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Too Much Oversight is Never Enough

ERIC PREVEN’S NOTEBOOK - At Thursday's pre-Halloween Metro meeting there was a slight chill in the air following the indictment of treasured colleague and co-conspirator, Mark Ridley-Thomas. 

We finally had a chance to listen and focus on Stephanie Wiggins the new CEO, who follows Phil Washington, who Sheila Kuehl famously described as the greatest CEO ever.  

Wiggins is good.  

Though, updating the public about the fact that the Bus cancellation rate has fallen from 10 to 16 percent ... to only 4 to 5 percent (more on some lines) is not the most fun part of the job, one imagines.   

Of course, the serious problem is shortage of operators in the industry (not to mention the Port) and Wiggins used lots of euphemisms as expected, developing operator recognition programs, real time updates, and rightsizing. 

Bus drivers wondered: How about installing plexiglass?

Riders wondered: How about opening the effing bathroom door at Red Line Universal?  

And after her exhaustive report, Holly J. MItchell felt it was time to "level set" regarding the LIFE program expansion and...  Well,  nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news -- certainly not Mayor Garcetti, who has migrated lately from mesmerizing ringleader to quiet participant.  

But the perky customer facing message this week is...  

Get ready to pay your fare on Metro buses starting January 10, 2022. 

Enforcement begins 30 days after January 10, which is February 9. 

Encourage riders to visit metro.net/fares for information on all available discounted fare programs. 

For those who qualify, The LIFE program offers low-income riders assistance with paying fare. 

$26 for 30-day pass (regularly $76) 

$6.50 for 7-day pass (regularly $19.50) 

 

Rider's Paradise: 

Because of the possible heightened scrutiny from the FBI, the Chair Hilda Solis was unusually fair and didn't force any bunching up front, but rather, called up speakers if there were any, after each item.   

It was both a throwback to how it used to be, and a step forward in the right direction.  

The consent calendar, is a sneaky way to quietly disinvite the public to meaningfully comment on great swaths of often fishy Metro business. It has been in my sights for years because it makes no sense and is insulting.  

The Board of Directors, comprised of 15 County Supervisors, Council people, and Mayors only meet once  a month, and has been carefully explained to Charles Safer their esteemed attorney, sixty seconds on more than 20 dense items is flatly absurd.  

For instance, there were three items worth mentioning.  

- Lease extension in a very nice building for the The Office of the Inspector General, who is looking to bulk up and hire. 

- A clarification about tickets and passes of a "gifty variety"  but obviously not gifts! -- according to the Chief Ethics officer at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority.  

And people will be interested to know that we are increasing by $2,288,000 the funding for the Audit Committee Services Bench to a total authorized not-to-exceed amount of $11,440,000.  The audits that this group supervises are available on request, so I've requested a look.   

The problem with a bench of besty Audit companies, is the Audit companies who GET IT and understand what Metro is doing, miss the whole point of an independent audit.   

They're less inclined to veer off into any kind of independent exploration. Rather they, work cooperatively to remain on the stately Audit Committee Services Bench. 

I once Audited the County's Audit Committee by listening to a recording of what was  an elite inhouse force made up of Supervisorial deputies (so the opposite of independent).  

The committee was not so focused on careful review and audit it seemed, as they were on efficient signing off and moving forward. 

Getting an audio recording of their meeting was a heavy lift -- the mayor is leader in making audio recordings of HHH civilian oversight meetings hard to get.

 

Brutal:

Mayor Garcetti was mostly quiet, but took a few moments to touchingly recognize the Chinese massacre of 1871 that took place south of ...and adjacent to Union Station.  

One member of the public (me) referenced a Thomas Fuller article in the New York Times about massacres masterminded by Serranus Hastings, the founder of the Hasting law school.  More atrocities.  

Fuller had spoken interviewed Kevin Waite, a historian, who told him that at the site of present-day Los Angeles City Hall, the city held a weekly “slave mart,” where Native labor was sold to the highest bidder.   

