Janice Hahn’s little conflict of interest problem in deciding to step in as the unbiased mediator of a dispute between Gambol Industries and LA Harbor officials over a $50 million shipbuilding project offers a window into the way City Hall so often does business.
It’s not what you know but who you know.
In the Councilwoman’s case, the person she knows and knows well is Gwen Butterfield, president and CEO of Butterfield Communication, a public relations firm. They have been friends a long time, good enough friends that acquaintances say Janice was maid-of-honor at Gwen’s wedding.
When Hahn was sworn into office on July 1, 2001, at the same time her brother Jim was sworn in as Mayor, it was Butterfield who the LA Times found worthy as voice of the community to put the event into perspective.
“I think it is truly history in the making,” said Gwen Butterfield, close friend and campaign +volunteer for Janice Hahn. “She’s so excited . . . to have her brother swearing her in.”
Butterfield’s own life took a decided turn upwards with the arrival of Janice became chair of the powerful committee that oversees the Harbor Department.
She’s doing a lot of business and has been a registered City Hall lobbyist for the last six years, with five clients showing up on her disclosure statement.
It should come as no surprise that are all about the Harbor: Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway, Cabrillo Beach Yacht Club, Pacific L.A. Marine Terminal, LLC, Wallenius Wilhelmsenn Logistics and most of all, Gambol Industries which port insiders say has made her a very well-to-do woman, turning a modest living as a community organizer and part-time advocate into a PR/lobbying business with a half-million-dollars in billings.
The friendship also has been good for the Hahn’s fund-raising efforts.
In breaking the story on Hahn’s conflict-of-interest, Art Marroquin of the Daily Breeze reported
Gambol’s president, Robert Stein, contributed $6,500 to Hahn’s lieutenant governor campaign account last October and $500 to her City Council officeholder’s account last August.
“Additionally, the Los Angeles-based law firm of Jeffer, Mangels, Butler and Marmaro is representing Gambol Industries in the ongoing negotiations with the port and contributed $5,000 to Hahn’s campaign for lieutenant governor last September.”
“That’s $!2,000 worth of conflict,” the Daily Breeze editorialized after Hahn reluctantly backed out of serving a mediator for the Gambol proposal which Harbor officials opposed because it would seriously delay a critical dredging proposal.
“The perception — one of bias — would be everything. Always there, it would cast a pall not only over the deal at the port but also over the support and opposition she has in the Harbor Area communities where she is best known. And that would cast shadows over her own future ambitions, which are, right now, pretty big. “
Butterfield herself has contributed nearly $13,000 over the years to Hahn and more than half a dozen other Butterfield clients have been equally generous in backing Hahn’s political ambitions generously, according to city ethics records.
Like so much of what goes on the threads of relationships and the role of money casts a shadow over so much of what goes on. They call it “access” — the access routinely denied the public or limited to two minutes of public comment — but really it’s corruption whether it’s just in appearance, whether it’s criminal or not.
In this case, the threads reach the LA Conservancy, which too benefited from Gambol’s money, and sent to bat for the company in its fight with the Harbor Department.
Back in January 2009, the Conservancy’s Michael Buhler urged the Harbor Commission in an email letter to
delay the $96 million dredging project to reconsider its rejection of
the berths Gambol wants as part of this historical preservation zone.
Southwest Marine Shipyard , including the slipways proposed to be
filled with contaminated dredge spoils, is the last remaining link to
Terminal Island’s significant role in the World War II emergency
shipbuilding program,” he said.
Harbor officials rejected the arguments for
delay showing that a study was already conducted to protect the parts
of the shipyard that were worthy of protection on the National Register
of Historic places.
Three months later on April 14, 2009, Hahn, in her official capacity, wrote the commission in response to the Environmental Impact Report urging delay and further study.
project certainly deserves some further consideration and review by the
Part, and for that reason request that the Board delay its action on
the Channel Deepening EJR, and request staff to look at alternatives
that may Include a partial fill of those slips, In addition, I hope
that the Board will take another look at using this location for
economic opportunities including this proposal by Gambol Industries,”
Harbor officials also rejected
her efforts, noting: “The site is currently secured by a caretaker,
Gambol, whose duties include site security and promoting the site for
use by the movie industry as an interim use.”
just two months earlier, after the EIR was released and the comment
period closed, included a long series of steps and proposed uses –
“commercial fishing, filming, and handling liquid bulk, along with
using the site as a shipyard ” — that would lead to long delays in the
dredging plan needed to allow large container ships to enter the inner
By summer, under pressure from Hahn and threat of a
lawsuit from Gambol, Harbor officials agreed to a mediation process to
resolve the dispute and see if both plans could work.
Memorandum of Understanding about to expire, Hahn stepped in as the
impartial mediator and almost got away with it — until the Daily
Breeze exposed her conflict of interest.
The Cunningham Report,
which closely follows port area issues, said the Corps of Engineers is
ready to start the dredging project by the end of the month.
Hahn recusing herself and unable to directly influence the process,
Gambol is on its own with whatever other political influence or legal
strategies it has at its disposal.
In the grand scheme of things
where City Hall lobbyists and influence peddlers have such unlimited
access to elected officials, their staffs and top bureaucrats, the
fight over the Southwest Marine Shipyard is small potatoes.
The limits on public disclosure of documents, calendards and contacts limits our ability to see very far below the surface.
the images we do get of what really goes on ought to wake people up to
the need for full disclosure in real time and public access that is at
least equal to that of those seeking personal advantages.