Of $27 million that the L.A. Community Development Agency was supposed to collect from property owners in blighted areas and redistribute into the community, City Controller Wendy Greuel says she can't find $1.7 million.
So. Did public employees at the agency (and their friends on the City Council) stash $1.7 million in some sneaky backdoor bank account, or just kind of lose track of it along the way?
We're not really sure which would be worse.
One thing that does out-ridiculous any of the sloppy saving/spending, though, is the CRA's excuse, as fed to reporter Rick Orlov at the LA Daily News today:
CRA spokesman David Bloom said the problem developed as part of the governor's plan to eliminate the state redevelopment agencies.
“In response to that, we attempted to give the city most of the money early,” Bloom said. “We held back a tiny percentage of the total funds to assure the final accounting. Once that came in, we released or will release the final amounts.”
In short, Bloom is blaming the accounting blunder (or possible pilfer) on Governor Jerry Brown.
Here's what's hilarious about that: Brown was the first major pol to pay any attention to the hundreds of millions of dollars ebbing and flowing from California's circuit of redevelopment agencies. And the first to ask, Why do y'all exist, again?
When a blistering state audit found the agencies were hardly accomplishing their defining mission — to eliminate blight in California's ghettos — Brown suggested we just funnel CRA funds straight into schools and services, instead of filtering it through an office of real-estate bedfellows and blundering middlemen.
That's when the wild, Brown Act-violating transfer of almost $1 billion from the CRA to City Hall coffers — the one referenced by CRA spokesman Bloom — went down. And that's when he claims the $1.7 million disappeared.
So blaming Brown for this screw-up is like some stoner blaming the LAPD for the pound of weed he lost in his drug-bust getaway attempt. And now these CRA scoundrels have the audacity to talk about their criminal maneuver like some sort of heroic effort to save Los Angeles from the only guy who has our back.
In fact, the CRA has been anything but beneficial to the working-class neighborhoods it was created to nurture.
Instead of feeding property-tax money back into developments that would improve the local economy and quality of life, CRA officials have notoriously favored big-money developers and flashy high-rises that do nothing to de-nastify the sidewalks below. Big fat case in point: “Wealthy Eli Broad Gets $52 Million for a Garage; the Entirety of South L.A. Gets $32 Million.”
And the particular $27 million now examined by City Controller Greuel — those CRA funds set aside by AB 1290 for the City Council to use how it sees fit — could have gone an especially long way for L.A.'s poorest families.
Greuel found the CRA to be incompetent at its most basic duties:
Overall, the CRA had adequate internal controls and processes to accurately track the City's share of AB 1290 funds. However, the AB 1290 Fund Balance Status Reports submitted to the City Council contained some errors and did not adequately disclose that revenues available for the City's use had been excluded while awaiting the final year-end tax increment reports from the County Auditor-Controller. Additionally, some commitments and disbursements of the City's share of AB 1290 funds were not specifically authorized by the City Council or lacked necessary supporting documents. As a result, the City Council did not receive completely accurate information for all RPAs at the time the CRA submitted its Fund Balance reports.
Perhaps even more embarrassingly, she says our elected officials on the City Council didn't respond with strict demands — instead, they dropped their end of the rope as well.
There was no formal process for establishing planned uses for the City's share of AB 1290 funds.
Planned uses are proposed projects that have not yet been approved by the Council but have been identified by the Council Office(s) in which the RPA is located. CRA Project Area Managers (Managers) indicated that planned uses were basically a “wish-list” of activities compiled over the years since AB 1290 took effect. From time to time, the Managers and Council Offices reviewed the list of planned activities, though in most cases, new activities were added to the list while very few were dropped off. However, the list does not prioritize projects and does not establish estimated timeframes for their implementation, which would help formalize the direction of how the City's share of AB 1290 funds should be utilized.
It must be taken into consideration that anything Greuel does right now is obviously in the interest of her campaign to become L.A.'s next mayor. But there's no looking past the golden excuses the CRA gave to a journalist looking for more.
Best case scenario, Greuel's last-ditch parade down the Miss Accountability runway will likewise catch the eye of a California Supreme Court judge this January, when Brown's attempt to abolish California redevelopment agencies finally comes to a head.