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City of Status Quo 

Two unreassuring moves by the new Hahn administration

Wednesday, Jul 18 2001
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So here we go again, another week in the Hahn administration, and one would forbear: Cut young Jim some slack. The guy‘s only been here half a month. Give him a chance to get the feel of things before we get judgmental. Remember how long it took Dick Riordan to start rolling?

But just last week, in 24 hours, Jim Hahn did two things that seemed to defy his campaign pledges to renew the city. So it felt like he was rolling in the wrong direction.

First, there was the new Police Commission. Rick Caruso, Rose Ochi, David Cunningham III and Silvia Saucedo were named to the high-profile posts, along with renominated Commissioner Herbert ”Bert“ Boeckmann, who has served over 14 years on the panel under Mayors Tom Bradley and Richard Riordan. ”I wanted to make sure that we had experience as well as diversity,“ Hahn said at his first mayoral news conference, where he announced the new members -- all of them lawyers. As to experience, well, that depends on what you mean by the term.

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These appointments had been eagerly anticipated as bellwethers of the mayor’s new LAPD policy -- the single greatest challenge that the city faces. Not only must the new commission cope with low officer morale and the endless ramifications of the 2-year-old Rampart scandal; it must also work with federal authorities under a reform consent decree and decide whether Bernie Parks gets another five-year term as chief. It‘s no wonder that many think it ought to be a full-time job.

But instead of bellwethers, the new nominees seemed plain sheep. Their qualifications are so generic they’d fit just as well on any other commission in the city -- particularly one dealing with land use. Saucedo, 27, is a newcomer to city government. Cunningham, 46, is a land-use and redevelopment lawyer. The son of former Councilman Dave Cunningham, he worked in the law office of controversial former Councilman Art Snyder.

Two other new panelists do have experience with Los Angeles municipal affairs. Just not the LAPD.

Caruso, 42, has served on the Board of Water and Power Commissioners since the mid-1980s. The City Council refused his appointment to the Harbor Commission under Riordan. Early this year, Caruso declined to replace fired Police Commission President Gerald Chaleff. His local fame is as a major developer. His latest project is the Farmers Market.

Ochi, 62, a former teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, directed the city‘s Criminal Justice Planning Office under Bradley and for a year under Riordan. She served as associate director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. There you are.

Not to run down Messrs. Caruso and Cunningham, Ms. Ochi, et al. All seem to be decent and nice people.

But there’s nothing showing that suggests they are up to this very burdensome job. The sole renewed incumbent, Galpin Ford proprietor Herbert Boeckmann, could be the most politically powerful person in the San Fernando Valley. He‘s a conservative Republican, a Valley secessionist and very pro-cop (he was also the beneficiary of a $2.4 million payment from the city for a Mandeville Canyon tract sale). He might as well be a piece of commission-room furniture, nailed to the floor. Boeckmann has served under two previous mayors and was a noteworthy donor to Riordan and Bradley as well as Hahn. But he’s seldom represented anything but the status quo, defending in turn the careers of both Daryl Gates and Willie Williams, not to mention the cop who shot the homeless Margaret Mitchell. Notably, Boeckmann resigned in 1991 rather than comply with the disclosure requirements of the new city ethics laws. Riordan re-appointed him in ‘93.

None of the new commissioners can touch his experience -- making him a likely choice for panel president along with Rick Caruso. Ochi headed a city office on criminality that left shallow footprints in the sands of time, yet she’s the only new member with any direct knowledge of criminal activity. You might be able to put together about as qualified a commission (and a far more diverse one) by randomly selecting passengers on a No. 76 cross-town bus. Instead of the independence that many of us hoped for, what you have here is a panel that will depend on outside advice every step of the way. Whence cometh such advice? From Parks, possibly, but more likely from the former city attorney who sits in the Mayor‘s Office. In other words, the same sage person whom prodigiously inexperienced Council President Alex Padilla is going to consult. Boeckmann, actually, may be more experienced than the law allows. The new city charter limits the police commissioners to two five-year terms. Boeckmann has done well over 14 years. Should this not automatically disqualify him? Not according to Hahn’s people.a

