The business-owning members of the Isla Vista Project Area Committee (PAC) – elected to protect the interests of other community business owners – discovered last night that they may have difficulty protecting their own interests.
Santa Barbara County Council member Mary McMaster presented the “Fair Political Practices Act of California at Wednesday night’s meeting to educate members about their legal obligation to avoid conflicts of interest. The act states that public officials are held to a high standard and should not have any financial interests in the governmental decisions they make. McMaster told the PAC it must disclose any conflict of financial interest and abstain from voting on related issues.
PAC representatives Lou Ventura and Craig Geyer, elected to represent I.V. business owners, said their position inherently involves financial interests.
“Let’s say a master plan comes forward – it will have economic meaning to the community and the enhancement will also directly benefit us,” Geyer said.
McMaster said the act makes an exception for gains that could financially benefit the entire community.
“We’re not going to disqualify you for being a business owner,” she said. “You can’t vote on anything that affects your property. If it’s something next door to you, you’re out of luck and you can’t vote.”
McMaster also informed the PAC that if the state considered the members officers of the redevelopment process, they would also be subject to a state code that prohibits them from acquiring any land or financial interests within the project area.
Ventura expressed concern over the code because as a property owner, he said he has a business interest in being able to acquire more property.
“That’s a problem that freezes every piece of property in I.V.,” he said.
PAC member Joel Silverman, who is representing the I.V. Property Owners Association, said he felt business owners whose business involves property acquisition should be exempt.
“This is part of their ordinary course of business,” he said.
PAC member and Santa Barbara Student Housing Cooperative Director Holly Jo Sparks asked if the code included property acquisitions by non-profit organizations.
“It’s not in any financial interest of ours,” she said. “I wouldn’t own the property.”
McMaster said she would research the PAC’s concerns, but that the prohibition on property acquisitions may not even apply to the PAC members if the state code did not consider them “officers of redevelopment.”
I.V. resident Ken Taylor said the possibility of eminent domain – which would allow the redevelopment agency to acquire private property for the project – should be addressed before a redevelopment plan is finalized.
“You have to make a decision about moving forward with a plan that involves eminent domain or one that won’t need eminent domain,” he said. “It’s a world of difference depending what road you want to go down.”