Partner's Land Deal Was Aided by Mayor : Lancaster: William Pursley acknowledges his role in getting the City Council to change a development requirement but says he did nothing wrong.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lancaster Mayor William Pursley pushed the city to change a development requirement last June for land owned by a business partner, which the partner said helped him sell the property and also earned a commission for the real estate office where Pursley works.

City records show Pursley introduced and voted on a City Council item June 18 to reduce an easement along one edge of the nearly one-acre parcel, located at the northeast corner of Avenue M and 4th Street East.

Lancaster insurance broker Clyde Golding, an owner of the property and also Pursley's business partner, said the reduction made "a major difference" in completing the sale of the property, which was already in escrow. The city had sought the easement for a traffic acceleration lane.

State law requires elected officials to avoid participating in or voting on decisions having a "material financial effect" on their financial interests. State regulations define those interests to include sources of income, such as employers, and business partners who have the type of relationship that exists between Pursley and Golding. The two are equal partners in an unrelated real estate venture.

Pursley, who already is the subject of a state inquiry for failing to disclose at least several hundred thousand dollars of his income last year, acknowledged his role in the council action but said he did nothing wrong. The mayor also said he could not remember who sought his aid but is certain it was not Golding.

Golding, however, said he asked the mayor for help while the two men were at a golf course. He said he believed the easement would have cut about $15,000 from the sale price because it would have reduced the size of the lot.

The sale was handled through Mid Valley Real Estate, a Lancaster agency Pursley co-founded and has continued to work for since he sold his interest several years ago. The parcel sold for $242,955, according to the county assessor's office.

When escrow closed in early August, Mid Valley received a $22,177 commission, said Charla Abbott, the agent who handled the sale. Abbott said she received a $8,234 share of the commission.

Pursley appointed Abbott to the city's Parks, Recreation and Arts Commission shortly after his election in March 1989. She is also president of the Antelope Valley Board of Realtors.

Sandra Michioku, a spokeswoman for the state's political watchdog agency, the Fair Political Practices Commission, confirmed its rules against conflict of interest by politicians. But Michioku said the commission was not aware of any actions Pursley might have taken on behalf of Golding and therefore could not comment.

Michioku said the FPPC is still reviewing Pursley's failure to disclose all of his economic interests. At the behest of the FPPC, the mayor filed a new statement last month listing previously unreported sales commission income and other interests.

At issue in the Golding transaction was a demand by city officials that he and his partners give up a 14-foot-wide strip of land along 4th Street that could be used as an acceleration lane for traffic coming from Avenue M.

The City Council voted in February to approve development standards in the area that included acceleration and deceleration lanes at various intersections, including the one at Golding's property.

City Public Works Director Jeff Long said his department was originally approached by representatives of the owners but had refused to change the easement. Sometime later, Long said, he was called to a meeting with former City Manager Steve West and Pursley and asked to review the department's position.

Records show that Pursley then placed the issue on the agenda as a "special item," which can be added after the regular agenda is set. Because the item was rushed, public works staff didn't have time to prepare a formal report, Long said. Instead, Long gave the council diagrams of the site and discussed the situation with council members at the meeting.

Although Long said the department did not change its position, he did discuss the option of reducing the easement to four feet. Pursley and three other council members voted for the reduction. The fifth member, Arnie Rodio, was absent.

The issue was important, Golding said, because the price the buyer, Farmers Insurance Exchange, had agreed to was based on a formula tied to the square footage of the site. The more land the city took for road purposes, the lower the purchase price.

"It made the difference in my own opinion between being a good and a bad business transaction," said Golding, who is chairman of the board of Antelope Valley Bank. His business, Antelope Valley Insurance Agency, has served as the city of Lancaster's insurance broker for many years.

Golding said he wasn't aware of the easement when he struck his deal with Farmers. He said he believed the 10 additional feet could have reduced the sales price by about $15,000. "I wanted the dollar value up to the original commitment," he said.

According to real estate records, Golding and his partners bought the property in September, 1989, for $150,000. The deed shows that Golding and his wife had a half interest, as did his daughter and son-in-law, Craig Carlton. Farmers is now starting to build a 6,400-square-foot claims office on the site.

Golding and Abbott, in interviews with The Times, said the city did not need to take so much land. Golding said he might not have sold the parcel if the council had not reduced the easement because the price would have been too low.

Pursley told The Times he thought owners of other land in the area had asked him to reduce the easement for Golding. At the time of the council vote, Pursley said he knew Golding owned the property and that it was in escrow. But he said, "I never got a call from Golding."

Pursley said his other recollections of how and why he brought the item to the council were fuzzy. Pursley said he did meet with Long, but he doesn't remember what was said. The mayor said he had originally informed the Mid Valley office that Golding was looking to sell his land.

"If I would have thought there was any conflict, I would have abstained" from the council vote, Pursley said. "I don't feel I did anything wrong. I had no ulterior motives. My sole concern was to satisfy the total project" area where the city had set development standards.

Pursley and his wife and Golding have been 50-50 partners in a real estate venture, Purgold Properties, since 1985, according to the mayor's economic interest statements. At the time of the council vote, Pursley and Golding said, Purgold held a trust deed on property sold in 1989.

That property, about one acre, is near a Lancaster industrial park. It was sold for at least $350,000, according to real estate records. Pursley and Golding also had other prior shared property ownerships. Campaign records show Golding contributed $1,000 to Pursley's 1989 campaign for office.

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