ANIMAL WATCH - Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz has used his political influence to gain passage of widely publicized animal-related measures and gain media attention and the approval and camaraderie of some of the nation’s largest and most affluent charitable organizations.
But suddenly any mention of these formerly touted milestones in his political career is absent from his Wikipedia, Linked-in and Facebook profiles, as he pursues his bid for election as Controller of the City of Los Angeles.
Can the proverbial tiger change its stripes? Can—or should—Los Angeles forget Koretz’s opportunistic relationships with certain former highly praised friends/donors—including recently convicted Ed Buck, with whom he was linked by CA State records and other official documents and pictured in the Los Angeles Times article on October 7, 2019, “Politicians Who Took Money From Ed Buck.”
Koretz was also listed as receiving three separate political donations from Ed Buck, including as recently as the 2017 Los Angeles City Council race In a report by Jasmyne Cannick on her site, “Who Took Dirty Money from Ed Buck?”
Paul Koretz is also the first politician photographed on a current website called All the 2022 L.A. Candidates Running for Office Who Took Ed Buck’s Money, and was also among those who are identified (and pictured) on the site as not returning all donated money.
By his silence on these issues, Koretz is now apparently and understandably trying to ignore and separate from specific past alliances as he seeks to control of the coffers of one of the nation’s largest municipal budgets.
Another distancing oddity is his post on the “Koretz for L.A.” Facebook page as an “Endorsement Alert” that he is “feeling honored” to have earned the endorsement of Mayor Eric Garcetti in his race for LA City Controller. Why is he acting surprised?
Has Paul Koretz forgotten that back in 2013, Rick Orlov of the Daily News announced, “Los Angeles City Hall becoming a family affair for Councilman Paul Koretz, and wrote, “For Councilman Paul Koretz, City Hall has become the family business. Koretz, who was re-elected this year to his second term as councilman, has his daughter Rachel on his staff, and Mayor Eric Garcetti recently hired Koretz’s wife, Gail, to work for him.”
Although, certainly Garcetti’s tarnished career is not ending as planned, Koretz cannot separate himself from the fact that he had more than just a casual political relationship with the Mayor— even if the benefit of such an endorsement has recently become significantly less impressive.
PERSONNEL, AUDITS(?) AND ANIMAL WELFARE
Koretz also chairs the now-Personnel, Audits and Animal Welfare Committee (a contrived title, expanded by Koretz), which gives him authority over approval of major donations to--and expenditures from--the Animal Welfare Trust Fund and the Animal Sterilization Fund. (Here is an example of how a $30,000 unrestricted donation from the Annenberg Foundation was distributed in 2021.)
When Brenda Barnette was hand-picked as GM of L.A. Animal Services by former-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Paul Koretz in 2010 this vital law-enforcement department was removed from the scrutiny of the Public Safety Committee and placed directly under Paul Koretz’s Personnel Committee, which then became the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee (PAW).
Then in early 2022, the word “Audits” was added (seemingly unofficially) and it became the PAAW committee—around that time Koretz formally announced launching his campaign for Controller.
FORMER CONTROLLER AUDITS
In June 2010, highly respected L.A. City Controller Laura Chick made scathing accusations about the use of L.A. Animal Services’ donations and budgeted allocations and called for major changes and safeguards (See L.A. Times - Laura Chick's mission: Root out waste and fraud.)
However, current-Controller Ron Galperin’s review of the Department’s goals and finances (2015) was filled with platitudes and praise of Brenda Barnette’s noble “No Kill” goals, not noting her lack of effort to reform a straying department. (See: Controller’s Audit of LA Animal Services: Not Analysis – It’s Cheerleading)
L.A. CANNOT RISK MORE OF THE SAME
In cooperation with ex-GM Brenda Barnette, in his position as Chair of the Animal Welfare Committee, Paul Koretz has obtained approval of the City Council and Mayor for large expenditures for non-auditable projects—many connected to affluent humane organizations.
These are programs where there is no way to estimate exactly how many or how animals will be helped and no tangible measure of the success. Some of the contracts have been repeated annually merely on the assurance of amazing success by the provider. (See: LA Animal Services Prison Dog Training Program Flyer Features Black Man with Pit Bull and Best Friends Animal Society in Dog Fight over Shock Collars)
The effectiveness of the law-enforcement arm of Los Angeles Animal Services has been essentially destroyed. Koretz has not taken action to preserve its duties to maintain protection of people and animals.
