Councilmember David Ryu’s Leadership Problem
On July 14, the Parks & Open Spaces committee of the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council (HHWNC) considered the future of Runyon Canyon Park. Public comment was heard on whether or not the HHWNC should recommend the immediate termination of the Memo of Understanding (MOU) between the City of Los Angeles and a euphemistically named group called “Friends of Runyon Canyon” (FORC), which has a contract with the City to manage certain aspects of the park.
Two people spoke in support of FORC; one of them was a FORC board member. On the other side, 49 people spoke in opposition of the group (including, it should be noted, this writer).
The massive disparity was no surprise: FORC is roundly reviled among Runyon Canyon park-goers for attempting to build a secret basketball court – a sponsored horizontal billboard — in the middle of the canyon, and for drafting plans to construct a parking lot on top of the yoga meadow, and for a litany of other missteps and mendacities that have cost L.A. taxpayers nearly $200,000. Hundreds of people have signed an Open Letter to FORC, asking them to step aside; more than 1,000 have joined Citizens Preserving Runyon and Runyon Canyon Defenders, groups dedicated to preserving Runyon Canyon and removing FORC before they do additional damage.
They’re extravagantly unwanted.
This fact became even clearer six days later, on July 20, when the full HHWNC met to consider the termination motion. Again, resident after resident expressed their distrust and dislike of FORC. This time not a single person spoke in support of FORC; indeed, not a single FORC board member was in attendance for the vote.
Which was not close. The tally was 17-0 to terminate the MOU and fire FORC.
Unanimous. No plausible case could be made that there was another side to the story. No one from HHWNC voted for FORC to remain in Runyon Canyon.
An unequivocal message had been sent to Councilmember David Ryu, in whose District 4 Runyon Canyon is situated. We the people of the HHWNC want the City’s MOU with FORC to be terminated.
A couple of days later, Ryu released a statement through a spokesperson: “The Councilmember believes that the MOU should not be terminated at this time.” His spokesperson wished to stress the “at this time” part.
“At this time,” the majority of constituents in CD4 will not support the re-election of David Ryu if he doesn’t comprehensively clean up the mess in Runyon Canyon. Let’s remember, Ryu initially provided “positive support” for FORC’s basketball court. Although he responded appropriately to an emergency meeting of the HHWNC and a lawsuit by asking RAP to halt construction, Ryu has never withdrawn his support of FORC, offering, instead, praise for their ineptitude. He’s never suggested FORC should face any consequences for their misdeeds, including a serious ethics violation by founding member Joshua Kopel that could lead to criminal charges. He’s turned his back on the voters from HHWNC who helped put him in office, making a mockery of the Neighborhood Council process. That’s usually not a good move if you wish to have a long career in politics.
Maybe David Ryu, a first-term Councilmember who campaigned as an “outsider” immune from the corruption of City Hall insiders, is a once-in-a-generation wise man who has insight far better than the collective wisdom of his constituents.
Or maybe he doesn’t fully understand what an elected leader is supposed to do. That would be “represent the will of those he represents.”
Anastasia Mann, President of the HHWNC, said, “I am disappointed that David has not yet vetted the position taken by the board on behalf of the stakeholders, but I understand his reasoning. I feel our city reps should take our positions VERY seriously.”
Ryu’s campaign pledges to honor transparency and maintain the integrity of the Neighborhood Council system are in jeopardy. Sources tell us he’s about to capitulate to developers on the hotly contested 8150 Sunset project, which the HHWNC has also strongly opposed.
Since his press liaison did not reply to written questions, we can only speculate why Councilmember David Ryu wants the MOU with FORC to remain in place when his most important advisors – the HHWNC board representing CD4 stakeholders – have told him unequivocally that FORC has got to go.
That David Ryu would behave in ways that damage his reputation and invite rampant speculation suggests that there must be a pretty big carrot buried somewhere with his name on it. Why else would he risk enraging voters and ruining his future?
The short answer is that this is merely Business As Usual in a rigged political system, where wealthy benefactors call the shots. All the letter-writing, all the meeting-attending, all the public hearings – the process is reduced to a sordid charade when the decision isn’t really made by “the people” but by influence-peddlers. The HHWNC has no credibility as an advisory body when 17-0 votes are ignored. Why should the public bother participating in local government when the end result has nothing to do with them?