Hahn‘s top deputy, Tim McOsker, told the Metropolitan News-Enterprise that Boeckmann’s service before 1993 -- when the Proposition F Christopher Commission reforms limiting commission terms were passed by the voters -- does not count under term limits. McOsker said that Boeckmann still has left the two years of any unexpired term to be vacated by the Riordan-appointee commissioners. (Boeckmann‘s term of appointment expired last month.) This happens not to be the interpretation of Erwin Chemerinsky, the USC law professor who worked extensively on the City Charter. He contends that Boeckmann’s new term is forbidden by the new charter. ”According to section 571 . . . the most anyone can serve on the Police Commission is 12 years,“ Chemerinsky said. ”The charter has no exception for previously served terms.“

Slated to resign are commission president Raquelle de la Rocha (who already has a new job on a state-parks panel in Sacramento) and members Rebecca Avila, T. Warren Jackson and Dean Hansell.

Having often lambasted Riordan‘s post-Chaleff police commissioners, I dropped in on their last meeting last week. De la Rocha, never exactly this column’s toast even before she voted in the commission minority with Boeckmann on the Mitchell shooting, made a very capable critique of ongoing problems with the department‘s new $50 million digital radio system. She’d been up in an LAPD helicopter on an official ride-along, and noted that it seemed impossible for the chopper to communicate with the ground units. Systems director Jeff Jantz said he‘d get right on that one. It was a very competent exchange. She said later that the explanation given her by Jantz was ”unsatisfactory and brief,“ and told me that she was recommending that the city not pay the millions still due to the contractor, Motorola, until the problem was fixed. Maybe I’ll actually miss this commission.

The other noteworthy action was Hahn‘s Monday veto of an adjustment to the city’s campaign matching-fund program: Here, part of the tale has to do with how slowly this action got media notice. Considering it was Hahn‘s first veto, you’d think it would‘ve been instant news, even if it hadn’t opened a rift with the city‘s Ethics Commission. But the day after it was signed, the only reporter with the story was KFWB’s Steve Kindred. On Friday, Rob Greene of the Metropolitan News had it. And only on Saturday did the Times get around to it. Part of the problem was the mayor didn‘t initially release his veto to the press.

The vetoed proposal, passed by the City Council unanimously last month after many weeks of public hearings (and city-attorney input), would have increased the city’s dollar-for-dollar matching funds for candidates to 2-1, and also shortened the time allowed to raise funds. But it would not have allowed candidates to raise larger totals of money. The intention was to give candidates their matching money earlier in their campaigns, allowing, it was said, more time for discussions of issues in the later months. The reduction of advance fund-raising time from 24 months to 18 months was intended to level somewhat the field between challengers and incumbents like Hahn. The latter generally start their fund-raising much earlier. The mayor based his veto on objections to the fund-doubling, although his office later told commision officials he‘d objected to the time change too. Hahn officially, if not quite grammatically, stated, ”Taxpayer dollars should only be spent where it is demonstrated that its [sic] use is justified and in the best interest of the city.“ The mayor further suggested that the new council get down with him to address ”the loopholes and inequities that currently exist in the city’s campaign-finance laws.“

Now that‘s an interesting ideal. Previously, such spending-law revisions have passed through the Ethics Commission itself, often at the request of the council. Hahn doesn’t mention the commission in his veto message, which is slightly sinister. Is the new mayor already trying to shunt aside this special, initiative-originated, nominally independent panel with which his previous relations (as city attorney) were sometimes, well, a bit arduous?

Certainly, the relationship isn‘t improving. As commission Executive Director LeeAnn Pelham put it, ”We are disappointed that the new mayor, himself a former matching-funds participant, chose not to support this package of enhancements to the city’s comprehensive set of reforms.“ But she later noted, there‘s no indication Hahn is ”not willing to work with us.“ On Tuesday, instead of overriding the veto, the council sent it to Council President Alex Padilla’s Rules and Election Committee. Let‘s see if it gets back to the council before Hahn’s veto automatically becomes law.

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