Councilwoman's bar may hinder her voting

Times Staff Writer

It's not even open yet, but already it's the most talked-about wine bar in Anaheim.

Councilwoman Lucille Kring's soon-to-open business became one of Disney's weapons of choice last year when the city was embroiled in debate over whether housing should be allowed in the city's tourist-serving Resort District.

Moments before a critical council vote on a large housing development last February, Disney attorneys said Kring appeared to have a conflict of interest because the proposed wine bar could affect her ability to vote objectively on the project.

"It was rather a shock at the time," Councilman Bob Hernandez said. "I was blindsided because I didn't even know she was opening a wine bar. The implication was that she was breaking the law if she voted."

Kring abstained but later cast a tiebreaking vote for the housing plan after she was cleared by a state commission, which determined that she had only signed a nonbinding letter of intent for her business. The condominium and low-income apartment project under consideration, which Disney opposed, has since died, and the controversy has too.

But with Kring's Pop the Cork wine bar poised to gain city approval next week, the potential conflict that could bar her from voting on any matter in one of the country's best-known resort areas is back.

City Atty. Jack White said Kring, like any council member who owns a business in town, would have to decide on a case-by-case basis whether she may vote on a particular project.

Unless a project is within 500 feet of her wine bar, White said, Kring would be able to vote "in most cases." Anything closer would probably present a conflict.

An obvious conflict for Kring would be any project coming before the City Council that is in the new GardenWalk development. Kring's wine bar is scheduled to open in May along with several other shops and restaurants in the upscale outdoor mall, which is several blocks from Disney's amusement parks.

"Morally and ethically, I'm not going to vote for anything in GardenWalk," she said.

And she'll be tested quickly. A GardenWalk project involving two Disney-managed hotels will probably come before the council later this year.

In raising the issue against Kring in March, Disney attorneys cited a 2001 case in Truckee in which a councilman was advised not to vote on a housing project because it was within three miles of his wine and cheese shop, the only such specialty store in the Sierra Nevada town. The state agency ruled that he might benefit from an influx of new customers.

One of the key issues in the Truckee ruling was whether the proposed housing development would increase the wine and cheese shop's revenues by $20,000 or more a year. White said Kring's wine shop would face a similar test.

"It's going to be up to her to determine if a project would have a $20,000-or-more effect on her wine bar revenue in any year," White said. "That's going to be hard for her, considering it's a new business and you don't know what your revenues are. But the key is whether the effect is reasonably forceable or obvious."

Kring said she would take each potential conflict very seriously.

"Every once in a while, I will have a conflict," she said. "But I think people understand that being a council member is a part-time job. You can't be barred from earning a living."

Councilman Harry Sidhu, a developer who once owned 28 fast-food restaurants, said he was confident Kring's wine bar wouldn't become a nagging issue.

"There will be some conflict, but she's intelligent and she'll make the right choice," he said. "I'm in business too, and as a council member, you should have the right to open a business."

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david.mckibben@latimes.com

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