Sunday, August 28
Rep. Richard Pombo's Conflict?
The current state of the State Route 130 corridor.
Of course it's more than acceptable for a local guy such as Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Tracy) to represent the interests of his hometown and its vicinity in the federal government. But when his family is personally invested in projects he has worked hard for the federal government to provide, and especially when the investment is among that congressional district's largest, Mr. Pombo dances very close to the conflict-of-interest threshold.
Take his proposed Diablo Range freeway along the State Route 130 corridor. Surely it would drain Bay Area real estate demand into the Greater Tracy; with that in mind, remember what words you see on roadside signs along the Altamont Pass corridor: "Pombo Real Estate."
This congressman will need to do a lot to prove that slicing an environmentally degrading mountain freeway carrying Bay Area commuters to their new Central Valley homes built on subdivided tracts of formerly high-quality California farmland is in the best interest of anyone other than himself and his personal circle.
October 2: More on Pombo's conflict from the Gilroy/Hollister Sunday Pinnacle (emphasized):
A group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington recently named Pombo as one of the 13 most corrupt members of Congress. Pombo press secretary Brian Kennedy called the assertion "baseless." Pombo is accused of paying $357,000 in campaign funds to his brother and his wife and supporting the wind power industry before Congress without disclosing that his family makes hundreds of thousands a year in royalties from turbines on their ranch.
Since Pombo first ran for public office at the age of 29, he has run on a platform of pro-growth and property rights. A longtime critic of the Endangered Species Act, Pombo has been instrumental in reforming the act, or "gutting it," depending on point of view. In Pombo's view, it ties up needed development and growth, and keeps property owners and farmers from using their land how they want. Environmentalists argue that the revised act would bury biologists in paperwork, and take protections away from threatened species.
[Jerry] McNerney [Pombo's Democratic opponent in the next District 11 election] said that what Pombo is really after by changing the ESA is the freedom to make money from his own property. It wouldn't be the first time Pombo has been accused of legislating on his own behalf. Pombo recently appropriated millions to study building new freeways to connect the Central Valley with the East Bay, right through his family's property. The route was called impractical because of the environmental havoc it would wreak, the time it would take to drive, and the high building cost. But the Pombo family's 1,500 acres would have skyrocketed in value. Some called the idea "Pombo's folly."
One of Pombo's freeway plans, known as the state Route 239 project, would run along the path of the two-lane Byron Highway from the western end of Tracy northwest to Brentwood. There, it would connect with the Highway 4 bypass currently scheduled for construction. Brentwood political leaders have been pushing for the new freeway to provide the city with a thruway to Interstates 5, 580, and 205. The plan is to attract white-collar and industrial businesses and transform the city from a bedroom community to a job center. "It's essential for Brentwood -- they need a better connection to the south," said Bob McCleary, executive director of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority. The new freeway proposal also will give Tracy commuters a connection to the north, and an alternative commute route to the East Bay.
But the arrival of the $14 million in federal funds for the 239 project also happens to coincide with a multimillion-dollar land deal currently underway with members of Pombo's family. And for the Pombos, the new freeway proposal appears to be a timely solution to some family financial difficulties compounded by the 2000 slow-growth measure.
For the past decade, public records show, the congressman's aunt, uncle, and first cousins have been selling Pombo family real estate to pay off debts. The debts came from the estate of the congressman's uncle, Ernest Pombo, who died in 1994. At his death, his assets were valued at $20 million, most of which was large pieces of property he owned around Tracy, according to probate records. But he also owed at least $4.7 million in outstanding loans, plus millions more in state and federal taxes. According to probate records, the debts have to be paid off before his family could divide the estate and split the millions they were slated to inherit.
file under Tracy, Central Valley, Bay Area, San Francisco Bay Area, Altamont Pass, real estate, conflict of interest, Richard Pombo, Pombo, Congress, House of Representatives, federal government, freeway, freeways, commuting, environment, housing
I don't understand.
I say the freeway idea is worth considering. But that's all. Consideration would almost definitely reveal that it would take way too much expense and engineering to build and would cause too much damage to a more-or-less environmentally pristine area.
And what would be the point of constructing this freeway? Encouraging Santa Clara Valley employees to live not within the Bay Area, where they work, but within the Central Valley? It's no longer the Bay Area's job to house Bay Area workers but rather it's the Central Valley's job to house them? On some of the nation's best farmland?
To say nothing of its environmental effects, the freeway would form a major subsidy for commute patterns that are not in the public interest of Northern California. The underdeveloped ACE line and the existing Altamont and Pacheco Pass corridors ought to be improved first before any talk begins of cutting 30 or so miles of new passes through the rugged Diablo Range.
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