Wed, Aug

LA Uncensored: Eric Garcetti's First Hundred Crooked Days

MAILANDER INSIDE LA-Before examining the first hundred days of Mayor Eric Garcetti, it is instructive to examine the last hundred days of litigious sports scribe T.J. Simers.

Now that he has simmered the most visible part of his career down to a tort, the reduced writing life of Simers seems destined to end in ignominy.

I know that you have heard that Simers, thought by many to be the Times top sports columnist until pushed off the paper, is now suing the Times for asking him to muzzle up a bit on Frank McCourt--and for being shown the door subsequently.

I might suggest that if Simers really never wanted to be edited at all, he should have never taken a writing job in the first place.

Additionally, anyone can see that when you sue your old paper while working for a new one, it's a tremendous insult to the new digs.  It is a concession that this is not a lateral move, but rather that self-esteem has been considerably reduced by the new frame. The action must be making the OC Register people wince.

One of my favorite questions to ask local political figures is who their favorite sports columnist is, and over the past few years Simers came up an unusual amount of times.  Fear, paranoia, small-mindedness, hardheadedness, anger management issues, vindictive streaks--these are unseemly qualities to encounter in life but they also often the same stuff that can make for a halfway decent columnist.

The top voices of any newspaper are the institution's princes.  But what prince ever needs to enter a court of law to seek retribution?

Nonetheless, following local politics the way some follow sports, I can understand Simers' frustrations with the former fishwrap of record.  The Times and other limp LA media have also granted our erratic Mayor Eric Garcetti a mulligan on his first hundred crooked days in office.

Our former fishwrap of record has neglected to mention that Garcetti's idea of interceding in a prospective civil disturbance was to issue a tweet from Pittsburgh.  It has yet to acknowledge that the Mayor has had hired a man with a domestic abuse conviction and a woman with a vindictive streak but without a college degree to very prominent staff positions.  It glided over the fact that many of his staff and commission appointments looked more like political payback than altruistic appointments serving the interest of the City.

It almost failed to note how much time the Mayor spends talking pie-in-the-sky tech--he was last spotted at a tech company's conference in Santa Monica that offers "four cloud talent management solutions"--yet hasn't yet appointed someone to look after the city's aerospace.  I say "almost" because Gene Maddeus's current Weekly cover story is about a bubblicious Pac Pal startup called Snapchat, formerly known as Picaboo, a company that "is playing on house money" and sees actual profit nowhere in the near future, and noted how Garcetti was on hand at something called their "Social 25 party." 

It all reminds me of the most favored drinking game during the Mayoral debates: taking a swig of the nearest bottle of Antonio's finest tequila every time somebody uttered the word "incubator." 

But on civic matters far more down and dirty and tethered to earth, most recently, the LA Times failed to dig even to topsoil depth regarding the appointment of Lydia Grant to the City's Board of Neighborhood Commissioners, or her friend Cindy Cleghorn's elevation as chair of the Congress of Neighborhood Councils.  They're both from the same Neighborhood Council,  they've done one of the City's worst with regards to true community achievement--I mean, have you seen what's happened to Sunland-Tujunga over the past decade?--and they deserved far better scrutiny then they received. Especially Grant, who was appointed by the Mayor.

In her own confirmation hearing, Grant, the Parent Revolution and Kevin James factotum with the sketchy resume and few full-time positions held over the past decade, was asked a scant two questions before Council on Wednesday.  She was asked a mere two questions after Councilman Bernard Parks had recommended "Linda" [sic] be confirmed.

Tom LaBonge, presiding, asked her what her favorite part of LA was.

"LA is my home as a whole," Grant said.

Also, she noted that she has worked with black children.

Then LaBonge asked her, "You know what Randy Newman said about LA?"

She--did! And this is what passed for democratic inquiry in City Council Wednesday. Eleven ayes, no nos. 

"We have all this diversity in LA, all these factions--Grant hates the UTLA--didn't she sound patronizing regarding the "black children"?--why are these votes always so unanimous?" a fuming onlooker reviewing the tape of the confirmation stammered.

Another, Sunland-Tujunga resident Wally Wharton, wrote "I decided to send her a message of encouragement and congratulations just the same. That I did--only to find out she'd just "de-friended" me." 

As part of her impromptu patter, Grant confessed to being a part of Cindy Cleghorn's Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council for seven years. That means she was also with the Neighborhood Council through much of the time that someone withdrew $500 from it every month for over five years.  DONE cannot account for the lifting of cash--hard cash totaling nearly 20% of the Neighborhood Council's budget--despite persistent inquiries.

The withdrawals were so egregious that when the NC was obliged to switch banks, the new bank charged them a $12.50 a month fee for the withdrawals--but the unaccounted cash advances, totaling over $30,000, continued anyway, even when assessed the irregular fees for over a year.

Few in Cleghorn's and Grant's own community know the full extent to which they helped Councilmembers Krekorian and Alarcon sell out the residents Sunland-Tujunga on various land use matters for the sake of garnering certificates of flattery, special considerations, and whatever other blown Council kisses they have received.

Without batting an eye, they both gladly backed a Prop 1C indigent housing project that has made homelessness one of Sunland-Tujunga's only growth industries of the past five years.

They stood by idly as the City's Rec & Parks Department priced the community's long-standing Watermelon Festival, a point of local pride for decades, right out of town and over to Pasadena.

