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Also in 2006, an audit by then–City Controller Laura Chick found potentially severe problems developing under his leadership. Adelman had failed to ensure that his code inspectors were trained to meet even minimum state standards or underwent required training. A significant 43 percent had no state-recognized professional certificate.
Adelman left important fee-setting decisions to “the discretion of individual code-enforcement inspectors” — who often were undertrained or uncertified. In a practice that could easily invite corruption, angry residents and businesses were getting slapped with widely varying fees “for the same violations throughout the city,” the audit found.
The department was failing to supervise building inspectors, was giving patently preferential treatment to rich developers, and was manipulating statistics — essentially, lying — to make Building and Safety seem efficient. Chick also found “tricks and games in how it oversees some of its funds.”
In fact, Adelman’s department wasn’t efficient and wasn’t keeping up with the basics. Chick found a staggering pile of 13,600 “unresolved” code violations. Many violators were issued minor or no penalties. A backlog of 4,400 overdue elevator inspections had built up — a fact that, were it widely known, would probably upset downtown high-rise dwellers.
Chick pledged to “stay inside the department” while reforms were put in place, and Villaraigosa’s office called Chick’s audit “a road map for change.” Three years ago, Villaraigosa spokesman Joe Ramallo declared: “Anyone who is not toeing the line will face the most serious consequences.”
In fact, there’s no evidence a mayoral crackdown took place.
Villaraigosa, as the Weekly reported last fall, gives very little policy attention to any department, aside from LAPD. And Chick got busy auditing the lawsuit-mired Fire Department and delving into LAPD’s loss of a federal grant for DNA testing of long-forgotten rape evidence.
It now appears that Villaraigosa, Chick and others took Adelman at his word when he said he had halted most of his bad practices. Six months after Chick’s audit, Adelman officially reported to her that he had a plan to address her 10 findings and 28 recommendations. “I assume [the needed changes] were made,” says Zine, who serves on the City Council’s audit committee. But, he admits, “I don’t know.”
Zine is frank about being in the dark. Nobody in charge at City Hall knows whether the same rule-bending that Chick found — manipulation of data, ignoring of state certification rules and the tendency of undertrained inspectors to set wildly varying fees — is still occurring. And City Controller Wendy Greuel, who promised voters she would crack down on “waste, fraud and abuse,” says she is not going to conduct an audit anytime soon. Instead, Greuel is going to wait up to six months — for yet another written update from Adelman’s department. “We need to see what the next six-month update will be,” says Greuel spokesman Ben Golombek.
But in fact, such self-reporting is unverifiable and will not provide Greuel with hard facts about what is really going on. The only way to get such information is to conduct a full audit, as Chick did.
Meanwhile, Adelman’s department is mired in heated civic controversies that won’t go away. It has failed to conduct even minimal earthquake-safety inspections of 4,000 illegal L.A. billboards; now it is failing to check 800 unregulated pot dispensaries. The pot stores have spread across the city so rapidly that KCET reports it’s easier to open a marijuana clinic in Los Angeles than a Starbucks.
Daniel Heimpel and Max Taves contributed to this story.