Over the last two years, the San Jose City Council has held a series of votes to pave the way for Google’s move downtown. Now, records show that Mayor Sam Liccardo voted twice on the project without disclosing that his wife owned a rental property less than a mile away from the future development.
In four state-mandated Form 700 filings, from 2013 to 2016, Liccardo made no mention of a 3rd Street condo owned by his wife Jessica Kohl-Garcia, whom he married in 2013. The form requires elected officials to divulge information about their real estate property and financial interests.
Liccardo amended three of his disclosure forms last year to publicly report the property. He amended his 2013 filing this week, one day after a San José Spotlight reporter asked him about it.
The condo sold last March for $745,000, just a few weeks after Liccardo amended his forms to disclose it. The sale grossed $144,000 over the original asking price.
Liccardo told San José Spotlight that maintenance issues with the property sparked him to revisit the forms.
“I simply screwed up in 2013 when I married my wife by failing to include her property,” he said. “The reason why I made the mistake was because I engaged in this very mechanical exercise of updating stocks and bonds, not really thinking about necessarily all the potential permutations.”
But by the time Liccardo publicly reported the property, he’d already voted to enter into an exclusive negotiating agreement with Google for the sale of city land and to approve the Station Area Advisory Group that would help plan the surrounding Diridon Station area.
“The idea behind disclosure is so that there is transparency and not an appearance that an elected official is voting on something that they have a financial stake in,” said Mary-Beth Moylan, an election law specialist and professor at the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento.
Tony Sum, a real estate broker at Silicon Valley Lofts & Condos, said nearby residential property values spiked significantly with the talk of a proposed Google village coming to downtown San Jose.
“We’ve probably seen steadily a good 20 percent increase in the immediate area,” Sum said.
Sum used the example of Plant 51, a property within walking distance of the future development, to demonstrate the uptick in housing prices. Before the announcement, he said they were selling in the low $800,000s range. But once city leaders said Google was coming to town, prices hit the million dollar mark.
Liccardo argues that the votes he took before he remembered to disclose the condo weren’t deciding factors. The council didn’t come to a final understanding with the tech-giant to sell public land until Dec. 4, 2018, he added, nine months after his property sold.
Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School and former president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission, said the timing of the disclosure doesn’t look good for the mayor because it appears that he failed to disclose the property, voted on the project and personally benefited from the condo’s sale.
“The thing about a later disclosure is it doesn’t cure the problem,” Levinson said. “The public was not able to assess the reasons behind the vote and whether or not they were personally motivated.”
Liccardo, however, rebutted criticism that he robbed the public of its right to know. He added that his personal home is also in the greater downtown area.
“There was no secret about the fact that I and tens of thousands of other homeowners could benefit,” Liccardo said of Google expanding to San Jose.
Liccardo also said the rental property his wife owned is close to a mile away and most policies cite 500 feet as the boundary for a conflict of interest. Officials with the FPPC told San José Spotlight there’s a statewide push to clarify exceptions beyond the 500-feet boundary.
San Jose City Attorney Rick Doyle also referred to the distance between the rental property and the Google site.
“While ultimately the FPPC interprets its own regulations … the presumption is that there would be no conflict since the property is beyond 1,000 feet from the properties sold to Google,” Doyle said in a statement.
But Andrew Barney, an organizer with the activist group Serve The People San José, which has opposed selling public land to Google, called it a “dirty deal” and doubled down on demands that the tech giant donate the land to a community land trust.
“The fact that one of its chief architects in the city would fail to disclose this information that could benefit him personally to the tune of tens of hundreds or thousands of dollars is no surprise,” Barney said. “The company should know that this land and this deal is tainted by how dirty this process was.”
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