And most recently duped by Alarcon, they miscalculated a plan to save a local golf course from development, devoting precious community opposition resources instead to organizing a push for a Japanese monument the State of California bypassed thirty years ago and that won't forestall the building of a single residence on the property.

As an "outreach" chair, Cleghorn and Grant also authorized spending $3,000 on a digital camera that has been in operation during a decline in Council meeting audience attendance.  Early on, citizens complained that dissenting comments were being edited out of the footage.  Many lost faith in the organization.

Cleghorn and Grant are also known to persistently turn away from complaints of harassment done on their behalf. Grant tells anyone with questions, "I just try to get along with everybody." 

One man told me he received vulgar emails encouraging him to drop out of a Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council race.  "I've never heard of such language...It's terrible," Cleghorn assured him.  "When I shared my concerns with Lydia, her response was "I don't get into the drama. I try to get along with everybody." 

But this week a new course of action emerged for Neighborhood Council types encountering such community-level malfeasance.

Bernie Parks' Education and Neighborhoods Committee also heard testimony from five former board members of the North Hills West Neighborhood Council who claimed discrimination, bullying, sexism, and harassment in their council.  The complaints became a Council File of their own.

I've seen some of the harassing correspondence ("Oink oink," one email from a harassing man to a harassed woman begins) and I have to say that the women probably could go a lot further with their complaint than even this committee.  But in the end Parks, Councilmembers Nury Martinez' and Mitch Englander have called for mandatory sensitivity for Neighborhood council members "to avoid further instances of discrimination, bullying, sexism, harassment, etc., in neighborhood councils."  Grayce Liu, General Manager of DONE (Department of Neighborhood Empowerment) is supposed to report back to them November 19 on these matters.

But even as the ladies of NWHNC complained of sexual harassment on Tuesday, Parks' committee turned deaf ears to persistent complaints of harassment in Sunland-Tujunga too. Because so many in Sunland-Tujunga have come to me about these abuses, and because I've written about them, such abuses have even come my way too.  "If I where [sic] you I'd look out" one of the community curs in Cleghorn's and Grant's kennel barked at me in a Facebook message just last Sunday, after my wife and I attended one of Cleghorn and Grant's uniquely hostile Neighborhood Council board meetings. 

The majority of the community's residents, and certainly the Neighborhood Council Congress folks, don't know the degree to which Cleghorn and Grant have been their community's resident harridans--but of course the Mayor's office, Krekorian, Felipe Fuentes, and DONE all know this very well by now--and have chosen to look the other way.  In fact, Cleghorn and Grant have often seen no evil in the kind of behaviors that might even make the stuff from the NWHNC look tame.  And the Mayor and DONE have all done nothing about any of these complaints or Brown Act violations; indeed, despite them, they have even actively promoted Cleghorn and Grant as community leaders.

If T.J. Simers showed his peers a lack of character when deciding to sue the organization that made him known to so many, the thing that has disappointed me most of all about Mayor Garcetti's first hundred days in office has been the pronounced lack of character he has shown when making staffing and commission appointments that are similarly so nakedly and merely opportunistic to so many.  After all the failings of character the previous Mayor showed, improvements in this area would have been welcome, and many expected them.  I very much doubt Garcetti will suffer something akin to the Villaraigosa fidelity scandals, but his persistent use of appointments as a spoils system for cronies and flunkies has been an enormous disappointment, and one that won't work in the service of the City at all. 

Around the Horseshoe

I sat down with an editor at lunch on Tuesday who told me this: "I hear Paul Krekorian has trouble with alcohol."  I didn't know what to say--I have no idea about that. But I do know that Krekorian likes to make the same charge regarding people who criticize him, so maybe the shoe he's always trying to toss off fits his own foot. Krekorian recently took a bunch of staffers to Armenia, a fact that didn't appear in his most recent community newsletter.  Could he have blacked out on the whole trip when he got home?

It's not known at what point Joe Buscaino is going to become an actual Councilmember, as he has continued to campaign for well over a year now.  Last campaign stop the Buscainos attended was his high school reunion.  Well, it was indeed his high school, San Pedro.  But the gathering wasn't for people anywhere near his own class, as most people there were five to ten years his senior.  This Trutanich-like moment came as I am told from a frustrated San Pedro resident that "Crime is sky high, shootings almost daily. LAPD helicopter out daily." 

Crime is a concern elsewhere too.  LAPD reports that burglaries are up in Mitch O'Farrell's Silver Lake. "Residents are reminded to secure their residences prior to leaving and also assure that all windows are not only closed but firmly locked. Residents should also secure all door locks, including deadbolts," the City's cops admonished in an email blast. 

Paul Koretz is busy sucking up to the City's Taxicab lobby, trying to whip up support to ban Lyft and SideCar, according to an LA Times report.  Koretz is pleading that the taxis are better regulated than the phone app services, but anyone who's ever taken a cab in LA from Downtown to the airport might contend that point. 

And then, someone at City Hall actually noticed something: that the City's Fire Department is shrinking.  The City presently has 500 fewer firefighters than it did at the time of the Griffith Park fire of 2007.  Venice's Mike Bonin wants to speed up hiring.  "We are already understaffed in many of our neighborhood fire stations, and the trajectory of a shrinking department is chilling," Bonin told the Daily News earlier this week.


(Joseph Mailander is a writer, an LA observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He is also the author of Days Change at Night: LA's Decade of Decline, 2003-2013. Mailander blogs here.








Vol 11 Issue 84

Pub: Oct 18, 2013