Huntington Beach Mayor Dave Garofalo seems surprised to discover he's in deep trouble.
If so, he's one of the last to know. Accounts of his crass audacity have been bouncing around Huntington Beach almost since the moment he showed up in town 30 years ago after a roundabout journey from his hometown of Cranston, Rhode Island.
"Sometimes it's sickening, and sometimes it's just sad, but Dave has always been one to stretch the truth," says Roger Slates, 71, whose four decades of involvement in Huntington Beach politics include stints on the chamber of commerce, board of Realtors, planning commission and coastal commission. "So many of the things he says he was and did, he really wasn't and didn't."
Since Garofalo was elected to the City Council in 1994, his lack of propriety has taken on greater significance. Garofalo makes his money with a publishing business, which, among other things, produces a biweekly newspaper, The Local News, and the city's annual tourism guide. Both publications are funded almost exclusively by local advertising revenue, which frequently comes from people with business before the City Council.
Garofalo didn't help himself when he failed to draw a clear line between the city's business and his own: soon after he was first elected to the City Council in 1994, he began distributing a two-sided business card—with the Huntington Beach city seal on the side that identified him as a council member, and the logo of The Local News on the side that identified him as its publisher.
The problem is money. There is the money Garofalo has been making by publishing The Local News twice a month. There is also the money Garofalo has been making by publishing the Huntington Beach Visitor's Guide. Publicly, Garofalo insists that he makes little or even nothing printing the Visitor's Guide; privately, former employees say, he regards it as his "profit center," more lucrative than its parent company. Garofalo gets the Visitor's Guide publishing contract through a no-bid process from an agency that is funded by his City Council vote; he then gets to keep all the revenue—minus production costs—his company earns selling advertising space in the guide.
Then there are the mayor's side projects, chief among them a series of questionable housing deals. Consider just one for a moment: a lavish $565,000 house up on Poppy Hill Circle that was grant-deeded to Garofalo by Seacliff developer Chris Gibbs in the spring of 1998. Garofalo quitclaimed the home to oil company owner George Pearson for $625,000 that summer—one day after escrow closed—and still hasn't provided proof he ever paid anything for the place.
There is, as mounting evidence suggests, lots more where that came from.
"I honestly feel Garofalo should resign," said Slates. "For the betterment of the city and to stop embarrassing his family."
Several community activists have amplified Slates' call for Garofalo's resignation. During the June 5 City Council meeting, Council Members Dave Sullivan and Tom Harman criticized Garofalo's behavior and requested full disclosure. More people lined up to voice their complaints at the June 19 meeting. Before the public-comment session, however, Garofalo made an announcement. Looking disheveled and bewildered, he launched into a five-minute discourse, during which he promised to "divest" himself of the publishing interests that have been at the center of the controversy.
(Garofalo has announced the sale of The Local News—and the Visitor's Guide contract along with it—before. Documents obtained by the Weekly show that sale—to one of Garofalo's allies, local businessman Ed Laird—may never have taken place.)
As his disjointed address continued, Garofalo insisted on his innocence and blamed mean-spirited persons for his predicament. "I believe I have been the subject of unprecedented scrutiny by the press," he complained. It was, of course, Garofalo, a hound for attention, who last December transformed his administrative rotation from council member into the largely ceremonial position of mayor into a weeklong celebratory extravaganza, complete with marching bands and dancing girls, the likes of which Huntington Beach had never before seen.
If Garofalo is surprised by the fireworks now exploding around him, he shouldn't be: he lit the fuse months ago with his very own sparkler.
WAKE-UP CALL Okay, so maybe the way it finally came down was a little surprising, with seldom-seen city attorney Gail Hutton playing it uncharacteristically straight with the mayor. After years of soft-pedaling his behavior, Hutton came right out and advised Garofalo on June 19 to "declare a conflict of interest on the record" and to abstain from voting on a range of projects and issues involving businesses from which he has been collecting cash or special considerations.
That was weird. And the council meetings ahead will probably seem weirder. If he follows Hutton's advice, Garofalo won't vote on major development projects from downtown redevelopment to the seashore; won't vote on tourism initiatives; won't vote on a makeover of the city's sprawling mall near the 405 and Beach Boulevard. He won't vote on any project in which he might have a financial interest. And given the way Garofalo mixes his politics with his publishing, that may mean he won't vote on anything at all—ever.