Yikes.  Angelenos have to reckon with the fact that the history of the United States is built on the dispossession of Indigenous peoples from their land, and that "the dispossession occurred violently.” 

One more atrocity occurred in the aftermath of a great loss for Los Angeles. The death of Kobe Bryant, who perished in a Malibu hills helicopter crash.   

The first responders on duty that day apparently took some pictures, inappropriately, and were immediately admonished and it was noted, none of those images were leaked, nor were they even necessarily taken for that purpose.    

Still, very upsetting and inexcusable. Atrocious. 

Now let's move on.  

Apparently not.  

If you can believe it, raconteur Skip Miller and the county are fixing to finalize a $2.5M settlement on Tuesday with Vanessa Bryant et al. 

Skip was ready to fight hard for the Fire and Sheriff's department, and agreed to depose the sheriff and the fire chief, but, the horrific images were never leaked or seen by Vanessa or any of the others who are suing.   

The fact that the images were not disseminated means a lot.  Case dismissed, right?  

None of this will bring Kobe back.   

But why did we pay Skip Miller of Miller Barondess LLP, an arch enemy of the Sheriff,  $1.3M to defend him?  

Sir, you're disrupting the meeting.  

Why are Skip Miller's invoices good enough to be disclosed periodically into the LA Times, but not provisable to the public who ultimately pays them?  

The pressure remains on the Board of Supervisors to put Skip's bills on the table. 

 

Up Up and Away:

Listen, sometimes you lose a big case after jamming the legal vampire blood funnel into the public's pocketbook for more, and yes, sometimes you have virtually no case at all and are just fighting for political high ground.  

Like Andrea Ordin former LA County Counsel and LA City Ethics Commissioner, Greig Smith filling in for a deposed Englander, and the City Attorney Feuer are fighting to get the feds to clean up the Santa Susanna Rocketdyne property. 

Don't get me wrong, a clean up out there would be lucrative for their partners (Waste Management et al.) but the strong public interest is to walk away from a bad litigation and not throw good money after bad.   

Feuer's interpretation of walk away, included a $600,000 Meyers Nave contract onto which $84,000 was piled on last week.   

WHEREAS, Meyers Nave will be required to comply with the provisions of the Iran Contracting Act. Remy Moose and Kaplan Kirsch are not subject to the provisions of the Iran Contracting Act.  Just sayin. 

Last week, after nearly three years of concerns over the Burbank flight paths, which have included parallel concerns nearby at Van Nuys Airport, the court denied the City's robust set of appeals.   

Feuer and the city had accused the FAA of not taking into account the city’s comments in the environmental review process.  A couple years ago they made a big deal and hired a law firm called Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell LLP to help... curry favor with lot of valley hillside dweller$ upset with angry Burbank Airport impacts. 

Kaplan Kirsch is now synonymous with Paul Krekorian and losing FAA litigations. 

Over the course of a couple years the City Council first appropriated One Hundred Thousand Dollars ($100,000) for this Agreement with Kaplan Kirsch. Then they increased that to Three Hundred Thousand Dollars ($300,000) Then, Five Hundred Fifty Thousand Dollars ($550,000)  Eventually,  Seven Hundred Thirty Six Thousand One Hundred Twenty Seven Dollars ($736,127). 

And last I checked the City Attorney has appropriated Eight Hundred Seventy One Thousand One Hundred Twenty Seven Dollars ($871,127) to this losing cause.  

We lost.   

There must be some place we can put Kaplan Kirsch law firm for all their trouble. 

How about Conflict Panel?   

The City Council approved the establishment of an Attorney Conflicts Panel (ACP) in 1993. Law firms on the ACP provide legal representation to current and/or former City officers and employees named as defendants in tort, employment, civil rights and other types of legal action where actual or potential conflicts of interest preclude their representation by the City Attorney. 

