Peralta Community College District Trustee Alona Clifton moved to diffuse a potentially embarrassing campaign issue this week, filing a year’s worth of delinquent, semi-annual campaign finance disclosure reports with the Alameda County Registrar’s Office only days after a newly-formed citizens group had filed a complaint over the issue with the California Fair Political Practices Commission.
Gary Bell of Richmond, treasurer of the Alona Clifton For Trustee Committee, said that the failure to file the two reports prior to this week was “my fault. There wasn’t a lot of campaign activity or money being raised, so I just neglected to file them. But once the questions and concerns started coming up, we got right on it.”
The two-term incumbent Clifton is being challenged in the November election by school bond consultant Abel Guillen.
In his August 25 letter to the FPPC, Berkeley attorney Myron Moskovitz wrote that the complaint was being filed “because Ms. Clifton might be attempting to conceal the possible receipt of donations from parties with business before the Board of Trustees … During the past year, she has participated in land-use decisions regarding the development of certain District properties. There has been considerable controversy about Ms. Clifton’s relationship with one of the developers who had a proposal before the Board. Peralta Watch would like to know if she received any donations from that developer.”
The statement was a clear reference to Oakland developer Alan Dones, who won the exclusive right to negotiate a contract for the development of Peralta Administration and Laney properties in November of 2005
While the contract negotiations were pending, Laney faculty representatives presented a resolution calling on board members to recuse themselves from the vote on the contract if they had a conflict of interest.
Though Clifton was not named publicly in the statement, faculty and labor representatives said privately that she was the object of concern. Clifton is the president of the non-profit North County Center for Self Sufficiency Corporation (NCCSSC), which was scheduled to have its headquarters located in Dones’ $70 million downtown Oakland Thomas L. Berkeley Square project.
Clifton consistently denied that she had a conflict of interest in the Dones matter, and was backed in that opinion by both the Peralta General Counsel and the FPPC.
An August 2005 opinion by the FPPC in response to a query from Clifton concluded “that the facts you provided does not indicate that there is a substantial likelihood that North County Center for Self Sufficiency Corporation will incur any material financial effect as a result of the governmental decision you would like to make. Therefore, [state law] does not require you to disqualify yourself from making the decision in question and we do not further analyze your potential economic interest in NCCSSC.”
Dones later voluntarily withdrew from the Peralta/Laney development plan contract negotiations after controversy caused Peralta Chancellor Elihu Harris to put the negotiations on hold.
Clifton’s two campaign donation reports filed this week did not reveal any money from Dones among the $4,470 in campaign contributions during the last six months of 2005 and $6,060 during the first six months of 2006. But they did show contributions from other developers doing business with Peralta.
Clifton’s campaign received $1,000 from Davillier-Sloan of Oakland, a consultant company under contract with Peralta to assure company compliance with the Project Labor Agreement of the Berkeley City College construction project.
She received $500 from Carl Hackney, president of the MSE Group that is managing the construction of the Laney College Art Building, and another $500 from the Alley Group & Associaties, a construction management firm that has worked on several contracts with the Peralta district.
Speaking before the Clifton contribution reports were filed with the registrar’s office, Berkeley resident and former Peralta student trustee Peter Tannenbaum, founder of the Peralta Watch group that filed the FPPC complaint, said that there was “nothing illegal” about trustees getting contributions from developers. “The only impropriety is failure to file the reports,” he said.
Tannenbaum added that his group was founded “to monitor the activities of the Peralta Community College Board” and to promote “campaign finance reform,” with the first project “specifically to look at the relationship with developers and Peralta.”
He added that “Peralta Watch is not investigating [Clifton] to determine the nature of her relationship with Dones.”
Tannenbaum said that he had not looked at any of the Peralta trustee filings himself and did not know if any other trustees had missed filings as well. He said that Clifton’s missing statements were “flagged” by a researcher for the organization.
Tannenbaum also said that Peralta Watch had no affiliation with the campaign of Abel Guillen, who is running against Clifton. He said the group has no headquarters as yet, and about 10 members from Berkeley and Oakland.