It took the Board of Commissioners of the Recreation and Parks Department just 16 minutes to sell out the public interest Monday and trash the City Charter at a special meeting with little advance notice..
Not bad for a few minutes work by the people who are supposed to be the citizen watchdogs on our elected officials and bureaucrats.
The citizens themselves did no better in protecting their interests. Not a single member of the public was present to comment as the commissioners agreed to include the Pershing Square parking garage — property under the City Charter of Rec and Parks — in the basket of 10 garages being auctioned off to the highest bidder, or in this case as in most others, the biggest campaign contributor with the most influential lobbyist representing them.
In fact, the only person other than a staff member and the commissioners who spoke was mayoral aide Michael Mullin who was there to make sure the board caved in without raising any thorny issues.
The board complied meekly, raising nothing more than a plea that when the Pershing Square garage is leased for 50 years for a pittance that the operator be asked to make a good faith effort to reegotiate if possible in case anything changes in how the park is operated between now and 2060.
Even that sounded alarm bells to Mullin who wanted to make it clear in the record that the board was only asking for “reasonable good faith requests” to be taken into consideration and didn’t really expect to have any control over how its property or the park is actually run.
“Our job is to see that the parks work,” the commissioners said apropos of nothing since come Labor Day the parks won’t work very well anymore thanks to the mayor and Council regarding them along with libraries as the first services to be gutted.
Back in May, this deal was dissected here complete with a warning from the City Attorney’s Office that any effort to lease Pershing Square was likely to end in a lawsuit because it was deeded to Rec and Parks as a revenue stream and resource in perpetuity.
“We also advised that the potential consequences of violating the Charter are that an action for declaratory relief and injunction could be brought by any taxpayer. The likely result of such a lawsuit would be that payment to the RAP Fund would be compelled, with interest, and attorney’s fees and costs would have to be paid by the City’s General Fund,” the City Attorney said then.
“If an arrangement that would violate the Charter is included in the lease, the City Attorney would not be able to approve the lease. If an arrangement that would violate the Charter is included in a public report to the Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners or any other City body, the City Attorney would be compelled to comment on the Charter requirements.”
On Monday, the City Attorney’s Office offered no more concern about including Pershing Square in the garages lease proposal than to say the Commission has the sole discretion and authority to do what it wants — as if the public and the public interest is irrelevant.
The commission seemed quite content to expect no more from this deal than the same $2 million a year it gets now plus increases reflecting half a century of inflation.
In a report (pershing square.pdf) submitted by Rec and Parks General Manager Jon Kirk Mukri — a man fighting daily to keep his job in the face of the abuses and demands of the mayor’s offiice – the Pershing Square garage is the city’s most profitable and has the “greatest potential for future growth,” according to a report commissioned for the city.
“Because of the abundance of development slated for downtown Los Angeles, the location of the parking facility and the amount of excess capacity in the garage, the prospects for revenue growth from an increase in parking demand are very bright. The report indicates that as demand grows and the number of competing facilities shrinks, rate increases will provide another avenue for future revenue growth.”
In other words, Pershing Square is the plum in this deal that was supposed to bring in $150 million in a lump sum now plus future revenue but now is worth only $53 million up front, according to city estimates.
So why lease it out at the bottom of the market and expect no more than to keep pace with inflation when their own report says Pershing Square’s value will soar?
Why deflate its value by putting it in a basket with nine poorly managed garages that mostly lose money?
Why ignore the intent of the City Charter and sell out the public interest?
Don’t expect answers to these and other questions from your city officials. It will take a lawsuit that will tie up this deal in court to have any hope for answers.
Anybody know a good lawyer who cares enough about the quality of life in this city to take on City Hall.-