“Pay-to-play” in Mission Viejo

Over the past few years I have heard third party accounts of demands placed on developers by Mission Viejo Director of Public Services Keith Rattay. As I do not wish to spread unfounded rumors I have not written anything about him or those allegations until now.

Last night I was multitasking in that I spent the first three hours at our city council Budget Workshop than departed to the other end of our city hall building to attend the regular meeting of our Planning Commission.

I arrived in the early P.C. staff presentation where our local Lexus dealership representatives have applied for a Planned Development Permit (PDP2009-214) requesting a major expansion of their existing dealership.

When I was called upon to speak at this Public Hearing my first question was whether or not Park Place (Lexus) was seeking any “corporate welfare” from our redevelopment agency as this location is within our Redevelopment Project Area. The response from the G.M. was no which made it easy for me to express my support of the proposed expansion and responding to a few of the Planning Commissioner questions regarding conditions of approval.

Let me set the stage before explaining “pay-to-play” as the title reads.

In the city council Budget presentation our Assistant City Manager/Treasurer Irwin Bornstein confirmed that our revenues will continue to decline. In quoting from a Chapman University report he told this full house audience, televised meeting, that the recession will last beyond 2011. Irwin said that “we see three years of stagnant revenue.” He also pointed out that we have lower revenues per capita when matched up with the cities against whom we benchmark pointing out that Mission Viejo is built out and they are not.

I will not provide Irwin’s comments about potential shifts in revenues from Sacramento in that we all acknowledge that those trial balloons change almost every hour.

So here we are with a strong auto dealership wishing to begin a multiyear expansion making their presentation which I fully support at a time when development in Mission Viejo is virtually stagnant. The timing of this application is a “win-win” in that by the completion date the economy will be on the upswing and their newer products will be well received by owners.
However, here’s the catch.

The applicant was told that if you wish to have this application approved you must kick into our city’s “public art program.” So in this application Lexus will need to pony up $10,000. Perhaps I have been living in seclusion in that I cannot speak for any similar policy by neighboring cities. It was pointed out by a member of city staff that our new Sonic fast food restaurant applicant had a similar requirement which they met by installing a mock-up 1957 T-bird on a pedestal, representing art, in front of their location on Jeronimo Road.

This is different from in-lieu park fees’ where a housing developer does not meet the required park acreage for a new housing development. We charge them for this omission and use those funds elsewhere in the city, such as $2 million used towards the expansion of our Norman P.  Murray Community and Senior Center prior to even receiving the funds because the proposed project is on life support.

If I turn the clock way back in time we once told applicants wishing to design our library that they had to “pay-to-play.”

Reading from an architect firms letter of Oct 9, 1992 it reads: XXX Architects were delighted to learn that we were selected to receive an RFP for the new Mission Viejo Library project. It is a fantastic project and we would really like to be involved.

Your requirement, however, that we contribute $1,000 to be included in the RFP process is on very shaky ground, morally and legally, and we would not wish to participate under these circumstances.” That shakedown was well covered by the LA Times on Oct 20, 1992.
Juice readers. What “pay-to-play”  experiences can you share from your own cities?

I would suggest that you refrain from using your true name to protect yourselves but be factual.

About Larry Gilbert