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CRA UPDATE: How Sweet It Is for Chris Essel — A Real “Bell” Ringer

In the wonderful world of City Hall’s corruption, the insiders win even when they lose.

Take the case of Chris Essel, the secretary at Paramount Pictures who became the company’s lobbyist and head of the Central City Association which qualified her to be the City Hall political machine’s candidate last year of Council District 2 even though she didn’t actually live there.

IBEW union bully boy Brian D’Arcy and other pigs who feed at the trough of City Hall poured a fortune into her campaign only to see her lose to Paul Krekorian who successfully wooed CD2′s activist community and remains popular after nearly a year in office.

It was a triumph of the people over the machine but Essel came out a winner.

Instead of a measly $180,000 a year as one of the nation’s highest paid big city elected officials, Essel was named to head the Community Redevelopment Agency — the fountain of taxpayer dollars that flows so generously into the hands of wealthy and well-connected developers, insures all construction is done by union labor and facilitates the densifying or our neighborhoods.

That she lacked real qualifications for the job didn’t matter since interim CRA chief executive officer Calvin Hollis was retained and rewarded for his expertise while Essel’s personal charm was useful to First Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner in his obsession with creating jobs no matter what they cost the public and speeding developments no matter how much the damages the quality of our lives.

So what is Essel’s deal for her commitment to public service?

She draws an annual salary of $223,256 plus a monthly subsidy for health insurance of $1,110.38 her.CalPERS pension contribution is entirely paid by the Agency,
including 7% of which is the “employee share,.” according to the official city file.

Then, there’s life insurance up to her salary plus $100 monthly to buy more, disability insurance, 12 days of sick leave, three weeks vacation, 12 holidays plus 20 hours of floating holidays, 8 days leave, a free insured car or $500 a month if she uses her own car and several tax avoidance benefits.

Not bad for a loser.

Of course, Essel is just one among thousands, which should help explain why libraries and parks are closed, other core public services be gutted and the city teetering on bankruptcy.



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39 Responses to CRA UPDATE: How Sweet It Is for Chris Essel — A Real “Bell” Ringer

  1. My question to Chris Essel: Why is the CRA continuing to do business with Hal Katersky, the man who bankrupted Albuquerque Studios and the man who was sued for fraud and embezzelment in connection with his role with Culver Studios.
    It is bad enough that you had to learn about the Albuquerque bankruptcy and Culver fraud litigation and settlement in the press. What else hasn’t Katersky told you?
    And why doesn’t the CRA invite the Neighborhood Councils for a few workshops to explain what it does and to go through its portfolio of investments.
    Pretty soon, the City will raid the CRA, just like Chicago is preparing to loot the Tax Increment Funds.

  2. Anonymous says:

    How can Los Angeles Council do anything right when council members can NOT obey their own council rules? As noted in your August 3rd Post, “How Do You Spell Hypocrisy? Los Angeles City Council”
    Los Angeles Council members continue to violate their own Council Rules with NO repercussion.
    The Los Angeles Need to Set Precedent Garcetti should change the Council Rules that will allow council members to be present at council meeting and committee meetings at the hour of their choice and take away the council members city cars and gas.
    On September 22, 2010 Los Angeles Council Is Awaiting A Quorum Again as the following Council members were late.
    District 2 – Paul Krekorian
    District 5 – Paul Koretz
    District 8 – Bernard Parks
    District 15 Janice Hahn
    Yet, Los Angeles Need to Set Precedent Garcetti is quick to cut off constituents when they exceed several seconds of their two minutes allowed during public comment.
    Rules of The Los Angeles City Council http://cityclerk.lacity.org/cps/pdf/CouncilRules.pdf

  3. Bob G says:

    Well, we are in an experimental phase in terms of popular attempts at city government reform. After the March election, we can evaluate the returns and then perhaps we will talk about a new “clean sweep” that has specifics — such as abolishing the CRA and full public financing of elections — and which is not perceived as an arm of the county Republican Party.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Ron,
    Have you been reduced to stretch like comparing this to Bell? So first of all, there goes your credibility. Secondly, you know this new is at least a couple months old? I think if we reduce her salary by half, the city should pull through. Please get her to reduce her salary, Ron. I want the libraries to stay open.

  5. Anonymous says:

    It rings a Bell? Why, did Chris Essel fraudulently hold phantom meetings where she gave herself all kinds of fake salaries and raises without anyone knowing? Did she raise taxes to give herself millions? Is she going to be arrested with $3.2 million? Ron, are you losing it?

