SAN FRANCISCO — A California appeals court has exempted Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown from a political conflict-of-interest rule that was blocking his participation in the city’s downtown redevelopment efforts.
The decision, made Thursday, ended an eight-month struggle between Brown and the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission.
Brown, California’s former governor, helped write the Political Reform Act of 1974, a landmark government ethics initiative that bars officials from making decisions that could benefit them financially.
In February, the commission ruled that the law barred Brown from participating in downtown Oakland redevelopment projects because he co-owns a live-work compound and converted warehouse in the targeted area. The FPPC said it was “reasonably foreseeable” the redevelopment could increase the values of the mayor’s property.
Brown challenged the FPPC’s decision, saying the city’s charter and laws require his involvement in shaping development decisions for the so-called Lower Broadway Project.
He argued that an official with a conflict of interest is not barred from participation if his actions are “legally required.”
The three-judge court agreed.
“We conclude the mayor’s participation in the redevelopment project is legally required in order for the Oakland city charter to function as the voters intended,” Justice Joanne Parrilli wrote for the San Francisco-based court.
The panel noted that Brown, elected in 1998, would not vote on any development decisions as a consequence of Measure X that Oakland voters approved in 1998. Instead, his duty as mayor requires him to “play a significant leadership role in influencing the final decisions,” the decision said.
The ballot measure, approved by 75 percent of Oakland voters, was an outgrowth of concern that there was too much power in the mayor’s office. It barred the mayor from voting on City Council affairs.
It’s not the first time the conflict-of-interest law has been disputed.
In 1986, the appeals panel allowed then-San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein to veto a rent-control measure despite the possibility that the veto might benefit her as a landlord. The court found that Feinstein’s “legally required participation” as mayor nullified the conflict law.
Deborah Allison, an FPPC attorney, argued to the court last month that if the mayor participates in the massive redevelopment efforts, he is able to “line his own pockets” by influencing the plans.
“The court ultimately disagreed with our conclusion,” FPPC chairwoman Karen Getman said in a statement. “We respect its right to do so.”
Brown was not immediately available for comment.
Oakland City Attorney John Russo said the court “has vindicated the city charter.”
The court said that the city manager could not perform the mayor’s duties on the project as the FPPC contended.
“For purposes of the Lower Broadway Project, the FPPC’s opinion would prohibit the mayor from even attempting to act as the chief executive promised by Measure X,” Parrilli wrote.