FPPC closes investigation into coastal commissioner’s contribution

Pismo Beach Councilman and Coastal Commissioner Erik Howell.
Pismo Beach Councilman and Coastal Commissioner Erik Howell. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The California Fair Political Practices Commission has closed its investigation into a controversial contribution made to Coastal Commissioner and Pismo Beach Councilman Erik Howell, saying there is insufficient evidence to prove he violated state law.

The investigation stemmed from a complaint alleging Howell had violated the Political Reform Act by not recusing himself from a vote on a Silver Shoals development project in Pismo Beach two months after accepting a $1,000 donation from the partner of somebody involved in the project.

Howell received the donation from Antoinette DeVargas, whose domestic partner, Susan McCabe, was operations manager of a company that represented the Silver Shoals project.

The complaint alleged Howell changed his vote after receiving the donation because he voted in favor of the project when it went before the Coastal Commission after voting against it when it was before the Pismo Beach City Council.

Howell has said he was not aware that DeVargas was McCabe’s partner at the time and that McCabe was not involved with the Pismo Beach project at the time of the donation.

In the decision, the FPPC noted that its investigation showed the funds did not come from McCabe or her company, meaning there was no violation.

“Ms. DeVargas made the contribution using her personal credit card, and the investigation did not reveal evidence that DeVargas was reimbursed for making the contribution,” the decision read. “That being the case, there is insufficient evidence at this time to conclude (Howell) violated Government Code section 84308 by accepting the contribution from Ms. DeVargas so we are closing this case with no further action.”

Howell did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928, @kaytyleslie