Bill Boyarsky
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LA Times reporters show the way

bill-300.jpgIn this time of instant news, fake news and superficial tweets, it’s good to recall a couple of recent newspaper stories that are likely to last a while and make a difference.

Last October, Los Angeles Times reporters David Zahniser and Emily Alpert Reyes stuck a knife deep into the Los Angeles city hall collective of politicians and big developer campaign contributors with their story about developer Samuel Leung’s contributions to local politicians and his subsequent winning approval of a 352 unit apartment that needed a city zoning change to be built. In December, Zahniser struck again with his story of major contributor Rick Caruso getting zoning changes for a 20-story building near the Beverly Center. Now with the city preparing for an election on March 7 their journalism could help determine the fate of the most controversial measure on the ballot, Measure S, limiting such developments.

Reyes and Zahniser engaged in shoe-leather reporting in chasing down the more than 100 contributors connected to Leung—relatives, friends, employees and other associates. They gave a total of $600,000 to politicians who could help Leung’s development. The reporters were suspicious. "I am looking at these donors, and some of them looked odd to me. They’re folks who are working class and yet giving quite a big (amount) of money. As we kept knocking on doors, my colleague Emily Alpert Reyes and I, we found some of them who said they don’t remember giving, or they denied giving,” Zahniser told KPCC.

In December, Zahniser wrote about how Caruso, developer of The Grove and other big projects, along with employees and family members, have donated more than $476,000 to city officials and their causes, including Mayor Eric Garcetti and city council members. They backed rezoning the property near the Beverly Center for a 20-story building. After neighborhood protests and Zahniser’s story, Caruso agreed to reduce the size of his building by almost 25 percent.

His contributions, he said, don’t matter. “I’ve never believed for one minute that any contributions I’ve given has changed the opinion of any elected official,” Caruso told Zahniser.

Measure S is directed against big projects and their contributor developers. It would impose a two-year moratorium on construction that increases density and ban the general plan zoning changes that have made the Leung and Caruso projects possible.
The reporting by Zahniser and Reyes elevated the issue to the front page, up from the ranks of boring neighborhood-zoning beefs. Now it’s the subject of a major citywide debate. That’s what the media should do with city hall news. As the media flounders, these kinds of stories show a way for it to survive and even prosper.



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