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Hall, who coordinates meetings for the Times’ editorial board, says that requests like Leiweke’s for access to the editorial writers are not uncommon. And before slamming Trutanich in its editorial, the Times first talked with one of Trutanich’s underlings. Billboard opponent Hathaway has met with the editorial board, as has the executive director of Scenic America, a national nonprofit fighting billboard blight.
The editorial, which advised him to lay off the coffee, “looked like a hit piece on Trutanich,” Hathaway says. The unproved accusations raised by Leiweke in the Times news story — that Trutanich was demanding that $6 million be paid into city coffers for Jackson cost overruns — spilled over into the volatile City Council meeting. “It was obvious that people came to that council meeting not just to speak to the issue but to discredit or cast aspersions on the character of the city attorney,” Hathaway contends.
Councilman Bill Rosendahl voted with his colleagues to grant AEG their six billboards but then echoed Hathaway. “I thought Leiweke going to the Times and blasting Carmen was absolutely wrong. Same advice I’d give ‘Nuch’: ‘Tone it down.’ ”
Leiweke openly patronized the City Attorney’s Office, telling the City Council that it was below them to have to engage publicly in the billboard debate, saying, “I’m embarrassed that we have to take you through this [deal] today.”
Political neophyte Trutanich, who beat City Councilman Jack Weiss, in part on his pledge to fight the billboard industry, brought some of the heat upon himself. On July 21, many experts agree, before he was finished with his probe, Trutanich had inappropriately stated that his investigation into the Jackson memorial costs had a criminal aspect. Since then, although he campaigned on “transparency,” he has refused comment.
When the city’s Planning Commission overrode his recommendation to postpone a decision on letting AEG cover large sections of the city-owned L.A. Convention Center with huge, lucrative billboards, Trutanich’s office blasted the commission and, according to one expert, incorrectly interpreted the law. He has also lost credibility with some for flip-flopping on his election promise to allow an audit of former City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo’s $128 million workers compensation program.
Still, Trutanich brings serious firepower to the table in the ongoing billboard wars. Trutanich’s Chief Deputy City Attorney Bill Carter is a former general counsel for the California EPA, and spent 12 years as a prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s office, including as deputy chief of the Public Corruption and Government Fraud Section, as well as served on the Department of Justice’s Environmental Policy Committee. In a separate billboard legal battle, city politicians who have long kowtowed to billboard giants suddenly saw Trutanich’s team win skirmishes against outdoor advertisers — in court.
“The thing that is getting lost in the power struggle is the protection that the sign ordinance gave, which the public had clamored for,” says David Ewing, a community activist.
For now, Trutanich’s foibles are playing into the hands of AEG and its allies in City Hall.
The issue that prompted the war between the brash new city attorney and the powerful chief executive of AEG — how Leiweke got more than $1 million in city funds to cover the Jackson memorial costs — is far from being resolved. Today, more than three months after Jackson’s death, and despite public promises, neither Villaraigosa nor the City Council have explained who actually authorized taxpayer money for an event that benefited a corporation owned by a billionaire.
Correction: The original version of this story wrongly stated that AEG will install digital billboards that can be seen for up to four miles. They will install lighted, not digital, billboards. New revenue data reflecting this has been added to this revised version.
Reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.