Mayor Nir Barkat has told Jerusalem Municipality legal adviser Yossi Habilio that he does not want him to represent the city in a High Court petition demanding the cancellation of controversial plans by architect Moshe Safdie for the Silwan neighborhood, south of the Old City, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
The petition was filed in October in Jerusalem District Court by Deputy Mayor Yosef Pepe Alalo (Meretz) and the left-wing Ir Amim organization, represented by Jerusalem attorney Daniel Seidemann.
According to the petitioners, Safdie, who was commissioned by the municipality under the previous administration of Uri Lupolianski in 2007, also received payment of $82,900 from the right-wing Elad organization, which seeks to expand the Jewish presence in Silwan through settlement and tourism.
The petitioners also alleged that representatives of Elad, including David Beeri and Dvir Cahana, routinely participated in the meetings of the municipality's steering committee on the Silwan plan, together with representatives of Safdie's office and city officials, including city engineer Uri Sheetrit.
"It cannot be disputed that the municipality of Jerusalem hired Safdie's services in order to prepare an outline plan on behalf of the [entire] public and that Safdie's office illegally received money from a party that had an interest in this plan," the petitioners said.
Safdie's office refused to comment on the allegation.
Municipality spokesman Gidi Schmerling confirmed that Barkat had decided to seek representation from a private lawyer instead of the city's legal adviser but said he had not yet chosen one. Schmerling added that "the outline plan for the southern slopes of the Old City, as well as the facts included in the petition, began under the previous administration and city engineer in 2007 and is still under consideration by the planning institutions."
The petitioners also alleged that the contract signed by the municipality and Safdie allowed him to design private projects within Silwan, even though the architect is prohibited from designing detailed projects while working on a district plan according to the standard municipal contract. They told the court that Safdie was planning two specific projects, one involving parking and commercial space to replace the Givati parking lot, and the other the City of David archeological garden. Both plans are being initiated by Elad.
"From the very beginning, the contract between the municipality and Safdie was marred by conflict of interests," they wrote.
In a letter to Alalo, city engineer Shlomo Eshkol and city architect Ofer Manor, municipality legal adviser Habilio gave his legal opinion that "improper acts were committed" regarding the contract between the city and Safdie and the relations between Safdie and Elad.
"Elad owns land and buildings in the area of the plan," wrote Habilio. "Thus, Elad has a direct and significant interest in the plan and its guidelines. The contract between Elad and Safdie... to carry out projects in the planning area and certainly the substantial planned payment of $89,200 to the architect who was hired by the city, create a serious suspicion of conflict of interests. This situation is particularly grave considering that the plan addresses a highly sensitive and important area on the southern slopes of the Old City."
In response to the charges in the petition, Elad told the Post, "The plan [for Silwan and the nearby area] was initiated by the municipality of Jerusalem, along with others, and its purpose, among others, is to enable the detailed planning of the neighborhood. Elad was invited to the municipality planning meetings as the operator of certain aspects of the national park in the City of David. Many others were also invited to these meetings. The participation of Elad was necessary for the planners and it provided them with a great deal of information.
"Furthermore, at the request of the municipality and in order to finish preparing a detailed plan, Elad paid Safdie via its subsidiary company [Hamaayan]. The payment was approved by the municipality. The claim that this payment was tantamount to bribery is baseless and has no factual and legal foundation... There are countless public projects that are jointly funded with non-profit organizations or through contributions..." Elad said.