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CRA Cherry-Tops Billionaire Eli Broad's $130 Million Museum With $52 Million More, Before Governor Brown Can Have at It

Now that the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency is on the chopping block, all eyes (including the governor's) are on the final moves of CEO Chris Essel and the Board of Commissioners.

Their latest allocation is business as usual for the rich-get-richer CRA, bending to L.A. City Councilmembers and allied developers, but now that security cameras are turned on and bloggers poised at their laptops, it's like having a front-row seat to the circus.

The Los Angeles Times indulges in a play-by-play of the CRA's frantic last-minute blunders today:

The deal was put together so quickly that the final agreement was still being drafted as the commission, which oversees the Community Redevelopment Agency, prepared to cast votes.

Initially, commissioners were asked to vote without reviewing it. But they backtracked after one commissioner, Madeline Janis, said it was unwise to move so quickly without first seeing an agreement in writing.

And Ron Kaye, former LA Daily News editor on a mission to "clean sweep" current city politicians, takes the mockery even further, getting down to the stuff we really want to hear about: Technical difficulties.

He sneers:

"This is an agency that costs $50 million a year to run -- not counting its hundreds of millions of dollars in charity for the rich and political influential -- but it couldn't get the sound system to work for the commission meeting.

It was painful to watch half a dozen staff members fiddle with the sound equipment and not be able to find the on/off switch."

Her majesty, The Broad
Her majesty, The Broad
Associated Press

Who could possibly set off nerves of this caliber? None other than the oft-declared owner of downtown L.A., Eli Broad -- or, according to that hysterically elegant profile in the New Yorker, "a multibillionaire who made his money in the decidedly unglamorous businesses of tract housing and insurance" and "the Lorenzo de' Medici of Los Angeles -- the city's singular patron, especially of the arts." Ooh la la.

Broad's latest daydream is to erect a $130 million cube of plastic netting next to the Disney Concert Hall, for to house a pinch more of his extensive collection. And what would such a stunning feat of architecture be without a more gigantic parking structure, a plaza for grazing and wider sidewalks out front? That's where the CRA swooped in with $52 million yesterday. (Still to be approved by City Council, but... we all know how that'll go.) Problem solved.

Mind you, the broke-ass council already handed tried to hand L.A.'s real-estate king $7.7 million worth of city land for the project -- you know, like, a baby-shower present. [Update: Since then, according to his communications officer, Broad decided to send the present back: "The Broads have paid $7.7 million to the CRA to lease the land, and the money is earmarked for affordable housing as part of the Grand Avenue Project."]

Now, the CRA apparently thinks the area is "blighted" enough to deserve $52 million more in taxpayer green.

Could it be mere coincidental timing that, in his strict new budget proposal, Governor Jerry Brown wants to abolish California's redevelopment agencies and redirect the funds into silly things like emergency services and schools? The Times investigates:

Officials offered various explanations for why the agency needed to move so quickly on the new agreement.

David Riccitiello, the agency's regional administrator for the downtown area, said the agency needed to move quickly because Broad planned to break ground on his museum within 60 to 90 days and hopes to open in 2013. The new plan, Riccitiello said, would increase the number of spaces within the proposed garage and provide pedestrians more direct access to a nearby planned subway station.

Riccitiello said there was no link between the new museum agreement and the state budget crisis. But Dantona, the agency's spokesman, said the board also needed to move quickly because of the "cloud" over its future in Sacramento.

"In light of the state budget discussions, we wanted to make sure that we dealt with these amendments" to the city's agreement with the museum, he wrote in an e-mail.

For a brief history of (generally wack) CRA deals, see "In Criminal Scheme to Skirt California Law, L.A. 'Community Redevelopment Agency' Only Reminds Us Why It Should Be Toppled." Turns out "The Broad" will be the least of our deficits.


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