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Recusal, CCC Donations And The City’s LCP

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Posted: Friday, August 2, 2019 9:45 am

Currently, our Mayor clearly wears at least two hats – the secondary hat is as the long-term (19+ years) co-founder and Executive Director of the NGO (Non-Government Organization) known as WildCoast/CostaSalvaje.

When a critical matter involving an issue of long-term local government’s environmental concerns comes before City Council, as in the pending and oft-times contentious LCP/GP for instance, I strongly believe our Mayor should respectfully withdraw (“recuse”) from the matter because he is obviously “conflicted” in his shared roles as Executive Director and Mayor.
The Mayor’s NGO has accepted $100,000s in donations from the California Coastal Commission (CCC) over the last decade – directly benefitting his salary and other compensation potential as its Executive Director. The CCC is also directly attempting to “guide” the City’s current LCP to include Managed Retreat – an adaption strategy adamantly rejected by local residents and property owners in Imperial Beach since November 2018.

This conflict is real - even if the Mayor had never mentioned a word about the matter at the City Council level. But, in fact, he did! In the July 17, 2019 City Council meeting while pulling and discussing Consent Calendar item 4.6 – City’s continued State of Emergency regarding the TRV issue. In fact, the Mayor specifically recounted - as part of his public testimony - a meeting “over a year ago” that he and now Councilmember Paloma had with an official of the Mexican government (this was clearly a WildCoast meeting with Mexican officials as Paloma Aguirre had not even been elected to the City Council 12 months ago?).
Whether or not there is a law that requires him to withdraw is really not the point. The point is that he is “conflicted” — he has obligations to at least two different constituencies and he cannot represent both of them fairly in such a matter! Remember, his NGO role pays him 
(in excess of $125K) which is at least 7 times his part-time City Mayor’s salary.
The Mayor must therefore deal with this conflict in a responsible and ethical manner, and the way to do this is to withdraw from the LCP/GP vote before the City Council considers it later this fall - this action is often referred to as “recusal.” This act of recusal was, in fact, recently employed by Councilmember Mark West in regard to the Mike Hess Brewery Phase II beer garden approval/vote.

A similar conundrum is confronting Councilwoman Aguirre, another highly-compensated employee of the locally-based, non-profit WildCoast organization. She too should follow the Mayor and recuse herself from this obvious potential for conflict of interest concerns. If a City official is ever in doubt about what to do, he/she should seek specific legal guidance from the City Attorney.


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