A non-profit affordable housing complex located in National City, California has become a major political force in San Diego County.
Since 2010, the “San Diego County Building Trades Council Family Housing Corporation dba National City Park Apartments” has donated about $800,000 directly to campaign committees, most of them based in San Diego County. It has been a top donor in 2016 to campaigns to pass bond measures for San Diego County community college and school districts where construction contractors are required to sign Project Labor Agreements (PLAs).
For example, this “low to moderate income apartment community” in National City has given $50,000 to the campaign to pass Measure X, which authorizes the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District to borrow $348 million via bond sales to investors. In addition, it helped to pay for polling services on behalf of the college administration. (The polling results had to be obtained from the college through a public records request.) It also gave $50,000 to the campaign to pass Measure Z, which authorizes the Southwestern Community College District to borrow $400 million via bond sales to investors.
This money is obtained through rental payments of apartment tenants. Built in 1968 with US Department of Housing and Urban Development funds, the National City Park Apartments have apparently been owned and managed by the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council since their construction. The head of the Trades Council – Tom Lemmon – is chairman of the Board of Directors for the San Diego County Building Trades Council Family Housing Corporation and receives some compensation from the Corporation. He also lived there as a boy. In 2008, the Trades Council paid off the loans from its purchase of the apartment complex.
The payoff of those loans may have triggered the decision to start getting the affordable housing complex involved in politics in 2010. Another inspiration may have been the Citizens United decision issued on January 22, 2010 by the U.S. Supreme Court. That controversial decision extended certain political speech rights to non-profit organizations classified under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(4) as “operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare . . . the net earnings of which are devoted exclusively to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes.” The San Diego County Building Trades Council Family Housing Corporation tells the IRS that its purpose is “to provide affordable rental housing for low to moderate income families.”
Below is a list of ways that the National City Park Apartments are providing “affordable rental housing for low to moderate income families.”
Political Contributions of San Diego County Building Trades Council Family Housing Corporation dba National City Park Apartments and Affiliated Entities, 2010-2016
|Election||Recipient of Contribution||Amount|
|2010||Yes on Prop J (San Diego Unified School District parcel tax)||$50,000|
|2011||No on Prop A and Prop B (City of San Diego Project Labor Agreement ban and pension reform)||$5,000|
|2011||Californians Against Identity Theft and Ballot Fraud (radio ads to discourage people from signing petitions for PLA bans and pension reform)||$25,000|
|2012||A Better San Diego Issues Committee, a Sponsored Committee of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, AFL-CIO||$100,000|
|2012||Kids First/Yes on Prop Z (San Diego Unified School District bond measure)||$85,000|
|2013||David Alvarez for City of San Diego Mayor (after Bob Filner resignation)||$75,000|
|2014||San Diego County Democratic Party (for David Alvarez for City of San Diego Mayor, after Bob Filner resignation)||$12,500|
|2014||Yes on Prop 41 (Coalition for Veterans Housing, to pass California Veterans Housing and Homeless Prevention Bond Act)||$5,000|
|2014||San Diego County Democratic Party (for November 2014 Election)||$47,500|
|2014||Escondido Taxpayers Association (opposing ballot measure to enact charter for City of Escondido)||$10,000|
|2014||Chula Vista Voters Against Corruption (committee formed to oppose John McCann for Chula Vista City Council)||$25,000|
|2015||San Diego Works! sponsored by San Diego Imperial Counties Labor Council, AFL-CIO||$15,000|
|2016||Contribution to independent expenditure committee primarily formed to support Proposition I, Barbara Bry, and Justin DeCesare, sponsored by Alliance San Diego Mobilization Fund (preserve San Diego High School in Balboa Park, elect Bry and DeCesare to San Diego City Council)||$25,000|
|2016||San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council Political Action Committee||$25,000|
|2016||San Diego County Democratic Party||$10,000|
