Tag Archives: Eric Garcetti

Stockton Syndrome: The Irresistible Rise of L.A.’s Budget Czar

By Gary Cohn

For days before Thanksgiving, 2009, Santa Ana winds had been blowing up ash and dust from the massive Station Fire that recently burned north of Los Angeles. The scorching, high-pressure weather system seemed a suitable climate for L.A.’s financial meltdown as the city entered the third year of America’s recessionary slump. Inside City Hall on that Wednesday before the holiday, government representatives and members of the news media listened to the testimony of a man who was on his way to becoming one of Los Angeles’ most powerful figures. He was only 40, held no elective office and had started his job as the City Administrative Officer just three months before.

Yet on this Thanksgiving eve Miguel Santana held the rapt attention of the City Council and journalists as he delivered shocking news: Los Angeles faced an imminent shortfall of $98 million and, based on his projections, the city could be burdened by a $1 billion debt by 2013.

One billion dollars. The city had two choices, it seemed: It could try to maintain its current level of services and die a slow, painful death, or it could submit to radical surgery and stay afloat; Miguel Santana would be the surgeon.  

The announcement jolted city government, which had no experience in managing such an economic calamity, into accepting remedies that Santana, who is the city’s top budget officer, would soon propose – remedies that resulted in draconian austerity measures, the dismissal of about 5,000 city workers and renegotiation of employee pension and medical benefits.

In the following four years Santana would deliver more doomsday predictions: that bankruptcy lurked around the corner; that approval of a ballot measure to inject money into the city’s libraries would blow open a $6 million budget hole, and that the city would lose 500 police officers unless voters passed a regressive sales tax.  A 2012 report by Santana scolded the City Council for relying on one-time budget fixes and warned that ignoring his proposals could send Los Angeles down the same road as Stockton. By invoking the name of that bankrupt San Joaquin Valley city, Santana helped spread a fear of insolvency in City Hall. Yet despite Santana’s warning of bankruptcy, last April Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa proposed a budget for Fiscal Year 2013-2014 that included a one-time surplus of $119 million. While some of that surplus would rely on additional pay and benefit reductions for city workers, even without such cuts the city would have a projected surplus of close to $100 million.

Throughout his tenure, though, few in City Hall or in the media have questioned the veracity of Santana’s predictions or, for that matter, Santana’s competency. After four years Santana’s reputation as a straight-talking technocrat remains intact. He may very well, in fact, be reappointed by incoming Mayor Eric Garcetti to his current position, from which he has consistently portrayed Los Angeles’ future in the bleakest terms imaginable.

Veteran City Hall observers say Santana has injected politics and his personal ideology into the CAO’s office, acting more as an antagonist than a neutral fact-finder on progressive ordinances involving banking transparency and waste-hauling reform – all the while doggedly exaggerating L.A.’s financial problems. Rather than serving as an objective presenter of facts to the Mayor and City Council, they say, Santana has pushed hard for solutions predicated on slashing city services and privatizing city functions.

“From the beginning of the financial crisis, he’s adopted a posture of instilling panic into elected officials,” says one City Hall insider who, like several sources interviewed for this article, requested anonymity. “He doesn’t respect the city or its officials enough to tell the truth. It’s a game of brinkmanship – ‘My way or bankruptcy.’ He’s done damage to the city by beating the bankruptcy drum instead of looking for rational solutions.”

Santana’s supporters deny these charges and say that he has done a good job during extremely difficult economic times.

“I’ve watched this poor guy get beat up,” says Keith Comrie, who served as CAO from 1979 to 1999. “You don’t go through the worst recession without huge problems.”

Perhaps most important, Santana also appears to have the support of City Council president Herb Wesson, who has said that he would fight any efforts to remove Santana. The Council has the authority to override any move by the Mayor to replace the CAO.

The City Administrative Officer is appointed by the Mayor, and reports to both the Mayor and City Council. The position has been filled in the past by influential and respected officials, including Comrie, C. Erwin Piper and Bill Fujioka, L.A. County’s current Chief Executive Officer. For the system to work, the CAO must present the facts of the city’s financial picture in an impartial manner, so the Mayor and the Council can make informed decisions.

“People have to believe in the CAO’s numbers,” says Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State University. Sonenshein, who has served as executive director of the Los Angeles Charter Reform Commission, says the office of the CAO is little known to the general public but crucial to the efficient working of city government. “I think it’s quite important,” he says. “Hopefully, [he] brings professionalism and analytical skills to City Hall.”

Critics, including many in the labor movement and others inside City Hall, say that Santana’s job performance has been lacking, and they urge an open debate about whether he should continue in the job. Specific allegations include:

   Inaccurate Financial Projections – When trying to sell Measure A, the proposed half-cent sales tax increase, Santana earlier this year released a report titled “City at the Crossroads,” in which Santana appeared to overstate the consequences of not passing the measure. He said cuts to public safety would be “unavoidable,” warning of the loss of 500 police officers as well as cuts in park hours and closure of swimming pools. He also said the city faced a budget shortfall of almost $220 million and that the sales tax hike would erase the majority of it. In February, less than a month before the crucial vote, a former budget advisor to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told the Los Angeles Times that Santana’s warnings were exaggerated. “If we’re making an argument that failure to pass a tax increase will result in drastic cuts, then the numbers the city uses had better be accurate,” said Matt Szabo, during his unsuccessful campaign for Eric Garcetti’s Council seat. “And I don’t think they are. The question people need to ask is, is [the shortfall] being overstated for the purpose of passing the sales tax?” The day after Measure A failed, Santana clarified that the actual deficit was only around $108 million –  and that it was unlikely the city would lay off any police officers. Critics say that Santana intentionally exaggerated the proposed deficit for the purpose of trying to pass the sales tax increase, an inappropriate use of the CAO’s office.

   Failure to provide accurate financial information to the Mayor and City Council – Critics say that before the Mayor submitted his 2013 budget, Santana knew of, but failed to report nearly $49 million in additional revenue to the city. The majority of this amount, $31.4 million, came from increased property tax revenues due to the statewide Community Redevelopment Agency dissolution, and was based on recent estimates from the state Department of Finance. Santana’s opponents say he should have known this windfall was coming, if not its exact amount. They claim he could have made an accurate projection by talking to state finance officials and reporting that to the Mayor’s office.

