A fund-raiser for Malibu City Councilman-elect Larry Wan that collected $9,000 from about 20 supporters, including several real estate developers, has fueled a new round of bickering among Malibu's slow-growth oriented leaders.
Two of Wan's colleagues on the five-member council have criticized his accepting money from developers, and they contend that a $500-a-plate breakfast held at a Malibu-area restaurant last month has tarnished his credentials as a slow-growth advocate.
"I think (the breakfast) was a slap in the face to the vast majority of voters, who elected us to protect Malibu from development interests," Councilwoman Carolyn Van Horn said. "It makes you wonder just who he intends to represent."
She and Mayor-elect Walt Keller, who also criticized the event, often have been at odds with Wan and the two other members of the council. Keller and Van Horn formerly co-chaired the Malibu Committee for Incorporation, a slow-growth group. Wan and the others have strong ties to the Malibu Township Council, another slow-growth group.
Wan dismissed the criticism as a "hullabaloo about nothing" and said the fund-raiser was intended "as an opportunity for me to reach out to different segments of the community."
"My views on growth issues and as a protector of the environment are well-known," he said. "I've never deviated from them and never intend to."
Wan was the second-highest vote-getter, behind Keller, among those elected to the council last June, when Malibu voters overwhelmingly approved cityhood. Although elected, the council members cannot take office until Malibu becomes a city. Los Angeles County officials have delayed cityhood until at least March in a bid to start work on a controversial sewer system there before the Malibu City Council can block it.
Wan spent $33,700 during his campaign, including $24,000 of his own funds.
In an interview last week, Wan said that "contrary to what many people believe," the fund-raiser, held Nov. 5 at an oceanfront restaurant near Malibu, was not intended to recoup his personal campaign expenses.
"I never intended it (the event) to retire my campaign debt and don't intend to use the money for that purpose," he said, adding that the proceeds "will be put into a separate account for use in supporting future environmental initiatives and other environmental causes."
However, interviews with some who attended, as well as invitations to the event, suggest a different purpose.
After mentioning that a $500 contribution was expected, a letter sent to invitees added, "We hope at this time to retire a large part of his (Wan's) debt." The invitations were prepared by Geary Steffen, Wan's campaign treasurer. A copy was obtained by The Times.
Wan said that he had not seen the letter and was not aware of its contents.
Keller called the fund-raiser "an example of big city politics" and accused Wan of changing his story about the way the funds were to be used to defuse criticism of the event.
"It's nice of him to double-cross all the developers who paid to have breakfast with him, but I don't believe they went there to give funds to the environment," Keller said.
Wan, however, defended the decision to invite developers to the event. "I've learned that the best way to eliminate an opponent is to make him your ally," he said. "They may call it big city politics, but I call it petty politics on the part of those who would get upset over a measly $9,000."
Among those who attended were Lyn Konheim and John Perenchio, executives with Malibu Bay Co., one of Malibu's largest landowners; Paul Flowers, a development consultant with ties to Supervisor Deane Dana, who represented Malibu until the recent court-ordered redistricting; at least two representatives of the Adamson Cos., which wants to build a luxury hotel near Pepperdine University, and several real estate brokers and others with development interests.
Among those who contributed but who did not attend were Joseph T. Edmiston, executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, and developer Roy Crummer, who built the Malibu Colony Plaza shopping center, according to a source who helped organize the event.
The event was put together by Wan supporter Susan McCabe, a former coastal commissioner who is now with Rose & Kindel, a Los Angeles consulting firm. The firm often represents developers before the Coastal Commission, and it currently represents Los Angeles County in its bid to win the state panel's approval to speed construction of the sewer.
McCabe labeled criticism of the fund-raiser as unjustified and said she offered to help Wan retire his campaign debt "because I know and have a lot of respect for Larry Wan as a man of integrity, even though he often opposes projects that I support."
Wan, the former head of the Township Council, and his wife, Sara, who is currently the group's vice president, have been among those at the forefront of opposition to the county's sewer plans.
At its meetings, which are held twice a month, the council has so often voted 3 to 2--with Wan, Mike Caggiano and Missy Zeitsoff in the majority--that the outcome on many matters has become predictable.