THE VIEW FROM HERE - While Yoda did not say the above, he could have. People confuse the fact that they get to vote with living in a democracy.
What Form of Government Does the City of Los Angeles Have?
The city has a bizarre feudal system where the lords and ladies are elected, but after their election, they must strictly adhere to the feudal order or the FBI will come along and have them removed from office. Hence, the fate of Councilmembers Jose Huizar and Mitchell Englander and most recently Mark Ridley-Thomas. The fact that Angelenos are in the dark about Los Angeles’ form of government is not surprising since they believe also that the US is a democracy. (The framers rejected a democracy in favor of a republic.)
Los Angeles is divided into fifteen (15) fiefdoms. Within each fiefdom, its lord or lady has total say provided they adhere to the prime directive, i.e. they must vote YES for any development project which another councilmember places on the city hall agenda. The only wiggle room is when an agenda item is citywide, thereby covering more than one council district. For example, CM Gilbert Cedillo and CM Paul Koretz did not want bike lanes in their districts. As CM Bonin subsequently discovered, bike lanes are a horrible idea, but that is another story. Cedillo actually tried to invoke the rule that each councilmember was the lord of his district, and thus, all the other councilmembers had to vote against bike lanes in his district. Koretz adopted this position. The city council then decided that it would subsequently allow both councilmembers to bring their own motions to amend the mobility plan as it applied to their districts. They did and they got unanimous approvals.
Over 99% of all council items pass unanimously and a higher percent of developer projects get unanimous approval. Since Penal Code § 86 makes Vote Trading a criminal act, each councilmember eventually racks up over 100,000 years of prison time. Thus, the State legislature thought that Vote Trading was a serious felony.
The Vote Trading System Is the Heart of Los Angeles’ Government
Under the Vote Trading System, a developer needs to bribe only one councilmember to get approval of whatever illegal project he can cajole out of the councilmember. No matter how odious, no matter how harmful to the environment, no matter how many people are made homeless, each and every councilmember is required to vote “Yes” on each and every project which another councilmember places on the city council agenda. This means that developers run the city. One bribe to one councilmember guarantees unanimous approval. This Vote Yes requirement makes bribery cheap for developers. Suppose they had to bribe a majority of the councilmembers to get a project passed.
The group dynamics which enforce this mandatory Yes Voting are easy to understand. All councilmembers want to be the absolute rulers of their fiefdoms. Thus, if one councilmember should vote No on another’s project, the other councilmembers will retaliate so that that councilmember will get nothing approved. When CM Englander was first on the council, Council President Wesson had to explain to everyone else that England was going vote No since during the recent campaign, he had promised one donors that he would vote against this project. Thus, Englander would get a pass on this vote. When CM Ryu was also new, he also got a pass.
The You Must Vote Yes Rule is so entrenched that the city council vote tabulation machine automatically votes YES for everyone present.
What Do We Call this Form of Government?
An oligarchy is when a few people rule, and democracy is when people themselves directly rule or elected representatives rule on their behalf. What do we call it when the people elect the representatives but a few wealthy people dictate how each councilmember will rule? If you want to learn the meaning of the term persona non grata very quickly, publically ask this question to anyone running for city office in November 2022 election.
Even in most dictatorships where the public knows the reality behind the facade of the illegitimate regime, the voters will understand the question. In LA, the populace is clueless. They actually think it matters who is elected to the city council. The best a district can get is a councilmember who does not allow excessive development in his or her area. Don’t be so naive as to expect the powers-that-be will let that stop the building mania. If an obstreperous person is elected to the city council, an FBI investigation is certain to follow.
Of course, in a city council which is a bona fide criminal enterprise, the idea that getting a social worker degree is quid pro quo for criminal behavior is ludicrous. Look at the gazillion Garcetti projects where the FBI is deaf, dumb and blind. What about the cesspool on Vine and Garcetti’s fraudulent appraisal? Why does Rick Caruso get to call his $125,000.00 gift to Garcetti a charitable donation? What does it say about the FBI when the mayor can publicly promote his Charity Fund to which developers must contribute or their projects stall. (Yes, like in a most feudal regimes, the king gets his cut or no one gets anything.) What about Garcetti’s role in the Samuel Leung’s Sea Breeze Project? December 4, 2020, The Real Deal, Developer Admits to Campaign Donations Scheme Tied to Sea Breeze Apartment Project What about all the city money to CIM Group, Garcetti’s favorite developer, which was kicked out of Israel due to its ties to corruption? Where did Israel find that corruption sufficient to boot CIM? Los Angeles City Hall. August 29, 2011, Globes, Delek Real Estate Suitor CIM Cited in Corruption Scandal What about Juri Ripinksy, who had served two years in a federal prison for real estate and bank fraud, becoming one of Garcetti’s fund raisers and then getting the Plaza Paseo Project at the site of the old Sears Building in Hollywood? April 24, 2013 LA Times, Greuel Steps Up Attacks on Garcetti (re Juri Ripinsky) Then, the project goes to CIM Group!
Decency vs Gutter Politics
No matter who is elected mayor, Los Angeles’ feudal system is not going to change. The actual choice is one of decency. Will we elect a decent woman has at least tried to focus on the needs of the average person in a terminally corrupt system or shall we vote for a gutter rat who will say and do virtually anything to get elected?
(Richard Lee Abrams has been an attorney, a Realtor and community relations consultant as well as a CityWatch contributor. You may email him at [email protected]. The opinions expressed by Mr. Abrams are solely his and not necessarily those of CityWatch.)