OAKLAND, Calif. (BCN) — Oakland’s vice mayor may be fined next week $19,000 for possible government ethics violations, according to the city’s Public Ethics Commission. Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan is facing possible fines totaling $10,500 for failing to report on city forms her partial ownership of a condominium near Estuary Park in Oakland.
Kaplan failed to report her partial ownership of the condo three times, ethics investigators said in city documents. The vice mayor is facing $8,500 in fines for alleged conflict of interest violations because she voted on projects that could increase the value of her condo.
“The investigation found also that Councilmember Kaplan’s violations in this matter, though serious, were unintentional, and not done with an intent to enrich herself,” documents filed by ethics officials said. “
At one point, Councilmember Kaplan even voted against her own economic interest by declining to approve an architectural vendor for the project until she had assurance that the bidding process had been fair to all vendors.”
“Nevertheless, the fact that Councilmember Kaplan’s actions were avoidable and might negatively affect Oakland residents’ perception of the fairness and transparency of Council actions, merit the imposition of a penalty in this matter,” ethics officials wrote.
Kaplan did not return a request seeking comment on the matter. The condo Kaplan failed to report ownership of became her primary home in 2018. She bought it with her parents in 2013 and stayed there intermittently until she made it her full-time residence.
Kaplan first reported that she owned the condo on her 2019 economic interest form, which was filed in 2020. Kaplan voted in 2016, along with seven other city councilmembers, to authorize the city administrator to allocate and appropriate $27.5 million for several projects in Oakland, a resolution on the matter and ethics officials said.
One of those was Estuary Park, which sits next to the complex where the vice mayor’s condo is located. Kaplan voted four more times on the choice of an architect for the Estuary Park design. Kaplan made those votes in 2017, 2018 and 2020.
Before none of the votes did Kaplan recuse herself or say that she had a conflict of interest. Kaplan admitted to the public ethics staff that it was an oversight on her part to vote on the items related to Estuary Park.
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“Her understanding was that she was voting to move along a project that had already been approved by voters, she did not give much thought to the potential impact of her votes on the value of her property,” ethics staff wrote in a memo on the allegations.
Oakland law requires that city officials including elected officials must report any interest they have in real property in Oakland. City law also prohibits public servants from making, taking part in or seeking to influence a city decision in which the servant has a financial interest. City law presumes that because Kaplan’s property is fewer than 500 feet from Estuary Park, the project would have a financial impact on her condo, ethics officials wrote.
Ethics officials said they found no evidence that Kaplan “urged City staff to prioritize funding for, or development of, Estuary Park.”
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