When they did an RFP... it went very well.  Every firm that applied got accepted. 

All forty eight firms.  Meyers Nave and Burke Williams Sorenson seem most represented on the panel.  

But one point of interest:  Meyers Nave will be required to comply with the provisions of the Iran Contracting Act. Whereas Remy Moose and Kaplan Kirsch are not subject to the provisions of the Iran Contracting Act.  

Cool. 

 

Housing OIGs:

Speaking of putting people in places, the Chief Executive Officer of METRO, Stephanie Wiggins got the votes to execute a 65-month (5 years, 5 months) lease amendment commencing March 1, 2022 with Downtown Properties, LLC (“Lessor”), located at 818 West 7th Street in Los Angeles at a rate of $38,736 per month with 3% annual escalations for a total of $2,486,730 over the 65-month term.

That's not cheap. 

This agreement includes a provision to waive rent to zero for March of each year . That amounts to Five free months of rent. That seems problematic.  Giving away 5 months?    

The lessor is also a tenant in the building, so Downtown Properties Holdings LLC  on the 4th floor is subletting space to METRO.   

Who, specifically is the tenant?    

The Office of the Inspector General (“OIG”)  silly. The Metro OIG works to preserve and protect the integrity of Metro programs and operations obviously. They're currently looking for a manager to work among assigned staff in the planning and organization of investigations to detect and prevent fraud, waste, and abuse of resources. 

The office is very close to the 7th St./Metro Center subway station, which links DTLA with Hollywood, NoHo, Union Station, USC, Culver City, Santa Monica, TRANSIT SCORE ® RIDER'S PARADISE (100)  

Other Tenants include, The Los Angeles Football Club, Verizon XO and other fancy firms.  

There does appear to be Limited On-Site Parking with covered Parking at $225/month.

WALK SCORE ® WALKER'S PARADISE (96)  

BIKE SCORE ®  BIKER'S PARADISE (78)

 

LA County Office of Inspector General (“OIG”): 

I asked Max Huntsman, the OIG over the LA County Sheriff's Department about his office rental and staff:  

On Jul 9, 2018, at 2:24 PM, Eric Preven <[email protected]<mailto:[email protected]>> wrote:

Mr. Huntsman,
For the record how many filled positions and temporary positions do you have at present comprising what is commonly known as "You" +  # headcount.  Can you shoot me your lease agreement(s) with 350 Figueroa LLC?

I believe 350 Fig llc is treasured partner, Jamison.  Fancy.

Regards,

Eric Preven

 

(“OIG”) reply: 

-----Original Message-----
From: Huntsman, Max <[email protected]>
To: Eric Preven <[email protected]>
Cc: Hamai, Sachi <[email protected]>; Baker, Daniel <[email protected]>; Zavala, Celia <[email protected]>
Sent: Mon, Jul 9, 2018 3:02 pm
Subject: Re: Oversight Inspector General - lease at 350 Figueroa

Mr. Preven,

I've never seen a copy of the lease.  There's a real estate office that set it all up.  Dan can probably track it down and get you a copy, assuming there isn't some CPRA rule on it...there are some funny rules about real estate.

As for staffing, we're officially something in the neighborhood of 24 that I'd call 'Us.'  We're down a few waiting for hiring to catch up, so actually have 21 or thereabouts.  Dan can get an exact number.

Now 'officially' we have some more budgeted staff, but that's because we get administrative support from the Executive Office (IT and HR mainly).  I don't see those people regularly and don't supervise them.

I wouldn't call the office space we have fancy.  It used to house public defenders.  But it is exactly the right size for us and is conveniently located and comes with parking space.  Cars get broken into in the parking lot a lot...can't say I love that...but overall it's worked well.

Max Huntsman
Sent from my iPhone

 

(Eric Preven is a longtime community activist and is a contributor to CityWatch. The opinions expressed by Eric Preven are solely his and not the opinions of CityWatch)