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The Swinging Door 

A new council, rich lobbyists and a sheriff who doesn’t want to leave

Thursday, Jun 26 2003
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L.A.’s City Hall starts a new two-year term Tuesday with four new members and, most likely, the same old president. Wendy Greuel on Friday dropped her challenge to Alex Padilla, but it won’t be business as usual for Padilla as he faces activist and impatient freshmen in Antonio Villaraigosa and Martin Ludlow, and the top aide to one of his top antagonists in Greig Smith. To Padilla’s relief, he will also welcome his mentor, Tony Cardenas, to the council.

The newcomers replace the last three members of the City Council to be elected before the term-limits era. Some changes will be more sweeping than others. Hal Bernson, for example, gets replaced by scion Smith, who ran his office for 23 years.

Nate Holden failed in his bid to get his own staffer elected, but his consolation is a council measure in his final week that will ratify re-naming a performing-arts center for him. But Ruth Galanter — the council’s leading advocate for limiting airport noise and pollution, for keeping city control over electric power, for managing water consumption, for reining in the excesses of city boards that run the harbor, the airport and the DWP — gets nothing. Galanter came up short in her bid two years ago for the council presidency, then became the ultimate lame duck as her colleagues stripped her of her seaside district and left her in charge of a swath of the San Fernando Valley where no one ever saw her name on a ballot.

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Also leaving the council is Nick Pacheco, who this year became the first-ever incumbent defeated for re-election in the term-limits era. His colleagues saluted him Friday for his leadership in defeating Mayor James Hahn’s budget proposal to add more than 300 new police officers.

Bernson got a similar farewell Tuesday, at which Holden blasted voters for imposing “shameful” term limits. “It’s a punishment that they imposed on themselves,” Holden said.

Love That Loser

The City Council failed last week to extricate itself from a near-bankrupt business venture at the harbor that has lost millions of dollars, helped spark the San Pedro breakaway movement, spurred cleanup orders from environmental officials and resulted in a court ruling opening the corporation’s board meetings to the public. The council unanimously sided with harbor-area representative Janice Hahn in rejecting, for now, a plan to sell the city’s 13 percent interest in Los Angeles Export Terminal Inc., which was created in 1993 with several U.S. and Japanese companies to process coal and petroleum coke for loading and shipping. Hahn said she wanted to consider alternatives.

LAXT, as it is known, foundered when the bottom dropped out of the coal-export market. Later, it was ordered to cover coal piles to prevent dust from polluting the harbor and plaguing San Pedro residents. But the biggest blow may have come from the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union, which sued to force the LAXT board to comply with open-meetings laws. To the consternation of LAXT directors, the courts agreed with the union, since the corporation was set up by the city to conduct what was deemed to be city business.

The close links between the corporation and city officials continue to complicate any final resolution. A Long Beach competitor, Metropolitan Stevedore, challenged a proposed sale of the facility to an LAXT shareholder on public-meeting-law grounds. The city Board of Harbor Commissioners was deemed to have a conflict of interest and couldn’t act, since one of its members is a lawyer in a firm that represents LAXT. Meanwhile, the supposedly penniless LAXT has paid thousands of dollars to city officials, including Hahn and her brother, the mayor, for their election efforts. The corporation’s rival, Metropolitan, has paid Hahn supporter and former Councilman Rudy Svorinich Jr. more than $100,000 in lobbying fees to try to scuttle the sale.

In addition to being a part owner, the city is also the landlord for LAXT — and is owed about $11 million in back rent from the deadbeat corporation.

The Water Trough

Lobbyists working for and against the LAXT sale scored second on the City Ethics Commission’s quarterly ranking of money paid to city lobbyists. The report, issued Friday, showed $181,501 spent by private companies and the city of El Segundo to sway Los Angeles officials on adopting a new plan for Los Angeles International Airport. Metropolitan Stevedore and others paid lobbyists $161,244 on the sale of the Export Terminal, and Verizon, Adelphia and others paid $113,106 for the persuasive talents of lobbyists on renewal of cable-television franchises. The report also noted that the Department of Water and Power paid $136,494 to the law firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, which also lobbies the city, for help with litigation. Another lobbying law firm, Christensen, Miller, Fink, Jacobs, Glaser, Weil & Shapiro, got $97,540 for legal work on the city’s behalf.

Stop This Man

Sheriff Lee Baca’s continuing quest for exemption from county term limits got a boost Friday from state Attorney GeneralBill Lockyer, who gave the sheriff the go-ahead to challenge the limits on state-law grounds. Baca’s point is that California law does not permit charter counties like Los Angeles to impose term limits on sheriffs. You may recall that the county supervisors glumly agreed last year to put term limits for them — and for the sheriff, district attorney and assessor — on the ballot to settle a lawsuit brought by a student activist whose earlier term-limits petition was suspiciously miscounted by the county registrar.

Baca had no problem with term limits for the supervisors, but he sued to block Measure A, which included the sheriff. He lost. Measure A went to the voters, who overwhelmingly adopted county term limits in March 2002. Lockyer’s approval means Baca can now sue again to invalidate term limits for him and his successors.

The County Cutteth

County supervisors on Monday approved a $16.81 billion recession-year budget that eliminates unfilled positions among the more than 90,000 county employees but restores planned cuts for libraries. But little was really on the table for the supervisors to discuss, since the real meat of the proposed cuts and restructuring — in the massive Health Department — is tied up in court, and since most of the county’s projected revenues come from the state, which has yet to finalize its budget despite the July 1 deadline. In fact, further service cuts remain possible because county budgeting continues nonstop through December, as the supervisors revisit state-revenue projections and budget adjustments.

No One Home

The destruction of the last vintage house on Bunker Hill by a condo developer several weeks ago spurred the City Council to bar the builder from completing his project. But prosecutors had even stiffer penalties in mind, and are scheduled to proceed with a criminal arraignment this week for Geoff Palmer.

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