I have long mocked the idea that all the campaign money and favors bestowed on politicians brought special interests what has been euphemistically called “access.”
Developers, contractors, anyone wanting to profit from government get to meet privately (i.e. secretly) with elected officials, their staffs and the bureaucracy and gather information not publicly available and to set the terms of the discussion by conveying what is in their self-interest before anyone else has a say.
This is usually done for these special interests by lobbyists, lawyers, public relations experts, consultants and political strategists who have long relationships with the government officials, relationships that are both personal and professional, and enriched by the flow of political money and advice, both free and paid for.
Most of these contacts and the business transactions they involve never even bubble to the surface, never even become public knowledge. And when they do, it is far down the road. At the point ordinary citizens become aware of what’s going on, the game is up. With limited knowledge of the fine details, relatively inexperienced at such games, the public is easily dismissed as NIMBYs, easily beaten
I knew this was a great injustice. But until I got down on the ground as a community activist myself in the last two months I didn’t know just how great an injustice it is.
In hearing first-hand the frustration of community groups who just want a legitimate voice in the political process, a seat at the table of power, I got angry, angry enough to decide something dramatic had to be done to change the situation.
That’s why I called for the Saving L.A. Protest at noon on July 14 at City Hall, to take the first step in creating a citywide coalition of concerned citizens who would be able to mobilize to change the rules of engagement at City Hall, to change the way the process works, to make government accountable to the people.
It’s a tall order I know. But the system has grown so arrogant and abusive that we need what my friend Teddy says is a Boston Tea Party to ignite the public’s emotions and get something going.
Just look at how Steve Sugerman, a onetime deputy mayor, and Richard Alatorre, a longtime elected official — admitted felons who were convicted for crimes involving public corruption — are getting rich operating deep inside City Hall \. They have total access to the mayor and everyone else while the public comes with hat hand to be ignored during their two-minutes before the City Council or double-talked when they try to get information.
Former Fleishman-Hillard p.r. executive Sugerman pleaded guilty to a federal wire fraud charge, saying he thought his boss Doug Dowie wanted him to overbill the Department of Water and Power yet he’s the point man earning a fortune peddling his influence for the massive Playa Vista development, the Southwest Museum and other clients with city busiiness.
He’s registered as a lobbyist but claims most of his income doesn’t come from actually peddling influence directly to the pols; it comes from helping clients manipulate the political process so you, the people, aren’t entitled to know that.
And Jack Weiss — the wannabe top city law enforcement officer as City Attorney — thinks nothing of having Sugerman host a recent fund-raiser for him. We’ll never really know how much was raised at the event because the biannual reports don’t show anything but the date the check was written, not who attended the event and when the deal was cut.
Then, there’s Alatorre, the toughest and most brilliant politicial
strategist in town who not only peddles his skill and access but is
part of the elite cadre of Antonio Villaraigosa insiders.
Alatorre was one of Speaker Willie Brown’s boys in Sacramento for years before coming to the City Council. When he fell from grace over
cocaine abuse and graft charges a decade ago, he pleaded guilty to
income tax evasion. Like Sugerman and others blessed with the right
politicial connections, he didn’t go to prison. No, he went to work
back inside the City Hall game..
Although not even registered
as a lobbyist under the city’s pathetically weak ethics laws until recently, Alatorre
has lobbied council members on such contentious issues as annexation
and approval of the massive Las Lomas housing development outside the
city limits in Sylmar and the controversial Home Depot store in
How in the world is the public going to combat someone like Alatorre when they don’t even know what he’s up to.
“Having that information about who’s
lobbying . . . tells you what kind of uphill mountain you
may have,” Sylmar activist Bart Reed of the Transit Coalition said last year.
at the Home Depot controversy. One of America’s greatest companies
hires a slew of people to work City Hall for it and in the blink of an
eye they get a permit approved to convert a closed K-Mart into a Home
Depot store without and questions being asked about the impact of the
change on a semi-rural community or what the community specific plan
calls for or what the community thinks.
And when the community
gets so well organized that City Hall blinks and blocks the project,
the company hires expensive lawyers who sue and the city immediately
goes to bat to try to get the deal approved through mediation.
the company uses its well-connected consultants to get the LAUSD to
give it a permit for an open house at a school in apparent violation of
state law and district policy. And when that becomes a public issue,
the district literally crosses out its policy on schools being
available only for non-profits on its website and puts in a new policy.
what are we to do? I say meet me at City Hall on the 14th of July at
noon and we’ll talk about it, we’ll talk about how we come together
across the whole city and support each other and make this a government
of the people, by the people and for the people.