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Richard’s Bracelet 

Disgraced Alatorre must stay in his home

Wednesday, Apr 18 2001
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It may not be rough, but it is justice. Richard Alatorre has been sentenced to serve eight months in the Eagle Rock home his lies bought, and for the sake of whose mortgage he falsified a property lease on his previous dwelling. A longtime crony had re-roofed the house with $13,200 worth of fashionable red tile, apparently in return for Alatorre’s pushing a bum $65 million subway contract, then firing the MTA official who objected. Like the former councilman, this house smells like a pig farm in August. It’s a two-bedroom monument to corruption and the abuse of public trust.

Considering Alatorre’s 28-year political career, you might expect more — parklike grounds, soaring ceilings and Old World charm. But Alatorre’s grasp was always weaker than his greed. His unslakable appetite for anonymous cash finally got him in trouble with the IRS, which contends he didn’t pay taxes on $12,970. Yet he was often unable to keep the dinero out of his nose long enough to ensure that he had $20 in the bank, let alone more than a modest little bungalow in a semimodest corner of town.

It’s an ironic sort of domestic confinement. Certainly, it’s better than a prison cell upstate. As they say, however, there is no such thing as a beautiful prison. Being home alone is one thing. Staying home in an electronic ankle bracelet that summons the cops if you venture out the front door is another. But it sure must make your forbidden front sidewalk look magnificent.

“Actually, I can think of better places for him to be,” said one city staffer. I think he meant Pelican Bay. Such officials were pilloried by the councilman for delivering honest reports when Alatorre had required the opposite. Alatorre was loathed by City Hall’s “downstairs” — the bureaucracy that makes the paper flow, writes the ordinances, drafts the agreements — for his tendency to abuse employees. It is a staple of city politics that “downstairs” serfs do not love their elected “upstairs” bosses. But they particularly hate those who try to make staffers their accomplices — as Alatorre did, time and again, in Sacramento, Los Angeles and the MTA.

When he retired nearly two years ago, Alatorre proclaimed a weeklong farewell self-accolade like no other Los Angeles officeholder ever gave. The worse the human being, perhaps, the bigger the goodbye. You wondered whether the whole world wanted to see him gone. Well, not quite. There was that sparsely circulated tribute booklet of well over 100 unnumbered pages, composed of hugely complimentary goodbye letters signed by a lot of people who should have known better by then — the usual boon companions, of course. But the celebrity friends of Richard Alatorre ranged from Teddy Kennedy to Antonio Villaraigosa, from the presidents of Cal State L.A. and Oxy College to old-time Chicano civil rights leaders and the current pope of the Church of Scientology, from Willie Brown to state Senator John Burton, who was maybe — apart from the hyperuncritical Mayor Riordan — the staunchest pal of all.

Burton, after all, got Alatorre his post-career, $114,000-a-year seat on the state Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. Alatorre forfeited the post two weeks ago, perhaps because he was legally enjoined from attending out-of-town board meetings. Or perhaps because, if he did attend, he’d be the only man in the room wearing a bracelet.

Reading the news between the lines, you might guess that the former councilman is taking singing lessons. In any case, the feds say they are hunting down some of those bounteous people who filled Alatorre’s pockets with transient $100 bills. As their names emerge, it’ll be fascinating to see how many of these benefactors also appeared in “Richard Alatorre, 28 Years of Public Service.”

Cordoba Again

Speaking of Alatorre cronies, few of them go back as far as George Pla, the gentleman who helms Cordoba Corp. This is the enterprising “consulting” business whose prestige and prosperity rose with the councilman’s star, and now has expanded beyond L.A., with offices in Irvine, Sacramento and the Bay Area.

Last year, you may recall, this venerable and ingenious entity had come a cropper in Oakland, of all places. The Wilshire Boulevard firm had contracted for close to $1 million in computer-file transfer work for that city. It had taken nearly all the money and, according to a suit filed by the Oakland city attorney, done virtually nothing to earn it.

The last time I looked, Oakland’s attorneys were trying to negotiate a pre-trial settlement. Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Cordoba, despite its cloudy local history and its problem elsewhere, was given a nice bite of the contract apple from our old friends the Department of Water and Power (DWP). In January, the Board of Water and Power Commissioners signed off on a $7 million contract to provide what are termed “owner’s representation services” for the vast three-year DWP public-works undertaking known as the Integrated Resource Plan.

You may, come to think of it, never have heard of that project, so let’s take a moment to explain. It happened because the South Coast Air Quality Management District last summer told the DWP to clean up its act. The DWP used the order as a mandate not only to launder smokestack emissions at two of its older local power stations, but to ramp up its generating capacity. It’s going to install cleaner and more-efficient gas-turbine generators wherever possible, and upgrade its local Castaic hydro plant to much higher capacity. The result is supposed to be a 300-megawatt productivity increase — enough to power several hundred thousand new L.A. homes. All this would come at a cost of more than a billion dollars, but the investment could pay off, even if the anticipated city population boom doesn’t materialize. The DWP is looking for the regulatory means to sell its surplus energy outside the city limits.

Okay, fine idea, you say. So what has Cordoba Corp., which over the past decade has evoked fizzled performance reports for so much of its local work (such as the notoriously Alatorre-rigged six-figure 1991 minority/women-enterprise assessment contract), got that the DWP needs to the tune of $7 million?

Well, board papers say that the specified “owner’s representation services” include “proposal evaluations, technical design review project controls and . . . construction monitoring and quality-assurance support’’ in helping several contract engineering firms put together the big power project. It would employ at least eight people, one of whom would make at least $360,000 per year — more than departing DWP chief David Freeman got.

The proposal also says that the department should choose engineering firms with “a high level of expertise.” I don’t see that same language used in connection with hiring Cordoba, which, as far as I can determine, has little experience in generating power.

Little, but not exactly none. There’s this earlier $149,000 owner’s-representation contract the DWP sent Cordoba’s way back in October, just before the above-mentioned $7 million request for proposals went out. The earlier agreement didn’t even merit board attention, since under the new city charter, department contracts of under $150,000 can be signed off by the general manager — in this case, Freeman.

Freeman’s name appears atop the big $7 million contract too, but this one didn’t make it through the wicket. An alert someone in the Mayor’s Office grabbed it and turned the thing over to the city’s Office of Administrative Research Services for a good look-see.

The OARS report came out last week, and it recommends that the DWP drop Cordoba, on the grounds that “the work [could] be performed more feasibly and economically by DWP staff.” The OARS report further suggests that if there are not enough DWP staffers to do the work, the DWP should recruit some.

This will be pleasing news to the Engineers and Architects Association, the union that represents the upper tier of DWP employees. The EAA wants hiring instead of contracting. The EAA also recalls agreeing with Freeman, when it consented to massive layoffs a couple of years ago, that those then-surplus employees would be recalled if the need materialized.

Such a demand evidently does now exist.

Meanwhile, the EAA wants to know why none of those laid off have so far been offered their jobs back. And why, instead, what could have been their work was going to a firm with Cordoba’s reputation.

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