(February 2, 2006) -- "I've been involved in real estate investments for some time." But there are multiple transactions involved. "Fine, it's nobody else's business." Do you want us to say it like that? "It's absolutely how I feel."
His answers to our blunt questions were delivered in the polite but terse manner that marked many of his City Council colloquys. Late this afternoon, LB Councilman Dan Baker fielded an inquiry from LBReport.com about an out-of-state corporation he headed (with then-Chief of Staff Mark Taylor) that made multiple real estate acquisitions in several states outside CA but wasn't listed by Baker or Taylor on their respective Statements of Economic Interests.
The Statement of Economic Interests ("Form 700") is a document publicly filed by Councilmembers and other city officials listing their investments and sources of income "located in or doing business" in LB.
A corporate document for "Green Valley Investments, Inc." (incorporated in Virginia in November 2002) lists Dan Baker as its President and Treasurer, and one of its two Directors as of January 6, 2004. The same document (an application letting a foreign [out of state] corporation do business in Missouri) lists Mark Taylor as the corporation's Vice President, Secretary and its other director. Messrs. Baker and Taylor listed separate addresses in LB.
Another out of state real estate related entity involving Baker lists a LB post office box.
Instructions for Form 700 from CA's political-watchdog agency, the Fair Political Practice Commission (FFPC), state [Form 700, Appendix 9] that an entity "located in or doing business" includes an entity "having business contacts on a regular or substantial basis with a person who maintains a physical presence in your jurisdiction."
Reached for comment late this Thursday afternoon (Feb. 2), Councilman Baker told LBReport.com that Green Valley's operations and his other business interests were specifically structured to avoid raising such issues.
"I'm absolutely certain there are no business relationships that involve [Form 700]. I've spoken with attorneys about this. I'm absolutely certain everything was done by the books. They were set up to be beyond question," Baker said. He added that he'd acted on the advice of counsel and his business affairs were structured so as to prevent these issues from arising.
But telephone records released by the City Attorney's office in response to an independently made Public Records request and viewed by LBReport.com indicate calls (with specific numbers redacted) went from Councilman Baker's City Hall office to communities where some of the real estate is located. What about that, we asked? "It's not unusual for my LB office staff to call me on city business while I'm away and that includes periods when I'm handling personal business in those locations," Baker said.
Where was he now? "I'm out of town." Where? "It's my policy not to talk about private [non-city] matters." Are you in Costa Rica? "I'm out of town and I'm on my own time."
So...where did you get the money for those real estate transactions? Did Uncle Ebeneezer die and leave you the dough, we asked? Councilman Baker replied, "I've been involved in real estate investments for some time." But there are multiple transactions involved. "Fine, it's nobody else's business," Baker said. Do you want us to say it like that? "It's absolutely how I feel." And for those who say it deserves disclosure? "They say it does and I say it doesn't," Councilman Baker said.
A voice message left on Mr. Taylor's cellphone (he's now campaign manager for Mayoral candidate Bob Foster) hadn't been returned as we post.
Reached for comment earlier in the day (Feb. 2), City Attorney Bob Shannon's initial reaction was that real estate investments outside LB don't have to be disclosed. Later in the day, Mr. Shannon noted that this was his initial response [he did speak off the cuff earlier] and his office was in the process of referring this and related matters to the FPPC, CA's watchdog-political agency for its disposition.
City Attorney Shannon said Councilman Baker had not asked him for his advice. Mr. Shannon added that while he'd reached no final conclusion as to whether the investments had to be reported on Form 700, "it might well be that at the end of the day, Councilman Baker may in fact have no legal obligation to disclose these business dealings."
[A spokesman in FPPC's media office said that as a matter of policy, the agency does not provide media outlets with answers in specific fact situations...but indicated it would research the matter to see if the similar circumstances had arisen elsewhere. The agency's response is pending as we post.]
City Attorney Shannon told LBReport.com that apart from the legal issue, he believes there's the matter of whether the public and the rest of the Council should have been informed that Baker was involved in a business relationship with the President of the Police Officers' union at a time when city management and the Council were negotiating a contract with that union.
"As a member of the public watching this, I think a public disclosure of the business relationship [with the POA president] would have been appropriate. I'm not talking as a lawyer here; you don't have to go to law school to make this sort of determination. I'm talking about letting people know if in a negotiation setting you happen to have a financial relationship with the other side," Mr. Shannon said.
Telephone records from Councilman Baker's City Hall office also indicated calls to Costa Rica...and internet records indicate Baker is the registered owner of a website inviting visitors to "Experience Central America as Never Before" describing a resort in Costa Rica. The website registration lists a LB address.
"We are an independently gay owned and operated hotel located only two blocks from San Jose's main shopping and cultural district, and a short walk from the city's hottest gay discos, bars, and saunas," the website says. On its front page, the website includes a "note from the owners" which says in part, "The Bohemian Paradise is a comfortable place to call home while discovering Costa Rica's beauty and pleasure" listing two owners by first names, one of them "Dan."
Is "Dan" you, we asked? "Again, it's a private matter and not the public's business," Councilman Baker replied.
He added, "I can certainly assure that every one of my business transactions was very well thought through with a legal look at any potential conflicts of interest and I'm very certain there's been no breach."
Green Valley Investments, Inc. has acquired real estate in several states...and how the string of real estate acquisitions came to light is a story all its own.
Former LB neighborhood activist, now Missouri resident, Traci Wilson-Kleekamp, told LBReport.com she had been aware of Councilman Baker's real estate acquisitions for some time but was moved into action on reading in a Springfield, MO newspaper that commercial property in her town (Columbia, MO) was being acquired by CA "real estate investor" Dan Baker. Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp, an accomplished researcher from her LB activist days, found Baker's "Green Valley Investments" operating in multiple states...and also found other entities outside CA through which Baker was making real estate acquisitions.
At roughly the same time, Ryan Smolar, an independent LB journalist who has written pieces for the Gazette newspapers began pursuing the story. He and Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp shared documents and information...and Mr. Smolar made a Public Records Act request for Baker's City Hall telephone records and other documents.
Earlier this week, the LB City Attorney's office released to Mr. Smolar a stack of materials...including a list of telephone calls from Councilman Baker's LB City Hall office, which LBReport.com viewed.