By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Among other positions, Wedin served as president of the Orange County Business Council and helped broker that county's bankruptcy-bailout plan.
Shambra relied heavily on Wedin's contacts and expertise, naming him the district's chief negotiator for the Belmont project. In 1995 Wedin collected $185,000 in billings - more than Shambra, more than the district superintendent. Over the course of 12 years, school-board members approved upward of $1 million in various Wedin contracts while barely knowing his name.
In Orange County, by contrast, Wedin maintained a high profile, earning notoriety as well as kudos for his government work, particularly during a four-year stint as a Brea City Council member. As previously reported in the Weekly, Wedin urged fellow council members to approve a $320,000 public-works contract to a firm from which he was earning $41,000 on another project. The contract was later rescinded, and in 1992 Wedin was tried - and acquitted - on criminal conflict-of-interest charges.
An early-1980s school project in Brea was both a success and textbook Wedin. He persuaded the local school district to borrow money to build a new high school while putting a shopping center on the site of the old school. As he designed the arrangement, the city kicked in money for the project from its redevelopment agency, where Wedin was working as director. At the same time, he also was a consultant for a the school district, a task that ultimately would net him $323,000. Wedin pointed out that his dual roles were known to all parties involved, but clearly, he saw no problem with doing for yourself, while also doing good.
As Shambra's adviser for mixed-use projects at LAUSD, Wedin was in a position to pitch and evaluate projects that would keep him in clover. To the extent that the district followed his advice and pursued these projects, Wedin's continued employment was secured.
So it was that in December 1994, the financial consulting firm of Coopers & Lybrand made the mistake of throwing cold water on the prospects for building a successful shopping center that would help defray costs of the proposed Belmont school. The bidders, the accountants said, were overly optimistic. "None of the teams presented current market research to support their positions," Coopers noted in a draft financial analysis. "The only relevant market research presented was more than 12 years old."
This section was omitted from the final version of the report, which instead read, "Per Mr. Wayne Wedin's recommendations, our analysis is based on the assumptions presented by the various proposed developer teams." In other words, the rosy financial projections were not to be challenged.
"You let people who have retail-development experience put their best foot forward," said Wedin in an interview. "Then it's our job to evaluate it." He added, "There's no evidence to indicate that, come hell or high water, I had so much invested in the retail that I would recommend it if it was not judicious."
Aside from Wedin's built-in interest in keeping Belmont afloat as a mixed-use project, some of Wedin's specific invoices also have come under scrutiny. On February 4, 1987, for example, Wedin billed LAUSD for 20 hours of work - 13 hours under one contract as "staff coordination" and seven hours under another contract for "staff coordination and research." Not impossible for a hard-working businessman, but still difficult to fathom, even for Wedin, who said he would review the 10-year-old invoices.
And last month, school-board member Valerie Fields reviewed with skepticism Wedin's billing for 67.5 hours from June through October on a proposed school/retail venture in Brentwood. The Brentwood project, said Fields in an interview, was "dead as a doornail" shortly after she joined the school board in June. "I didn't see any need for Mr. Wedin to do any work on that."
Wedin responded, "I didn't make those up, and I didn't make the work up." He added that he worked at Shambra's direction, based on an earlier school-board authorization to explore the project.
But in some respects, Wedin was working even harder than his invoices imply. As a consultant, he jetted up and down the state on various projects quite apart from his L.A. contracts. In Wayne's world, it made perfect sense that he and Orange County architect Ernie Vasquez would become partners in a consortium that pitched a $30 million construction deal to the government of Panama. Problem was, Wedin also was serving as the school district's head negotiator with the Kajima team, which included Vasquez as chief architect. Nor was that Wedin's only tie to Vasquez. As early as April 1994, just when the competition to build Belmont began in earnest, Wedin was exploring development opportunities with Vasquez in La Habra, Alhambra, Bell Gardens and elsewhere.
Ernie Vasquez is a principal in the architecture firm most responsible for Belmont's design, the Costa Mesa-based McLarand, Vasquez & Partners. The Panama deal involving Wedin is just one of several potential conflicts of interest raised by the multiple roles Vasquez took on in connection with the Belmont project. In three years, Vasquez's project fees grew from an initial $110,000 contract to $6.1 million.
Vasquez did not respond to repeated requests to be interviewed for this story.
Vasquez's first Belmont-related assignment, issued in mid-1994, was to sketch the concept for a mixed-use project there, help evaluate the teams competing to build the school and independently oversee the school's design by the chosen team. For much of that year, as competing teams hammered out their proposals in talks with Shambra and his consultants, Vasquez sat on the school district's side of the negotiating table.
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