Sunday, February 28, 2010

Trutanich Sends SuperGraphic Scofflaw to the Slammer

Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich has shown how serious he is about fullfilling a campaign promise to bring some semblance of control to the illegal billboards and supergraphics that blights much of the City in flagrant violation of the City's laws - he filed a criminal case against Kayvan Setareh, the alleged owner of the Hollywood First National Building on the north-east corner of Highland Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard, as reported in the LA Times.

Although the supergraphic attached the building allegedly owned or controlled by Setareh advertises the new DreamWorks Animation movie "How to train your Dragon," it is not clear whether DreamWorks Animation were aware of the fact that the advertisment is illegal.

According to the Times, Setareh was arrested on Friday night by LAPD at his Pacific Palisades home, and taken into custody on $1M bail.  The arrest and high bail brought a slew of accolades for the City Attorney from residents tired of the shenanigans and blatent disregard for community values dislayed by the ilegal billboard and supergraphic companies.

However, not all the comments were complimentary and it looks very much like 'deja vu all over again,' with the illegal sign industry presenting edited versions of the same hackneyed arguments that the drug-dealer backed illegal marijunana shop owners were presenting a few weeks ago when Trutuanich clamped down of the City's out of control marijuna shops.

Just as with the illegal marijuana shops, there is big money to be made in illegal signs - billboards and supergraphics. Where the marijuana shop owners claimed cancer and aids patients were being victimized, the illegal sign companies are claiming Setareh is a 'victim' and that his $1M bail is too high.

Of course $1M is a lot of bail. It's typically the standard bail for a murder or kiddnap. However, high bail is not the exclusive domain of violent crime. Crimes that present serious risks to public safety justify high bail, and according to the Times, there are serious risks with these oversized vinyl sheets that cover 8 floors of the historic building.

It is unknown what the effect of a high wind would be. Could it cause the massive vinyl sheet to fall down? Could it act like a sail and pull part of the ancient buildinf down? In the event of a fire, would it impede firefighter access to the building? Could it trap building occupants from escape through windows covered by the large vinyl sheets?

All of these are valid safety concerns that the illegal sign companies are minimizing. But the City's Department of Building and Safety and the Fire Department are far from satisfied that covering buildings with vinyl is safe, and they have refused to issue permits to Setareh.

It was public safety concerns that doubtless persuaded a Superior Court Judge to issue the arrest warrant for Setareh with the unusually high bail sought by Trutanich. And while it appears that Setareh has not posted the bail and remains in custody, the legal process requires a Bail Commissioner to also review the bail and order a reduction if appropriate. No such alteration appears to have been ordered even though a Bail Commissioner is available at all times, even at the weekend.

Just like the drug dealer-backed marijuana shop lobbyists, the illegal sign advocates have been trying hard to convince the public that the incarceration of Setareh is somehow unlawful because it exceeds the bail schedule for 'typical' crimes. However, California Penal Code Section 1275(a) makes it clear that higher bail than that in the schedule is justified where bail is set by a judge or magistrate.

Penal Code 1275(a) reads as follows:
"In setting, reducing, or denying bail, the judge or magistrate shall take into consideration
  • the protection of the public, 
  • the seriousness of the offense charged, 
  • the previous criminal record of the defendant, and 
  • the probability of his or her appearing at trial or hearing of the case. 
The public safety shall be the primary consideration."

So public safety is the primary consideration according to the law, and it will take a very brave judge to rule that the risks posed by the 29,000 square foot vinyl supergraphic are minimal.

Despite the public safety issue, Loyola Law School professor Laura Levenson told the Times that she would be surprised if a judge lets such a large bail stand.

"There's something more to this that I think is going on," Levenson said. "Either he has prior offenses or he was warned about not doing this."

The Times reported that the City Attorney's Office had warned Setareh via letter and e-mail not to post an unpermitted supergraphic on the building, so at least one of Levenson's justifications for high bail are met. As for whether Setareh has prior convictions, that will be revealed when he appears before a judge on Monday morning for arraignment.

