State May Ask Citizens Panel for Disclosure of Finances

Times Staff Writer

Members of the citizens group shaping Hollywood's $922-million redevelopment plan should be required to file financial disclosure statements and abstain from voting on issues that could affect their own businesses or properties, the state's Fair Political Practices Commission decided Tuesday.

The action had been requested by a member of the Hollywood committee, which has been torn by three years of bitter infighting over development and traffic issues.

If the FPPC adopts the ruling with a ratifying vote in May, it would affect the way redevelopment is handled statewide, commission counsel John McLean said.

The ruling would redefine the state-required, volunteer committees--known as Project Area Committees--as government bodies whose power to write or veto redevelopment plans makes them subject to state conflict-of-interest laws. Such committees have been regarded as strictly advisory to the elected city officials who actually approve the plans, McLean said.

"This (ruling) would require that (committee members) disclose financial interests they are in a position to affect" by voting as committee members, he said. " 'Financial interests' means investments, interest in real estate and sources of income. If they own a business, or they are employed by someone they can affect . . . they would have to disclose it."

Moreover, McLean said, committee members would have to abstain from voting on recommendations that could directly affect those interests--such as tax assistance or zoning actions that apply directly to projects they own.

The ruling represents a victory for members of the minority on the 25-member Hollywood committee, who have charged numerous conflicts of interests among the majority. Doreet Rotman, a cafe owner and member of the minority, asked for the decision after failing to persuade the committee's majority to divulge their financial interests within the 1,100-acre project area.

Rotman has charged that Hollywood's redevelopment plan, adopted last year, has been dominated by big-business owners and landholders represented by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Chamber members hold 14 of the 25 seats on the committee, which drafted the plan and is now responsible for overseeing development that takes place in the project.

"I'm so excited," Rotman said after Tuesday's action. "Finally, finally, we can have a Project Area Committee that's a bunch of people like myself--real people, not a bunch of rich and famous people. The benefits are going to be tremendous for the little people."

Although the ruling does not change the membership of the committee, members differed on whether volunteers would be as willing to serve on the group if disclosure statements are required. Current members include owners or employees of Mann Theatres, A & M Records, the Magic Castle, the landmark Crossroads of the World office complex and Walnut Properties Inc., operators of the Pussycat Theatre chain.

Chamber President Bill Welsh, a member since the committee's creation in 1983, said he does not expect the statements to cause significant changes in the makeup or operation of the committee.

'No Secrets,' Welsh Says

"They can have mine if they just tell me when they want it," Welsh said of the statements. "I, for one, do not own any particular property in the redevelopment area. I am employed by two organizations within the area--KTTV (television) and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. And that's certainly not any secret."

Others, however, said they are unsure on how they will react to the decision.

Margaret La Kretz, owner of Crossroads of the World, called the disclosure statements an invasion of privacy. The three-year committee member said she is unsure whether she will remain on the committee if the statements are required.

"I'm kind of a private person," La Kretz said. "I don't feel like splashing around to the whole world what I own and what I do."

La Kretz, the former chairman of the crucial land-use subcommittee that helped establish zoning in the project area, has been challenged by the committee's minority to prove she is qualified for membership. Although she owns an office complex, La Kretz was elected to the committee in a category reserved for owners or operators of industrial, warehousing or manufacturing property.

Refuses Disclosure

She has refused to disclose where in the project area she owns such property. Although public records do not list her as an owner of industrial, warehousing or manufacturing property in the project area, she said the property is held by a family trust.

"This is my word that I own this property and I do not feel the need to make those disclosures," La Kretz said. "I know I'm a valid member of that committee and I'm not worried about it."

La Kretz and Marshall Caskey, an attorney and former committee chairman, expressed surprise at the state commission's decision, saying that it is the purpose of the citizens committee to give property owners a fair voice in the future of redevelopment projects.

Elected members of the committee include homeowners, renters, business owners and nonprofit community organizations such as the YMCA. Four of the 25 members are appointed by Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Woo, who represents Hollywood.

"A lot of people in the community are saying that big businesses are gaining . . . influence in the project area--and I don't think that's necessarily a negative," La Kretz said. "People take all the time and energy to serve on that committee, without any compensation, because they have a vested interest in that area.

"People who own property are naturally trying to upgrade the area."

Uncertain of Consequences

Caskey, a chamber member who said he owns no property in the project area, said of the ruling, "I'm not sure it reflects an understanding of what a Project Area Committee actually does. . . . I don't know, frankly, how much trouble it's going to be."

Attorney Christopher Sutton, who represented Rotman and other challengers to the committee majority Tuesday in Sacramento, said the commission's order was based on changes in redevelopment law since the commission last ruled on the issue in 1976. The committees now have the power to veto redevelopment plans, and it takes a two-thirds vote of city council members to override that veto.

"That's a veto power equivalent to the mayor of Los Angeles," Sutton said.

Attorneys said they do not expect the action to affect a pending lawsuit challenging the legality of the Hollywood redevelopment plan. But Susan Nelson, head of the community group Save Hollywood Our Town, which filed the suit, described the state action as "terrific."

"What we've been arguing is that democracy doesn't work unless you have objective people," Nelson said. "If it's clouded by special interests, you can see that the future of Hollywood is going to be distorted."

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