LONG BEACH — Already charged with soliciting sex with an undercover policeman, city Planning Commission Chairman Richard Gaylord was criticized Tuesday by Mayor Ernie Kell for his conduct in office.
Kell refused comment on Gaylord's Friday night arrest at Bixby Park, saying the City Council, which confirms the mayor's Planning Commission appointments, does not involve itself in "pending cases."
But when asked about Gaylord's performance as a planning commissioner, Kell said he has been bothered by the mix of Gaylord's real estate brokerage business and his official duties as a commissioner.
"To represent a buyer or seller and have that same thing come before you (creates) a public perception that sometimes is not the best," Kell said.
Kell, who must decide whether to reappoint Gaylord when his four-year planning term expires in June, is himself a developer. The mayor said he has shied away from projects in Long Beach to avoid the impression that he is using his office for personal gain. But Gaylord, he said, has had a number of conflicts.
Kell cited Gaylord's recent abstention, then vote, on the $50-million Pacific Coast Club restoration project and his early-April abstention on a proposed Belmont Pier restaurant-and-apartment development as examples of personal business intruding into the commissioner's official role.
But Gaylord--a 1982 City Council candidate, president of the Long Beach Board of Realtors and a leader in the city's large gay community--said he has done nothing wrong as a commissioner.
He said he was the broker for the Pacific Coast Club property while it was in bankruptcy two years ago, but that he had no professional relationship with the current owner. After an abstention on an early Pacific Coast Club vote, the city attorney's office advised him that he had no legal conflict of interest, Gaylord said. The commission gave the project unanimous approval.
$20,000 Commission at Stake
Gaylord has abstained from voting on or discussing the Belmont Pier project, he said. He represents the owner of the land and stands to gain about $20,000 in commissions if the deal goes through, he said.
As a broker, Gaylord acted as an intermediary with city officials several months ago, setting up a meeting on the project site with his client and Planning Director Robert Paternoster, Tidelands Agency General Manager Carolyn Sutter and a staff member from the Public Works Department, he said.
As the pier proposal moved through city channels, Gaylord said he stopped acting on its behalf. And when it was considered by the Planning Commission three weeks ago, "I did it the same way every council member does it when there is a conflict: I abstained," Gaylord said.
But Kell said of Gaylord, "He stands to make $20,000 . . . and the deal is based on getting a conditional-use permit. That bothers me because he knew full well that it had to go to the Planning Commission."
Kell's comments came as the City Council and gay community leaders were responding to news that Gaylord was formally charged Monday with soliciting an act of prostitution, a misdemeanor offense that carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. First offenders are usually fined between $200 and $400 and get no jail time, City Prosecutor John A. Vander Lans said.
Councilmen Support Him
Council members declined to comment on the prostitution charge but expressed general support of Gaylord, who said he had received calls of support from a majority of the council members.
"He's a dear friend of mine, and it's a real unfortunate situation . . . He's done a tremendous job for the community," Councilman Ray Grabinski said.
Councilman Thomas Clark, who appointed Gaylord to the Planning Commission in 1983, said he has been "a good community leader" and an effective member of both the Planning and Civil Service commissions.
Meanwhile, David Shaul, a prominent businessman in the gay community, said Gaylord's arrest should refocus public attention on the undercover operations of the Police Department's vice section. Gay leaders have maintained for years that undercover police make unwarranted lewd-conduct arrests.
"Mr. Gaylord's arrest points basically to the problem we've been talking about for some time, that we've had harassment from the Police Department," Shaul said. "The crime rate in our city is staggering, yet we find these types of incidents go on on a regular basis."
"We are human beings," Shaul added. "And if a gay man is attracted to a gay man, and if that other man pretends to be something he is not, then I wonder where we stand."
Wants Priorities Changed
Although refusing detailed comment on his arrest, Gaylord said it "will give us some impetus to look at police priorities."
"I am a law-abiding citizen, and what I hope for in Long Beach is that our new police chief . . . takes a hard, close look at some priorities and perhaps reassigns some of them," Gaylord said.