Real-estate bazillionaire George Argyros made a $100,000 investment in a bank whose investors include three city council members who voted for the developer's controversial plan to bring Wal-Mart to Huntington Beach.
According to Councilman Dave Garofalo, a bank investor, Argyros' $100,000 helped Pacific Liberty Bank open in May, one month after the Huntington Beach City Council approved the Wal-Mart project.
The three Pacific Liberty investors from the City Council made up three of the four Wal-Mart approval votes: Garofalo, Pam Julien and Shirley Dettloff. Other investors include such notables as city community-development director Dave Biggs and planning commissioners Haydee Tillotson and Ed Laird. Garofalo, Tillotson and Laird also sit on the Pacific Liberty board of directors.
"I think it's a troubling relationship on the surface," said Huntington City Councilman Dave Sullivan, an opponent of the Wal-Mart deal. Sullivan added that, if he were in Dettloff's, Garofalo's or Julien's shoes, he "would have recused myself" from the Wal-Mart vote.
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For his part, Garofalo insists he has done nothing improper. "Certainly in the eyes of the consumer, there will likely be a feeling of connection between the events," he said. "But I disclosed my situation, and I assumed my colleagues have done this as well."
Other than Garofalo's listing in the bank's prospectus as owner of 5,000 Pacific Liberty shares, it's difficult to tell when he made his "disclosure." The only council member who listed Pacific Liberty on the state-mandated personal-disclosure form was Julien: on Oct. 29, 1998, she purchased $1,000 to $10,000 worth of Pacific Liberty stock.
Even though these council members and officials have financial ties to Argyros, who has a huge project before the City Council, none of this was known to Wal-Mart opponents until long after the key city votes. Had opponents known, things would have been different.
"We would have made hay," said Bob Cronk, head of Crest View United, the main opposition to the Wal-Mart deal. "If you know the fox is in the chicken coop, you run in and get rid of the fox. But when it's a grizzly bear, you don't stand a chance."