This was recently highlighted by his failure to oppose the defunding of the LAPD/LAAS Animal Cruelty Taskforce. Other poignant examples were Koretz’s silence on the increasing dog attacks at L.A. Animal Services shelters and, in the past and present, ignoring and failing to investigate Barnette’s (and now Acting GM Annette Ramirez) keeping highly paid employees on administrative leave without justification, which has cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of wasted dollars.
WHAT EDUCATION/EXPERIENCE QUALIFIES KORETZ FOR CONTROLLER?
The educational qualification Paul Koretz provides on Ballotpedia is a Bachelor’s degree in History.
And his work credentials are a lifetime as a professional politician or in an auxiliary position to an elected official. There is no indication of employment in any private industry or accounting position.
Does he believe Los Angeles voters are so gullible that adding “Audits” to the title of a low-prestige Committee will translate into experience in the highly technical and precise field of accounting?
PETS ARE BIG BUSINESS – MONEY INTERESTS AND POLITICIANS
It is important to look at the larger issue of how much power and opportunity can be derived by major non-profit organizations for fundraising and to major pet product companies for increased direct advertising and sales through animal-shelter programs that allow legitimate ways of obtaining pet information and an e-mail address from an adopter or pet owner. This can easily be done through offering them a free-trial on pet insurance or future discounts on food and/or pet supplies.
In order to better understand how being favored by an elected official can be an asset to multi-million-dollar charitable businesses, it is necessary to visualize the recent growth in sales and income in the pet industry.
It was estimated that in 2021 pet-product sales in the U.S. would reach $110-billion. In 2020, pet food was the highest selling pet market product category and was projected to maintain the top spot into 2021, when sales are estimated to reach around 44 billion U.S. dollars. Vet care and supplies/OTC medicine ranked in second and third places, with forecast sales of around 32 and 23 billion dollars respectively, according to Statista.
(If you have an interest in the movement involving major animal organizations in a conglomerate headed by the $94-billion Mars (candy) Company, which also has major interests in the pet-food industry, read the January 2020 “Wall Street Journal article: “Sit, Stay, Innovative Kinship Aims to Disrupt Pet Care.”
KORETZ CHANGED THE BASIC PROTECTIONS OF TRUST FUNDS
Under Koretz and Barnette there were changes in the structure and safeguards of the two Los Angeles Animal Services’ highly restricted charitable accounts, which gives cause for concern.
The Animal Welfare Trust Fund was changed from being used only for programs for the animals in the City shelters to being available for “any purpose by the General Manager” and the coveted Pet Sterilization fund, which was reserved ONLY for owned pets was changed to the Animal Sterilization Fund to allow its use for feral cats.
This does not mean feral cats should not be altered, but GM Ed Boks had instituted the use of these funds for feral cats and quickly used up all available money and had no vouchers for pet owners—and that was without the current mandated number of 20,000 surgeries per year, promoted and approved by Koretz.
GM Dana Brown reported recently that there is no money in the budget now available for spay/neuter vouchers and there are no mobile clinics under contract to provide these services in communities.
LOSING CONTROL OF DONATED SPAY/NEUTER MONEY
One of the problems in using money donated by the public for low-income pet-owners’ use is that the number of surgeries claimed to be performed on feral (wild/unowned) cats is not auditable. In other words, it is open to misuse by the fact that the actual number of animals receiving the surgery cannot be confirmed without an accountable owner. Nor is there any way to confirm that the surgery was actually performed or the voucher was redeemed for cash.
During GM Ed Boks’ reign, more than one voucher might be used per animal and it could not be traced, and there were reports that some vouchers were being illegally sold.
Soon after the Animal Welfare Trust Fund restrictions were lifted by Koretz (and then approved upon his recommendation to the Council and Mayor) then-GM Barnette sent a group of employees to a convention using this money. Was that what the donors intended?
KORETZ’S FAILED ANIMAL PROGRAMS
China now provides fur
Throughout his City political career, Koretz has used animals and his reputation as an animal-welfare activist to grow a large following (and voters). His highly published “fur ban” merely closed a few reputable stores and the fur industry in China and other countries—where no U.S. level humane laws are enforced—was happy to fill in and provide fur products.
