By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
That Council District 9’s Perry never reviewed the map is not, perhaps, surprising. She represents skyscraper-dotted downtown and lives a lush life far removed from the bulk of the people she works for, many who live in tattered, working-class South L.A. The luxury building in which she bought her condo for $320,000 in 2003 comes complete with a concierge-security guard in an opulent first-floor lobby and is only a stone’s throw from the Frank Gehry–designed Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Perry’s condo is also adjacent to the long-delayed $3.1 billion Grand Avenue luxury hotel and shopping development. Although Perry has a direct and personal financial interest in seeing Grand Avenue built — that interest being the increased value of her own condo building — it bothers no one in City Hall that she serves on the Grand Avenue Authority, the watchdog group supposedly assuring that millions of dollars in public subsidies flowing to Grand Avenue are protected.
Most taxpayers would probably be upset to learn that Perry enthusiastically pushed to use $30 million in voter-approved bonds from California’s 2006 Affordable Housing Trust Fund — not to house the poor or battered women, as voters intended, but to create an architecturally snooty “Civic Park” just down the block from Perry’s condo.
Perry could undoubtedly use the Housing Trust Fund subsidy to prop up her condo value since her life is a financial train wreck. She had a 2008 IRS lien against her for $67,099 and has taken out two big loans in recent years.
County records show Perry finally paid off her lien — one of many she has faced — last August. Her lawyer ex-husband has previously taken the blame . But she also borrows heavily — including an unusual 2003 loan for $45,000 at 5 percent interest from wealthy Malibu real estate broker Chris Cortazzo, and $72,500 from a credit union in 2007, according to the L.A. County Recorder.
Then there’s City Councilman Richard Alarcon, whose home in Panorama City is, by any measure, a dump — the kind of place that might set off an inspection. A chainlink fence surrounds an unkempt pair of attached bungalows on a big, long-neglected lot strewn with plastic buckets and set off by a gleaming Winnebago. Alarcon insists he lives at the scary-looking pad. Down the block, though, a man named Alvaro and his son Johnny, who repair and sell used bikes, say that they rarely see vehicles going in or out of Alarcon’s dilapidated property.
Alarcon, who, like Huizar, drives a Toyota Highlander hybrid worth more than $40,000, comes across as a well-dressed, polite politician. A veteran of the Sacramento Legislature, Alarcon is viewed by some of his council colleagues as the most privately vicious, publicly phony, council member. Recently, he bragged that he’s such a shoo-in for re-election that he isn’t bothering to raise campaign money.
Zuma Dogg, a brash community activist who spends hours at City Hall each week — and is pursuing a highly improbable run for mayor on March 3 — sees Alarcon off-camera, in the small hearing rooms where the council’s real power unfolds. At those “committee meetings,” consisting of three council members who oversee subareas like transportation, land-use, and public safety, the activist says, “It’s not right the way Alarcon treats people” — lecturing stunned members of the public, or pointing his finger at baffled business owners.
The council’s double standards for itself, its frequent hypocrisy and its continual self-congratulations for performing “services” and official favors that subvert municipal processes, all lead urban-policy expert Siegel to sum up what’s probably driving it: “They’re too much in business for themselves.”
Two huge reform waves have taken aim at the City Council. The first, in 1990, was a major rewriting of the city’s constitution — the City Charter — that created the City Ethics Commission and promised a new day. When that bunch of “reforms” didn’t lead to better governing, growing fury toward City Hall morphed into the years-long Valley secession movement, which then spawned a second cathartic rewriting of the City Charter in 1999.
Naive reformers from those two efforts were convinced that by giving the city council much higher pay (see sidebar, “How the L.A. City Council Got Those Huge $178,789 Salaries”) and a thick set of ethics rules, L.A. would get a professional body, the envy of other cities. That was not to be, even though, in 2003, the Los Angeles Times cooed hopefully in its news pages that this “City Council is a much younger, better-behaved and bouncier version of its former self.”
As their pay rocketed upward in this decade, council members started to bemoan the fact that they had only eight years due to term limits, which were forced on them during a movement begun by former mayor Richard Riordan. The City Council members claimed they’d be far more “effective” if they could stay 12 years, not eight. In cash terms, another four years meant roughly $1 million for each council member. In 2006, Garcetti led the charge, and the council quickly joined him in mounting a bizarrely non-transparent, widely decried, five-day rush job to put Measure R on the ballot, which “only a graduate of the Evelyn Woods Reading Dynamics” could keep up with, recalls Greg Nelson, a former city department head.
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