California politicians and private business profiting from homelessness

California has no shortage of situations that need to be solved but lately solving real social problems has become BIG business bestowing BIG profits to the states most well connected business men and women. The question is how ethical is it for someone to make $225 per hour doing a “study” to solve homelessness? How ethical is it for businesses to make windfall profits by claiming to help the poor and oppressed?

No one is going to argue that we should just ignore the homeless, but how objective can a land developer with private clients clamoring for state subsidies in redevelopment dollars be in helping the city or state “solve homelessness”? And how objective can that person be when their spouse is the head of the Select Committee on Homelessness in California working to “solve” the problem and proposing solutions that would directly impact that person?

Toni Atkins who served 8 years as Council member for District 3 in San Diego is now in Sacramento leading the California State Assembly on some very monumental situations facing California. She is Vice Chair of Housing and Community Development and heads the Select Committee on Homelessness. She is fighting to protect redevelopment dollars flowing to private developers like her wife.

But her enthusiasm for solving this problem may be a bit suspect. Her wife just received a contract for nearly half a million dollars to do a study on homelessness, a study that the Housing Commission is already paid to do and a study that Atkins was working on as an employee of LeSar Development Consultants even after she was elected to State Assembly.

What is particularly troubling is LeSar Development Consultants used 550 volunteers to do the count and collect the research. See this CCDC announcement where they solicit volunteers.  Here is the quote from CityBeat showing the hourly rates and showing that they were paid to gather demographic information on homelessness. So why do these 550 volunteers have to volunteer their time when Atkins and LeSar can’t even offer their time at a reasonable price? “According to the contract, LeSar bills CCDC at $225 per hour for her own work. She hired an affordable-housing expert at a cost to CCDC of $175 per hour. A third employee, a former reporter, bills for $90 per hour”.

“The scope of LeSar’s work—essentially cobbling together demographic information about the homeless people who live Downtown and cajoling various agencies to work cooperatively on getting them housed—sounds a lot like what former San Diego City Council Member Brian Maienschein is supposed to be doing on a regional basis.”

CityBeat reporter Kelly Davis said that since 2010 former redevelopment official and Jennifer LeSar, received $235,000 to provide “technical assistance” on efforts to house the homeless. CityBeat goes on to say “on Tuesday morning, the City Council extended that contract through September, upping the payment to $464,750”.

The primary issue is that Atkins does not have a financial interest in solving the situations she is championing. Her financial interest is in seeing that these problems result in the highest profits for her wife and her wife’s clients. If anything she has a vested interest in seeing that these situations are hyped and exaggerated and in proposing solutions that will maximize profits which is in direct conflict with an interest in actually solving the situation itself.

It was Atkins that declared the Federal Housing Emergency all while her partner was making money building affordable housing. Now that support for that is waning she is hyping homelessness as the next great cause (while her spouse is being paid $225 an hour offering lucrative solutions). Naturally, the citizens are concerned now that Toni is Assembly Majority WHIP and now that Jennifer LeSar has parlayed her connections as redevelopment board member and relationship with Atkins into a lucrative business across the state (LeSar has contracts working with the City of Los Angeles solving affordable housing and homelessness, San Diego, and Napa County to name a few).

The following is a detailed list of concerns:

1) Atkins and LeSar are legally married. They have been partners for 10 years and began dating in 2001.

2) LeSar served as a Board member of CCDC beginning September 2002 at the same time that Toni Atkins voted on giving tax money and projects to LeSar. Here is a quote from the Ethics Board just prior to their marriage in 2008 (Apparently they never considered being partners a conflict of interest and only asked when they were getting married).: “You are planning to marry Jennifer LeSar. Ms. LeSar is the President of LeSar Development Company, a real estate development and financial consulting firm. Ms. LeSar is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Centre City Development Corporation [CCDC]. CCDC is a public nonprofit corporation created by the City of San Diego to implement projects and programs in the downtown area. As a Councilmember, you also serve as a member of the City’s Redevelopment Agency, and in that capacity you have occasion to participate in decisions involving CCDC and projects that come before CCDC.”

3) After serving as Council member Atkins worked for LeSar Development Consultants where her job title was “Senior Principal Housing Policy and Planning” boasting her experience and connections with local government make her a valuable asset to development companies seeking redevelopment dollars. She was essentially a lobbyist negotiating between private developers and redevelopment agencies to get them these lucrative contracts. She held this title even after she was elected to State Assembly.

4) During the time Atkins worked for LeSar, LeSar received a lucrative contract to do a Study on Homelessness at an astounding rate of $225 per hour and to date about ½ a million dollars.

5) LeSar has a direct financial conflict of interest in the solutions she proposes. For example: if this was really about affordable housing then LeSar and Atkins would work to change building codes that do not allow temporary types of construction or pre-fab construction that is substantially cheaper than ground up on site construction. They would work to allow people to live in RVs if they choose, and other alternative types of housing etc.

6) LeSar is consulting boards across the state on homeless solutions: boards that totally depend on redevelopment funds voted on by Ms. Atkins as State Assemblywoman. She is also helping them structure the financing of these projects and procure the state tax dollars to maximize profits.

California has no shortage of problems that need to be addressed, but certain problems are much more profitable to private companies than others. The fact is the citizens are much better served by libraries and school and parks that provide something of real value. This is yet another reason the Governor MUST end the redevelopment agencies that are making a handful of people very rich and blighting communities with your tax dollars. There is something very contemptible going on in State and local politics and that is politicians using real social problems to push agendas that result in huge profits for themselves. That is the real situation.

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