An unprecedented board of ethics meeting took place in Chula Vista on October 24. The audience — which came to the hearing regarding a complaint filed against council member Pamela Bensoussan — was so large that the meeting had to be moved to the council chambers. More unusual than that, mayor Cheryl Cox and three police officers showed up.
In early October, Crossroads II member Peter Watry filed a complaint against Bensoussan for voting “yes” on a controversial change to the city’s general plan; it allows the developer, Integral Communities, to build 284 condo/rental units in eastern Chula Vista. Crossroads II is a community group that organized to address land-use issues.
In the months leading up to the September vote, Bensoussan, who is up for reelection in November, accepted $1900 in donations from principals and family members of Integral Communities. (The most recent campaign contribution filing shows Bensoussan accepted an additional $1200 from Integral principals or family members six days after the disputed vote.)
Watry argued that it is common to see campaign contributions from developers such as McMillin or Baldwin — developers that have been active in Chula Vista for 20 years; their contributions can’t be tied to a single vote on a project. He pointed out that the Lake Pointe project is the only project Integral Communites has in the city at this time.
In an October 28 interview, Watry reiterated, “There is no other conceivable reason why this out-of-town developer would make these contributions.”
An October 25 U-T article about the ethics meeting said Watry interrupted and demanded the removal of deputy city attorney Simon Silva.
Watry countered the report by saying his “interruptions” were in accordance with Robert’s Rules of Order as he pointed out to the board that the residents of Chula Vista approved Proposition C last June. The proposition, which is in the process of becoming an ordinance, provides for an independent counsel at ethics meetings, not a potentially conflicted city attorney.
Watry said he was “stunned” to see three police officers at the meeting.
On the other side of the complaint, planning commissioner Mike Spethman argued that every council member has taken money from developers. In an October 28 email, he noted that council member Rudy Ramirez also took money from Integral Communities but was not included included in the complaint.
Ultimately, the board voted 5-1 to dismiss the complaint. Deputy city attorney Silva told the assembled group that the California Fair Political Practices Commission does not consider campaign donations a gift.
During the rancorous discussion, Todd Glanz, a board member, was repeatedly asked to step down because he is a Crossroads II member.
“I was shocked by the ad hominem attacks,” said Glanz. “At one point I was even called a 'misfit.'"