Yes, In My Back Yard

Photo by Daniel C. TsangMayor Bruce Broadwater has repeatedly—and perhaps illegally—cast votes to steer millions in redevelopment dollars to a Garden Grove neighborhood within spitting distance of his own properties, the Weekly has learned.

Earlier this month, the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) received a complaint about Broadwater's votes from West Garden Grove Residents Association president Tony Flores. FPPC guidelines prohibit the agency from confirming or denying the status of an ongoing investigation, but Flores provided us with a copy of his complaint, which alleges that Broadwater's official actions may violate state ethics laws.

A primary goal of redevelopment is to boost local property values by improving adjacent run-down areas. California state conflict-of-interest law says politicians living within 500 feet of redevelopment projects are automatically "conflicted out"—that is, they can't vote on such projects because they might benefit from them. According to the city's own estimates, the mayor's house and an insurance business he founded in Garden Grove, Broadwater Insurance Agency Inc., are located exactly 160 feet and 190 feet, respectively, from the boundaries of the city's redevelopment area.

As far as City Hall is concerned, however, Broadwater has nothing to worry about. Assistant city manager Mathew Fertal said the city hired an "appraiser" to study potential conflicts of interest involving property owned by Broadwater and other City Council members and that the appraiser "agreed" with the city's analysis that nobody was conflicted out.

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But the $2,750 report by Orange-based Urban Futures Inc. makes no such claim. Indeed, the firm identified potential conflicts of interest for Broadwater and council members William Dalton, Mark Leyes and Mark Rosen. According to the firm's March 2001 study, each owned at least one property within 500 feet of the project area. In a letter accompanying the report, Urban Futures urged the city to act on those potential conflicts by the council's Aug. 14, 2001, meeting.

The city appears to have done nothing else to ensure that its votes comply with state conflict-of-interest law. In the past year, Broadwater has cast at least two votes to expand the redevelopment project, abstaining just once from a vote on a Chapman Avenue project across the street from one of his properties. Next month, the council is scheduled to vote on whether to add 190 acres to the redevelopment zone—land that Broadwater has suggested could be turned into a theme park.

Broadwater has failed to respond to telephone calls from the Weekly seeking his comment for this and a previous article (see "King of Garden Grove," May 17). That story observed that Broadwater is arguably the best-financed politician in the city's history. In the past three years, he has taken in more than $170,000 in campaign contributions—most of the cash from hotel developers and tourism-dependent businesses in Garden Grove. Those developers are building in the redevelopment zone Broadwater helped create near his own properties.

Pasadena-based attorney Chris Sutton, an expert on redevelopment law, said it is common knowledge that politicians can't vote on land-use decisions that affect their next-door neighbors.

"The FPPC has a rule that, with ownership of property within 500 feet of a land-use decision, there is a presumption there is a conflict of interest," Sutton said. "For the city to hire someone else to study this issue doesn't make sense. The only way to know is to ask the FPPC. That's why they're there."

FPPC spokesperson Roman Porter confirmed that city officials throughout California continually contact his agency seeking guidance in voting on sensitive matters—especially matters involving their own neighborhoods. Those contacts, he said, range from informal telephone calls seeking quick answers on basic legal questions to formal letters "where the elected official actually writes in with the details—saying, 'I own this land; these are my concerns. Do I have a conflict of interest?'"

Porter added that any politician who contacts the FPPC seeking legal advice—and who follows the agency's recommendations—is automatically immune from prosecution, even if the official is later found to have violated the California Fair Political Practices Act. After reviewing the agency's records, however, Porter said he could find no evidence that Broadwater or any other Garden Grove city official had ever contacted the agency about its ongoing redevelopment project.

"Unless there is something that just came in and is currently sitting on someone else's desk," he said, "I couldn't find anything."

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