 But regardless of the issue of the high bail and the fact that Trutanich has succeeded in getting the attention of the illegal sign industry, many wonder why someone like Setareh apparently is so willing to break the law.

The answer is of course money. And just like the illegal marijuana shop business, it is big money. As can be seen from the graphic below, the location of the DreamWorks Animation supergraphic is directly in the line of the TV cameras and paparazzi that will descend on the red carpet to film celebrities as they arrive for the Oscars ceremony next week.

Although the Times reported that monthly revenue from a supergraphic could be as high as $100,000, the strategic location of the Hollywood First National Building and the massive tv and magazine coverage that accompanies the Oscars is such that almost every picture and tv image from the Oscars will include the supergraphic on Setareh's building. In those circumstances, unconfirmed rumors that say agents were seeking $650,000 for one month's rent at the building seem credible.

There's no question, the illegal sign industry is a high profit, high stakes business. So don't complain when the cost of breaking the law is more than a slap on the wrist and fine. Breaking the law to make a lot of money is no more the right of the illegal sign business than it is the illegal marijuana shop business. There is a law that regulates both industries, just as it regulates the lives of ordinary Los Angelenos. Nobody should be above the law.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Villaraigosa Trusts Non-CPA To Balance Budget

Miguel Santana, the City Administrative Officer, the man who Mayor Villaraigosa has charged with balancing the budget, has no formal financial qualifications, as revealed by the Los Angeles Times.

Grim-faced Miguel Santana looks at Mayor Villaraigosa
(Photo credit Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times / February 19, 2010)

Today's LA Times carries an article by David Zahniser headlined "The man behind L.A. City Council's job cuts vote."

Zahniser's investigation into Santana's education and work experience reveals the following:
  • Graduated Whittier College, unknown degree.
  • 1993 Hired by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund "in response to Los Angeles riots."
  • 1994 aide to Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, he stayed 13 years, acquiring much of his policy experience.
  • 2004 Molina's chief of staff.
  • Santana took a break from Molina's office, getting his master's degree in public administration from Harvard University. 
  • In 2007 he became a top executive in county government, overseeing social services.
What is clear from Zahiser's investigation, is that Santana is not a CPA, or even an MBA. His work experience appears to be that of a political aide, a 'Yes' man for whoever or whatever politician will pay his salary to carry out their policy.

At a time when the City of Los Angeles is facing its toughest financial crisis since the Depression, Mayor Villaraigosa appears to have shunned financial expertise in favor of political expedience.
Villaraigosa has steered the City to the brink of bankruptcy with his extravagant playboy lifestyle and drunken sailor squandering of taxpayer money on boondoggles like a $340,000 contract to teach kids how to ride bicycles

Now that the Mayor's financial irresponsibility has brought the City to its knees, his choice of financial adviser is a not a CPA, not an MBA, but a guy who has been a hatchet man for elected officials his entire career.

Exactly what Santan's qualifications were for MALDEF to have hired him "in response to the Los Angeles riots" is unclear, but it is unlikely to have been financial accumen. Equally, as Gloria Molina's aide and later chief deputy, Santana was not a 'numbers guy'  either. He was a 'fixer.' But he didn't fix financial woes, he made his political employers look good.

So it was no surprise when Santana's numbers were challenged by City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, that they were found to be wrong. 

It was even more of a 'no brainer' that Santana could not answer questions posed by various Councilmembers after Villaraigosa's incoherent rant in the Council Chambers. He did not know the answers to questions about the City's finances and the effects of alternate measures, because he's not a numbers man.

While credit reporting agencies continue to downgrade the Municipal Corporation of the City of Los Angeles, Villaraigosa and Santana seem to think that they can fool Wall Street by their shell game of make-believe "layoffs," just wait until they read the LA Times article and find out what is really going on.

