Pleasanton Citizens for Responsible Growth (PCRG), an advocacy coalition, has filed complaints with both the state's Fair Political Practices Commission and the Alameda County Civil Grand Jury over what it claims were secret negotiations between city of Pleasanton and Costco, claims Pleasanton City Manager Nelson Fialho insists "are simply not true."
Former City Councilman Matt Sullivan, a spokesman for the citizens' coalition, accused representatives of the city's council-directed Johnson Drive Economic Development Zone planning effort, developer Nearon Corporation and Costco meeting over the last two years. The discussions, according to Sullivan, concerned public subsidies to pay for the infrastructure and roadway improvements needed for a project that would provide Costco with the land use zoning needed to build a store here on Johnson Drive.
Sullivan said that a California Public Records Request filed by PCRG revealed an agreement between the city, Costco, and Nearon for almost $20 million in taxpayer subsidies for the project which has been kept hidden from the public. In addition, he said, Mayor Jerry Thorne has been advocating for the Costco project for two years while owning Costco stock.
The FPPC recently issued a finding that Thorne's activities are a conflict of interest under the state of California Political Reform Act and he has recused himself from any discussions on the City Council concerning Costco.
"The city of Pleasanton has been engaged in secret negotiations with Costco for two years to provide an almost $20-million taxpayer give-away to the multi-billion-dollar corporation to entice it to build a store in Pleasanton," Sullivan said. "The details of these negotiations have been withheld from the public and distorted by the mayor, the City Council majority and city staff."
But the Pleasanton City Manager said there was never any "deal" or agreements and, in fact, there is no proposal before the City Council regarding Costco.
“We wholeheartedly support transparency in government," Fialho said. "It is a fundamental hallmark of serving the public. The citizen coalition’s suggestion that the city of Pleasanton has operated in secret is simply not true. There is no deal, there are no agreements and no proposal was put before the council."
"Now that the issue of building size within the JDEDZ has been put on the upcoming ballot, it is important people decide based upon facts. As a city, we welcome the dialogue and value the fundamental right to express our opinions.
"However, to assert that city staff has been complicit in any backroom deal is stunning and without merit. Staff has been working up various draft proposals with the specific purpose of bringing that framework back to the Council for its consideration.
"We were exploring tax sharing agreements, which are used throughout the state, to fund needed infrastructure improvements. To suggest that this exploration was tantamount to a backroom deal or a secret agreement is inaccurate and irresponsible.”