Did Mayor Eric Garcetti have only three files from which he chose his city commissioners, who wield influence over whether to fire bad cops, expand LAX into Westchester, push from outside for shakeups at failing LAUSD schools and kill off L.A.'s wildly unsustainable policies such as its patch-the-streets-never-fix-'em follies?
Garcetti Appointee File One: Best friends who backed him for mayor. File Two: Enemies who backed him for mayor. File Three: People who gave him cash to run for mayor. We think, in many cases, Garcetti pulled from the three files. This may explain why his powerful city commissions and mayoral advisory teams contain a tad too many people who have no clue what they're doing.
Here are Garcetti's five worst mayoral appointees:
1. Kevin James
As a 2013 Los Angeles mayoral candidate, former conservative radio host Kevin James was a self-styled outsider who railed against government waste, bureaucratic incompetence and political arrogance. The Republican took on Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel — and won a paltry 16 percent of the vote.
But that 16 percent mattered, greatly, in the general election. When James endorsed Garcetti, it gave the progressive candidate credibility with certain segments of the San Fernando Valley and with fiscal conservatives. It may have even won Garcetti the election. Payback time! Garcetti appointed James to the Board of Public Works, which comes with a fat $136,000 annual salary.
Oh, the power! At a City Journal book party this summer, James was heard stage-whispering to a small group of guests, “The city is going to turn around because I am going to be made president of the Board of Public Works.”
He was, in fact, elected by his fellow commissioners to that leadership role. In true Animal Farm-style, however, once the pig was on the payroll, everything changed. As a candidate, James had been a neighborhood-pandering populist: He opposed plans to move an LAX runway, argued against a Hollywood skyscraper and urged delay on a proposed downtown football stadium, writing that there hadn't been enough time to ponder its 10,000-page environmental impact report. Yet when James confronted his first real challenge at the Board of Public Works — a proposed Sherman Oaks fire station, planned with little public notice and no environmental impact report whatsoever — he voted yes, never mind that it's precisely the sort of deal he would have inveighed against as a candidate. Said one neighbor, “Kevin James is full of shit.” –Sarah Fenske
2. Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana
Garcetti chose Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana as his education adviser — a key role, since Garcetti is quite lost on the topic of bad public schools, in sharp contrast to Antonio Villaraigosa. But now, Garcetti won't be able to play catchup, having stuck himself with a fad-embracing, title-draped roadblock like Melendez.
In Montebello and Pasadena schools, Melendez promoted the “bilingual education” fad that mesmerized educators in the 1980s and '90s. Thousands of grade-schoolers born here, whose parents or grandparents spoke Spanish, were forced by the state to learn Spanish reading/writing before English reading/writing. The now-discredited game of adult cultural politics left vast numbers of kids semi-illiterate in two languages. Poor Mexican-American parents finally rebelled — their war began on Skid Row.
After that, Melendez was a director at the $53 million Annenberg LA Metro Project, a gasp-worthy waste meant to “improve” inner-city schools, squandered on adults learning to coordinate together. L.A. ghetto children got bupkis; flailing teachers weren't taught how to teach. Some termed this “mixed results.” No. $53 million vanished in a steaming pile of feel-goodism.
Melendez — loved by like-minded bureaucrats — also ran the Pomona schools. During her three years, LAUSD kids caught up to Pomona in “advanced” and “proficient” history achievement. In math, L.A. students actually soared past Pomona in “advanced” and “proficient” ability — as Supe Melendez fussed over her bureaucracy.
She was later one of 30 aides to Arne Duncan, Obama's education secretary, and had a short run as Supe at the Santa Ana schools (in a SchoolTube video she says she abruptly retired to be near her family). Maybe she'll leave this job just as fast. Then Garcetti can get a reformer. (Note to mayor: That's someone who thinks lifelong tenure violates the civil rights of children and that lovely, likeable people like Melendez leave children in the dust.)
3. Jackie Goldberg
So Mayor Eric Garcetti wants L.A.'s “world-class” airports to be “critical economic engines,” expecting his new Los Angeles Airport Commissioners to play well together to achieve his dream.
The problem is, he appointed one of the most business-unfriendly, bullying, manipulative politicians in contemporary Southern California history to his commission, former L.A. city councilwoman and state legislator Jackie Goldberg.
Long considered the most lefty of Los Angeles left-wingers, Goldberg, who represented Council District 13 (Hollywood, Silver Lake) from 1994 to 2000 and was a legislator from 2000 to 2006, is into banging heads with colleagues, pushing all kinds of politically correct buttons — even turning on tears to try to get her way. She's not one for subtlety, nuance or manners.
Goldberg likes to waste everyone's time on petty, sometimes illogical, issues. As a state legislator, even blowhard Sacramento colleagues were bemused as she spent her energy pushing for a ban on Native American mascots at public schools.
