Lobbying raises question: Who does Hill work for?

October 19, 2015

Editor’s Note: This is part two in a two-part exclusive series about San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Adam Hill’s consulting work for a company tied to a prominent developer. Part one, “Supervisor Hill’s 2 jobs raise conflict of interest,” includes several public documents in which Hill describes himself as a consultant.

By KAREN VELIE

PB Companies is working to get approval to build three four-story buildings at the corner of Nipomo and Marsh streets in San Luis Obispo with the assistance of County Supervisor Adam Hill, who has lobbied the city to approve the proposed project.

Dubbed San Luis Square, the proposal includes retail space, restaurants, 48 residential units, underground parking and a public plaza. The project spans four lots including the home of the former Foster Freeze Restaurant.

On its website, PB Companies says the project will help address a lack of available housing in the city.

“The lack of any mixed use, multifamily buildings in the area provide an unmatched opportunity to create something completely new and unique,” the PB Companies website says. “Moving forward, our plan is to develop not just another building, but create a synergy of space that residents and visitors can thrive in.”

Rendering of pathway at the proposed San Luis Square development.

Rendering of pathway at the proposed San Luis Square development.

At the same time, PB Companies principals John Belsher and Ryan Petetit are under fire for not paying subcontractors and lenders and for violating building codes. During the past few years, the partners have been in court over multiple financial controversies such as breach of contract and not paying fines to the city of San Luis Obispo for building violations.

Hill has testified in front of San Luis Obispo city bodies in favor of the city approving the San Luis Square proposal without disclosing he is a paid consultant for a company started by Belsher.

In 2014, Hill was paid at least $10,001 by San Luis Consulting, a firm tied to PB Companies, according to financial disclosure forms. But it’s unclear exactly what consulting jobs Hill has performed. He has not responded to questions from CalCoastNews about his consulting activities.

State records show Belsher was the only organizer of San Luis Consulting when he founded the company in July 2014 and that it uses the same San Luis Obispo address as PB Companies. A PB Companies internal document lists San Luis Consulting as one of its many holdings.

According to state conflict of interest rules, if public officials have received $500 or more (not including campaign donations) in the past 12 months from an entity, the officials cannot in any way attempt to use their official positions to influence a governmental decision that could impact that entity financially.

Supervisor Adam Hill

Supervisor Adam Hill

California Gov. Code 18704 says that officials with a conflict of interest cannot attempt to influence other government officials or agencies if their agency has authority or budgetary control of that body. These regulations are in place to stop public officials from approving funding for other government agencies and then lobbying those agencies to pass their favored projects.

As a county supervisor, Hill votes on distributing grant funds to local governments such as the city of San Luis Obispo. Hill has regularly lobbied San Luis Obispo City Council members and city boards to promote several development projects while also voting on whether the county will, or will not, award large grants to the city.

On July 13, Adam Hill testified in favor of PB Companies Marsh Street project at a joint meeting of the SLO City Architectural Review Committee and Cultural Heritage Committee.

In his speech, Hill repeated a presentation PB Companies staffers made to members of Save Our Downtown, a group with a mission to protect and promote the historical character, design, livability and economic success of San Luis Obispo’s downtown.

In their presentations, both PB Companies staffers and Hill said the project’s approval would help satisfy a need for workforce housing for employees of technology companies.

“Adam Hill, SLO, noted on state and county policies for the creation of a variety of housing in urban centers; commented on the importance of providing workforce housing for employees of technology-oriented companies,” the minutes of the July 13 meeting say.

Hill did not disclose his financial relationship with San Luis Consulting to the city before making his presentation.

In addition to state conflict of interest regulations, the city of San Luis Obispo passed an ordinance several decades ago making it a misdemeanor to speak in favor of a project without disclosing financial ties to the developer.

In 1994, San Luis Obispo passed an ordinance that requires “municipal advocates” to register with the city before attempting to influence decisions or actions of officials or staff in favor of a business in which they have financial ties. In addition, before speaking publicly, the ordinance requires the speaker to make an “oral disclosure of registration.”

“The city recognizes that municipal advocates do not have public authority, but they may have significant influence on the city, and the public has a right to know who is being paid to influence the decisions being made by the city, and any financial relationship between those who are being influenced and those who are trying to influence them,” according to the ordinance.

