Stuck in the Middle With Dave

Ellis works both sides of the El Toro Airport issue

Photo by Jack GouldDave Ellis is a busy guy. As a big-time political consultant—the go-to guy for all of Orange County's most powerful developers—he shows up occasionally at lavish fund-raisers for local officials. For the past seven years, he has been the main consultant and spokesman for the campaign to shoehorn a giant international airport into the old El Toro Marine Corps base, getting paid tens of thousands of dollars each year to praise the airport and ridicule its critics.

Now it appears Ellis has been far busier than any of us knew. According to Orange County district attorney investigation reports, Ellis has since May 2000 worked closely with embattled Seal Beach City Councilman Shawn Boyd on a complex deal promoting housing development throughout Southern California. In fact, it seems Ellis' work with Boyd may have been undercutting his higher-profile efforts to get El Toro International in the air.

Boyd is the subject of a DA's investigation for conflicts of interest stemming from his employment by trailer park owner and developer Richard Hall. Boyd, who was working for Hall while voting on issues involving Hall's Seal Beach trailer park, never disclosed the relationship during City Council meetings or on his annual state-mandated economic disclosure forms.

Ellis, Boyd and Hall wouldn't comment for this story or explain why they came up with such a cumbersome arrangement. Ellis also wouldn't comment to The Orange County Register or the Los Angeles Times, both of which only briefly mentioned his involvement in the Boyd matter. This is especially ironic, since Ellis has been quoted in at least 94 Register and Times stories—all penned by reporter Jean O. Pasco and virtually all pro-airport—going back to 1990.

Paperwork filed by the DA's office to get a search warrant for Boyd's house and the apartment he has occupied in recent months indicate that Hall paid half of the $112,000 directly to Boyd over a two-year period, with the other half going through Ellis. Copies of canceled checks and invoices included with the Boyd search warrant indicate Hall paid Ellis slightly more than $95,000 from June 2000 to November 2001, with $65,000 of that then handed off to Boyd.

Ellis told DA investigators that his work started in May 2000. That's when Ellis, Boyd and Hall agreed that "Hall would pay Ellis a $4,000 monthly retainer, and from that money, Ellis would pay Boyd a $3,000 monthly retainer." In addition, Ellis would reimburse Boyd for his expenses.

In other words, Ellis was a "middleman." But the search warrant overview shows Ellis got squeamish when investigators used that word.

"I don't know if that's a correct characterization," Ellis told DA investigators. "But, um, clearly Richard [Hall] is paying me and I am paying Shawn [Boyd]. So . . . but we're working collaboratively on the deals. So I . . . I don't know if 'middleman' is the right term or not."

Hall had fewer reservations when describing Ellis' role.

"I want to make it very clear that I paid Dave Ellis and Dave Ellis paid Shawn," Hall told DA investigators. Hall then said he thought Boyd was getting $3,000 per month but wasn't certain because "I never really bother him a whole lot about that."

So what was all this money for? According to the DA investigators, "around May of 2000, Shawn Boyd began to work for [Ellis] on affordable housing deals" in Orange County and the Inland Empire—meeting congressmen, supervisors and even Morango Indians from Victorville to Camp Pendleton. But the most interesting work included "working on the development of affordable housing at the former El Toro Marine [Corps] Air Station."

Remember that Ellis has spent years lobbying for El Toro to become an international airport—not a community of affordable homes. The affordable housing angle has long been a tactic used by South County anti-airport forces in an attempt to checkmate airport development: How can you build an international airport at El Toro if thousands of people are already living there?

Perhaps Ellis has simply been reading the polls, which show voters countywide finally overturning the county's proposed airport next month. If that happens, Ellis' new work as a housing consultant might come in very handy.

 
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