In 2003, Jackie Goldberg got caught live on “squawk boxes” used to broadcast public hearings to 500 offices throughout Sacramento. Goldberg, Fabian Nunez and nine other Democrats thought their mics were turned off for a secret meeting at which they plotted to prolong the 2003 state budget crisis, thus creating a far worse situation in order to force higher taxes on Californians. “Since this is going to be a crisis, the crisis could be this year,” Goldberg schemed. When warned that their voices were going live on 500 squawk boxes, Goldberg responded, “Oh fuck! Fuck!”
One can already envision Goldberg taking her eye totally off the ball as an airport commissioner and starting fights over the cultural sensitivity of a benign LAX logo or trying to force airport concessionaires to provide more choices for vegans, forgetting completely about real life, passengers, workers, airlines and businesses.
Goldberg-watchers will be waiting to see when she'll break down crying if something doesn't go her way, which happened in 2002 in Sacramento after her bill to require toddler-friendly safety features on swimming pools failed. One can only imagine what she'll waste her time and tears on, as well as everyone else's. –Patrick Range McDonald
4. Emanuel Pleitez
Emanuel Pleitez is a man in a hurry. At just 30 years old, he has already had 14 jobs, according to his LinkedIn account, including stints at Goldman Sachs, the Treasury Department, McKinsey & Co., Spokeo, and a campaign for Congress. Pleitez also ran a long-shot bid for mayor earlier this year, picking up 4 percent of the vote. Now, thanks to Garcetti, he's about to add another line on his resume: L.A. City Fire and Police Pension Commissioner.
Pleitez will bring to the job the buzzy language of Silicon Valley and Wall Street. At a committee hearing on his nomination, he said, “We as a pension fund can be a thought leader in that space,” which has to take some kind of tech-speak prize. “Thought leader” is a favorite phrase of his — he uttered it several times in a subsequent interview.
During his mayoral campaign, Pleitez's most original thought in the pension space was a proposal to offer city employees a “pension buyout.” Roughly, the idea was that he would use the threat of municipal bankruptcy to persuade employees to accept a buyout of their pensions, at some fraction of their actual value. This, he said with glib self-assurance, would save the city hundreds of millions of dollars a year. In a word, that was ridiculous.
All that proves is that Pleitez is not a pension expert, though he is willing to fake it. Which makes him a dubious choice for the Fire and Police Pension board. At the hearing, Pleitez said he would not press for his buyout plan, which Garcetti does not support. In an interview, he said he would focus on investing the pension fund's assets in “the emerging domestic market” — what used to be called “low-income areas.”
It bears mentioning that Pleitez endorsed Garcetti in the runoff, which couldn't possibly have anything to do with his nomination. Whatever the reasons for his appointment, the City Council approved it last week. So here's hoping that once he arrives on the pension board, he spends some time learning his subject. That way, he just might slow down long enough to actually accomplish something, instead of just adding another bullet point on his LinkedIn page. –Gene Maddaus
5. Steve Soboroff
Steve Soboroff seems like a nice guy, and we've learned to like him. But do you really want a smooth political operator in charge of the group who polices the police? We're talking about the L.A. Police Commission, which rules on officer-involved shootings and helps sets policies for LAPD. It seems pretty clear that Soboroff got the gig, and the Commission presidency, because of his support of Garcetti's campaign.
What's not clear is how a guy who made his name in real estate and glad-handing (he helped push the Staples Center project through City Hall, he loves pitching for causes such as the Jewish Olympics) will stand up to an entrenched, macho bureaucracy that takes orders from few. Does a man who has long played the back-slapping game of politics — he's the former CEO of the controversial Playa Vista development and a onetime mayoral candidate — have the will to call out police corruption if he sees it?
After all, when former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt became the most hated man in L.A., McCourt hired Soboroff as his VP and spokesman. Within hours, Soboroff was saying that McCourt was “financially fine” and that “”We need more people like Frank McCourt.” And when pitched controversy erupted over the removal of 371 mature shade trees in South L.A., Inglewood and Westchester that stood in the way of the space shuttle Endeavour's move from LAX to the California Science Center in 2012, LA Weekly caught the Science Center's big booster, Soboroff, in a lie:
Soboroff said, “the vast majority [of trees] to be removed are sick, dying or creating havoc on the sidewalks.”
Nope. The Weekly thought that sounded convenient, and asked widely respected California arborist Jerome Smith to voluntarily survey the 12-mile lineup of condemned trees. Smith discovered that not one tree was dying, the sick ones (not a lot) were treatable, and there weren't egregious sidewalk problems — the problems could be handled with a grinder.
Soboroff kicked off his tenure as Police Commission president by declaring that LAPD cops should wear body-mounted cameras sooner rather than later. Sounds a good idea. Video speaks louder than words when it comes to use-of-force claims. But you can't always trust Soboroff's own words. We hope he stands tough and stays truthful. –Dennis Romero