More Conflicts of Interest at Anaheim Planning Department

Voice of OC’s Adam Elmahrek has peeled back layers of questionable outsourcing at the Anaheim Planning Department. Several weeks ago Elmahrek broke the story of the majority of city plan review work being outsourced to a firm owned by Planning Department Chief Steve Fazekas. That revelation led to Fazekas’ resignation. Today Elmahrek reports that the “Fazekas Problem,” is nothing new.

The plan review firm Charles Abbott Associates received the vast majority of Anaheim’s outsourced plan check work while company employee Steve Ahuna was the city building division’s plan review supervisor, city invoices show.

Ahuna was the city’s contract plan check supervisor from April to October 2008. During that period, and in the months immediately before and after, Charles Abbott Associates billed the city $103,441 for plan review work, according to the invoices.

Earlier this year a local community group OCCORD (Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development) released a study which showed the control that developers have over the cities of Anaheim and Santa Ana. The report Rubber Stamp, showed that:

Due to the structural bias in favor of developers, development projects move forward even when the public strongly disagrees with them. In Anaheim and Santa Ana, 87 new development projects were presented between 2005 and 2010. Of these, 21 were met with more community opposition than support, yet 20 of the 21, or 95%, were approved. Campaign contributions further sway the planning process in developers’ favor. The top five industry contributors by economic sector as defined by the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), account for 63% of all donations in Anaheim and Santa Ana.

But the Ahuna situation is starting to reveal a disturbing pattern in Anaheim:

“I don’t know if two is a pattern, but it shows to me a little inattention to the potential of conflicts, if you see it once — and you see it twice — there may be more,” said Tracy Westen, CEO of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies.

If Ahuna was outsourcing plan check work to the company that employs him then it is a worse conflict of interest than Fazekas’ situation, Westen said. Fazekas and the city took steps to prevent the appearance of a conflict, including a clause in Fazekas’ contract prohibiting him from directly participating in outsourcing decisions.

The shady dealings, that appear to be nothing more than pay-to-play, in the two largest cities in Orange County are turning out to be a lot worse than one could have imagined. We’ve got Santa Ana on the verge of bankruptcy because they cannot keep track of their spending or even effectively forecast cash flow and Anaheim handing out contract work hand-over-fist to companies run by, or employing their management staff.

Read Adam Ehlmahrek’s story here.