Jane Usher: Neighborhood Blight Fighter | People | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

Jane Usher: Neighborhood Blight Fighter 

Thursday, May 20 2010

When former Planning Commission president Jane Usher resigned that prestigious post two years ago, penning a very public letter to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the city's blogosphere was afire with speculation. Daughter of a small-town defense lawyer whose practice had taken a page from Atticus Finch, Usher had come to believe that city planners were egregiously failing to protect residents' quality of life.

Her father, who represented Jews, blacks and "white trash" accused of crimes in Mansfield, Ohio, had taught her never to walk away from a fight. "Up to sixth grade, he had me convinced that teaching was a more fitting profession for a woman," says Usher, widow of Harry Usher, executive vice president of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. "Then I got radicalized, stumping locally for Eugene McCarthy, Bobby Kennedy and George McGovern. I'm still a sucker for hope."

Instead of melting into the shadows of the private sector, Usher has become a regular antagonist of the power elite at City Hall, slamming the unpopular density that planners, the City Council and Villaraigosa have forced upon treasured neighborhoods, and calling city leaders out for failing to dismantle a forest of illegal billboards.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY KEVIN SCANLON

Related Stories

  • Behind the Scenes With a Political Consultant 8

    Michael Trujillo can't quite shake this cough. He's had it for weeks, picked up on the campaign trail. He needs to meet his mother in the Valley to get one of his old inhalers, which he places on his desk next to a laptop and a bottle of Advil. "There's...
  • L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer Takes on Marijuana With Compassion

    Former City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, who once held the opinion that no dispensary in Los Angeles was truly legal, was reviled by the local medical marijuana community. His predecessor, Democrat Mike Feuer, took Trutanich's job, in at least some small part, because voters were fed up with the onetime Republican's anti-dispensary...
  • Villaraigosa's New Girlfriend, Kim Honig, Is 31 and Lives In New York 17

    Since leaving office in June, former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has been spending a lot of time in New York with his new girlfriend. Kim Honig, 31, is a Manhattan-based sales director for a financial software company. She and Villaraigosa, 61, have been dating for several months. "It's serious," says...
  • LAUSD's Ghost Election 2

    What if they held an election and no voters came? That's the very real scenario facing South Los Angeles next week, when voters decide who should replace the late Marguerite LaMotte on the Los Angeles Unified School District board. Their choices: George McKenna, 73, a longtime LAUSD administrator; or Alex...
  • California Controller's Race: Swearengin Wins Spot But Did John Perez? 4

    Betty Yee, Ashley Swearengin and a relatively known Republican, David Evans, are pushing California Speaker John Perez into a tie for third place for California Controller in early returns, mostly absentee ballots. Evans' solid showing in absentees is somewhat unexpected in the fight to replace the popular outgoing Controller John...

Speaking to the anger of everyday people tired of the crass and the ugly, she earned the regard of neighborhood groups and anticlutter activists. She mixed her bureaucratic knowledge with candid talk, slamming City Hall's "zany exceptions to our own rules and our failure to enact behavior-influencing enforcement tools."

Usher dropped her allegiance to Villaraigosa and instead organized campaign fund-raisers for private litigator Carmen Trutanich, who ran for city attorney against Villaraigosa's ally, then–City Councilman Jack Weiss. "I was really concerned about a City Hall that was a closed door" — a problem under previous mayors. But seeing Villaraigosa in action, she says, "I was worried it would be shut even further."

After Trutanich's upset victory over Weiss last year, the new city attorney hired Usher, the mother of two teenage boys, as his special assistant. Among other things, he has asked her to guide his hard-line stance against rogue supergraphic companies that slather L.A.'s tall buildings with multistory illegal ads.

Villaraigosa, the Los Angeles City Council and former city attorney Rocky Delgadillo all took campaign money from outdoor-advertising firms, who for years erected illegal outdoor advertising with near impunity. Trutanich is aggressively suing such firms, and has seen a steady string of victories in older lawsuits that had dragged on for years. "We have taken a completely different approach," says Usher, whose phone rings frequently. Outdoor-advertising companies "are all calling," she says with relish. "They come in, hat in hand. And we are stone-faced."

Los Angeles politicians allowed the city to become the capital of the nation's illegal-billboard industry, with the attendant blight, tawdriness and clutter. But, Usher says, "The days of lax enforcement of the city's laws are over. They will be enforced for the greater good, for the quality of life of the residents."

Reach the writer at cpelisek@laweekly.com

Related Content