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Councilman Cardenas checks out of debate over hotel lawsuit

October 1, 2008 |  3:19 pm

Tony_cardenas_has_recused_himselfhp The L.A. City Council went behind closed doors today to discuss the lawsuit filed over the Alexandria Hotel, whose owner has been accused of illegally evicting dozens of residents. But one councilman –- Tony Cardenas –- stayed far away from the discussion.

Why? Turns out Cardenas recused himself because his stepdaughter works for the hotel’s owner, San Diego-based Amerland Group.

In a letter to the city clerk, Cardenas said he wants to avoid the "slightest appearance" of impropriety. Still, the disclosure is drawing heat from the Los Angeles Community Action Network, a tenant advocacy group that is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Amerland.

"The relationship between Tony Cardenas and the developer has troubled us from the beginning," said the group's co-director, Becky Dennison.

Last year, Cardenas took an active interest in Amerland's effort to secure $8 million from the city for the renovation of another residential hotel in downtown Los Angeles, the Rosslyn Lofts.  The councilman, who represents part of the San Fernando Valley, spoke on behalf of the project and sat for hours in a meeting of the Community Redevelopment Agency Board of Commissioners as it discussed funding for the project, which is located far from his district.

At the time, redevelopment Commissioner Madeline Janis complained that Cardenas' presence constituted political pressure to approve the money. Cardenas responded by saying Janis was "confused and making things up."

Four months later, 24-year-old Vanessa Narvaez -- the daughter of Cardenas' wife –- took a job with Amerland.

(Keep reading after the jump.)

--David Zahniser

Photo: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

In a recent interview, Cardenas said he weighed in on the downtown hotel fight after he visited one of the company's projects in San Diego and determined that people were "picking on" Ruben Islas, the head of Amerland. Cardenas also said his stepdaughter took the job in January after attending a Christmas party hosted by Amerland.

"I can understand that some people may want to make a big deal out of it, especially people who don't like him or maybe people who don't like me," he said. "But I talked to my lawyer, and my lawyer made it very clear that [Narvaez] is very low on the totem pole and doesn't do any work for them in L.A."

Cardenas said he discussed the issue with his staff earlier this year and filed a form with the city clerk in July declaring that he had a potential conflict. The councilman also argued that his stepdaughter's hire had no bearing on his advocacy on behalf of Islas.

"He didn't offer a job to my stepdaughter. My stepdaughter asked if she could work for him. I think there's a big difference," he added.