Sunshine for developers

by Tim Redmond : 48hills – excerpt

A committee of the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance Task Force ruled in favor the city Planning Department last week against a filmmaker who wanted key documents about ParkMerced. And even the complainant agrees that the city is probably right.

But that just raises a key question about how local agencies are failing to live up to an important provision of the Sunshine Law.

Nick Pasquariello wanted detailed financial records for the massive project near San Francisco State, and he relied on a provision of the law that reads like this:

The City shall give no subsidy in money, tax abatements, land, or services to any private entity unless that private entity agrees in writing to provide the City with financial projections (including profit and loss figures), and annual audited financial statements for the project thereafter, for the project upon which the subsidy is based and all such projections and financial statements shall be public records that must be disclosed.

ParkMerced got a lot of what could be considered subsidies, including a new Muni stop and some tax reductions. But the Sunshine committee concluded that the Planning Department had giving Pasquariello everything it had.

And that’s probably true – because when the project was approved, the planners never enforced Section 67.32 of the Sunshine Ordinance. They never asked ParkMerced for those records. So as far as the city is concerned, they don’t exist.

“As far as that goes, I agree,” Pasquariello told me…

And that, of course, assumes that the tax abatements that ParkMerced got were based on the future project and not on past property-tax values. The developers could argue that the city gave them nothing.

This is, however, a lesson for all of us in the world of journalism and activism. We need to start earlier on these things, and remember the power of a 1999 law that has never been enforced: The city can’t give away anything to a developer unless that developer gives the public financial statements. But if nobody calls the city on this, and the city never asks, it’s hard to sort out after the fact…(more)

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