By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
In January, Fuentes introduced Assembly Bill 1676 on behalf of a wildly self-interested special-interest group made up of one: Felipe Fuentes. The retroactive law would have "immediately" forced from office any local politician caught living outside his voting district. Two days later, Councilman Richard Alarcon suddenly made the evening news — an investigation had been launched into allegations he was living in Sun Valley, not part of his district. Alarcon's defense was that squatters had taken over his dilapidated, slumlike tract home. He and his wife currently face felony voter-fraud charges arising from the probe.
Fuentes' ambitious reputation for bringing highly conflicted, ghostwritten bills to the Assembly floor — more than almost any of the other 119 legislators, although the Mercury News database reveals that several Los Angeles–area assemblymen are among the worst — has become an inside joke in Sacramento.
When Fuentes introduces a new bill in the august Assembly chambers, there's so much scorn for him that his own Democratic Assembly colleagues quietly chant "Bwop, bwop, bwop," making a sound like a police cruiser headed to a crime scene. Their message: Trouble is on the way.
Trouble indeed, says Blue, who finds it ironic that Fuentes, a Latino, would throw his support to a land-grab law that could displace Los Angeles Latinos in much the same way the CRA was infamously created in 1948 — to "redevelop" a historic Latino community called Chavez Ravine.
The city planners promised they would build new, better homes at Chavez Ravine. Instead, they built Dodger Stadium.
"Fuentes didn't write" AB 2531, Blue says. "He introduced the bill because of his relationship with the city."
Blue and Kruse learned of AB 2531 just before it got to the governor's desk. The two organized a letter-writing campaign and fired off scores of e-mail alerts to stop the nonsense — and the governor vetoed Fuentes' bizarre expansion of "blight."
Nobody knows if the two Hollywood activists stopped the governor, or if Schwarzenegger was waiting with his veto pen.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled five years ago in Kelo vs. City of New London that the state of Connecticut could seize a working-class neighborhood to build a mall, 43 states have enacted laws to protect communities from blatant land grabs.
Fuentes was trying to roll back California's not very protective law, making it far easier to declare minority and working-class neighborhoods blighted — thus joining 19 states that have nearly unlimited definitions of "blight."
The Democrat-controlled California Legislature backed Fuentes up.
The governator told the Legislature he killed the bill because "redevelopment funds are to be used solely for the purpose of eliminating blight. ... This bill would authorize the use of redevelopment funds for projects that are not necessarily blighted, as well as for projects outside the redevelopment area, and as such would violate the primary purpose of redevelopment law."
Fuentes defends AB 2531 by saying anything that benefits L.A. is a good deal, and the new law was poised to fulfill some dreams. For whom, he wouldn't say.
Legislating Sacramento-style means the public has to put up with the good, the bad and the ugly of lawmaking, Fuentes implies.
"If you're doing something for big business like a tobacco company, then it's wrong" to put his name on bills he didn't write, Fuentes says. "But if you're doing it for L.A., as in the case of this bill, it's good for redevelopment. I did this [AB 2531] in collaboration with the city."
Fuentes called it a good and simple bill that, instead of addressing the bricks-and-mortar issue of redevelopment, would have changed the way the CRA in Los Angeles spends its money, letting the funds go to "incubate small businesses, promote green jobs and technology and provide job training."
"If there was ever a time to move money around through development, it's now," Fuentes says. "I'm not trying to figure out how to create Disneyland. I'm interested in redevelopment."
Fuentes insists the bill "doesn't say anything about taking land or displacing people."
No, but then, he didn't write a word of it.
"When there's money involved, the process is corrupt," Blue says. "Many people greased the wheel to get this bill going, including bond lawyers, developers and Felipe Fuentes."
Villaraigosa did not respond to L.A. Weekly's request for an interview. But he blessed AB 2531 when he signed off on the City Council's legislative wish list last February.
The law was backed by the Los Angeles City Council, 15 people who vote as a unanimous block 99.993 percent of the time, usually taking their cue from Villaraigosa — even on wildly controversial ideas such as this one. Voting yes were Alarcon, Janice Hahn, Paul Koretz, Jan Perry, Ed Reyes, Bill Rosendahl, Dennis Zine and four City Council members running for re-election in 2011: Tony Cardenas, Tom LaBonge, Bernard C. Parks and Herb Wesson. Four were absent: Eric Garcetti, Jose Huizar, Paul Krekorian and Greig Smith.
CRA Chief Deputy Jim Dantona says there's nothing wrong with Fuentes' legislative tactics.
"Fuentes saw it, liked it and so he attached his name and presented it," Dantona says. "With this bill we were trying to get money spread out through the city instead of just targeting our redevelopment projects."