   Inaccurate reporting of federal economic stimulus data to the City CouncilAn audit by the city controller’s office, dated April 11, 2013 found that Santana’s office delivered inaccurate data to the City Council relating to federal economic stimulus grants to the city’s bureaus of Sanitation and Street Services, and the Department of Transportation, with a systematic underreporting of costs. Among other things, the audit shows a failure to source appropriate documents and an inability to uniformly manage communication within departments. “Especially during this time of staffing and budget challenges,” the audit states, “the City cannot afford to compromise ARRA [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] grant funds that have the potential to provide significant benefit to our local economy.”

    Failure to aggressively pursue new revenue opportunities – Santana’s detractors claim he has also failed to aggressively pursue new sources of revenue, including millions of dollars in potential revenue identified by the Commission on Revenue Efficiency. One CORE report found that the city loses an additional $21 to $25 million a year in revenue because rogue parking operators who collect the money from customers fail to turn it over to the city. Critics say Santana has failed to move quickly enough to collect an estimated $60 to $80 million owed to the city that is collectable and has ignored calls to centralize the collections process.

In an interview with Frying Pan News, Santana vigorously defended his job performance.

“We didn’t know about it at the time because it’s a very unpredictable and uncertain process,” he said of the windfall resulting from the CRA’s dissolution. Among other things, he said he has provided accurate financial information, analyses and recommendations to the Mayor, the City Council and the public.

“The city has gone through this traumatic period,” he said. “We were in a very dangerous place four years ago and we’ve made slow and steady progress. There’s no exaggeration – the facts are what they are.”

Talking about his support for the controversial sales tax hike, Santana said, “Had Measure A passed, the structural deficit would have been eliminated and we’d be talking about restoring services in a significant way.”

Referring to himself and his staff, he said, “We feel very proud of the work we’ve done.”

In addition to the criticism of Santana’s projections, he has faced scrutiny over his role in labor negotiations and his difficult relationship with union leaders. While it’s not unusual for CAOs to have a rocky rapport with labor, Santana’s dealings with union leaders seem exceptionally contentious. During the Mayor’s race union officials pushed the candidates to state whether they would retain Santana if elected. None of the candidates, including Eric Garcetti, declared at the time that they would choose a new CAO.

City Hall sources say that questions have been raised about Santana’s effectiveness. In early 2011, with labor talks stalled, responsibility for the negotiations were quietly transferred to officials in the Mayor’s offices and then council president Garcetti’s office, according to one insider. An agreement was reached with labor in March 2011 that called for thousands of city workers to increase their health-care and pension contributions in exchange for an end to furloughs caused by the financial crisis.

Santana acknowledges that he has had an up-and-down relationship with labor.

“Overall, my relationship with labor is that what normally exists between management and labor . . . There’s always moments in time when each side is not happy with each other.”

Beyond his contested financial projections and controversial relationship with labor, Santana has also come under fire for his aggressive efforts to privatize government operations. Typically in such scenarios, government gives control of public functions and services to a private company. A city or state pays a private company to perform public services. Supporters of privatization claim that private companies can be more efficient. Opponents say there is no evidence of this and that there are serious risks involved.

Privatization means giving up important controls and safeguards, as well as transparency over public functions. Also, once the service is privatized, the public loses its ability to examine crucial information relating to that service – and is shut out of the decision-making process. There are numerous documented examples in which privatization has resulted in diminished services, cost increases, reduced access to services and inadequate safeguards against corruption.

Santana says he believes that certain city services and functions – particularly the zoo, Convention Center and ambulance billing and collection – can best be performed by the private sector:

“If you look at what’s most successful, in terms of zoos, 80 percent are run by private foundations . . . The three most successful [convention centers] are privately managed.”

“It’s not a wholesale agenda to privatize government,” he says of his economic strategy for L.A.  “I’m the biggest believer in government. My whole career has been in public service and government. I believe government has a big role to play. I also understand we have limitations.” He said that privatizing selected operations such as the zoo and Convention Center would better allow city government to focus on its core services, including public safety, libraries and quality of life services.

Steve Koffroth, a business representative for Council 36 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), is critical of Santana’s privatization proposals.

“His efforts to contract out shows he is willing to sacrifice protection of public services for profit,” says Koffroth. AFSCME Council 36 represents public sector workers in Southern California – many of whom in the city of Los Angeles have been directly affected by Santana’s positions.

As the new Mayor prepares to take office, one of his key decisions is whether to re-appoint Santana as the city’s top budget official.

“I report to both the Mayor and the City Council,” Santana said. “Part of my job is to raise issues and make recommendations that are often difficult for them to confront. Some people may criticize the messenger in that process. At the end of the day, I’m not the one that makes the final decisions.”

AFSCME’s Steve Koffroth remains unconvinced that incumbency should be its own reward.

“The question in my mind about keeping Santana in that position,” Koffroth says, “is whether he is really there to serve the public good.”

(Gary Cohn writes for Frying Pan News.)

Twenty-Five Ideas for Mayor Garcetti

The following article, written by Occidental College Professor Peter Dreier, is part of a series called Next L.A. from Frying Pan News:

Eric Garcetti has enormous potential to be one of L.A.’s great mayors. He is young (just 42), full of energy, experienced in politics and government, passionate about L.A., brimming with policy ideas, compassionate toward the disadvantaged and a great communicator and explainer. I saw many of these traits up-close when I co-taught a course with him at Occidental College in 2000, and have watched him blossom as he joined the City Council and served as its president.

Now he faces the daunting challenges of running America’s second-biggest, and most diverse, city.

No mayor can succeed unless he or she attends to the routine civic housekeeping tasks that residents expect from municipal governments – fix the potholes, keep traffic flowing, maintain public safety, keep the parks and playgrounds clean and in good repair.

But Garcetti didn’t run for mayor just to be a caretaker. He promised more. He can build on some of the successes of his predecessor but also stake out new directions.

