For city officials and commissioners, what constitutes a ‘conflict of interest’?

0
1276

Social media and comments at City Council raise a number of interpretations and opinions

The slow-growth and no-growth constituents of Malibu tend to be the watchdogs of City Hall — especially when it comes to builders, developers, and any hint of impropriety. They exerted enough pressure to get several past allegations investigated by outside attorneys and consultants, but no legal actions ever resulted.

In the most recent accusation of “conflict of interest” at City Hall, it was widely circulated on social media last week that Planning Commissioner Skylar Peak, an electrical contractor, was now working on a house that he voted to approve back in 2018 when he was on City Council. 

However, nearly five years have passed since he voted to approve the project, the property was purchased by new owners during that time, and there is no evidence that he expected to get a contract four years after his vote.

Peak said in a phone interview that the allegations against him were completely false. 

“It’s a non-story and a non-issue,” he said, adding that he would never knowingly vote to approve something for his own personal benefit, and emphasized that the owners of the property had changed. Peak pointed out that no one would ever be able to vote on anything if they could be held accountable for what happens “later on down the line.” 

Because so many residents of Malibu are attorneys, architects, and contractors; or involved in selling, renting or buying real estate, it begs the question of how it would ever be possible to appoint qualified planning commissioners if all those whose livelihoods depended on real estate or development could no longer be considered — those commissioners need to be able to read plans and interpret codes.

During the City Councilmember updates last Monday, Councilmember Marianne Riggins brought up the subject of planning commissioners, which clearly had her feeling very irate.

“There have been some comments on social media that I find quite disturbing … innuendos charged against my appointee to the Planning Commission, Skyler Peak, with regard to things that may have occurred when he was a City Council member, and then now in his job as a contractor,” she said. “There were four years separation and different owners on this alleged act that people are commenting about in the community.

“I’m proud to have been able to appoint Skyler to the Planning Commission. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience and a love of our community and the environment, and I find it very disappointing that there are innuendos against him.”

Mayor Bruce Silverstein also commented on the issue, saying he wasn’t familiar with various complaints about the planning commissioners.

“But one thing I do know is that we do have now, and in the past, members of the commission who are contractors or others whose livelihood depends on development, “ he said. “And I … don’t see how [they] can make truly impartial decisions on … interpreting codes … when more development means more business in general and less development means less business in general.”

A Malibu resident who asked to remain anonymous provided The Malibu Times with the following “proof” that Peak voted for the project and then did electrical work on it years later: a photo of a Peak Power Electric truck parked at that jobsite, an “Electrical Permit Application” submitted to the City of Malibu by Peak Power Electric, Inc. showing a fee of $5,292.83 and approved on Jan. 14, 2022, and a copy of the City Council’s approval of the Coastal Development Permit for that property on Portshead Road signed by Mayor Skylar Peak on Jan. 10, 2018.

But the “proof” does not prove that Peak had any idea he would work on that property four years later for different owners.

Resident Jo Drummond emailed various city officials right after City Council comments last Monday, expressing her opinion

“The point of the matter is — should someone who can make money off of a vote be on the planning commission?,” she wrote. “It doesn’t matter how many years have gone by or if ownership changed — he worked on a project that he voted to approve … I agree with Mayor Silverstein that a policy needs to be established to either not allow contractors or anyone who benefits financially from or even against development to be on the Planning Commission, or they swear some oath that they never work on a project in the future that they voted to approve.”

As of now, most residents simply trust that those elected as councilmembers and appointed as commissioners will recuse themselves from voting on any issue where they may have a conflict of interest. In addition, City Council members must file statements of economic interest with the City Clerk, which can be obtained from the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) or the City Clerk.