Sanjay Gehani

Sanjay Gehani

Foster City Councilman Sanjay Gehani has violated the Brown Act, but no punitive action will be taken, according to San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

The Brown Act was passed by the California legislature in 1953 to ensure transparency in local government. It specifically prohibits a councilmember from “discussing an item of business that is within the subject matter of a jurisdiction of the council with a majority of the council outside of a noticed meeting,” according to a letter dated Aug. 9 that Wagstaffe sent to both Gehani and City Attorney Jean Savaree.

Gehani, who was elected to the council in November and is also a partner and chief marketing officer for Building Kidz, a franchiser of preschools, had plans to buy and redevelop 388 Vintage Park Drive in Foster City into a preschool, according to the letter. That site was formerly home to Mexican restaurant El Torito. 

According to the letter, Gehani understood that his redevelopment plans would require involvement and/or approval by the council. Gehani indicated to City Manager Jeff Moneda that he intended to be the spokesperson for the project when it was presented to the council and that he already had the support of two councilmembers, according to the letter. Interviews established that Gehani discussed the redevelopment proposal with three councilmembers, the letter reads. 

“We do find that [Gehani] violated Section 54952.1(b)(1) by conducting what is referred to as a ‘serial meeting’ with other members of a legislative body, one at a time, until [Gehani] had discussed with a majority of the council [his] intention to buy and redevelop the El Torito site,” according to the letter. “That effort would qualify as ‘business’ within the subject matter jurisdiction of the council in that the council would have to approve a ‘general plan amendment’ for the project to proceed.” 

The letter goes on to declare that no action will be taken.

“As no action was taken by the council on this matter, there is no need for any ‘cure and correct’ remedy,” the letter reads. “Further, we will decline any further action on this matter since we believe there is no pervasive failure by [Gehani] nor this council to abide by the regulations and spirit of the act in conducting the business of the city of Foster City.” 

Gehani described his actions as a “rookie mistake” and looks forward to putting the experience behind him.

“This was a rookie mistake. I have learned a lot from this,” he said. “Now I am excited to put this experience behind me and continue my focus on serving our community.” 

Mayor Sam Hindi said he takes the Brown Act seriously and hopes that his colleagues are more careful about what they discuss moving forward. 

“I take this very seriously. I don’t want this to happen again. This is a rule and a law that was put in place for a reason so the public is privy to everything we talk about and vote on and everything that will impact the city, policies and decision that we make,” he said. “It’s important that all of us abide by that and, moving forward, it’s my hope that people are a whole lot more careful when they decide to talk about things that might come before council in the future.” 

Vice Mayor Herb Perez offered a different perspective to the news.

“It’s unfortunate that for the first time in Foster City’s history, an elected official would use their public position for their personal and financial gain,” he said. “It’s a stain on our elected officials and has eroded the pristine reputation our city has previously had. I am hopeful that this will serve as a clear warning for all others not to behave in such a fashion.”

Wagstaffe said Brown Act violations are not exactly uncommon in San Mateo County, adding that they typically result in a letter of admonition similar to the one sent to Gehani or perhaps Brown Act training is recommended. He cannot recall a single Brown Act prosecution, in which the offender was aware of the fact that he or she was breaking the law and did it anyway. If that happened, the offender could be fined $100,000 and spend up to six months in jail, Wagstaffe said. 

(650) 344-5200 ext. 102

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(3) comments

Eaadams

Text of DA Letter.







Stephen M. Wagstaffe, District Attorney











CHIEF DEPUTY ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEYS



ALBERT SERRATO JAMES WADE



SEAN F. GALLAGHER



SHIN-MEE CHANG



COUNTY OF SAN MATEO



400 COUNTY CENTER, 3RD FLOOR | REDWOOD CITY | CALIFORNIA 94063 | TEL: (650) 363-4636



August 9, 2019



Councilman Sanjay Gehani



____________________



Foster City, CA 94404



RE: May 2019 Brown Act Violation







Dear Councilman Gehani:







As you are aware, a complaint was made to our office alleging that you violated the



Brown Act (California Government Code Section 54950, et.seq.) by discussing a potential item of business with a majority of the City Council outside of a noticed meeting. Our review included obtaining statements from City Manager Jeff Moneda, Councilmembers Herb Perez,



Catherine Mahanpour, Richa Awasthi, Sam Hindi and yourself, a review of the May 20, 2019 Council meeting and a discussion with City Attorney Jean Savaree.







We examined the statute at issue, Government Code Section 54952.2, specifically



subsections (a) and (b)(1). Those sections prohibit a Council member from discussing an item of business that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the Council with a majority of the Council outside of a noticed meeting.







From our investigation, it appears you understood that your proposal for redeveloping the old El Torito restaurant as a pre-school would require City Council involvement and/or approval and, in fact, you indicated to City Manager Moneda that you intended to be the spokesperson for the project when it was presented to the Council. Further, you indicated to Mr. Moneda you believed you already had the support of two council members, proving that you had prior



conversations with at least those two council members. Interviews with Council members



established you discussed the proposal with three other Council persons.







Thus, we do find that you violated Section 54952.1(b)(1) by conducting what is referred



to as a ‘serial meeting’ with other members of a legislative body, one at a time, until you had



discussed with a majority of the Council your intention to buy and redevelop the El Torito site.







That effort would qualify as ‘business’ within the subject matter jurisdiction of the Council in that the Council would have to approve a “General Plan Amendment” for the project to proceed







As no action was taken by the Council on this matter, there is no need for any ‘cure and



correct’ remedy. Further, we will decline to take any further action on this matter since we believe there is no pervasive failure by you nor this Council to abide by the regulations and spirit of the Act in conducting the business of the City of Foster City. The Brown Act exists to ensure the legislative process is conducted in an open and transparent manner so that the public can be informed of actions taken by their representatives. We trust and expect this will serve as a reminder to all members of the Council of the importance of due caution in discussing matters that are clearly within the jurisdiction of the Council.











Sincerely,







STEPHEN M. WAGSTAFFE, DISTRICT ATTORNEY







By:



Sean F. Gallagher, Assistant District Attorney





Jeff Regan

Vice Mayor Herb Perez, while Mayor in 2016, was given a Brown Act Violation warning from the DA. Please take any quotes from now Vice Mayor Perez with a large grain of salt, as well as his complicit Mayor.


Jeff Regan

Herb Perez lecturing on ethics. Wow.


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