Garcetti inherits a city where the divide between the rich and everyone else is widening. It has more millionaires than any other city but is also the nation’s capital of the working poor. Equally important, the condition of the city’s middle class is precarious as the prices of basic things like housing, health care, food and gas increase faster than incomes.

Despite several years of declining housing prices, the city still has a huge shortage of homes that most L.A. workers and residents can afford. This undermines the city’s business climate. L.A. is a city of renters (over 60% of the population) and most of them are paying more than they can afford just to keep a roof over their heads. If families are paying half or even two-thirds of their incomes in rent, as many are, they have little left to spend at neighborhood businesses and for other basic necessities. And they are constantly at risk of losing their homes. So, not surprisingly, L.A. is the nation’s homelessness capital.

Moreover, the nation’s epidemic of foreclosed and “underwater” homes (where the mortgage exceeds the value of the home) has damaged Los Angeles in several ways.  Even if home prices rise, as they are doing now, many families are hurting, victims of banks that engaged in risky, reckless predatory lending.  But these banks have not been held accountable for bursting the housing bubble, which led to plummeting home prices and a huge loss in property tax revenues. This – and not the pay and pensions for municipal employees – is the major cause of the city’s fiscal problems.

Los Angeles outgrew its suburban roots years ago when the freeways became parking lots. Now Los Angeles needs to grow up around transit stops. Making public transit a real possibility for people trapped in their cars means both building up Los Angeles’ bus and rail system and building up the areas within walking distance of that system.

In recent years, traffic flows have improved, and new rapid bus routes are in place. The city is now in the early stages of a large-scale expansion of public transportation, which will be the largest land-use change in the city since the build-out of the freeway system. Garcetti’s job will be to help manage land-use policies around that expansion so that they create livable, walkable neighborhoods and maximize use of the transit system, thereby reducing traffic congestion, pollution and harmful gas emissions. Such goals require that working families and core transit riders be able to live around the transit stops and do not get displaced or shut out of those areas by rising rents and home prices.

The success of Measure R in 2008, the “30-10” plan to accelerate implementation of our transit revolution and the 66 percent “yes” vote on Measure J in 2012 (just short of the two-third needed for passage) demonstrate that Los Angeles voters are ready to invest in a transportation transformation. Garcetti should build on this voter trust – and on the partnership between elected officials and labor, business, environmental and community groups – to expand our transit system into one that is robust, environmentally sustainable and financially sound, and that contributes to economic prosperity.

No mayor of a city of more than 4 million people – balkanized by a City Council comprised of 15 powerful fiefdoms and a separate school board – can please everyone. As a member of the City Council, Garcetti had a mostly good relationship with L.A.’s business community, labor unions and neighborhood groups. As mayor, he will be called upon to make some tough choices about raising revenues, spending money and setting rules.

Traditionally, city officials have allowed private investors and developers to dictate the terms of economic development and growth. Business lobbyists consistently warn that efforts to raise wages, improve the environment and public health, and require corporations to be more socially responsible will scare away private capital, increase unemployment and undermine a city’s tax base. Typically, they are bluffing – or, more bluntly, lying. In the 1990s, for example, the L.A. Chamber of Commerce and the Central City Association warned that passing a “living wage” law would bankrupt the city and kill jobs. They were crying wolf. The city’s living wage law has been so successful that it has been expanded several times.

The lesson here is that Los Angeles can and should promote a progressive “growth with equity” policy agenda that balances private profit and public interest.

One of Garcetti’s key tasks is to educate L.A. residents about what city government can and can’t do. No city on its own has the all the resources or legal authority needed to address the myriad of problems – poverty, homelessness, crime and underfunded schools,  traffic congestion and pollution, accelerating foreclosures and abandoned homes, crumbling infrastructure, widening wage inequality,  and escalating health care and food costs – it must confront.  It needs to forge partnerships with county, state and federal officials to adequately address these issues.

At the same time, cities have much more capacity to bring about change than most people realize. They have lots of levers – zoning, regulations, subsidies, tax breaks – to shape economic, physical and environmental conditions.

Another one of Garcetti’s most important tasks will be to persuade business groups that a “healthy business climate” is one where economic prosperity is widely shared by working families. This requires business leaders to have a more enlightened view of their responsibility to the broader community.

Garcetti’s supporters will need to have patience. He and the City Council must reach some consensus on the top priorities for the first year, and then consider what can be accomplished in subsequent years. Inevitably, unanticipated events and crises will intervene, but it is important to have a clear roadmap of where he wants to go. This is a time that requires bold initiatives and decisive action.

Here are 25 recommendations to consider:

Good Green Jobs and a Clean Environment

1) Support the full implementation of  the newly adopted Don’t Waste LA plan to promote citywide recycling by business and apartment owners, improve working conditions for garbage and recycling workers, and improve public health by eliminating polluting sanitation trucks. Getting the city to zero waste could also create thousands of living wage jobs.

2) Expand the Department of Water and Power’s goal of reducing energy consumption from 10% to 15% by 2020. That’s like taking more than 50,000 cars off the road. It now gets 40% of its energy from coal-fired plants that pollute our air and contribute to climate change. The DWP has pledged to eliminate coal from its energy mix by 2025 and replace it with cleaner energy sources, including renewable power like solar and wind. Energy efficiency should be part of the new energy mix, as it is the cheapest alternative to dirty energy sources, keeps customer bills low, creates local jobs and helps L.A. adapt to climate change by making homes and businesses more comfortable. The new mayor and City Council should push the DWP to expand programs and help tens of thousands of small businesses, schools and struggling families reduce energy and  water consumption by installing energy-efficient lighting, faucet aerators, attic insulation and the like. This not only greens our neighborhoods. If done right, it can provide middle-class union jobs for L.A.’s unemployed who are being trained to retrofit buildings.

3) Use the city’s land use powers to encourage clean manufacturing jobs centered in green industrial parks and to promote new grocery stores in underserved “food deserts” where residents lack access to affordable and health food.

