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Councilman to Abstain on Lanterman House, Cites Conflict of Interest

February 09, 1989|LISA TURNER | Times Staff Writer

Residents of La Canada Flintridge may voice their opinions on uses for the historic Lanterman House at a public hearing Monday, but a City Council member who owns property nearby will not.

The turn-of-the-century Craftsman-style house was built by the Lanterman brothers, part of the founding family of La Canada Flintridge. It was donated to the city on their deaths a few years ago.

City attorneys advised Councilman Ed Phelps, who owns a house close to the Lanterman estate, that to avoid a conflict of interest he should not vote on an appeal of the Planning Commission's conditional-use permit, which would allow the property to be used as a museum.

Phelps agreed. He did propose forming a committee to study alternative uses of the Lanterman House at Monday's council meeting.

"I'm concerned over the manner in which this issue has been dealt with," he said. "The question is, have we given all the alternatives equal consideration? I'm afraid the council has put blinders on, and we may have missed an opportunity to create a win-win situation."

The council voted down the proposal. Mayor Joan D. Feehan said council members had fully examined alternatives.

Phelps' decision not to participate in the hearing comes after months of deliberation over whether he should refrain from voting and from discussion on issues related to the Lanterman estate.

Last year, after City Atty. J. Kenneth Brown raised the questions of conflict of interest, the City Council agreed to Phelps' request that his home be appraised by three real estate agents. The agents decided last month that there would be no financial impact on his property, based on the conditions set forth in the permit.

But Brown later raised concerns that if any major changes were made in the conditional-use permit, the value of Phelps' home could be affected.

If, after hearing comments from residents, the council decides to make the permit more or less restrictive, Phelps could have been required before voting to consult with the three real estate agents to see whether the changes would affect his property value, city attorneys said.

"Next Monday night when this building is packed, and people want to talk about this issue, it will be too awkward," Phelps said. "People will wonder what the heck is our City Council doing with this guy running back and forth to the three experts standing in the corner. I'm not going to put the council through that."

Deputy City Atty. Stephanie Scher said that Phelps could participate in discussions at the hearing as a citizen and that he could vote if no changes were made in the conditional-use permit. But Phelps said he will abstain from voting or discussion.

"The experts just aren't sure if I can participate," he said. "It becomes a very gray area."

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