Santana may have experience "in response to riots,"  and that may prove of value when Wall Street and the voters find out that the Mayor's agenda is not fiscal responsibility, but a short-term, short-sighted sell-off of irreplaceable City assets at fire-sale prices to save the Mayor of Failure's political career, and cover up a few favors to political supporters who are circling the Convention Center like buzzards.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Trutanich Targets Toyota - Pulls Prius Perks

Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich has ordered his staff to cease using their City supplied Toyota Prius vehicles. The order was issued last week to City Attorney executives and staff to immediately stop driving the hybrid vehicle that Monday's LA Times  reported as being involved in 34 fatal accidents. According to the Times, "34 people have died in accidents involving Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles that allegedly accelerated out of control in the past decade."

No doubt Trutanich's order was prompted by the recalls recently issued by Toyota, as well as concerns some may have that the problem is not only limited to the third generation Toyota Prius. Articles in the press, such as the LA Times article, might have made the City Attorney believe that the problem is more widespread.

Prudent risk management would seem to indicate that the smart move is to cease using the popular hybrid vehicle until more is known about the full extent of the problem, described in the LA Times as "sudden-acceleration." The LA Times reports that these sudden-acceleration deaths span a period of 10 years and involve all models of Toyota hybrid vehicles. This would tend to support the City Attorney's order to be safe rather than sorry.

Trutanich's order only effects Toyota vehicles used by his executives and staff. It is unknown whether other City Departments will follow his lead. The Toyota Prius is widely used by many City departments, and the City is believed to operate in excess of 400 of them. Typical uses include, Parking Enforcement, Building & Safety Inspections, as well as work-related transport by City employees.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mayor Villaraigosa Drops the 'F' Bomb at the Times - 3 Times!

Thanks to City Hall Insider for this piece:

Times Tries To Cover Up Villaraigosa's Failure

As KABC talk show host Doug McIntrye would say, "You can't make this stuff up!"

At 12:18PM today, the LA Times NOW Blog carried a nice little puff piece about the Mayor's impending TV appearance on 'All My Children,' currently scheduled for airing on Wednesday, February 17, 2010.

Less than one and a half hours later, the Times closed comments on their puff piece with the simple statement "The comments to this entry are closed." You can see the puff piece for yourself at:

that is, of course, assuming that the Times hasn't removed it altogether by the time you read this.

Three comments somehow managed to be posted in the 90 minutes that free speech was allowed at the Times, all scathingly negative about the Mayor of Failure's poor choice in taking days off work to make a cameo appearance on TV.

Just in case the Times removes those comments, here they are:

Unconfirmed rumors have it that the Times was inundated with so many negative comments about the Mayor's TV soap opera debut, that they felt compelled to shut down comments before they become the source of more embarrassment to Villaraigosa.

More embarrassment? Oh yes. Did you see the Opinion section in yesterday's Sunday LA Times?

Antonio Villaraigosa on L.A.’s budget woes

Villaraigosa spoke to Times reporters Nick Goldberg, David Lauter, Dan Turner, 'Newton,' and someone only identified as "L.A. Times reporter."

There were a couple of interesting things about the report of the interview. First, the Times reported Villariagosa's comments verbatim - complete with poor sentence structure, rambling thoughts, and the usual bagful of catchphrases, cliches and platitudes.

It made one thing very clear; when Villaraigosa goes 'off script,' he stumbles and stammers his way through an answer. We saw all of that and more last week when Villaraigosa spoke to the Council. He was incoherently babbling most of the time.

Second, an unidentified "Aide" interrupted Villaraigosa not less than five times either to correct Villaraigosa's misstatements, or to answer facts and figures that Villaraigosa plainly did not know.

Here's the link to the Opinion Section:

Clearly Goldberg, Lauter, Turner, 'Newton,' and "reporter" could have cleaned up Villaraigosa's poor performance. They chose not to, perhaps because this was supposed to be an opinion written by Villaraigosa, and as he cannot write very well (he failed the California Bar at least 4 times), and was too lazy to even try to put pen to paper, he chose to use his charm and eloquence to win over the Times. It didn't work, did it?

One other thing that the Mayor of Failure stumbled and stammered his way through was a feeble attempt to explain why he screwed up in ordering City Attorney Carmen Trutanich to fire 100 staffers.

