Appointed Fremont Councilmember David Bonaccorsi is being accused by his opponent this fall, attorney Jennifer Kassan, of failing to disclose personal financial ties to at least two local developers while he served on the city’s planning commission.
Kassan filed the complaint with the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) on Aug. 31. A letter confirming the FPPC would investigate the allegations against Bonaccorsi was received Sept. 14.
Specifically, Kassan’s complaint included Bonaccorsi’s Form 700 Statement of Economic Interests disclosures from 2012-2015. The document is used to inform the public whether a public official has a conflict of interests when participating in a vote. In addition, Kassan sent the FPPC legal documentation that shows Bonaccorsi’s law firm represented East Bay developers Dutra Enterprises and Signature Properties.
According to Kassan’s complaint he failed to list the amounts he received from each developer, as required by law.
But while Bonaccorsi acknowledged, in an interview, that his firm has previously done work for both developers, he said there was no omission on his part . When it comes to Dutra Enterprises, he said, the amount of money he received for work completed was less than the $10,000 threshold required for the Form 700. In addition, his work with Signature Properties would not have been required for disclosure since the developer has not done business in Fremont since the 1990s, he said.
“I’ve been scrupulous in my reporting. Nobody is going to influence me for $640,” said Bonaccorsi, a reference to Fremont’s campaign finance limits. “I always want to make sure voters don’t have any reason to believe I’m influenced by developers.
Bonaccorsi called Kassan’s complaint a tactic taken out of the playbook of GOP strategist Karl Rove. “The real conflict is that she’s Mrs. Bacon,” he said. “She’s trying to shift attention away that she’s Vinnie Bacon’s wife.” If Kassan is elected to the new District 3 seat, she will serve with her husband, current Fremont Councilmember Vinnie Bacon, through 2020, when he is termed out.
The allegation made by Kassan is not entirely novel. Whispers about Bonaccorsi’s work with developers while he served on the planning commission were heard in January 2017 when he applied and won the remaining two years of Lily Mei’s council seat upon becoming mayor. Bonaccorsi narrowly won the appointment after serving a decade on the planning commission, in part, with Bacon’s support.
Meanwhile, the allegation against Bonaccorsi in the near term could become a campaign issue with roughly six weeks before Election Day.
Development and increased traffic congestion, along with the perceived overwrought political power of developers over City Hall is a potent issue in Fremont. Mei’s upset victory over incumbent Mayor Bill Harrison in 2016 was greatly fueled by anxiety stoked by concerns about development, traffic, and crowded schools.
Over the past few months, Kassan has repeatedly attempted to tie Bonaccorsi to developers. Last spring, she highlighted Bonaccorsi’s council support for a development on Morrison Canyon Road after he received a $600 contribution from the developer, John Wong in November 2017. Bonaccorsi later issued a pledge that would not accept contributions from developers. Kassan says she has never accepted money from developers.
The FPPC filing last week is also a reversal of another election season allegation from 2016 that was lodged against Mei, Councilmember Vinnie Bacon and council candidate Cullen Tiernan, who is running this fall in Fremont’s District 2. All three were fined by the FPPC for failing to filing late campaign contributions.
NOTE: Clarification was added to Bonaccorsi’s description of his disclosures for Dutra Enterprises and Signature Properties.