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Conflict Rule Relaxed for Small Cities : Regulations: The exemption will allow officials in 'itty-bitty' cities to vote on developments near their homes.


SACRAMENTO — Sparked by a dispute in Signal Hill, the state Fair Political Practices Commission on Tuesday agreed to exempt public officials in about 190 "itty-bitty cities" from some economic conflict-of-interest regulations.

In response, Tim O'Donnell, Signal Hill assistant city manager, said he is satisfied with the action because the city won "90% of what we wanted."

At issue was a commission regulation that restricts the voting power of officials whose principal residence is near a proposed development.

Currently, officials who live between 300 and 2,500 feet from a project may vote on it, but only if neighboring property will receive the same treatment as their homes. Under rules unanimously adopted by the commission, public officials in about 42% of the state's 453 cities will be exempted from this provision. The new regulation will relax the requirement for cities with populations of less than 25,000, where city council members are elected on an at-large basis and where the city is 10 square miles or less.

Nonetheless, if officials own homes closer than 300 feet from a development, they would in most circumstances be required to disqualify themselves from a vote.

Lily Spitz, the commission's legislative coordinator, told the five-member panel that the new regulation is narrowly drawn to have an impact only on "itty-bitty cities."

The League of California Cities said only two small cities--Bradbury in the San Gabriel Valley and Ripon in the San Joaquin Valley--would be unaffected by the regulation because they elect council members by district.

Bob Kress, Bradbury city attorney, said his city "probably doesn't care" about the regulation "because it's a wealthy community" with large estates and no commercial development.

In Signal Hill, the issue came to a head last year when two massive developments were proposed. The projects could add 1,300 residential units on 130 acres in the two-square-mile hilltop city with a population of about 8,500.

Signal Hill Councilman Louis Dare told the commission that he and other council members must regularly disqualify themselves from votes because they live between 300 and 2,500 feet of the project or, as in his case, within 300 feet. He described the situation as causing constant turmoil.

Calling the 300 feet requirement arbitrary, Dare said he would prefer that the commission eliminate that restriction as well. In support of his position, Dare submitted a petition to the commission signed by 49 of his neighbors.

But the commission rejected his suggestion. It also rejected a proposal from the city of Paramount to exempt officials from conflict-of-interest provisions, no matter the distance of their homes from a development.

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