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The Anti-Reform Movement 

As election eve approaches, see who opposes the charter — and why

Wednesday, May 26 1999
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These days it seems that most Angelenos don’t like how their city works. You stumble on this perception in the least likely places. When interviewed recently on the future of Los Angeles, for instance, some Chicano-studies academics said they saw the city splitting, others saw it staying together. Some said they saw one Latino politician as becoming our next mayor, some saw another as governor. But they all agreed on just one thing: Right now, the city doesn’t function well.

Now, is this a surprise? When did you last hear someone brag about how fast he got his building permit? Or zoning appeal? Or about how clean her street was? The processes may still work, on the whole, much the same way they did in the years of Sam Yorty. But more people feel they deserve more from the city than they’re receiving. This millennial discontent translates into a consensus that things just ought to be better.

So who, you ask yourself, believes the contrary? Who really loves Things as They Are, here in the City of Angels? Probably, not you. Me neither. But if the champions of the status quo aren’t numerous, they’re vocal. They consist largely of those who share responsibility for the way the city now works. Including some union leaders and . . . guess what? The majority of the Los Angeles City Council.

That’s the ostensible reason why members of this faction now oppose the new city charter, whose creation they were promoting for the past two years. That was then. Now that the bets are all finally down and a new charter is set for the ballot two weeks hence, the All-Star Urban Inside Baseball League is getting icy feet about it.

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It’s one thing to promote charter reform — that’s one big PSA, like Easter Seals Week. But it’s another to have to endure real changes in governance. Hey, that switches the way we do things. We’ll have to learn new rules and routines, and can’t get away with a lot of stuff. You’re asking way too much, charter commissioners!

Some of the brighter council opponents of the new charter argue that, left to their own devices, the council would find the time to do it all themselves. Trust them: Given just a few years, of their own free will, the very same people (or their successors) who oppose the charter now would painlessly implement, decade upon decade, ballot initiative by ballot initiative, every worthy reform this charter wants to force, all at a gulp, down their unwilling gullets.

What balderdash! Just look at the 14 years over which the council’s dragged its feet on a simple street-vending ordinance. Or the six years it took the council to reform the city’s wasteful procurement! The list of hung-fire legislation is endless. No, the council does nothing it isn’t forced to do. Hell could freeze over and the Devils could retire the Stanley Cup before our 15 downtown surrogates might pass the 140 pages of measures in the new charter.

Face it. Most of the council members — who originally approved the creation of one of the two charter commissions and the financing of the other — have turned their coats against the process they and the voters supported. These members are now enemies of reform. As are their toady-turncoat union allies — SEIU Local 347 and the Police Protective League — both of whom, not long ago, helped compile the new charter. Now, the County Federation of Labor has joined their ranks. Let no one accuse labor of favoring a progressive agenda! Perhaps you were wondering why union membership has dropped to about 15 percent of the work force over the past decade?

The charter wonks are raging because, during the process, city unions got more input into how the document looks than just about anyone outside City Hall management. Now it looks as if, rather than continue their good-government posturing, the unions’ leadership is willing to sell out two years of hard brainstorming for a chance to ingratiate themselves with the charter’s power-hoarding council critics, and thereby pluck some future contract favors. In other words, they turned their backs on the city’s future for the sake of a batch of termed-out timeservers.

When it comes down to it, what these elements have in common is that they like the way the city runs now because, dammit, it works fine for them. Whether it works for the rest of us is, of course, another thing altogether.

So if you haven’t figured out yet whether to vote for the charter on June 8, you should ask yourself just one thing: Do you really like the way the city runs and think it cannot be improved? If so, vote against the charter. Otherwise, your course is clear.

The Mickey Mouse Man

 

Remember this, Ed Roski and Eli Broad: He’s Michael Ovitz and you’re not. Now, you two local real estate tycoons may be able to buy and sell him 30 times over. But Ovitz is the guy who’s slick enough to cut out your heart without unbuttoning your shirt.

People tend to forget this. Last month, the word on the street was that former Disney employee Ovitz was dead as far as his local NFL adventures were concerned. He’d publicly garroted his Carson-based Hacienda Stadium proposal — the one that was going to look like a giant taco stand in the middle of a shopping mall.

Indeed, it’s barely a week since Carson City Councilman Darryl Sweeney, whose political career may not survive the consequences of his actually believing Ovitz’s pledge to bring the NFL to that town, said, "The city of Carson refuses to be used as leverage in the battle for NFL ball." This statement confirmed that Ovitz had already done exactly that: By abruptly ditching Carson — whose hopes of NFL glory Ovitz himself had engendered — the mega-agent turned meta-manager bought himself a seat on the Roski-Broad Coliseum squad.

At first, that position didn’t amount to much. A month ago, it was reported that Ovitz wasn’t even invited to an A-list Roski-Broad promotion party. But as of last Sunday, Ovitz’s seat suddenly became a throne. There, right on the bottom of the front page of the L.A. Times, right where the likeness of Ovitz’s Carson Taco Dome had appeared last year, beamed the latest Ovitz-inspired architectural rendering of the NFL Stadium To Come: the "Coliseum in Exposition Park." Its main difference from the Roski-Broad Coliseum proposal was that it would offer structured parking. Building this parking facility would cost the public hundreds of millions of additional dollars.

The shiny color drawing ran with a story that proclaimed that those doddering titans who constitute the NFL owners are now listening to the Mickey Mouse Man, rather than the two doughty zillionaires who spent the late 1990s making the Coliseum into a viable proposal. I found myself feeling for these unsympathetically wealthy entrepreneurs. Roski and Broad had, after all, with the help of Councilman Mark Rid ley-Thomas, done the steep uphill work of selling the NFL — and the sports world — the despised, 75-year-old Exposition Park hulk as a viable venue for a new team. Between them, the pair have enough money to buy that team and revamp the site.

Ovitz, on the other hand, to judge by published accounts, barely has the resources to buy himself into AA baseball. And he’s only linked himself to the Coliseum project since April 14. For all that he’s caught the NFL’s ear and is returning calls to the Times — and for all that the Times, as it did last year, is uncritically promoting his latest football fantasy — Ovitz’s major enterprise at present is unrelated to pro sports. It’s an exceedingly aggressive entertainment management partnership called AMG, which might as well be called the Leonardo DiCaprio group, after its major client. To whom, one reads, Ovitz has promised much.

Just as he’s promised much to pro football. Indeed, promises are what Michael Ovitz does best. But Ovitz’s perennial problem is the upshot of these promises. Just remember what he promised the Japanese conglomerates Matsushita and Sony when he got them, respectively, to take over MCA and Columbia Pictures — to their immense eventual cost. You could ask the folks at his old talent agency, CAA, to whom he promised an amicable parting prior to dragging away some most-favored clients for his new business. Or query the folks in Carson as to his Taco Dome vows.

Or, same time next year, you might ask those NFL titans just what the latest Ovitz pledge turned out to be worth.

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