Local breeders fill in for pet shops
Supposedly the eleven pet shops that were closed in the City of L.A. by Koretz’s ban would end puppy mills in the mid-West (there were no puppy mills in Los Angeles) but that didn’t happen either. Puppy mills are still thriving, but they just sell directly on-line with no regulation or protections for the public.
What did happen was that purchasers of purebred animals lost the strict regulation that was provided under the CA Lockyer-Polanco-Farr Pet Protection Act, which put stringent guarantees in place that any animal purchased would be healthy.
“Rescuers” began buying at the mills and selling the purebred puppies as “rescued.” And the number of Los Angeles backyard breeders has skyrocketed according to local advertising and the LA Animal Services issuance of breeders’ permits, after Koretz lifted the requirement that anyone with more than three dogs needed a kennel permit. (See: CA 'Rescued-Pet Shop' Sham Helps Puppy Mills Thrive ...)
Also, according to recent reports by downtown residents, and verified publicly by the LAAS Director of Field Operations to the LA Animal Services Commission, street sales in the Santee Alley district are rampant and unchecked, including the sales of illegal pets which could result in the spread of serious and potentially fatal diseases.
KORETZ CANNOT UNDO HIS PAST PUBLIC RECORD
Perhaps Koretz must have realized that any research on the pet shops and fur ban would immediately bring up the June 9, 2011, article by Patch.com, titled,“Paul Koretz’s June Newsletter: Puppy Mills, Car-maggedon… thanking Ed Buck and others for contributions and assistance in the campaign.
But that Is not the only animal issue he is choosing to ignore in his current campaign.
The city of Los Angeles is experiencing an alarming increase in the number of dog breeders’ permits issued by LAAS and the lowest number of spay/neuter providers (none of the mobile trucks that served neighborhoods are now under contract with L.A. Animal Services) and costs have skyrocketed (from an average of $100 to $300-400 per surgery, with a wait time of up to three months reported by pet owners and rescuers.)
Backyard dog and cat breeders sell animals for hundreds or even thousands of dollars each and do not require a business permit, and do not pay local taxes (according to a call to the City Finance Office.)
Paul Koretz has ignored all of this.
KORETZ HAS NOT DEMONSTRATED ANALYTIC INTEREST
One the key traits for someone seeking the office of Controller of the City of Los Angeles must be a desire to analyze and dissect all the programs that are costing money (including the giveaway of the Mission shelter) and creating revenue to assure they are working in the City’s best interest.
For instance, in a May 4, 2020 article, “Dog Bites Soar at L.A. Animal Services – Will Shelter Donations Become the Mayor’s New Slush Fund?” we discussed a $1.545-million contract for public relations and fundraising awarded to a relatively unknown company, with admittedly no animal-shelter fundraising experience, called The Glue, LLC.
It was awarded after being reportedly “negotiated down” by the Mayor’s office from $2.48-million. This occurred after the bids were closed. (Read more here.)
Why was the Mayor’s office interfering with the bidding procedure? It was rumored that Animal Welfare Trust money would be used for this contract and the goal was to start a new fundraising foundation in the Mayor’s Office? And why didn’t Koretz’s Committee start an investigation?
This was in 2020. At the March 8, 2022, Commission meeting, The Glue, LLC, gave its report and stated it is still trying to determine the basic fundraising market for this project.
Also, Paul Koretz has never asked the Department for a detailed report on the potential sources of revenue that could--and should--be generated to reimburse taxpayers for supporting L.A. Animal Services and its programs.
A FRESH START NEEDED
Los Angeles needs a fresh start and experienced financial expert to objectively, but compassionately, look at the trends that are, and are not, working.
According to public reports and those to the Commission (which is appointed by Garcetti), LAAS animal shelters are overcrowded and understaffed, including a critical need for more veterinarians; officers are not able to adequately respond to calls for service, management is not willingly taking in stray animals and is inundated by serious complaints from experienced volunteers; shelter phone systems are malfunctioning, and the facilities are deteriorating and overrun by rats.
If, after 12 years on the Council and as head of the Personnel, Audits and Animal Welfare Committee, Paul Koretz is still deeply part of the problem, it is not likely he would, upon election as Controller, become part of the solution.
(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a contributor to CityWatch and a former Los Angeles City employee.)