FORC’s co-founder and first President, John Gile, is a “professional fundraiser” or “bundler,” or, depending on your view of how democracy ought to function, a “fully legal money launderer.” His job is to bring large donations – no strings attached, of course – to his clients, who include Hillary Clinton, Mayor Eric Garcetti, and CD13 Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, chair of the Parks committee – which oversees the Department of Recreation and Parks (RAP). The General Manager of RAP, Michael A. Shull, was appointed by Garcetti. Shull and RAP blithely gave approval for the notorious basketball project — shepherded by John Gile and FORC’s current President Don Andres — before a citizens’ lawsuit changed their mind.
Shull and RAP also decided to “reimburse” the basketball court’s opportunistic donor, even though documents presented at a public hearing showed that claimed work wasn’t done, the financial figures didn’t add up and the City wasn’t contractually obligated to pay anything. This abdication of fiduciary responsibility no longer garners much attention; it’s understood that the citizens aren’t really involved in making money decisions anyway.
Now, whether or not you think the Democratic National Committee is a quasi-legal mafia or a quasi-criminal mafia, we can all agree that it’s a kind of mafia, where made members are protected and unwanted interlopers, like Bernie Sanders, are institutionally opposed. The DNC’s true colors were exposed by Wikileaks this summer. They’re not an honest organization, to put it kindly. They rigged the primary in favor of a serial liar – as proven by the FBI, no less – whose Clinton Family Foundation does on a wholesale level what John Gile does at retail: collect “donations” in exchange for favorable treatment. And when a corrupt phony like Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is forced to resign, she’s promptly offered another nice job.
David Ryu (along with Garcetti and the rest of the Los Angeles establishment) is an ardent Clinton backer; how that jibes with a concern for “transparency” only he can say. This much is clear: in the case of terminating FORC, someone other than the voters of CD4 guide his decision making.
In the coming weeks, you’ll probably hear a lot of credible-sounding assertions from Ryu and his cronies claiming that so-called “Friends” groups are a vital fund-raising tool for a cash-strapped City. Actually, these groups are also a convenient way for City officials to abdicate their management responsibilities, outsourcing work that they’re supposed to be doing themselves – like managing our parks. In the case of FORC, the group has cost the City more than it’s raised, and their dedication to “transparency” – there’s that word again – is questionable at best. This additional layer of fogginess seems to comfort our politicians. Numerous CPRA (public records) requests have gone unanswered; numerous documents relating to FORC’s notorious demolition and construction that ought to be on file are missing. They “forgot” to inform the HHWNC about their basketball court.
Yet, if you’re a politician, there’s something useful in having a “Friends” group to handle donations: You don’t have to beg rich people for money, you have friends do it for you.
You’ll also probably be hearing about FORC’s alleged assistance in raising funds for a major land purchase near Runyon Canyon, the “knoll” at 2450 Solar Drive. This acquisition would have minor impact on park visitors, but it would have a major impact on preserving the view of Ms. Julie Anderson, a founding member of FORC. After reviewing hundreds of documents – which include multiple bankruptcies and several acts of mortgage fraud – we’re of the opinion that the City is attempting to buy land it already owns from someone who doesn’t really have the right to sell it. In other words, a complete boondoggle dressed up as an act of preservation, with suspicious connections between the Trust for Public Land, former CD4 Councilmember Tom LaBonge, and his chief-of-staff Carolyn Ramsay (who lost to Ryu in the race to replace her document-shredding boss). More details on this dirty deal will come to light soon.
In the meantime, everything’s working the way it was designed to work. The developers are getting “spot” zoning exemptions and private meetings with elected officials while the general public waits hours to speak for two minutes to those same elected officials looking at their phone. On September 18, Mayor Eric Garcetti is hosting a legal bribery event disguised as a concert – tickets $150-$2,700 — in which he and County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl are the featured entertainment. (This is not a joke). The proceeds go to the Hillary Victory Fund.
Lubricated by the constant flow of money, our pay-to-play system is functioning perfectly. Unfortunately for everyone who cares about the future of Runyon Canyon — and Hollywood, and the City of Los Angeles — FORC and David Ryu seem to be comrades on the same team captained by Eric Garcetti, who stands for re-election in 2017.
He’s already raised $2.2 million, with help from the ex-President of FORC.