A battle between Los Alamitos and Cypress officials over a planned truck depot is becoming increasingly nasty and apparently is now drawing a review by the district attorney’s office.
The latest escalation centers on a tense discussion in a restaurant last month involving Los Alamitos Mayor Warren Kusumoto, Cypress Councilman Doug Bailey and Assemblyman Travis Allen.
Following the meeting, Bailey claimed that Kusumoto secretly recorded their conversation, something the mayor strongly denies.
What is clear is that someone complained to the DA’s office, which recently contacted Kusumoto seeking a statement.
The mayor was adamant that the recording, which he deleted later in the parking lot at the request of Allen, was not done secretly.
Kusumoto said he informed Bailey at the beginning of the meeting that he would be recording and set his digital audio recorder in plain view on the table.
“It was very open. I told him I was recording it, and it was there for just anyone to see,” Kusumoto told PBS SoCaL in an interview.
He said Bailey even touched the recorder after accidentally knocking it over.
“At one point he knocked my recorder and almost knocked it off the table, but he was quick enough to catch it and move it back in the corner of the table,” said Kusumoto.
No one else involved would comment about what was said or why someone reported it to the DA.
Bailey didn’t return messages, and Allen, who represents Los Alamitos, also declined to comment.
“At the moment, Assemblyman Allen is focused on budget issues and will not be making a comment,” spokeswoman Stephanie Freedman said last week.
Asked whether after budget deliberations Allen would speak to what took place, Freedman again declined.
A DA spokeswoman also declined to comment.
Kusumoto, who was elected to the Los Alamitos City Council in 2010, said he was surprised that the DA would follow up on the recording allegation.
“I was shocked,” said Kusumoto. “I placed [the recorder] right between us. Don’t know how to make it any plainer than that.”
The controversy stems from a dispute over a 33-acre plot of open land on Katella Avenue between the two cities. A developer wants to build a truck depot on the and.
Much of the dispute centers on a ballot initiative approved by voters last June, which some residents now attack as misleading.
The 33-acre Katella site had been zoned as “public and semi-public,” which allowed for hospitals, cemeteries, churches, public buildings, schools, colleges and affordable senior housing, according to the city.
Measure L, which rezoned the site to allow commercial uses, was promoted on the premise that market-rate senior housing or medical offices could be built.
In his official ballot analysis, Cypress City Attorney William Wynder wrote that the measure would allow “medical and other professional offices and point-of-sale businesses, as well as market-rate senior housing and so-called ‘continuum of care’ facilities that incorporate independent living units, assisted living facilities and medical care for senior citizens into a single facility.”
The ballot measure, ultimately approved by 70 percent of voters, never included anything about trucking centers.
Nonetheless, the current plan for site is to build a truck depot.
With the city attorney citing threats of a lawsuit by Los Alamitos, Mayor Prakash Narain of Cypress declined an interview request.
“We’re going to advise them not to comment on anything that could arise out of that litigation,” said Wynder, the city attorney, in a phone message to PBS SoCaL.
Los Alamitos residents have been increasing nervous about the plans and their impacts on traffic and underground utilities, Kusumoto said.
He added that leading up to the restaurant meeting, Cypress officials had been secretive about the site's future.
“Up to that point we had no official disclosure from the city of Cypress as to [where] the process actually is,” said Kusumoto.
As far as the recording, Kusumoto said he ultimately deleted it at Assemblyman Allen’s request.
When Allen arrived at the restaurant with his chief of staff, the legislator saw the recorder and said he didn’t consent to being recorded, Kusumoto said.
Bailey then said he didn’t give consent either, despite being informed of the recording from the start, according to Kusumoto,
Kusumoto said that after leaving the meeting, Allen came to the parking lot and asked him to erase the recording.
“He asked me, as a favor to him, if I would delete the recording in front of him,” said Kusumoto.
The mayor said that after playing part of the recording to prove it was truly being deleted, he erased it.
After Bailey told the Cypress City Council that Kusumoto had secretly recorded him and Allen, council members fired off strongly-worded letters to the Los Alamitos City Council.
“This breach of trust results in no confidence in my conducting future communications with Mayor Kusumoto,” wrote Cypress Mayor Pro Tem Leroy Mills.
“This type of behavior and political maneuver is not the culture here in the City of Cypress, and we do not tolerate such unethical practices,” wrote Mayor Narain.
Califorina’s secret recording law, contained in Penal Code Section 632, prohibits recording “confidential communications” without the consent of all parties.
It allows recording of conversations “made in a public gathering or in any legislative, judicial, executive or administrative proceeding open to the public, or in any other circumstance in which the parties to the communication may reasonably expect that the communication may be overheard or recorded.”