A tip of the hat to San Ramon Mayor David Hudson for doing the right thing even though he technically didn't have to.
Hudson, who was recently reelected in November, recused himself from a vote at the Nov. 22 City Council meeting because he had received a campaign contribution from the vendor at the center of the vote -- Alameda County Industries of San Ramon, Inc.
ACI provides collection services of recyclables, organics, and garbage in San Ramon. At that meeting, the council was to vote on adjusting the agreement with ACI to increase rates.
Almost a year earlier, Dec. 22, 2021, Hudson received a $5,000 contribution to his 2022 campaign for mayor from ACI.
The Levine Act, adopted in 1982, prohibits state and local "officers" from accepting $250 or more from an applicant or affiliated party when the officer will vote or decide on matters the applicant has a financial interest in within three months.
"Officers" under the Levine Act didn't include state and local elected officials like mayors, councilmembers, county supervisors and others directly elected.
That's about to change.
State Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Orinda) authored SB 1439, an amendment to the so-called "Pay to Play" law, so local elected and appointed officials and candidates are no longer exempt. It also extends the covered period from three months to 12 months for elected officials. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law Sept. 22.
The law says if a candidate accepts a campaign contribution of $250 or more within 12 months of a decision on a matter the contributor or affiliate has a financial interest in, the elected must disclose this and recuse himself or herself.
The "hat tip" is because Hudson technically didn't have to recuse himself; the contribution came in well before the bill was even introduced and the law doesn't go into effect until Jan. 1, 2023. In addition, the Fair Political Practices Commission has decided to not make the law retroactive to 2022, which only seems fair since a lot of money was contributed before Sept. 29.
It's not clear if contributions from groups like unions and political action committees will be treated as parties with financial interest in decisions made by elected officials.
Groups like these still lobby and most have an indirect or secondary financial interest. For example, it's very unlikely that the California Association of Realtors PAC would contribute to the campaign of a candidate who is against development of housing. CAR's members -- Realtors -- will benefit if housing is developed and they need to show their support of their members.
Similarly, electricians, carpenters, plumbers and other tradespeople will benefit from housing being developed, and many such unions contribute to campaigns.
If the goal of the new law is to stop the influence of money on local decisions, shouldn't unions and PACs like the aforementioned examples be viewed as "parties" and follow the same limits?
If not, there might be the unintended consequence of less transparency about who is contributing. Large contributions to candidates will still be made, but they will be funneled through PACs.
One final hat tip to Glazer for introducing the bill. While not all politicians allow money to influence decisions on how to vote, some do. Hopefully this law will prevent that -- or bag the bad apples.
This is only one of hundreds of new California laws that will take effect in 2023. Like the "Pay to Play" law, some may have negative unintended consequences.
The "Affordable Housing and High Road Jobs Act of 2022" will allow developers to fast-track housing developments in unused commercial areas, like vacant parking lots and strip malls. If the application meets certain criteria, there will be little local control over the project.
An amended section of the Education Code, the "Criminal Records: Relief" goes into effect July 1 and allows people to seal criminal records, making them not visible on background checks. This is not an option for those convicted of violent felonies like murder, kidnap and rape. However, we know from San Ramon Valley school district's experience with former teacher Nicholas Moseby, who was arrested and charged with sexual abuse of teen girls in September, misdemeanors can be red flags of deviant behavior.
Editor's note: Gina Channell Wilcox has been the president and publisher of Embarcadero Media Group's East Bay Division since 2006. Her "Around the Valley" column runs the first and third Fridays of the month.