Work for the Port or the City? You’re exempt from lobby laws

Ex-San Diego redevelopment chief Jeff Graham strikes gold as influence peddler.

Jeff Graham
  • Jeff Graham
  • Image by David Batterson

Jeff Graham — who used to run the post-redevelopment Civic San Diego and before that worked for the now-defunct Centre City Development Corporation, both city agencies — has just made a lucrative move to the private sector.

He is now a senior vice president of Jones Lang LaSalle, which describes itself on its website as "a financial and professional services firm that specializes in commercial real estate services and investment management."

Graham's new job reportedly entails lobbying on behalf of local developments, including the San Diego Unified Port District's bay front master plan for Chula Vista.

According to a Jones Lang LaSalle news release, the firm "will assist in outreach to potential investment partners from both domestic and international sources to finance and develop a first-class resort and conference center on the site," and "support the Port in community and stakeholder presentations."

Even before Graham's arrival at Jones Lang LaSalle, the Chula Vista project was not without controversy, with a battle over the cost and method of relocating a big SDG&E substation being fought by lobbyists pro and con at the state's Coastal Commission and Public Utilities Commission.

In anticipation of future influence peddling opportunities, Graham asked the city of San Diego's ethics commission earlier this month for advice regarding whether he had to abide by the city's so-called cooling off period, which forbids lobbying by ex-city officials during a yearlong post employment period.

In his March 10 response, ethics commission program manager Stephen Ross noted that Graham would be providing his clients with such services as "entitlement coordination and navigating the decision-making process through public agency staff and elected officials."

The “cooling off” or “revolving door” period," wrote Ross, "is intended to prevent former high level City Officials from using the influence of their prior positions to communicate with current City Officials (often former colleagues or subordinates) for the benefit a private sector employer."

"You may not have private communications with any City Officials for the purpose of lobbying on behalf of [Jones Lang LaSalle’s] private sector clients.

"The term “City Official” includes elected and unclassified employees of the City, members of the Civic San Diego Board and the Housing Commission, and employees of Civic San Diego and the Housing Commission who are required to file Statements of Economic interests."

That said, Ross then noted a loophole in the lobbying prohibition big enough to drive a power plant or bayside hotel through: "Communications on behalf of public agencies are not subject to the 'project ban' or 'cooling off' period."

"The City of San Diego, Civic San Diego, and the San Diego Housing Commission may retain [Jones Lang LaSalle] to advise them on any project, and you may work on these projects regardless of any involvement you had with these projects as an employee of CCDC or Civic San Diego."

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Should we give this lobbyist guy credit for asking the ethics commission for a ruling? Or did he just anticipate a slam-dunk opinion? Hard to know. Considering its interpretations, should we get rid of the ethics commission? Probably, noting"...a loophole in the lobbying prohibition big enough to drive a power plant or a bayside hotel through...."

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