Sacramento lawmaker mostly absent from legal residence

03/13/2013 12:00 AM

05/21/2013 6:24 AM

Assemblyman Richard Pan is required to live in the district he represents, but he apparently is spending little time in the residence he purchased to comply with the law, a Bee investigation shows.

When redistricting prompted Pan to establish residence away from his Natomas home, he began taking more than $28,000 in annual expense payments last year and bought a Pocket-area condominium in the newly drawn 9th Assembly District.

He registered to vote there and swore under penalty of perjury that he was living there.

But the Sacramento Democrat never moved his wife and two young sons from Natomas.

Five times in the past month, The Bee has checked on Pan's whereabouts at night or in the early morning. Each time, he was at the Natomas home.

Neighbors near the Pocket-area condominium, meanwhile, say there is no sign Pan is living there.

Pan declined an interview request Friday but released a brief statement: "When I moved, I registered to vote and established a home – a legal domicile – in the district I represent today. In full accordance with state law, I own and spend time in multiple residences in Sacramento."

State law allows legislators to own many residences but only one can be a domicile, the address they swear is their home on state voter records.

The law provides a "conclusive presumption" that lawmakers are telling the truth about their sole domicile, but facts underlying their declaration must be accurate at the time a person became a candidate for office, said Jennifer Lentz Snyder, assistant head deputy for the Los Angeles District Attorney's Public Integrity Division.

State law is not meant to allow a shell game in which lawmakers acquire a house and call it their domicile to qualify as a candidate, never intending to live there, according to Snyder.

Los Angeles County prosecutors filed charges in recent years against two Democratic politicians, Sen. Rod Wright and Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcón, contending that facts show they could not have been telling the truth in their residency declarations. Both cases are pending.

To examine whether Pan truly lives in the district he represents, The Bee began by knocking on the door of the North Natomas house where he is not registered to vote and that he contends is not his principal residence about 6 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 8.

Pan was there at the time, explaining that his in-laws were visiting and he had come to have dinner with them.

Subsequently, The Bee visited the Natomas neighborhood once a week, for four consecutive weeks, parking near the Pan home beginning at 7:30 a.m. Each time, the legislator's sport-utility vehicle was parked inside his Itasca Avenue garage and a reporter watched him drive away.

Three neighbors at Pan's other residence, the condo across town in the Pocket area, said there were no signs of his living there. Interviewed separately, two said they had seen a man pick up mail occasionally but leave soon thereafter.

One accurately described Pan's vehicle. The third neighbor said she does not recall seeing any lights on in the condo at night and presumes the unit is vacant. The three agreed to talk to The Bee only if their names were not used.

Bob Stern, a political analyst and political ethics attorney, said that voters expect their state legislators to live in the district they represent, but any backlash "may be more of an issue of integrity than anything else."

"If you say you live there, you're supposed to live there," he said.

Kimberly Nalder, director of the Project for an Informed Electorate at California State University, Sacramento, said that voters may be more forgiving of residency violations after the redrawing of district boundaries, particularly if candidates live near a newly drawn seat they seek.

"But voters want to believe in statements made by their elected officials, and if misstatements come out yeah, that's always a problem for an elected official," said Nalder, stressing that she was not familiar with nor commenting on Pan's case.

Pan told reporters in October 2011 that he was relocating from North Natomas to qualify as a candidate for the 9th District, which stretches from the Pocket area south through Elk Grove and Lodi. The move enabled him to avoid butting heads with fellow Democratic incumbent Assemblyman Roger Dickinson in Sacramento.

Pan initially rented an apartment in the Pocket area, then purchased a condominium in a gated development near John F. Kennedy High School.

He changed his voter registration to that address and designated it as his principal residence in obtaining a homeowner's tax exemption, records show.

He also began taking $142-a-day per diem payments from the state. The money is designed to help out-of-town lawmakers pay expenses while they are away from their homes working at the Capitol.

While Sacramento-area lawmakers are eligible for the payments, few ever have taken them.

Pan did not put his North Natomas home up for sale, telling reporters at the time that the real estate market was weak and that his wife, a dentist, operated a dental practice near that residence.

Pan said he had moved to the Pocket area but was spending time at both residences.

Pan's three-bedroom, 1,174-square-foot condo in Roundtree Court was acquired in February 2012 for $82,500, according to the Seattle-based data tracker, Zillow.

The condo is less than half the size of the North Natomas home he says he moved away from.

Within days of winning re-election to the Assembly last year from his new district, Pan signed documents to explore a state Senate bid in 2014, targeting the seat of Sacramento Democrat Darrell Steinberg, who will be termed out.

Steinberg's district encompasses both of Pan's two homes.

Call Jim Sanders, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @jwsanders55.


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