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No conflict of interest in commissioner's live-work vote

Dietrich's comments did not show bias toward the project, according to City Atty. Kohn

April 10, 2014|By Bryce Alderton

Laguna Beach Planning Commissioner Linda Dietrich's comments during a public hearing on a proposed artist live-work project in September did not constitute a conflict of interest, according to a memo sent by City Atty. Phil Kohn to city staff and the council Wednesday.

Resident Roger Butow, writing on behalf of the Laguna Canyon Property Owners Assn., claimed a statement by Dietrich indicated she could have a bias toward a 30-unit artist live-work project, which the council approved last week on a 3-2 vote that denied an appeal by the association.

"I have to state that I have a prejudice from the beginning because I was on the Arts Commission before I was on the Planning Commission," Dietrich said at the Sept. 25 hearing.

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Commissioners took no action on the project at the meeting and held an additional public hearing in November. They approved the Laguna Canyon project by a vote of 3 to 2 on Jan. 8, with Dietrich, Ken Sadler and Anne Johnson voting in favor.

"We believe that it should never have gone before the City Council on April 1," stated an email the association sent to city staff and council members on Saturday. An association representative brought up the conflict of interest claim during the public comment portion of Tuesday's meeting, but didn't identify Dietrich as the specific commissioner.

In the email, the association argued that "Dietrich should have never taken part in [live-work] deliberations nor had the chance to influence other commissioners," and that a vote taken with her presumed recusal on Jan. 8 would have produced a 2-2 vote, in essence killing the project.

After researching court cases, Kohn determined Wednesday that Dietrich's comments did not constitute a conflict of interest, and even if they did, the council's April 1 vote renders any previous Planning Commission vote moot.

"We carefully investigated the allegations" of Roger Butow, founder and executive director of Clean Water Now, a company that develops safe and sustainable water supplies, Kohn's memo said. "The alleged statements attributed to Commissioner Dietrich are not accurate as a factual matter."

The city's municipal code says a conflict of interest exists when "the public official, because of bias or prejudice, or because he [or she] has prejudged a matter set for public hearing is incapable because of such bias, prejudge or prejudgment of granting to the matter before him [or her] a fair and impartial hearing."

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