Lawndale Councilman Larry Rudolph is calling for an investigation to determine if City Manager John E. Nowak acted improperly in approving a controversial condominium project and then ordering construction to be halted on the same day.
The accusation was made at Thursday's City Council meeting by former Planning Commissioner Gary McDonald, who alleged that Nowak last April ordered planning officials to simultaneously issue a building permit and stop-work order for a four-unit condominium project proposed by Lawndale developer Jonathan Stein.
In an interview Friday, Nowak said he did take both actions, but denied any wrongdoing.
"They were separate items," he said. "The stop-work order was for a grading permit" not a building permit. Nowak declined to elaborate further.
McDonald alleged that Nowak's unusual and seemingly contradictory action was the result of concerted pressure by Stein, who needed the building permit before he could draw on a $700,000 construction loan from Frontier State Bank in Redondo Beach. Bank officials said Thursday that Stein has met the obligations of the construction contract and his project is ahead of schedule.
The accusation against Nowak represents a new twist in an ongoing court battle between Stein and the city over his project on 165th Street. Earlier this year, Stein filed a $12-million racketeering lawsuit against McDonald, Rudolph, Mayor Harold E. Hofmann and others, alleging they conspired to extort money from him and other developers to pave the way for city approval of their projects.
City officials deny the allegations, and say they are a politically motivated attempt by Stein to intimidate them.
McDonald said the stop-work action showed that Nowak knew Stein's building plans did not meet city codes. The project later received a variance from the Planning Commission and is nearly completed.
"This was not a mistake," McDonald said "It was a willful act."
Councilman Norm Lagerquist dismissed McDonald's accusation and challenged him to take his evidence to the district attorney's office. "You don't have a case and you know it," Lagerquist told McDonald at Thursday's meeting.
To support his claim, McDonald produced a letter from former interim Planning Director Jack Chapman. In the letter, Chapman said that on April 15 he was ordered by Nowak to issue the building permit and stop-work order at the same time.
"It should be noted that in over 20 years of public service I never have been forced by a city manager to commit such an action," the letter said.
Robert Weiss, president of Frontier State Bank, who attended Thursday's meeting, said he would not have released any funds to Stein if he had known about the stop-work order. Weiss said he was "astounded" to learn that the city issued the order and did not inform his bank.