Kathy Narum

PLEASANTON//SPECIAL COUNCIL ELECTION | When it comes to savvy developers in the Tri Valley, throw a rock in the air and you’ll assuredly hit a politician freely taking their campaign contributions.

Developer’s money is the coin of the realm in places like Dublin, Livermore, San Ramon and Pleasanton is no different, especially when a pivotal special election ending May 7 could solidify a growing ideological turn to the right currently up for grabs.

Pleasanton Planning Commissioner Kathy Narum leads the four-person vote-by-mail-only election in campaign contributions by a wide margin with a war chest courtesy of many of the same developers and real estate interests that have showered candidates across the Tri Valley in recent years.

Narum received $22,592 in total contributions this calendar year with $2,369 remaining, as of Apr. 20, including a $3,000 personal loan to her campaign. In terms of the loan, Narum has been criticized for using the term, “businesswoman” as her ballot designation, but, according to the finance report, she describes herself a “homemaker.”

Over half of Narum’s donations, according to campaign finance reports filed last week, come from developers. Although the donations are relatively small, under $200, in most cases, the names behind the checks have strong ties to current projects at the Hacienda Business Park, the contested nearby Doolan Canyon area and properties within the East Pleasanton Specific Plan, possibly slated for development in the near future. Narum is co-chair of the East Pleasanton Specific Task Force.

In addition, two of Narum’s biggest contributors is Robert Molinari and Anthony Macchiano of Pleasanton Garbage Service. Molinari is believed to own land within the East Pleasanton tract under consideration for rezoning to affordable housing.

Molinari is a familiar name. In October 2012 Rep. Eric Swalwell was accused of pay-to-play politics as a Dublin councilman in relation to Molinari’s other Tri Valley garbage company, Dublin’s Amador Valley Industries. As Molinari and members of his company, who also gave thousands to Swalwell’s campaign sat in the Dublin council chambers, Swalwell and his colleagues approved a lucrative no-bid contract for Molinari without anyone ever publicly announcing their ties to Molinari’s company.

Molinari contributed $200 to Narum’s campaign, according to finance reports, in addition to another $400 from Macchiano’s wife. Another Molinari associate, Gina Cardera pitched in another $199, this year. However, James Tong, the Tri Valley front man for Charter Properties, also mentioned in the Swalwell story last fall, was returned his $100 contribution, according to finance reports.

Narum’s fellow Republican opponent David Miller reported contributions this year of $21,404, according to campaign finance reports, with $2,032 cash-in-hand. However, the figure is largely self-financed through seven personal loans to his campaign totaling $16,000.

Olivia Sanwong, the lone Democrat in the race, reported $3,184 in donations, including $1,050 in loans to her campaign. Her cash-in-hand, as of Apr. 20, is $2,163. Among her contributors of note are Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett and Swalwell, who both pitched in $100. Both are likely 2014 opponents in the 15th congressional district.

The third Republican in the race, Mark Hamilton, did not file campaign finance reports and has made his financial and political independence a benchmark for his campaign for council.

Although ballots for the vote-by-mail race are due May 7, the Alameda County Registrar will not accept ballots post-marked by that date. Voters are encouraged to send their ballots early to ensure they are counted starting next Tuesday at 8 p.m., or deliver them to the registrar in person.

The Pleasanton City Council approved the special vote-by-mail-only ballot costing the city $250,000, rather than appointing a new member to replace former Councilmember Jerry Thorne, who won election to mayor last November.