By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Assemblyman Michael Allen, D-Santa Rosa, has agreed to pay a $3,000 fine for voting on matters in which he had a financial interest while he was a Santa Rosa planning commissioner.
The conflict-of-interest fine — $2,000 less than the maximum — by the state Fair Political Practices Commission, punctuates a controversy that has dogged the first-term assemblyman for a year.
The FPPC found that Allen voted as a commissioner to change the city’s general plan while he was under contract to a county agency to work on behalf of that very change.
Allen, an attorney who sits on the Assembly’s panel for legislative ethics, on Monday maintained, as he has all along, that he made a mistake.
“I know conflict-of-interest laws and if I would have understood I was voting on this, I certainly would have recused myself,” he said. “But you have to take responsibility for what you did.”
The vote in question, in August 2009, concerned a seven-acre parcel on West College Avenue owned by the Sonoma County Water Agency.
The unanimous planning commission vote to overhaul the general plan rezoned the property to accommodate medium- to low-density housing.
The conflict, the FPPC said, was that since 2007 Allen had been an independent consultant for the water agency charged with, among other things, pushing for that rezoning. The agency paid him more than $85,000 for his work.
It was a potential conflict that Allen himself called attention to when he applied to the commission in January 2009.
Then, he wrote:
“I have one potential conflict of interest. I have been the lead consultant for (the water agency) in investigating the feasibility of converting 2150 College Avenue to workforce housing. This project if it goes forward could require rezoning changes that would be considered by the Planning Commission.”
On Monday, Allen said that when he voted he did not understand the decision rezoned the property and that he thought that step would be taken at a future date.
“I thought I was interpreting the language correctly, and I wasn’t,” Allen said. “If I would have known at the time I voted that there was going to be a change to the property, I would not have voted.”
The FPPC did not explain why the fine was lower than the maximum. But it noted “mitigating” factors including that Allen said the violation was unintentional and that he had listed as a potential conflict the relationship between the property and his work for the water agency when he applied for the commission.