Corruption in Los Angeles: An Update from City Hall
The persistent showers pelting southern California this past week served as poetic foreshadowing for the hard rain that’s about to fall on some of the well-dressed crooks who control Los Angeles. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s absurd delusion that he’s somehow “presidential” is about to end. Charlatans posing as “community leaders” soon will be exposed. Once powerful men will end up in prison.
What many of us have known for some time will be made clear to all: the City of Los Angeles’s planning and development process is thoroughly corrupted. You want to build a skyscraper? An apartment building? A garden shed? You gotta pay to play. And if you do pay, you can play however you want, even if it hurts entire neighborhoods of less wealthy people.
In the midst of an unprecedented rise in homelessness and fall in affordable housing, Garcetti and his cronies on the City Council have fast-tracked approval for numerous luxury condominium projects, including several so inappropriate – an 80-story tower on top of an Earthquake fault? A shopping center directly next door to an elementary school? – they don’t pass the smell test. The stench, the unmistakable odor of rot, has wafted all the way to Washington, DC, so strong even the FBI could smell it.
In November, Councilmember Jose Huizar, who “represents” much of Downtown, was stripped of his chairmanship of the vital Planning, Land Use and Management (PLUM) Committee after his home and office were raided by the FBI, which is conducting an ongoing inquiry. What are they looking for? Possible bribery, extortion, money laundering and other crimes.
The net is widening. Now, PLUM member Curren Price, one of the more aromatic lowlifes on the Council, is another target in the Pay to Play probe. So are Eric Garcetti’s recently retired Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan, whose son landed an internship with the lobbyists who represent the Millenium Earthquake Tower; Board of Public Works Commissioner Joel Jacinto and his wife Ave Jacinto, who, at an earlier stage in their lives, before being ushered into the Garcetti mafia, were best known for serving the Filipino community; Huizar’s Planning Director Shawn Kuk, and Huizar’s former Special Assistant George Esparza.
Esparza slammed Jose Huizar in the Los Angeles Times, saying that he quit as Huizar’s assistant after Huizar “wielded his political power in ways in which, while he apparently had normalized, I did not feel aligned with how I wanted to live my political and personal life … so I got out before I became collateral damage, and I took steps to protect myself.”
Uh-oh. This is getting serious.
The FBI investigation isn’t a far-fetched fishing expedition. It’s not going away; it will only get bigger. The storm clouds are gathering over City Hall, and it’s about time. This city could use a good cleaning.
The Coalition to Preserve LA, the leading critics of Garcetti’s broken development model, offered an intriguing glimpse of the near future: “Our own investigation of pay to play shows that Crossroads and other projects sail through the approval process on a river of cash donations, and wining and dining of officials, including Councilmembers Jose Huizar and Curren Price who are under investigation — as well as officials not yet named in the investigation,” said Coalition to Preserve LA executive director Jill Stewart.
The Crossroads Project Stewart references is emblematic of how stinky the Garcetti development process is. The story is revolting yet commonplace; it deserves it’s own book, a kind of case study for “How Los Angeles Works . . . and Why ‘How it Works’ is Through Badly Concealed Corruption.”
Here are some smelly highlights:
Councilman Curren Price’s wife, Del Richardson, whose company works closely with developers to remove tenants to make way for gentrification projects – and what a spiritually fulfilling job that must be – moved her operations inside an historic Latino apartment complex housing eighty families, many of whom had been there for decades, and pressured them to accept as little as $800 as “cash for keys.” State law says families are due at least $8,000 each for relocation.
From 2013 through 2016, Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, one of the most reliable lapdogs in the developers’ kennel, held multiple private meetings with Morton La Kretz, founder of Crossroads Management; Crossroads executive Linda Duttenhaver, Crossroads Management attorney, Jerry Neuman; Harridge executive David Schwartzman and developer lobbyist Kyndra Casper. Suggestion: Call O’Farrell’s office as a concerned private citizen and see if you can get a meeting.
During that same period of time, Crossroads developers showered key Councilmembers and Mayor Eric Garcetti with $16,500 in campaign cash — plus more in “lobbying” lubricated with fine food and wine. This is according to City records.
All the chicanery is legal, or quasi-legal. But whatever semantics you prefer, legal or not, the behavior makes a mockery of “public service,” similar to how calling a 26-story greenhouse-gas-spewing office tower on the site of Amoeba Records “a sustainable community.”
Once the FBI exposes the naked greed and duplicity at the heart of LA’s real estate development process, a good number of the controversial (and likely corrupted) projects around town will come to a halt.
And while everyone’s on hiatus from giving and collecting bribes, they might have time to build a homeless shelter or two.