Why did Huntington Beach school officials reject more lucrative offers to develop an abandoned school campus and embrace developer George Argyros' less profitable plan to build a Wal-Mart? The latest possible explanation: Wayne Wedin.
The Weekly has learned that Wedin, the controversial Brea City Council member-turned-construction consultant, was advising the Ocean View School District (OVSD) when it approved Argyros' low-ball bid to turn Crest View Elementary into a Wal-Mart. During a Jan. 20 taped debate on the Wal-Mart project that will air on Huntington Beach's cable television outlet HBTV-3 through March 5, OVSD trustee Pam Walker explained that the district "hired a consultant" who advised that "the other bids weren't serious."
Walker's revelation is the latest explanation of Huntington Beach's mysterious commitment to a proposed Wal-Mart that has provoked outrage from its prospective neighbors. Two others:
"City pressure." In November, OVSD Superintendent James Tarwater told the Weekly that the district accepted Argyros' deal because Huntington Beach city officials desired the sales tax the Wal-Mart would generate.
Pacific Liberty Bank. In December, the Weekly revealed that George Argyros invested $100,000 in the small start-up bank in Huntington Beach, where other investors include three of the four City Council members who voted in favor of the Wal-Mart project but did not disclose that business relationship. That group included Mayor Dave Garofalo, who has a $50,000 investment and serves on the board of directors. Inquiries by the city attorney, grand jury and district attorney have cleared the officials of wrongdoing. The Fair Political Practices Commission is still investigating.
Argyros is a highly political land developer and the financial force behind the no-holds-barred drive to build the nation's fifth-largest international airport at El Toro. Wedin is equally political, and his résumé is a perfect fit for the controversial nature of this project. He was the head consultant behind such expensive—and potentially dangerous—school building projects as Los Angeles Unified School District's (LAUSD) Belmont Learning Center and Brea Olinda High School in Orange County.
School-district records show that Wedin sent out the OVSD's original Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for developers in mid-1994. The RFQ was designed to weed out illegitimate bids. By late 1994, Wedin had narrowed his list and sent out a Request for Proposals (or bid) from those developers he deemed legitimate. All bids went to Wedin's Placentia office.
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A 1995 status report obtained by the Weekly shows Wedin eventually handed the school district six proposals for a variety of residential and commercial uses. At least two of them exceeded Wal-Mart's $442,000 proposed annual lease payments. One of them, a bid to build a Smiths Market, would have netted the school district double the Wal-Mart project in yearly lease payments.
Wedin's dubious consulting record has already been reported in the Weekly. In 1992, he left the Brea City Council amid conflict-of-interest charges, but a trial acquitted him. Wedin turned to the more lucrative business of advising cash-strapped school districts on construction projects. Reporting over the past three years by the OC Weekly and the LA Weekly shows that Wedin made millions of dollars consulting for six California school districts, including OC's Brea Olinda. A state Assembly investigation into financially troubled school districts led to the scathing 1998 Wildman report, in which Wedin is mentioned 228 times.
The most controversial of those projects is the disastrous Belmont Learning Complex, begun in the late 1980s for the LAUSD before being shut down permanently by the district board on Jan. 25. The incompleted high school's price ballooned to $120 million, making it the most expensive high school ever built in California. The Wildman report shows Wedin misled district officials about the viability of public financing. LAUSD later terminated his contract, but not before he made more than $1 million in fees.
In Brea, Wedin developed an exotic strategy to turn an old high school campus into a commercial shopping area and construct the district's new high school on an abandoned oil field. School district officials recently admitted that their district is still so deeply in debt as a result of that scheme that they'll have to tap the district's reserve funds to keep up with payments on a project that was supposed to have already paid for itself.