By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Members of the city’s civic elite were wringing their collective hands last week, stunned over the dismal participation shown by the electorate in the March 6 municipal election. With turnout falling to single digits in even the most competitive contests, the city’s leaders were left wondering what went wrong.
It was in the middle of this yeasty civic debate that Los Angeles Councilman Jack Weiss stepped forward to tell election-weary Angelenos that he was launching his campaign for city attorney — for 2009, that is. And at that point, it was hard to tell: Was his timing perfect? Or impossibly bad?
Weiss made his announcement last week in part because he had finally reached the day when — yay! — the city’s election rules would allow him to start raising money for a citywide campaign. But his announcement also came just days before a band of disenchanted neighborhood leaders from Weiss’s council district — a group miffed about traffic, high-density development and the councilman’s frequently imperious ways — chose to conduct their own vote, deciding overwhelmingly that now just might be the time to yank Weiss from office.
Nearly two dozen representatives from homeowner groups stretching from Cheviot Hills to Westwood to the western edge of Hollywood agreed to draft a petition seeking to recall Weiss, a former federal prosecutor first elected to the council in 2001. And what made Saturday’s vote so unusual is that those pushing for the recall know full well that they could simply ride out the situation and wait for Weiss to leave in 2009.
“Quite frankly, he can do much more damage in the next two years,” said Diana Plotkin, president of the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association, who voted to draft the petition. “We’re hurting so bad already that we need to take some kind of action, and I think people understand that.”
Now, recall bids have a way of petering out in Los Angeles, due to the overwhelming power of incumbency and the high bar placed on such contests by the Los Angeles City Charter — the rules for how the city is governed. To force a recall, foes of Weiss would need to collect more than 22,000 signatures, or 15 percent of the district’s registered voters, in just 120 days.
That’s normally the kind of trick that only lobbyists and political consultants can pull off. Think L.A. strip clubs, which gathered enough signatures three years ago to rescind a law banning lap dances, or the hotels near LAX that recently stopped implementation of a living-wage law that focuses exclusively on them.
Weiss spokeswoman Lisa Hansen said Weiss would not comment. But political consultant Larry Levine, who is handling Weiss’s run for city attorney, brushed aside the threat, saying that recall talk erupts in the district from time to time from “some of the dissidents on the Westside who are never happy with anything.” “Nobody has filed anything or taken any formal action,” he added. “It’s just some people batting their gums together, and every once in a while a reporter hears it and thinks he’s discovered something.”
Still, the Westside group that voted Saturday dropped a few anvil-sized hints that they may be serious. For one thing, they approved the bylaws necessary for their fledgling group to create a political action committee so that, like politicians and special-interest groups, they can collect donations and weigh in on their preferred council candidate. For another, they met Saturday with City Controller Laura Chick — one of the people flirting with a run for Weiss’s seat.
The man spearheading the recall effort said there are too many burning issues, from park repairs to clogged intersections, to stick with someone like Weiss, already looking for the door. West L.A. will be the subject of a new long-range plan for development and deserves a representative who isn’t raising thousands of dollars from developers and their lobbyists, said Mike Eveloff, president of the Tract 7260 Homeowner Association.
With major homeowner groups pursuing a recall, “elected officials in our area and throughout the city will understand that they represent the voters, and not the developers and not the lobbyists,” he added.
Eveloff recently sparred with Weiss over two 47-story condominium towers planned for Century City, both of which were approved by the council with Weiss’s blessing. Before that project was approved, city planners asserted that the 483-unit condominium project would produce less traffic than the existing one-story bank and fading nightclub. The developer, AP Properties, also happened to give $100,000 to a campaign committee controlled by Weiss’s closest political pal, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Homeowner groups are also scrutinizing a development planned for Century City by mall owner Westfield, which also gave Villaraigosa’s committee $100,000. The now-ubiquitous mall developer and operator hopes to build a 39-story tower that houses 260 condominiums, three stories of office space and three stories of retail.
Residents are equally agitated in the east end of the district, where a developer is pushing a pair of condominium projects on La Brea Avenue, including one near Santa Monica Boulevard that could reach seven stories. “We feel that the traffic is going to be unbearable,” said Melrose Neighborhood Association board member Mark Ganshirt, who voted to draft the recall petition.