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Power corrupts a Toni Atkins donor and a former aide

Panera's exemption from minimum wage re-examined

The Fast Food Council encountered turbulence earlier this year, when Bloomberg News reported on February 28 that Panera Bread franchisee and Newsom campaign donor Greg Flynn had gotten special treatment in the bill that created the council, while at the same time exempting his Panera outlets from $20 hourly minimum wage hikes.
The Fast Food Council encountered turbulence earlier this year, when Bloomberg News reported on February 28 that Panera Bread franchisee and Newsom campaign donor Greg Flynn had gotten special treatment in the bill that created the council, while at the same time exempting his Panera outlets from $20 hourly minimum wage hikes.

Dark money assets

A $50,000 donor to the California ballot measure committee run by state Senate Democrat Toni Atkins of San Diego has been told by lawyers for the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission to stop withholding information about her potentially lucrative portfolio of real estate assets within the coastal zone.

As first reported here in September, 2022, San Francisco-based developer Susan Lowenberg made her five-figure contribution on September 1 of that year to the Atkins political fund, then aimed at the ultimately successful passage of pro-abortion Prop 1, backed by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The governor appointed Lowenberg to the state Coastal Commission on December 14 of last year.

Now, in an April 2 letter to Lowenberg’s lawyer James R. Sutton, Dave Bainbridge, general counsel of the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission, has advised that Lowenberg must amend her legally required financial disclosure statement to reveal all assets “held by her personally or by her business within the jurisdiction of her state agency.” Per Bainbridge’s letter, “Commissioner Lowenberg was sworn into office on February 1, 2024, and has already filed her Assuming Office Form 700, which did not disclose her real property interests.”

Toni Atkins has Lowenberg friends in high places.

State law, the letter goes on to say, “defines ‘interest in real property’ to include ‘any leasehold, beneficial or ownership interest, or an option to acquire such an interest in real property located in the jurisdiction owned directly, indirectly, or beneficially by the public official...if the fair market value of the interest is two thousand dollars or more.’”

Concludes the letter, “Given the clear statutory language requiring Commissioner Lowenberg, as a member of the California Coastal Commission, to disclose her real property interests within her jurisdiction—the state of California — our advice is that she amend her Statement of Economic Interests (Form 700) to do so.”

As of yet, there is no official report of Lowenberg’s current holdings, but hints of their considerable size abound. “Susan has worked as a property manager, asset manager, and vice president at the company, and has served as the president since 2011,” says her firm’s website. “She oversees the management of the company and personnel, cultivates and manages relationships with investors and tenants, negotiates all sales and leasing opportunities, and evaluates all acquisitions. She has overseen the company’s portfolio double in size.” Back in May 2020, Brookfield Property Group announced it paid Lowenberg Corporation $25 million for “seven single-tenant industrial properties” including 6400 square feet at 5775 Eastgate Drive in San Diego. “The properties are located in key infill locations in top U.S. metropolitan areas,” reported Connectre.com.


Panera’s pay ploy

It’s been a big year for Nick Hardeman, longtime top aide to Toni Atkins, the San Diego Democrat, termed out of her state senate seat and collecting big bucks for a run for governor in 2026. In March, Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom announced he had named Hardeman chairman of the state’s controversial Fast Food Council. “Hardeman has been chief of staff to State Senate President pro Tempore Emeritus Toni Atkins since 2016,” says a March 1 news release from the governor. “He served as special assistant to former State Assembly Speaker John Pérez and to former State Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins from 2011 to 2016.”

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The Fast Food Council encountered turbulence earlier this year, when Bloomberg News reported on February 28 that Panera Bread franchisee and Newsom campaign donor Greg Flynn had gotten special treatment in the bill that created the council, while at the same time exempting his Panera outlets from $20 hourly minimum wage hikes.

Fast food, fast breaks: Nick Hardeman took in a Kings game on AT&T.

“To be clear, at no time did I ask for an exemption or special considerations. I was surprised when the exemption appeared in the final legislation,” Flynn said after Bloomberg broke the news. Per the news service, Newsom “pushed for places that make and sell bread to be excluded from the bill.”

