Is City Council Member Veronica Vargas a Walking Conflict of Interest?

Is City Council Member Veronica Vargas a Walking Conflict of Interest?

By Jim Emerson

Tracy City Council member Veronica Vargas foments controversy. Questions keep dogging Vargas, regarding her elected responsibilities and private real estate development.

Her powerplays promoting proposed development plans clearly circumvent the city’s voters, who rejected massive development schemes.

The Westside Specific and downtown Transit Oriented Development (TOD) plans envision upwards of 8,000 or more new homes, and a new pedestrian-friendly downtown with a train station connecting Tracy to San Francisco.

Vargas orchestrates deals benefiting developers and homebuilders, and she supported pro-development ballot measures defeated by voters. Her support for developers is unwavering. No surprise, her political campaigns are bankrolled by the real estate industry.

Her donors include: Alyrez Properties, Birdock Properties Inc., Corral Hollow Development, Denova Homes, Integral Communities, Keenan Land Co., Land Management Inc., Phelan Haugen Development, Ponderosa Homes, River Island Development, Shea Homes, Souza Realty & Development, and Sukhrai Sandhu.

At issue is whether Vargas abides the city’s code of conduct, regarding conflicts of interest. At a city council meeting March 23, Tracy resident Jim Bozeman echoed calls for transparency.

“I am calling on Veronica Vargas to answer if she is currently or in the past has been employed by local developer Mike Sandhu or any of Mr. Sandhu’s businesses or affiliations,” Bozeman said. “Is she currently or in the past been employed by local developer Mike Sandhu’s relatives, specifically his daughter Jasmine?”

On March 2, Vargas spearheaded an agreement to subsidize a site plan study and environmental impact report, for Sandhu family landowner/developers. The council approved spending $500,000 for a study for preliminary downtown TOD planning for extensive residential development.

Seemingly by rote, Vargas dismisses questions about conflicts of interest as politics. It remains a perennial issue for Vargas who sometimes recuses herself from voting—but oftentimes does not.

“There certainly is a lot of controversy swirling around Veronica Vargas, but I would rather not comment, because I have to work with her,” says council member Elessia Davis.

Vargas owns Agora Land Consulting Inc., which provides services for project entitlements, maps, design, permits, and presentations for public hearings. She serves as chief executive officer, chief financial officer, and secretary for her company, based inside her four-bedroom home with a swimming pool.

Incidentally, Vargas received $8,920 in Covid relief funds last year from the federal Paycheck Protection Program to subsidize three employees.

Vargas has been under investigation since 2018, when attorney Steve Nicolaou filed a complaint against her with the California Fair Political Practices Commission. Vargas failed to report her financial interest for Trumark Homes to build homes, which she describes as an “error.”

Nicolaou says, “I’d rather not comment any further in case I get called as a witness.”

The city has authorized spending upwards of $1 million to pay for reports and studies for developers. All this arouses suspicions concerning Vargas because developers typically pay for reports and studies required by the city—not taxpayers.

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