Condos, Lies, and Automobiles 

Port Commissioner Tony Batarse is supposed to live in Oakland, but he has a habit of not telling the truth and may reside in a tony Peninsula suburb.

First there was Ed Jew, the San Francisco supervisor who claimed to reside in the city while living in Burlingame. Then came Chris Kavanagh, the Berkeley rent board member arrested by authorities near his Oakland cottage. And now there appears to be a third Bay Area public official who doesn't live where he's supposed to — Oakland Port Commission President Anthony "Tony" Batarse Jr.

Batarse is a politically connected multimillionaire who wears immaculate suits, drives a baby-blue-colored Bentley, and made a fortune selling new and used cars. He owns several North Bay and East Bay dealerships, including the Lloyd A. Wise dealership headquartered in Oakland. He also is close friends with Oakland City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente and a faithful campaign contributor to state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata.

As a member of the board overseeing the fourth-largest container port in the nation, Batarse is required by the Oakland City Charter to reside within city limits. He claims that his official residence is in the farthest reaches of East Oakland in one of the toughest neighborhoods in the city. But his real home seems to be in the ultra-expensive Peninsula suburb of Hillsborough, where he owns a six-bedroom, five-bath house occupied by his wife and son.

In two face-to-face interviews last week, Batarse admitted that he spends some of his time in Hillsborough with his family, but maintained that Oakland is his true home. "In my heart, I live in Oakland," he said. "I feel I'm a citizen of Oakland."

But interviews and a review of public records show that Batarse has a long history of lying about where he lives. At the very least, he is a scofflaw who appears to have committed perjury, voter fraud, and possibly, tax fraud. For example:

San Mateo County records show that even though Batarse says he lives in East Oakland, he has been taking the homeowner's exemption on his property taxes for his Hillsborough home since at least 1985, including last year. Under state law, it is illegal for a property owner to take the exemption — which lowers one's tax burden — on a home other than the one he lives in.

Since January 2002, Batarse has listed the headquarters of Lloyd A. Wise auto dealership at 10550 International Boulevard, Oakland, as his official place of residence with the Alameda County Registrar of Voters. Under state elections law, it's illegal to use a business address when registering to vote, and voter registration affidavits are signed under penalty of perjury. In last week's interviews, Batarse admitted that he has never lived at the dealership.

Although he doesn't reside at the dealership, he installed a bedroom, shower, and full kitchen there — and proudly showed them off. However, according to city records, he never obtained permits for the shower, dishwasher, stove, and oven he had put in — even though he also served for three years on the Oakland Planning Commission, which enforces the city's permitting laws.

Batarse maintained that he has nothing to gain financially from claiming Oakland as his home because port commissioners are unpaid. But as president of the commission, he wields considerable influence over the city's waterfront, seaport, and airport.

For instance, one of his first major votes after then-Mayor Jerry Brown appointed him to the commission in June 2003 was to approve the sale of more than sixty-plus acres of public waterfront land, known as Oak-to-Ninth, to a major Perata campaign contributor. In fact, Batarse has been a reliable supporter of projects and deals that benefit friends and donors of De La Fuente, Perata, and Brown since joining the commission.

Records and interviews also show that the 74-year-old Batarse has engaged in a pattern of lies and deception from the moment he said he first "moved" to Oakland nearly ten years ago. He said he originally relocated because he once fell asleep on the San Mateo Bridge while driving home to Hillsborough and because he felt a debt of gratitude to the city where he made his fortune.

But Batarse's real motive may have been to quickly establish residency after then-Mayor Elihu Harris appointed him to the Oakland Planning Commission. In fact, county and city records show that Batarse first registered to vote in Oakland on January 29, 1998 — three weeks after he began serving on the commission.

Batarse also repeatedly claimed that his first Oakland "home" was a condo at 555 Tenth Street, near downtown. But county property records reveal that he did not buy that condo until February 1999 — more than a year after he supposedly moved to Oakland.

When he originally registered to vote in Oakland in January 1998, he listed his official residence as 1446 104th Avenue — a small house around the corner from the dealership. But Batarse admitted that he never lived at the 104th Avenue home, and only stayed there on occasion. Nonetheless, he continued to list that address as his official residence with the registrar of voters until January 2002 when he switched it to his workplace — which is now a Honda-Kawasaki motorcycle dealership.

Batarse said he moved that year from his 10th Street condo to his new "home," a three-bedroom condo, around the corner from the dealership. However, when asked the address of this condo that he claims to have lived in for more than five years, he had to look it up in his personal address book (it's 1473 Tucker Street).

Tax records show that Batarse doesn't take the homeowner's exemption on either the dealership or the Tucker Street condo. Under the state election code, the homeowner's exemption is one of the indicators for determining someone's true residence.

