Piazza Allegations Likely Influenced Local Election

The allegations made by Randy Wang, owner and developer of the Piazza at Temple City, and a string of negative publicity likely influenced the March 2009 City Council elections.

Incumbent Mayor Cathé Wilson and councilman Ken Gillanders were ousted by Temple City voters on Tuesday, March 3, 2009. Both Wilson and Gillanders voted for the Piazza at Temple City, then known as the “Piazza Las Tunas” mixed-use project in May 2006.

Wang has accused Wilson, councilman Dave Capra, and councilwoman Judy Wong, of bribery. Former city council and state assembly candidate Scott Carwile is also mentioned in Wang’s suit.

In exchange for support of the project, Wang alleges he gave Capra, Carwile and Wong $13,000 in cash during the March 2007 elections. He also claims that Wilson wanted one of the 52 one-bedroom condominiums.

Capra, Wilson and Wong have all publicly denied the allegations.

The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office-Public Integrity Division has been investigating the case since last year.

On Wednesday, February 25, the D.A.’s office searched the homes of Capra, Carwile, Wilson and Wong. The home of the first Piazza construction manager, Jay Liyanage, was also searched.

The D.A.’s office also visited City Hall, but according to City Manager Charles R. Martin, they took “nothing of value.”

“Mr. Wang has made a very serious charge against public officials” commented Martin in his February 26 City Manager’s Report. “Although we believe the charges have no merit, it is the duty of the District Attorney to investigate.”

The investigation had led to the questioning of councilmembers (in December 2008) and seizure of tape recordings the developer recorded while conversing with city officials (in January 2009).

Months of negative news stories about the allegations, by the Pasadena Star News and Los Angeles Times, have also dogged Temple City and the City Council.

The Piazza at Temple City once promised 52 one-bedroom condominiums and a large retail center. The project also included a proposed banquet facility, a want the Temple City community has requested for years.

Since its initial approval in 2006, there have been two ground breakings and three construction management firms in charge of the project. The developer proposed changes in 2007 and again in 2008.

In December 2008, the City Council finally decided to send Wang’s new plans back to the Planning Commission. Wang has not sent in any plans to City Hall.

The city-imposed and developer-agreed deadline for the Piazza at Temple City is August 23, 2009. Wang must complete the development as originally proposed; otherwise, the city has the option to purchase the 3.7 acre lot for $5 million.

A court hearing has been set for July 2009 to discuss the city’s suit and developer’s counter-suit. Nevertheless, three of the five original councilmembers who voted for the project will be gone.

 

This article was written by Matthew Wong. It was published in the Temple City Voice on May 29, 2009.

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