Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, a lesbian whose wife, Jennifer LeSar, heads LeSar Development Consultants, which specializes in affordable housing, has been accused of conflict of interest for her proposal that California hand out $500 million for apartments for low-income residents.
Barbara Decker, the GOP candidate who lost in November when Atkins won reelection to the Assembly, said that the proposal smacked of “crony capitalism.” Christine Mann, a San Diego City Hall watcher, said that the proposal was a “huge problem.”
Atkins defended herself to the Los Angeles Times, asserting that she had been trying for decades to push through fees and tax credits for affordable housing. She said, “I’m trying to deal with the need for affordable housing, which is one of the biggest crises that we have in California and has been for more than 20 years.” Atkins added that the Office of Legislative Counsel told her there was no conflict of interest, as her proposal was for general funding and not designed for any particular company or project.
Atkins protested that there would be competitive bidding to determine how the money was parceled out. She stated, “This does not directly necessarily benefit Jennifer at all. She may advise developers, but she does not develop affordable housing.”
LeSar averred that she would never ask the state for the funds Atkins has proposed doling out; she added that she eschewed bidding on a contract offered by the Department of Finance just to point out there was no conflict of interest. Admitting that some of her clients might ask for funding, she continued, “none of this money that comes from the state will ever come to me… It goes to the developers, and we’re consultants.”
As far back as 2011, there was heavy criticism of the duo’s business dealings, including accusations of Atkins still working for LeSar Development Consultants after she was elected to State Assembly, a quid pro quo when Atkins voted for selling a 17-acre NTC site to developer Corky McMillin for 1 dollar a year followed by McMillin hiring LeSar as a consultant, and LeSar obtaining $235,000 to provide “technical assistance” on efforts to house the homeless.
Atkins has revealed that some clients of Lesar’s include the San Diego Housing Commission, Affirmed Housing Group, Monarch Acquisitions, the El Cajon Housing Authority, and the cities of San Jose and San Bernardino. Lesar’s company lists Atkins as an alumna.