By all accounts, 2011 was a breakout year for Andrea Alarcon that saw her star rise high over L.A.'s political scene. Under Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's wing, the 33-year-old Loyola Law School grad, single mother and scion of the Alarcon political clan — bright, attractive and generally well-liked — moved from volunteer appointments on obscure transportation commissions to powerful president of the Board of Public Works, where she earns a $130,000 salary with say-so over the department's $1.8 billion budget.
Alarcon flexed her new muscle in bold fashion. In August 2011, she wiped out the 30-year-old Sunset Junction music festival just days before the popular event was set to begin, withholding the organizer's permits due to a dispute over a $260,000 bill owed to the city. Around the same time, Alarcon led the ouster of the city's bus-bench contractor for allegedly cutting the city out of bench-kiosk advertising revenue.
The very same month, at the helm of the city's Art Walk Task Force, Alarcon bullied food trucks, musical acts and sidewalk vendors out of a four-block area that makes up the popular monthly Downtown Art Walk. This year, she was a subject of controversy in June when L.A. Weekly reported that Alarcon led what appeared to be a legally questionable ban of food trucks from the core of Art Walk. The Department of Building and Safety cited a 1996 court injunction that prevents the city from banning food trucks, as Alarcon has done. Critics attacked her as arrogant and unapproachable on the issue. At one point she lectured TruckIt food-truck festival operator Phillip Dane, at a public hearing, “I'm not going to engage in a back-and-forth with you. We will talk about it at another time.”
Alarcon's demonstration of power and fiscal hawkishness earned her praise from L.A.'s budget watchdogs and garnered increased talk of Alarcon as a possible candidate for her father's City Council seat. As good as 2011 was for Alarcon, however, it also marked the beginning of a public fall from grace that ended last month, when her social life bested her political life.
On the night of Dec. 30, 2011, Alarcon was driving south on Route 18 out of Big Bear Lake with her 10-year-old daughter in the car. The 2009 Volvo she was driving got a flat tire, and her car was blocking traffic in the one lane of the twisty and sometimes treacherous main route out of the mountainous ski resort area. When California Highway Patrol Officer Raymond Thomas arrived on the scene, it was clear that a field sobriety test of Alarcon was in order.
Alarcon failed. She blew at least a 0.15 blood alcohol percent by weight, almost twice the legal limit for a DUI, according to court documents. She was arrested and charged on the spot with two counts of driving under the influence and one count of willful cruelty to a child.
“We view the child as not having a choice as far as being in the vehicle,” CHP Public Information Officer Ben Baker said.
The San Bernardino District Attorney filed misdemeanor DUI and child cruelty charges against Alarcon in June, but the media either ignored that news or never learned of it.
Alarcon is scheduled for a pre-trial hearing next week. Alarcon's lawyer, Michael Scafiddi, several days ago told the Los Angeles Times that he expected two of the three charges to be dropped, a claim that has been widely repeated by California media. But when L.A. Weekly contacted San Bernardino District Attorney spokesman Christopher Lee, he said, “That couldn't be further from the truth. We have no intention of dismissing the charges.”
Alarcon met with Mayor Villaraigosa last December, the day after her DUI. Officials won't say if she offered to resign, but it's now clear the mayor allowed her to slip out of it with her job and reputation intact.
That all ended last month, when the Big Bear DUI charges became public and Alarcon's penchant for partying hard caught up with her in dramatic fashion — in the form of a second investigation for child endangerment in under a year, this time on her own turf at Los Angeles City Hall.
On Friday, Nov. 16, Project Restore, a city agency dedicated to restoring and preserving historic city-owned buildings, held its annual gala at City Hall. The event was attended by the usual politicos, including City Council members, Public Works officials and Villaraigosa, who was honored by Project Restore.
Around 10:30 p.m. that night, as first reported by the Los Angeles Times, Alarcon left City Hall to continue her night out with Lorraine Green, an aide from Villaraigosa's office; the two women stopped by the nearby DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel. The problem was, Alarcon left her 11-year-old daughter behind at City Hall.
A short time later, General Services police officers who patrol the floors and halls in the vast — and, at night, gloomy — old City Hall building, found Alarcon's daughter wandering alone. Police took Alarcon's daughter to the Los Angeles Police Department Central Division.
It's unclear what happened between that time and 2 a.m. — when Andrea Alarcon arrived by taxi at the police station. It is known that at about 1:30 a.m., Villaraigosa aide Green, who had been partying with Alarcon, called Alarcon's city-issued cellphone, the L.A. Times and Los Angeles Daily News reported. Alarcon's daughter had been left with this city cellphone. The girl answered, then handed it to police officers.
Villaraigosa spokesman Peter Sanders said the mayor was not with Alarcon “at any time after he left City Hall Friday night” but declined to comment on Alarcon's whereabouts during the evening. The private staff at the DoubleTree was ordered not to talk to reporters. Outlet Supervisor Amy Shanahan, however, said the hotel bar closed before midnight that evening.
Alarcon and Green have been interviewed by a Department of Children and Family Services worker. Alarcon has not been charged with a crime, but the investigation is still under way.
In a statement issued through the mayor's office nearly a week after the incident, Alarcon said: “My daughter is my top priority and nothing could be more important to me than her well-being. In order for me to be the best parent possible, I have decided to seek professional help and treatment. I ask that the media respect my family's privacy during this difficult time.”
Alarcon has not said what type of help she is seeking. She is on leave from her job, cashing in sick time while away.
Villaraigosa spokesman Peter Sanders declined to comment on her status or provide any insight into the mayor's decision not to fire Alarcon after a second major screw-up in under a year.
The second shoe dropped on Alarcon just as her father, City Councilman Richard Alarcon and his wife, Flora Montes de Oca, sit in the crosshairs of the Los Angeles County District Attorney. The D.A. is prosecuting the Alarcon couple on felony perjury and voter fraud charges for allegedly lying about living outside the 7th Council District boundaries.
In his own legal hot water, Richard Alarcon issued a statement about his daughter:
“My daughter and granddaughter have a beautiful relationship and I am proud of Andrea's ability to balance single parenting with an intense professional career,” Richard Alarcon stated.
“I do not believe these incidents have affected Andrea's job performance. She is recognized as an amazing talent at City Hall. But I am pleased that Andrea is seeking the professional help she needs to resolve these matters,” he added. “Andrea has my full support and I am confident that our family will overcome this challenge.”
Bill Robertson, a former director of the Bureau of Street Services who worked closely with Andrea Alarcon, called her fall from grace “really unfortunate.”
“My understanding is she was doing a good job as president. If she does have issues, I hope she seeks out and gets some help,” Robertson said.