Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Created: 10/12/2010 10:12:39 PM PDT

Rancho Cucamonga’s former redevelopment director testified Tuesday in court that Councilman Rex Gutierrez was anxious to push through, despite her opposition, a $42.5million low-income housing project benefiting developer Jeff Burum.

Linda Daniels, now the city’s deputy city manager of economic and community development, took the witness stand Tuesday in San Bernardino Superior Court during Gutierrez’s criminal trial.

Daniels said Gutierrez was insistent on fast-tracking the project, which entailed the refurbishing of four apartment complexes for low-income housing, provision of an additional 60 units and an extension of the city’s covenants, which would guarantee about 550 units of low-income housing in the city for 99 years.

Gutierrez, prosecutors allege, was shepherding the project for Burum’s nonprofit National Community Renaissance, or National CORE.

Daniels’ main point of contention, she said, was that National CORE’s proposal called for an extension of low-income housing covenants for 99 years, but the city’s existing covenants weren’t due to expire until 2023 and 2026. Therefore, an extension was unnecessary.

It created friction between Daniels and Gutierrez.

Following a June 20, 2007, housing subcommittee meeting, Gutierrez, Daniels said, was vocal with her for not agendizing the proposed project.

“He was disappointed that the item was not on the agenda and felt that I was an obstructionist and a barrier from keeping this proposal from moving forward,” Daniels said.

Gutierrez and Councilman L. Dennis Michael compose the city’s two-man housing subcommittee.

During a meeting of the housing subcommittee on July 9, 2007, Daniels’ opposition to the project became another sore point for Gutierrez, Daniels said.

“Mr. Gutierrez stated that he was concerned how this would affect National CORE’s cash flow,” Daniels said.

Gutierrez, 50, is one of five former executives at the San Bernardino County Assessor’s Office, including former Assessor Bill Postmus, charged in a scandal that hit the office in 2007 and 2008. He is accused of conspiracy to commit a crime, grand theft and filing a fraudulent claim.

Prosecutors allege Postmus hired Gutierrez at the Assessor’s Office as a political favor to Burum and that Gutierrez was using the county office to bolster his political career and perform primarily Rancho Cucamonga work.

They allege Gutierrez’s hiring was part of a quid pro quo between the three.

Postmus and Gutierrez, prosecutors allege in their criminal complaint, depended on Burum for political financial support and Burum depended on Gutierrez and Postmus to support his development interests in Rancho Cucamonga and the county.

All three deny the allegations. Burum has not been charged with any crime. He maintains prosecutors are trumping up allegations for political gain and that their case hinges on the testimony of former Assistant Assessor Adam Aleman, who has pleaded no contest to four felonies in exchange for a lighter sentence for cooperating with authorities and testifying against his former colleagues.

Despite Daniels’ concerns over the project, the Rancho Cucamonga City Council voted 4-0, with Mayor Don Kurth absent, to approve it in August 2007. Daniels was on vacation at the time. City Manager Jack Lam was also absent.

Gutierrez’s attorney, Jim Reiss, questioned Daniels about the city’s previous dealings with Burum’s nonprofit, when it went by the name Southern California Housing. He mentioned the city approved four of Southern California Housing’s projects prior to 2005.

“You did recommend each and every project, right?” Reiss asked.

“Yes,” Daniels replied.

Reiss said the city has approved high-priced low-income housing projects for other developers, including a $40 million project approved in 2005, and that National CORE’s project was no different.

He said the $42.5 million project approved in 2007 is, in essence, the same project proposed in 2005 for $14 million, with only more units and a guarantee to provide low-income housing for 99 years instead of 55 years.

In addition, $13 million of the $42.5 million is to cover housing rehabilitation over the 99-year period, Reiss said.

In earlier testimony Tuesday, Councilman Sam Spagnolo said Gutierrez never, at any time, pressured him to vote in favor of the project and that his decision was purely his own.

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