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Committee Warned Not to Discuss Project

Redevelopment: Members of North Hollywood citizens panel vow to defy assistant city attorney, who says the state conflict-of-interest law would be broken.

September 10, 1998|MICHAEL BAKER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

NORTH HOLLYWOOD — A city attorney warned members of a citizens advisory committee not to consider a proposed 43-acre studio development in the heart of the North Hollywood redevelopment project, but some panel members challenged the advice, saying they would discuss it anyway.

Assistant City Atty. Anthony Alperin issued the warning Tuesday because he said state conflict-of-interest law prohibits an elected group from participating in discussions of public projects in which any member of the group has a financial interest.

Since three members own property within the proposed development area, Alperin advised the Project Area Committee that it would be illegal for the group to discuss the studio project proposed for North Hollywood by J. Allen Radford of Santa Monica-based JARCO/SLG&G.

"I will continue to participate and I'm really not concerned," said PAC member Mildred Weller, who owns property within the proposed studio development area. "It's absolutely ludicrous, this whole concept that we will have a conflict."

Alperin, who specializes in conflict-of-interest law, offered an analysis of state Government Code Section 1090.

The PAC was established as an elected 25-member advisory group to the city's Community Redevelopment Agency, which is overseeing a 740-acre project in North Hollywood.

"You can't be financially interested in a contract that's with the mutual body of which you are a member," Alperin said. "Basically, what it's saying is that the whole body is disqualified."

Alperin said his broad interpretation of the law was based on court rulings in similar cases.

"The court said this is a draconian law and that's the way the legislation was written," Alperin said at the meeting. "Is it tough? Is it broad? Yes, it is, but I don't write the laws and you don't write the law."

According to state code, violators can be punished with fines up to $1,000 or by imprisonment, and are forever disqualified from holding any office in the state.

PAC members called Alperin's interpretation a Catch-22 that runs counter to the goal of advising the Community Redevelopment Agency on policy matters.

If you have to have interest in property in the redevelopment area to be eligible to serve on the PAC, then inevitably there are going to be conflicts with any project, Virginia Soltes said.

"If we all have a conflict of interest, then why are we here?" she asked. "Even if it's advice we give, it's a conflict of interest. [Alperin] is telling us to shut up, nicely."

Alperin said he was not trying to silence the PAC but was simply offering the same legal advice he has given to other advisory groups and government agencies.

"Do we always like that?" Alperin asked. "No, I don't like it, but I'm stuck with the law just like we're all stuck with the law."

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