By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
The parking-lot high school became a central priority after school-board members canceled the half-finished Belmont Learning Complex project. It was a top choice of school-district Chief Operating Officer Howard Miller because the site was clean, essentially vacant and in a prime school-attendance area. Yet because of Dodgers opposition, virtually no progress had been made by the time Miller left district employ in July 2000.
One objection, said Dodgers spokesman Derrick Hall, was the site‘s proximity to the main stadium entrance. “We, along with the neighbors, explained to the school district how that would not work for obvious reasons,” said Hall. “There are safety factors involved for the kids, not to mention it would bring problems to the fans.”
From the school district’s perspective, Mayor Riordan declined to step up to the plate. “There have been cases where the mayor has helped,” said one upper-level district administrator. “He busted his butt helping us get a school site near the MTA station in North Hollywood. But I don‘t have a clue what his position is on the Dodger Stadium project,” said the frustrated official, who requested anonymity for fear of offending the mayor. “I don’t see where he‘s weighed in one way or another. He’s not necessarily giving us help where it‘s needed, but where he wants to.”
From Murdoch’s perspective, neutrality is value received.
Which is not to say that L.A. Unified has given up; it‘s still talking with the Dodgers, but no longer about a high school. Negotiations now revolve around converting overflow lots -- beyond the main entrance and parking area -- into athletic facilities that would serve nearby schools. L.A. Unified has made a substantial concession, one that won’t make classroom space.
When Los Angeles voters approved Proposition BB -- the local school-bond measure -- officials began scanning the city for school sites. By the fall of 1998, they had zeroed in on the old Van Nuys drive-in at the corner of Roscoe Boulevard and Noble Avenue, projecting a badly needed middle school for that 13-acre parcel.
But a national used-car chain called CarMax had gotten there first, fair and square, and it was loath to surrender its investment. The district battled with CarMax for the better part of a year just for access to the site. Finally, after the school district went to court over the lockout, CarMax entered serious negotiations over the parcel‘s future. One option under discussion was splitting the site.
In May 2000, however, CarMax unexpectedly sold the site to Herbert Boeckmann II, the owner of Galpin Ford. The broker on the deal, as detailed in these pages last week, was mayoral candidate Steve Soboroff.
Mayor Riordan -- the Sir Galahad of Schools -- could have been all over this deal. Soboroff was, after all, the mayor’s senior adviser as well as his representative to the Proposition BB committee, which oversees bond spending for new schools. Riordan, however, has all sorts of reasons not to lean on Boeckmann. For one, Boeckmann‘s Galpin Motors, with its 800 employees, is one of the city’s major generators of sales-tax revenue. Boeckmann also serves as a loyal Riordan appointee to the city‘s Police Commission.
In addition, Boeckmann, a Republican who favors Valley secession, is a regular contributor to Riordan-backed political causes, including Soboroff for Mayor and the Coalition for Kids, to which he gave $10,000 on March 31, 1999. An attorney whose firm represented CarMax also contributed $750 to the coalition.
When questioned about whether Boeckmann and Soboroff had done the school district a disservice, Mayor Riordan insisted in an interview last month that “You’ve got it all wrong.” It wasn‘t Soboroff’s fault that the district lost the site to Boeckmann. The problem, he said, was that the school district never contacted the property owner. Riordan said he tried to intervene on behalf of the school district, personally calling the owner: “When I called, the property owner said he‘d never been contacted by the school district, and that he was sorry, but that he’d just sold the property.” During the interview, the mayor did not have the benefit of reviewing the documentary record, which contains substantial evidence of interaction between L.A. Unified and the property owners.
Boeckmann, by the way, wants the land for storing and prepping used cars. The mayor‘s goal is to find him an alternative place to do that, Deputy Mayor Rocky Delgadillo told the Weekly. Oddly enough, Weekly fact checkers who routinely double-checked Delgadillo’s account with the mayor‘s press office got a different message: that the mayor was not involved at the drive-in site. The Weekly went back to Delgadillo, a candidate for city attorney, who has made helping schools a central theme of his run for office. His campaign aide retreated from Delgadillo’s earlier assurance, saying that the matter was still being worked out.
Attempts to contact Boeckmann through his representative were not successful.
Playa Capital is the concern building Playa Vista, the multibillion-dollar development that environmentalists love to hate, because it would pave over most of the last undeveloped expanse of coastal-adjacent land, more than 1,000 acres, on the city‘s Westside.