Eric Preven isn't like other gadflies, those full-time roustabouts who skulk the halls of L.A. government making public comment after comment until every bureaucrat is ready to put a gun to his or her head. Preven is different; he's... well, he's cleaner. And more normal looking. And: Preven digs up good dirt.
Inspired by something weird that was done to Preven's mom's beloved labrador a few years ago (by L.A. County Animal Control), he's acquired a compulsion to appear each Tuesday to castigate the five powerful members of the County Board of Supervisors, who oversee government programs affecting 10 million people*, control a budget of about $25 billion - and enjoy power and authority virtually unrivaled in California.
They meet Preven with a bitter indifference or, more often, open disdain. But now, the biggest thorn in the Supervisors' sides is running to replace Zev Yaroslavsky, so he can join the bunch he taunts with surprisingly well-informed criticisms and news scoops.
But the race for Yaroslavsky's spot is a bit more competitive. A crowded field includes ex-legislator (and child actress) Sheila Kuehl, ex-Santa Monica City Councilman Bobby Shriver (of The Shrivers), Malibu City Council member Pamela Ulich and West Hollywood City Council member John Duran.
Preven's candidacy ranks somewhere between quixotic and impossible.
Nevertheless, Preven will surely be a breath of fresh air among this field - not just an outsider, but an extremely well-informed outsider.
"For the last three years, I've attended countless board meetings and dug into the details," says Preven. "I think that differentiates me from the other candidates running for the third district."
The Studio City resident, a consultant to a television producer, started attending Board of Supervisor meetings in 2010 after his mother's labrador was taken into custody by the county's Department of Animal Care and Control, where the dog would eventually be held for six months - "without a hearing at my mom's expense," says Preven.
He began complaining to the Supes. They turned a deaf ear. So he returned. They ignored. He returned.
Finally a typically gruff Yaroslavsky said, (according to Preven), "Mr. Preven, you got a legal beef with the county. You want to sue? Take your best shot."
Preven has been attending the Supes' meetings ever since.
"I was waiting around to say something when I started to listen," he says. Eventually, he learned how to make a California Public Records Act request, and began unearthing all sorts of shenanigans.
His breakthrough year was 2012, when he discovered that the Supervisors - known for their stinginess - had spent thousands of taxpayer dollars on limos and chauffeurs on a four-day trip to Washington, D.C.
Preven's findings were picked up by the L.A. Times' news blog.
That same year, he noticed a plan to extend the leases on six County-owned golf courses to the American Golf Corporation - which just so happened to have hired a lobbyist named Matt Knabe, the son of, yes, Supervisor Don Knabe. Preven's digging made its way into a delightful SoCal Connected expose about nepotism.
Unlike L.A. City Council members - who meet just down the street from the Board of Supervisors and usually just ignore their gadflies (with some exceptions - here's looking at you, Paul Koretz) - the Supervisors can become quite irate around Preven.
It's almost as if they care.
For example, there was this touchy exchange with Yaroslavsky in January:
Later that same meeting, another public commenter was saying something patently absurd about Sharia law and was ordered to be removed from the podium by Supervisor Knabe. Preven rushed to his defense, and Supervisor Molina told Preven, "You're an idiot."
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Somewhat predictably, L.A. journalists are shutting Preven out of key debates sponsored by KPCC, KCRW and the March 27 debate at the Los Angeles Press Club. But he will take part in a debate this Saturday at the Palisades Women's Club.
Preven assures us that his campaign activities won't keep him away from the board that loathes him so: "I'm not going to pack in my watchdoggery for this campaign."
*(note: a previous version of this post said the county had 10 billion people in it, instead of 10 million)