Folsom City Councilman Michael Kozlowski said he has lived in a small trailer parked on a dirt lot for several months, not in a house with his wife and child. His neighbors tell a different story.
His residence matters because Kozlowski is running to represent Folsom’s newly created District 1 covering the city’s northern neighborhoods. It’s Folsom’s first election with geographic districts for council members. Previously they were elected in citywide contests.
He chose to run for office from the vacant lot where he and his wife bought land to build a house in 2019 instead of from the family’s rental house in another part of town.
That decision means he won’t have to run against Folsom Mayor Kerri Howell, a member of the council whom Kozlowski has supported. Instead, he’ll face Mike Reynolds, the president of the Historic Folsom Residents Association.
On a recent weekday, a Sacramento Bee reporter did not see a construction crew working on the property on scenic Mountain View Drive. The lot contained a small unoccupied white trailer and a portable toilet.
Construction crews have laid cement foundation, but it does not appear they have started building the home. One neighbor, who did not wish to be identified for fear of harassment, said he had never seen anyone going into the trailer.
“I would definitely know if someone lived in there, but I’ve never seen anyone go in or out,” the man said. “It does sound like a lie. Why would a councilman live in a trailer? It doesn’t make any sense.”
Kozlowski’s wife and child have been living in a 2,000-square-foot rental house on Hammond Court outside of District 1, about two miles away from the trailer. Two neighbors who live on that street said they have seen Kozlowski there and believe he lives with his family.
Kozlowski said he sleeps in the trailer “at least five” nights a week, he told The Bee.
“Listen, I don’t advertise when I show up and when I leave, but my truck is parked there and I’m asleep in that trailer,” said Kozlowski, who is an architect.
“I’m kind of acting as site superintendent, supervising the construction, because I designed the house so I’m the best one most able to answer questions from the contractors,” he continued.
Kozlowski said construction has been delayed because of issues obtaining construction materials due to the pandemic, but will be “livable” by the end of the year, and finished by April. He said the trailer has plumbing, electricity and air conditioning.
Council members must live in their districts
It’s the second time in recent years that a Folsom councilman has faced a residency controversy. In 2020, former Folsom Councilman Roger Gaylord resigned amid controversy after he sold his house in Folsom and moved to El Dorado Hills.
In California, if a city council member does not reside or have a domicile in the district they represent, the council could vote to declare the seat vacant, and the member would be replaced. A resident of the district could also file a “quo warranto” lawsuit, a mechanism that tests a person’s right to hold office, according to Fred Woocher, an election law attorney.
There is not a “hard and fast” requirement for how many days per week the candidate must live in the district, Woocher said.
Mayor Howell said she believes Kozlowski lives in the trailer “most of the time.”
“He was hoping the house was going to be completed by now,” Howell said. “During COVID time, he couldn’t get concrete. If I thought Mike was doing something under-handed I would’ve been the first one to call him on it.
Council districts are new to Folsom
Folsom council members used to be elected for the whole city “at large,” but starting with the November election, they will run in one of the five newly created districts. That’s a change many California cities and school districts made over the past 20 years to comply with the California Voting Rights Act, a law that aims to lower barriers for less-privileged people to win political office.
Kozlowski criticized the new districts as “artificial.”
“I’ve been representing their interests for the last four years,” Kozlowski said. “And up until we artificially created districts this was not an issue that I was able or not able to represent them.”
Won’t have to challenge mayor in election
Kozlowski was elected “at large” in 2018. If Kozlowski had chosen to run for District 5, where the rental house is located, he would have had to challenge Mayor Howell.
Kozlowski collected signatures for Howell’s re-election campaign earlier this year in the neighborhood of his rental house, the neighbor said. Howell confirmed Kozlowski helped her get signatures.
“Yeah but that happens all the time,” she said.
The issue of residency among elected officials in the Sacramento region is certainly not new. In addition to Gaylord, Sacramento City Councilman Sean Loloee is facing an investigation into whether he lives in the North Sacramento house where he says he lives with his grocery store manager and her family. Loloee’s wife owns a $1.4 million house in Granite Bay. The investigation, which the city and a state agency are participating in, was launched after The Bee reported in June that Loloee does not appear to live in the Hagginwood house.
The investigation is not yet complete, and the city has declined to share the name of the law firm conducting it.