Former Yorba Linda City Councilwoman Jan Horton has agreed to pay a $3,000 fine for violating California’s conflict-of-interest laws by voting on a proposed city redevelopment project that could have affected the value of her home.
The agreement goes before the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission Sept. 22 for approval. Horton, who served one term on the council but lost her bid for re-election in November, already has submitted a certified check for the $3,000, said a representative for the FPPC.
While Horton was on the five-member council there were a number of contentious meetings during which she was at odds with the three-member majority on various issues.
But it was the Town Center redevelopment project near Yorba Linda Boulevard and Lakeview Avenue, which came within 500 feet of her home, that caused the biggest break between Horton and her colleagues.
According to the FPPC complaint and city records, Horton offered the motion at the Jan. 13, 2009, meeting directing city staff to revise a redevelopment proposal and reduce the density of proposed housing, including a section close to her home. The motion was adopted unanimously.
But Horton didn’t publicly disclose her conflict of interest and voted with the council majority. State law requires elected officials to abstain and leave the room when discussions involve projects within 500 feet of property they own.
On April 21, 2009, Horton again voted on the project. She later said she was given the OK by an assistant city attorney. According to the FPPC record, the unidentified assistant city attorney said she gave Horton advice over time on a number of potential conflict issues but didn’t remember specifically advising her on the April 21 vote.
The conflict issue went public a year later when the FPPC advised Horton she had a conflict of interest and shouldn’t vote on the project.
At the same time, during a City Council discussion of the issue, it was disclosed the city attorney’s office had spent about $8,000 in city funds to obtain legal opinions on whether Horton had a conflict.
Horton said she separately spent another $5,000 on legal advice.
“I don’t think I’m liable for $8,400,” Horton told the council. Noting it was an election year, she called the issue “another example of the mayor using his position to advance his political career.”
The controversy continued into May 2010, with Horton reluctantly declaring a conflict and leaving a meeting when the redevelopment project was being discussed.
When the discussion was over, she returned and told her colleagues “I hate it, and I’m insulted when people classify me as trying to get around a conflict.
“It’s not getting around a conflict but just keeping my promise to the community and doing what the community expects me to do. … I find it disappointing that members of this council, purposely or not purposely, try to exclude me from discussions here.”
Horton confirmed she has sent the FPPC a $3,000 check to settle the issue. She said that when she voted on the projects “I didn’t realize it [the project] was within 500 feet of my home.”
She said “an unfortunate slip of the tongue” caused her to mention the street near her home where part of the project would be built.
She also noted the FPPC could have fined her the maximum $5,000 but opted for $3,000. In its report, the FPPC staff noted Horton had no previous conflicts and that the $3,000 was generally in keeping with other commission actions.
— TRACY WOOD