PB Companies is also attempting to get Coast National Bank Board members to lobby the city of San Luis Obispo to approve the project, according to a signed letter of intent between the bank and PB Companies uncovered by CCN.

According to the letter of intent, Coast National bank intends to be a co-applicant with PB Companies in one or more of the applications for the San Luis Square project. In the letter, the parties agree to multiple terms including the bank board’s support.

“The benefits for the parties are significant and include, increased circulation and parking,” and “potential public hearing and written support on behalf of Coast and its board members,” says the letter of intent which was signed by Belsher, Petetit and Coast National Bank CEO Anita Robinson.

Before being elected to office, Hill worked as a part-time lecturer for Cal Poly’s English department.

Hill first won a seat on the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors in 2008 and has since developed close relationships with a string of prominent local developers including Belsher, Petetit and Gary Grossman.

SLO County Supervisor Adam Hill, Dee Torres, developer Gary Grossman and Pismo Councilman Erik Howell at a recent fundraiser at Grossman's home.

SLO County Supervisor Adam Hill, Dee Torres, developer Gary Grossman and Pismo Beach Councilman Erik Howell at a recent fundraiser at Grossman’s home.

In fall 2014, Hill aggressively attempted to persuade members of the San Luis Obispo City Council to vote in favor of a land use change needed by developer Grossman to develop large parcels near the airport.

Shortly after Grossman entered into an agreement to buy the Dalidio Ranch, Grossman began lobbying the city to override a ruling by the airport commission limiting residential density in the flight path because of safety concerns.

Several local developers interviewed by CCN said residential projects are currently making more money than commercial ones, so Grossman would stand to receive a higher return on his investment by building high-density housing in the flight path.

While Hill lobbied city council members for the override, Grossman made a $50,000 donation to the SLO Housing Connection, a nonprofit started and run by Hill’s wife. The council then voted 4-1 in favor of the airport land use change.

Public officials have an ethical duty to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, said Hana Callaghan, the director of the government ethics program at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.

“Public officials have a fiduciary duty of loyalty to the public,” Callaghan said. “They have to put the public’s interests before their own.”

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67 Comments

  1. HonestyPlanet says:

    The “recent fundraiser” mentioned regarding the photo, was actually a benefit for two local non-profit organizations,the Sharon Leigh Ovarian Cancer Survivors Foundation and Jack’s Helping Hand.The Sharon Leigh Ovarian Cancer Survivors Foundation, founded by a cancer survivor, helps save women’s lives through awareness and information on early detection of ovarian cancer. Jack’s Helping Hand assists many local families with a variety of needs when a child is diagnosed with cancer or other serious medical conditions. It would seem safe to assume that these organizations might have special meaning to both Mr. Grossman and Supervisor Hill, as they both recently experienced the tragic loss of a beloved family member to cancer.

    (0) 8 Total Votes - 4 up - 4 down
  2. AmericaBeautiful says:

    Learn by Example, SLO:
    Citizens in Fontana are fighting to preserve their community from voraciously greedy developers who want to put people in tiny ratmaze condos like the one suggested here.
    Don’t let them!
    Check out how people protested at the Fontana Planning Commission Monday night, which was complete with COPS and DRAMA. So proud of the residents who showed up and spoke to preserve their city. They avoided the “WESTGATE RAPE,” but the council and mayor could still throw them under the bus so be on standby for the next showdown.
    You like the SLO life? Then you,— YOU— gotta take ACTION against this:

    “DEVASTATING VICTORY: TRESSY TAKES ON WESTGATE SPECIFIC PLAN DEVELOPERS. HIGHLY ENTERTAINING. FONTANA ”

    (13) 19 Total Votes - 16 up - 3 down
    • justbeware says:

      It’s not just here in SLO–look at what NKT just got passed in AG.
      Kristin Barneich, Jim Gutherie and Barbara Harmon, hope you’re reading this.
      These people could have been referring to that crap project you just approved, and the next one NKT has in the pipe as well.

      (20) 24 Total Votes - 22 up - 2 down
    • surferdude says:

      This is a planning commission meeting
      We all know very well that the applicant has the right to appeal to the City Council and this is where the developer relationships play out!

      STOP ALLOWING PROJECTS that are tall and tiny on our lots that are intended to be single family residences.

      Mr. Maganno…
      We are not interested in Serra Meadows in Arroyo Grande!

