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Councilman irks colleague over 'bribery' charge

Original post made on Apr 4, 2014

Council member John Inks says his colleagues are guilty of taking a "bribe" because of the way they recently required a developer to cough up $100,000 at the last minute.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, April 4, 2014, 12:00 AM

Comments (37)

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Posted by Rob
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 4, 2014 at 10:57 am

I find it hypocritical that Inks would consider that extra improvements required by the council FOR the Mt. View community a bribe. This is silly argument by Inks especially when you consider that Inks accepted a BRIBE from Google when he received a free fighter jet ride while making decisions on Google expansion plan. Now this is a bribe!


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Posted by USA
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 4, 2014 at 12:52 pm

USA is a registered user.

[Post removed due to excessive and/or repetitive post by same poster]


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Posted by Another Developer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 4, 2014 at 1:02 pm

In view of the current housing market I can say Mr. Inks is an educated man.
Some members of the near sighted Council know the Developer will pay the "extortion" fee or "bribe" to obtain their entitlements. The developer will pass through this cost to renters and purchasers. Is it really a mystery or basic economics? If allowed, developers would pay lower fees which would create a more competitive market for their housing all to the benefit of renters and/or purchasers. Elasticity. Perhaps demand is bolstering prices in Mt. View but with the non-legislative "my whim" fees, along with high cost to develop in this town already, the supply and demand curve will never equal 1. Kudos to Mr. Inks for his unheralded wisdom. Does collegial discussion mean Ms. Bryant has a degree?


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Posted by Greg Coladonato
a resident of Slater
on Apr 4, 2014 at 2:07 pm

Greg Coladonato is a registered user.

From the dictionary:

bribe: persuade (someone) to act in one's favor, typically illegally or dishonestly, by a gift of money or other inducement.

extortion: the practice of obtaining something, esp. money, through force or threats.


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Posted by hmm
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 4, 2014 at 2:24 pm

[Post removed due to excessive and/or repetitive post by same poster]


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Posted by Bennie
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Apr 4, 2014 at 2:26 pm

I don't understand how requiring a public benefit is a bribe. Bribes are specifically for private benefit of the decisionmaker. It may not be OK to require this but it wasn't a ''bribe''.


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Posted by Steve
a resident of another community
on Apr 4, 2014 at 2:50 pm

"Bribe" would suggest the idea was Prometheus's. The accurate term here is "extortion".
Welcome to city hall!


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Posted by Probably74
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 4, 2014 at 3:21 pm

I agree with Councilman Inks. Please don't wait until the last minute on these things. It gives the impression of impropriety, whether it is or not.


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Posted by Greg Coladonato
a resident of Slater
on Apr 4, 2014 at 3:22 pm

Greg Coladonato is a registered user.

checking the dictionary:

bribe: persuade (someone) to act in one's favor, typically illegally or dishonestly, by a gift of money or other inducement.

extortion: the practice of obtaining something, esp. money, through force or threats.


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Shoreline West
on Apr 4, 2014 at 3:53 pm

Asking the developer to pay an extortion fee is called bribery, any way you look at it.


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Shoreline West
on Apr 4, 2014 at 4:11 pm

Telling the developer they have to pay $100K as a condition of permit issuance is extortion. A bribe is still a bribe even if for a good cause. Ps who do you think will actually pay for this bribe .


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Posted by Steve
a resident of another community
on Apr 4, 2014 at 4:48 pm

Call it a bribe, call it extortion... or just call it "business as usual" in Mtn View. The only surprise here was that it was mistakenly done in public instead of behind the closed doors of the planning department.


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Posted by Cash M
a resident of Shoreline West
on Apr 4, 2014 at 6:04 pm

I disagree with Mr. Inks. It is is not bribery. It is more blackmailing, coercion and racketeering that needs the FBI to intervene. Sad day for Mountain View when elected officials resort to gangster methods.


