Ethics Commission clears Alarcon on allegations that he abused power to benefit wife
The Los Angeles City Ethics Commission has cleared Councilman Richard Alarcon in an investigation focused on a traffic-reduction proposal that could have benefited his wife.
Heather Holt, the agency's newly named executive director, sent a letter earlier this month saying that Alarcon did not misuse his position in 2007 when he called for a one-block stretch of Wakefield Avenue in Panorama City to be downgraded from a busy highway to a quieter "collector" street.
Alarcon's then-fiancee, Flora Montes de Oca, owned property on that block and had been looking to develop as many as nine townhomes there. Had Alarcon's traffic motion been approved, Montes de Oca could have been spared forfeiting 2,850 square feet of the property to the city when developing the site.
Holt had no comment. But her letter stated she was rejecting the recommendation of her predecessor, LeeAnn Pelham, who stepped down Jan. 15. Pelham had concluded that there was probable cause to believe that Alarcon violated a city law that prohibits officials from improperly using their offices to benefit others financially.
Holt said she was not convinced that a "reasonable person" would agree and argued that Alarcon's proposal also would have helped other residents.
The possibility that he introduced the motion to benefit Montes de Oca is "troubling," Holt wrote. "However, introducing motions is a fundamental means by which City Council members conduct business on behalf of their constituents, and the motion introduced by Mr. Alarcon was lawful on its face."
The one-block stretch of Wakefield includes the 1950 tract house that Alarcon and his wife claim as their residence. That house is also at the center of a grand jury indictment alleging that the Alarcons lied about living in the house. Both Alarcons have denied wrongdoing.
Alarcon said he was happy that Ethics Commission officials had found that his traffic proposal, which covered one block of one street in his San Fernando Valley district, would have provided a "verifiable community interest."
"We felt all along that I did nothing wrong by introducing a motion to improve the community," he said.
Alarcon rescinded his traffic proposal days after it was reported in The Times.
Pelham found that the Wakefield Avenue proposal would have provided Alarcon's wife with a "private advantage, benefit or economic gain," according to Holt's letter. Pelham declined to give her opinion on Holt's findings.
--David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall
Photo: L.A. City Councilman Richard Alarcon on the A deck of Lopez Canyon Landfill on May 12, 2010. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times