Until Hutton's legal opinion was released, The Orange County Register and the Los Angeles Times had pretty much ignored the increasingly stinky stew of Garofalo's personal money and the public's business. In the Times' only previous reference to the mayor's questionable partnership with developer George Argyros in a local bank, a business writer in December dismissed it as a "flap."
The news blackout gave Garofalo time to counterattack, to assail his critics and to stoke his own self-righteousness. "There's a small group of malcontents in this community that want this city to go back to the 18th century and build walls and keep people out," Garofalo told the Weekly on May 2. "And all a few people like me are trying to do is to manage a little bit of growth."
But on June 21, the press blackout ended. Garofalo woke up to a front-page story in the Register headlined, "Huntington Seeks Probe of Mayor." On June 22, the Times checked in on Garofalo. Looking back on the past six months, the paper decided that the "flap" had actually been "a political firestorm." The next day, the Times was back again, this time with a story trumpeting that the "emotional" mayor was "acknowledging mistakes for the first time."
To anybody who has been around Garofalo for very long, however, it was obvious that there was nothing unprecedented, confessional or even unusually emotional about his response. It was all quite typical. What Garofalo admitted to in the Times was "imperfection," a word that, when coated thickly enough with "emotion," eventually seems like mere manipulation. Garofalo has a history of tactics like this when he is cornered: he soft-sells his offenses, casting them as harmless shortcuts that anybody might take. Even you.
But just in case that didn't work for the Times' audience, Garofalo also deployed another of his standard defensive tactics, the multitiered disclaimer, wherein he chains lawyerly English to the back of his car and drags it around town until it's as indecipherable as an Aztec calendar. Quoth Garofalo in the Times: "I have not, nor will I ever knowingly commit a criminal offense while in public office."
Okay. But after the wig powder has settled, the "have not" and the "nor will" combined with the "knowingly commit" and the "while in" really don't remove much doubt about Garofalo's potential for "criminal offense."
Some might call such words qualifiers, or evidence of Garofalo's habit of Clintonesque prevarication. They are in fact vintage Garofalo—that is, they're crap. And they have been hallmarks of his handling of the controversies since the stories first emerged in 1998.
WELCOME TOURISTS, LEAVE YOUR MONEY Two years ago, the Huntington Beach Independent(a Times-owned community paper) broke the news that Garofalo—then a council member—had two entangling alliances that ought to make people wonder about the man's motives and fitness for office.
First, the Independent pointed out that Garofalo was voting to fund the city tourism office and then accepting a no-bid contract to publish the tourism office's Visitor's Guide. He sold advertising to local businesses, printed the guide and kept the profits.
Second, the Independent questioned the proximity of two events: as Garofalo was moving into a new $300,000 home in downtown HB in June 1998, he was handing the builder a list of the names, addresses and phone numbers of City Hall employees and elected officials. The clear intent was that the developer might try to sell his houses to city leaders. Was that a quid pro quo of some kind?
No, said Garofalo, although he insisted on phrasing it in his own William-F.-Buckley-meets-Damon-Wayans style: "While ignorance of the law is no excuse, it has been my understanding for the substantial portion of my first term in office that I have neither violated any ethical issues nor violated any state code under the Political Reform Act."
Garofalo wrote that gobbledygook to Independent reporter Kathleen Haney in May 1998, in what would become a kind of standard excuse for the fact that the name "Garofalo" appears frequently next to the phrase "conflict of interest."
Garofalo also didn't hide his contempt for Haney herself: "[T]hose of us who have read your tabloid, who openly disagree with your editorial policies are used to that sort of tabloid approach."
Hiding behind his position of publisher of The Local News, Garofalo insinuated that the Independent's stories were motivated by competition with his paper and that to turn over proof of his innocence would reveal valuable trade secrets.
