Phillips should definitely recuse himself. There is a clear conflict of interest and the pro-development bias has been evident in all of the hearings. Why? Is there something going on that is shady? The entire Soccer Complex issue is disturbing - kids need a place to play soccer but this location should be absolutely off limits. Every friend in Marin I tell about this project is horrified. Sherri Patterson
Ellen Stein August 02, 2012 at 04:36 AM
Mayor Phillips should absolutely recuse himself. I don't think this project would have come this far in the process had it not been for dollars and "friends" influencing decisions on such a devastating and dangerous endeavor.
Barry Taranto August 02, 2012 at 05:29 AM
Great story, Nicole! I am pleased that others can see the conflict Mayor Phillips faces by participating in the discussion for this project.
Andi Cole August 02, 2012 at 05:57 AM
So why did the Mayor suddenly decide to look into it if the question came up a month ago?
Barry Taranto August 02, 2012 at 05:59 AM
Good question, Andi. I raised these concerns during public comment at a City Council meeting in June. Mayor Phillips probably needed time to seek legal opinions about his relationship with the airport and the owner.
Andi Cole August 02, 2012 at 06:29 AM
And then schedule a meeting only to postpone it? Is that any way to Manage an important land use decision?
Jonathan Frieman August 02, 2012 at 03:45 PM
One analogy, which I discussed with Gary Phillips, is that all renters--for that is what Phillips is, and let's imagine they rent at an apartment building--have a vote in deciding whether an improvement to the property should occur. Does Philips benefit from that in a financial way, which constitutes a Of at least equal importance is the fact that Council person took a $1000 campaign donation from the Airport for his Assembly race. That's part of a pattern of taking donations from an entity seeking his positive vote. Here's why: 1) Levine took $500 from the landowner where Target will build, and the timing of that donation is suspicious: he was running for Assembly as early thee months before the April Target vote, and the donation came afterwards as a reward. 2) Levine took $375 from Comcast—again the only councilperson in Marin to do so—and then did Comcast’s bidding by refusing to push Comcast into forking over the $600K they legally owed CMCM, our local media outlet.
Jonathan Frieman August 02, 2012 at 03:46 PM
3) Over a week ago it was reported that Levine actively deceived the voters in his statement of economic interests, and then was caught lying by an I-J reporter. It is clear that one need only give Levine money to get him to vote your way. Whom does Levine serve? Certainly not the voting public. It's clear he serves the interests of donors. Should he still serve on the city council? This question is amplified by the fact that Levine was caught actively deceiving the voting public about his income. Again, should Marc Levine serve on the city council if his actions violate his oath of office wherein he pledged to not be evasive? This should be headline news, as well.
John Fuller August 02, 2012 at 07:03 PM
The Airport's stock and trade is influence peddling. So it is not surprising they have made major contribution to conservative candidates like Steve Kinsey, Gary Phillips, Judy Arnold and others. Sadly, our system does not consider campaign contributions as conflicts of interest. Gary Phillips is a tenant at the airport. And if he votes against the soccer facility, his landlord may raise rents on the hangars. Doesn't that sound like a conflict of interest? I think it is.
Joel Roth August 02, 2012 at 07:15 PM
This project has had had only the most superficial appearance of transparency at best. Just ask the negatively impacted residential neighbors and the ridiculous traffic analysis that implies a ten fold increase of traffic (at minimum) can be handled by only minimal improvements to an unlit ocassional use access road without even so much as addition of any lighting. Add to that night use and a permit to serve alcohol and you have a recipe for disaster. This going to be a case of "just follow the money". My bet is that the nature of the reported conflict of interest is probably peanuts compared to what is really going on behind the scenes.
Jonathan Frieman August 03, 2012 at 02:45 AM
I don't think so, unless Shekou has a company that gave him $$. To my knowledge Levine is the only councilperson to take a donation from the airport.
Jonathan Frieman August 03, 2012 at 02:48 AM
Unfortunately, it's practically impossible to sort out a lot of those relationships, and it's also those relationships which bring about a tremendous amount of good in our community.
John Fuller August 03, 2012 at 03:54 PM
Perfect summation Mary. The City of San Rafael has been trying to force fit this project on an unsuitable site for many years. Even if Gary Phillips can somehow show he won't personally profit from this project, he shouldn't be using his vote to enrich his friends either. Remember, this is a for profit project and requires a rezoning of the airport property. Mayor Phillips, Recuse Yourself!
Scott Alonso August 04, 2012 at 12:21 AM
Looks like he did, he received a non-monetary contribution from Joe on November 8 for $300 of champagne (spelled wrong on the Form 460 on Schedule C).
Jonathan Frieman August 04, 2012 at 01:34 AM
Tray ante restaurant. Good eye, Scott. That needs to be brought to more lights than ours.
John Fuller August 04, 2012 at 01:46 AM
Scott, Jonathan where do we see these campaign contributions?
Jonathan Frieman August 04, 2012 at 01:50 AM
John, go to http://www.cityofsanrafael.org; click on CIty Government; then scroll down to City Clerk's Office; then Financial Filings on that page. Voila!
John Fuller August 04, 2012 at 02:02 AM
Thanks Jonathan. On that report, Phillips accepted $500 from Bob Herbst, the airport owners son in law and the official applicant for the project. He also accepted $250 from Larry Paul, the architect for the project, Sounds like cronyism to me.
Jonathan Frieman August 04, 2012 at 02:19 AM
I had not seen that later filing. I stand corrected...in my orthopedic shoes. ;)
Tighe August 09, 2012 at 10:19 PM
All of you are truly grasping for straws at this point. He has no legal obligation to recuse himself. For you to even consider stating that the project has only gotten this far due to 'friends in high places' not only shows your desperation, but clearly points out you have not been at the meetings, understood the studies have been done over and over again with fine toothed combs due to the ridiculousness of the haters and NIMBY's like you. It's funny this is now one of the 'largest habitats for Clapper Rails' when this started the comments were more like,"We know they are out there...we just haven't found them yet" to now being the biggest? You might find that SFO & Oakland airport are just two such places which have far greater densities of the bird. Or the fact, if there is even a bit of spill over light it would actually benefit their nocturnal hunting. Outside of those facts, there is the one where you stated they were shy and hid, but the studying ended up biting you in the butt since the highest concentrations are where the most foot traffic and people are currently located. Let's call a spade a spade. Most of you just don't like the airport ownership and you can't stand him doing something that benefits us. But as you say the fields are needed, but this isn't a good spot, never heard where we could do it otherwise. There isn't anywhere. Even if he does recuse himself it should and it will pass for the betterment of our community. Live with it...
Barry Taranto August 09, 2012 at 10:38 PM
Who are you and who are you to make these assumptions (above)? Most of us are NOT discussing the merits of the project. The topic here involves the subjectivity of the individuals who will be making the final decision regarding the sports facility.
Sandra Florin August 10, 2012 at 10:43 PM
Thanks Tighe. You are an articulate spokesman for the project.


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