4) Continue greening the ports and the regional goods movement system – an enormous resource that provides hundreds of thousands of jobs and can do so with clean technology. There are plans for clean freight. We need to create an investment program to build it. Garcetti should support the ongoing efforts to improve the brutal conditions faced by the Port’s 10,000 truck drivers, most of whom are misclassified as independent contractors.

5)  Push for final passage of the city’s ban on plastic bags, which pollute our streets, parks and beaches and cost a small fortune in tax dollars to clean up.

Living Wage Employment

6) Support a $15 living wage for the city’s hotel workers.  Tourism is one of L.A.’s biggest industries, occupancy rates are very high and hotels are making big profits. Even so, many of them pay poverty-level wages. Moreover, hotels can’t threaten to move to Arizona, Mexico or Asia. The wage boost would increase workers’ pay by $71 million, most of which would be spent in the local economy and create more jobs.

7) Create a task force to consider adopting a citywide minimum wage for all workers, like the ones in San Francisco and several other cities.

8.) Continue and expand L.A.’s pioneering workforce investment and job training programs, including the path-breaking Construction Careers model, to provide young people with the skills they need to secure good jobs. Build the partnership with the community college system as a key link in the job training system.

9) Take a strong stand against Walmart’s efforts to bring its low-wage jobs to Los Angeles. The retail giant’s attempts to open grocery stores in Chinatown and elsewhere threaten the vitality of the city’s unionized supermarket chains, one of the last remaining sources of decent blue-collar jobs.

Affordable Housing and Economic Development

10) Champion, protect and increase the supply of affordable housing, especially in neighborhoods with strong transit service. Increase density and reduce parking requirements around transit stops, but only once there is a clear way to ensure that existing affordable homes are protected and new ones are built. Start to “land bank” property near transit stations to ensure there is land priced reasonably enough to make affordable housing feasible in the “hot” transit-adjacent market. Require that private developers who take advantage of increased density or reduced parking around transit stations include more affordable homes in the development than they tear down or convert.

11) Enact a desperately needed housing demolition/conversion ordinance to protect rent-regulated units from demolition and condo conversion, particularly as the market heats up and developers trigger another wave of speculation and gentrification. This is particularly important in order to protect affordable rental housing near transit stations.

12) Help break the logjam on an inclusionary mixed-income housing ordinance by advocating for state legislation to give cities the clear authority to adopt inclusionary housing.

13) Champion SB1, the Sustainable Communities bill sponsored by Senator Darrell Steinberg, which would give cities new tools to create revitalize neighborhoods with affordable housing and good jobs without triggering gentrification and displacement. He can help build a coalition of labor, business, environmentalists and community activists to support the legislation and lead the way in inventing a new generation of bottom-up community development.  At the same time, the mayor should work with local housing advocates to create a permanent funding source for affordable housing in the city and county. To make sure this is a top priority, he should appoint a Deputy Mayor to coordinate the many city agencies involved in housing.

14) Make a firm commitment to oppose and stop any effort to weaken or eliminate rent control or housing code enforcement. In a city where more than half of all residents live in rental housing, the administration needs to quickly investigate complaints of rent-control violations and ensure strict landlord compliance.  This will require much better outreach to tenants so they know their rights.

Public Transportation

15) Become a national leader in advocating for a federal transportation policy that turns transit investments into a win-win for cities across the country. L.A. has created the model, with the adoption of the Construction Careers policy and the U.S. Employment Plan, to make sure that public funds used to purchase buses and trains create good jobs for those who need them most. By working with business, labor, environmentalists and other transit advocates, along with the new Secretary of Transportation and L.A.’s Congressional delegation, Garcetti can urge Congress to put more resources into the America Fast Forward program, which will improve public transit, create good jobs and improve the environment in cities around the country, and provide LA Metro with the financing needed to build the 30-year transit program in 10 years.

16) Help L.A. dream big again, as it did in 2008, and begin planning what we could accomplish with another countywide ballot measure in 2016 to fund completion of the transit system. This includes extending the Crenshaw Line to Wilshire Boulevard and connecting it with a new line from Hollywood and Highland, forming a continuous system from North Hollywood to LAX. It also includes a light rail connection from the San Fernando Valley to LAX, extending the Foothill Gold Line to San Bernardino County and on to Ontario Airport, and extending the Eastside Gold Line to both Whittier and El Monte.  In addition, it would complete the Greenline/Crenshaw connection to LAX and extend the Green Line to Torrance, finalize the West Santa Ana Line from downtown L.A. to Cerritos, connect the San Fernando Valley from Burbank Airport to the San Gabriel Valley and finish the “Subway to the Sea” along Wilshire Boulevard.

17) Collaborate with LA Metro to build out the new strategic plan that’s underway for first mile/last mile bicycle, pedestrian and shuttle improvements.

Budgets, Taxes and Finance

18) In terms of the city budget, raise revenues by closing loopholes like cracking down on city parking lot owners that skim money from the city’s parking tax. Don’t eliminate the business tax. And don’t blame municipal employees for the city’s budget woes.

19) Review and renegotiate the city’s financing deals with Wall Street banks. During the past decade, the city (including the Port of Los Angeles and LAX) got swindled by banks just like many homeowners did. Banks gouged the city with predatory fees and interest rates, increasing the city’s debt load. Debt service and finance costs together now constitute a huge drain on the city’s budget. Last year, for example, the city paid $560 million, or 8.4% of its expenditures, to service its debt. The city should make the banks renegotiate these deals on better terms and thus save money that is now being siphoned off by Wall Street, whose reckless practices crashed the nation’s (and L.A.’s) economy in the first place.

20) Help build a statewide coalition to champion a California constitutional amendment that lowers the local voter threshold to 55% and restores democracy to the voting process. Why should every “no” vote count twice as much as a “yes” vote? Reducing the local voter threshold will enable voters to step up and provide local governments, and school districts, with the revenue that’s needed to make government work for everyone.

21) Work with L.A. County, the United Way and employers to guarantee that every eligible working person in the city gets the Earned Income Tax Credit, a federal program that boosts the income of the working poor but is sadly underused. Expanding enrollment in the EITC would bring tens of millions of dollars into the local economy.


