Checks and Balances Project received a reader tip in May alleging the California Association of REALTORS (C.A.R.) has subjected Bakersfield, California, among other localities, to an intense anti-PACE campaign.
PACE or Property Assessed Clean Energy programs provide homeowners in California, Missouri and Florida with upfront financing for energy efficient and renewable energy improvements to their homes that are paid back through property tax assessments.
Spurred by this tip, which bolsters recent media reports about a coordinated attack on PACE, we took a closer look at the California Association of REALTORS’ and the Bakersfield Association of REALTORS’ (B.A.R.) efforts to drive and amplify anti-PACE outcomes. Our reporting shows that, in a short time, the state and regional associations moved from advocating moderately pro-PACE positions to pushing a stridently anti-PACE agenda, despite PACE’s popularity among many homeowners throughout California.
“A Viable Way”
In early 2015, the California Realtors’ Member Legal Services produced a sober assessment of PACE that concludes,
“PACE financing can still be a viable way to add conservation improvements to the home.”
Despite this, by December 2015, C.A.R. launched an “OpEd project” designed to produce opinion pieces in conjunction with local associations on different topics, including PACE. From the organization’s December 2015 Association Executive Update:
“C.A.R. staff is available to help local AOR’s customize the OpEd for their local media and to advise on how best to pitch it. The first topic will be the issue of PACE liens, and will be available sometime in January.”
The statewide association intensified these efforts in 2016-17, aided by the allocation of nearly $50,000 to local associations to expand the anti-PACE campaign. According to its 2016 Winter Summary of Action Items:
“$45,000 to a coalition of Local Associations, headed by Monterey Association of REALTORS®, to create an information and outreach campaign on PACE programs.”
C.A.R.’s funding led to the deliberate proliferation, dissemination and publication of anti-PACE talking points in Orange County, San Diego and, most recently, Bakersfield.
In Bakersfield, anti-PACE op-eds, which use very similar talking points, have been published in local media outlets. In fact, Bakersfield Association of Realtors President Bill Richmond’s anti-PACE piece borrows liberally from the Orange County Association of REALTORS’® (OCAR) blog post.
The Bakersfield realtors also added a page to its website that urged visitors to:
“Join our local fight to get PACE financing liens such as HERO, Ygrene and California First out of our community and help protect homeowners.
Although the page has been recently removed from the Bakersfield realtors’ website, we took a screenshot of it beforehand:
Bakersfield Realtors’ Strategy Raises Ethical Concerns
In a grant application submitted to the National Association of Realtors, B.A.R. requested $25,000 to fund a campaign titled “Remove PACE.”
While the document details a scorch-earthed, anti-PACE strategy based on a cynical view of Bakersfield’s elected officials and residents, one section describes actions that may breach the Brown Act, a California law that guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies.
According to the Bakersfield Association of Realtors’ grant application published by the Brown Act Advocate website:
This document raises many uncomfortable questions that representatives from C.A.R. and B.A.R. are unwilling to answer.
Questions to Realtors Go Unanswered
Given that the next vote on the future of PACE is imminent, Checks and Balances contacted C.A.R. President Geoff McIntosh and B.A.R. Government Affairs Director Kim Schaefer to ask them a few questions about their organizations’ anti-PACE initiatives. These questions include:
- How does C.A.R. explain its incongruous public and internal position on the benefits of PACE for residential homeowners?
- Have any B.A.R. representatives or affiliates provided any Bakersfield council members and/or their staffs with information about PACE? If so, who and when?
- Have any B.A.R. representatives or affiliates been in communication with any Bakersfield council members and/or their staffs regarding past, current or future PACE policy? If so, who and when?
Despite no one from either organization responding to our multiple inquiries, the grant application makes it clear that representatives of the Bakersfield realtors met with “local elected officials that are willing to lead the charge” against PACE.
Until we learn who these elected officials are, and know if they violated the Brown Act, how can the residents of Kern County be sure they will receive a fair and impartial hearing?
If you have a tip related to this inquiry, please email it to [email protected]. We protect all sources.
You can read our letter to the California Association of Realtors here.
You can read our letter to the Bakersfield Association of Realtors here.
Evlondo Cooper is a senior fellow with Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog blog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from sustainable economy philanthropies and donors.