Added a March 1 account, “The specificity of the bread carve-out has puzzled observers for months, especially after Newsom was asked about the exemption during a September press conference and he said it came about as ‘part of the sausage-making’ of politics and that it was ‘part of the negotiation.’” Newsom denied any nefarious dealings. “Because of your reporting the lawyers have gone back and looked at the exemption and their analysis is that Panera may not be exempt,” Erin Mellon, Newsom’s communications director. told the news service. “The exemption was never about Panera. It was always about defining fast food from fast casual.”

Two weeks later, the Sacramento Bee reported that the California labor department, where the Fast Food Council is housed, had concluded Panera was not exempt from the minimum wage requirements.

“It remains unclear whether the state’s new fast food council — which met for the first time on Friday in Oakland — will weigh in on this interpretation, which establishments can take advantage of the exemption, and why it exists.” Hardeman’s Fast Food Council “can keep raising the minimum wage by about 3.5% each year through 2029,” notes a May 8 post by San Francisco public TV station KQED.

“Feedback from our members suggests this has become a breaking point for many small restaurant businesses,” said the California Restaurant Association’s Megan Gamble, said in a statement cited by KQED. Added the story: “However, Economist Michael Reich said it’s still too soon to tell how the wage hike will impact employment or menu prices.

Reliable data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and other sources will start becoming available in about a month, offering more evidence, he said. Argued Reich, who chairs UC Berkeley’s Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics: “The cost of food has gone up by 20-something percent in the last three years, so that’s another reason that prices have been going up. It doesn’t mean the minimum wage has caused the price increase. Fast Food is the biggest user of low-wage workers, and a minimum wage does what it’s intended to do — to raise their living standards. And it does so, at least at the levels we’ve been studying, without causing job loss. I’ll be very interested to see what happens with $20.”

Meanwhile, in addition to his fast food gig, Atkins staffer Hardeman was given on January 24 with “One Loft Ticket to the Sacramento Kings Game,” at Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center — valued at a cool $459.75 — by mobile telephone giant AT&T Services Inc., according AT&T’s April 30 quarterly disclosure filing.

— Matt Potter

(@sdmattpotter)

The Reader offers $25 for news tips published in this column. Call our voice mail at 619-235-3000, ext. 440, or sandiegoreader.com/staff/matt-potter/contact/.

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The Fast Food Council encountered turbulence earlier this year, when Bloomberg News reported on February 28 that Panera Bread franchisee and Newsom campaign donor Greg Flynn had gotten special treatment in the bill that created the council, while at the same time exempting his Panera outlets from $20 hourly minimum wage hikes.
The Fast Food Council encountered turbulence earlier this year, when Bloomberg News reported on February 28 that Panera Bread franchisee and Newsom campaign donor Greg Flynn had gotten special treatment in the bill that created the council, while at the same time exempting his Panera outlets from $20 hourly minimum wage hikes.

Dark money assets

A $50,000 donor to the California ballot measure committee run by state Senate Democrat Toni Atkins of San Diego has been told by lawyers for the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission to stop withholding information about her potentially lucrative portfolio of real estate assets within the coastal zone.

As first reported here in September, 2022, San Francisco-based developer Susan Lowenberg made her five-figure contribution on September 1 of that year to the Atkins political fund, then aimed at the ultimately successful passage of pro-abortion Prop 1, backed by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The governor appointed Lowenberg to the state Coastal Commission on December 14 of last year.

Now, in an April 2 letter to Lowenberg’s lawyer James R. Sutton, Dave Bainbridge, general counsel of the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission, has advised that Lowenberg must amend her legally required financial disclosure statement to reveal all assets “held by her personally or by her business within the jurisdiction of her state agency.” Per Bainbridge’s letter, “Commissioner Lowenberg was sworn into office on February 1, 2024, and has already filed her Assuming Office Form 700, which did not disclose her real property interests.”

Toni Atkins has Lowenberg friends in high places.

State law, the letter goes on to say, “defines ‘interest in real property’ to include ‘any leasehold, beneficial or ownership interest, or an option to acquire such an interest in real property located in the jurisdiction owned directly, indirectly, or beneficially by the public official...if the fair market value of the interest is two thousand dollars or more.’”

Concludes the letter, “Given the clear statutory language requiring Commissioner Lowenberg, as a member of the California Coastal Commission, to disclose her real property interests within her jurisdiction—the state of California — our advice is that she amend her Statement of Economic Interests (Form 700) to do so.”

