Oakland vice mayor faces fine for failing to disclose condo

Ethics commission says omission “not done with an intent to enrich herself”

Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan with Estuary Park (Getty, City of Oakland)
Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan with Estuary Park (Getty, City of Oakland)

The vice mayor of Oakland may have to pay $19,000 for a real estate conflict-of-interest violation.

Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan was accused by city ethics commissioners of failing to report a condominium in Jack London Square while voting to expand an adjacent park, which would increase its value, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The city’s Public Ethics Commission released its decision last week, saying investigators determined Kaplan failed to report her partial ownership of the condo on an economic interest form on three separate occasions — a conflict of interest, which is illegal.

The commission will vote Dec. 14 whether to approve the recommended fine.

Investigators noted Kaplan’s violations were not intentional and “not done with an intent to enrich herself.”

“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,” the PEC’s investigators said.

Kaplan did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In an interview with PEC investigators, Kaplan said failing to recuse herself from the votes was an “oversight.”

She admitted to making a mistake by not listing the property and said she “did not fully understand the reporting requirements, particularly in light of the fact that she was not renting out the condo and sometimes used it herself over the years.”

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City law requires Oakland officials to disclose investments, business positions, income and real estate property within their agency’s jurisdiction. It also bars public servants from making city decisions if the person has a financial interest, according to the Chronicle.

All City Council members are required to submit a form that lays out their economic interests, including real estate holdings.

In 2013, Kaplan bought a condo with her parents near Jack London Square, but failed to list the property with the city for the next six years, PEC investigators said. Kaplan moved into the unit as her primary residence in 2018.

The condo is within 500 feet of Estuary Park, whose 11-acres the city proposed renovating in 2016. City staff brought the council a plan to spend $27.5 million in taxpayer funds on upgrades for facilities that included the park. Kaplan voted on the plan and did not recuse herself.

In 2017, city staff brought a resolution to the City Council to use $1.2 million in taxpayer funds to pay an architectural firm for the Estuary Park design. Kaplan voted in favor of the contract.

PEC investigators said Kaplan never tried to push city staff to prioritize funding for Estuary Park. But her failure to disclose the property on government forms and her votes to then spend city funds on the park resulted in a potential conflict of interest, they said.

— Dana Bartholomew

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