Bank board links Santa Margarita Ranch developer, supervisor

November 2, 2008
County Supervisor Katcho Achadjian sits on the board of directors of Santa Lucia National Bank.

County Supervisor Katcho Achadjian sits on the board of directors of Santa Lucia National Bank.

By KAREN VELIE

San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Katcho Achadjian occupies a salaried seat on a local bank’s board of directors along with a key developer in the proposed Santa Margarita Ranch project.

Achadjian’s vote on plans for the Santa Margarita Ranch could be the determining factor in the project’s future. The supervisor and Douglas Filipponi both sit on the board of Santa Lucia National Bank (SLNB). Filipponi and partners Rob Rossi and Karl Wittstrom are presenting the controversial housing development project to a divided Board of Supervisors for approval, perhaps on Tuesday.

Achadjian is paid $2,000 a month for his service on the SLNB board, which includes salary and life insurance policy premiums. He receives undisclosed reimbursement for expenses incurred while conducting bank business.

Santa Margarita Ranch co-developers Rossi and Wittstrom sit on Mission Community Bank’s director’s board. Achadjian owns shares in SLNB, Mid-State Bank, and Mission Community Bank worth between $200,000 and $2 million, according to information Achadjian filed with a state agency in Feb. 2007.

In a two-paragraph letter last week to the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), Achadjian asked if “a potential conflict of interest” existed if he were to vote on the project, citing his membership on the SLNB board. He did not disclose his financial relationship with either Mid-State Bank or Mission Community Bank in the letter to the FPPC.

County Supervisor Katcho Achadjian sits on the board of directors of Santa Lucia National Bank.

County Supervisor Katcho Achadjian sits on the board of directors of Santa Lucia National Bank.

Achadjian had a subsequent telephone conversation with Valentina Joyce, legal counsel for the FPPC, during which the supervisor suggested that SLNB would “have no involvement in the development project.”

As planned, the Santa Margarita Ranch would be a staged project designed for the eventual construction of 400 homes on 14,000 acres. Tuesday’s vote will be for approval of the project’s initial stage, 111 homes on 4,000 acres and will be the only action taken by the board on the Ranch issue before two new board members are seated in January. The board’s present 3-2 pro-development tilt will likely be reversed when Adam Hill and Frank Mecham assume their posts.

Based on information provided by Achadjian, the FPPC issued an opinion in just two days which informed the supervisor, “So long as you do not have any other economic interests that may be materially affected by the decisions, you may participate in governmental decisions regarding the development project.”

The FPPC’s Joyce added, “We … offer no opinion on the application, if any, of other conflict of interest laws such as common law conflict” or other state laws. Joyce said the opinion was based on the supposition that the supervisor’s vote “will not have a reasonably foreseeable material financial effect on the economic interest of the bank you have identified (SLNB).”

Achadjian said he considered the FPPC’s swift reply to his inquiry adequate to ensure that his vote Tuesday was free of potential conflict.

“The FPPC said that if I have no investment in the project, the answer is no (to any conflict),” Achadjian said. “I asked county counsel, [and] they said if I owned property nearby there would be a conflict. I don’t.”

Achadjian added, “With as many people as I know, I should resign from the Board [of Supervisors]? Where do I draw the line?”

He said he has no plan to recuse himself from the vote.

“If it comes to it, I would resign from the bank board,” he said. “I want to serve the community and vote on the issue.”

Achadjian has recused himself in the past from votes he thought would place him in conflict because businesses owned by him, including a service station, might benefit financially.

A homeowners’ association officer said he sees a problem with Achadjian’s vote on Santa Margarita Ranch.

“He obviously has business associations with the owners of the Ranch,” said Santa Margarita Residents Together President John Beccia. “I think it makes it difficult for him to be impartial in his decisions.”

But Tina Salter, a former member of the Santa Margarita Advisory Council, disagreed. “I certainly don’t see a conflict,” she said. “You can find perceived conflicts with every [supervisor] member just because they serve on some board.”

Tags:, Santa Margarita


Loading...

3 Comments

  1. ccn_debate says:

    Member Opinions:
    By: Josixpack on 11/7/08
    Increased odds of competence! Increased odds of moving in the same circles, just like politics, bankers and business. You would be a crooked polititian, with your elistist ideas driving your special interest membership club…Rotary club eh?Conspiracy theory! Look at the facts! There is no theory whatsoever! Its proven fact. They are business associates and that is plain unethical!
    Two out of three Supervisors already have their marching orders, and Katcho may get hung up with doing the legally and politically correct thing…following the rules acording to the process, without influence or threats from business associations or their army of attorneys on "The applicant team" as they call themselves…
    Lenthall got his 31K already in donations-nothing like a little insurance. SLO county saw through that crooked cop mentality..

    Bye bye..

