Don Perata is a lobbyist, and the city of Alameda has retained his services to make headway on issues ranging from traffic calming to tsumani preparedness.
‘The Don’ renews his lucrative lobbying contract with Alameda. Backers say he’s worth every cent.
Following Don Perata’s unsuccessful bid in 2010 to be Oakland’s next mayor, one of the East Bay’s political giants was out of the game. But, like many well-connected politicians before him, he turned to a lucrative career in lobbying. The relationships built over the span of four decades are now currency for Perata. Since registering as a lobbyist in 2013, Perata has quickly earned more than $600,000.
The California Infill Builders Federation has retained Perata’s services, as have the health-care firm Ramsell Corporation and Intelligent Sign Network, LLC, both in Oakland, along with rail operator SSA Marine, among others. Yet the city of Alameda stands as the biggest client of Perata Consulting, LLC.
In 2013, the Alameda City Council broadened Perata’s portfolio when it approved a one-year $90,000 contract for the services of his firm, which appears to be a one-man shop consisting only of the man both lovingly and derisively known as “The Don.” Last December, the council approved a three-year extension of his contract, worth an additional $270,000.
A majority of the issues now on his plate appear to be extensions of the previous year’s work, including road improvements, funding for tsunami preparedness, and pushing through Oakland traffic mitigations designed to reduce congestion of the Webster-Posey Tube. Lobbying for additional ferries to the island will be Perata’s top focus this year, according to the scope of services he provided the city in December. Perata has a long history of favoring an expansion of aquatic transportation, even though it is the least cost-effective form of major Bay Area transportation.
Perata’s ties to Alameda are well known. He grew up on the island and cut his teeth in local politics during the fight in the early 1970s to limit housing construction. As his career blossomed as an Alameda County supervisor and State Senate Pro Tem leader, Perata was no stranger to controversy. A lengthy five-year FBI investigation into Perata’s business dealings ultimately produced no criminal charges, but the stigma sullied his image. Later, a number of ethics violations involving campaign finances tainted his image further, and suggestions arose questioning Perata’s allegiance to his closest allies.
Some in Oakland also howled in late 2013 when Perata led one of his newest clients, the Oakland Raiders, on a tour of the vacant Concord Naval Weapons Station as a possible site for a new stadium. This came at a time when city and county officials were actively working on a plan to build a new venue for the team in Oakland.
However, Perata’s past never surfaced during council discussions over his consulting contract in 2013, or last December, and city officials speak of him in glowing terms.
“Don delivers,” Alameda Councilmember Tony Daysog said with a smile. “I’m unapologetic about having Don as a lobbyist, given his extensive contacts.”
The math of Perata’s deal also works for Daysog. “Some people look at $270,000 and their eyes will pop out,” Daysog said. Instead, he views the six projects slated for Perata over the next three years as penciling out annually at $15,000 apiece. “That’s reasonable,” said Daysog, who also is an economic development consultant. “If it means getting someone with Don’s muscle, then the cost over three years is worth it.”
If Perata can move along the long-languishing Broadway-Jackson traffic proposal to resolution, Daysog said that alone will make it a successful partnership. “If he brings home the bacon on that issue alone, his contract, to me, is worth it.”
That project would improve access to the Interstate 880, I-980, Jackson Street and Broadway interchange and the Posey and Webster tubes. Alameda officials believe the road project will ease congestion by diverting traffic heading out the Posey Tube toward Sixth Street in Oakland and relocating the existing entrance to I-880 at Jackson. Oakland Chinatown interests have balked at the plan, and a lack of funding has stalled it for more than a decade. However, $75 million in proceeds from the recently approved Measure BB transportation sales tax is allotted for it, which city officials attribute, in part, to Perata’s lobbying.
Alameda Councilmember Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft abstained from the 4-0 vote on Dec. 2, the next to last meeting of Mayor Marie Gilmore’s administration. The reason she questioned the staff’s recommendation in support of Perata’s contract, she said in an interview, had nothing to do with Perata’s bid, but the lack of information provided to the council. For instance, a detailed list of Perata’s accomplishments over the course of the previous one-year contract was not included in the staff report, just a proposal for the next three years.
Later, a one-page summary of Perata’s lobbying for 2013 was compiled by Assistant City Manager Alex Nguyen. However, no document was ever provided to the city by Perata himself. Calls to Perata’s office in Orinda were not returned.
Nonetheless, Ashcraft was satisfied by the summary, she said. “Part of what I was trying to impress upon the staff was the council and the public need to have all the information we can get so we can make good decisions,” Ashcraft said.
When it came to lobbying against an Assembly bill last year that threatened Alameda’s seat on the state Water Emergency Transit Authority, Ashcraft traveled with Perata to Sacramento and came away impressed by the former state Senate leader’s gravitas even thought he left the statehouse more than seven years ago. “It’s clear he still commands quite the attention in the capital,” Ashcraft said.
The water board reorganization bill, AB 935, in its original form, never came close to a vote in the Legislature, and Alameda retained its voice on the WETA board. Ashcraft said torpedoing the bill was important due to the city’s reliance on water transportation for its plans at Alameda Point.