      (1) 1 Total Votes - 1 up - 0 down
  3. Dirk Anderson says:

    This makes the case that this is one sick diseased community. BARF! completely relevant. Least I’m not an anonymous spineless ferret.

    (17) 27 Total Votes - 22 up - 5 down
    • Slowerfaster says:

      Hard thing to prove ….not being a spineless ferret, anon or otherwise.

      (-1) 15 Total Votes - 7 up - 8 down
      • Dirk Anderson says:

        “Hard thing to prove”? Not at all.

        Looking for : fraud, corruption, waste, and abuse? Tax payer or other? Have no farther to look than some of these anonymous (they think) predator trolls who show up here. Some of them don’t want you to know who they are because they are on the Government dole and on the clock etc. Hide behind the wives, children, uniforms, badges, letter of the Law etc. Go crawl up Dee Torres hole! Go write on bath room walls!

        This is not the America I signed up for, I have better things to do.

        (2) 12 Total Votes - 7 up - 5 down
  4. Mitch C says:

    I agree that housing assistance is in order, but only for those employed. Anyone who is satisfied to sit on their dead end without contributing to society and their own wellbeing should not get assistance. I am fully against the current welfare system; everyone should work — if you want taxpayer dollars you should work for it. Instead of a handout people should be given work, there are many exceptional projects that have been made possible through workfare. Handouts only further exasperate the problem, recipients have no incentive to better their lot in life.

    (17) 23 Total Votes - 20 up - 3 down
    • Dirk Anderson says:

      Sounds good (in a perfect world).

      The Banking Industry alone, the corruption etc. and still under too big too fail.

      At least the car Industry paid back their Welfare.

      Are you some Cal Poly Economics Freshman? I’m suspicious of people like you and how you amassed your vast riches? Mom and Dad had nothing to do with it? Good for you.

      I for one am going to do whatever it takes to pursue my interests and get it done. I find the Culture so disgusting and repulsive you could not give me a house in this community. Various local “winners”are proactive about seeking out those it can demean and condescend to.

      Everything is competitive and selective. When not being annoyed I get to participate in the most extraordinary disciplines, I’ll take my chances.

      My basic needs get met, morning coffee, Rig Veda, Avesta, Koran, morning sunrise, I’m good. Keep your tech toys, Mac Mansions, could care less what car you drive, oh boy.

      (-5) 9 Total Votes - 2 up - 7 down
  5. smiley says:

    Great picture, looks like the prelude to a steamy foursome!

    (18) 26 Total Votes - 22 up - 4 down
    • Kevin 99 says:

      Keeping it classy, eh Smiley? Comments like yours create backlash of support for the very people you are trashing.

      (-13) 21 Total Votes - 4 up - 17 down
      • Pelican1 says:

        Well Kevo, how would you best characterize the photo

        (4) 6 Total Votes - 5 up - 1 down
    • r0y says:

      Indeed! A foursome: CORRUPTION, MALFEASANCE, BRIBERY, and COERCION!

      …why? What were YOU thinking?

      (15) 15 Total Votes - 15 up - 0 down
  6. 65buick says:

    The housing situation is such: supply & demand. If 15 people want an accomadation, but there are 10 houses – 5 people either leave, or end up ‘homeless’. This is the same situation in cities across America. Hence the increase in rent.

    There are too many people. And that’s only the beginning.

    (7) 15 Total Votes - 11 up - 4 down
    • Slowerfaster says:

      This is false. There is more empty housing available than there are people that need to be housed. It is only the renters that charge outrageously for absolute top dollar and then get tax breaks when they remain vacant that keeps them empty.

      Utah solved their homelessness situation by providing housing subsidies to the poor, because it’s cheaper than society paying for emergency room medical ( shelterless people get sick much more ) and jail.
      On top of everything else, adequate housing for all is the Christian thing to do.

      (-6) 20 Total Votes - 7 up - 13 down
      • surferdude says:

        Looks like those fancy mixed use apartments on Marsh across from Foster Freeze are all empty upstairs.

        We brag about our nice weather, then provide living spaces that do not include any outside living.

        I just do not understand it.

        (16) 22 Total Votes - 19 up - 3 down
        • justbeware says:

          Whad’ya mean no outdoor living spaces? NKT is gonna give all of his attainable housing folks a whopping 8′ on ONE side of their dwelling so as to enjoy the view of their neighbor’s two story wall next door
          What more c!ould anyone want?

