Real Estate Money Fills Campaign Coffers of Oakland Politicians

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Gregory McConnell of the McConnell Group speaking at a recent Oakland City Council meeting. - DARWIN BONDGRAHAM
  • Darwin BondGraham
  • Gregory McConnell of the McConnell Group speaking at a recent Oakland City Council meeting.
Last week, Oakland politicians and major campaign committees disclosed the fruits of their fundraising activities for the first half of 2015. The biggest source of cash for Oakland's politicians appears to be the real estate industry.

With a haul of $30,636 since January 1 for her 2016 re-election campaign committee, City Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney raised the most among Oakland’s elected officials. Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan, Dan Kalb, and Abel Guillen each raised about $8,000 through their campaign or officeholder committees. Councilmember Campbell-Washington raised $1,000, mainly through her officeholder committee, and Mayor Libby Schaaf reported $5,212 received by her officeholder account.

Many of the contributors to Gibson McElhaney’s 2016 re-election committee are real estate developers, architects, and builders pursuing big residential and commercial projects in Oakland’s booming landscape.

Altogether, real estate companies and individuals employed by the real estate industry gave Gibson McElhaney $12,194. This included $250 from Todd Adair of BKF Engineers, one of the firms vying for a piece of the Coliseum City redevelopment project; $250 from Clinton Killian, a land use lawyer and chair of the Oakland Builder’s Alliance political committee; $700 from KTGY, an architectural firm helping build a 265-unit mixed use project on the Broadway Auto Row; $250 from Lakeshore Partners, LLC, a developer with plans for another mixed use project on the Broadway Auto Row; and $700 from Lane Partners, LLC, the Menlo Park investment firm renovating the historic downtown Sears Building for tech offices.

Other contributors to Gibson McElhaney’s 2016 re-election committee include Carl Chan and Jennie Ong. Chan is a real estate broker, as well as a member of the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce board of directors, and an outspoken critic of the recent $12.25 city-wide minimum wage increase. Jennie Ong is the executive director of the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce and also opposed the minimum wage increase. Lynn Truong, the owner of the Sun Hop Fat market on E. 12th Street gave Gibson McElhaney $100 in June. Truong is a major land owner along the E. 12th Street corridor just east of Lake Merritt, and back in April she helped bus Asian-immigrant seniors to an Oakland Planning Commission meeting to support developer Michael Johnson’s bid to purchase the 12th Street Remainder Parcel for a proposed luxury tower development that the seniors were told falsely would include affordable housing.

The McConnell Group, an influential lobbying firm run by Gregory McConell who represents developers and landlords, also contributed $700 to Gibson McElhaney.

Brooklyn Basin, the largest real estate project in Oakland, is being developed by Mike Ghielmetti of Signature Development Group. Ghielmetti contributed $25,000 to a political action committee employing lobbyist Gregory McConnell.
  • Brooklyn Basin, the largest real estate project in Oakland, is being developed by Mike Ghielmetti of Signature Development Group. Ghielmetti contributed $25,000 to a political action committee employing lobbyist Gregory McConnell.
Kalb’s contributors included several affordable housing developers and advocates, as well as a few real estate industry sources, such as BBI Construction, a long-time building contractor with the City of Oakland. The San Francisco Firefighters PAC and the International Association of Firefighters Local 55, which represents Oakland’s fire department employees, gave Kalb $300 and $500 respectively.

Kalb also received $700 from the Bay Area Citizens PAC, a committee funded by a handful of large corporations including PG&E, AT&T and Recology. The Bay Area Citizens PAC is run by Michael Colbruno, a lobbyist with the Milo Group who previously sat on Oakland's Planning Commission and currently is a commissioner of the Port of Oakland. Colbruno worked on Mayor Jean Quan's unsuccessful reelection campaign last year.

Unions, developers, builders, and landlords contributed most of the money Kaplan raised since January 1. The union SEIU 1021, which is currently in contract negotiations with the city, gave Kaplan $1,400. Fergus O’Sullivan, a San Francisco landlord who has been accused by activists of pursuing aggressive Ellis Act evictions and running Airbnb hotels out of cleared homes, gave Kaplan $700.

Councilmember Guillen’s biggest contributions came from several building trades unions. Guillen also received $700 from Gregory McConnell’s lobbying firm. Attorney Zachary Wasserman also gave Guillen $250. Among his many clients, Wasserman represents developer Michael Johnson of UrbanCore, and also the investor team vying to redevelop the Coliseum City project.

The Oakland Jobs PAC, an independent political committee, raised $25,000 from Mike Ghielmetti’s Signature Development Group. Signature Development is building the massive $1.5 billion Brooklyn Basin project on 64 acres of Oakland’s waterfront which will include 3,100 new housing units. The Oakland Jobs PAC in turn paid the McConnell Group $24,675 to lobby Oakland officials on its behalf, an effort that included making campaign contributions to Gibson McElhaney and Guillen.

The East Bay Rental Housing Association PAC, a political action committee run by the East Bay's major landlord lobbying group, reported raising $13,696 since January 1, entirely from landlords. The group funneled $2,000 to California Assemblymember Bill Quirk, whose district encompasses Castro Valley, Hayward, and part of Fremont.

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