22) Use his bully pulpit to make sure L.A. stops catering to the out-of-state corporations and billionaires, like Walmart and Rupert Murdoch, who want to privatize our public schools, rely on high-stakes testing to evaluate students and teachers, and treat teachers like hired hands rather than professional educators. L.A. has more charter schools than any other big city. A handful of them – like the L.A. Leadership Academy – are innovative and creative. Most of them, however, are educational fast-food franchises. Research shows that most charters are no better and often much worse than public schools in terms of learning outcomes, especially for low-income students and English-language learners. The mayor should use his influence to refocus attention on what’s needed to fix our schools: smaller class sizes, expanded pre-school, more collaborative professional development for teachers and more state funding for public education (California now ranks 47th in per-student funding).

Health Care

23) Work with L.A. County to make sure that eligible residents are enrolled in the new Affordable Care Act so they have access to health care services from local providers, especially community health clinics.

Immigration Reform

24) If Congress passes comprehensive immigration reform, support groups like the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in LA (CHIRLA) to provide aspiring Americans with basic immigration services.

25) Lend his influence to the effort to keep the Koch brothers or Rupert Murdoch from buying the Los Angeles Times and help find a consortium of local civic leaders to purchase the paper and restore local ownership (or stewardship) that cares more about the city than about quarterly earnings.

Finally, Garcetti must recognize that his success as mayor will depend in part on the ability of L.A.’s progressive movement – unions, community organizing groups, environmentalists, public health advocates, community development organizations, enlightened businesses and others – to join forces around a common agenda to catalyze good jobs, livable neighborhoods and a healthy environment. I hope that our new mayor will follow the example of FDR, who told his progressive supporters: “I agree with you. Now go out and make me do it.”

Peter Dreier is the Dr. E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics, and director of the Urban & Environmental Policy Program, at Occidental College. His book, “The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame,” is published by Nation Books.

Garcetti Wins and other Election News

Lorena Gonzalez takes Assembly Seat, Leticia Perez to Senate Runoff

by Brian Leubitz

Eric Garcetti rode his strength in his council district and the surrounding communities, while staying competitive in the Valley, to a victory in yesterday’s Los Angeles Mayoral election:

Three-term City Councilman Eric Garcetti’s relentless campaigning paid off early Wednesday as he decisively won a hard-fought race to become Los Angeles’ next mayor, scoring well with voters across the sprawling city and even challenging rival Wendy Greuel on her home turf in the San Fernando Valley.

Garcetti took 54% of the vote compared with 46% for Greuel in preliminary results, ending speculation that the race was so tight that a winner might not be known for weeks. Some mail-in ballots must still be counted, but they are not expected to significantly change the results.

The gap was a bit wider than most expected, but with light turnout, Garcetti’s base made all the difference. Garcetti becomes the first Jewish Mayor of Los Angeles, and is expected to continue to stress job creation as Mayor.

Meanwhile, Curren Price won a seat on the City Council, so there will be special elections to replace him and Bob Blumenfield after they are sworn into their new gigs. And in the special elections around the state, Lorena Gonzalez cruised to victory in AD-80.

LA Councilmwoman Files Ethic Complaint Against Wendy Greuel, Calls Conduct “Illegal”

Former LA Councilwoman Ruth Galanter filed a formal ethics complaint today against LA City Controller and Mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel, calling the candidate’s reported use of city resources for her campaign “illegal” and an “insult to voters”.

Citing revelations by the Los Cerritos Community News that they had obtained 130 pages of emails showing the Controller using her official city email address to repeatedly communicate with campaign operatives during normal business hours, Galanter filed a complaint with the LA City Ethics Commission saying the number and frequency of the emails showed a clear pattern of deliberate and illegal use of resources.

“Ms. Greuel’s misuse of public resources is an insult to the voters and taxpayers of Los Angeles made even more egregious by the fact that we taxpayers are paying her approximately $200,000 a year, plus a free car and cellphone, to prevent just such misuse”, Galanter said.

Yesterday, the Los Cerritos Community News released all 130 pages they obtained through a FOIA request. Greuel’s office took 90 days to respond to the request, far longer than the 24 days dictated by law, and provided far fewer than the “tens of thousands of documents” Greuel’s office initially claimed were covered in LCCN’s request.

Eric Garcetti’s campaign has yet to respond to the controversy. But Rick Jacobs, founder of a political action committee to support Garcetti, called on a special investigator to release alldocuments from Greuel’s office pertaining to her mayoral campaign. 

“Wendy Greuel wants the voter’s trust to become Mayor of our city, but she’s violated that trust repeatedly by spending taxpayer’s dollars on her campaign,” said Jacobs.

Emails Show Controller Wendy Greuel Campaigning Out Of LA City Hall Offices

LA City Controller Wendy Greuel’s campaign for mayor has come under scrutiny after a Cerritos newspaper published emails showing the Controller soliciting campaign contributions, discussing endorsements and communicating with campaign staff during office hours using her official lacity.org email address, in apparent violation of Los Angeles’ Ethics laws.

In January,  the Los Cerritos Community News sent a public records request to Greuel’s office asking for any emails between Greuel’s office and campaign managers John Shallman and Rose Kapolczynski, as well as emails from  Brian D’Arcy, the head of IBEW Local 18, whose SuperPAC, Working Californians, has spent millions in support of Greuel’s mayoral campaign.

According to LCCN, Greuel’s office initially balked at the records request saying it “was voluminous and encompasses tens of thousands of pages”, but relented after the newspaper sent a letter on April 12th threatening to file a lawsuit.

In the end, LCCN received only 130 pages of material, including dozens of emails sent to and from various campaign staff and contributors using Greuel’s official governmental email address during normal business hours.

Campaign consultants I talked with said such activity violates section 49.5.5b of the LA Municipal Code which states:

“No City official or employee of an agency shall engage in campaign-related activities, such as fundraising, the development of electronic or written materials, or research, for a campaign for any elective office or ballot measure

  1. during the hours for which he or she is receiving pay to engage in City

    business or 
  2. using City facilities, equipment,

    supplies or other City resources.