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Posted by Worried
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Apr 4, 2014 at 6:15 pm

I don't know what dictionary John Inks is using, but accusing fellow council members of taking a bribe is offensive and is not collegial.


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Posted by Kash222
a resident of Shoreline West
on Apr 4, 2014 at 6:24 pm

Kash222 is a registered user.

I disagree with Mr. Inks. This is not bribery. It is blackmail, coercion and racketeering. This heavy handed bullying approach needs FBI intervention. It's a sad day for Mountain View when our elected officials resort to mobster methods to extract money.


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Posted by Kash222
a resident of Shoreline West
on Apr 4, 2014 at 6:26 pm

Kash222 is a registered user.

Your site is screwed up. Nothing tells me that my comment took.


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Posted by oldabelincoln
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Apr 4, 2014 at 6:53 pm

Why the nerve of these people, getting in the way of honest greed. Money makes the world go round, after all. Huzzah for unbridled capitalism and Inks.


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Posted by anonymous66
a resident of another community
on Apr 4, 2014 at 7:34 pm

Inks called a spade a spade. Maybe a better word would be "shakedown." Council does this to applicants all the time. Glad somebody spoke up and told it the say it is.


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Posted by KateinMV
a resident of Waverly Park
on Apr 4, 2014 at 7:46 pm

I think it's funny that John Inks calls the $100,000 city council asked for from Prometheus Real Estate Group a bribe. I would expect a real estate development company to upgrade the surrounding area if there is an impact on the community.

My question is did he receive any money from Prometheus during his campaign? Would it be considered a contribution or a bribe?


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Posted by Irksome
a resident of another community
on Apr 4, 2014 at 11:23 pm

The root problem is that the City doesn't have a policy defining public benefits nor a formula insuring they are commensurate to the zoning concessions the Developer asks for.

This leads to what we saw with that Prometheus Project: last minute ill defined and very modest public benefits or none at all (CouncilMember Irks ideological preference).

Time for Council to act collegially and stop any P-zone project until it passes a proper policy.


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Posted by Disappointed
a resident of Shoreline West
on Apr 5, 2014 at 5:34 am

Mr Inks' accusing fellow city council members of bribery is inflammatory, slanderous, and certainly not "collegial". It's disappointing to me that he doesn't apologize for his choice of words rather that disingenuously claiming his comments were "collegial".

I hope this episode will not discourage City Council from aggressively demanding more community benefits from developers. It needs to be more upfront and less arbitrary for sure.


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Posted by Rich
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Apr 5, 2014 at 7:54 am

I'm happy to see someone standing up and calling the extortion practices built into the building permit process by a plain language name. The permit fees here can cost more than building an entire house in other parts of the country. All those fees get passed onto the people who end up trying to make their homes in those projects, and while a fraction of the money ends up as real improvements to public infrastructure most of it ends up in the pockets of the politically well connected.


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Posted by sue
a resident of Stierlin Estates
on Apr 5, 2014 at 10:15 am

INKS IS CORRECT!

Bryant immorally gets as much as she can for her environmental and bicyclist friends and then plays this intellectual and moral superiority persona. Bryant is a hypocrite - just drive by her house.

City MANAGER SHOULD NOT GET INVOLVED but thank you for supporting Bryant, which you seem to do regularly. Rich's statements are false and Kasperzak is correct because this project did go through council a number of times before, and since when does a project have to go through so many reviews?

Face it. Bryant and Rich do not support private property rights. Seigle and McAllister are "no growth" that's the bottom line.


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Posted by Sue
a resident of Stierlin Estates
on Apr 5, 2014 at 10:25 am

INKS IS CORRECT AND HE IS HONEST.

Bryant immorally gets as much as she can for her environmental activist friends and then plays the moral and intellectual superior than you persona. Bryant is a hypocrite - just drive by her home.

City Manager Rich should stop supporting Bryant and should be terminated for making the aforementioned incorrect statements. Everyone knows that project was heard and talked about a number times in private and public.