|2016||South Bay Parents and Community for Quality School Construction (Sweetwater Union High School District bond measure)*||$73,650|
|2016||Rendon Ballot Measure Committee to Keep California Competitive (committee under control of California State Assembly Speaker)||$10,000|
|2016||San Diego County Democratic Party||$7,000|
|2016||Educators & Parents for Great Schools to Support Whitehurst-Payne for School Board 2016, sponsored by San Diego Education Association (independent expenditure committee primarily formed to support Sharon Whitehurst-Payne; Board Member; San Diego USD)||$10,000|
|2016||Teachers and Parents Putting Kids First Supporting Kevin Pike 2016 (independent expenditure committee primarily formed to support Kevin Pike; Board Member, Sweetwater Union HSD)||$8,000|
|2016||South Bay Families for Affordable College – Yes on Z (Southwestern Community College bond measure)||$50,000|
|2016||Rodriguez for City Council 2016 (Jose Rodriguez, National City Council)||$1,000|
|2016||Rodriguez for City Council 2016 (Jose Rodriguez, National City Council) – office space||$2,700|
|2016||Irene Lopez for San Ysidro School Board 2016||$1,000|
|2016||Tremper for Chula Vista School Board 2016 (Glendora Tremper for Chula Vista Elementary School District board)||$2,000|
|2016||Careers & Affordable Education for East County – Yes on X (Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District bond measure)||$50,000|
|2016||San Diegans for Full Voter Participation, Yes on K and L, Sponsored by Community and Voter Rights Organizations (City of San Diego ballot measures to shift election significance from June to November, when more people vote)||$75,000|
|2016||Careers & Affordable Education for East County – Yes on X – polling (Grossmont/Cuyamaca Community College District bond measure)||$1,875|
* Campaign reports from South Bay Parents and Community for Quality School Construction indicate two $22,500 contributions on February 1, 2016 from the San Diego County Building Trades Council Family Housing Corporation that are not in the Corporation’s own campaign reports. Those contributions are included in this amount.
Lobbying and Policy Activity
The San Diego County Building Trades Council Family Housing Corporation also provides funding and support for labor union activism and allied causes. Some examples:
- Since 2011 the San Diego County Building Trades Council Family Housing Corporation has employed Murtaza Baxamusa as Director of Planning and Development. Baxamusa is a union-oriented economist involved in many policy debates in San Diego County going back to his previous position with a San Diego-based union-oriented think tank called the Center on Policy Initiatives. He is a leader of the Middle Class Taxpayers Association, a union front group that is displacing traditional fiscally-conservative taxpayers associations as the statutorily-required taxpayers representative on local government bond and tax oversight committees.
- It provides grants to organizations such as the Center for Policy Initiatives, Cesar Chavez Service Club, and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.
- It sponsored a lunch in 2016 at the San Diego Housing Federation 25th Annual Affordable Housing and Community Development Conference. The San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council is among the highest-status members in this organization.
- It uses the legal services of Ricardo Ochoa, a union lawyer. Ochoa represented the San Diego County Building Trades Council Family Housing Corporation No. 1 for its defense of a civil rights lawsuit for housing and accommodations (Gash v. San Diego County Building Trades Council Family Housing Corporation No. 1). Ochoa also represents school and community college district faculty unions in San Diego County. Recently he filed a lawsuit on behalf of a coalition of unions and other groups called “Quality of Life Coalition” – with the political director of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 569 as lead plaintiff – to challenge the ballot arguments in support of a transportation investment plan and sales tax (Measure A) on the November 2016 ballot. During the development of the transportation plan, unions had demanded that the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) mandate a Project Labor Agreement on construction contracts funded by the tax.
It’s all about providing affordable rental housing for low to moderate income families.
CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS – SOURCES
The Local Affordable Housing That Labor Built – commentary by Tom Lemmon – San Diego Union-Tribune – June 3, 2011
Building Trades’ Family Housing Corporation Re-Elects Board Members – San Diego Reader – February 8, 2012
Kevin Dayton is the President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.