GREAT WAL-MART The Independent's stories lay dormant until last fall, when the Weekly looked into what seemed an unrelated controversy—this one surrounding plans to build a Wal-Mart store on the site of the abandoned Crest View Elementary School in Huntington Beach. A majority of the City Council was pushing hard for the discount store, arguing that tax revenues generated from the sale of clothes hampers, grass seed, sneakers and CDs would allow the city to accomplish all manner of wonderful things: build parks, fund emergency services, create senior centers—a cornucopia of Franklin D. Roosevelt-era social projects. Critics charged that the sales tax would, in fact, be pretty paltry; that the Wal-Mart would kill smaller local businesses; and that the immense building itself would cast a funereal and obnoxious shadow over the modest working-class Crest View neighborhood right next door.
The Times and Register dutifully but slowly followed what seemed a pretty conventional pissing match over development. Then an anonymous caller told the Weekly that the Wal-Mart developer, George Argyros, was suing Bob Cronk, the neighborhood leader of a group called Crest View United, which was gathering signatures to stop the warehouse store.
It was classic David vs. Goliath. Argyros is worth about $800 million, a member of the county's right-wing Lincoln Club, the still-despised former owner of the Seattle Mariners baseball team, and the single most powerful force behind the county's proposed El Toro International Airport. He is well-known for his willingness to use his considerable financial girth to roll over political adversaries. Cronk, by contrast, is a local real-estate agent who raised his kids in the Crest View neighborhood and once coached Little League teams and led Boy Scout troops at the school.
Garofalo himself was almost a footnote in the Weekly's cover story on the Wal-Mart fight ("Discounted Democracy," Nov. 5, 1999). His name appeared just once—alongside the three other Huntington Beach council members who voted in December 1998 to give Argyros his way.
GANG BANK The battle over the Wal-Mart forged new and unlikely alliances all over Huntington Beach. One that turned out to be crucial for Garofalo's life was the connection between Cronk and Barbara Boskovich, spearheads of the Crest View proletariat, and Susan Newman, a wealthy Seacliff resident dedicated to being a thorn in the side of the City Council.
Nearly 10 years ago, Newman narrowly lost two races for the City Council. Each time, however, an additional seat opened up immediately after the election. As the next highest vote-getter, Newman felt entitled to that seat. Each time, the council appointed somebody else. She has never forgiven them.
"My experience with the City Council is that they relish screwing people," said Newman, an intelligent and passionate woman who suspects the council rejected her because of her outspokenness and unwillingness to participate in deal-making. "That's why I had an affinity for the anti-Wal-Mart group."
Newman has close relationships with rich and influential people throughout Huntington Beach and intimate knowledge of the social and political landscape. In November 1999, Cronk and Boskovich suggested we contact her.
When we did, Newman told us to consider the possibility that Garofalo had failed to publicly disclose a business relationship with Argyros. In the spring of 1999, when the City Council was considering his Wal-Mart plans, Argyros invested $100,000 in a newly formed local bank, Pacific Liberty Bank. And not just Argyros: Newman pointed out that Chris Gibbs, who also has frequent business before the council—his PLC Land Cos. is building the immense Holly-Seacliff development—also invested $100,000 to help Pacific Liberty get enough money to open its doors.
A quick investigation showed that three members of the City Council—Garofalo, Shirley Dettloff and Pam Julien—were Pacific Liberty investors when they voted on April 5, 1999, to approve Argyros' Wal-Mart project. Only Julien had publicly reported this in accordance with state law.
The bank's success was vital to Garofalo. He had borrowed $35,000 and diverted $15,000 in personal retirement funds to buy stock and then begged his way into becoming a bank director. To make matters worse, Garofalo twice ignored crucial elements of the state-mandated disclosure of the transaction—a disclosure that might have alerted residents to his business relationship with Argyros at the time of the Wal-Mart vote.
First, Garofalo missed the April 1, 1999, deadline for filing his disclosure form entirely, instead waiting until April 6 —one day after he cast the deciding vote in the council's 4-3 approval of Argyros' Wal-Mart. Even then, he made no mention of his investment in Pacific Liberty.
Second, almost two months later, on May 31, 1999, Garofalo filed an amendment to his form that still only alluded to his involvement in Pacific Liberty—mentioning vaguely a five-year loan for "more than $10,000" at an interest rate of prime-plus-1-percent for "stock in a start-up company."