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Posted by Christopher Chiang
a resident of North Whisman
on Apr 5, 2014 at 4:25 pm

This whole "bride" debate is a "wag the dog." It distracts from the more serious public discussion of whether developments including added developer fees are sufficiently offsetting the negative externalities suffered by the residents.

Ideally developer fees should correspond with the full estimated costs of the negative externalities related to any given development. Those who advocate for due process and clear pricing for projects, as a matter of fairness, should also advocate for those who benefit to pay the "full cost" of their developments.

Economics and healthy free markets are as much about properly internalizing externalities as they are about supply and demand, ask any professional economists.

A general definition of a negative externality can be found below:
"A negative externality occurs when an individual or firm making a decision does not have to pay the full cost of the decision. If a good/service has a negative externality, then the cost to society is greater than the cost consumer is paying for it. Since consumers make a decision based on where their marginal cost equals their marginal benefit, and since they don't take into account the cost of the negative externality, negative externalities result in market inefficiencies unless proper action is taken.

When a negative externality exists in an unregulated market, producers don't take responsibility for external costs that exist--these are passed on to society."


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Posted by I'm Not An Econ Major
a resident of The Crossings
on Apr 6, 2014 at 7:41 am

Dear Mr. Chaing,

"Economics and healthy free markets are as much about properly internalizing externalities as they are about supply and demand, ask any professional economists.

When a negative externality exists in an unregulated market, producers don't take responsibility for external costs that exist--these are passed on to society."

I am not an econ major but was intrigued by your comments on externalities, so I looked up some articles on this topic on the web. Are you saying that high density development leads to negative externalities to nearby residents? If so shouldn't these be internalized into the land values and result in lower land values? Are you also saying the public benefit extraction is a tax to offset these negative externalities? It seems to me that if land values rise when underutilized land is developed and leads to higher land values to nearby residents, then it suggests that the positive externalities outweigh the negative externalities. If that is the case, then I think Mr Inks is correct to suggest that the $100K extraction is in fact a bribe to further extract from the developer who is already not fully capturing the net positive externalities he is providing to nearby residents.

It would appear that this is an empirical issue. Have land values increased to nearby residents due to recent higher density development?


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Posted by USA
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 6, 2014 at 5:06 pm

This is not bribery. This is racketeering: Web Link)

A family building a house or a company building an apartment building must submit a mountain of paperwork and go through a lengthy set of approval processes. As such, the city has the builder by the proverbial short-hairs. The city can slow down or even kill a project at will. City leaders can force developers to pay money to their favorite causes such as their re-election fund or various projects around town.

The $100,000 protection money that the Mtn View council forced Prometheus to pay will be added to the cost of the housing. Those units just got $1,515 ($100,000 / 66 unit) more unaffordable.


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Posted by Also not an Econ Major
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 7, 2014 at 8:03 am

I'm not an Econ Major either. But I think the negative externalities of higher density developments include things like: more congested streets, loss of lines of sight, loss of sunlight, higher demand for city services like water, sewer, garbage, more demand to the school district. It probably makes sense to recognize these negative externalities and offer up offsetting features and that's what the community benefits are about. City Council should have perhaps been more skillful at asking for these.

Also, the developer will charge the rent that the market is willing to bear not based on their own costs. So from that aspect, the additional cost will not be passed on to renters, but will come out of their bottom line


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Posted by I am an Econ major
a resident of another community
on Apr 8, 2014 at 9:57 am

So , if the positive externalities of high density outweigh the negative externalities, then land values will increase for nearby residents. Makes sense to me. Not sure what the comment about costs has to do with rental values since developers wont develop unless they expect rents to exceed costs.


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Posted by what positive externality?
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 8, 2014 at 5:46 pm

Property values are obviously increasing, but you can't attribute that to high density developments. Having a high density development next door would, if anything, diminish the value of a home. Unless, perhaps, the resident's land is also zoned for high density, and there is an offer to buy them out. Or if the high-density building replaced a slum - not the case in MV.

