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Vote on Freeway Sparks Conflict Complaint

Ethics: Pasadena councilwoman backed roadway extension that could affect value of her family's property, opponents of project say.

July 04, 1996|RICHARD WINTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ann-Marie Villicana is a 29-year-old wunderkind on the Pasadena City Council, the first Latina elected city official and a rising star of the local Republican Party, but now she and her parents' sizable real estate holdings are at the center of a controversy over a possible conflict of interest.

Constituents of the councilwoman have filed a complaint with California's political watchdog commission, accusing her of violating the state conflict-of-interest laws. They allege that a vote she cast in May for a city policy supporting the proposed Long Beach Freeway extension through her district could affect the value of properties owned by her parents' trust.

The complaint filed Monday comes as the Fair Political Practices Commission is about to advise Villicana on another issue pending before the city council. The FPPC is preparing an advisory that it would be a potential violation of state law to vote on a matter that could affect the value of her parents' numerous properties because she received more than $10,000 in income from her father last year, an agency official said.

But Villicana maintains that she has no conflicts when it comes to her 6th District on the city's westside and that she was elected on a pro-freeway ticket. "My constituents overwhelmingly support the freeway's completion," she said. Villicana said her opponents are "fishing at an empty pond. There are no conflicts."

She calls the complaint sour grapes from her victory in 1994 over Bill York, a candidate supported by opponents of the freeway.

In the complaint, four vocal opponents of Villicana have asked the watchdog agency to investigate whether the real estate broker and attorney should have sponsored and voted on the freeway policy, given that there are at least 22 properties, including three near the proposed project, owned by her family's trusts.

The complaint also notes that Villicana has disclosed in her Statement of Economic Interests that she receives more than $10,000 annually doing accounts for her father.

"We believe she should not have voted [on] and sponsored the 710 Freeway policy because of her own and her family's real estate holdings," said Lorna Moore of the No on 710 Committee, who signed the complaint.

Gary Huckaby, FPPC spokesman, declined to comment on the status of the complaint.

But he said the commission's legal division, at the request of the Pasadena city attorney, has examined whether Villicana can vote on an upcoming plan for Pasadena's Lower Arroyo, near her parents' multimillion-dollar home, and determined that the trust issue is academic because there is more direct potential conflict--"her income from her father."

"A letter on the issue is imminent," he said.

In general terms, Huckaby said, under state law a decision affecting a person owning property from which an official receives $250 or more can be a foreseeable conflict. The commission only provides advice before votes, he added.

However, the advice on the pending vote does not mean that Villicana's vote on the freeway was a conflict. The commission examines each case on its individual merits.

Pasadena officials also note that the freeway vote was only a resolution calling on the Federal Highway Administration to approve the project; the City Council has no direct control over the issue.

Questions about Villicana's and other council members' potential conflicts have delayed council votes on two plans for areas of the city since April and forced the council to consult with the FPPC.

The residents' complaint comes as Villicana's father, Alexander Villicana, a prominent surgeon, was appointed to a health center board by Councilman Bill Crowfoot. Ann-Marie Villicana voted for his appointment and vocally endorsed his work after the city attorney advised that she could. Last week, Villicana said she declared a potential conflict in a vote on a redevelopment project in northwest Pasadena because she owns a property nearby.

According to county records, there are at least 22 parcels in Pasadena owned by her parents' trusts, two owned by her brother, one by herself and another for which she is a trust beneficiary. With the exception of her parents' home and three buildings on Ellis Avenue in her district, most of the property is in northwest Pasadena.

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