By Jorge Casuso
October 31, 2023 -- School District officials have held back a proposal to purchase the Civic Auditorium from the City, but if they decide to move forward again, Councilmember Lana Negrete will not be participating in the decision.
On October 20, the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) advised City Attorney Doug Sloan that Negrete, whose music shop does business with the District, has a remote interest in the sale.
Under the State's Political Reform Act, Negrete must disclose her interest, have it noted in the City Council’s records and "abstain from taking part in the decision."
City Attorney Doug Sloan sought advice from the political ethics watchdog after a complaint was filed alleging Negrete had a potential conflict of interest ("City Attorney Seeks Advice on Potential Councilmember Conflict," August 22, 2023).
"It would appear that any association between the Council decision and the District’s potential use of unrelated and unrestricted funds at the Councilmember’s business is completely speculative and unassociated," Sloan wrote in his letter to the Commission.
Sloan noted that the Music Center Negrete owns with her father on a 50-50 basis was paid $87,806.60 by the District for instruments, supplies and services between April 2021 to February 2023.
And he noted that the Music Center "does not provide any services at the Civic Auditorium" and that any potential transaction "would not include the City paying any funds to the District."
In his response, the FPPC's General Counsel Dave Bainbridge found that "based on the facts provided, the District and the Music Center have an ongoing and mutually beneficial business relationship."
"As owner of the Music Center, Councilmember Negrete has an interest in the business and the income it receives from the District, Bainbridge wrote. "This ongoing and mutually beneficial relationship affects the income received by the Music Center.
"In addition, the official in this circumstance could be influenced in the City’s decision to sell the Civic Auditorium to the District by a desire to maintain a favorable ongoing relationship with the District to benefit her business.
"Thus, Councilmember Negrete, as a co-owner of the Music Center, has a financial interest in the District and its contracts, which may be mutually beneficial to the Music Center," Bainbridge wrote.
In his letter, Bainbridge noted that, as required, the FPPC forwarded Sloan's request to the Attorney General’s Office and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office but did not receive a written response from either entity.
Earlier this month, the School District announced it will not submit a proposal to purchase and rehabilitate the Civic Auditorium unless the City fails to find another buyer ("District Holds Back Civic Proposal For Now," October 6, 2023).
The decision "to step aside" and continue implementing major improvements at Samohi near the Civic site was announced after the School Board discussed the issue in closed session at its meeting October 5.
"If the City does not receive an acceptable offer from another entity within a reasonable time frame, the District will re-engage with the City to develop a proposal and explore a potential agreement," District officials said.