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10 Going on 16

The L.A. Police Commission threw a going-away bash Tuesday for Valley car-sales mogul Herbert Boeckmann II, who must give up his seat on the five-member panel due to a police-reform measure that limits commissioner terms. But anyone with enough fingers to count must have noticed that 16-year panelist Boeckmann has been around far longer than the maximum two terms permitted under the city charter.

Boeckmann, owner of Galpin Motors in North Hills, already had served seven years under Tom Bradley when then-new mayor Richard Riordan returned him to the commission to fill an unexpired term in 1993, the same year the reform measure was adopted. Boeckmann then served a second term, which ran out at the same time Jim Hahn took the mayoral oath in 2001. But Hahn wanted to keep an experienced Valley presence to help combat secession and to steady the inexperienced police panel, so with a legal sleight of hand he appointed the termed-out commissioner to complete the tail end of another member’s term.

Even now, Boeckmann isn’t disappearing from the scene — at least not entirely. Hahn picked top Boeckmann aide Alan Skobin, Galpin’s vice president and general counsel, to succeed his boss on the commission. Skobin, like Boeckmann, will be the panel’s only Republican. But unlike Boeckmann, he is a lawyer — as are each of the four continuing police commissioners.

—Robert Greene

Padilla’s Personal Battles With Accountability

The long, sad saga of a lobbying-reform ordinance that just can’t seem to make it to the council floor got a little longer and a little sadder last week as Council President Alex Padilla sent it back to committee “at the request of a council member.” In an unusual move Padilla didn’t specify who the council member was, but the City Clerk’s Office identified the requesting member as — Alex Padilla. The committee it was sent to is chaired by — Alex Padilla. Padilla has set no schedule to take up the measure, which was first sent to council by the City Ethics Commission in the summer of 2001.

The law, if it is ever passed, would disqualify elected officials from acting on contracts, ordinances or anything else that comes their way if they get lobbied on those matters by people who also raised campaign money for them. The idea is to prevent the mayor, the council and other officeholders from owing legislative favors to paid lobbyists who went to bat for them at election time.

Padilla tried to squelch the matter in committee, but his committee colleagues made sure the matter moved forward. But so much time has passed that five new council members have come aboard, and Padilla spokesman David Gershwin said they need time to get up to speed. Meanwhile, Padilla gets to appoint new members to his rules committee, where the measure languishes, and there is a chance that the new appointees will be more likely to see the lobbying reforms the same way he does.

—Robert Greene

Another Jab at the Baretta Investigator

Robert Blake’s defense team was back in Van Nuys court last week asking for approval to take testimony from a potential bombshell witness before the actor’s murder trial even begins. But the judge rejected the unusual request, ruling the jury has a right to see and judge the credibility of Diane Mattson for itself.

In pleading his case to put the Washington state resident on the stand at a pretrial hearing, Blake’s defense attorney, Thomas Mesereau, targeted the credibility of Robbery Homicide Detective Robert Bub for a second time.

Last March, the L.A. Weekly reported that Bub had misrepresented statements from Robin Robichaux, a waitress at Vitello’s Restaurant, the night Blake’s wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley, was gunned down. Bub told the Weekly he made a mistake in his preliminary-hearing testimony, because he forgot about a taped follow-up call with the witness.

This time, the actor’s attorney alleged that Bub and his partner had not taped a recent follow-up interview with Mattson, so they could misrepresent what she told them in court.

Mesereau told the judge that Mattson, a former friend of Christian Brando, the son of Marlon Brando and the former lover of Bakley, overheard a speakerphone conversation between the younger Brando and Ronald “Duffy” Hambleton, in which shooting Bakley was discussed. Hambleton is a former stuntman and key prosecution witness who testified at the preliminary hearing that Blake solicited him for murder.

Prosecutor Greg Pohi said police eliminated Brando as a suspect after Mattson told detectives they were at a barbecue in Washington the night of the murder. Mattson, said Mesereau, called the defense team after the preliminary hearing was over because she recognized Hambleton’s voice from his televised testimony. In court, Mesereau stated that Mattson told her story to defense investigators and then to LAPD detectives the second time they interviewed her. Her attorney also confirmed this. Mattson was first interviewed by police at Brando’s lawyer’s office, but never mentioned the phone call because she was too afraid, her lawyer said.

 

Mattson’s attorney, Brian Oxman, also said she is terrified of Brando because he allegedly threatened to shoot her if she testified against him. And, he added, this request was made to put her testimony on the record to give her insurance against Brando’s threat.

But prosecutor Dohi disputed her claim that she felt threatened. He also told the court that Mattson had not consented to being taped, when she was re-interviewed by detectives. Both Mesereau and Mattson’s attorney disputed that assertion.

