11:01 PM PST on Sunday, December 20, 2009

By DUG BEGLEY and RICHARD K. DE ATLEY
The Press-Enterprise

Getting a development done in San Jacinto, like many places in Southern California, is a matter of preparation and communication.

It’s having the right permits, making the necessary estimates of time and cost, and then selling that plan — just lines on a plat map — to local officials.

That takes face time. Whether it’s in a coffeehouse around the block from city hall or a developer’s home, the businessmen trying to build and the city leaders trying to encourage growth rub elbows, share stories, and talk about how to make development — inevitable in the region — harmonious with the city.

But sometimes those meetings, close encounters that are the bedrock of business in small cities such as San Jacinto, cross from perfectly legal to prosecutable.

In San Jacinto, no one disputes that developers and city officials crossed paths, attended campaign fundraisers and talked about upcoming projects. That’s perfectly legal.

The nature of the business is developers are always going to want access to city officials, said Randy Wastal, one of the developers interviewed by a grand jury that indicted four city councilmen in a sweeping corruption probe involving campaign contribution kickbacks and questionable land deals.

The motive isn’t sinister when officials and developers meet, many said.

When Wastal and others donated to charitable causes in the area, such as the police activity league that offered summer programs for youths, it was to contribute, he said. But also, it was to let local leaders know they wanted to help.

It was the same for political donations, Wastal testified under questioning by Supervising Deputy District Attorney Michael Cabral.

“If I wanted to get a meeting with somebody,” he said, “and if I have not helped them with their campaign, it’s very difficult for me to get a meeting with them.

“But if I had helped with their campaign, I can usually call them up on the phone,” and arrange a meeting.

“I feel that if I’ve donated, they are aware of that and they feel like they don’t mind spending some of their time, some of their personal time, discussing a project with me,” Wastal said.

“So you sort of view campaign contributions as aiding you in getting access?” Cabral asked.

“Yes. Face time I would call it,” Wastal said.

It just went beyond that, prosecutors said.

MANY MEETINGS

During the mid-decade house-building boom, indicted developer Stephen Holgate had monthly lunch meetings at his home.

Various developers or their staff attended and, witnesses testified, so did indicted San Jacinto City Council members Jim Ayres and Dale Stubblefield.

John Mansperger, elected to the council in 2006 and before that a member of the city’s Planning Commission, also was at some of the meetings, grand jury witnesses said.

“Actually, it was nice deal,” testified private civil engineer Blaine Womer.

“The whole purpose of it was to get current on certain design issues that every developer was up against in San Jacinto, which in our town included drainage … sewer service was a big issue, and to be able to get two council members there and talk about how we solve these efforts or issues between the efforts of the development community and the city was very helpful,” Womer said.

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