  6. Anonymous says:

    Maybe because Essel lost the election (a loser as yo put it) she should retire and never hold another position for the rest of her life. After all, she’s married. She could stay home and take care of the house.

  7. Anonymous says:

    It’s official. If you lose an election, you may never earn more in any position for the rest of yor life unless you are making less than you would have with your elected salary. A Clean Sweepism?

  8. Anonymous says:

    Ron, Antonio takes care of his friends now, so that they take care of him when he is out of a job. Don`t forget he has no profession, he has been milking the public tids for ever.

  9. Kate Barner says:

    Dear Anonymous on September 22, 2010 11:53 AM,
    Your comment about Christine Essel staying home may be tongue-in-check but is also stupid and unnecessarily sexist. The use of gender or ethnic slurs or references in the case of the Mayor are unwarranted and only reduce your support and credibility.
    Look, this administration including Essel stand as one of the most corrupt and unethical since the original reform movement of the early 1900s. Their actions stand alone and should be directly target. There is plenty of fodder to write about.
    Why would you want to turn some people off who are united with you in removing the corrupt people including the Mayor and Christine Essel along with several Councilmembers and taking the City back for the people?
    This is our common cause, don’t blow it.

  10. Anonymous says:

    >> Antonio takes care of his friends now, so that they take care of him when he is out of a job.

  11. david r2b says:

    David G. @ 2:22 AM, September 21 -
    A portion of your comment regarding CRA pensions:
    “Last week the city council voted unanimously to approve CRA’s extremely generous early retirement program which is going to cost tax payers anywhere from $5 to $10 million (depending on number who retire). Despite efforts to convince the Council to oppose this, there was no discussion on the item. It passed with no Council members voting against.”
    Question: is the CRA “NOT” staffed by City Employees? In yesterday’s and today’s blogs, CalPERS has also been mentioned. I apologize and I’m confused. Are the employees of the CRA: city, county or state?
    (I’m posting this question in both yesterday’s and today’s Blog, hoping that you’ll answer.)
    Thank you.

  12. jeff says:

    Ron
    Once you go the “stir up the 70′s feminist” route, your stepping in it with both feet.
    Next time, walk to the side of your dog.

  13. Sandy Sand says:

    What a many-footed monster we live with. Everyday another OTHER shoe drops. Eventually the monster will trip over himself falling on his many faces and drag the city down with it…not with a thud, but a resounding CRASH!

  14. Walter Moore says:

    Everyone who works for the Spring Street Gang is simply Bell-tastic!

  15. Anonymous says:

    The egotistical,facist Caruso told VICA he is considering a run for Mayor. He is full of shit, who will bask on free press until filing date, when because of blah, blah,blah decided not to run. The sad thing is the press will eat all this shit

  16. Anonymous says:

    Antonio, if he were smart, of course it`s widely known he is not, would fire Beutner before he screws him publicly, something he has been doing privately a lot.

  17. Anonymous says:

    The Mayor is too dumb to know who his enemies are. He still hopes Beutner will make him the chief stable boy, once he retires.

  18. Anonymous says:

    HUD has informed the City’s Community Development Department and the CRA that it may not close any more HUD funded deals until serious audit findings are resolved by the two agencies.
    Yes, Essell will have her hands full because if the HUD money is shut down, where will Spring Street get the money to please their developer campaign contributors. Really? Really!
    Maybe that’s why the CRA quietly pushed through the Legislature AB 2531 — a bill that allows Los Angeles’s CRA (and only CRA/LA) to spend any of its money inside or outside of redevelopment areas, or to spend CRA money on employment programs to keep people busy.
    That Bill is sitting on the Governator’s desk and he is thinking about signing it. Ron: Think we should rally Clean Sweep to swamp the Governator with demands to veto this special interest bill? Why should CRA be given more latitude to waste money when they do it so well now?

  19. Anonymous Lady says:

    Give the “feminist” crap a rest!
    Would it be “masculinist” to tell Tony V. to get out of politics and get a “real” back-breaking manly job like…cleaning our toilets?

