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"There's nothing wrong with generating ideas from different sources," he says. "I'm not an attorney and I'm not the best writer and I depend on the city people," meaning the Los Angeles city officials and civil bureaucrats who are actually writing the bills on which Fuentes puts his name. "There isn't a monopoly on good ideas. I'll take them from anyone."
Indeed, Fuentes has carried water for pretty much any special-interest group you can think of, including the Independent Automobile Dealers Association of California, Workers' Compensation Pharmacy Alliance, the California Medical Association, the Personal Insurance Federation of California and Symantec Corporation.
But perhaps his pièce de résistance is the one that got away: He put his name on a stinker of a law known as Assembly Bill 2531, which was ghostwritten by Los Angeles' powerful Community Redevelopment Agency.
See, the CRA is a semi-autonomous city department that siphons off a portion of property taxes and uses those monies to redevelop "blighted" city neighborhoods. It does that by giving loans to owners — usually development companies who rehabilitate property or tear down existing buildings to erect apartment complexes, hotels or office towers.
It sounds pretty, but AB 2531 also had the potential to displace thousands of minority and poor L.A. residents — and wipe out huge swaths of nonblighted Los Angeles — through a land grab disguised as redevelopment.
The CRA has the power to declare eminent domain over blighted areas. According to the original wording of AB 2531 that Fuentes put his name on, "blight" would be expanded to a radical new definition: those unhealthy neighborhoods with "high incidences of obesity, diabetes and other diseases which are affected by poor access to fresh food" or places where there are "high incidences of asthma, lung cancer and other respiratory diseases which are affected by air pollution or the presence of contaminated properties," and, lastly, areas "that suffer from a lack of parks and open space."
Neighborhoods with limited open space and parks, or a lack of fresh vegetables, with an elevated incidence of diabetes or obesity, or with high incidents of lung problems, were now "blighted" and at risk.
Much of park-poor, asthma-suffering, overweight Los Angeles, in fact.
About 24 percent of the residents on the city's Eastside are obese, as are 30 percent of those who live in South Los Angeles. In West Los Angeles, just 11 percent are obese. According to the county Department of Public Health and the local chapter of the American Diabetes Association, in 2007, the diabetes rate among African Americans increased to 11.4 percent in L.A.; 12.8 percent of L.A. Latinos have the chronic disease. By comparison, 5.7 percent of whites in L.A. County have diabetes.
Oh, and "blight" also would include public housing in L.A. that's more than 50 years old — pretty much drawing a bead on several projects built before 1960, which are home to some of the city's poorest, and many of its most fiercely antiredevelopment, Latino and black residents.
"Currently, you have to prove an area is blighted, and that takes about two years to do so," Blue says. Fuentes' law, dreamed up by the insiders at Los Angeles' redevelopment wing, "would have circumvented the process and eased the definition of 'blighted.' "
It also would have allowed developers first dibs on land condemned by the CRA and the city — while providing those developers with favorable loan terms, Blue says.
Ziggy Kruse, a legal researcher and CityWatchLA blogger who previously blew the whistle on a negligent Hollywood redeveloper, CIM Group — taping an embarrassing video that forced CIM Group to tear down a festering old motel filled with rotting garbage — joined Blue in begging Schwarzenegger to veto the bill.
Says Kruse: "The CRA tries to get its hands on whatever land it wants. There are a couple of obese city councilmen whose neighborhoods could be condemned and land taken if this bill had become law."
She leaves it to voters to figure out who they are.
Kruse and Blue say Assemblyman Fuentes pushed the bill because it's what Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa wants — and Fuentes, who clearly has political ambitions beyond 2012, when he'll hit his Assembly term limit, wants Villaraigosa's support when he makes a move to gain Richard Alarcon's seat on the L.A City Council.
Fuentes was a deputy mayor under James Hahn, assigned to duties in the San Fernando Valley, in 2001. Then he became chief of staff to then–Los Angeles City Council President Alex Padilla, now a state senator and Fuentes' current protector in Sacramento.
Some Democratic Assembly members in Sacramento, says one legislator who insists upon remaining anonymous, believe that Fuentes sent the tip to L.A. District Attorney Steve Cooley's office that launched the investigation of where Councilman Alarcon really lives.
Fuentes, his colleague says, is nakedly ambitious to grab Alarcon's City Council seat early — before Alarcon reaches his term limit in 2013 — and he openly hates Alarcon.