Conflict of Interest? Khamis Doesn’t Vote on Own Memo

A bizarre occurrence flew under the radar at last week’s City Council meeting, as Councilmember Johnny Khamis was forced to recuse himself from a vote on his own memo. The matter itself—the rezoning of a property on Blossom Hill Avenue that includes San Jose Skate rink—appears relatively mundane, but the chain of events that led to Khamis’ abstention raises a number of questions about potential conflicts of interest.

On Monday, March 10, Khamis authored a memo requesting that a discussion on rezoning the property be deferred to the April 15 evening session for more community input. He noted that the 37-year-old, wood-floored San Jose Skate is an institution, and the “item should be heard at an evening meeting so that interested members of the public may attend after work hours and offer input on this agenda item."

What Khamis failed to mention in his memo is that just a week earlier he was inquiring about leasing the roller rink with family members. When twice reached for comment last week about his interest in the property, Khamis’ story changed several times in regards to when he made inquiries.

On Thursday, Khamis told San Jose Inside that he took an interest in leasing and renovating San Jose Skate back in mid-February. “My sisters and I and a few other investors were looking at it, thinking a few weeks ago, ‘Wow, this place has really gotten run down from when we were kids,’” he said.

Khamis reached out to the owner on Friday, Feb. 28, and they talked about the monthly rent price. “He said he’s already had five offers,” Khamis said, adding that the current rate is about $7,000 a month, but one offer went as high as $70,000 if the owner allowed the space to be converted into a fitness center. “As soon as the guy told me $70,000, I left it at that.”

Except he didn’t.

Khamis continued to inquire about the property, and on Sunday, March 2, he called fellow Councilmember Ash Kalra. The property, previously owned by the Health Trust, is located in Kalra’s district. The two then exchanged text messages. On Monday, March 3, Khamis stopped by Kalra’s office to follow up about the property, the latter said. A Khamis staffer then followed up again with Kalra’s office on Wednesday, March 5.

Khamis said his office experienced some miscommunication and a staffer did not realize he was no longer interested in the property. But this doesn’t explain why he would ask Kalra for the owner’s contact info—and follow up in person—after he had already found out the space was too expensive to rent.

“As far as everything that was said, I’m operating off of what I recall,” Khamis said. “I don’t even remember texting [Kalra] to be honest.”

Coincidentally, or not, just a week after Khamis expressed interest in leasing the space, the property’s zoning designation was up for consideration on the March 11 council agenda. Changing from a “planned zoning development” to a “neighborhood/community commerical zoning district” would bring the property in line with the 2040 General Plan, according to a staff memo. It could also result in the skate rink being converted into a health club.

Khamis said the item was “mysteriously snuck in” and he first became aware of it while reading his council agenda over the weekend of March 8-9.

“Usually on a controversial issue, people give me a warning in advance; even lobbyists come talk to me, citizens come talk to me. And I was reading my agenda and I was wondering why this is being rezoned,” he said.

But in the same interview, conducted at the end of Friday last week, Khamis told San Jose Inside that he first became aware of the agenda item on March 6 or 7.

“In the beginning there were only two people who talked to me, one on Friday and one on Thursday,” Khamis recalled. “And I said, ‘Why don’t you write me a letter?’”

Khamis’ memo to defer action on the item was filed on Monday, March 10 at 4:32pm, according to the City Clerk’s office, and both he and his chief of staff claimed substantial community concern motivated the deferral request. But resident emails reviewed by San Jose Inside show that only one came in before Khamis filed his memo. More than a dozen emails then followed after the fact.

“What’s bizarre to me is he expressed private interest in the property, then made a request to defer, and then came all these emails from the community,’” Kalra said. “Any controversy surrounding the issue was precipitated by his actions.

“If constituents had asked me to defer the issue, I would have done it in a heartbeat. But I never heard anything until Johnny put out his memo.”

Following a closed session meeting the following morning, Tuesday, March 11, Kalra approached City Attorney Richard Doyle with concerns that Khamis authored a memo about a property he had wanted to lease just a week earlier. Khamis initially told San Jose Inside that he sought out “the lawyer,” which is how he referred to Doyle, following closed session on March 11. But in a second interview, Khamis admitted that Doyle approached him about the matter.