Even if you actually believe that density brings increased land value, increased value may not be a sufficient "positive externality" to offset diminished quality of life in the neighborhood and in the city.

IMO, 100K does not constitute much of a public benefit. Bribery isn't exactly the right word, nor is "extortion". Prometheus was happy to pay it. On the scale that they operate, it's a small cost of doing business. The scandal here is that Clark and the council made it so easy for Prometheus to circumvent the normal approval process


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Posted by Dan Waylonis
a resident of Jackson Park
on Apr 9, 2014 at 12:18 pm

While I agree with Mr. Inks sentiment, I think the correct term is "shakedown".

Making the payment a requirement at the final meeting is indicative of poor governance. Nobody likes surprises, especially in negotiations.


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Posted by Steve
a resident of another community
on Apr 9, 2014 at 3:40 pm

It's (mostly) unanimous! Mtn View city policies are at best questionable and inappropriate, at worst criminal.
There's an election coming up. Are any of the candidates really strong enough to shake up the city bureuacracy? Or will we just get another council willing to rubber stamp every 'staff recommendation' without questioning the motive behind it.


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Posted by Don
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 10, 2014 at 8:46 am

Wait, so there are corrupt elected officials who abuse their power and use their positions to gain personal and financial advantages??? When did this start?

You want a good story, look into the business Interests of the council members and then compare that to the list of new contracts going in at City Hall. You'll find some very obvious conflicts of interests. But no one will ever do that story. And Bryant is the worst spokesperson for behaving in a "collegial" manner.

Interesting how the reporter chooses to highlight and make assumptions of things to cast Inks in a negative light. What happened to reporting the facts. Oh that's right, the Voice is just an opinion rag now. So how did he come to the conclusion of what Inks would or would not have done and report it like a fact?


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Posted by Linda Curtis
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 10, 2014 at 4:31 pm

I was at that meeting and I agree totally with Inks: This was bribery on the part of the developer to get to build outside the required standards that supposedly mitigate somewhat what the immediate neighbors have to suffer henceforth. Even a large sum of money, that might help somewhere in the City, does nothing for those who are having this shoved down their throats, losing: their privacy, sight lines of the sky & mountains, their parking ease on their own street, sunshine from midday on (their presently pleasant picnic area is ruined), the noise of so many more people stacked up right beside them, etc., not to forget the entire noise & dust period of construction starting early in the day for how long?


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Posted by Linda Curtis
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 10, 2014 at 7:39 pm

"Property values are obviously increasing, but you can't attribute that to high density developments. Having a high density development next door would, if anything, diminish the value of a home. Unless, perhaps, the resident's land is also zoned for high density..." Having high density housing next door to one's home indeed does ruin your enjoyment of living there AND does NOT increase the value of your land TO YOU. This is because your property is also rezoned (as it is adjacent to the "P" zoning that our City Council creates every time they want to come up with a "precise plan" so that a high rise can go right next door to you). So you are now in non-conforming use of your own land because the zoning is now for mixed use retail/housing. And should you ever need a major repair of your home which is wrong for the new zoning you are now in, or if you ever want to do any add-on building or change much of anything, you will not be allowed to continue your non-conforming use any longer. Even if you vacate your home for six months in a row, your "non-conforming use" is discontinued and typically you lose the right to reinstate that use. You are "grandfathered in" but only while your existing use continues with no changes like major repairs, adding on, interruption of living on the premises, etc.
So you think, if you have enough land with your property, I'll also build a big stack of condos or apts. and really profit! Next to impossible as: You cannot quality for a loan like the big guys who can really guarantee that they don't go broke since condos and apts. sell/rent from the top down, so you are hugely in debt before you get anywhere near the penthouse. If you're in a redevelopment area (and this scenario pretty much indicates that you are), you are ripe for eminent domain, and possibly you end up as the holding company for some favored developer who can come along later and get the City to take your property at a discount because it's "legally non-conforming" and "blighted." All any developer needs to offer the city is a monetary bribe, as we are discussing in this blog, or offer the people/the city their favorite: A few affordable housing units (which usually really isn't affordable). Look at the development going up where our handy Harv's car wash is now: These condos will go for at least an estimated (by the developer) $1.1 million for a tiny one bedroom and $1.2 million for a tiny two bedroom. The five "affordable" units allowing the developer to exceed set & step back requirements (at the cost of all their one story neighbors) are deemed a "public benefit." (Certainly not to the neighbors.) The five "affordable" units were recently described by a city official in a meeting at City Hall as probably going for $100K less that the other units in the building. So how affordable is that?

