2017-07-18

Evidence of possible collusion with Bakersfield Realtors, well ahead of vote, indicates Board’s decision to end PACE in unincorporated Kern County may have violated California’s Brown Act

ARLINGTON, Va., July 18, 2017 — Checks and Balances Project (C&BP), an investigative watchdog blog, yesterday demanded answers to possible illegal contact by members of the Kern County Board of Supervisors with the realtor’s lobby before the Board killed a popular program that homeowners use to finance energy efficiency, renewable energy and seismic improvements.

On July 11, the Board banned homeowners from using the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program. C&BP’s action comes a day before a scheduled July 19 vote of the Bakersfield, CA City Council to determine PACE’s future within city limits.

However, an internal document written by Bakersfield Association of Realtors‘ Government Affairs Director Kim Schaefer provides evidence that the Realtors worked behind the scenes months ago to secure the votes of local lawmakers to kill the homeowners’ program, which violates the Ralph M. Brown Act, California’s open meetings law.

According to the Realtors’ document:

This is 100% Winnable for our Association. We have held preliminary meetings with local elected officials that are willing to lead the charge on a moratorium of local PACE financing and commit the necessary votes, but are asking for political cover via grassroots mobilization, media and arguments.” [Emphasis added]

C&BP contends that if the Realtors’ private claim is true, the Board clearly broke law.

In a letter sent yesterday to the Kern County Board of Supervisors, C&BP attorney Karl Olson threatened legal action if the matter is not addressed.

“Kern County taxpayers deserve to know if the realtors’ lobby illegally fixed the PACE vote taken by County officials earlier this month,” said C&BP Executive Director Scott Peterson. “And Bakersfield homeowners deserve to know if the fix is in before the City Council takes away their ability to affordably improve their homes.”

“What the realtors describe in these internal documents is a smoking gun, a rare example of behind-the-scenes lobbying being exposed in a rather blatant fashion,” said Olson, who specializes in California public records law.

These moves are part of a coordinated attack on PACE launched by the California Association of Realtors throughout California.

C&BP issued the cure and correct letter demanding the Board of Supervisors formally and explicitly withdraw from any commitments it made to the Bakersfield Association of Realtors and disclose why individual supervisors voted to terminate PACE.

To learn more about this potential breach of the Brown Act, Checks and Balances Project also submitted a records request for emails and phone logs for communications supervisors had with Bakersfield Realtors.

You can read our Cure and Correct letter here.

You can read our public records requests here and here.

About Checks and Balances Project
Checks and Balances Project holds lobbyists and others who block the growth of a sustainable economy accountable to the public. Through hundreds of stories and dozens of diverse investigations since 2009, we have achieved real results. Funding for C&BP comes from sustainable economy philanthropies and donors. To learn more, visit us at https://checksandbalancesproject.org/.

About Karl Olsen
Attorney Karl Olson of Cannata, O’Toole, Fickes and Almazan has successfully prosecuted numerous battles for access to public records under the California Public Records Act, including successful lawsuits decided by the California Supreme Court involving access to public employee salaries, and access to emails sent by government employees on their “private” electronic devices.