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3 resign from Gold Line board after conflict-of-interest complaint

L.A. Councilman Ed Reyes and two other elected officials step down from Metro Gold Line Foothill Construction Authority.

September 10, 2011|By Dan Weikel and Ari Bloomekatz, Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles City Councilman Ed Reyes and two other elected officials have resigned from the board of the Gold Line light-rail project in the wake of a conflict-of-interest complaint sent to the state attorney general.

In addition to Reyes, two alternates — Monrovia Mayor Mary Ann Lutz and South Pasadena Councilman Michael Cacciotti — have stepped down from the Metro Gold Line Foothill Construction Authority that oversees the San Gabriel Valley project.

Reyes, who has denied any impropriety, left the board last month along with Lutz. Cacciotti resigned in late July.

The complaint was lodged July 5 by Christopher Sutton, a Pasadena attorney representing a San Gabriel Valley property owner in a condemnation proceeding involving the Gold Line.

Sutton alleges that board members have violated a state law designed to prevent public officials from also serving on boards, commissions, city councils and other governing bodies that may have interests that clash.

The complaint, which state legislators are separately trying to nullify, also alleges that the authority's nonvoting members and some alternates were appointed by agencies that had no authority to do so.

In her resignation letter, Lutz acknowledged that the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments did not have the power to appoint her as an alternate.

Sutton contends that conflicts have arisen over a number of votes, including the award of a $486-million construction contract, allegedly without competitive bids, and the purchase of land for a maintenance yard from the Monrovia Redevelopment Agency at prices about four times higher than the value of adjacent property owned by his client and others.

Gold Line officials deny the allegations. They say the construction contract went through a competitive bid process that narrowed the field to three companies before a winner was selected.

Lisa Levy Buch, an authority spokeswoman, said the purchase offers for land were similar for private property and the redevelopment agency's holdings.

The redevelopment agency, however, would receive additional compensation for improvements and the loss of tax revenue due to the condemnation, she said.

Reyes said he stepped down based on advice from deputy city attorneys, who told him it was less risky to his position as councilman to resign from the Gold Line board should the attorney general conclude that he holds incompatible offices.

"I don't want to give up my position as a council member. There's too much at stake there," said Reyes, who added that Sutton was "throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks."

Cacciotti said he resigned as a precaution. Sutton said Cacciotti is still listed as an alternate in the minutes of board meetings. The councilman said he does not believe he is now an alternate, although he may have served as one in the past.

Meanwhile, legislation has been proposed by Assemblywoman Norma J. Torres (D-Chino) to exempt Gold Line board members from the incompatible office holding law. On Friday, it passed the Assembly on a 64-3 vote. It is now up to the governor to sign the measure into law or veto it.

Torres contends that city council members are the most qualified officials to sit on local transportation boards. She said she does not want Sutton's complaint to the attorney general to stall work on the light-rail project, which will provide much-needed jobs.

dan.weikel@latimes.com

ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

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