    (0) 0 Total Votes - 0 up - 0 down
  2. ccn_debate says:

    By: Inquiry on 11/7/08
    They all do. It's required by law … unless, of course, you are one of those who "assume" that if someone is elected they must be crooked!? … Then, of course, they "hide" everything they can.
    How sad to have such a warped view of life.
    By: calvertworthington on 11/7/08
    Newsome,

    No, just comply with the disclosure requirements.
    By: Newsome on 11/7/08
    Mr. WOrthington,

    Taking that argument to the extreme/absurd seems to indicate, then, that the only ones suitable for elected office are those that don't do anything.
    By: calvertworthington on 11/7/08
    Conspiracy theory? With that logic, only a very few elite should make all decisions for we, of the filthy masses. When someone is elected to public office, all of their financial 'attachments' must be transparent. Such conflicts must not be permitted. If the elected-one prefers their corporate standing, let them step down from elected or public position(s).
    By: Inquiry on 11/7/08
    Conspiracy theory mentalities will be the death of this nation. Do you really want the banks, boards, commissions, etc. run by totally unconnected people? What a tremendous opportunity for ignorance to rule and incompetence to achieve unprecedented rewards. People achieve many of these positions because of perceived or demonstrated ability. The lessons of one area translate to reasoned and informed decisions in the other. Get a clue that its increased odds of competence and success, not "cronyism," that drives the memberships of various entities.
    By: WiseGuy on 11/4/08
    Word is that Mr. Achadjian is considering running for a higher office and needs to make good friends with the big-monied folks who will back him.

    He seems to have veered from his old self and is now clamoring to suck on the tit of greed and power believing in the immigrant myth of America being all about business and that money and power is the heart of the American dream, and that quality of life is reserved for only those who can afford it, and that the environment can take care of itself or go screw itself.

    Mr. Achadjian is no longer a man of the people. He's business as usual and that, unfortunately, means it's all about money. It's time for Mr. Achadjian to take a good, hard look at himself and appreciate why people who once supported him, no longer do. It's a sad story, but I feel he has the capacity, and conscience deep down, to turn it around. But does he have the courage?
    By: JorgeEstrada on 11/3/08
    Even a nimby of twenty years can find a dotted line to most anyone if the desired result is a conflict of interest. Today the well organized, just because we can, opinonators are really talking Con Flicks. Word smithing or word flicking is the real con. Another flicking con? Trust your own research and form your own opinion, you then will have what you earned.

    (2) 2 Total Votes - 2 up - 0 down
  3. ccn_debate says:

    By: Josixpack on 11/3/08
    Knewless-just ask Charlie Whitney-he'll verify that a conflict of interest must show a business or monetary relationship. Does Christy sit on the board of the Bank of SMART or Sierra Club or Coastal Commission? What a whiney,wishful, transparent, blatantly developer favored viewpoint you have "knewsome" but forgot most of it….
    Money is the key…Christy makes no money off of her votes yet Katcho will roll up or down with these banks and their shareholders and boards of directors, and their buddy network. Enough is enough of this back scratching mentality….Your bias is shocking and your arguement is so transparent…
    By: Use_it_or_Lose_it on 11/3/08
    Newsome. That you don't see the conflict of interest is beyond me. Do you really need the difference between Katcho and Christie spelled out for you? How about you call both of them and run it by them. Will Christie parrot Katcho and say she only represents those that vote for her? This project should be shelved until the new board is sworn in.
    By: Afriendindeed on 11/3/08
    Regardless of the specifics of the SM issue, no county supervisor should be a paid member of ANY board while in office. If they wish to volunteer, fine, but this doesn't quite pass the smell test.
    By: mccdave on 11/3/08
    Corporate boards have been shown to be back-scratching societies, and while there may not be a direct conflict, one has to worry about cronyism. And whether a currently serving supervisor should be a director of a company (other than his own or a non-profit) is open to question — this wouldn't pass muster with other kinds of elected officials. Since banks are centrally tied to so many ventures in a community, it's especially difficult to avoid at least the appearance of conflict. But in a small community it's hard not to cross paths with someone who has business before the County Board.
    By: Newsome on 11/3/08
    What is the conflict? Is SLNB underwriting the construction loans? Would that be a significant part of their business? Would that cause a significant shift in Katcho's finances?

    It is clear the SMARTies will try to answer yes to those questions. At the same time, they see no conflict in Christie being a former SMARTie, current Coastal Commission staffer, Sierra Club frontman, and planning commissioner. Go figure.
    By: Newsome on 11/3/08

    The massive development issue would not have been decided by a 'lame duck" board if Christie et al had not drug their feet for the past two years.

    By: calvertworthington on 11/3/08
    One of the factors resulting in the world's economic problems has been a form of nepotism practiced within, and between, corporate boards. The same players mix and match. In this matter, there is obviously a conflict, despite the incredulous comments from Ms. Salter.

    Mr. Achadajian's omission to the FPPC of added banking connections looks very bad, at the very least.

    More importantly, the massive development issue involved should not be decided by a 'lame-duck' board of supervisors.

    Perhaps there are grounds for an injunction postponing this vote.

    (1) 1 Total Votes - 1 up - 0 down

Comments are closed.