La Verne City Councilman Steven Johnson will go on trial May 11 on a conflict of interest charge over a vote he cast in 2007 regarding the expansion of the University of La Verne.
The trial holds one misdemeanor count of conflict of interest against Johnson.
Johnson, a ULV graduate who owns both a business and residential property within 500 feet of the University, cast a vote in January 2007 for the University’s Master Plan.
Johnson, who was reached by email, declined to comment on the charge and pending trial.
“Even more of a conflict was his rental property,” Richard McKee, a member of the city’s Planning Commission and former president of California First Amendment Coalition, said. “It was a rather arrogant decision,” he added.
The Master Plan will add 50,000 sq. feet of building area, dormitories, parking lots, and it will either remodel or tear down 12 existing buildings, according to the January 16, 2007 La Verne city council meeting minutes.
According to the meeting minutes, City Attorney Robert Kress made it known to those in attendance that two members of the council could have potential conflict of interest problems if they cast a vote for the University’s Master Plan.
Mayor Don Kendrick, who was mayor pro tem at the time votes were cast, owns two properties near the University and has a proposed project on Bonita Avenue. Kendrick decided to not participate in the vote for the plan.
Johnson owns property that stands within 500 feet of the University, which legally means that both he and his property are directly involved in the Master Plan, according to the meeting minutes.
According to Government Code 87100, “No public official at any level of state or local government shall make, participate in making or in any way attempt to use his official position to influence a governmental decision in which he knows or has reason to know he has a financial reason.”
Johnson decided he would participate in the vote for the Master Plan after speaking to his brother, a real estate appraiser in La Verne, who assured him that the plan would not have any direct impact on his property, according to the meeting minutes.
Johnson’s vote was called into question following written complaints from La Verne residents about the validity of his vote, District Attorney Jonlyn Callahan said.
“I will be trying the criminal case against him,” Callahan said. There is a misdemeanor charge against Johnson, Callahan said. She is more concerned with the residential property Johnson owns near the University, as opposed to the business property.
One of these letters was written by Richard McKee, a professor at Pasadena City College for the past 34 years and participant of open government for the past 15 years, who was the first to send a letter of complaint.
“In the end, not only did Johnson vote on the ULV Master Plan, but as you can see from the city clerk’s draft, he participated significantly in the Council’s decision of the Plan,” McKee said in a letter to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
After the vote was made by Johnson, McKee decided to write letters asking certain individuals to investigate the legality of the vote, McKee said.
McKee, who said he is “annoyed with the arrogance” of the councilman, said he is not in any way associated with the case now.
Angie Marcos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.