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Gross Political Negligence 

Wednesday, Oct 25 2006
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MAYBE GEORGE WELLER should have been an L.A. County supervisor. The befuddled 86-year-old, who is as qualified to be behind the wheel as subway-derailer Henry Waxman would be running L.A.’s transit programs, was convicted last week of gross negligence and felony manslaughter after he hit the gas instead of the brake and mowed down shoppers and vendors at the Santa Monica Farmers Market in 2003, killing 10 and injuring 68 others.

But Weller’s horrific actions went down within 24 seconds. The jurors couldn’t forgive him for driving 240 feet without stopping, yet none believed that Weller purposefully killed or maimed. Meanwhile, an even more deadly and cruel spree of negligence, which occurred under the unconscionable sleeping eyes of five elected officials over a dozen or so years at King-Drew Medical Center, goes unpunished. County supervisors Yvonne Braithwaite Burke, Zev Yaroslavsky, Gloria Molina, Mike Antonovich and Don Knabe did too little, if anything at all, to stop the botched care that killed and harmed hundreds of patients. No one knows the exact tally of their negligence, but their inactions fit the definition of the grossest kind: They should have known that great harm would come to many people if they allowed the level of reckless care at King-Drew to go on.

Now, faced with a federal threat to shut down the hospital because of continuing flagrant violations of life-and-death rules, these same county supervisors have come up with a Hail Mary plan to save the hospital by downsizing it, with 42 beds instead of its peak 500, stripping it down to even less than bare essentials and, doing what they should have done a decade ago, placing it under the control of a competent team from another county-run hospital. For all these years — unlike the seconds it took Weller to careen through the crowded market — these cowards could not face the political pressure of taking away local control of King-Drew from a community of color.

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Now both Weller and the county supervisors wait for the next shoe to drop. The old man could go to prison until he’s 117; county supes, for their part, have their hands out. They’re banking on the feds giving them $200 million; instead, maybe they should just settle on some outdated Valium in the hospital pharmacy and get some sleep.

Secede Now, Vice Admiral Brewer

It’s downright heartwarming to know that Los Angeles’ school board not only tracked down the one human in America without an opinion about school vouchers, but actually hired the guy to lead the second-largest district in the nation. No problem, David Brewer — really. You can tell KCRW’s Which Way, L.A.? host Warren Olney that you need time to make up your mind about vouchers. You’re still learning. And education has as much to do with the superintendent’s job as, say, scientific discovery does with space travel — power is what you’re really after. But be warned, Vice Admiral Brewer, you don’t have as much time as you think. On July 1, the new school board — the one that will be dominated by three members that the mayor’s people are now anointing to run in the March 6 election — will probably fire you. So make every day count. Ignore the ins and outs of education policy. Visit a school or two to witness the deplorable conditions and in-the-toilet morale. But spend most of your time studying up on secession. Be ready to make a proposal to break the district into as many pieces as you can count by December 1. But keep the San Fernando Valley schools in one district. One day, you might want to apply for the top job there.

Taken for a Ride

Anybody ever see Bus Riders Union founder Eric Mann getting to work on a bus? Mann and his wife, with a combined average annual salary of $204,000 between 2000 and 2004 from the Labor/Community Strategy Center, don’t exactly fit the profile of the average bus rider. Yet Los Angeles’ transit policies have been held hostage to the antirail freak ever since he set up the Bus Riders Union to fight a bus-fare increase in 1994 on grounds that it was racist — and to protest any transit money going to rail projects. In 10 years, the terms of the resulting consent decree forced the MTA to spend $1 billion to double the number of buses to 4,000; yet, during the same period, bus ridership did not keep pace. Meanwhile, ridership on Mann’s hated Red Line subway is up 425 percent since 1996. Today, Mann and his group do not serve the needs of the average transit rider — consider his latest mantra, “1,000 fewer cops, 1,000 more buses.” This week, federal Judge Terry Hatter ended the madness by freeing the MTA from the shackles of Mann and his consent decree so that it can spend money where it will do the most good — rail.

By the way, we tried to ask Mann how often he rides L.A.’s buses, but he did not return three calls.

Point-Blank Range

. To the ACLU, the public-interest Thomas More Law Center and anyone else out there crucifying their opponents in the continuing battle over a tiny cross on the seal of L.A. County: Go to hell. Figuratively, of course, because we all know one does not exist. Aren’t there real problems to worry about — hunger, crime, poor schools, child abuse, traffic, air pollution, to name a few? The ACLU started the fight in 2004 by forcing the county to remove the cross from the official county seal. But the appeals continue, wasting taxpayers’ precious, goddamned money.

. The glacially paced staff at L.A. County Department of Health Services still hasn’t taken action on a request from Skid Row’s Midnight Mission to station a health van on the streets to treat the dozens of people hit by an out-of-control staph infection. (See last week’s “The Scourge of Skid Row” by Christine Pelisek.) If some 20 cops, firefighters and residents working and living around Beverly Hill’s Rodeo Drive fell victim to a life-threatening infection-run-amok, would the county be so callous? What part of gross negligence don’t these people understand?

E-mail comments and complaints to BigAl@lasniper.com.

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