Rather than recusing himself from voting on the Wal-Mart project—or even mentioning that he was a business partner with Argyros—Garofalo voted in favor of placing the huge store in the middle of a residential area. When opponents gathered 22,000 signatures to put the matter up for a special public referendum, Garofalo and his council allies exploited loopholes in state election laws to move the vote to the general election, put a diversionary competing measure on the ballot, and campaigned furiously in support of Argyros' project.
Garofalo acknowledged that his relationship with Argyros and subsequent failure to properly disclose it didn't look good. "Certainly in the eyes of the consumer [sic], there will likely be a feeling of connection between the events," he told the Weekly. But Garofalo insisted he saw nothing wrong with this cross-pollination of money and influence. "It's just part of the political process," he said. "I've worked hard to gain the respect and support of people who believe in the free-enterprise system."
THE CORONATION Not long after we met Newman, she received an invitation to a Dec. 12, 1999, gala brunch at the Waterfront Hilton Hotel, where Argyros and a long list of other Orange County Republican power brokers would ostensibly honor Garofalo for becoming mayor of Huntington Beach.
The job of Huntington Beach mayor is largely ceremonial. The city charter says it ought to rotate regularly among City Council members, musical-chairs style. The winner gets to hold the gavel and sit in the center seat at council meetings and is addressed as "Mr. Mayor." But Garofalo was not satisfied with the modest change in the roll call.
"Dave wants nothing more than to be a career politician," asserted Charles Bouley III, who worked closely with Garofalo for three years as a graphic artist for The Local Newsbefore getting into radio, and he says half-jokingly that he still hasn't fully recovered from the "schizo" experience. "Over the years, Dave made it clear to me that after mayor, he wants to be a county supervisor, a state assemblyman, a congressman. He would do anything he could to get there."
Which may explain why he turned the change in the council seating chart into something like a coronation. A few days before the Waterfront Hilton fete, during the city's regular Dec. 6, 1999, council meeting, Garofalo brought in a marching band, cheerleaders, dancing women and lots of heavy political hitters.
Amidst the celebrating, the bands and cheerleaders and pomp, there was one fact that crystallized the significance of this otherwise insignificant event: the presence of Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackaukas.
Rackaukas is OC's top law-enforcement official—and the man who has thus far kept his 1998 campaign promise that he would go easy on political corruption cases of the sort that plagued Huntington Beach Republican Assemblyman Scott Baugh's first election in 1996.
Newman said, "Don't underestimate the message that Rackaukas' presence sent to Garofalo": the new mayor had an ally in the DA's office.
The message of Garofalo's Waterfront Hilton Hotel fund-raiser a few days later was a little different. That event signified that Garofalo was ready for his political closeup, that the county's power brokers were beginning to commit their influence, status and cash to groom Garofalo for higher office.
In interviews for this story, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) and Assemblyman Baugh told the Weekly they would support Garofalo if he chooses to crawl higher up the political food chain after term limits force him off the City Council in 2002.
"Dave puts out so much time and energy, and I think people respect that enough to elect him to another office if he seeks one," Rohrabacher said.
These veteran politicos are not offended by Garofalo's vague personal résumé, his sketchy finances, his questionable deals and his two-sided business card. His braggadocio, holier-than-thou homilies, defensive anger and deep yearning to backslap with big shots don't put them off, either, because these things identify Garofalo as the most vulnerable, desperate kind of yes man—perfect for fashioning into a political puppet.
Newman passed along to the Weekly her invitation to the Waterfront Hilton bash. We contributed $99 for the privilege of eating scrambled eggs with the likes of Rohrabacher and Baugh—and with Garofalo himself, of course, who could barely stop giggling and grinning long enough to chew his food.
"Dave Garofalo lives for his lunches with Rohrabacher and Baugh," said Bouley. "Dave's got his head so far up Rohrabacher's ass it's really not funny. Of course, to them, he's a tick."
Rohrabacher didn't stay to eat at Garofalo's honorary breakfast. He showed up looking like he'd just rolled out of bed, said a few words, and begged off by saying he had to go to Mass, hadn't been in weeks.
