It has been two years since a citizen's group claimed that Downey Mayor James Santangelo improperly voted on a redevelopment project in which he owned property, but the dispute has come back to haunt Santangelo, who has been charged with a single conflict-of-interest charge.
The charge stems from a lawsuit filed against the city in 1984 by Downey CARES, an anti-redevelopment group that claimed Santangelo, who owns a real estate firm, should not have voted on a redevelopment ordinance because he owned property in the redevelopment area.
In the past, Santangelo has blamed City Atty. Carl Newton for giving him bad legal advice on the vote, which was held just seven days after Santangelo took office in July, 1984. But this week Santangelo declined to comment on the charge.
"This thing means a lot to me and I do not want it tried in the newspapers," Santangelo said. "I have been living with this thing for a long time and I just want it to be over. I am happy it has finally come to a head after two years."
Newton, who was appointed by the city council in 1983, also refused to comment.
Boggs Supports Mayor
Santangelo can continue to hold office while the case is pending, according to Deputy Dist. Atty. Herbert Lapin, who filed the charge. If convicted, Santangelo would be required to resign and could not seek election for four years. A conflict-of-interest conviction is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $10,000 fine, Lapin said.
Last week, after several closed sessions, the City Council voted to pay for Santangelo's legal fees while he fights the conflict-of-interest charge. While other council members declined comment, Councilwoman Diane Boggs expressed support for Santangelo.
"I would hope that the district attorney's office would find some real criminals to prosecute. Jim Santangelo is not a criminal," Boggs said. "This whole conflict-of-interest thing has gotten out of hand. Pretty soon we will have to bring someone from Arizona to vote on redevelopment issues."
Boggs also supported Santangelo's claim that he did not receive an orientation from Newton on legal matters associated with being a council member. Boggs, who was sworn into office the same day as Santangelo, said she did not receive an orientation either.
"I think we will receive better orientation now because of this mess," Boggs said. "I am not going to chop up Carl right now, because in general, I think he is known for giving overly cautious advice."
Santangelo cast the deciding vote on July 10, 1984, in a 3-2 split in favor of expanding a 125-acre redevelopment project to 380 acres. The new boundaries in the redevelopment district, which was set up in 1978, would have included property owned by Santangelo at that time, making him eligible to receive property tax money for redevelopment.
District Plan Invalidated
Although Santangelo said he planned to develop his land with his own money, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Norman R. Dowds invalidated the proposed district last fall and ruled that Santangelo had a conflict of interest when he voted on it.
The project area, which runs along Firestone Boulevard and includes the Embassy Suites Hotel, remains at 125 acres, according to Jim Cutts, director of community development. However, the Planning Commission this week asked the City Council acting as the Community Development Commission to begin the process to expand the district to 430 acres. The council took no action on the request.
When the city approved the redevelopment district, Santangelo owned property in the proposed expansion area on South Downey Avenue. That property was later sold. Santangelo currently owns five parcels totaling 1 1/2 acres within the 125-acre redevelopment district, where his Century 21 real estate offices are under construction.
Santangelo recently abstained when a procedural issue involving the redevelopment district was voted on.
Santangelo has apparently gathered the support of the Downey Chamber of Commerce, of which he is a former president.
"I think he has done a lot of good in this community," said Pat Gomez, president-elect. "He has a lot of support in the business community. I think I speak for all of us when I say how very unfortunate this whole thing is."
Santangelo is scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 20 in Division 81 of Los Angeles Municipal Court. A trial date could be set within 45 days, Lapin said.