“The emails confirm that Greuel is running her mayoral campaign out of the Auditor/Contoller’s Office of Los Angeles using taxpayer resources, a clear violation of California state law,” said Brian Hews, President of Hews Media Group, and Publisher of Los Cerritos Community Newspaper. “The emails document in great detail how Wendy Greuel is using one of the most powerful offices in the City of Los Angeles to leverage campaign support, coordinate political events, and garner major endorsements from some of the biggest political forces in Southern California,”

Greuel campaign spokeswoman Laura Wilkinson characterized the email exchanges using Greuel’s governmental email address as “inadvertent”.

“As Controller and as a candidate for Mayor, Wendy Greuel has worked 18-hour days for quite some time. She inadvertently forwarded a few emails when using her personal iPad or iPhone and most of the emails were for scheduling purposes or as an FYI including documents that were scheduled for public release,” Wilkinson said in a written statement.

However, the emails include numerous conversations between a Who’s Who of political players in Los Angeles, Greuel’s campaign staff, campaign contributors and the staff of the Controller’s office discussing everything from scheduling issues to how to handle media relations. And in one case, Greuel may have violated yet another statute prohibiting the sharing of confidential information acquired in the course of her official duties when she forwarded a Preliminary Financial Report her office prepared for fiscal year 2011-2012 to her campaign staff two and a half hours before giving the document to Mayor Villaraigosa, the City Council and the City Clerk.

An investigation from the LA Ethics Commission of these issues will likely take months, stretching well past Election Day. Regardless of their findings the damage may already be done.

During the campaign, Greuel has tried to portray herself as the best candidate to root out “waste, fraud and abuse” in City Hall, and in recent days stepped up her attacks against opponent Eric Garcetti, attempting to tie him to developer Juri Ripinksy, a convicted felon, and also claiming Garcetti had taken “illegal” votes on a Clear Channel billboard settlement. It’s unclear how much traction these claims will have once LCCN’s allegations are more widely known.

A poll released by the LA Times on Sunday showed Garcetti leading Greuel by 10 points.

Los Angeles Mayor: Garcetti takes lead as Greuel goes hard negative

Mayoral Candidate Eric Garcetti at CicLAvia
Candidate Garcetti at CivLAvia. Photo: Marta Evry

For Los Angeles voters, there is light at the end of the tunnel: Only four weeks remain until the city finally elects a new mayor to replace Antonio Villaraigosa. Ballots are hitting mailboxes this week, and the sprint to the finish has begun.

Councilmember and former City Council President Eric Garcetti won the March 5 primary election by a hair over four points over his general election opponent, City Controller Wendy Greuel. The big question at that point was: who would win over the voters of the three major candidates–Jan Perry, Kevin James and Emanuel Pleitez–who didn’t make it? So far, Garcetti seems to be winning that battle: all three of those primary opponents endorsed him, and the latest Los Angeles Times/USC poll shows him with a 10-point lead over his rival as mail ballots drop. The poll indicates that in most cases, Greuel is failing to win over the bases of support she is depending on for victory: Garcetti leads among women, even though Greuel has made gender a key selling point in her campaign. She is effectively tied with Garcetti in the San Fernando Valley, which should be her base. And perhaps most troubling, Greuel actually trails among Republicans by a wide margin, when conventional wisdom early in the race dictated that Greuel would have natural advantages in that constituency against Garcetti, who is widely viewed as a progressive liberal. Instead, the poll indicates that Greuel’s dependence on $3 million in independent expenditure spending from the Department of Water and Power union, IBEW, is damaging her standing with a constituency most observers would have expected her to win.

“That’s an untenable situation for Greuel,” said Dan Schnur, director of the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy/Los Angeles Times City Election Poll.

It most certainly is an untenable position. And Greuel is responding the same way most candidates in an untenable position would respond: throw absolutely everything at the wall, and see if anything sticks.

The rollout of Greuel’s hard negative campaign, however, didn’t appear to go so well. The campaign built a childish attack site against Garcetti that listed essentially every single negative attack the campaign has ever used, but also included some personal attacks, like calling him a “trust fund kid” who has “never had to work a day in his life.” The site was discovered by the media, whereupon the Greuel campaign subsequently password-protected it. Of course, the site might have been a signal for Greuel’s independent expenditure allies to unleash their own negative attacks: WOMEN VOTE!, the political arm of EMILY’s List, has already spent over $80,000 on mailers with negative attacks on Eric that closely parallel the message of the Greuel campaign’s attack site.

Greuel also made a massive television buy last week, spending $700,000 for a positive piece touting her endorsements. But what ran instead during the second half of that buy was a hypocritical negative ad on digital billboards. (Funny side note: all the digital billboards in the ad have actually been deactivated by court order.)

And perhaps most amusingly, Greuel’s camp is also realizing how damaging close affiliation with the unpopular Department of Water and Power can be. A close Greuel ally, former Controller Rick Tuttle, filed an ethics complaint yesterday in advance of last night’s televised debate between the two candidates, alleging that back in 2009, Garcetti postponed an audit of the DWP that might have reflected badly on a ballot measure that both the DWP, Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel were all supporting. The aforementioned Jan Perry, whose committee was responsible for the hearing, has said that the accusation is bogus. Not that it matters to the Greuel camp: the mere filing of the complaint gave Greuel cover to claim during the debate that Garcetti “was under investigation” for ethics violations.

Not that it mattered: NBC-4’s political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe said that Garcetti was the clear winner of last night’s debate because voters want to see specifics about policy, rather than negative attacks. But we can expect the negativity to continue from the Greuel campaign: they’re in full “spaghetti-on-the-wall” mode, desperately hoping that something will stick.

Note: This opinion piece reflects solely the viewpoint of the author, and does not constitute a Calitics.com editorial.

Los Angeles Mayor: Wendy Greuel’s campaign of confusion and chaos

Note: This opinion piece reflects solely the viewpoint of the author, and does not constitute a Calitics.com editorial.

