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
Backed by its allies, David Nichols from the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and Liz White from the League of Women Voters, the council publicly vowed that a brand-new bunch of ethics reforms in Measure R — the third batch in 16 years — would finally clamp down on undue lobbyist influence. In turn, the council would get four extra years to tackle the big issues once and for all.
Measure R passed in 2006. It is widely viewed as a major failure and has illuminated the questionable role and flagging reputation of the city’s once-independent League of Women Voters. Lobbyists are still the most respected voters in L.A. — and the big citywide issues are still on the back burner. “None of the [Measure R] reforms were worth a damn,” says Bill Boyarsky, an Ethics Commission member at that time, who also closely watched the two previous efforts to reform City Hall as a Los Angeles Times editor and reporter.
Not long after Measure R became law, the council got big raises. In fact, the council and Villaraigosa get a raise — automatically — if California state workers get a raise, or if Superior Court judges get a raise. The frequent raises have spiked the already-highest-in-the-nation council pay to near $179,000. A few council members were so embarrassed that they gave their last raises to charity or diverted them to city spending, as did Villaraigosa, who accepts $223,186 of his $232,426.
That’s not good enough for Hollywood community activist Chris Shabel, who asks: “Why don’t they take a pay cut like everyone else?” In fact, Dennis Zine a few days ago called for a 10 percent City Council pay cut, but the rest of the council often ignores his frequent pleas to cut spending.
“There’s a get-along, go-along culture in City Hall,” Boyarsky says. That culture may also explain why City Council members tolerate the goofing-off antics and time-wasting publicity grabs of their colleagues. Through a California Public Records Act request, the Weekly obtained the work schedules of every council member between October 1 and January 14. The calendars show that the new era described by L.A. Times reporters in 2003 never took hold.
The schedule for Greig Smith, one of only three fiscal watchdogs on the City Council, who represents District 12 in the Valley, is filled with “excused” absences or early leaves. Attending three council meetings per week — one of the few constitutionally required duties — is a bit much for Smith, who is often at the Los Angeles Police Department, where he’s a reservist at the “cold case” division. Out of 11 excuses in a three-and-a-half-month period, seven of them involve leaving a City Council meeting early so he could play cop.
LaBonge, of Council District 4 representing Hollywood, Los Feliz and the Valley, an ebullient guy who tosses around a football on his daily predawn hike up Mount Hollywood, is seen by his colleagues as spending a decent amount of time with his constituents, including work on weekends. But, even as the council was faced last fall with ugly debates over what services to cut and what fees to triple, LaBonge often had sports on his mind.
On Thursday, October 9, his scheduler penciled in the Dodgers away game on Fox. He attended numerous “flag football” games involving L.A.’s public schools, and scheduled two USC football games as part of his work calendar. On Thursday, December 11, the same day newspapers reported that UCLA economists expected a “worsening” recession for most of 2009, LaBonge was busy holding a press conference with Parks and Hahn — to publicize a city section football championship coming up on December 13.
The calendar for Cardenas, of Council District 6, shows him involved in staff briefings and meetings regarding a major issue: gang intervention. But he likes to hit the links during work hours, and a Daily News article last year sought to assure readers that Cardenas “would never discuss policy matters over a golf game.”
On Monday, October 6, Cardenas attended the 22nd Consular Corps Golf Invitational until 3:30 p.m.; on Thursday, October 30, his scheduler wrote that a driving range is open “for your use” between 7 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., and right after that, California State Senator Alex Padillo joined him for a game — until 1 p.m. A few days later, he headed to the Bay Area for the daylong “Shot Gun Start Cal Women’s Golf: Mixed Fourball Shamble.” And on Friday, November 14, Cardenas had time for the Project Living Hope Golf Tournament.
Maria, the community activist in Van Nuys, wonders about his whereabouts. “(Cardenas) never comes to (neighborhood) meetings,” she says. “I think he’s afraid. He shows up to these orchestrated events, where he has a lot of handlers with him.”
Other council members are addicted not to taking on key urban troubles, but to a luncheon/dinner awards circuit at which they promote themselves and angle for press. They frequently insist that their after-hours work focuses on solving the tremendous problems facing the city. In fact, it’s photo-op politics, as honed by Villaraigosa, whom the Weekly recently found spends just 11 percent of his time on city business.
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city