Newport planning commissioner resigns in surprise move

NEWPORT BEACH — In an abrupt announcement Tuesday night, Planning Commissioner Robert Hawkins resigned and said he has filed ethics complaints against two city councilmen.

Citing alleged conflicts of interest by Mike Henn and Rush Hill, in addition to other city planning controversies, Hawkins said he felt he could no longer serve.

The two councilmen recently recused themselves from discussions about revitalizing different parts of the city — Lido Village for Henn and West Newport for Hill — because they have financial ties to properties or businesses in those districts. On Tuesday, the City Council was asked to approve recommended plans to rehabilitate the areas.

"Those conflicts infect the entire results of those recommendations," Hawkins said in his resignation announcement given during the City Council meeting's public comments section.

He argued that the councilmen's early participation, before they recused themselves, tainted the entire process. Hawkins also cited instances when the City Council overturned Planning Commission decisions, and another time when some council members criticized his actions.

Hawkins, an attorney, said he filed two complaints Tuesday with the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

Henn is a consultant for a business owner in Via Lido Plaza, a major shopping center in Lido Village. Hill owns a mixed-use commercial building near the Newport Pier, along a portion of Balboa Boulevard that would receive new landscaping.

Both councilmen serve on the Neighborhood Revitalization Committee, which oversees the projects. Hawkins has raised their potential conflicts of interest at revitalization meetings.

Hill said he removed himself from West Newport and Mariner's Mile talks in December, after consulting with the city attorney.

Henn also formally recused himself at a December meeting, citing the appearance of a conflict in Lido Village. It is unclear when he first stepped away from the Lido talks. Henn spearheaded the village revitalization, but later distanced himself when the Daily Pilot reported his financial ties in August.

Henn maintains that his consulting relationship does not rise to the level of a conflict of interest.

"It's highly questionable whether Mr. Henn has a conflict or not," City Attorney Aaron Harp said at the meeting.

Hawkins began his term on the Planning Commission in November 2004. It was set to end in July, according the city's website.

Comments from Hill and Henn were not available as of press time.

Twitter: @mreicher

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