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Some Questionable Moves

April 06, 1986

It would be nice if everyone looking for housing received as much help as Supervisor Bruce Nestande has been getting lately.

When Nestande started house hunting, he was able to pick up the phone and call any number of builders and personally discuss his needs with them. Which he did. Not very many people have that advantage.

Last July, after selling his home in Orange, Nestande leased a three-bedroom model home from the Baldwin Co. He lived there until March when he moved his wife's furniture into a $1.3-million Newport Beach home owned by developer David Stein, a personal friend. The furniture is being stored there, rent-free.

Just a few days after Nestande moved the furniture into Stein's unfurnished house, county supervisors, including Nestande, unanimously approved a multimillion-dollar commercial project Stein is developing at Monarch Beach. Nestande says he never was involved in any discussions on the project before the vote and thus there was no conflict of interest.

Nestande now lives in the basement of attorney Gary Proctor's house. Proctor is a personal friend the supervisor appointed to the county Airport Commission.

None of this, as Nestande sees it, is wrong. He says that he received the same consideration any other "strong" buyer in the housing market would and that as soon as he realized that a Baldwin Co. project northeast of El Toro would be coming before the county board, he voluntarily walked away from the leased home in Orange.

Nestande may not have violated the letter of any law, but if the public perceives that he did indeed use the power of his position to gain preferential personal treatment, the result is the same: an undermining of public confidence in government and its officials. And that perception does exist. A group of residents opposing the Baldwin project has already asked that Nestande abstain from voting on it because he lived in one of the company's homes.

What is as disturbing as Nestande's receiving the personal attention that his constituents can't command is his failure to realize how imprudent his actions have been.

Nestande insists that he is sensitive to conflicts of interest. He should be even more sensitive now. So should other public officials. Knowing how important it is to scrupulously avoid special treatment isn't enough. They must do it, too.

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