POMONA — Fearing that their cautiousness could jeopardize the proposed Inland Pacific World Trade Center, City Council members have reversed a previous decision and voted not to hire an independent consultant to analyze the $96-million project.
The analysis, which would have cost about $15,000 and taken six weeks, had been requested last month by Councilwoman Nell Soto, who has been openly skeptical about the financial integrity of the project's promoter and co-owner, H. Thomas Felvey.
By a 3-1 vote, the four-member council agreed on June 22 to seek the study. On Monday, however, the council voted 3 to 1 to forgo the analysis and proceed with plans to construct the 14-story trade center.
"You can study something to death," Mayor Donna Smith said in an interview after Monday's meeting. "I'm not willing to stab a dagger into the project."
Soto, who ended up being the only dissenting council member, said she was irritated at having spent the last month interviewing potential consultants for nought.
"If the council hadn't intended to hire one in the first place, we never should have gone through that exercise," she said. "We were sincerely trying to do something. . . . We spent a lot of hours."
The reversal came at the urging of several local business leaders who told the council that they believed any further delays could damage the city's efforts to attract commercial development.
"Studies by consultants seldom come up with answers. They tend to be vague and ambivalent," Philip Pumerantz, president of the Pomona Chamber of Commerce, wrote in a letter to the council.
"It is our opinion you will be in the same position you are in now when the study is complete, except that you may have done irreparable harm to the city's credibility in the process," Pumerantz wrote.
Chuck Trapp, president of the Pomona Economic Development Corp., said he believed that the city staff members, who have prepared all the documentation for the project, already have done the analysis that the council sought.
"You'd just be hiring another consultant to do what an army of consultants has already done," he said. "It's a case of overkill."
Felvey, who holds exclusive rights to negotiate for the development of the downtown trade center site, became a source of concern for the council after a story in The Times outlined how the Orange County architect had left a trail of debt and unfinished projects throughout the Los Angeles area over the last decade.
According to Los Angeles County Superior and Municipal Court records, Felvey and three of his corporations are the subject of at least 12 uncontested default judgments for debts ranging from $1,000 to $96,000.
After interviewing more than two dozen former business associates and employees, it was learned that four firms that have done work directly connected with the proposed Inland Pacific World Trade Center have severed ties with Felvey because they contend that he or his corporations still owe them money.
Felvey, 41, has said that his professional difficulties should have no bearing on the 1-million-square-foot international business complex he hopes to build on a 4.5-acre site across from City Hall.
Council members, however, have responded with caution. At a June 8 meeting, they balked at a plan to provide Felvey with the land he needs to build the project until they could meet personally with all his development partners.
Still seeking reassurances about the extent of risk being assumed by the city, council members then decided to hire an independent redevelopment consultant to analyze the project.
"I had hoped that if there was anything we had not been aware of that might be a higher risk than we thought to be, the independent consultant could have told us," Soto said. "It would have made me feel better."
Although other council members said they believed the city was already well protected, they agreed to hire the consultant as a way to get unanimous support for the project.
"I think it's so important and such a boost to the city that it deserves the full support of the City Council," said Councilman Mark A. T. Nymeyer, who helped Soto interview potential consultants. "In so many words, I put my foot into the camp of people who tend to look at the project with a little bit of a jaundiced eye."
However, when Soto and Nymeyer returned to the council on Monday recommending that their colleagues hire the Claremont consulting team of Gunn, Russell, Copenhaver & Co., support for the idea had eroded.
Councilman E. J. (Jay) Gaulding, who had initially voted to hire a consultant, said that that had never really been his intention.
"It was very unclear at the time," he said. "I thought they were just going to take it up again and see what was going to be done on it. I've never supported" paying for the study.