Developer asks BART board member Fang to step down for key vote

Mike Koozmin/The S.F. ExaminerClash: Republic Urban Properties

Mike Koozmin/The S.F. ExaminerClash: Republic Urban Properties

A building developer is asking BART board member James Fang to recuse himself from an impending vote on a development project at the Millbrae station because of the director’s close ties to a rival bidder.

Last year, the BART board voted to enter into exclusive negotiations with the Justin Development Corporation regarding a proposal to build a hotel on two parcels of land owned by the transit agency near the Millbrae station.

The vote raised eyebrows after it was reported that company owner Lawrence Lui made campaign contributions to Fang’s re-election efforts and helped fund a trip to China taken by BART staffers and board members. Fang’s family also owns an office building about a half-mile from the proposed development site.

In a closed-session decision earlier this year, BART opted to reopen the bidding process for the development project. With another vote looming on the project — possibly coming next month — Republic Urban Properties, the developer that lost out to Justin last year, has asked Fang to avoid participating in the decision-making process regarding the Millbrae development. Republic has proposed to build an office complex on the site, a plan now being considered along with Justin’s hotel project.

“To say this selection process has been tainted, would be, under these circumstances, a gross understatement,” Republic lawyer Scott Emblidge wrote to the transit agency’s general manager, general counsel and board. “No reasonable observer could believe that director Fang is capable of being an objective decision maker. He has been, and continues to be, an advocate for a developer with whom he has personal and financial ties.”

The vote to enter into exclusive negotiations with Justin was approved by a 6-2 vote in May 2011, with one of BART’s nine directors absent. While Lui donated $3,500 to Fang’s re-election campaign, Republic pledged $450 to BART director Joel Keller, one of the two directors who voted against the development plan.

However, two of the BART directors who backed the measure — Lynette Sweet and Bob Franklin — are no longer with the agency.

Fang said he would seek advice from BART’s lawyers and, if they recommend that he recuse himself, he would, although he said they have given him no indication so far that it would be necessary. Fang said he is just trying to do what’s best for BART, and that Republic Urban Properties has hired a group of lobbyists to attack him and his family and friends.

“I think that this is real curious that they’re not letting this go,” said Fang, who is BART’s longest-tenured director, at 22 years. “I’m just one vote. I think Urban is giving me way too much credit.”

BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said the agency is unaware of any legal conflict of interest that would prevent Fang from voting on the matter. She declined to provide details on why the bidding process was reopened, citing the closed-session negotiations of the deal.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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