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Oakland City Councilmembers Defend Use Of Pricey Warriors Playoff Tickets

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) -- A chosen few enjoyed Game 4 of the NBA Western Conference Finals at Oracle Arena for free from a VIP suite - politicians, holding tickets worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

After days of dodging our questions we finally caught up with one of the worst offenders, Oakland City Councilman Abel Guillen. "Can you tell us why we found face value that you used $76,000 dollars of warriors tickets for yourself?" we asked him.

"I would refer you to the Joint Powers Authority who set up the agreement," said Guillen.

A KPIX 5 investigation found Guillen and Council President Lynette McElhaney go see the Warriors for free more than any other elected official in Alameda County. We spotted them one recent night enjoying a playoff game from a luxury suite.

Since January of last year, Guillen received $76,000 worth of free tickets.  McElhaney got $125,000 worth.

It's all part of an agreement signed with the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum Authority over a decade ago. The city council, county supervisors and the Coliseum's Board of Commissioners each get a suite - and a stack of tickets to every event.

"It's an outrageous amount of money," said Corey Cook, Dean of the School of Public Service at Boise State University, and a former professor at the University of San Francisco.

Cook said elected officials in California can only accept up to $460 worth of gifts, but in this case, "The city council in Oakland has passed a resolution that, in effect, says these aren't gifts."

The agreement with the Coliseum spells it out:  since the tickets are "not" gifts, they must be used for a public purpose.  "I can't imagine residents of Oakland see the public value in spending literally hundreds of thousands of dollars to send city council members to Warriors games," said Cook.

We found elected officials get around the rules by claiming they are going to "investigate efficiencies" or for "oversight of facilities." But even when they do give tickets away to reward community volunteers, schools or non-profits, Cook sees a problem. "I would certainly vote for a city council member who gave me tickets to a Warriors game," said Cook.

There are other questions about some of these giveaways, such as a pair of tickets to a playoff game donated by Supervisor Richard Valle to Dominic Dutra, a prominent local real estate developer.

I caught up with Valle at a Board of Supervisors hearing.

MK: "Are you concerned that that could be shown or viewed as a political gift, a political favor …?"
RV: "No, not at all."
MK: "Why is that?
RV: "I don't know if Dominic actually went to the game."
MK: "We also saw in the public form that you gave two of the tickets to your son as well.
RV: "That is correct, yeah. I invited my son from San Diego.
MK: "Do you remember what the public purpose was by chance?
RV: "Well his friends are people that have helped me in the past. They have done a lot for me. They are young people. I think the kids are the future of our country."

As for city councilman Guillen, he told us he also gives tickets away.

AG: "Serenity House, Oakland Parks and Recreation, Boys and Girsl Club .."
MK: "Do you  think maybe the system should be changed and council members should not be allowed to use them for themselves at all?
AG: "I think that's something worth looking at."

Warriors games have been just one of the Coliseum Complex events that elected officials have been going to for free. The last Prince concert, Beyoncé and Bruce Springsteen were also favorites. We are looking into who went to those for free as well.

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