A Los Angeles City Council committee Tuesday put off a decision on whether to permit construction of a 14-story hotel in Warner Center because of allegations that a city engineer prepared a traffic plan for the project's developers.
Valley Councilman Howard Finn, chairman of the Planning and Environment Committee, delayed a vote until Oct. 15 so the city Department of Transportation can review the work of one of its employees, William Beckham, on the proposed Hilton Hotel.
Beckham, a 17-year city employee, has been accused of preparing a traffic plan for the hotel's developers while at the same time advising the city on the project's impact on traffic. Gary Morris, a lobbyist for the hotel's developer, said Beckham did not submit a bill and was not paid.
Donald Howery, general manager of the Department of Transportation, said that he has ordered Beckham, who is protected by civil service, to appear at a hearing Friday to show why he should not be fired. Howery said department policy requires employees to obtain approval from their supervisors before performing private work.
No Conflicts Allowed
There is no prohibition against a civilian city employee having outside employment "so long as it does not conflict with city business," said Ted Goldstein, spokesman for City Atty. James K. Hahn.
Beckham, who called work from his San Fernando Valley home Tuesday to report that he was sick, could not be reached for comment.
The project's effect on traffic has been a major issue before the council committee, with critics contending that the 340-room hotel would worsen traffic congestion on already crowded streets.
Morris said Beckham first contacted him, saying he was a retired city employee and had formed a company that studied how developers can reduce the impact of their projects on traffic with methods such as car pooling and staggered work hours.
"He made the comment that this study could be beneficial to us," Morris said. Such studies have helped developers win council approval for projects. Morris said he told Beckham to "put something in writing and send it to me.
"There was never any discussion of a fee," the lobbyist said.
Name Spotted on Report
The city learned about the study when, at a recent committee meeting, Finn asked Morris if he had prepared a plan to reduce the hotel's effect on traffic. Morris produced Beckham's report. Another city engineer present saw Beckham's name on the document and reported it to his superiors.
Finn sought to reassure the project's proponents during Tuesday's meeting that "an indiscretion on the part of an employee" would not affect the council's consideration of the project's merits.
The project has generated unusual interest at City Hall because of an intense behind-the-scenes lobbying battle between the developer, Norman Kravetz, who is seeking city approval to build the hotel on his property, and a rival developer, Robert Voit, who wants to stop the project.
Marriott Corp. is building a 17-story, 470-room hotel on land owned by Voit nearby.