SOUTH PASADENA — Outspoken City Councilman Robert Wagner resigned from the city's redevelopment agency last week, the latest episode in a bitter feud over contentions that he lied about his financial ties to a shopping center next to South Pasadena's only redevelopment project.
Wagner has admitted that he might have a potential conflict of interest in voting on decisions that involve the project, even though he said he sold the Squires Square shopping center to his adult children in 1977 and 1978.
On the advice of an attorney with the state Fair Political Practices Commission, Wagner had been voluntarily abstaining from most agency decisions since January.
But Mayor Lee Prentiss, who has accused Wagner of lying about his connection to the property, said he will not be satisfied until Wagner explains why government records show that he still holds title and receives income from the land.
The controversy--which Wagner calls a "political vendetta" and which Prentiss insists is "not a Wagner-bashing"--was expected to be resolved at a City Council meeting Wednesday. Instead, Wagner resigned from the agency without elaborating on his connection to the property.
"I'm trying to determine whether you blatantly lied to the City Council" over who owns the property, Prentiss said to Wagner at the meeting.
"It depends on a clarification of what you call a lie," Wagner responded.
Council members James Woollaaott Jr. and James C. Hodge Jr. said that the exchange left them confused and that they will not reach a conclusion until Wagner presents a formal statement to the council on Sept. 17.
The council did not indicate who might be appointed to replace Wagner on the redevelopment agency.
The turmoil had already heated up at an Aug. 6 meeting of the Community Redevelopment Agency when members of the City Council, who also serve as the agency, sought to clarify Wagner's financial ties to the shopping center and whether he should remain on the agency.
Based on Wagner's own decision to abstain from voting, City Atty. Charles Vose had advised the councilman either to resign from the agency or not to attend meetings where the redevelopment project was discussed.
After stating that the shopping center had been sold to his children, Wagner decided at that Aug. 6 meeting to continue serving on the agency, but stepped down from the dais and did not participate, according to agency minutes.
However, Prentiss said after the meeting that he thinks Wagner still owns the shopping center or at least controls it. He showed a reporter a copy of Wagner's statement of economic interests for 1985 which shows that he received more than $100,000 that year from his interest in Squires Square.
In addition, county tax records examined by The Times show that Wagner and his wife, Bernice, still own three of the four lots that make up Squires Square, which houses a Vons supermarket in the 1100 block of Fair Oaks Avenue.
Prentiss said that he does not believe Wagner ever directly benefited from any vote he cast on the agency.
But the mayor said he was concerned about the integrity of city government because he believes Wagner may have lied about his financial holdings.
Wagner, in an interview before last week's council meeting, said that those records do not tell the whole story.
He refused to disclose the details of his financial transactions.
However, tax documents examined by The Times show that part of the shopping center was purchased in 1977 and the remainder in 1978 by Robmaric Trust, which is operated by Wagner's 31-year-old son, Richard, on behalf of all three children.
Wagner explained that tax records indicate he still owns the property because the title will not formally be transferred to Robmaric Trust until he receives final payment for the land.
The sale was based on a long-term land contract, a common method of handing down property within a family, that gives the trust approximately 15 years to finish paying for the purchase, Wagner said.
The $100,000 Prentiss referred to on the public financial disclosure form for 1985 represents those ongoing payments from Robmaric Trust, Wagner added.
When asked why he had not shown the property records to the council, Wagner said he had already revealed all financial information required by law.
Mark Ryavec, chief deputy to the county tax assessor, said that if a contract of sale has been signed, then the property technically has been sold. However, because the sale never was reported to the county, tax records show that the councilman still owns the land, Ryavec said.
Lynn Montgomery, a spokeswoman for the Fair Political Practices Commission in Sacramento, said that Wagner's interest in the property probably represents a potential conflict of interest, but because he had been voluntarily abstaining from the agency votes, she did not think Wagner could be considered guilty of any violations.
Wagner called the allegations "a political vendetta."