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No District 4 Assembly office holder but office still being rented

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Add the cost of four months' rent to the special election tab revolving around Sen. Ted Gaines’ decision to seek two state offices at the same time. The total, according to lease figures from the state’s Assembly Committee on Rules has been adding up since early January. The monthly rent for the empty district office in Roseville is $3,390, including utilities and janitorial-maintenance services. And the position – and the office – may not be filled again until May. “(The expenditure) is not necessary,” said Bogdan Ambrozewicz, one of eight candidates to fill the vacant 4th District post. “Someone is benefiting from this, maybe a friend of the family?” Gaines said Friday that while the building owner, Nick Alexander, is someone he’s known for a long time, he had no say in keeping the District 4 office open and believed it had to do with weighing whether to give 30 days’ notice, pay moving costs and then have to relocate the next Assembly member. In fact, Gaines said that after choosing a location, the Assembly Rules Committee staff negotiates the lease. Gaines won a third and final two-year term as District 4 Assemblyman last November and then won a special election in January for the District 1 state Senate seat. The Senate win meant Gaines not only vacated the Assembly post he has held for the past four years. It has also meant vacating his 1700 Douglas Boulevard office in Roseville, which now stands empty while continuing to be leased by the state. An official with the Assembly Rules Committee said it will remain empty until Gaines’ successor takes office. That could happen March 8 as eight candidates vie for a majority of special election votes. But if no winner emerges, the top two finishers – no matter what party they are aligned with – would go on to a May 3 runoff election. The new Assembly member could be sworn in immediately – if precedent was set with Gaines quick swearing in before the vote count was declared official by the Secretary of State – or could be delayed another three weeks while the four counties District 4 encompasses provide a final count. Jon Waldie, Assembly Rules Committee chief administrative officer, said that Gaines’ former offices in Roseville and at the Capitol will remain closed and unstaffed while the special election moves forward and until a new Assembly member is sworn in. With no Assembly representation, any phone calls to the Assembly District 4 office are now being redirected to the appropriate state Senator, he said. On the plus side, Waldie said that the choice was to incur costs by buying out a lease or continuing on with the two-year lease now in place. “It’s often cheaper to keep the lease but shut the office down,” Waldie said. Another cost saving is being incurred while no one collects the $95,000-a-year assemblyman’s remuneration. And Gaines said he has five staff members instead of the 12 most senators have. He’s in the midst of hiring another. Gaines added that the number of staff he will have in the future is still an open question. “But for each month we move forward, we’re saving thousands of dollars for the taxpayers,” he said. After being sworn in, the new Assembly member will have a choice of keeping Gaines’ old office or going out on the market and finding a new location, he said. Gaines’ choice after he won the Senate seat was to take over Cox’s old Capitol office and move Cox’s old district office to a new location in Roseville. Gaines said the old lease on the Cox office was $5,098 a month and the new office lease is $3,196. He added that he has closed two other district offices – in Sacramento and Plumas. Waldie said that it hasn’t been unusual in recent years to have vacant offices. “With term limits, there has been an explosion of running mid-term in special elections,” Waldie said. “They’re filling vacancies for boards of supervisors and city councils as well as the state Legislature. And that’s causing more vacancies. It’s the nature of the beast.” Gaines has been criticized by people like Meadow Vista government spending watchdog Wally Reemelin for forcing the special election by running for the Senate as well as Assembly seat and winning both. And County Clerk-Registrar of Voters Jim McCauley has said that each round of the Assembly special election will cost $800,000, with no guarantee Placer County will be compensated for its costs by the state. Since being sworn in as a senator, Gaines has added his support to proposed legislation to compensate Placer County and other jurisdictions for the special election. Gaines has also introduced a cost-cutting bill that would allow counties with populations of 400,000 or less to go to a mail-only ballot for special elections. Gaines said that Sen. Dave Cox’s death came after the June primary so he couldn’t get his name off the Assembly election ballot for November. “I feel I can serve the state of California better in the Senate and the voters agreed with that,” Gaines said. “I’ll continue to work for the taxpayers to help to save them billions by not supporting tax increases. The focus should be on how to balance a budget that is $25 billion in the red.”