The conclusion of the primary election in Los Angeles has set off a new scramble for endorsements by those left standing, and nowhere is that more true than the runoff for Los Angeles Mayor, which will take place on May 21. This past Tuesday, Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel received the unanimous endorsement of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor for her campaign to replace the termed-out Antonio Villaraigosa. The vote was a foregone conclusion after the Executive Committee voted to recommend the endorsement to the membership with roughly 70% of that vote.

Those who don’t follow every detail of the race, or are perhaps less familiar with Los Angeles politics, might wonder why Greuel would be able to receive such a forceful showing, given the generally prevailing notion that Greuel would perhaps be more moderate, while her opponent, former City Council President and DNC Executive Commmittee member Eric Garcetti, would receive the lion’s share of progressive endorsements in the race. And the simple answer has to do with pensions.

It’s a familiar story to many: when the economy imploded, many local governments got hit with massive budget shortfalls, and Los Angeles was no exception. In order to preserve as many city services as possible, the City Council sought to save money by scaling back future labor costs for city workers. The long and arduous history of these negotiations is beyond the purview of this piece; suffice it to say, however, that the City Council, led by Council President Eric Garcetti, voted unanimously to scale back the retirement age for future city employees hired after July 1 of this year, thus saving about $4 billion over the next few decades. Labor was not happy because they felt that any such restructuring needed to happen through the collective bargaining process; the Council, however, had been advised that because the change did not touch the contracts of current workers, that the Council had the authority to proceed without ratification. Even though the vote was unanimous–with ardent pro-labor Councilmembers like Paul Koretz and Richard Alarcon voting in favor–this move earned Eric Garcetti the enmity of union leadership.

When it came time for the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor to issue its endorsement in the May 21 runoff election, Wendy Greuel was more than happy to take advantage. See, she had the advantage of being City Controller when this all went down, so unlike Eric Garcetti, she didn’t have to vote (though given the fact, as mentioned above, that even Koretz and Alarcon sided with Garcetti, it’s naive to think that the more moderate Greuel would have opposed the vote). While campaigning for the endorsement, Greuel absurdly compared Eric Garcetti to notoriously anti-worker Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (which earned her the ridicule of the Los Angeles Times), and promised that were she to become mayor, she would reopen talks on the pension reform the City Council passed and subject it to collective bargaining.

Greuel told labor exactly what they wanted to hear, and not surprisingly, she got the endorsement. And that’s where things get a little dicey. See, Greuel’s campaign depends on winning over more moderate valley voters, and the voters of Republican Kevin James, who finished third in the primary. And let’s be honest: attacking pension reform while having the DWP union Super PAC spend millions on your behalf in the primary campaign is probably not the way to get that done. The Chamber of Commerce, which had also endorsed Greuel, was none too pleased either, and they called Greuel to account for her positions. And thus started a fast and furious march to the right for Wendy Greuel.

First, she backed away from her commitment to reopen the pension reform to negotiations, telling the Los Angeles Times that she actually supports the changes that the City Council did, even though just a few days beforehand, she had compared the Council’s actions to those of Scott Walker. She also said that instead of renegotiating with labor on the pension reform already done, she just wants to talk with them about how to avoid a lawsuit about those same reforms (though how she expects to accomplish both objectives while conceding nothing is anyone’s guess). It didn’t end up mattering–the Chamber had to cancel a fundraiser it was throwing for her out of lack of interest. But that walkback was just the beginning.

Greuel’s campaign took it a step further: to “clear the air”–and presumably save face with the Chamber of Commerce and conservatives–they released a letter from former Speaker of the Assembly and former Mayoral Candidate Bob Hertzberg, which reads, in part:

Wendy is ready to roll up her sleeves and attack the real problem – our current pension obligations. She wants to explore raising the retirement age for current employees, and scaling employee contributions based on when workers enter the pension system.

Got that? It gets better. Shortly thereafter, the Greuel campaign announced that she had received the backing of conservative Republican former Mayor Richard Riordan, and that were she to win, Riordan would be her first hire in her new administration. Now, for those who are unaware, Mayor Riordan spearheaded a failed campaign to place a measure on the ballot that would have severely rolled back pensions for city workers, and even eliminated the defined benefit system in favor of a defined-contribution 401(k) style retirement system. And sure enough, Riordan told the Daily News–Los Angeles’ more conservative newspaper–that in Greuel’s administration, he will indeed do more of the same:

Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan said Wednesday he has endorsed City Controller Wendy Greuel in the mayor’s race and joined her campaign as an economic advisor on labor and business issues.

Retirement costs will be a focus in the campaign, Riordan said. He said he will try to bring business and labor groups together to work on pension issues.

“Pension and health care,” Riordan said, listing off his agenda. “We’ll talk about a lot of things, including 401(k)s.”

Riordan’s endorsement comes as Greuel builds a strong coalition of support from both labor and union groups. Business groups backing Greuel, like the L.A. Chamber of Commerce, are likely to support having Riordan, a fiscal conservative, on her team.

So, let’s recap: in the span of a few days, Wendy Greuel went from claiming she wants to reopen to negotiation even the most modest, unanimously-voted reform done by the City Council, to announcing that Richard Riordan would head up her policy on dealing with pensions were she to get elected. Do you have whiplash? I do. And I’m not the only one.

Union leaders backed Wendy Greuel because they felt they could trust her. Do they still feel that way now? Ada Briceno of HERE Local 11 said that they would knock on endless doors from Boyle Heights to San Pedro. Will they still, if it means that every single door-knock they make is one step closer to putting a prominent enemy like Richard Riordan in charge of a possible Mayor Greuel’s pension policy?

It’s a question that matters now more than ever, because the chaos in Wendy Greuel’s campaign isn’t just related to the fact that her multiple positions on pension reform make Mitt Romney’s campaign look like a model of intellectual consistency. Just last night, the Greuel campaign suffered a major staff shakeup in the field department:

In a sign of turmoil in Wendy Greuel’s campaign for Los Angeles mayor, her field director and three others resigned this week after an abrupt shift in strategy to turn out supporters in the May runoff against rival Eric Garcetti.

