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Lobbyist on Santa Monica Housing Commission - Is There a Conflict of Interest? 

COMMENTARY - I am writing to express my concerns regarding the participation of Ms. Leonora Camner on the Santa Monica Housing Commission.

Commissioner Camner is a salaried Executive Director of a 501 (c) (4) organization called Abundant Housing LA (AHLA). However, as of the date of this writing, she has not disclosed her position with AHLA or her salary, on the form 700 (Statement of Economic Interest) which she has filed twice with the City of Santa Monica.

AHLA describes itself in the following manner: 

We advocate for more housing of all types, send letters and show up at meetings to speak out in favor of new housing projects. We also conduct research and educate the public as well as elected officials on the benefits of more housing. As a 501(c)4 organization, we also engage in political activity to support pro-housing candidates for office. Together with the Abundant Housing LA Education Fund, our 501(c)3 partner organization, we are the YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) voice for LA County. 

AHLA appears to be a local outpost of California YIMBY, a statewide organization whose CEO is registered with the state of California as a lobbyist employer. The AHLA web site boasts, “(...) we partnered and secured support from the biggest and most well-funded pro-housing group in the country (California YIMBY).” The AHLA website also lists California YIMBY as one of their four largest donors ($50K+).  

California YIMBY appears to have the financial backing of Big Tech and the Real Estate industry, as reported by Patrick Range McDonald in “Inside Game: California YIMBY, Scott Wiener, and Big Tech’s Troubling Housing Push.” Writes Range, “The tech industry’s key agents are California YIMBY, the statewide lobbying group founded and funded by tech executives, and State Sen. Scott Wiener, who, since 2015, has socked away a staggering $554,235 in campaign cash from Big Tech, including sizable contributions from Facebook, Google, and Amazon. California YIMBY and Wiener worked closely for SB 827, and they’ve teamed up again for SB 50. California YIMBY and Wiener are inextricably linked — and Big Tech is the mothership.” 

Housing Commissioner and AHLA Executive Director Camner denies being a lobbyist even though her organization’s website states that through the 501 (c) (4) "we can promote policies and lobby leaders (emphasis added) that together will make the sweeping changes Los Angeles and California need to end this deepening crisis." The AHLA website also boasts, “Through our letters and petitions, a total of 2, 605 actions were taken by pro-housing activists for AHLA. We also made use of paid advertising to amplify our message. On Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, our ads received a total of 1,006,859 impressions.” (emphasis in original)

The organization headed by Commissioner Camner vigorously advocates for up-zoning and eliminating local input in the assessment of local housing needs. The latter is surprising since Ms. Camner sits on the local housing commission. As a housing commissioner, Ms. Camner's job is to examine and evaluate the local housing needs in order to be able to advise and make recommendations to the City Council on related legislative issues. However, Ms. Camner appears to be a Trojan horse of sorts on the Housing Commission since in reality, she/her organization advocates to limit or eliminate input the local community might have in assessing local housing needs. 

The following is excerpted from the October 11, 2019 Abundant Housing LA letter to the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG)

. . .AHLA concludes that SCAG's Draft Methodology's reliance on "local input" depresses an appropriate calculation of projected housing need to increase RHNA numbers, creates barriers rather than access for low income residents, accelerates rather than avoids displacement, and inhibits rather than affirmatively promotes fair housing. 

and 

AHLA respectfully urges SCAG to adopt a new allocation methodology that does not rely upon any "local input" by evaluation projected housing need based upon a combination of factors raised by Paavo Monkkonen, et al. in their letter of August 31, 2019 to the Honorable Bill Jahn. 

Attendees have witnessed Commissioner Camner inject her organization's interests into many meetings of the Housing Commission. As a Housing Commissioner, Ms. Camner regularly engages in this practice through commissioner handouts, presentations, motions and voting. In December 2019 Commissioner Camner submitted to the Housing Commission an 85-page handout that also included her business card, i.e. the name of her organization (AHLA), along with her name and her Santa Monica address. At the April 2021 meeting of the Housing Commission, under an item called “Chair and Commissioner’s Report” Ms. Camner promoted her organization by appraising the Commission and the public of AHLA’s latest activity. At the May 2021 meeting of the Housing Commission when discussing the Housing Element, Ms. Camner again expressed her support for large-scale upzoning, a theme she brings up and expresses her support for often at Commission meetings.

Per Santa Monica local requirements, Ms. Camner should be registered as a lobbyist, but she is not. 

From the City of Santa Monica web page containing lobbyist registration FAQ: 

Q: What is a lobbyist? 

A: SMMC Section 4.85.010 defines lobbyist as any individual who receives economic consideration as the employee, representative or contractor of a person or entity, other than the City of Santa Monica, for communicating with any official or employee of the City for the purpose of influencing a City action. "Lobbyist" does not include City contractors and those seeking City contracts through bids and proposals. 

Q: Why do I have to register? 

A: Regulation of lobbying activities helps ensure governmental transparency and thereby fosters public confidence in government. The purpose of the law is to provide the public with information on contacts with government officials. 

Q: Who is required to register as a City of Santa Monica lobbyist? 

A: Individuals who receive economic consideration as the employee, representative or contract of a person or entity, other than the City of Santa Monica. 

Some examples of those that should register include: 

The intergovernmental affairs representative of a utility or government entity 

Partners and any associates of a law firm that lobbies 

Architect and attorney of a development project team 

Hired consultant lobbying for a neighborhood group 

Executive Director or Head Fundraiser for a nonprofit group (emphasis added)  

Q: My purpose is to continually lobby on behalf of my group (such as the Chamber of Commerce).  Do I have to register and how do I explain the nature of the business? 

A: Yes, you must register.  You can use a general description such as “outreach and promotion of interests of members” or “various permitting”.

As the Executive Director of an organization that engages in political lobbying on fundamental housing issues, Ms. Camner does not seem to belong on the Housing Commission. Commissioners are supposed to represent the interests of the community, rather than perform as hired guns who advance their employer's political agenda in order to influence the City's legislative process, especially around the critically important issue of housing.

(Olga Zurawska is a Santa Monica based observer and writer on housing and government accountability issues.) Photo: Abundant Housing LA. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.