09 October 2008

Canyon Crest: Did Mayor Schweitzer Bogey the Hole on a Fundraiser?

I didn't mention this in my summary of last night's Brea City Council meeting concerning the appeal of the Canyon Crest housing project because I wanted to focus on citizen comments at the hearing, but there was an interesting matter that came up during the regular public comment session in the Redevelopment Agency portion of the meeting.

In short, a citizen expressed concern that a mailer for a golf tournament fundraiser to support the city museum had Mayor Don Schweitzer's name on it as a major supporter and gave the information that RSVPs were to be directed to Brian Rupp, the Shopoff Group's project director for the Canyon Crest development proposal. While the resident plainly stated that she was not accusing the mayor or anyone else with intentional wrongdoing, she questioned how it looked in terms of appearances. The City Attorney was asked to give his views on the matter and said there was nothing illegal, which is all very true, about the mailer. Then, after each council member rushed to defend the Mayor, an interesting distraction occurred. Some council members actually stated that, because they were all heavily involved with non-profits, any suggestion of impropriety that would lead to calls for recusal on matters involving those groups would render much city business impossible.

On the face of it, it all sounds reasonable. But, there's a fundamental and obvious problem with the argument. The Shopoff Group is a for-profit business with a potentially lucrative deal of a highly controversial nature pending before the council. As a commentor on this blog noted, the chairman of the board of the city museum is also the chair of the Planning Commission, which earlier this year narrowly approved (3-2) the Canyon Crest project. It just seems to me that there was a very simple and equitable way to have dealt with this.

The Shopoff Group has every right to be a contributor to the museum project (though we all know, whether we wish to acknowledge it or not, that as soon as this project is quashed or when it is built, Shopoff will be gone, unless there's another project to be had in town). Why, though, did the RSVPs have to be directed through Mr. Rupp? For the sake of appearances, it would have been a more politic decision to have had someone else handle that.
After all, these kinds of issues wind up becoming, in many cases, fodder for media coverage that the parties involved too often would just have rather avoided. Incidentally, the Mayor publicly stated that, at no time during thhe planning for this fundraiser, did he talk to Mr. Rupp about the Canyon Crest project. I suppose we'd have to take him at his word and, not being a Brea resident, I'm really in no position to testify on that score.

Still, why bring unnecessary and preventable scrutiny? Why not keep a respectable distance between elected officials and parties interested in a highly charged matter now before the council (and only recently heard before the Planning Commission)? Why run the risk of putting forth questionable appearances?

Actually, what I'm more interested in was another statement of this resident that $1 million was offered by Shopoff to Hills for Everyone, a group at the forefront of the Canyon Crest opposition. Was this another "investment in community building" or, as was insinuated by this speaker, an attempt at bribery? If anyone out there is privy to this and cares to share it, I'd be interested to hear more (who wouldn't?).

The reality, though, is, whatever this fundraiser mailer might or might not mean, the council has to subjectively decide the appeal based on whether they feel Canyon Crest serves the citizens of Brea more than it does the Shopoff Group. Just as it probably wouldn't help Barack Obama to hammer away at John McCain's connection with the Keating Five scandal from 20 years ago, even if in defense of groundless attacks about his "palling" around with former Weatherman William Ayers, it probably does not help the Canyon Crest opposition to put too much attention on this mailer and its appearance of questionable associations and distract from the direct and very substantial issues about the absolute unsuitability of this proposed development for Brea and Carbon Canyon.

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