Thursday, April 29, 2010 |Yorba Linda Councilwoman Jan Horton is under investigation by the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission for possible conflict of interest regarding a redevelopment zone adjacent to her home.
A complaint filed with the FPPC last fall by one of Horton’s former supporters alleges Horton offered a motion during a January 2009 meeting that could have affected her own property. The motion directed city staff to revise a redevelopment proposal and cut down the density of proposed housing, including a section close to Horton’s home.
The motion was unanimously approved by the council, according to the complaint by Ed Rakochy, a one-time ally of Horton’s who also lives near the redevelopment area.
Fair Political Practices Commission Executive Director Roman Porter confirmed the investigation, which began last fall, but said no details could be released until it is completed.
Depending on what the investigation finds, said Porter, the FPPC could take a variety of actions ranging from a warning to fines.
Horton acknowledged the investigation this week, but called it “benign” and the result of political maneuvering by Rakochy and others who she says want to control how she votes.
“It’s a benign investigation,” said Horton. “And the people who are doing it are doing it just for politics.”
The redevelopment area was the main reason Horton ran for her council seat in the first place. She lives within 500 feet of the planned Town Center redevelopment project near Yorba Linda Boulevard and Lakeview Avenue.
In 2005 she was a leader of a citizens group that opposed plans for high-density development on the Town Center site. The next year she was elected to the city council.
Last week Mayor John Anderson disclosed that Horton has continually questioned whether state conflict of interest laws require her to excuse herself from voting on parts of the 60-acre Town Center site. The costs incurred by the city to pay Yorba Linda’s city attorney to render opinions on Horton’s questions total about $8,000, according to council discussion.
Rakochy, who has run twice, unsuccessfully, for the city council, said that when Horton was a candidate she didn’t seem to understand that as a councilwoman she would be restricted in how she could vote and what she could try to influence.
And once elected, he said, she seemed to look for ways around her conflict. “She’s relentless on this issue,” he said.
Horton said Rakochy and others in a group named Yorba Linda Residents for Responsible Representation that helped launch her political career, have gotten too powerful and are attacking her because “they don’t like the fact that they can’t tell me how to vote.”
Bob Stern, co-author of the 1974 law that established the FPPC, which oversees conflict issues and campaign finance rules statewide, said Horton might fall into a category of political beginners who sometimes go “looking for the answer” they want to hear, rather than listening to what the law means.
They tell themselves: “‘I’m honest and I’m going to vote my conscience.’ Oftentime we all feel that way about ourselves. That’s why there are rules and just because you’re a good person doesn’t mean you can violate the rules,” said Stern, who heads the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles.
Documents sent by Rakochy to the FPPC included what he said is a transcript of Horton’s motion offered at the January 2009 council meeting. Here is an excerpt:
I’m willing to make the motion to send this back to staff for further refinement on the numbers that we need…with the direction that we have given you tonight to look at the east end a little bit more, the apartments the condos…And let’s see if we can get and reduce some of the densities on some of these other sites if we can because some of these are pretty high.
You have a couple on Lakeview that are side by side 30 units per acre that’s right up against residential private residential homes…So I know you have tried your best to do that but they are backing right up to a residential area, uh and right across the street from a residential area on Arroyo, on, ah Altrudy. So, um, again if you could play with these numbers a little bit and bring it back, I’d like to see it before we approve it obviously.
Horton said in an interview this week that she never should have mentioned Altrudy Lane, which is close to her house. “I unfortunately said the word Altrudy,” she said. “That’s all it is.”
Stern said “the conflict of interest rules are very objective. There’s not a lot of wiggle room.”
Conflict of interest laws were established, he said, “so that the citizens and voters can have faith in the decisions made by their elected officials and not feel they are affected by economic interests.”