City Controller Laura Chick is absolutely correct when she insists on the power to examine the performance of other elected officials.
Granted, I’m a former member of the Chick team. She appointed me to a five- year term on the Ethics Commission, which I finished earlier this year. Her instructions to me were along the lines of raise hell, kick ass or something like that. I don’t remember the exact words, but you get the idea.
That’s what city hall needs and that’s why Chick should be applauded for insisting that she has the power to inspect how City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo’s office has handled city employee worker compensation claims. Delgadillo replied that Chick didn’t have the authority to audit the performance of his workers. Chick fired back by issuing subpoenas to six of them. He sued Chick.
The dispute is now in the hands of the City Council, which clearly doesn’t want to give Chick the power. It delayed a decision on her request for $100,000 to hire a lawyer who would defend her against the Delgadillo suit.
The last thing the council or the other elected officials want is an independent controller examining how they do their jobs. They don’t want anyone independent in city hall. When I was on the ethics commission, the council consistently dumped our initiatives. It’s the same with anyone in city government who violates the spoken and unspoken rules of the city hall establishment.
The city attorney is an important part of that establishment. The council uses the city attorney to stop any rebelliousness. “No,” is the motto of that office. It’s always been that way. When the ethics commission was formed almost two decades ago, the council refused to give it a lawyer of its own, preferring the naysayers in the city attorney’s office to be available at all times to keep the commissioners in line.
Chick has the authority. In an e-mail to her supporters, she cited a City Charter section that clearly says that the controller is empowered authorized to conduct performance audits of all departments.
Chick has used that power effectively to reveal failures at the harbor, the airport, water and power and other important city departments. That’s her job and the council should let her do it.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will have much of the responsibility for carrying out President-elect Barack Obama’s economic recovery plan in Los Angeles and even beyond the city limits.
To make this happen, Villaraigosa will have to hammer the bureaucracy, keeping his focus on fast tracking projects that will put people to work quickly. The buck stops with him. He can’t be distracted by fools’ errands, such as when his mouthpiece of a school board president recently dashed down a Union Station platform on a failed mission to pull a board member off the San Diego train for a vote against the school superintendent. A great scene for an old movie but not for the mayor of a city in trouble.
The aid funds will be funneled through state houses, county buildings and city halls around the country. Congress will appropriate the money. But the actual spending will be in the hands of local politicians. Villaraigosa is the most powerful and the best-known local pol around here, not only in the city of Los Angeles but in the region. For example, he sits on the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and appoints four of its members. The MTA will be a prime spender of Obama recovery funds for projects such as the Wilshire Subway, the Gold Line and the Exposition Line.
This week, Villaraigosa was in Washington where, according to the Wall Street Journal, he would ask that aid funds be distributed directly to the cities, rather than going through state governments.
Last week, I went to city hall to talk to two people who will have much to say about spending money for transit, local highways and streets. One was Jaime de la Vega, the deputy mayor for transportation. The other was Richard Katz, a transportation consultant and veteran politician who is advising the mayor.
They said a lot of street and highway projects were ready to go, putting people to work as soon as the money arrives. But I could see that Villaraigosa’s biggest job will be to speed up local bureaucrats who favor a safe, go slow approach to big public works, following the tried and true rule of city hall—that saying no never gets you in trouble.
For example, the MTA said it will take 18 to 24 months to do an environmental impact report before digging the subway to Westwood. I was amazed. Developers can get an EIR done overnight if money is on the line. It wouldn’t take Çasden 24 months. Katz and de la Vega indicated the new money would be put on a fast track, “We’re trying to create an attitude shift in the MTA,” Katz said. The mayor is the only one with enough clout to do that.
There’s also a job here for the news media, monitoring all the contracts, digging up slowdowns, rip offs and screw-ups. That will take a few reporters. Too bad this comes as Sam Zell was taking the Times and the rest of the Tribune company into bankruptcy court.
Here’s a way city hall can strong arm the Dodgers into paying at least part of the cost of providing public transportation to the stadium during baseball season.
The free tram to Dodger Stadium proved very popular during a test run during the last portion of the season. Councilman Bill Rosendahl told the Times' Steve Hymon that city officials claim it would cost $350,000 to run the tram during the 2009 season. As Hymon put it, “ Rosendahl was ticked because the Dodgers wouldn't pick up any of the cost this year, saying that baseball teams shouldn't have to pay for mass transit. That's government's job, the team said. ‘The city isn't going to pay for it if I have my way’, Rosendahl said.”
This is the same Dodger team that raised the prices for parking in its huge stadium lot to $15. It is the team that is charging $90 a ticket for prime seating at its new spring training stadium in Arizona.
City hall has a lot going for it in this dispute. The Dodgers need the council and the mayor to vote for the environmental impact report and possibly other permits required for the fancy mall and new entrance planned for the stadium.
More important, the Dodgers really need city hall for the big zoning and other regulatory changes required if Frank and Jamie McCourt, the team’s owners, ever go ahead with a big residential and commercial development on the fringes of the 300 acres of Chavez Ravine that the team owns. McCourt always downplays his interest in such a development, but he’s a real estate guy. And from where I sit in the stadium, looking over the parking lot, I can just visualize where the condos, stores, restaurants, bars and clubs would go. They’d call it Dodger City or Stadium Heights and it would be huge money making development when the recession ends and building resumes. And the new residents could use a tram to get downtown.
City hall folks are entertained well by the Dodgers. Council members hang out in the McCourt luxury box. The mayor is welcomed in the McCourts’ front-row seats. During one of those baseball interludes, the mayor and the council members should tell the McCourts: “You want that zoning? You want the EIR approved? Then put some money in for the tram.”
Everyone else in the city has to grease the way, usually with campaign contributions, for big zoning and EIR votes. Let the McCourts grease the way, too.