Outside the courthouse, Bub acknowledged that Mattson had told them her story about the alleged phone call and threat. But he appeared to contradict Dohi, saying, “Taping the interview was not an issue that came up when we last spoke to her.”

—Jim Crogan

The Pension Police

A state appeals court in San Francisco issued a ruling last Friday that could cost financially shaky Los Angeles County $190 million in additional pension obligations. The crux of the ruling is that bonuses and other cash payments made over the years to county workers must be calculated, along with wages and salaries, in determining pension benefits.

Counties already knew that was state law and already were complying with it under a 1997 state Supreme Court decision. What they didn’t know, until Friday, was that the high court’s ruling applied retroactively to employees who already had retired. The Los Angeles County retirement system takes the biggest hit, but other counties around the state also are on the hook for an estimated $500 million. An appeal to the state Supreme Court is virtually certain.

—Robert Greene

The Homeless Posse

The gentrification of — of all places — downtown’s Skid Row has prompted battles between new loft residents and business owners on one side and advocates for the homeless on the other. It also spurred Sheriff Lee Baca to seek a new homeless encampment several blocks to the north near Chinatown. That proposal was swiftly scuttled by downtown boosters. But now Los Angeles Garment & Citizen reporter Eugene Yi relates that Baca has his eye on two Caltrans-owned sites in South Los Angeles, one near the intersection of Vermont Avenue and the Century Freeway, the other where the Harbor Freeway crosses Manchester Boulevard.

A political advantage to the sites is that the areas are unincorporated, so no city government would be able to object. A practical advantage would be that the encampments are separated from residential areas by fenced rail lines and other natural barriers, and would be staffed by 24-hour security. The flip side is that the homeless would live in what is essentially an armed camp.

The city’s current Skid Row also was an attempt by local government authorities to pool the homeless, both to keep them near services and to keep them away from homes and businesses. But no one could have guessed that the empty office buildings and warehouses there would one day be converted into trendy homes for young urban workers.

—Robert Greene

Fernando Will Never Believe This

Councilman Tom LaBonge spoke for more than a few City Hall denizens last week when he expressed amazement on the council floor about developer Alan Casden’s proposal to raze Dodger Stadium and build housing in Chavez Ravine. The plan confronts the city with numerous ironies and twists. It was reported in the Los Angeles Times one day before closing night at the Mark Taper Forum of Chavez Ravine, the Culture Clash comedy about the neighborhoods in the hills northwest of downtown that were razed by the city to make way for public housing.

Red-baiting and fears of “creeping socialism” by city movers and shakers — including the Times — meant the housing was never built. The public land was given to Walter O’Malley to build a new home for the Brooklyn Dodgers. County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, Mayor Norris Poulson and Councilwoman Roz Wyman, all of whom are depicted in the play, argued that Los Angeles could never achieve greatness without major league baseball. Last week, as Casden sought to build a new stadium near Staples Center and return housing to Chavez Ravine, civic leaders argued on the council floor that Los Angeles will never achieve greatness without adequate affordable housing.

—Robert Greene

Shhh! Big Brother’s Watching

What goes on in a public library should stay there. L.A.’s board of library commissioners voted unanimously last week to ask the City Council to oppose sections of the USA PATRIOT Act that make it easier for authorities to find out what patrons are reading.

 

The 330-member Librarians’ Guild took aim at Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act which loosens the rules on how authorities can find out what books people check out or request and what Internet sites they visit while at the library. It used to be that police or federal agents needed a court order to get library records. As of November 2001, these records can be obtained via a special federal court that grants search rights virtually without scrutiny. The law also affects bookstores.

As strong as it seems, commissioners stopped short of posting signs in city libraries about the issue. Rosalie Preston, the guild’s executive vice president, said the commission’s reluctance to post signs can be blamed on library management, which just last month acknowledged that it would not take a stand on the issue at all. “We were disappointed that the board didn’t have the courage to take a really strong stand,” said Preston. “If it wasn’t for us they wouldn’t have taken a stand at all.”

No date has been set for the council to consider the matter. If the City Council passes a resolution, it will become the largest U.S. city to take a position.

—Christine Pelisek

Spare Us a Congratulatory Resolution

In intense political competition over the weekend, a Dragon Boat team led by Councilman Ed Reyes bested Congressman Xavier Becerra’s crew at Echo Park Lake. But in races held as part of the Lotus Festival, Team Reyes was later defeated by Councilman Eric Garcetti’s squad. Garcetti now leads Reyes 2-to-1 in their annual showdown.

—Robert Greene


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