Photo by Slobodan Dimitrov
They were sniggering together again, the Richards Alatorre and Riordan, at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority meeting late last month. And why shouldn’t they share some mirth, old buddies that they are?
There is, in fact, probably not an adequate English word for their kind of closeness, but there’s a great term in this city’s other language: That term is carnales, which, with its fleshly, procreative overtones, proclaims a masculine intimacy otherwise tough to describe in the male culture that the same language calls macho.
Now Alatorre’s career is, as homicide detectives used to say of a mortally wounded suspect, circling the drain. His hand-picked successor barely managed a fifth-place finish in last month’s primary for Alatorre’s old seat. Even his old Golden Palominos stablemate, state Senator Richard Polanco, has planted his flag on another summit by backing 14th District runoff candidate Victor Griego.
Yet hope springs eternal, and many at City Hall and the MTA building wonder if government has really seen the last of Alatorre. Particularly as long as he and Dick Riordan remain close.
Alatorre is a major fixer and a mediocre public servant who let his district sink into decay during 12 years in office. He is also a man who, as this column noted on April 23, recently took the Fifth Amendment 108 times during his deposition in a civil suit in which he was not even named a defendant — but which alleged he’d taken a new roof on his house in return for steering a $65 million MTA contract to a consortium including several cronies. This, plus disclosures of drug use and other problems, would, you’d think, render Alatorre an unlikely candidate for higher political appointment.
But you keep hearing that more than one such appointment could come the councilman’s way, although no one wants to speak of such possibilities on the record.
There are said to be two major options here. The first would be an appointment to an unspecified state board, paying around $90,000 per year. This contingency is supposedly being pushed very hard by organized labor, in which Alatorre has inspired deep loyalties. County Federation of Labor officials did not respond when I asked about this possibility, but one county official said such an appointment “was considered a done deal.” Such a slot could be offered not just by Governor Gray Davis, but by Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa or state Senate leader John Burton, who has the least to lose from an Alatorre appointment.
On the other hand, Dick Riordan could simply keep Alatorre sitting on the 13-member MTA board. The mayor sits on that board and appoints three other members. Traditionally, one or two of these have been City Council members. They currently are Alatorre and 12th District Councilman Hal Bernson, plus citizen member José Legaspi. Alatorre could simply continue as another citizen member.
But what would this mean for the rest of us? Probably a double-size contract cost for the Pasadena Blue Line, should it ever be built. Probably further windfalls to the organizations known as TELACU and Cordoba, helmed by Alatorre’s pals David Lizarraga and George Pla.
And what would be in it for Riordan? The mayor now has an aura that verges on the reputable. He’s midwifed a better LAUSD school board and is finally being taken seriously as what has hitherto been an oxymoron, an “education mayor.” He can take some credit for the charter proposal on next month’s ballot — even if it’s not clear whether his attention span is up to helping it over the electoral finish line. And he’s just overseen another well-wrought and non-controversial city budget.
But the Riordan-Alatorre chumship goes way back — to before Alatorre gave Riordan his crucial 1993 endorsement for mayor, which certified that the entrepreneur was a real candidate. And Riordan still needs help from Alatorre, who chairs the council budget-and-finance committee, to politick his latest budget through the full council.
That, plus auld lang syne, might be enough to keep Alatorre on the MTA until Riordan’s successor cleans house.
The Side That’s Losing
Oddly enough, it was none other than Anthony Thigpenn, the longtime South-Central organizer who heads the Metro Alliance, who persuaded me that the Ballona Wetlands Land Trust is no longer a force to be reckoned with. Oh, the Trustafarians were supposed to have their usual Earth Day rout this year, complete with their Aristophanic paper heads, parading to the Ballona Valley with their demands that the whole area be “saved” from development. But that show is, after all, getting old. And despite some fizzled court suits, work is going ahead at full blast on the residential and commercial ends of the project.
Thigpenn’s recent visit to the Los Angeles City Council held considerably more significance. His Metro Alliance has a long history of inner-city organizing, being best known for putting together the broadest opposition to Proposition 209.
Now Thigpenn and the Metro Alliance have come out in favor of something. Would you believe this is the Playa Vista development?
Well, not in so many words. But that’s the idea. The Metro Alliance, as Bobbi Murray reported in these pages last month, has taken an aggressive posture toward Playa Vista: On April 14, it held a City Hall demonstration demanding that the 1,087-acre project, which includes more than 600 acres of commercial and residential development, along with more than 340 acres of open space and wetlands, “give back” some of its multimillions in city subsidies to the minority community, this in the form of jobs and training. And Metro wants guarantees of these jobs.
“Staples Arena is the grim example of what can go wrong,” said Ng’ethe Maina, a Metro official. It’s been recently reported that workers at the Inglewood Forum, who were promised parity jobs in the new facility, weren’t all getting the same jobs at the arena. Meanwhile, Metro has compiled a list of $580 million in subsidies that Playa Vista is allegedly getting. Most of those — more than $400 million — are in Mello Roos state bonds for affordable-housing construction. But there also is over $100 million in city and state fee and rate waivers that Metro says ought not to have been granted without predetermining a percentage of benefits for the community. By no coincidence, Metro’s movement coincides with a city-formulated Playa job-creation package worth more than $30 million, due to be released within a few weeks. Councilwoman Ruth Galanter is among those working this project.
As you can imagine, there have recently been some extremely brusque encounters among Metro, organized labor (whose pension funds own 28 percent of Playa Vista) and Galanter’s staff. Agreements are likely to be reached, however, sometime this month. And, just perhaps, Metro may get something else it’s been asking for: a $10 million– plus DreamWorks endowment for entertainment-industry training in the Los Angeles community colleges.
Assuming Metro gets something like this, it is hard to see how this attainment would not commit it to supporting DreamWorks–Playa Vista.
The Ballona Wetlands Action Network, on the other hand, offers the community very little except the total resurrection of more than 1,000 acres of what its Web site calls “restorable wetlands.” This is twice the wetlands acreage the Action Networks’ original scientist, Dr. Terry Hufford, charted in his own 1986 Ballona Wetland Delineation Map, and four times the Army Corps of Engineers’ official number. But that’s not the real issue anymore.
What’s crucial is that there is nothing in the Network’s proposal for the more than 50 neighborhood and labor organizations that constitute Metro Alliance: no jobs for at-risk youth, no career training, no low-cost housing. Many, including me, have mixed feelings about the whole proj-ect, but the DreamWorks–Playa Vista train is pulling out of the station, and it’s time for those who want to benefit to scramble on. Indeed, the first onboard was state Senator Tom Hayden, who previously had led the attack against the project, but who last year, in the wake of some savage Westside gang shootings, cast his lot with Playa Vista jobs for at-risk youth. Now it’s Metro Alliance. Cynics may say Metro is being opportunistic, but if you’re committed to inner-city employment and career education, the opportunities are a-building in the development of the Ballona Valley — not in marching against it.
Most Sinister Agenda Item of the Week
From the April 27 calendar of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Public Hearings section, Item 8:
“Hearing on the proposed rate increases for refugee disposal at the Calabasas Landfill, effective July 1, 1999.”