Co-founder of activist group Eastlake United for Justice Mari Rose Taruc speaks at a press conference on the corner of E. 12th St. on May 9 to discuss a complaint filed against District 2 Councilmember Abel Guillèn for allegedly violating the Oakland Campaign Reform Act. Photo by Sarah Carpenter
Former supporters of Councilmember Abel Guillén spoke at a press conference Wednesday in support of a complaint against the District 2 councilmember to the Public Ethics Commission for allegedly violating the Oakland Campaign Reform Act.
The complaint alleges that Guillén accepted campaign donations from donors associated with UrbanCore and EBALDC (East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation) while continuously voting to sell city-owned land to those companies — land that many of his constituents had hoped would be used for affordable housing rather than the mostly market-rate high rise the City Council ultimately approved.
“I walked door to door for [Guillén’s] campaign when he was down in the polls, because we thought he would stand up for working folks,” said Gary Jimenez, a vice president for SEIU Local 1021. “Needless to say, I won’t be walking for him this time.”
Guillén, who is up for re-election this November, is confident that his campaign has complied with all local donation regulations. “This is nothing but a political red herring—they should have checked the facts,” he said.
A local activist with Eastlake United for Justice, Dunya Alwan, filed the complaint against Guillén. She and other community organizers have been fighting for the fate of a parcel of land at the corner of E. 12th St. and Lakeside Dr. for years now.
“This complaint is because as residents of D2, many of us are deeply disappointed in [Guillén’s] conduct and I look forward to the Ethics Commission holding him accountable,” Alwan said.
Alwan and other activists held a press conference Wednesday to discuss the complaint. A small band of community activists held up signs with an artistic depiction of Guillén’s face, a money backdrop, and the pun-injected words “CorruptAbel,” “FireAbel,” and “ReplaceAbel.”
The E. 12th St. land was slated to become a luxury condo tower made by UrbanCore, but the original deal was scrapped after a secret memo was leaked revealing City Attorney Barbara Parker’s opinion that the deal was in violation of the state Surplus Lands Act.
After the initial deal was scrapped, UrbanCore teamed up with EBALDC, an affordable housing developer group, and submitted a new proposal, which contained some affordable housing.
Local activists teamed up with SAHA (Satellite Affordable Housing Associates) to present the “E. 12th People’s Proposal” in October 2015, for a development that would be 100 percent affordable housing.
Guillén said the SAHA proposal “called for fewer total units in a much shorter building” and that “it would have netted us fewer affordable units citywide than the [UrbanCore + EBALDC] proposal, by requiring significantly more in city subsidies.”
The complaint cites three parties who donated a total of six times in a total amount of $1800 to Guillén’s campaign during the time in which the council was negotiating the land sale—Zachary Wasserman (a private attorney working for UrbanCore), Ener Chiu (a director with EBALDC), and Jason Overman (previously an UrbanCore lobbyist).
The timing of the donations tend to align with months in which Guillén voted in favor of the UrbanCore and EBALDC proposal, but both UrbanCore and EBALDC have correctly stated that none of these donations have come from either of their companies.
“EBALDC has a policy against making political donations,” said Executive Director Joshua Simon. “We respect the privacy of our staff and will not comment on donations that may have been made by individuals.”
The Public Ethics Commission will review the complaint in the coming weeks, to determine its validity.
“I don’t expect this complaint to invalidate the council’s decision [about the land deal],” said Dan Siegel, attorney for East 12th Coalition. “However,…nothing has happened regarding the final sale of the land, so the council has the authority to reconsider this agreement.”