Councilman irks colleague over 'bribery' charge

Inks cites last-minute $100,000 cost to Prometheus project

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.

Inks made the accusation on March 18 and again at the start of the March 25 council meeting, saying that requiring developer Prometheus Real Estate Group to pay $100,000 towards bike and pedestrian improvements near its 66-unit project at 1616 El Camino Real was "effectively a $100,000 bribe to get a project through."

Council member John Inks.
When confronted about the accuracy of his use of the word "bribe" in a phone interview, Inks said, "It's not exactly like money changing hands but that's what it was to me, watching the meeting on television" after watching it in person.

"I think what I witnessed was effectively a $100,000 bribe to get a project approved," Inks said when restating his issue on March 25. "It had no stated rational basis for the amount that was asked and certainly no basis for the cost estimate. I hope I don't see any more motions like this."

Fellow council member Ronit Bryant said she couldn't let the repeated accusations pass on March 25.

"To use a word like 'bribe' is really offensive and I don't think it fits with the collegial relationships we have had," Bryant said. "I would ask the council member to recall how we treat each other here. I am very proud of how we usually treat each other and accept each others' opinions and that was really inappropriate."

Inks responded to Bryant with: "I would just like to say thanks for letting us all know how you feel."

Inks stood by his comments, calling them collegial in a phone interview.

"I think Ronit was right, we discuss these items very collegially," Inks said. "The comment I made was collegial was as well. Ronit replied back and my response was collegial as well."

Inks is known for opposing fees and requirements on development, including those that subsidize affordable housing projects. Though it was before his time, he surely would have balked at the $6 million pedestrian tunnel under Central Expressway the City Council required of the Toll Brothers Mayfield Mall redevelopment in 2008, for which 450 homes were proposed at the time (the housing project and tunnel were never built when the recession hit).

"It is entirely within the council's authority to require public benefits on certain projects, including those that go in advance of the precise plan," said City Manager Dan Rich in an email. "Council has done it many times. What the benefit is can vary significantly."

Inks added that he objected to making the requirement at the final meeting for the project, saying he agreed with council member Mike Kasperzak's complaint that it should have been done earlier.

"Kasperak summed it up pretty well. There was plenty of time going all the way back to gatekeeper (an initial City Council meeting on the project) if somebody wanted to to do that."

Rich also addressed the timing of the requirement, saying, "While it is usually preferable to provide direction on the types and level of public benefit early in the process, on the (latest Prometheus) project, there really wasn't an earlier opportunity; unlike some major projects, there were not a number of study sessions or times the project came in front of the Council."


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