Tomorrow night, Councilman Kevin McKeown will present a plan for additional financial disclosure requirements from persons sitting on the City Council. McKeown proposes a requirement that members of council who have received campaign contributions from a person, company or entity with business before the council to verbally disclose those contributions.

Campaign disclosure statements are already posted on City Hall’s website on the City Clerk page, but McKeown told the Daily Press the statements aren’t sufficient public notice (”Councilman McKeown to propose new disclosure rule,” Jan. 5, page 1).

McKeown said he wanted to make sure, the public is informed about which council members were backed by developers as the council makes land use decisions, such as whether to approve development agreements or grant zoning variances.

I agree with McKeown. City Council will soon be approving staff and Planning Commission recommendations altering existing building zoning codes as well as create new codes and specific standards to conform with the new Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) update to the city’s general plan. The LUCE approved by City Council last year is a non-detailed framework for future development in the city.

In addition, there are a number of development agreements (which allow a development to exceed or bypass current zoning regulations) pending for large, mixed use/commercial developments. Mostly are in the eastern mid-city area of town and are awaiting council review and approval.

In the coming months, developers of Bergamot Transit Village, Paseo Nebraska, Roberts Business Center, Lionsgate’s headquarters and the Village Trailer Park developments will be coming before council for recommendations and approval of their development agreements.

Many of the developers of these projects, their family members, attorneys, associates and business partners contributed individually to persons running for City Council and additionally supported independent committees and promotional entities promoting developer-friendly office seekers last November.

For example, one major developer Hines has a nearly 1-million-square-foot project — Bergamot Transit Village — pending for the 7.16 acre, former Paper Mate site at Olympic Boulevard and 26th Street.

Hines was very active in the last election. The firm donated $25,000 for controversial political mailers from Santa Monicans for Quality Government, fronted by “The Political Scientists” direct mail house, whose owner, Fred Huebscher, was also president of SMQG.

Individuals associated with Hines and its partners contributed to candidates in 2010. According to the latest campaign disclosure statements posted as of Oct. 16 (two weeks before the election), individuals associated with Hines, its financial partner, Buchanan Street Partners and law firm Harding, Larmore, Kutcher & Kozal, LLP contributed a total of $4,750 to Gleam Davis’s campaign; $3,500 to Pam O’Connor’s campaign (plus another $750 in 2009); $3,750 to Terry O’Day’s campaign; and $4,500 to Bob Holbrook’s campaign.

Year-end disclosures should be posted on the city’s website within a few weeks. Additional last minute contributions may appear in these statements.

By comparison, slow-growth candidate Ted Winterer received no contributions from developers. Slow-growth incumbent McKeown received one $250 contribution from developer Jack Walter (Lionsgate)and returned it.

Who knows (let alone remembers) which council persons received thousands of dollars from the various developers of these projects, their employees and associates except for readers of this column or those who bother to look up the disclosure statements online?  Non-disclosure here would be as bad as me accepting a donation from a developer and keeping it secret while praising the project in this column. In any case, it’s deceptive and deceitful.

Mayor Richard Bloom who wasn’t up for re-election this last year received a total of $4,000 for his 2008 council race from those associated with Hines, Buchanan Street Partners and Harding, Larmore, Kutcher & Kozal, LLP.

Keep in mind that in addition to providing developer-friendly votes for new LUCE standards and approving development agreements, these same council persons also approve appointments to the Planning Commission.

A “slow-growth” Planning Commission can stall, diminish or even kill a project. The developer/real estate interests need to ensure a developer-friendly commission that will be generous in approving projects with additional height and density and other negative impacts that could affect our community in terms of crowding and increased traffic congestion.

Planning Commissioners already disclose their relationships or potential conflicts of interests with parties that have business before the commission prior to discussion and voting. Council must do the same.

When one accepts thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from persons or entities doing business with City Hall, disclosure really isn’t enough. It’s too bad a city ordinance can’t be devised to demand that a council person recuse themselves from voting if they’ve accepted more than token campaign contributions from any given entity. 

Of course, it’s highly unlikely that council would approve such an ordinance. Nevertheless, disclosure of campaign contributions to council persons from those “doing business” with City Hall should be required at council meetings. The public must demand it.

 

 

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com.   

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