Commission cracks down on council's free seats at Shoreline

The state has cracked down on a 20-year-old practice in Mountain View in which council members receive free tickets to Shoreline Amphitheatre.

To prevent officials from distributing the tickets to curry favor with voters and political groups, the California Fair Political Practices Commission has required that the city report what it does with 300 tickets it receives as part of its lease deal with Shoreline Amphitheatre, including about 100 offered to council members.

The FPPC created the new regulations in December after receiving hundreds of complaints from residents of several Southern California cities, where officials may have been distributing the tickets as patronage to help themselves get reelected.

In Anaheim, for example, each city council member was receiving 650 tickets to local sports games, 496 of which were for luxury box seats. There have not been comparable complaints in Mountain View.

The City Council's procedures committee has been meeting to discuss a new ticket policy drafted by the city attorney to meet the new requirements set by the FPPC.

The council's free Shoreline Amphitheatre tickets became controversial in 2004, after council member Greg Perry refused to accept them. He called the perk a conflict of interest because the council negotiates city land lease contracts with Amphitheatre operators. Other members said it was a way for council members to oversee what was going on at the city-owned venue. Though some residents expressed anger over the perks, the council eventually dropped the matter.

Under the new rules, council members will still receive the perk, but the city will now have to track on its Web site exactly how "every ticket that goes in the door, goes out the door," said city attorney Michael Martello. Most of the tickets go to city staffers and volunteers.

Previously, each council member received two tickets to each concert 14 total for each member. Under the new policy, council members would still receive 14 tickets, including 10 premium box seats, but members would be eligible for another eight tickets if reported as income on tax forms, and yet another eight tickets could be purchased at face value, even when sold out.

However, under FPPC rules the free tickets for elected officials should be used for an "expressed public purpose." According to the city's drafted policy, that means attending a concert could be part of the council member's duty to oversee the city-owned facility, or to promote the city by attending a show with representatives of a company interested in moving to the city.

While the tickets can only be used by the council members or immediate family, each member can still give four tickets to a nonprofit serving Mountain View. But recipients of all tickets must be reported on the city's Web site within 30 days.

"It was so much easier before," said council member Mike Kasperzak, in reaction to increased complexity in the new city policy.

Used for fundraisers

Aside from Laura Macias, who did not return e-mails on the matter, most City Council members were willing to reveal how they used the tickets. Council members say they gave many of the tickets away.

The only use of the tickets that could be construed as currying political favor was by Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga, who says she gave a few to the Mountain View Professional Firefighters, a group which supported her first and only council campaign in 2006. (The tickets were used in a fundraiser for burn victims.)

Council member Tom Means said he distributes the tickets to recipients of his regular e-mail list on a first-come, first-served basis. Member Jac Siegel said he gave some to friends and family, but mostly left them for city employees. Member Ronit Bryant also left most to city employees, but gave a few to her daughters, and a few to other council members. Kasperzak said he said he gave tickets to nonprofits including the Community Services Agency and the Red Cross during the last year of his 1998 to 2006 term. New member John Inks wasn't asked as he hasn't been on council during a concert season.

"I gave away a few to nonprofits," wrote Abe-Koga in an e-mail. "Asian Americans for Community Involvement got Stevie Wonder, Mountain View Education Foundation got a country group I can't remember, San Jose Taiko got Santana, and the Mountain View Firefighters for their pancake breakfast for the Burn Foundation got Jimmy Buffet. There may have been a couple more but I can't remember."

Abe-Koga said those tickets were used in drawings for nonprofit fundraising.

According to the city's current policy, the mayor is allowed to give out 100 tickets, including some premium box seats, to visiting dignitaries, elected officials and "winners of drawings conducted by community groups." But under the new policy, the mayor can give away only four. The city manager, however, can give out a number of tickets for the purpose of promoting the city.

The City Council is expected to adopt its new policy complying with FPPC regulations before the Shoreline Amphitheatre concert season begins May 9.

Where the tickets went

Recently, the Voice asked City Council members how often they used the free Shoreline Amphitheatre tickets, and for what shows -- or how many of the free tickets did they give away and to whom. Council member Laura Macias did not respond to the query, and John Inks was not asked as he has not yet been a council member during the concert season.

Ronit Bryant:

I've gone to one Amphitheatre show with the council's free tickets: Dave Matthews, though I don't remember whether it was last year or the year before. I'll confess I much prefer opera, but I felt it was my oversight duty to go at least once and see what it was like. ... Over these two years that I've been on the council, I've given most of my tickets to staff to share amongst themselves; I've given a few (two or three each perhaps) to my daughters; I may have given one or two to other council members.

Mike Kasperzak:

The last year that I was on the council, I probably used tickets four or five times, and donated several to the Red Cross, CSA and CSMA.

Jac Siegel:

I attended one event at Shoreline, the 4th of July. I gave the others back to the city for employees with the exception of two events to one of my sons and two others to friends.

Margaret Abe-Koga:

I went to three concerts last year -- Police, Maroon 5 and Journey. I gave away a few to nonprofits -- Asian Americans for Community Involvement got Stevie Wonder, Mountain View Education Foundation got a country group I can't remember, San Jose Taiko got Santana, and the MV Firefighters for their pancake breakfast for the Burn Foundation got Jimmy Buffet. There may have been a couple more but I can't remember. All of these were for their silent auctions to raise funds for the nonprofits. Oh and I gave Jonas Brothers tickets to a friend's daughters.

Tom Means:

I usually give away my tickets. I have an email list and send it out and it's first come first serve. The list consists of friends, colleagues and all of the nice people that have e-mailed me for council business. Most of the concerts are not for my age group, which is why I don't have much interest in this issue.


Posted by Laura Macias, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Mar 20, 2009 at 9:31 am

Hi, Daniel sorry for not getting back to you on your Shoreline story. Was out of town. In the past, I used Shoreline tickets for my self and a friend. I have no immediate family in the area so the new law apparently discriminates against single persons. I also gave tickets to friends and acquaintances on a first come basis. Good third of the time, I sent them back to the city. I also donated them for fund-raising which is specifically what Greg did. He did not refuse them but generously gave them to the Mountain View Educational Foundation.

Posted by Blake, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Mar 20, 2009 at 10:59 am

Good point re: discrimination against single persons. The remedy is that council members should received zero free tickets. MV residents already have a program to get early access to concerts before the general public. If that's good enough for the rest of us it's certainly good enough for the council members. (There was some recent controversy over the early access program for tickets to the group ColdPlay - maybe the council can sort out how its residents appear to have been steamrolled on this one instead of grabbing freebies for themselves). And I'm not buying the argument that the council needs free tickets to provide 'oversight' to the venue. I do like the idea of making a few tickets available for charity auctions etc. Find an equitable way to give local charities a few tickets each year for fund raising purposes only.

Posted by eric, a resident of another community
on Mar 22, 2009 at 1:50 pm

I find Macias's comment a bit petty, frankly. Discrimination? On how one uses a small perk? Come on. She is apparantly able to use the tickets when she wants, so what's the problem?

I have zero problem with council member excersizing this little bonus, and I dont care if they simply give tickets to friends. I applaud those council people that see fit to donate their tickets to worthy causes, but I sincerely hope that our community doesnt get worked up about this issue again. Whether you agree with how they run things, council people put in ridiculous hours for virtually no pay.

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