And after allowing towering building to dominate over your home, the City will discount your property, even if it's perfect and full of up-to-date finishes or whatever, because it is now worth less, or maybe even worthless, because the risk will be higher for a lender or buyer since investment is all about risk and return. The best combination for an investor is a low risk and a high return, obviously. As your property is probably "legally non-conforming" now, since the zoning change for the big build next door to you includes everything in the zone declared a PDA=Preferred Development Area (as is everything along ECR for a block+ deep), then the risk increases that it can't be rebuilt should it ever burn, repaired if it partially burns or has a tree fall on it or whatever, or the City won't allow the current use to continue if the tenant moves out, or that it will have to be demolished if needed repairs are extensive. Banks will demand a higher interest rate & higher down-payment on higher risk property. Your property value drops. Why would someone pay the same amount for your place that they would for a property that doesn't have these issues? They won't and they don't have to in order to get it. You can't afford to build like the big guys and they know it. You'll have to settle for whatever crumb is the best crumb any of them offer you. And don't wait too long, as the NEW definition of "eminent domain" allows any property that could earn more tax base for the City with a different use on it than its current use, to be declared "blight!" Your beautiful home that you've kept perfectly and spent your whole life improving and paying off (or almost paying off) and that you planned to retire and spend the rest of your life in, now is wrecked for you and worth less. You can't get a loan on it. You can't even afford to turn it into a small business, since those generate less tax revenue than larger, national chains. Too many local businesses are dragging down the whole town compared to big corporations and franchises, so the City says out with the old and in with the new! People assume that more housing will lower the rents, you know, supply and demand, but the new housing is exactly that: New. So it can run $8000/month for renting a tiny two bedroom like at Madera. And as more and more of the older places are torn down and replaced with new housing units, rent will climb more and more. GENTRIFICATION of the City continues, and those who were comfortable here and thought they had it made, will get priced out or forced out so something else can be build. It all comes with the new City Plan. I know this because it's happening to me.


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Posted by Linda Curtis
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 11, 2014 at 1:56 pm

So what do you all think about all that I'm trying to explain about the loss of value of your property if next door to one of these big developments? Perhaps you think: "Well, that's okay, I live a couple of blocks further from the arterial so it is not in my backyard." But block by block, this is planned to span further out into suburbia. I've even seen city drawings showing the entire triangle formed by ECR/Miramonte/S. Castro in red as a Preferred Development Area (= multi-story zoning coming)! This is huge money for the largest developers who build basically one style of housing. You may still not be worried, as you're thinking: "How much can they do in my lifetime? But think of any heirs you may have to your property. Let's stand up to this now so that your heirs' inheritance is not ruined for them or your present ruined for you with the endless gridlock traffic this massing of people brings in!


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Posted by Steve
a resident of another community
on Apr 30, 2014 at 3:10 pm

The misuse of the term 'bribe' by Inks here is illustrated best in today's (Wed 30apr) story about Google donating a million bucks toward one of the city's favorite ideals. Now THAT is a bribe.
Unless it was negotiated by the planning department behind closed doors, then it's still extortion.
Either way, it's no coincidence that Google is currently facing sanction for the traffic mess north of bayshore.


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