According the Times, Villaraigosa said:

"So once it was clear to me that I had the power through my managers -- and all [City Attorney 
Carmen Trutanich] said what that I had overreached. I don't have power over the city attorney 
because he's duly elected, but as you know I wrote him a letter saying I still want you to lay these 
people off, and I said that in public at the City Council meeting."

So Villaraigosa now admits that he doesn't have the power to order lay-offs, but he can write a letter saying "pretty please" fire 100 attorneys.

If the Mayor's performance in Council and in front of the LA Times reporters is anything to go by, his soap opera debut on 'All My Children' will make viewers wonder just how many takes it took to get this one episode in the can?

Well said City Hall Insider

Oh and our headline? Yes, the Mayor dropped the Failure Bomb 3 times with the Times:

1) Reaction to his tv soap opera debut was so negative, the Times had to close comments.

2) He had to admit to the LA Times that he was powerless to order layoffs at the City Attorney's Office.

3) He made such a fool of himself in the interview that his "Aide" had to come to his aid 5 times.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mayor Speaks to Council. Talks A Lot, Says Nothing

Thanks to City Hall Insider for this:

It was embarrassing. There's no other word for it. The Mayor of the second largest city in the United States entered the Council Chamber to a resounding chorus of "Boos" that drowned out the thunderclaps that shook Downtown LA through much of the day.

When Jan Perry, sitting as President Pro Tem, finally convinced the audience to quieten down, the Mayor of Failure proceeded to stumble, stammer, and struggle to read the speech that one of his 263 staffers must have prepared for him.

It sounded phony and frankly looked like a seventh grader could have done a better job. The speech was nothing but a string of platitudes, sound-bites, and catchphrases, all interspersed with false praise and thanks to the Council for "working together" and "making hard choices." The Mayor of Failure's speech was as devoid of fact, as it was lacking in any ring of truth.

As the Mayor spoke, he was joined at the table by his CAO Miguel Santana and a few other staffers. It looked like the defendant's table in a criminal courthouse.

When the Mayor finally finished his rambling monologue where he referenced his 1,000 job layoff list, he took 'questions' from councilmembers. If one were a conspiracy theorist, one might have thought the questions were "gimmes" easy answers for the Mayor, but frankly, the councilmembers themselves seemed incapable for asking simple, succinct questions, preferring to ramble incoherently.

All the while the Mayor touted his idea to layoff 1,000 City workers. Earlier, the Mayor had 'leaked' the list of 1,000 City employees in various departments (none in the Mayor's Office, nor any in the 15 Council Offices), including 100 City Attorneys.

Nobody asked the Mayor where this magic number of 1,000 comes from. Was it a real calculation of what is necessary to save the City from bankruptcy, based on hard figures? Or was it simply a nice round number, like 10,000 cops?

If it truly was a calculated figure, how come it wasn't 987 or 1,012?

The answer, folks, is that it was just another empty catchphrase. Something to be used down this failed politician's career where he can proudly proclaim to be the Mayor who made the hard choice to fire (layoff) 1,000 City workers to save the City from bankruptcy.

But the truth, of course, is very  different. There will not be 1,000 firings or layoffs. The Mayor sort of hinted at that himself. He plans to shift 360 jobs to the DWP, Airport and the Port. The remaining 540 will be early retirements. Wait a minute, 360 + 540 does not equal 1,000. That's only 900. What about the other 100?

The other 100 are the City Attorney employees on the Mayor's list. After City Attorney Carmen Trutanich reminded the Mayor of Failure that he does not have the authority under the City Charter to fire City Attorneys, any more than he has the authority to hire City Attorneys, the Mayor had to admit that he could not fire them. But that fact (like so many others) was not discussed during the Mayor's incoherent ramblings.

At one point, the Mayor used the word "Heretofore" in some stupid attempt to make him sound lawyerly - he did take and fail the Bar 4 times. It did not impress.

As he maintained the pretense of commanding the firing of 1,000 City employees, not one of the 15 councilmembers ever asked him or his 'co-defendants' at the table, what precisely, the effect of firing 1,000 would be on the City's current budget deficit of $212M?

