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Controversial Nominee Is Approved for Harbor Panel

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Harbor-area educator Reynaldo Garay took his place Wednesday on Los Angeles’ powerful Harbor Commission, surviving a bruising confirmation hearing that focused on his years of residency outside the city.

Garay, 56, a longtime Rancho Palos Verdes resident, won appointment to the five-member commission on Tuesday when the City Council voted 12 to 0 to confirm his selection by Mayor Tom Bradley. The decision followed a spirited debate that weighed Garay’s years of community service against the 1928 City Charter requirement that all Los Angeles commissioners live within the city.

To meet that requirement, Garay recently moved temporarily into the San Pedro apartment of a relative and pledged that he and his wife would immediately search for a permanent home in that Los Angeles community or elsewhere in the city.

“I am looking forward to this appointment,” Garay said after the council’s action. “I want to be the best damn commissioner this city has ever had in that harbor area. I don’t know that I will be. But that’s my hope, that’s my goal.”

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A top priority, he added, will be to review the port’s trade with Pacific Rim nations in light of the free-trade agreements being negotiated among the United States, Mexico and Canada. Just returned from an educational and cultural conference in Bangkok, Thailand, Garay said representatives of Pacific Rim countries voiced concern that they may lose some U.S. trade because of the proposed accords.

“Some of the things they are discussing right now on an international basis have a direct impact on what is going to happen in our port,” Garay said.

Garay, dean of Los Angeles Trade Technical College, lived in San Pedro during the 1960s and has been active in harbor-area community groups for years.

But during the council’s hearing Tuesday, several council members--including harbor-area Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores--pointedly noted that despite Garay’s good deeds, the residency issue clouded his appointment.

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“The bottom line is that the City Charter does not say that somebody has to do good work in the city of Los Angeles or that somebody has to be involved in matters in the city of Los Angeles,” Flores reminded colleagues. “It says that they have to live in the city of Los Angeles.”

As such, Flores recommended Garay’s confirmation only after assurances that he will quickly find a permanent residence in the city.

“You’ve been confirmed. Start moving,” Council President John Ferraro told Garay after the vote.

Last month, Bradley appointed Garay to the five-member Harbor Commission to fill the vacancy created when Robert Rados Sr. decided not to seek reappointment. At the time, Bradley’s press spokesman Bill Chandler has said, Garay told the mayor he lived in San Pedro.

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But public records show that Garay has not lived in San Pedro since 1968, when he and his wife moved to Rancho Palos Verdes from a San Pedro apartment building they still own.

To satisfy Los Angeles’ residency requirement, Garay changed his voter registration from Rancho Palos Verdes to Los Angeles on July 9--one week after his appointment by Bradley. Later, Garay moved into the San Pedro apartment of his wife’s nephew.

Part of the council’s concern over the residency issue arose from the fact that several past Bradley appointees--including Rados and Cultural Affairs Commissioner Amarjit S. Marwah--have been named or reappointed to commissions even though they did not permanently live in the city.

Flores said Garay’s appointment has prompted her to ask the city’s Ethics Commission to review and reaffirm the city’s residency requirement for commissioners.

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“So . . . if nothing else,” she said, “this matter has perhaps helped for future decisions of this kind.”

Amid the questioning over his official residence and qualifications to serve as a city commissioner, Garay emphasized that he grew up in Los Angeles, attended and taught at its schools and has long identified with the harbor area through local groups like the San Pedro Sea Lions.

His background clearly impressed some council members Tuesday, who praised the appointee’s credentials and commitment to the harbor area.

“The work he has done as a professional educator has always been in the city of Los Angeles,” said Councilman Richard Alatorre, who said he has known Garay more than 20 years.

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In urging colleagues to “get beyond” the issue of Garay’s residence, Alatorre noted that the appointee, unlike others who have served on the Harbor Commission, does not have any business interests in the port. “At least we won’t have to worry about him having a conflict of interest in decisions . . . as we have seen time and time again with that commission,” Alatorre said.

Although Alatorre did not cite any of those commissioners by name, the harbor panel members over the years often have included business people and attorneys with contracts or clients involving the port. For example, Garay’s predecessor, Rados, is a longtime naval architect whose firm won two city contracts to design vessels during his tenure on the panel.

After his confirmation, Garay said he was neither surprised nor disturbed by the council’s concerns over his residency.

“I feel very comfortable that they asked me the kinds of questions they asked. I thought it was very appropriate,” Garay said, adding that he “tried to be as honest and candid” as possible in answering questions about his residency.

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Garay’s term on the commission will expire June 30, 1996.


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