As of yet, there is no official report of Lowenberg’s current holdings, but hints of their considerable size abound. “Susan has worked as a property manager, asset manager, and vice president at the company, and has served as the president since 2011,” says her firm’s website. “She oversees the management of the company and personnel, cultivates and manages relationships with investors and tenants, negotiates all sales and leasing opportunities, and evaluates all acquisitions. She has overseen the company’s portfolio double in size.” Back in May 2020, Brookfield Property Group announced it paid Lowenberg Corporation $25 million for “seven single-tenant industrial properties” including 6400 square feet at 5775 Eastgate Drive in San Diego. “The properties are located in key infill locations in top U.S. metropolitan areas,” reported Connectre.com.


Panera’s pay ploy

It’s been a big year for Nick Hardeman, longtime top aide to Toni Atkins, the San Diego Democrat, termed out of her state senate seat and collecting big bucks for a run for governor in 2026. In March, Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom announced he had named Hardeman chairman of the state’s controversial Fast Food Council. “Hardeman has been chief of staff to State Senate President pro Tempore Emeritus Toni Atkins since 2016,” says a March 1 news release from the governor. “He served as special assistant to former State Assembly Speaker John Pérez and to former State Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins from 2011 to 2016.”

Sponsored
Sponsored

The Fast Food Council encountered turbulence earlier this year, when Bloomberg News reported on February 28 that Panera Bread franchisee and Newsom campaign donor Greg Flynn had gotten special treatment in the bill that created the council, while at the same time exempting his Panera outlets from $20 hourly minimum wage hikes.

Fast food, fast breaks: Nick Hardeman took in a Kings game on AT&T.

“To be clear, at no time did I ask for an exemption or special considerations. I was surprised when the exemption appeared in the final legislation,” Flynn said after Bloomberg broke the news. Per the news service, Newsom “pushed for places that make and sell bread to be excluded from the bill.”

Added a March 1 account, “The specificity of the bread carve-out has puzzled observers for months, especially after Newsom was asked about the exemption during a September press conference and he said it came about as ‘part of the sausage-making’ of politics and that it was ‘part of the negotiation.’” Newsom denied any nefarious dealings. “Because of your reporting the lawyers have gone back and looked at the exemption and their analysis is that Panera may not be exempt,” Erin Mellon, Newsom’s communications director. told the news service. “The exemption was never about Panera. It was always about defining fast food from fast casual.”

Two weeks later, the Sacramento Bee reported that the California labor department, where the Fast Food Council is housed, had concluded Panera was not exempt from the minimum wage requirements.

“It remains unclear whether the state’s new fast food council — which met for the first time on Friday in Oakland — will weigh in on this interpretation, which establishments can take advantage of the exemption, and why it exists.” Hardeman’s Fast Food Council “can keep raising the minimum wage by about 3.5% each year through 2029,” notes a May 8 post by San Francisco public TV station KQED.

“Feedback from our members suggests this has become a breaking point for many small restaurant businesses,” said the California Restaurant Association’s Megan Gamble, said in a statement cited by KQED. Added the story: “However, Economist Michael Reich said it’s still too soon to tell how the wage hike will impact employment or menu prices.

Reliable data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and other sources will start becoming available in about a month, offering more evidence, he said. Argued Reich, who chairs UC Berkeley’s Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics: “The cost of food has gone up by 20-something percent in the last three years, so that’s another reason that prices have been going up. It doesn’t mean the minimum wage has caused the price increase. Fast Food is the biggest user of low-wage workers, and a minimum wage does what it’s intended to do — to raise their living standards. And it does so, at least at the levels we’ve been studying, without causing job loss. I’ll be very interested to see what happens with $20.”

Meanwhile, in addition to his fast food gig, Atkins staffer Hardeman was given on January 24 with “One Loft Ticket to the Sacramento Kings Game,” at Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center — valued at a cool $459.75 — by mobile telephone giant AT&T Services Inc., according AT&T’s April 30 quarterly disclosure filing.

— Matt Potter

(@sdmattpotter)

The Reader offers $25 for news tips published in this column. Call our voice mail at 619-235-3000, ext. 440, or sandiegoreader.com/staff/matt-potter/contact/.

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