Baugh stayed. He was MC of a program that at one point featured Garofalo's patron, businessman Ed Laird, encouraging attendees to make arrogant, vulgar jokes about political opponents—such as how Newman's contentiousness could probably be solved with a good fuck. Or how Cronk's middle-class budget would probably make him one of Wal-Mart's best customers. At the end of this sickening, holiday-season display, everybody sang "White Christmas" with no sense of irony. The event raised $10,000 for the Committee to Elect Dave Garofalo, although Garofalo has yet to specify what office he's seeking.
In that vein, it was probably poetic justice that the honorary proclamation Baugh brought for Garofalo from the Statehouse was just for show and was in fact inscribed with somebody else's name.
GRAND JURY Newman hadn't just told the Weekly about her suspicions of a conflict of interest in the Garofalo-Argyros-Pacific Liberty axis. She'd also filed reports with the Huntington Beach police, the Orange County district attorney's office and the Orange County grand jury, along with the state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC).
The grand jury was one of the first bodies to investigate Garofalo and to rule that there was no conflict of interest. In an Oct. 19, 1999, response to Newman's Oct. 1 complaint, the grand jury wrote that it would "take no further action on this matter." The Weekly reported this finding repeatedly over several months in its pursuit of other aspects of the story. These stories also noted that Phil S. Inglee, the grand jury foreman who had signed the letter to Newman, is a founding investor—along with Garofalo and Argyros—in Pacific Liberty Bank. Inglee declined comment on this situation, claiming he was prohibited by the cloak of confidentiality that covers the work of the grand jury's 19 common-citizen panelists.
But in February, another grand jury member phoned to contradict the Weekly's stories: the grand jury had never declined to investigate the Garofalo matter. In fact, the grand juror alleged, Inglee never presented the full jury with Newman's complaint, a violation of grand-jury procedure.
The lone juror says those procedures required Inglee to hand Newman's complaint over to the whole jury and, further, to recuse himself—something Newman says she urged him to do.
"I've known Phil for years," said Newman. "I called Phil before I sent the letter and warned him that I was sending a complaint to the grand jury. I warned him that he needed to recuse himself, and he assured me that he would." Inglee has since told the Weekly that he handled the complaint "correctly."
But it's clear Inglee never recused himself. Instead, he apparently read through Newman's letter with the grand jury secretary, just as he did with all incoming letters. They forwarded copies of the complaints to the DA's office and the grand jury's criminal justice committee. Ignoring Newman's warning, Inglee then sent her a brief letter on Oct. 4 acknowledging receipt of her complaint and promising a response "when we have evaluated the matter."
"I was shocked when I saw his signature at the bottom of that letter," Newman said.
Meanwhile, Garofalo's political ally, District Attorney Rackaukas, declined to look into the matter further. On Nov. 8, 1999, his office wrote Newman, reporting it had conducted an inquiry and concluded that "it does not appear that the conduct of the Huntington Beach City Council or city attorney constitutes a criminal violation of any conflicts of interest law." At the same time, the grand jury's criminal justice committee split 3-3 on whether to take further action. At that point, the lone juror says, standard operating procedure demanded that the entire 19-member grand jury panel consider Newman's complaint. Twelve votes would have forced further investigation.
But that vote never occurred, the juror told the Weekly, because Newman's letter never reached the entire panel. Instead, Newman received the Oct. 19 letter signed by Inglee and criminal justice committee chairman Richard D. Cottingham, saying the grand jury had dropped the matter. Other grand jurors and sources close to the grand jury confirmed the independent juror's version of events.
When pressed for a reaction, Judge C. Robert Jameson, the jury's supervisor, acknowledged that it was crucial for members of the legal community to "not only avoid impropriety but also to avoid the appearance of impropriety." But he stressed that he was not commenting specifically on Inglee's behavior. In fact, he said, he knew nothing of the incident—but then went on to assert that nothing "inappropriate" occurred during the tenure of the current grand jury, which ends on June 30.
What about Newman's complaint? "She can send another complaint after the first of July [when a new jury is impaneled] and see what happens," said Jameson, offering Newman nothing more than another ticket for the grand jury roller-coaster ride. "Let me put it this way: she's got nothing to lose."
