Among the many examples of purported Hughes organization influence being investigated by the FBI, the one in which the most money was at stake involved an obscure 350-acre tract of undeveloped land and salt marsh known as Bollona Creek Wetland.
The property, owned by s Summa Corp. urban planning division known as Archisystems, is the largest contiguous developable piece of land in western Los Angeles. In 1975, it was removed from a state park acquisition list on the motion of Robert H. Mendelsohn, then a member of the California Coastal Commission.
Last week the muckraking San Francisco Bay Guardian reported the FBI was investigating to see whether Mendelsohn, who was heavily in debt from a statewide campaign the previous year, had taken $30,000 for his action.
Mendelsohn called the article "a vicious smear" whose sole purpose was to prevent him from regaining nomination to a post as assistant Secretary of the interior in the Carter administration.
Mendelsohn withdrew his name from consideration for the $50,000-a-year post last November because he was under investigation on other charges by the california Fiar practices Political Commission. On April 18 he won a settlement from the commission, which acknowledged it had no evidence to show that Mendelsohn knew of any illegally reported contribution to a 1974 campaign.
He has since returne*d to Washington, as a $168-a-day consultant for the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp., hoping that Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus will resubmit his name for confirmation.
Federal sources confirmed that the FBI, in connection with its probe of "official corruption" in California, has investigated the Bollona Creek Wetland issue but declined to say whether any material on the inquiry would be presented to a special federal grand jury now meeting in Sacramento.
As the Bay Guardian told the story, Mendelsohn's "multimillion-dollar favor for Howard Hughes" was paid for through Joseph Cerrell, a Los Angeles political publicist who handled advertising for Mendelsohn's unsuccessful 1974 campaign for state comptroller.
It has long been a matter of public record that Cerrell forgave a $30,000 campaign bill to Mendelsohn after the 1974 campaign. Cerrell acknowledges he was a public relations consultant to the Hughes organization at the time.
Except for refusing to discuss what services he performed for Hughes, Cerrell freely discussed the issue and strongly disputed the Bay Guardian story. He said the money he received from Hughes was far less than the $30,000 he had forgiven Mendelsohn.
"I never went to Mendelsohn on a Coastal Commission matter or any other matter." Cerrell said. "I welcome any kind of investigation because they're not going to find anything."
Mendelsohn said he intervened to have the property removed from the park list because he thought too much of the state's park acquisition money was being spent in southern California.
The Bay Guardian scoffs at this explanation, observing that Mendelsohn did not move to delete far more expensive southern California properties from the list. Mendelsohn says he regards the Bollona Creek Wetland as "a highly inferior recreational property."
A majority of the commission agreed with Mendelsohn and approved the deletion, 7 to 3. The vote came on a motion to reassign 150 acres of the wetland (the other acreage already had been dropped) to the lowest-priority category of recreational land.
One of the minority commissioners, Rimmon Fay of Venice, called the action "an arch betrayal of what we're here to achieve." He observed that the property was the only major potential wetland restoration site on heavily populated Santa Monica Bay.
Whatever the value of the land as wetland, its value for future economic development is unquestioned. The entire 350 acres was valued conservatively in 1975 at $11 million and the 150 acres of wetland, including shoreline, deleted by the commission, at $6 million. Today, these values would have risen at least $4 million and they are going up steadily.