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California cities mismanaged funds meant for affordable housing, Times investigation finds

October 3, 2010 |  2:15 pm

A Times investigation by reporters Jessica Garrison, Kim Christensen and Doug Smith found that cities across California have skirted or ignored laws requiring them to build affordable homes and in the process mismanaged hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars.

Among the findings:

-- The San Gabriel Valley city of Irwindale spent $87 million from 2000 to 2008 but produced only 42 homes and 62 rehabilitated units. Some of the money was spent on industrial land next to an old gravel pit and warehouses, a site that officials now acknowledge was unsuitable for housing. New plans call for building a hot-sauce factory there.

-- In Santa Ana and Avalon, officials spent millions on projects that knocked down homes, displaced low-income people and worsened blight without producing anything in its place. Block after block in a 94-acre area east of Santa Ana's civic center is lined with boarded-up buildings and vacant lots. In the Santa Catalina Island city, where housing is so scarce that workers sometimes sleep in the bushes, a half-block of property where cottages were razed to make way for more homes has sat, sun-baked and undeveloped, for 15 years.

-- Rancho Cucamonga paid $42.5 million to a politically connected developer to keep about 550 units below market rate for 99 years — even though a consultant to the city said the price was "unwarranted" and city officials were told that an appropriate price for slightly fewer units would be about $13 million.

-- Nearly three dozen cities, including Monterey Park and Pismo Beach, reported spending most of their affordable housing money over the decade on "planning and administration" — but never built a single unit. Asked to account for the $361,000 spent by Pismo Beach, Administrative Services Director George Edes said some of it paid the salaries of staffers who were "thinking about concepts of how do we get something going … but we never did get to the point of taking those to the council with a concept that was developed."

Read the full investigation here. Part One of the series can be found here.

Photo: The moon rises over abandoned buildings at Marlton Square in the Crenshaw district. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times