How Eric Garcetti's Getty House Renovations Socked Taxpayers for $453,000
Amy Wakeland and Eric Garcetti pushed city workers for a host of renovations to Getty House, including new paint, carpet and lighting.
PHOTO BY TED SOQUI
Amy Wakeland wanted new light bulbs at Getty House. It was late August, and the wife of new mayor Eric Garcetti had taken command of renovation work at the mayoral residence. On her list of improvements were LED bulbs — ones that would be friendly to the Tudor mansion's interiors while also advancing the mayor's environmental agenda.
The lighting at Getty House had just been upgraded in 2007, and it already had some LED bulbs and compact fluorescents. In the opinion of the city's building maintenance director, there was "probably not much of an opportunity to save energy by changing the lights."
But Wakeland told city workers she could get some donations, and she tasked the mayor's sustainability officer with rustling up some free bulbs. A private equity firm ended up donating some lights, but that did not cover the full cost. In the end, the city spent $14,000 on new lighting for Getty House.
The light bulbs were just a small part of the $453,000 renovation undertaken last fall at city expense. New records released by the mayor's office show that Wakeland was the driving force behind the project, and that city employees sometimes bristled at her requests. Begun as a modest touch-up, the project quickly escalated, resulting in multiple delays.
"We are experiencing a case of scope creep at the Getty House," Kelly Cooper, the director of building maintenance, emailed her supervisor in response to one of Wakeland's requests in early September.
In early November, another city employee wrote, "[T]he whole job is a bunch of added changes."
In response, another employee replied: "You hit the nail on the head when you stated this whole job is 1 big change order."
Garcetti did not announce that his family would be moving into Getty House until mid-November. Garcetti told reporters in late November that the city's Department of General Services had instigated the repairs.
"We had not made the decision till a couple weeks ago about moving in there," he said, "so this was stuff they were doing regardless."
But those statements are contradicted by public records.
In November, the Weekly filed a request for emails, budgets, invoices and other material related to the Getty House renovation. Five months later, the mayor's office provided more than 1,000 pages of documents. The records show that the Garcetti family had decided to move into Getty House shortly after Garcetti was sworn in, on July 1, and that Wakeland quickly took the lead on the renovation work.
On July 10, Wakeland toured the house with Patrick Brown, executive director of the Getty House Foundation, which operates the building. She asked that the wood floors on the second-floor bedroom be refinished, and wanted the carpet removed on the stairs to the third floor. She worried that the carpet was "full of accumulated dust and allergens," according to an email Brown sent to Mark Roussel, a district supervisor in the Department of General Services.
As for a storage room on the third floor, Brown wrote that Wakeland wanted city workers to "get that room painted and freshened soon so that she can begin to move some things in there."
She also made a request for more lighting outdoors.
On July 22, Wakeland toured the house again.
"She's very pleased with the process and appreciative of everyone's efforts," Brown wrote to Roussel. However, Wakeland did have several additional requests, such as repainting a closet, refinishing stairs and removal of a metal frame over the breakfast nook. She also said that she and the mayor would reimburse the city for new carpet on the third-floor stairs and in the third-floor gym, which she wanted to convert to a playroom for their daughter, Maya.
Garcetti would later say that he had paid for all the improvements in the house's private areas. However, in all the pages of Getty House records, the new carpet was the only thing Garcetti or Wakeland offered to pay for. Garcetti's office did not respond to several requests for comment.
Even as the improvements were under way, Garcetti was still maintaining publicly that the family had not decided whether to move into the official residence or remain in their modernist home in Silver Lake.
"We're thinking about it," Garcetti told the L.A. Times on Aug. 6. "But we're still undecided."
In reality, city workers were struggling to hit an Oct. 1 deadline to finish the renovations so that the Garcetti family could move in. At one point, 16 employees from several departments were holding weekly meetings on the project.
However, they were having a hard time getting Garcetti and Wakeland to choose paint colors.
"We need the color choice ASAP," Roussel wrote to Brown on Aug. 13.
"Working on it," Brown replied.
But later that day, he reported that Garcetti and Wakeland were still undecided. They asked for samples of several shades of white — Acadia White, Timid White, Mayonnaise, Cotton Balls, Easter Lily.
A week later, Brown reported that they had made a decision. For the ceiling they would go with Cotton Balls, and for the walls, Timid White.
Garcetti's staff has been extremely sensitive to questions about Wakeland's role, with the office routinely stonewalling public records requests that relate to her. In one instance, the mayor's general counsel, Rich Llewellyn, refused to release records, arguing that Wakeland was covered by the personnel exemption — though she does not work at City Hall. He also invoked a spousal-privilege exemption, which does not exist in the public records law.
"There's no point in talking about the Amy Wakeland stuff," mayor's spokesman Jeff Millman said last fall. "You're not going to get it."
As a result, Wakeland's role at City Hall remains murky. Though she has served on boards of several nonprofits, she does not appear to have full-time employment. In 2012, Garcetti reported on a financial-disclosure document that Wakeland had earned less than $10,000 the year before as a nutrition and fitness consultant. On more recent documents, she reported no income.
The Getty House records offer a rare glimpse of Wakeland in action. In early September, she sent an email to Brown expressing concern about her daughter's safety.
"I do not believe those windows are up to code," she wrote, arguing that the existing screens were flimsy and could "open to a sure death fall."
"Has anyone ever brought this to your attention or is it just because I have small children that I have noticed this?" she wrote.
Brown was worried that installing permanent screens would alter the historic character of the building. Ultimately, the city ended up placing a rush order for window restrictors from Britain. However, they did not arrive in time, so a city maintenance worker designed restrictors himself.
The city also hired an environmental consultant to search for asbestos, but they were not as thorough as Wakeland wanted. "She received information from a personal source who suspected asbestos in the basement," a mayoral staffer wrote. Though the basement had already been checked, the staffer suggested doing it again.
In November, the project was on track for completion by Dec. 1. One key item remained. The family wanted several wooden signs installed on ground-floor doors, with the word "PRIVATE." But no matter how many samples city workers came up with, they could not find a font that the mayor liked. Finally, they asked the mayor to sketch the lettering he wanted.
On Nov. 6, he wrote out the word "PRIVATE" on a piece of paper and gave his instructions: a sans-serif font, wide spacing, maybe Art Deco–influenced, on silver/metal backing.
This decision was up to him, and he made it.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Los Angeles, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.