Pay to Sway

Developers are funding junkets, buying equipment, and throwing parties for city planning staff. It doesn't smell right.

Some critics wonder why the FOCP exists at all. Noted development opponent Calvin Welch pointed out that when the nonprofit was founded in the mid-1990s, the city planning department was severely underfunded. Now, he claims, it's flush. A glimpse at the mayor's proposed 2007-08 budget reveals that General Fund support for the department jumped from $451,699 in 2005-06 to $2,021,226 in 2006-07. The proposed allotment for the 2007-08 fiscal year was $2,890,067. Welch bluntly sums up the FOCP's raison d'être as allowing donors "to ingratiate themselves with staff. ... They should pack up and go away."

Those words rankle Joe O'Donoghue. The longtime former president of the Residential Builders Association said his group long ago gave up donating to FOCP because complainants — including Welch — wrongly accused them of currying favor. "Some people just like to give," O'Donoghue said. "It takes a warped mind to put a stigma on that giving. When we were criticized for making those donations, I said, 'Fuck it! Let them fund it!"

Planners sipping Chardonnay at the gala couldn't muster O'Donoghue's fighting spirit. They said they enjoyed the party and appreciated the cell phones, PDAs, computers, digital cameras, junkets, or brown-bag lunch pizza supplied by FOCP. But it'll take more than pagers and pepperoni to corrupt them. "I don't think any planner is saying, 'This pizza was paid for by Friends of City Planning,'" deadpanned Lois Scott, the planning department's chief of enforcement.

"I've come to several of these [galas] and I've never talked to anyone but my colleagues," planner Scott Sanchez added.

Yet Brett Gladstone, an attorney for developers, was working the room, schmoozing with gusto. "This is a good place to talk to your adversaries — and we have many — about what topics we have in common," he said. "When you interact with people with a drink in your hand, you can get a lot done."

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