Bustamante abused property rights to enrich car dealers

Jubal/Matt Cunningham wrote a post the other day at Red County/OC Blog excoriating Janet Nguyen for her role in an eminent domain deal involving a disputed parking lot. But he has yet to write anything about Carlos Bustamante’s role in one eminent domain deal and his actions in another related case. So I will.

Earlier tonight I searched the OC Register’s archives and I found several articles pertaining to these deals. The first one, dated August 2, 2005, covered a very strange deal that involved a strip club, Mr. J’s, that was located near the 55 freeway, on very valuable property located near a number of high-end car dealerships, in Santa Ana.

The owners of this business sold the location to a Honda dealer – however the City of Santa Ana then paid the dealer the exact sum of money that they paid for the property. The problem with that was that the city effectively avoided paying relocation fees by conducting a bait and switch with the Honda dealership.

The owners of Mr. J’s ended up in bankruptcy after Honda sued them for backing out of their deal. Honda attorney Michael Vivoli said in court that the city wanted to avoid relocating an adult business and they wanted to eliminate a liquor license. Laudable goals I suppose, but this deal stunk to high heaven. And Bustamante went along with it.

A Register commentary that was published on February 15, 2006, excoriated the city council for the Mr. J’s shenanigans. However, in an interesting twist, two of the council members, Claudia Alvarez and Lisa Bist, turned on the rest of the council, including Bustamante, for giving Honda $6 million dollars so that it could expand onto the Mr. J’s site.

To make matters worse, the city overpaid Honda. The dealership originally had agreed to pay Mr. J’s $4.2 million for the land, but after they went to court the dealer ended up paying only $2.1 million. But the city still paid them $4.2 million. That’s right – Bustamante agreed to overpay by two million dollars.

The editorial writers at the Register summarized the deal this way, “From any vantage point, this deal violates the standards of good policy.” And Bustamante signed off on it.

Bustamante also approved the seizure, via eminent domain, of a property that housed an Orange County Health Department building. The deal affected the county’s ability to inspect restaurants and to inspect hazardous-waste sites.

O.C. Supervisor Chris Norby had this to say about it, “It’s an outrage. It’s BMW vs. public health. Is public health blight?” He also said, “They are using this power to benefit a private interest against public interest.”

According to an O.C. Register article dated January 16, 2004, the city spent $10 million to acquire the land and to relocate the businesses on it. Crevier’s BMW dealership paid $3.5 million of that, even though in 2003 the dealership made $233 million in sales. It is the top BMW dealer in the nation. But it ripped off the City of Santa Ana, and as far as I can tell Bustamante was complicit in this deal too.

I am going to try to get a hold of the City Council minutes from the meetings where these items were voted on. However, the City of Santa Ana, unlike most cities, does not offer archived, searchable minutes on its website. So I am going to have to go through a city clerk that doesn’t return my emails. Suffice to say, I won’t hold my breath while I wait for those records.

By the same token, don’t hold your breath waiting for the folks at Red County/OC Blog to tell you about any of this. They won’t. There are far too many consultants over there who are in bed with Bustamante’s consultant, John Lewis – who is himself listed as a member of their Blog team.

I do anticipate that Lewis will try to have Bustamante endorsed tonight at the OC GOP Central Committee meeting. I hope that the Central Committee members will ask Bustamante about these deals. I had lunch with him some time ago, and asked him myself. He said they were good deals for Santa Ana. I expect he will tell my party otherwise tonight. Don’t be fooled my fellow Republicans! This guy will do and say anything in order to get elected. It is as simple as ABC – anybody but Carlos.

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"Admin" is just editors Vern Nelson, Greg Diamond, or Ryan Cantor sharing something that they mostly didn't write themselves, but think you should see. Before December 2010, "Admin" may have been former blog owner Art Pedroza.