          (14) 14 Total Votes - 14 up - 0 down
      • JTKirk says:

        Hill opposed Utah’s model locally. It requires diverting funds away from homeless centers to housing instead. That guy Dan Carpenter who you said you wouldn’t vote for advocated for the Utah model.

        (12) 18 Total Votes - 15 up - 3 down
        • Slowerfaster says:

          I believe I said I was keeping my options open, as there is a long time to decide. You musta had too much Klingon bloodwine and gagh, captain.

          (-4) 6 Total Votes - 1 up - 5 down
      • Mike Byrd says:

        Given that I’m a real estate broker who represents buyers exclusively, I’d sure like to know where all those vacant houses are. The fact of the matter is, unless you’re referring to vacation homes that are used only occasionally by their owners, there are very few if any.

        Regarding the Utah model, it is, by most all accounts, a resounding success.

        (3) 7 Total Votes - 5 up - 2 down
  7. TruthFairy says:

    And Dee Torres using the $50K for housing the homeless, what is the problem? We should be glad that someone is assisting those that otherwise would be downtown panhandling, sleeping on the benches, in doorways or ‘camping ‘ in the creeks.
    Also SLO needs workforce housing. How can a minimum wage employee afford to live near or in SLO without some kind of subsidized or planned housing for workers in mind?
    And last, no I am not Dee or Adam. Nor do I have any allegiance to them. I do support any assistance to the homeless, (The Homeless Connection), and for workforce housing. Go ahead and hate on me, but keep in mind,I am just looking for answers to a near impossible housing situation in SLO county.

    (-26) 52 Total Votes - 13 up - 39 down
    • what the says:

      If you want to help the homeless, Fairy, keep Dee and Adam away from them.

      (46) 68 Total Votes - 57 up - 11 down
    • JordanJ says:

      A former board member told me the entire SLO Housing Connection Board quit earlier this year because Dee Torres was not using the funds to get homeless into long-term housing as noted in the non-profits mission statement. Who if anyone is monitoring how money donated to help the homeless is spent?

      (48) 66 Total Votes - 57 up - 9 down
    • isoslo says:

      Truthfairy, so how much of the $50,000 went to actually helping the homeless and how much went to helping Dee? We have numerous programs to help the homeless, some run by churches some run by the government, why didn’t Grossman give to any of the proven agencies already doing good work? Maybe he felt that Dee was the savior all of the homeless were waiting for or maybe he wanted Adam to look favorably upon him since he has various projects coming before the board? Minimum wages employees cannot afford to live in SLO unless they are very clever, but maybe that fact will motivate them to rise up and make more money so that they too can afford a better place to live. By subsidizing minimum wage people you take away their incentive to prosper. Also we have a subsidized bus system just for this reason. The answers are not to keep taking from the doers and giving to the do less crowd, the answer is to motivate the do less crowd to do more, ins’t that what has made America great and is the number one reason so many wish to immigrate to America. We are supposed to help the needy and we do, we do not need to keep finding excuses to tell people why they cannot make it when there are success examples every day of people who do make.

      (31) 41 Total Votes - 36 up - 5 down
      • SLOBIRD says:

        One partial correction to your statement: The bus system if really established for the staff and students at Cal Poly. That is why the bus buses that are 75% empty during the day and fill up atarting at 7:00 am, again around 1:00 pm and then 5:00 pm. give or take a 1/2 hour on these times. The rest of the day is a handful of elder annd homeless. Cal Poly provides this service free to the students and staff at taxpayer expense which you cannot enjoy!

        (4) 6 Total Votes - 5 up - 1 down
        • Guy_Wise says:

          Cal Poly student/staff/parking fees pay for the City buses. This is not a taxpayer funded expense!

          (2) 2 Total Votes - 2 up - 0 down
  8. Pelican1 says:

    Adam, please explain how you feel justified in your “consultation” behavior, yet when Will Harris, state geologist, commented on the Oceano Dunes debacle at the BOS meeting both you and Bruce chastised, and threatened him with his job…which he eventually lost.
    Your hypocrisy is simply not to be believed. do you have no conscience? No morals? No sense of right from wrong?
    YOU are what’s wrong with this county.

    (86) 110 Total Votes - 98 up - 12 down

Comments are closed.