continued On April 11 Madaffer sent a memo to city manager Lamont Ewell concerning "an additional private property parcel acquisition. I would like to allocate $150,000 in Mid-City Special Park Fees for this purpose."
Bob Ottilie has searched his seven boxes of public-records-request documents to determine whether the money was ever paid. "It would appear," he writes, "that the $150,000 was then moved from Mid-city park fees to this project in what is referred to as a 'capital improvements program fiscal year 2006 change letter.' It also appears that [the] year-end change went to [the city] council (with many other changes) sometime in the summer of 2005. There is no evidence in the documents produced to date that the other members of the council, with the exception of perhaps District 3 and District 4, were aware that park funds were going to be used for a road.
"One person at the city specifically communicated to others that Mid-City Special Park Fees could not be used for the road. Heidi Lang, who handles grants in the department, wrote to other [Park and Recreation Department members, including April Penera] on July 29, 2005 as follows: 'You probably know this already, but just a reminder: the Mid-City park fees used for the Fox Canyon property acquisition can only be used for parks, and not for roads.' "
Yet seven months later, on March 7, 2006, attendees at the Fox Canyon Neighborhood Improvements Coordination Meeting were singing a different tune. "April Penera appears to be the senior member of the Park Department present," writes Ottilie. "Elyse Lowe from Councilman Jim Madaffer's office was also present."
The meeting's minutes report that "additional funds in the amount of $275,000 are needed to cover the road design. $100,000 will be Special Park Fees." The minutes describe that day's first action with the words, "Elyse will email [project manager Joey Jacoby] a statement that the $100,000 Special Park Fees can be used for the road...."
At that point, the city's official park advisory group, the Park and Recreation Board, had not voiced an opinion on the Fox Canyon park-and-road concept. But for its March 22 meeting, the board put on its docket a discussion of the project. When members arrived at the meeting, however, they listened to deputy city attorney Hilda Mendoza forbidding them to discuss the matter. Mendoza's point, which she also stated in a memo, was that anything involving a road was beyond the board's jurisdiction. Several boardmembers, led by Ottilie, strenuously objected to this restriction, especially since the board's docket had already announced to the public that discussion of the project would take place that day. Against Mendoza's wishes, the board held the discussion, then voted against having a road as part of the Fox Canyon Park project.
The Park and Recreation Board revisited the park-road project at its September 21, 2006 meeting. By this time the city's Park and Recreation Department was admitting it had already spent $165,000 in special park fees on the road design alone. Transcripts of the meeting indicate that in an exchange with April Penera, Ottilie brought up Hilda Mendoza's memo forbidding his board to discuss the Fox Canyon project. "What [Mendoza] was communicating to us that day," he said, "was that the road had nothing to do with parks, and we're now learning today for the first time...that in fact park funds were used for that road."
Later in the meeting Ottilie pressed Park and Recreation director Ted Medina on his initial knowledge of the Fox Canyon project. "When the Department made the [grant] application to the state... which included a representation to the state that we would abandon the road easement, did the Department or anyone within the Department know that there was a road intended to be built through that canyon?"
"Mr. Ottilie," responded Medina, "I'm going to follow legal counsel's advice and not respond to your question."
By this time, however, attempts to make anything happen in Fox Canyon had fallen apart. No land ever became available to build the park. And the environmental document approved by the city council in March for the park-road combination was successfully challenged in court. To keep the California Parks and Recreation Department grant, the city is now trying to use the gift's $2.3 million to build a park on Wightman Street, 682 feet north of the original Fox Canyon site. But that is another story.
In the meantime, the city attorney's office has determined that the use of Park and Recreation monies to build a road was improper. "Our office," wrote deputy city attorney Alex Sachs on November 30, "is prepared to assist in the restoration of these Special Park Fees to the Mid City Park Developer Fund."