A newly-arrived principal in a homeless consulting outfit run by the spouse of state Senate leader Toni Atkins has been told by a San Diego ethics official that work for the firm on city contracts doesn't violate the city's year-long cooling-off period that usually applies to lobbying by ex-employees.
Until this spring, Erica Snyder was employed by the city Housing Commission's director of Homeless Housing Innovations, where she "created and implemented a $79.8 million initiative to address homelessness within the City of San Diego based upon national best practices and identified community need," per her LinkedIn profile.
Then this past March Snyder quit the city to become a senior associate at LeSar Development Consultants, owned by Jennifer LeSar, who is married to Democrat Atkins. Last month Snyder was named a principal of LeSar's firm, a role said to include "guiding organizational strategy with an emphasis on strategic planning, change management, strategic positioning, and program development."
Among its many tax-funded projects, LeSar "currently has a contract with the City to assist with the development of the City’s 2020-2024 Consolidated Planning Process," according to a July 17 advice letter to Snyder from ethics commission program manager Stephen Ross regarding "post-employment lobbying provisions that were triggered when you left the San Diego Housing Commission."
"You stated that [LeSar] will be providing community engagement services (community forums and the development of a survey for community input) and reviewing local data to enable the City to determine the future goals and prioritizations for the new Consolidated Plan," Ross wrote Snyder.
"You plan to present project-related data and analysis to the City Council. Because your responsibilities will involve communicating with City Officials, you have asked for guidance regarding any impact the City’s post-employment lobbying restrictions will have on your duties."
Not to worry, concludes Ross, opining that the city's twelve-month ban against lobbying by former officials - which in Snyder's case doesn't expire until next March - won't be applied to her.
"As a general rule, you may not communicate with City Officials on behalf of [LeSar] regarding pending municipal decisions during your one-year post-employment period," notes Ross.
"This prohibition does not, however, preclude you from communicating with City Officials and City staff on matters in which you are representing the interests of a public agency."
"Although you will be performing your...duties as an employee of a private business, these duties are ultimately being performed for the benefit of the City in connection with [LeSar's] contract with the City," according to the opinion.
Cozy relationships between government insiders and LeSar are nothing new for the firm, and LeSar herself is no stranger to controversies regarding her roles as an appointed public official, contractor, and legislative spouse.
In March 2015, then-Assembly Speaker-elect Atkins obtained an opinion from a legislative attorney that asserted her bills to plow public money into subsidized housing programs would not illegally benefit LeSar.
Noted the Union-Tribune at the time: "The firm’s projects have included a 'Five-Year Work Plan Toward the Goal of Ending Homelessness in Downtown San Diego' for Civic San Diego, a city-owned nonprofit; and San Diego’s Consolidated Plan, a document that determines community needs and allocation of funds to help low-to-moderate income people."
Over the past decade, LeSar has personally contributed a total of $11,980 to city campaigns, including those for councilmembers Barbara Bry, David Alvarez, Chris Ward, Myrtle Cole and Vivian Moreno, Alvarez's choice to succeed him.
To help retire Cole's campaign debt in 2013, LeSar staged a fundraiser at her company's San Diego offices, featuring Atkins, Assembly members Shirley Weber and Todd Gloria, and ex-state Sen. Christine Kehoe.