Some might say that City Attorney Carmen Trutanich has been selling "his" ACE Program like a snake oil salesman; promising that it will do all things for all Los Angelenos - provide swift justice for low grade crimes and fill the coffers of the city's cash starved General Fund with a flood of "Administrative Penalties."
The Dragnet has previously warned of the grave dangers of allowing Trutanich to become judge and jury in the ACE Program's kangaroo courts, and now it seems that Los Angelenos are beginning to get the message.
Former City Council candidate Stephen Box yesterday published a succinct account of the dangers of Trutnanich's ACE Program at CityWatchLA. Box's article touches on many of the dangers previously identified by the Dragnet and is an excellent read. Box analogizes the powers hidden in Trutanich's ACE Program to those used by the City of Bell to shakedown its residents in a culture of corruption that recently shocked the nation.
But Trutanich's ACE Program goes far beyond the small town shakedowns of Bell, and places Trutanich in a position of power and influence that likely exceeds the role of city attorney contemplated by the Charter Reform movement. The goal of reforming the city's Charter was to instill transparency and accountability into what had become a corrupt and unaccountable City Council. A close read of Trutanich's ACE Program raises serious concerns that it takes us back to those dark times, and then some.
Trutanich has been quick to try to quell the fears about the Orwellian flavor of his ACE Program. In an article recently published by the Los Angeles Metropolitan News Enterprise, his office dismissed the allegation that Trutanich was using ACE to secretly obtain the Grand Jury powers that the City had previously denied him as "ludicrous." However, Trutanich has nevertheless written into the ACE Program a subpoena power that many believe can be abused by an over-zealous prosecutor much as in the McCarthy era.
Trutanich's vehement denial might have persuaded a few of his Neighborhood Council supporters that he can be trusted, but since that denial Trutanich has been plagued by a series of scandals even the most ardent supporters must see as representing serious flaws in the credibility of his glib assurances.
Perhaps the first doubts were raised by the way Trutanich lied about the origins of the ACE Program itself. In an interview on the Kevin James radio show, Trutanich claimed that ACE was his idea and that he had shared it with other cities and it was "working just fine." But the reality is that those cities already had their version of ACE (albeit without Trutanich's Orwellian attributes) before Trutanich was City Attorney. Even his Chief Deputy had to admit that Trutanich had lied.
More recently, in the BillboardGate scandal, when the Dragnet questioned whether Trutanich's billboards on Ventura Blvd., were illegal off-site signs in violation of Trutanich's own laws, his office told the Met News that "the determination of the signs’ legality is not one that is made by his office." A "ludicrous" response considering that on the very same day that Trutanich was saying his office does not determine the legality of signs, Trutanich was condemning the City of Santa Monica for placing digital signs on their city buses, never mind the endless grandstanding Trutanich has engaged in regarding the $1M bail arrest of a Los Angeles businessman during the Oscars ceremony. Of course Trutanich determines the legality of signs, that's his job. He probably did not like being questioned about his own signs, which he swiftly removed, so he lied to cover it up.
More troubling was what looked like a cover up by the Dept. of Building and Safety. Their lead investigator initially defended Trutanich's billboards, making the equally "ludicrous" statement that Trutanich's billboards, which had been on display for over two years since he took office, was a “temporary sign ... that doesn’t require a permit.” Two years is temporary?
The apparent willingness of the Dept. of Building and Safety to bend over backwards to help Trutanich is perhaps not surprising. But it is troubling. Under the ACE Program, the Dept. of Building and Safety will become the lead city department in issuing ACE Administrative Penalties for code violations. Remember, it is this Dept. that is being investigated by the FBI for abusing its permit issuing powers. Seriously Los Angeles, do we need to even ask you if you are willing to grant more power to Trutanich and the Dept. of Building and Safety?
ACE started out as a simple two page proposal from Councilmember Koretz to improve the way code violations were handled. It appears that ACE was hijacked by Trutanich and transformed into a twenty page power grab and shakedown tool. Don't let that happen.