By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Rebuild L.A. could never meet the expectations set for it. The lessons learned, said Delgadillo, included: “Don’t over-hype. I think people at the time felt like we had to over-hype to bring in the people that would bring us resources.”
Also, “I learned that maybe bringing retail into the inner-city was not as much needed. It was not necessarily the way to build a community. We needed to bring in manufacturing jobs, the widget makers, the people that would attract wealth to that neighborhood. Because then the retail jobs would follow them, because there would be paychecks there to go capture.”
Delgadillo, a Democrat, then joined the staff of Republican Mayor Riordan, where Delgadillo has taken credit for the kinder, more progressive side of Riordan politics that sometimes emerges — such as a minority-business-outreach program and Riordan’s decision to oppose Proposition 209, the voter initiative that outlawed traditional affirmative action.
But Delgadillo’s closed-door style of deal making is vintage Riordan. And this no-nonsense approach to “getting things done” doesn’t always get things done. In 1998, Delgadillo spearheaded an effort to reform the city’s antiquated business-tax structure. Many of the meetings were invitation-only and included a who’s who of big-money players. The package that emerged included some reform ideas that won widespread praise, but the City Council balked. In part, council members were discomfited by a price tag that exceeded $20 million. But they also weren’t ready to back something that lacked broader input.
The City Council later formed an advisory committee to revisit tax reform. This time it was headed jointly by Delgadillo and Councilman Feuer and coordinated through Feuer’s office. The meetings were held in public. Lobbyists still had their say, but they had to make their points in public, along with other interest groups. This effort already has scored some successes. Right away, the council voted to exempt businesses with receipts of less than $5,000 from city taxes, and also to give new businesses earning less than $500,000 a free pass in their first year. Other reforms are working their way through the council, including an end to a tax penalty companies Ă˘ face when they transfer funds from one affiliate to another.
Feuer has earned some new respect from business owners through this tax-reform process. Delgadillo already was well regarded. Delgadillo’s donor list is studded with developers, attorneys and other business people with ties to Genesis projects. Some of these contributions were apparently the result of a direct Delgadillo entreaty.
“He said, ‘I need your help,’” reported one businessman, who requested anonymity. “But the guy’s not crass. Rocky has some level of refinement. There’s never a quid pro quo. He’s clear that he wants to be helpful for his friends.” This businessman was happy to contribute. “Rocky has still got his finger on the button in the development piece. Because these projects are slow, you know you are going to have to go back to City Hall for another bite at the apple.”
Under city election rules, such appeals for campaign dollars are legal as long as they are not made from city offices or on city time, according to the L.A. City Ethics Commission.
“If you’re a businessman, you kind of like Rocky,” added the business owner who donated to Delgadillo. “You know how to push Rocky’s buttons. He wants to raise money. He wants to get elected.” From an insider’s perspective, the businessman said he also could see why other downtown deal makers would support Delgadillo for city attorney over City Councilman Feuer. “Rocky is very political, unlike Feuer, who is apolitical, not business-friendly, and can be very difficult to work with.”
Delgadillo insists that he has strictly abided by all the rules. “It would be wrong to solicit contributions from people who have business pending before the city in exchange for promises of special treatment. I have never done this and would never do it.” He added that the same fund-raising questions should apply to Feuer, who also handles city business.
The city’s Chamber of Commerce has endorsed Delgadillo. And biotech entrepreneur Alfred Mann hosted a $1,000-a-plate fund-raiser. Mann has every reason to be supportive. When he sought to buy part of the Lakeside Debris Basin from the Department of Water and Power, the Mayor’s Office successfully argued that no other buyer should be considered, which is contrary to the agency’s procedures for disposing of surplus, government-owned land. As a January 2000 internal DWP memo noted, “The Mayor’s Economic Development Team is very anxious for the Department [DWP] to sell a portion of the Water System’s property known as the Lakeside Debris Basin to a company called Advanced Bionics.”
The Mayor’s Office then negotiated with the DWP on behalf of Mann. At one point, according to an internal memo, “The City Attorney drafted a letter to [then–DWP chief] David Freeman disparaging our office’s involvement in the deal. DWP staff is against the sale and has tried to terminate negotiations.” At another point, the mayor’s staff reported that the DWP “accused the Mayor’s Office of trying to ‘manipulate’ the appraisal” of the land to reduce what Mann would have to pay.