A political consultant hired by Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson to explore a possible run for statewide office also works for a developer proposing a $2-billion residential and commercial project in Bernson’s council district.
The consultant, Paul Clarke, has worked for Bernson on and off since 1978 and also represents Porter Ranch Development Co.
The company, run by Beverly Hills builder Nathan Shapell, wants to construct 2,195 single-family homes, 800 condominiums and 7.5 million square feet of commercial development on 1,300 vacant acres north of the Simi Valley Freeway in Chatsworth.
The proposal is scheduled to be heard March 23 by the city Planning Commission. If approved, it would reach the City Council’s Planning and Environment Committee--which Bernson chairs--before going before the full council.
The councilman said Tuesday that his employment of Clarke, who is the husband of former Rep. Bobbi Fiedler (R-Northridge), to explore the feasibility of Bernson’s running for lieutenant governor in 1994 is not a conflict of interest as far as Porter Ranch is concerned.
Bernson compared Clarke’s work for the Bernson Political Action Committee to that of a doctor, lawyer or accountant who might also have other clients.
“It does not pose any problem for me,” Bernson said. “I have no way of knowing, nor should I be concerned, if my doctor or my accountant has another client that they serve professionally who may appear before me.”
He added that Clarke “certainly has never lobbied me or had any discussions about Porter Ranch to try to persuade me to do one thing or the other.”
Clarke said his work for Porter Ranch Development, which hired him about a year ago, focuses more on dealing with reporters and community members than on Bernson, a longtime friend.
Clarke said that he and Bernson often converse, but that their talks on Porter Ranch have been “incidental at best.” Clarke said Bernson sometimes asks how the Porter Ranch work is going, and he responds, “fine.”
Bernson said he does not want to voice his opinion on the Porter Ranch proposal until a Planning Department hearing officer makes recommendations to the Planning Commission. Such recommendations are expected to be made later this month.
Dual relationships, such as Clarke’s with Bernson and with Porter Ranch Development, are not unheard-of in the political-consulting business. There is no legal bar to consultants’ trying to influence city legislation while working on council members’ campaigns.
Paul Chipello, a Northridge resident and critic of the Porter Ranch proposal, stepped clear of criticizing Bernson. “We would rather work with him than be adversarial,” he said.
A more strident critic of the development, Robert Birch, said he believes that Clarke’s dual role poses a conflict of interest for Bernson because “it’s far too cozy.”
“Is there such a dearth of consultants that Paul Clarke must be Hal Bernson’s only choice?” Birch asked.