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A Case of Water Carrying

Traditionally, every citizen is subject to the call of public service. When you were young, you used to get a draft notice. In the fullness of retirement, you could be summoned downtown to jury duty. Along with taxation, such obligations are said to be the costs of civilization. Generally speaking, the only individuals exempted are criminal wrongdoers.

Until just now, that is. According to official Department of Water and Power documents, scapegrace former City Councilman Richard Alatorre was hired in March as a consultant. He’s to help in “Developing and Implementing Strategic Legislative and Community Relationships,” according to DWP paperwork. The figure on the yearlong contract is $95,000, to be billed hourly.

But “Richard Alatorre and Co.” is incapable of going anywhere on behalf of the DWP. In fact, Alatorre, at last report, can‘t even lawfully go to the store to buy milk. That’s because he‘s agreed to serve eight months of household confinement for nonpayment of taxes and other noxious aspects of his public career. Until next year, he’s supposedly wearing one of those ankle bracelets that summons the cops if he so much as steps out the door. Fortunately for Alatorre, his firm‘s address is that of his Argus Drive home in Eagle Rock.

The DWP didn’t issue a press release to commemorate Alatorre‘s hiring. I only learned of it from paperwork photocopies that were sent to diverse local watchdogs (not including myself, I might add) by an anonymous DWP employee who, if not disgruntled, certainly couldn’t be described as gruntled.

According to the paperwork, Alatorre has already invoiced the department for $22,500 for his services. On the 16th of May, he was paid $15,000 -- just under eight week‘s wages at his declared annual rate. That’s roughly a month after the media disclosed his home-confinement arrangement. And it‘s just about six weeks after Alatorre saw fit to leave his sinecural, $114,000-a-year duties with the state’s Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. This was the job that state Senator John Burton cast his way after Alatorre‘s pressured 1999 announcement that he wouldn’t seek relelection. Nice timing all around, someone.

So what‘s this really all about? I put in a call to DWP chief operating officer Frank Salas. This was referred to DWP spokeswoman Lucia Alvelais, who said she had not been on board when the Alatorre contract went down, and also claimed that she hadn’t heard of the councilman‘s plea bargain. “He was brought on board to handle critical issues, such as strategic assets and government affairs,” Alvelais said. “Remember, there was talk [in Sacramento] of seizing the city’s power utilities or forcing the DWP to distribute its power at low cost outside the city.‘’

I do remember this indeed. And I recall that the idea was so absurd, popping up as it did amid the governor‘s blasts at the investor-owned power industry, that it barely made the papers. I’d thought it was pretty much settled by a firm but reasonable ”get a grip on things“ letter to Governor Gray Davis by then-City Attorney Jim Hahn, after which the proposal evaporated. (Currently Davis has been reduced to complaining about how much DWP charges the rest of the state for surplus power.) Had it actually taken root, I can think of a lot of people with both law degrees and the legal sanction to fly to Sacramento who‘d have better represented the DWP.a

If this house arrestee gets credit for keeping National Guard Humvees from storming DWP headquarters, then I demand a bronze star for my wearing a ”Buy War Bonds“ pin on my romper suit in 1944 to win World War II.

In any case, the state is now a-swim in surplus power, or so I read in Saturday’s paper. So what further services Alatorre might offer the DWP are a little mysterious.

But here‘s an even better question: Just who is Richard Alatorre & Co.’s secret Santa at the Department of Water and Power? In April, this column noted that the Mayor‘s Office had to step in to quash the DWP’s attempt to sign an open-ended $7 million contract with Cordoba Corp. A previous DWP contract of $149,000 somehow slid under the radar to the same firm, which is excruciatingly well-connected, but periodically non-performing. Cordoba‘s head, George Pla, has for decades been everything but a domestic partner to Alatorre.

Both deals were signed off by former DWP chief David Freeman, who recently agreed to serve as the state’s power czar for Governor Davis. But I‘m reluctant to see the ephemeral Freeman as the person ultimately responsible for the Cordoba and Alatorre contracts. I suspect there is someone else, high in the utility, who still watches out for the self-proclaimed East Side ”Golden Palomino“ and his close friends. Wouldn’t it be fun to find out just exactly who that is?

Alatorre Too?

Whatever young City Council president Alex Padilla turns out to be when he grows up, it won‘t be another Richard Alatorre.

I don’t mean that as a compliment.

For better and worse, Richard Alatorre was the consummate council manipulator. He was so good at making big things happen with little noise that even fellow council members rarely knew exactly how much legislation passed simply because Alatorre wanted it to.

But you learned to spot an Alatorre maneuver -- usually in the form of unwieldy and suspect legislation that slid through the council on a unanimous vote with little or no discussion. Like an agreement to pick up the costs of a Labor Day--weekend sports-car race through downtown L.A. Or the acquisition of a derelict Skid Row hotel for about 10 times its book value. Say what you will, the guy was slick.

But kid Padilla is rough. At 28, he stills seems to have that post-adolescent certainty that no one but himself has feelings. He learned otherwise last week.

As you may recall, Padilla shook things up this month when he broke with a 30-year tradition and didn‘t place African-American council members on the Housing and Community Development Committee and the Economic Development and Employment Committee. This was widely seen as payback: black council members Jan Perry, Nate Holden and Mark Ridley-Thomas had supported colleague Ruth Galanter for council president instead of Padilla. In any case, there was a row, a subsequent demonstration at City Hall, and sure enough, Padilla relented and popped Perry on the first and Holden on the second committee. Ridley-Thomas got left out, which is too bad, since he has the best housing and redevelopment record of any current member. Quite unjustly, Ridley-Thomas finds himself out of the pale in the Mayor Hahn--Council President Padilla regime, because he also had supported Antonio Villaraigosa for mayor.

There was talk of brown-versus-black racism here. But certain public-housing insiders suggested that money was at the heart of the dispute. Both of these committees inject development and housing funds into poor neighborhoods --particularly money from that $100 million housing trust fund that Jim Hahn promised us during his campaign. That’s the kind of economic engine that could allow Padilla to develop his own Alatorre-style patronage machine. No wonder that Padilla wanted his friends in control.

Those friends just didn‘t happen to include any black people.


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