HOUSE OF THE RISING SUM Garofalo has to have a place to live, of course, but the last two places he has owned—a mansion on a waterfront hilltop and a cookie-cutter townhouse on Main Street—have raised eyebrows.
The mansion has now shown up in a memo from Huntington Beach city attorney Gail Hutton as one of four potential conflicts of interest that are being referred to the state FPPC. In tortured English, Hutton asked Garofalo: "What impact, if any, does your purchase and sale of a home located in St. Augustine tract, Huntington Beach, affect your ability to vote?"
The St. Augustine house is on Poppy Hill Circle, part of the lavish Seacliff neighborhood built by PLC Land Cos., a company run by Huntington Beach's most powerful developer, Chris Gibbs.
Gibbs, you'll remember, is the other developer who invested $100,000 to help Garofalo open Pacific Liberty Bank. And it turns out that Garofalo, while consistently voting for Gibbs' projects in the city—and making him grand marshal of the Fourth of July parade—was trying to buy a house from him and not saying a word about it to the public.
But Garofalo's wheeling on this deal ultimately turned out the way it so often does: he ended up in over his head. A routine title search of real-estate records revealed the following curious time line:
On March 20, 1998, Garofalo paid $621.50 in transfer taxes for 19031 Poppy Hill Circle. That deed doesn't mention a purchase price, but the tax payment suggests the house's selling price was $565,000. Four months later, on July 28 —the day after escrow closed, allowing Garofalo his first opportunity to move in—Garofalo quitclaimed the house to George A. Pearson, a wealthy HB gas-station tycoon with business before the City Council. Again, no purchase price appears on the deed, but transfer taxes reveal a new selling price of $625,000. The new sale price indicates that Garofalo made a $60,000 profit. Garofalo says he charged Pearson precisely what he paid for the house, including upgrades and a symbolic $1 profit.
Garofalo's 24-hour ownership of what must have been his dream house is certainly curious. He has never given the Weekly a straight answer about how he got a chance to own such a choice house (lots were supposed to be distributed through a lottery of prospective buyers); whether he initially paid any money for the house; or why he suddenly decided that he "really wanted" to live in a much smaller, cheaper house in downtown Huntington Beach. In addition, Garofalo has consistently refused to provide the Weekly with copies of any other financial documents proving he actually paid money for the house.
Garofalo spoke with us about the house two times by phone and then fell back on the fax machine he tends to fire up in such situations. He reeled off a humdinger on April 21: "To the best of my knowledge, regardless of what I or anyone else attempts to say to counter your claims, you have apparently manipulated all verbiage to make your focused negative point," Garofalo wrote. "I thank you for asking the question you asked."
What's really disturbing about that house on Poppy Hill Circle is what didn't appear in the property records. While the house was in escrow, Garofalo was representing the city in negotiations with Gibbs' company over multimillion-dollar reimbursements to the developer. The reimbursements were for sewer and water pipes and other infrastructure PLC built in the Seacliff neighborhoods. PLC claimed it had built more than was necessary, which would benefit the city, and the city owed PLC some money. PLC figured a fair settlement was roughly $40 million; sources close to the negotiations said Garofalo supported PLC's claim. City staff argued that the city owed PLC nothing but eventually settled on $5 million.
"It was obvious that Garofalo was carrying PLC's water," said one observer of the negotiations. "It was appalling."
When questioned about this situation, Garofalo became enraged. Rather than disclosing the details of his relationship with Gibbs, he demanded the names of the Weekly's sources. "You owe me, at least, the name of the person who's frequented these, uhh, mysterious reimbursement meetings," Garofalo charged. "Biggest bunch of bullshit I ever heard in my life."
Garofalo's move into the home on Main Street in downtown Huntington Beach didn't spare him from further controversy. That house stands a mere six blocks from Huntington Beach's so-called "Blocks 104/105," a massive redevelopment district near the city's landmark pier. Because the house is within 2,500 feet of Blocks 104/105, state law says Garofalo might financially benefit from the proposed project and requires that he recuse himself from voting on it. But he has been voting on the project. His reason: a July 21, 1999, memo from city attorney Hutton saying there was no problem with his votes. With Hutton's June 19, 2000, memo, Garofalo now says he won't be voting on that project anymore.
