Growth Activist Accuses Huntington Beach Officials of Interest Conflicts

Times Staff Writer

A state watchdog agency is reviewing a complaint filed by a citizen that accuses Huntington Beach Councilman John Erskine, City Atty. Gail C. Hutton and former Planning Commissioner Roger Slates of having conflicts of interest in some of their city actions.

Dean Albright, a Huntington Beach resident and former member of the city's environmental board, filed the conflict complaints within the last 3 weeks with the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

Albright said he also lodged a conflict complaint Monday against Huntington Beach Councilman Don MacAllister, though the state commission's spokeswoman, Sandra Michioku, said Wednesday that the agency had not yet received it.

Allegations Heatedly Denied

MacAllister was out of town and could not be reached for comment, but the other three figures vehemently denied the conflict allegations, calling them politically motivated.

Michioku said that the FPPC has received complaints against Erskine, Slates and Hutton but that a review of the merits of the allegations has yet to begin. Anyone can file a complaint with the FPPC, which by law must investigate.

The panel, established in 1974 in the reaction to the Watergate scandals, has the power to require state and local officials to disqualify themselves from making decisions when they have a financial interest in the outcome. The FPPC was given the power to fine most officials, but not legislators or state constitutional officers.

Albright, who is active with a group advocating slow growth in the city, said the conflict accusations against Hutton, Slates and MacAllister stem from their position or financial interest in Huntington National Bank, which has done business with the city. MacAllister is on the bank's board of directors, as is Slates, who resigned from the city Planning Commission last week to join the Orange County Planning Commission. Hutton holds stock in the bank that she said is worth about $2,000.

Annual Interest Statements

The three have declared those interests in the bank in annual economic interest statements required by the California Political Reform Act. Slates and MacAllister each said they own Huntington National Bank stock valued at more than $100,000.

But Albright said the directors are violating state conflict-of-interest laws because they have voted on matters in redevelopment areas from which Huntington National Bank stands to gain.

The bank, whose second branch is on Main Street in the downtown redevelopment area, has loaned the city $800,000 to buy the old Terry Buick car dealership on 5th Street, where the city plans to build a parking garage. It is in the downtown redevelopment area.

MacAllister voted last week to keep 5th Street open downtown. Albright maintains that too was a conflict.

Told No Conflict by Attorney

Deputy City Atty. Arthur J. Folger, who stepped in for Hutton because of her stock ownership in the bank, told MacAllister the night of the vote on the street issue that his voting would present no conflict of interest for MacAllister because there was no apparent gain for the bank in having the street--a few blocks from the bank--kept open.

Hutton--who is an elected official--violated conflict-of-interest laws, Albright said, because she actually made the decision about MacAllister's vote then had Folger announce it--an allegation that Hutton flatly denies.

Albright said that, by virtue of their roles on the bank board, Slates and MacAllister should not be voting on any redevelopment projects downtown, where the bank has a branch and where it has security in the $800,000 loan.

Slates, before resigning from the Huntington Beach Planning Commission, voted on a redevelopment project behind Huntington Beach City Hall. That vote, Albright said, constitutes a conflict of interest.

Slates, who also works as a real estate broker and consultant, disagreed and said he has consulted the city attorney's office on several occasions about potential conflicts and has twice abstained when told to do so.

"If (Albright has) a problem, why don't they come to the City Council or say, 'Hey, Rog, what's this?' " Slates asked.

Of the FPPC probe, Slates said: "Actually, that's almost criminal, and it has really upset my wife."

The conflict complaint filed against Erskine alleges that he served to gain financially in decisions about the downtown redevelopment area because of his ownership of a beachfront condominium, a property Erskine has also claimed in state FPPC campaign filings.

"It's another political letter to the FPPC by a couple of individuals who are trying to throw a monkey wrench into the city's redevelopment plans," Erskine said.

"I have talked with Bob Sangster, a deputy city attorney who specializes in this stuff, and he in return has consulted with the FPPC, and it's always been determined I could vote and that your personal residence did not preclude you from voting on such matters."

Erskine bought the condominium in December, 1985, and was elected the following November. He sold the property in April, 1988, but holds a $14,000 promissory note on it, Erskine said.

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