“He told me it’s not a major conflict of interest, because I didn’t make an offer,” Khamis said.

Doyle could not be immediately reached, but Kalra said his conversation with the city attorney went a little differently.

“I just know when I talked to Rick, he seemed pretty clear that [Khamis] needed to abstain,” he said.

“There’s nothing wrong if someone has a private interest in something going before the council,” Kalra added, “but if you’re a councilmember there should be no doubt you should recuse yourself. In this case, I was just shocked that he talked about investing in it and then, without letting me know or the planning department know, he asked for a deferral. Once there’s even a hint of interest in a potential item coming before the council, that should be a clear sign that you back off and take no involvement in the item.”

When asked if he or his business partners still had an interest in the skate rink or property, Khamis said, “Absolutely not.” He added that he believes the skate rink will be eliminated if rezoned.

“I don’t like people sneaking stuff in, that’s all—especially a controversial issue like this, our heritage,” Khamis said. “I think Ash kind of made a big deal that I had talked to the owner about leasing the property, and then I talked to the lawyer, and the lawyer said that although I don’t have a conflict of interest—because I did not make an offer—I should abstain just to squelch any naysayers.”

“The implication that anyone is hiding something is ludicrous,” Kalra countered. “This is a standard rezoning. All we’re doing is conforming the zoning for what it’s used for now and in the future. Maybe he just needs to learn more about the planning process.”

Khamis said he will be meeting with Doyle today to determine whether or not he should vote on the matter, which is back on this week’s agenda.

As an additional coincidence, Kalra and Khamis will travel together to Washington D.C. next week as part of a delegation for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

UPDATE: The property in question is no longer owned by the Health Trust, as stated by the staff memo. Don Imwalle Jr., who disputed the city's living wage policy in December, owns the skate rink, while the medical facility is now owned by Barry Swenson.

Josh Koehn is a former managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley.

20 Comments

    • The matter was dropped but no apology came from Khamis for bringing this to the media.

    • San Jose Skate is owned by a jerk who owns Normandy House in Santa Clara which has had numerous incidents of patrons urinating after they leave the bar, breaking into people’s homes, and making noises all over the community. San Jose Skate is owned by a guy who cares less about the issues of quality of life.

      • [ Fordwarburton = James C. Rowen ]

        The “jerks” at Normandy House probably cut James off and tossed him out. Well before last call, too.

  1. Khamis was interested in renting a property? The cost to rent that property would go up if the property was rezoned? Khamis asked for a delay on the rezoning decision for that property so that there would be “greater public participation”? The property is not in Khamis’ district, and yet Khamis wrote a memo asking for a delay in the zoning decision for the property?

    If Kalra had been more political, Khamis would have been toast. Khamis was lucky that Kalra went to the City Attorney with his concerns before a vote was taken. If he had gone after a vote was taken, this would be a much, much bigger story.

  2. More than the possible conflict of interest itself, aren’t Khamis’ alleged conflicting statements and omission of truth/facts the real issue here? Seriously people, at least now, he will be meeting with the City Attorney and the conflict of interest issue will be addressed. That still leaves on the table the issue that a representative of the people in our city has allegedly lied, been evasive, omitted the truth and just unable get his story straight. This in my book is a huge deal.

    As for the rink itself:
    Personally, I would love to see it stay as a roller rink. San Jose Skate has the public skate nights, skating lessons, sessions for artistic skaters as well as being a practice space for the Milpitas Speed Team (an inline speed skating team from the now closed Cal Skate Milpitas), San Jose Fly Field Hockey and the Silicon Valley Roller Girls, a nonprofit organization (SVRG is comprised of 3 women’s competitive teams, a recreational “team”and a girls junior derby team).

    to FORDWARBURTON re rink owner
    Knowing about the rink and reading your statement would leave one to beleive they are 2 different owners. Leaving me with the impression that the actions of bar patrons once they have left the property does not necessarily attest to the owner’s character. It says more about those individuals.

      • Hey Ford,

        Somewhat of an expert on this after 12 years… The language of the law is difficult to decipher, but it does state that the venue is responsible for the safety and well being of the patrons. That being said, it doesn’t say anywhere in the ABC books that bars are required to hire and maintain security.

