Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait, the darling of the good government crowd, is a stickler for abstaining from voting on council agenda items if there’s even the perception of the perception of a possible conflict with his business interests. But not always.
For example, at the June 5, 2012 Anaheim City Council meeting, he abstained from participating in a council hearing on a residential development project located at 2211 E. Orangewood. This apartment project, which was approved that same night by the rest of the city council, was directly across the street from 2130 E. Orangewood – property Tait owns (and he’s reported so on his financial disclosure forms).
California Conflict of Interest law is clear is is a conflict of interest for a local elected official to participate in government decisions dealing with property within 500 feet of property the elected official has a financial interest in. In this case, Mayor Tait did abstain. But a few months later, on October 9, 2012, LNR developers sought council approval of their development project at 2015 E. Orangewood – due west of the aforementioned residential project. Again, Mayor Tait abstained because the LNR property was within 500-feet Tait’s property. All good so far, right?
Now, due east of the first property mentioned, 2130 E. Orangewood, and within 500 feet of the Tait-owned industrial building is a city-owned property that’s currently under contract to Angels Baseball. The state’s conflict of interest law should have prohibited Tait in dealing in any way with Angels Baseball, including negotiating any modification to their lease.
Except Tait found a way around the conflict of interest law.
In early 2012, Tait asked Cristina Talley, who was the city’s Attorney, to inquire the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), for their opinion on this question: “May Mayor Tait take part in decisions concerning the city-owned Angel Stadium property (“Angel Stadium”) if he transfers his ownership interest in real property within 500 feet of the Angel Stadium property to his adult, non-dependent children…?”
The answer from the FPPC in a letter dated May 22, 2012 (FPPC Advice letter: A-12-063) stated: “By transferring his entire ownership interest in 2130 Orangewood LLC, Mayor Tait will no longer have a disqualifying economic interest in the two parcels of real property owned by that entity.” This exposed a huge loophole in the state’s Conflict of Interest laws and let any elected official know all they have to do is “transfer” ownership to certain adult children and there’s no conflict. The funny thing is current law prohibits this sort of “transfer” to a spouse, a domestic partner or a dependent child. But the law is silent on efforts to skirt the law by transferring the financial interest to an “adult, non-dependent child.”
That is where Senator Tony Mendoza’s legislation, SB 1011 comes in.
This bill expands the definition of conflict to include property ownership by all elected officials’ children, parents and siblings. This Mendoza legislation passed without opposition from the State Senate and is currently pending action in the State Assembly.
The Tait two-step in Anaheim showed the weakness of the current law. Mendoza’s SB 1011 corrects a flaw that was clearly being abused. If SB1011 passes, it’s unclear what happens to Tait’s ability to participate in Angels negotiations moving forward. I’d still like to know how the Tait kids who have benefitted from the property transfer pay the taxes on their asset or if it just transfer back after the 2018 election.