All four of those who quit were veterans of the high-tech operation used in President Obama’s reelection campaign. They specialize in mining data to target likely supporters and persuade them to vote, a crucial task in close, low-turnout elections.

In a statement Friday, Greuel, the city controller, said she was expanding her field team by hiring consultant Sue Burnside, who worked on Greuel’s previous City Council and controller campaigns. She did not mention the departure of the former Obama operatives: field director Stacy Cohen, data director Joe Kavanagh and regional field directors Maya Hutchinson and Marisa Kanof.

Greuel’s new field consultant, Sue Burnside, uses paid canvassers, whereas the model used by the now-resigned former Obama organizers was volunteer-dependent–and apparently, they didn’t have the volunteers they wanted. But as Parke Skelton told the Times, it’s hard to build a citywide field campaign less than two months before the election. Maybe the Greuel campaign is relying on their labor support to pick up the slack. But if she’s really relying on SEIU and AFSCME to knock on that next door to put Richard Riordan back in City Hall, she might need a little more help.

Garcetti, Greuel head to May LA Mayor Runoff

Mailer WarBlumenfield, Bonin win outright Council seats

by Brian Leubitz

The Los Angeles mayoral election went largely to expectations, as Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel won the top two spots and will head for the runoff. In other races, Mike Bonin won his seat outright, as did Asm. Bob Blumenfield. That, of course, means another vacancy in the Assembly and further erosion of the Democratic caucus until the seat can be filled. That being said, it was something of a scattershot night as the results rolled in.

Mike Feuer will face Carmen Trutanich in a run off for the City Attorney job, as Feuer was unable to get to the 50% mark. And unfortunately, Measure A, the sales tax increase for emergency and other critical city services did not pass. LA Democratic Party Chair Eric Bauman had this to say about it:

Unfortunately, the special interests have managed to twist the truth and defeat our efforts to save critically needed emergency and vital city services in Los Angeles.  The Los Angeles County Democratic Party will continue to stand up for Angelenos and fight back the special interests that have time and again impeded progress in Los Angeles.

If you’re in LA, expect to see many more commercials as the Mayoral contest continues in earnest.

Photo credit: flickr user waltarrrrr

LA Votes Today for a new Mayor

Garcetti and Greuel favorites for run-off

by Brian Leubitz

With no clear favorite, Los Angeles looks ready to set up a run off for mayor, and possibly several other elections. As of the most recent LATimes/USC poll, Garcetti and Greuel are deadlocked on the trail of the top two runoff spots:

The survey, taken last Sunday through Wednesday, found Garcetti at 27% and Greuel at a statistically even 25%. Bunched behind the two Democrats were Republican lawyer Kevin James at 15% and Democratic Councilwoman Jan Perry at 14%. Former technology executive Emanuel Pleitez trailed at 5%. (LA Times)

However, numbers on all of the candidates are soft. A sizable chunk (14%) were undecided, and around half of the committed respondents said that they may change their minds before they voted. In other words, nothing is final until the last vote is cast tonight.

With a bevy of open City Council and school board seats up and open, candidates and their volunteers are doing their best to hit every voter.  Anybody have any favorites?

Silly Season Arrives In The Race To Be Los Angeles Mayor

Jan Perry attacks Wendy Greuel for not being an in-utero Democrat,  Greuel attacks Eric Garcetti for making  $1.25 off an oil-lease that’s never been used, Garcetti attacks Greuel for fudging her numbers, Gruel attacks Perry for fudging her personal finances, the lone Republican candidate Kevin James accuses both Garcetti and Greuel for being grave robbers and long-shot candidate Emanuel Pleitez is literally running around like a chicken with his head cut off.

With 4 days to go until the March 5th election, silly season has officially arrived in the race to be Los Angeles’ next mayor.

Although conventional wisdom says it’ll be Garcetti and Greuel in the runoff, the candidate’s behavior this week indicates they think the race may be more of a tossup than is being reported. So with independent expenditures reaching into the stratosphere and voter turnout descending into the basement, candidates are clawing for any advantage they can get.

So far, independent groups and SuperPACs have poured more than $3 million into the LA mayor’s race, $2.5 million of that in support of Wendy Greuel – with the lion’s share coming from Working Californians, a SuperPAC formed by IBEW local 18, the union which represents over 8,000 employees for the Department of Water and Power.

What has all that money bought? TV ads. Lots and lots of TV ads. Including this one, which shows footage of Garcetti singing an off-key version of “White Christmas” while a narrator hits the councilman for staying at “five-star hotels,” having “seven city cars” and for taking “money from neighborhood streets for more personal staff.”

Watch it here:

Pretty funny stuff. Garcetti may have a musical background, but a great singer, not so much. The added mic feedback is an especially nice touch.

And it would be a pretty standard attack ad – except for one thing –  the footage of Garcetti came from a 2011 charity event at the Garden Crest Rehabilitation Center in Silver Lake.

He was singing to Alzheimer’s patients.

Garden Crest is (Pay It Forward Volunteer Band founder) Gary Gamponia’s modelnursing home. The staff cares. The schedule is varied and full. They welcome outsiders, and on this day, even L.A. City Councilman Eric Garcetti pays a visit to take a turn on the keyboards and sing.

Garcetti’s grandparents were musicians, he says, and with his grandmother, “I just remember some of the last ways we ever connected were through music.”…..

A few years back,Gamponia, who has mostly earned a living selling insurance, tried to create a cooperative that would help musicians out and then have them return the favor by performing at community events.

He lent equipment, negotiated deep discounts on instrument repair and drove people to gigs when their cars broke down. But the giving was one-way, he says. Then, around Christmas 2009, he had a simpler notion: Why not just form a band to bring music to the places that could use it most?

He called the office of his councilman, Garcetti, for ideas and got the names of several nursing homes. And he enlisted a ragtag band of old friends and new acquaintances made on Craigslist.

Here’s an excerpt of that performance here, put up by Garden Crest:


So welcome to silly season in the LA Mayor’s race. Where anything can and will be held against a candidate to be used in the court of public opinion – even singing to elderly Alzheimer’s patients at Christmas.