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Re-map excludes officials' businesses

Redevelopment area's boundary shift allows Santa Ana leaders to vote on the plan while exempt from its effects.

January 20, 2008|Jennifer Delson | Times Staff Writer

When property owners complained that an ambitious plan to revamp a 123-block stretch of downtown Santa Ana could jeopardize their livelihoods, the plan's map was quietly redrawn.

And when the new map emerged last year, the redevelopment zone no longer included businesses owned by the families of Mayor Miguel Pulido and Councilman Vincent Sarmiento.

Had Pulido's muffler and brake shop and Sarmiento's nightclub remained in the Renaissance Plan, they could have been affected by new zoning regulations and both politicians would have been barred from voting on the redevelopment project.

The Renaissance Plan calls for a sustained revitalization effort in the core of Orange County's largest city, stretching from the county civic area to the train station.

The revised map eliminated several properties, including Ace Muffler and Brakes, owned by the Pulido family, and Festival Hall, owned by the Sarmiento family.

Neither Pulido or Sarmiento returned calls seeking comment.

City documents show that an auto business like Pulido's would not conform with proposed zoning near the Civic Center area, though it could continue to operate.

The nightclub would conform but would have required a conditional-use permit.

The redrawn map also carved out other properties, such as the recently remodeled Court at Artists Village and the historic Ebell Club, a women's club that is a popular haunt with civic boosters.

Jay Trevino, the city's planning director, said the Pulido and Sarmiento properties were eliminated from the project areas so that the two elected officials could vote on the plan without having a conflict of interest.

In fact, he said the map was being redrawn again to move boundaries of the plan farther than 500 feet from the homes of Councilwoman Michele Martinez and Planning Commissioner Victoria Betancourt so that they can vote.

Martinez lives 460 feet outside the boundary of the map.

Trevino said neither the mayor nor his council colleagues asked the city to revise the plan and that the city's staff decided on its own to change the boundaries.

"It would be silly to have a plan that three council members can't vote on," he said.

Martinez, who was informed of the change by city staff last week, said it seemed improper to redraw the area's map just to ensure that council members could vote.

"We shouldn't be changing this plan so council members should vote on it," said Martinez.

She said she believed that the location of her home was brought up only to deflect criticism about the exclusion of the Pulido and Sarmiento properties.

At a recent meeting, area business owners complained that, unlike them, Pulido and Sarmiento now won't have to worry whether their properties comply with the area's proposed zoning.

John Moore, co-owner of American Demolition, which removes hazardous waste and cuts concrete, said taking the properties out of the plan "is not honest or legitimate."

Bob Adams, owner of Adams Iron, which fabricates and installs steel, said the exclusion of the elected officials' property "seems fishy to me."

State Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), who has hosted several meetings with the business owners, also questioned why the map was changed.

"The big question is why are these business excluded?" said Correa.

"Is it because of a conflict of interest? If it's a conflict of interest . . . the proper way to address that is not to vote on it all. You have a conflict of interest one way or another. If you exclude the property, you still have a conflict of interest. . . . "

Bob Stern, president of the nonprofit Center for Government Studies, said the Santa Ana approach was highly unusual.

"I've never heard of a situation where they remove themselves from a plan so they can vote on it," he said.

"It's absolutely fascinating to me. It looks like there is some favoritism, but it's legal and it eliminates the potential conflict of interest."

Pulido's property would have been located in a section designed "Urban Center," which is defined as "a variety of nonresidential uses and a mix of housing types . . . this zone may serve the daily convenience of shopping and service needs of nearby residents."

The dance hall would have been located in the "downtown" zone, designed for "multi-story urban building types . . . intended to reinforce the form and character represented by pre-World War II buildings."

Trevino said whether the two pieces of property conform is now moot.

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jennifer.delson@latimes.com

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