CERRITOS — Four City Council members, scrambling to defeat an initiative on Tuesday's ballot that threatens their political careers, are under attack again for accepting more money from development interests.
The critic this time is one of their own, Councilwoman Ann B. Joynt, the lone council supporter of Proposition H, which would prevent members of the council from serving more than two consecutive, four-year terms.
According to the latest campaign contribution statements, the Committee Against Proposition H received $3,945 in a three-week period ending Oct. 18, including $500 from John Bucksbaum, president of General Growth of California, a Canoga Park-based development firm.
Since the Oct. 18 reporting deadline, opponents have received another $2,100 in contributions, including $1,000 from Donald Barclay, a Torrance-based developer, and $900 from J.H. Lubin, a Downey resident and economist with the State of California, according to information filed with the city clerk.
Funds Out of Proportion
All told, opponents of the two-term limit have raised $16,445, compared to $499 for the proponents, according to records on file at the city clerk's office.
For the same period, the opponents have spent $11,035, compared to $229 for the proponents.
Accepting the contribution from General Growth was in "very poor taste," Joynt said, because the city is in the midst of negotiating with the firm to build a $95-million shopping mall on the Towne Center site across from city hall.
City officials had hoped to sign an agreement on the mall months ago, but the two sides have been unable to agree on the mix of department stores to anchor the project. Rather than switch developers, the council has given General Growth several extensions to rework its proposals, with the latest extension coming just last month.
While the contribution is legal, Joynt said, taking the money from Bucksbaum at this juncture "casts the entire council in an awkward position."
"I'm sure every one of my council colleagues would give you their personal assurance that the contribution will not influence their decision, . . . " Joynt said.
"But I believe this is a serious mistake in judgment" because talks with General Growth have been conducted in closed-door, executive sessions and "there is no way for anyone in this community to know what is going on," she said.
Councilman Barry A. Rabbitt, now in his fifth term on the council, countered by saying, "It's a disgrace to try and assert that there is dishonor" in accepting money from General Growth. As a potential investor in the city, Rabbitt said, the company "has just as much right to have a say in our political system" as any homeowner.
Right to Express Opinion
"When someone is about to invest millions of dollars in the future of this city," he added, "shouldn't they have the opportunity to express their opinion just like any other citizen?"
Bucksbaum said he made the contribution because "continuity" on the council is important. Because his company has been talking with the city for nearly three years about a shopping mall on that site, he said, it would be easier to continue working with the current council.
"I'm not suggesting (new council members) couldn't do it, but a lot of past history is known by those in office right now, which speeds discussions," Bucksbaum said in an interview last week.
Councilman Daniel K. Wong said if the council had not solicited contributions it would not have been able to mail "flyers to inform citizens about how dangerous this law really is."
Opponents say the two-term limit will make current council members lame ducks and rob residents of the right to vote for the candidate of their choice.
Proponents, however, believe that the measure will allow more people to serve on the council and end an era of well-financed incumbents controlling City Hall.
400-Room Hotel Builder
Besides General Growth, Transpacific Development Co. of Torrance also contributed $1,000 to Proposition H opponents. Transpacific is the other Towne Center developer, and in March was given the go-ahead by the council to erect a 400-room luxury hotel, several restaurants and a series of high-rise office buildings at Bloomfield Avenue and 183rd Street.
Joynt said the Transpacific contribution is not as troubling because the city already has a deal with the company. She said, "There is definitely a difference between a development proposal that is before you and one that has been approved."
Developers Donate Heavily
Nearly half of the opponents' money has come from four of the most active developers in the city, records show.
Mayor Don Knabe has said it may take $25,000 to defeat the two-term limit.