MONTEBELLO — A citizen's group that includes city Treasurer Thomas C. Wong has sued to stop Montebello from spending $1.1 million on a new parking lot to accommodate the expansion of a privately operated restaurant and discotheque.
"It's my belief it's a gift of public funds," said Wong, a member of Save Our Community which is suing the city and the City Council. "It smells. It smells really bad."
But Mayor Arnold M. Glasman, pointing out that city elections are being held next month, called the suit a political ploy.
The council voted 3 to 2 in August to spend $1.1 million to build a 350-space parking lot on about two acres in Montebello's Bicknell Park. The lot would serve customers of the expanded Quiet Cannon restaurant and dance club, which leases a city-owned building adjacent to the park.
City Administrator Joseph M. Goeden said the council voted to pay for the parking lot because the Quiet Cannon expansion would bring in about $200,000 in additional lease and tax revenue annually. He also noted the city owns the Quiet Cannon facilities and would regain control of the improved building when the lease expires.
"It's basically a million-dollar improvement that we will make to our property up there," Goeden said.
In addition to the parking lot, the City Council on Aug. 24 approved an expansion of the Quiet Cannon. Its operator, Quiet Cannon Montebello Inc., will spend $2.5 million on a new restaurant and enlarged cocktail lounge, dance and banquet facilities.
The City Council also extended by 20 years the operator's 25-year lease, which was to have expired in 1998. Glasman and Councilmen Bill Nighswonger and Art Payan voted to approve the expansion and new parking lot. Councilmen William M. Molinari and Edward C. Pizzorno voted no.
Glasman said the City Council since 1985 has been considering expanding parking for the city-owned facilities. "I go up there to golf and sometimes you have to park farther away than you would like to," he said. "The need for parking is something that is essential even if the Quiet Cannon expansion didn't pass."
Glasman said the lawsuit was filed to coincide with the upcoming elections. "It's not surprising that a candidate would try to get headlines by bringing a lawsuit like that," he said. "It's simple to raise allegations in a lawsuit. Proving them is much more difficult."
Wong, who is seeking re-election in the Nov. 3 election, had his own charges. He noted that the three councilmen who voted in favor of the Quiet Cannon have each received hundreds of dollars in campaign contributions from Quiet Cannon Montebello Inc., its president, David Perrin, and his business associates.
Payan Seeking Reelection
Payan, who is also seeking reelection, received $1,000 in campaign contributions from the Quiet Cannon as of Sept. 19, according to campaign disclosure statements. Payan has paid the Quiet Canon $1,813 for fund-raising events, and owes the company $5,024, the statement says.
Campaign contribution forms also show Glasman and Nighswonger received contributions from Perrin and his associates during their 1985 reelection campaigns.
Glasman denied campaign contributions affected the vote. "We vote based upon the issue and not on the personality," he said.
Wong said Goeden should never have helped negotiate the agreement with the Quiet Cannon because he vacationed with Perrin in Acapulco in 1985.
"They have a personal relationship. They're friends," Wong said. "How can Goeden be impartial and negotiate anything in the city's interest when it's his good buddy he's talking to?"
Goeden confirmed he vacationed with Perrin, but he said he paid his own way.
"I didn't have a conflict. It's hard to work in the community and become part of the community without developing relationships in that process," Goeden said. "If the council felt those relationships affected any of those negotiations, they (had the alternative) of taking me out of the negotiation process. The deal stands on its own in my mind."
In addition to alleging a "waste of public funds," the lawsuit filed Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court contends that construction of the parking lot would violate the terms of the agreement that deeded park land to the city in 1941.
Donated to City
In that year, the city bought the golf course from the Bicknell family. As part of the transaction, the Bicknells donated 19 acres to the city for "park and recreational purposes only and for purposes incidental thereto," Goeden said.
Just under two acres of that land is covered by roads. Another 1.5 acres has been paved to provide parking for the golf course and other city-owned facilities--including the Quiet Cannon--which were built in the early-1970s, Goeden said.
The new parking lot would be on park property, constituting a "waste of public lands" in violation of the agreement with the Bicknells and will result in a reduction of parkland, the suit said.