When asked why he takes the exemption on the Hillsborough house, Batarse responded: "Because my wife lives there. ... I don't know, I'm not a lawyer." He also claimed that when he registered to vote he didn't know that he was legally prohibited from using his business address, even though the official affidavit he signed states, "Address: Where You Live."

In his first interview with Full Disclosure, Batarse said he spends five nights a week at the Oakland condo and two nights in Hillsborough. But then in the second interview, he changed his story to four nights a week in Oakland (Monday through Thursday) and three in Hillsborough (Friday through Sunday). Yet when Full Disclosure knocked on his Hillsborough door on a recent Tuesday morning and asked his Spanish-speaking housekeeper whether Tony Batarse would be back "mañana," she responded, "Sí." Also, when this reporter asked one of Batarse's employees whether he lived at the dealership, the worker said: "No. He lives in Hillsborough."

To prove his residency, Batarse had his secretary give this reporter a tour of the Tucker Street condo, but then she had to show him where the keys were in his desk. Admittedly, it did look as if two men lived at the condo — at least part-time. The cupboards were full of dishes, the refrigerator contained a few items, including a small carton of milk and a jug of orange juice, and there were men's clothes in the closets of two of the rooms. Batarse said a former employee stays there with him when he's in town.

Batarse said he likes having the condo near his office because he's a workaholic who puts in long hours. Born in El Salvador, he said that living apart from his wife of 54 years is "a cultural issue." He said she does not want to move to Oakland because she's a pastor in a San Mateo church and because one of their adult sons is "mentally retarded" and they have established a network of friends on the Peninsula.

All that's fair enough. Still, based on Batarse's long record of not telling the truth about where he lives, can this slick car salesman be trusted? After all, it's hard to believe that a very wealthy man who obviously enjoys life's luxuries would choose to live in a rough neighborhood in a drab condo at an address he can't remember, when he has a beautiful 5,000 square foot house in one of the Bay Area's most exclusive communities — a house, by the way, that features bay views, manicured gardens, two satellite dishes, and a large swimming pool with a waterfall.

Before Ed Jew and Chris Kavanagh, voter fraud cases involving public officials were relatively rare in the Bay Area. In fact, Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff has said he couldn't remember the last time it happened in the East Bay. Not so, however, in Los Angeles County, which has prosecuted a number of high-profile cases in recent years.

The lead prosecutor in those cases, Dave Demerjian, head deputy of the Public Integrity Division of the L.A. County District Attorney's Office, said that people are allowed to own as many residences as they want, but they can only have one "domicile" for voter registration purposes. A domicile is defined as a person's true home.

Demerjian is currently prosecuting the mayor of Vernon for voter fraud. Leonis Malburg, one of the nation's longest-serving mayors, is much like Batarse in that he claims that he lives in a nondescript apartment in Vernon while allegedly living in a Los Angeles mansion.

When told of the Batarse case, Demerjian said that it doesn't matter that he spends four nights in Oakland and three in Hillsborough, and thus claims that Oakland is his home. "What matters is where is all of his stuff," he said. "Where are his clothes? Where are his golf clubs? Where are his DVDs? Where is his family?"

Throughout a second interview, during which Batarse appeared to be stumped by certain questions about his residency, he repeatedly requested that Full Disclosure call Port Attorney David Alexander, even though Alexander technically represents the port and not him. Alexander did not return two phone calls seeking comment. Port spokesman Harold Jones said that Batarse made "a mistake" and intends to change his voter registration address from the dealership to the Tucker Street condo. Oakland City Attorney John Russo, who enforces the city charter, also did not return several phone calls.

It should be interesting to see if Russo and Orloff investigate Batarse, like their counterparts in San Francisco have gone after Jew. After all, Jew had no major political connections to speak of before he was arrested — unlike Batarse, who is a chamber of commerce stalwart with plenty of juice in Oakland.

Not only has Batarse donated at least $17,900 to Perata's campaigns since 2001, his real estate business partners include De La Fuente crony Ana Chretien, owner of ABC Security; De La Fuente's former chief of staff, Carlos Plazola; and onetime powerhouse lobbyist Lily Hu, the original focus of the Perata federal corruption probe. Campaign finance records also show that Russo has accepted at least $1,100 in donations from Batarse in the past two years.

On the other hand, making a case against Batarse would not be as easy to do as the slam-dunk case facing Kavanagh, who didn't even have a home in Berkeley while serving on the city's rent board, Orloff said. "He had his certificates of election to the rent board mounted on the wall of his home in Oakland," Orloff added.

When first told that Batarse had listed his dealership when he registered to vote, but took the homeowner's exemption in Hillsborough, Orloff sounded intrigued. "It looks like we have another investigation to do," he said. But then, when told that Batarse actually claims to live in the condo and not the dealership, the district attorney backed off. He said that muddied the issue, and added that he would not decide whether to investigate until after this story came out and he had a chance to see what kind of reaction it produced. 

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