DOWNEY — Acting on a resident's complaint, the state Fair Political Practices Commission is "reviewing" conflict-of-interest allegations against Councilman James Santangelo, a commission spokesman said Thursday.
Santangelo, a local real estate agent, has been accused of improperly voting on an ordinance last July that approved boundaries for a 380-acre redevelopment district along Firestone Boulevard. The allegations were raised in a lawsuit filed against the city last July by Downey CARES, a residents' group. In the suit, the group claimed that Santangelo should not have voted on the ordinance because he owned property in the area being considered.
City Council members have been meeting privately to discuss an out-of-court settlement with the residents' group.
Cast Deciding Vote
Santangelo, who cast the deciding vote in a 3-2 decision on the redevelopment ordinance, flatly denied the allegations.
"I don't have a conflict," Santangelo said. Of the state investigation, he said, "If they have to investigate, fine, I'll tell them whatever they want to know. . . . It's not something that I'm going to lose sleep over."
Although the allegations were originally made in the Downey CARES lawsuit, the complaint filed with the state against Santangelo was made by John Gonzalez, a city resident, who is not a member of the residents' group.
Gonzalez has made numerous accusations of zoning violations against Santangelo in the past, all after Santangelo requested an investigation that led city officials to cite Gonzalez for a zoning violation. In Downey Municipal Court, the city charged Gonzalez this year with adding on to his house on Orizaba Avenue without taking out the proper permits, said city officials. The case is pending.
Gonzalez, who previously told a reporter he complained about Santangelo to the Fair Political Practices Commission, refused comment Thursday.
In the last two months, Gonzalez has made numerous allegations of zoning and other infractions against Santangelo and other city officials in 26 handwritten reports given to City Administrator Robert (Bud) Ovrom. The reports concerning Santangelo, usually claiming alleged zoning violations, have been investigated by city officials and found to be baseless, Ovrom said. The allegations concern his personal or business activities, rather than any improprieties as a city official.
Lynn Montgomery, a spokesman for the state Fair Political Practices Commission, confirmed Thursday that Gonzalez filed the complaint and that the commission does "a review" of all allegations before deciding if an "investigation" is warranted.
"Generally when a complaint is filed regarding a conflict of interest, we do a fairly full review," she said. She said she did not know when the complaint had been filed or how long the follow-up would take.
If the commission finds the allegations against Santangelo to be groundless, it will dismiss the complaint, Montgomery said. If the commission finds Santangelo violated the state's political reform act by voting on a matter in which he had a financial interest, the commission has the power to levy a fine of up to $2,000 or refer the matter to the local district attorney for civil or criminal prosecution, Montgomery said.
At the time of the vote, Santangelo owned property in the new redevelopment district, on South Downey Avenue, as well as five properties, totaling 1 1/2 acres, on
Firestone Boulevard and Woodruff Avenue that are in a redevelopment district set up in 1978. Under the city ordinance, both the new and old districts would share tax money set aside for improving the new district.
City officials argue that Santangelo did not have a conflict of interest. The officials say that under state law a public official can participate in a vote to create or amend the boundaries of a redevelopment district but cannot vote on specific measures that may benefit him financially, such as authorizing the installation of a new sidewalk.
Santangelo said he would confer with city lawyers before deciding whether he will vote on redevelopment matters in the future.