Jerry, Be Wary

Can he control the banana republic?

Dear Attorney General/Governor/Mayor/Secretary of State/Future Governor Jerry Brown:

Gracias for being such a friend to Mexicans over the years. You organized migrant workers during the 1960s, were a pallbearer at César Chàvez's funeral, even dated Linda Ronstadt when she was a spicy señorita. With this in mind, I hope you can gaze your amigo-ly eyes toward Santa Ana, one of the nation's most-Latino cities and a municipality that's looking more and more like a banana republic with each passing week.

Here's the deal: In a couple of months, the Santa Ana City Council will vote on the Renaissance Specific Plan (RSP), a ambitious proposal to remake about 400 acres of the city's historic core into what city officials hope will become Orange County's premier downtown. The problem is that there have already been enough ethical no es buenos involving council members, their friends and the Renaissance Plan to make Jack Abramoff seem as squeaky clean as . . . well, you!

Here's just a sampling of the RSP's conflict-of-influenza:

•Within the Renaissance Plan's original scope were a muffler shop and dance hall run by the families of Mayor Miguel "Papi" Pulido and council member Vince Sarmiento, respectively. But a couple of months ago, city planners gerrymandered the RSP's boundaries so those businesses were no longer included. The redrawn borders also excluded properties and buildings connected with council members' friends and Santa Ana's patrones, meaning none of those places must comply with the RSP's stringent rezoning.

•That alone was enough to raise the eyebrows of many Santa Ana businesspeople whose livelihood is in peril due to the RSP yet don't have any pull in City Hall. But that's not the worst part. Santa Ana Planning Director Jay Treviño openly admits that the plan's remapping happened so that Pulido and Sarmiento can vote on the matter and not violate conflict-of-interest laws. And Treviño vows to shake his Etch-a-Sketch yet again in order to allow votes from Planning Commissioner Victoria Betancourt and councilwoman Michelle Martinez. Such favoritism is a bigger red flag than a UFW banner, ¿qué no?

•Councilman Carlos Bustamante does not own any property within the proposed RSP, but the man never met a political donation he didn't accept—and then subsequently vote for his donor's interests. On at least 14 separate occasions during 2007, Bustamante voted on projects or contracts involving donors who contributed $1,000 or more during his failed 2007 1st Supervisorial District race—never mind that Santa Ana conflict-of-interest law states council members must abstain from voting on issues in which donors have "made campaign contributions totaling $250 or more to the council member or to any campaign committee controlled by the council member in the 12-month period immediately preceding the date of the decision." Santa Ana city attorney Joseph Fletcher argues that the bylaw applies only to council races, but to split hairs like that is like allowing Cubans into the United States if they make it to land, but sending them back if they're stopped at sea.

•One of the RSP's goals is to build light rail or trolleys in its area. Last year, the city approved a $10,000 contract with Cordoba Corporation to study transportation options. Cordoba employees and their family members contributed $4,500 to Bustamante's supervisorial campaign—but that's not the shadiest connection. Bustamante and Betancourt are board directors on the recently opened Santa Ana Business Bank, along with Cordoba CEO George Pla and Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce President Mike Metzler. If the RSP gets implemented, we can see a Chinatown-esque situation in which Cordoba gets a contract to build a mini-choo choo, the Santa Ana Business Bank finances the deal, the Gang of Four profits mucho and an elderly Jake Gittes cracks the case with a dashing protégé played by . . . well, you!

We can go on—and we do on our OC Weekly staff blog, Navel Gazing—but I hope you get the picture. Your own website states, "Conflict-of-interest laws are grounded on the notion that government officials owe paramount loyalty to the public, and that personal or private financial considerations on the part of government officials should not be allowed to enter the decision-making process." So far, Santa Ana residents have complained loudly about the RSP's rank cronyism to apathetic City Council ears. But you, Señor Brown, are our amigo—I mean, your surname is like our skin!

Gustavo Arellano

P.S.: In the interest of my own full disclosures, I volunteer for various nonprofits within the RSP boundaries and generously tip the mango ladies who'll get banned if it passes.

•"The Renaissance Blob," OC Weekly, Jan. 10, 2008
•"Notes From the Banana Republic Archives"
•Cover of Linda Ronstadt's Living in the USA

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