Was that because they knew it was a phony firing, or was it because they had actually looked at the Mayor's list of 1,000 jobs and realized that firing 1,000 workers only saves the City $24.7M in 2009-2010? $24.7M against a $212M deficit is nothing. It's a sham, a trick, a ruse. It's not true.

Remember, over the past few years the City has added 4,000 workers. In 2007 the City employed 26,000. Today it employs 30,000. According to the Mayor, the City's income has now fallen to that which it received in 2007. So logically, if the Mayor is going to balance it's budget, it has to return to the workforce level that it had in 2007. That would mean firing 4,000 City workers, not 1,000.

So what's up with the Mayor's math? And why wasn't there a single councilmember who had the brains to figure this simple equation out and ask the Mayor "Isn't it true that to balance the budget you have to fire 4,000 City workers?"

What happened today was a monumental failure in our elected officials to address the serious financial plight of our City. It's really no surprise. After all, they are the ones who got us into this mess with their faulty logic in the first place. Why should we believe they have what it takes to get us out of this mess?

When Wall Street failed spectacularly towards the end of 2008, heads rolled. Sure, they got sizable payoffs, but the management of the failed corporations of America all got the axe. That's not happening with the Mayor or the sycophantic Councilmembers. They all ignored the warning signals, and now that Los Angeles's financial chickens have come home to roost, they're all just playing word games.

We all know that the Mayor is incapable of making real decisions and being fiscally responsible, he spends our money like a drunken sailor to support his elaborate lifestyle. He maintains a staff of 263 aides and deputies, to do what? Write speeches that he no more understands than he can read?

It's time to call an end to the hypocrisy and deceit that has underscored the Mayor of Failure's tenure. When will Los Angelenos realize that?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

City Budget & Finance Committee Hears The Anger of The People

Public comment during Monday's Budget and Finance Committee meeting cannot have been a comfortable time for Bernard Parks (Chair), Greig Smith, Bill Rosendahl, Jose Huizar, and Paul Koretz.

Faced with an ever increasing budget deficit that looks certain to drive the City into Bankruptcy due to poor leadership, indecision, and a total inability to stand up to organized labor.

One speaker, Ron Kaye, former editor of the L.A. Daily News, who now runs the OurLA blog, said what needed to be said.

Ron's words clearly impressed the City Hall Insider, who transcribed Ron's two minute lesson on the public's perception of the catastrophic failure of the Mayor and the City Council to deal with a problem that's been growing and growing for at least three years , without any meaningful solution.

Here's the transcript:

Thank you for this, and thank you for what you have done, which I think is, fulfilled and impossible dream of mine to ever unite the city. You have brought labor together with the neighborhood activists, you've brought the people with disabilities  and the people who are caring for them, soccer moms and every constituency of this city to the table.
They are all angry. Angry at what I think is really the subtext of the CAO's reports on both parking and the budget, which is a failure of leadership and a failure of management. The proposition that you can possibly fix this city by yourself after years of failure is ridiculous. You need the people, you need all the constituents brought to the table. You need our support, and you have lost the confidence of the people. And that's really the crisis that we're talking about. It's not financial, you can't create jobs in a city that nobody believes in. You can buy jobs, which is what you've been doing, and what is proposed by taking money from the proprietary departments.
These people are just the tip of an iceberg of hundreds of thousands of people who love this city, who want to see it turn around and become a city that respects every element of this city, every type of person, and brings them to the table.
We can't all have everything that we want, but we can sit down at the table and figure out how we really fix this. I have proposed that, if we really got serious, labor might take a step back for two or three years, the public might even agree to a tightly written tax for two or three years just to bail us out of this. You're afraid to tax them because you know that you don't have their trust or faith. You have perpetuated a fiefdom system despite Charter Reform. This is your opportunity to be real leaders and to really save this city, and God willing, you will and the people come together. Thank you very much.

Thank you very much Ron Kaye, for saying what needed to be said, so well.