But that doesn't end the controversy over Blocks 104/105. According to a June 15 Huntington Beach Independent story, while Garofalo was still voting on the redevelopment zone, he accepted a $2,995 check from Commercial Investment Management Group (CIM), the zone's development firm. The money was for a half-page ad in the Huntington Beach Visitor's Guide, but it was written directly to "David P. Garofalo & Associates Inc." A CIM official told the Independent that he was instructed to make the check out to Garofalo—not to The Local News or the Visitor's Guide, but to the mayor himself.
Garofalo says he deposited the check in its proper account. "I don't have the check in front of me, but if I showed you the back of the check, it would be endorsed," Garofalo told the Independent.
The Visitor's Guide is a virtual catalog of Garofalo's dealings with companies doing business before the city. The 2000 edition contains ads from the Waterfront Hilton, Koll Co., PLC Land Cos., and the developers promoting big projects at Seacliff Village and the Crossings at Huntington. These names have all appeared in the Huntington Beach City Council minutes in the past year, each bearing Garofalo's approval votes right alongside. In a June 25 front-page story, the Times reckoned that Garofalo had voted 87 times in five and a half years on matters affecting his Visitor's Guide advertisers.
WHO'S WATCHING? It's as if we live in Mayberry: the grand jury foreman turns out to be related to Garofalo through Pacific Liberty Bank. The district attorney is related to Garofalo through Republican patronage. The city attorney seems to define her mission as serving not the people of her city but its officials.
But one might reasonably have expected better from the FPPC, the state agency established with great fanfare in the years immediately after Watergate to oversee public officials.
There are currently four complaints of ethical violations concerning Garofalo on file with the Sacramento-based FPPC. Or are there five? It's hard to keep count. But judging from the results of the FPPC's first—and so far only—investigation into a Garofalo-related matter, we shouldn't expect too much.
In response to Newman's conflict-of-interest allegations regarding three council members' business partnership with developer George Argyros in Pacific Liberty Bank while they were voting to approve Argyros' Wal-Mart project, the FPPC sent a single-page reply: "We have reviewed your complaint and decided to close this matter without formal enforcement action," wrote Colleen McGee. "The mere fact that they made decisions that affected a development of a fellow investor does not constitute a conflict of interest."
Okay. But while regurgitating the facts to support this ruling, McGee got them all wrong—suggesting that Garofalo had disclosed his relationship to the bank. The fact that he hadn't done so before the crucial Wal-Mart votes was precisely the point of Newman's original complaint to the agency.
Calls to Sacramento to point this out were greeted with whiny explanations about how overworked and underfunded the FPPC office and its staff are. When we pushed the point, FPPC media director Sigrid Bathen took the easy way out, closing the conversation by claiming she "couldn't discuss the details of the investigation"—even though that investigation had been closed for more than a month. Newman has filed a second complaint. The FPPC has failed to respond to the Weekly's May 15 California Public Records Act request for documents related to the investigation.
EPILOGUE On June 19, Garofalo delivered a three-minute speech during a regular City Council meeting, pledging that he would divest himself of the publishing business that had spawned so many conflict-of-interest charges.
The following morning, we visited his office at The Local News. Garofalo wasn't there, but his son Kevin, who sells ads for his dad's paper, was.
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We identified ourselves as Weekly reporters and asked if The Local Newswas going out of business. We asked what Garofalo meant by the word "divest." We asked when we might be able to speak to his dad. Visibly agitated, Kevin Garofalo said he couldn't answer our questions, couldn't help us out, couldn't refer us to anyone, but that we should have a nice day.
Dave Garofalo never did call us back, but he did call the police from his office at City Hall, saying a couple of Weekly reporters were at his office harassing his employees. His employees? He'd just announced he had divested.
We later learned that Kevin had called his dad. Kevin confirmed that two uniformed officers showed up at The Local News office shortly after our exit.
Apparently, Garofalo really is finally getting tired of being the center of attention. Too bad it's too late.