Developer Jack Spound said he thought that he had built a cordial, trusting relationship with Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky in the months preceding the January, 1990, vote that would determine the fate of his $150-million Warner Ridge office project.
Spound said the West Los Angeles councilman, whose district includes Sherman Oaks, had asked him to help raise money for Yaroslavsky's mayoral bid and Spound had done so, collecting about $17,000. The developer said the councilman had asked for tickets to the 1989 Super Bowl and Spound had gotten them, although Yaroslavsky did not go. And the two men had discussed Warner Ridge strategy and compared notes on how the council would vote. Spound thought that he had an ally.
Then, according to Spound, the day the issue went before the council, Yaroslavsky betrayed him by providing the decisive vote in defeating Spound's proposal to build a seven-building office park on the Woodland Hills property.
That is how Spound describes Yaroslavsky's actions in a sworn statement given in a $100-million lawsuit filed against the city by Spound and his partners. They contend that their plans to build 810,000 square feet of offices were defeated illegally in 1990 by the City Council.
Although Councilwoman Joy Picus, who represents Woodland Hills, was the key player in the project's defeat, Spound's deposition touches on the actions of other council members, including Yaroslavsky, Hal Bernson and Michael Woo, in the highly politicized process.
Spound's deposition, released by his attorneys, offers a peek behind the scenes of the intense lobbying efforts by both sides, in which planning concepts took a back seat to politics.
This is the second time this month that the aggrieved developers have released documents that they say show politicians took illegal steps to halt projects.
The revelations come at a time when the city's planning process, and the degree to which it is influenced by political considerations, is undergoing close examination by Mayor Tom Bradley and the City Council. Earlier this month, Yaroslavsky proposed a measure to shield city planners and planning commissioners from lobbying.
In an interview Friday, Yaroslavsky agreed that he had asked Spound to raise money for him and that the two men had a cordial relationship. But he angrily denied other aspects of Spound's account, including the Super Bowl ticket request, and said Spound was trying to argue his case in the media by selectively releasing documents in the litigation.
"He's trying to pressure the council through the media to cave in . . . and it will not work," Yaroslavsky said. "He knows the law and he knows the truth . . . and it's just the way it is."
Yaroslavsky challenged Spound's attorney, Robert I. McMurry, to release the record of four days of testimony that the councilman gave in his own deposition.
McMurry has declined to release further documents in the case, which is not set for trial until January, because attorneys representing the city have threatened to go to court to seek sanctions if more are. Two weeks ago, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge refused one request by the city for an immediate ban on document releases.
McMurry said it would be highly unusual for the court to order such sanctions, which could include fines or preventing the documents from being used as evidence in court.
Yaroslavsky said his deposition "would put things in perspective." He said Spound has only released "copies of things that he wants released . . . and it's apparent there are differing stories."
Picus' deposition in the case was made public earlier this month by the plaintiffs. In it, she said she had unsuccessfully lobbied the Planning Commission on the project and had threatened to make "chopped liver" out of Spound if he released a poll that she feared might damage her chances of reelection. Picus said the political advantages of opposing the project helped shape her position.
Spound has claimed in the lawsuit that he was misled by Picus into believing that she supported a commercial development even before Warner Ridge Associates purchased the property in 1985 for $20.5 million.
In his deposition, he states that at a 1984 meeting with Picus and the seller of the property, Picus "was convinced that the community was adamantly opposed to residential development" and that commercial use of the property "was the solution to a long-running problem."
He claimed that she later changed her mind when homeowners objected to the office proposal for the property on De Soto Avenue, just south of Pierce College.
In her deposition, Picus said she could not recall any such meeting or conversation.
Spound believed that Yaroslavsky also had misled him and that the councilman had never supported the office project, despite promising to help Spound get it approved, according to the deposition.
At another point in the deposition, Spound said Yaroslavsky threatened him over a community poll on the Warner Ridge issue that Picus thought could be used against her.
"If I were to use that kind of poll," Spound remembered Yaroslavsky warning him, "I would lose all of the political friends that I have, and that would be an act of open warfare on the council." Spound said Yaroslavsky told him that he "would make sure that we never got the project."
Spound said Yaroslavsky told him that "the council was very protective of their own individuals, and anyone trying to attack one of the members of the council would be viewed as very hostile."
In an interview, Yaroslavsky rejected Spound's account of the conversation. "It's just patently false . . . and I testified to that," he said. "It's not anything I would say and not something I would be able to deliver on if I said it. It's preposterous on its face."
Spound testified that he had assured Yaroslavsky that the poll results would be locked in a safe and never made public.
He said the councilman then told him: "I will make sure that I take care of you" after the 1989 council election in which Picus was a candidate. According to Spound, Yaroslavsky on two other occasions also said he would "take care of" Spound's difficulties with the Warner Ridge project.
On Jan. 24, when the issue was before the council, Yaroslavsky voted against Spound.
In the end, Picus had 10 votes, including Yaroslavsky's--the bare minimum she needed to overturn a Planning Commission recommendation to allow the offices to be built.
Yaroslavsky said Friday that he voted to support single-family houses on the site because Spound's proposed office project was too large and would create too much traffic.
Spound, however, said Yaroslavsky reneged on his agreement to help him and in the end decided not to risk angering Picus.
Picus, in her deposition, said she told Yaroslavsky that she had enough votes to win without his.
"I knew that he had a tough time on this issue," Picus said, referring to Yaroslavsky and his friendship with Spound. "The purpose of my message was to make him more comfortable, to not feel that he needed to support me on the basis of friendship."
Yaroslavsky Friday denied having had any such discussions about his vote. "I don't do that sort of thing," he said. "Whatever my vote would have been, it would have been regardless of the outcome."
Spound's deposition also offers a glimpse of back-room conversations with Bernson and Woo:
Just before the council's Planning and Land-Use Management Committee met to consider Spound's proposal before it went to the full council, Woo called the developer to his office and admitted that, although he believed the property to be ill-suited for single-family housing, he would introduce a motion to impose that type of zoning.
Spound testified that Woo told him that he'd agreed to introduce the measure because Picus threatened to undermine a package of ordinances dealing with public officials' ethics. Woo "stated that his ethics package was very important to him, and he could not have the councilwoman undermining his efforts to formulate the ethics reform and that if he did not go along with the councilwoman, that that would be a likely outcome," Spound testified.
Woo, whose district includes a portion of the southeast San Fernando Valley, added "that Picus was very vindictive," according to Spound's deposition.
Asked about Spound's testimony, Woo declined to comment.
Spound also testified that Bernson, who represents the northwest Valley, agreed to go along with Picus on the Warner Ridge matter in exchange for her support on Bernson's pet Porter Ranch project, one of the largest residential and commercial projects ever proposed within the city of Los Angeles. Spound said he was told of that deal by Dan Garcia, who was at the time president of the Los Angeles Planning Commission.
Bernson could not be reached for comment.