        Furthermore, there is no language in the law stating exactly what a venue must do to preserve the “Safety and well being” of the patrons. Can I use a tazer? Pepper Spray? Good old baton, S&W .38 special on my hip?

        Since there actually isn’t anything on the books, most venues that I know simply hire a scarey looking guy who likes to fight, then pay them under the table, with the hope that if said person gets injured they can simply say, “Look at my books, he wasn’t an employee, just some nutjob that wore a shirt with “SECURITY” emblazoned across it.

      • [ Fordwarburton = James C. Rowen ]

        “the law requires bar owners to be responsible for the actions of people visiting the bar”

        Horse apples, Jimmy Wowen. The law makes them liable if they negligently continue to serve people who later prove to be a hazard to the the real citizens around them.

        People such as yourself.

  3. Are any of us really surprised why this once great city is spinning down the toilette? Because they all follow in Chuck’s foot steps. They lie, they cheat, they make false statements and they make back room deals. Crap get real you 40% in San Jose who ever bother to vote. And the rest of you how are not even registered to vote (60%) then go crying when you are a victim of a crime. Careful what you wish or voted for / or did not.

    Step up and read the facts, or just continue to be a victim. The council who is running for mayor will only bring the same results.

    Time for a change………….Vote Dave

  4. Listen folks, every “I don’t recall.” and every time Khamis’ story changes is the equivalent of a L-I-E! (lie)

  5. Having repeatedly pegged Law Enforcement’s BS meters, we already knew that Khamis was a liar. Among his more notable lies, he is on record as saying in at least one community meeting that Measure B was not a primary proximate cause of the exodus of police officers leaving SJPD.

    After his decision to file a ludicrous Internal Affairs complaint against a highly respected Police Lieutenant for having the temerity to disagree with Khamis in public and correct his lie, we learned that Khamis is a petulant sniveling coward.

    This is just another nail in the coffin of Khamis’s idiocy, ineptitude, spinelessness and penchant for deceit.

  6. He also filed IA complaints against a sergeant and two officers for calling him out in a private message. So he and Shane Connolly took it to the media and it backfired when he and the city were threatened with first amendment violations by a well known attorney. How long will these clowns be allowed to fiddle while Rome burns?

  7. Almaden did you really vote this knucklehead into office? Shame shame…

    • What do you mean KNUCKLEHEAD? You just gave him a compliment. If you can get on “Nextdoor” or if you know someone who is able to access it see what we are going thru over the Development of the Hill directly across Almaden Expressway from Lake Almaden. It calls for 10 homes with 4 multi story homes on the side of the Hill facing Lake Almaden. He is pushing the Development. We found out that he received contributions from Realtors and Developers.The one that really hit me was the $500.00 THAT WAS GIVEN BY THE CALIFORNIA REAL ESTATE POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE LOCATED IN LA TO HIS CAMPAIGN. I GUESS THAT OLD DEBTS ARE REPAID.

  8. VANLEEUWEN, MICHAEL LEE, Owner Normandy House)

    San Jose Skate and Normandy House

    now associated with Johnny Khamis

    NORMANDY HOUSE

    a) long time file at Santa Clara Police Department as a place for bad conduct
    b) Khamis supports bars with bad conduct?

    • [ Fordwarburton = James C. Rowen ]

      Wait a minute, Jimmy – do you really expect us to believe that the Normandy House was actually lowering YOUR property values?

      Bwahaahaaaa!

  9. Deceit has been Khamis’ M.O. since day one. He came to my door when he was running for City Council. It took him 20 minutes to admit that he was a Republican! I told him his ideas made him sound like a member of the Tea Party. He denied that but I was met with silence when I asked him how his positions differed from those of the Tea Party. Lastly, John Sununu the east coast conservative talking head and Western States Oil Company both endorsed or gave him money in the last election. What possible interest could they have in San Jose City council politics you ask? Khamis wrote an op-ed in the Mercury pushing for the county to convert their buses to Natural Gas even though County transportation is not the responsibility of the City Council. Looks like maybe Western States Oil Company was looking for a little pro quid pro.

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