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Parking Law Raises Conflict of Interest Question : Hawthorne Investigating Planning Director's Role in Measure That Affected Wife's Property

January 30, 1986|GEORGE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

HAWTHORNE — Planning Director Jim A. Marquez guided into enactment a new parking ordinance that removed an obstacle to construction of a 15-unit apartment house on property owned by his wife and brother-in-law, according to city records and interviews with present and former city officials.

A spokesman for the California Fair Political Practices Commission said the situation appeared to be a potential conflict of interest. State law prohibits public officials from taking part in decisions in which they or their spouses have a financial interest.

City officials, who learned of the situation last week from a Times reporter, said they are looking into the matter to see if discipline is warranted. City Atty. Michael Adamson said his office and the Police Department are investigating.

Marquez, 35, who became planning director in 1981 after six years with the city, denied any wrongdoing. "There is no conflict of interest," he said. Asked to explain further, Marquez said, "I don't think I really have to."

Financial Stake

Throughout months of deliberations on the new ordinance, which was adopted June 11, 1984, Marquez did not inform the mayor, the City Council, the Planning Commission or the city manager that he had a financial stake in its passage, the officials said.

"I hate to think I was snookered," said Dr. Maurice Lee, a Planning Commission member. Said City Council member David York: "I would have liked to have known. It might have made me alter my vote."

Without the new ordinance, which permitted narrower parking stalls, the planning director would have had to alter his plans and build fewer units, according to a former Hawthorne building official. The official, Anand P. Laroyia, said he refused to accept Marquez's initial plans because they violated parking requirements which were then in effect. The 15-unit project might have lost as many as four apartments, according to parking requirements in effect at the time.

Documents, tape recordings of city meetings and interviews give the following account:

The property in question is a deep but narrow lot, 42 feet by 302 feet, at 12617 Eucalyptus Ave. near the intersection of El Segundo Boulevard and Inglewood Avenue. Three units on the site were demolished in November, 1983.

About that time, a parking committee of the Planning Commission, which had been formed in May, 1983, to review parking standards and work up proposals for a new ordinance, began a series of meetings at Marquez's request, after having been apparently inactive, according to city records, for at least four months.

Requested Meetings

The first of those meetings took place as a result of a request made by Marquez on Nov. 2, 1983. A second meeting was held at Marquez's request on Dec. 7. The parking committee met next on Jan. 4, 1984, and during the Jan. 18 commission meeting, Marquez scheduled another committee meeting.

City officials said no tapes or minutes of the committee meetings exist. But, according to Lee and Jim Nakai, the two commission members on the parking committee, at one of those meetings Marquez suggested that proposals for a new parking ordinance include permission for narrower parking stalls for compact cars. They could not recall which meeting it was.

"There was a time when the director brought up the fact that we should allow for compact parking. . . . He had examples from other cities he showed us. We were in his office, the three of us," Nakai said in an interview.

City records show that on Jan. 12, 1984, Marquez applied for a permit to build a 15-unit apartment house on the lot on Eucalyptus and paid $676.65 to have the plans checked. The building permit application was for a 27-foot-wide building.

Marquez claimed in a recent interview that the plans he submitted met parking requirements in effect at that time. "I never received a plan check correction that the parking had to be modified," he said.

But records of the planning department contradict Marquez's assertion: The planning department's plan-check record for January and February, 1984, shows that planning assistant Michael Goodson wrote on Feb. 2 that plans could be approved only if new parking standards were adopted.

Marquez's building plans met further opposition, according to other officials.

Laroyia, whose job in the Building Department at the time was to review plans to see if they conformed with the building code, said he rejected the plans because parking was not according to code. "I was saying because it was not according to the code, he must move the parking and he must have (fewer) apartments. . . . I say, 'You will lose some of the parking and you will lose some of the apartments.' I gave it back.

"I worked in another department so he could not put pressure on me. Marquez backed off. (My boss) agreed with me."

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