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Still Hanging On:  The Self-serving and Selfish Duo from Northeast LA

ACCORDING TO LIZ - Despite the disapproval of most Angelenos as well as a number of national figures which must be hitting their egos hard, Councilmembers Gil Cedillo and Kevin De León are still clinging to their seats on the City Council.

This does no-one any favors, least of all their constituents. And themselves. 

Why hang on? 

Does anyone really know? 

Could it be for financial gain? Filthy lucre, that the Bible calls the root of all evil? 

Are they both so greedy as to brazenly steal taxpayers’ money by stretching out their days in office as long as they can? 

Neither appears to live extravagantly but, at base salaries of over $200,000 plus benefits and publicly-reported annual salaries in 2021 of $298,036 (De León) and $299,902 (Cedillo), they certainly aren’t, or shouldn’t be, hurting financially. 

Plus, look at the benefits they receive: Cadillac healthcare coverage and north of $66,000 annually towards hefty public pensions. Additionally, taxpayers provide each with a car (certainly not a bottom-of-the line model), as well as free fuel, servicing and repairs. And don’t forget those meal and travel allowances. 

As part of the Councilmember deal, the City pays for multiple offices and dozens of staff to do their work for us. This includes doling out “discretionary” funds, pots of money allocated to each District, that Councilmembers control with little oversight. 

And, given the level of corruption at the current City Hall, is it not inconceivable that they have access to other in-kind or cash assets? 

But why the overly-attractive salaries? 

At the time that Charter reform gave Los Angeles residents the right to create Neighborhood Councils to stand up for their interests against a corrupt (surprise!) City Hall, salaries and pay raises for the Councilmembers were tied to those of Superior Court judges. 

Tying salaries to the judges’ which had automatic increases built in may have been an attempt to cool Councilmembers’ paranoia that, down the line, ordinary Angelenos might have the power through the nascent Neighborhood Council system, to reject approving generous cost-of-living raises. 

But judicial salaries have escalated far faster than the cost of living. So Los Angeles City Council seats immediately started to attract politicians from other jurisdictions grabbing for the gold ring, who don’t have the interests of Angelenos in mind – they campaign for the money not the people. 

Now termed-out politicians from Sacramento fill half our Council seats. People like De León and Cedillo who, if they ever had real roots in the communities they purport to represent, have lost touch during their power-charged lives at the state capital, and have very different perspectives on priorities. 

Councilmember income is the envy of most wage-earners in their districts. 

The median household income in Boyle Heights, a working-class Latino neighborhood in De León's district, is about $45,000 with a quarter of its residents living below the poverty line. And that’s with two or more wage earners often juggling two and three jobs. 

If De León manages to last through the remaining years of his term, taxpayers will be paying him about $568,000 in combined salary and pension. 

Taxpayers’ tab for Cedillo will be a lot less since his term ends in December although, at roughly $25,000 a month in salary and benefits since the scandal broke, it adds up to more than the median yearly household income of his Chinatown constituents. 

While their counterparts in other California cities earn an average of $31,290 per year, people who perform a service for love and civic duty, not so those on the Los Angeles City Council. 

And what do our illustrious Councilmembers from the northeast do for their money? 

Attend meetings. Yes, the ones at City Hall at which neither has shown his face since the odious recording was released over a month ago. 

Previously constituents could see them walking around ignoring public comment and chatting up their buddies and, when by Zoom from home, picking their noses and eating their breakfasts. 

They also meet with the people that “matter” – those who can advance their political careers or otherwise benefit them personally, those with vested interests in the work of the City Council and how these men will vote. Slowly but surely the courts have revealed more about meetings held by José Huizar, De León’s predecessor. 

And we have seen De León support the positions of special interest groups against those of his constituents on numerous occasions. 

Constituents who request meetings to address serious District concerns – such as a BRT proposal that would restrict Eagle Rock’s one main east-west thoroughfare to one lane, destroying businesses, exacerbating pollution and endangering emergency vehicle right-of-way – have been fobbed off again and again and again. 

And while this state of affairs continues, half a million CD 1 and CD 14 constituents continue to pay taxes but have no voice, no representation. 

Neither of these men are doing their jobs. Neither of them is earning the money they are pocketing. Neither will ever be able to earn back the people’s trust. 

One fled protesters at his district home, a distinct he parachuted into to qualify to run in the first place, and moved to Glendale – should he even be allowed to collect a Los Angeles paycheck? 

This is the inverse of wage theft but, in many ways, worse. These are powerful men stealing the people’s money. Money that should better be spent on services for their constituents, not to pad dishonored and selfish politicians’ bank accounts. 

Gil Cedillo and Kevin De León ought to step down immediately, salvage some respect, and give back the money they did not earn to help people they are supposed to be representing. 

Rumors are already circulating about acts of retribution against Neighborhood Councils and others who are actively calling for their resignations. 

And, so long as they refuse to relinquish their seats and do the right thing, rumors will continue to circulate about such behavior as well as uglier ones about personal debts and gambling problems.

 

(Liz Amsden is a contributor to CityWatch and an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She has written extensively on the City's budget and services as well as her many other interests and passions.  In her real life she works on budgets for film and television where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today's world.)