  20. DavidG says:

    Hallelujah, finally someone else sees what we’ve been experience for the last six months.  Great article but there’s so much more that can be said about Essel’s shortcomings and I didn’t agree with your comments about Cal Hollis. 
    Cal Hollis may be more qualified than Chris to run the Agency but that’s not really saying much. Hollis may be able to conduct a financial analysis on the feasibility of a project but he’s certainly lacking in many other respects. He’s never had any experience managing an organization the size of CRA. When Hollis was originally hired by Estolano, he was brought in under the premise that he was going to get a number of projects moving like:  Crown Coach, Sears Project and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in East L.A., Marlton Square/Santa Barbara Plaza, projects in No Ho and many others. Hollis has failed to get any of these projects off the ground. I’ve known and worked with Cal Hollis for over 10 years and quite frankly I don’t trust him.  He lacks integrity and cannot be trusted.  In meetings, he always has to be right and have the last word.  He’s got an huge ego.  Staff have commented about the fact he behaves as though he’s got a Napoleon complex.   The only thing that Hollis has ever been good at is “selling himself”. He’s nothing more than a prostitute like many other puppets on the Mayor’s staff.  I hate to appear as though I’ve stooped to name calling, but I don’t know how to express the disgust that many staff feel toasted Hollis.  
    As for Chris, we she came onboard, many of us had high hopes for her. Because Chris has worked as a commissioner of the board and her political connections,  all felt that she would be truly effective. We now realize how naive we were. 
    The first disappointment became apparent after the very first staff meeting and it’s been  downhill since then. Chris lacks leadership ability. She has no vision for the Agency.  She doesn’t a decision without first consulting the dim witted staff in the mayor’s office. CRA DOESN’T NEED ANOTHER PUPPET, WE NEED A CAPABLE AND QUALIFIED LEADER.  

  21. anonymous says:

    To the person mocking Ron for writing about something two months old. In this “news today, forgotten tomorrow” society, reminders help.
    But, if it’s hot off the press news you want, go to the Daily News and read about the two coyotes seen in Woodland Hills. Better yet, read the comments. Someone else saw a bird in a tree.
    ‘Gotta keep up with these breaking stories!!!

  22. David G says:

    Response to david r2b: Answer to your question: The CRA is considered to be a proprietary department. They are not covered by the City Charter and the employees are not covered by civil service. CRA’s retirement is through CalPers, not CERS. Irrespective of all this, their salaries are still paid by the tax payers.

  23. Anonymous says:

    All CRA actions are covered through City Council oversight. So, City Council influences are CRA decisions including all of the bonds they sell. CRA gets it’s operating revenue from two primary sources, 1) selling bonds and 2) tax increment revenue which means that if you live in a redevelopment project area, a portion of your property taxes goes to CRA. This takes money away from other essential services such as schools. CRA has sold billions of dollars of bonds over the last 50 years. CRA is so deeply in debt with its bonds that it would probably take 50 years or more to pay them off and get out of debt. If CRA were to close down and the City had to pay off all of CRA’s debt, the immediate impact would probably be worse than the pension crisis. Catch 22, you can’t cut the monster’s head off without creating a much bigger problem.

  24. Anonymous says:

    All CRA actions are covered through City Council oversight. So, City Council influences are CRA decisions including all of the bonds they sell. CRA gets it’s operating revenue from two primary sources, 1) selling bonds and 2) tax increment revenue which means that if you live in a redevelopment project area, a portion of your property taxes goes to CRA. This takes money away from other essential services such as schools. CRA has sold billions of dollars of bonds over the last 50 years. CRA is so deeply in debt with its bonds that it would probably take 50 years or more to pay them off and get out of debt. If CRA were to close down and the City had to pay off all of CRA’s debt, the immediate impact would probably be worse than the pension crisis. Catch 22, you can’t cut the monster’s head off without creating a much bigger problem.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Antonio has let us down. As one of his early supporters I am sad he squandered all that promise, all those dreams. He promissed he would clean City Hall, yet under his administration it has become a cesspool. Well, I guess he fooled all of us. I start to believe “Clean Sweep” may have an impact.

  26. Anonymous says:

    CNN; “LA has created 55 jobs with $111 million stimulus funds”. We are again the laughingstock of the nation, as we were with the DWP fiasco. I suppose Antonio is busy with Lu………

  27. david r2b says:

    To David G.-
    Thank you for answering my question, however, now I have many more. To summarize: are the Job Classifications similar to the City’s(?) and are the pay scales off the chart or are they competitive and reasonable?

  28. David G says:

    Job functions are similar but classification job titles are different. Pay scales are in line with DWP – so I would say that they are off the chart. Interesting thing about CRA is that they are Very top heavy with more than 50% of the staff earn more than $75K annually.

  29. Anonymous says:

    “Job functions are similar but classification job titles are different. Pay scales are in line with DWP – so I would say that they are off the chart.
    I didn’t know the CRA hired linemen and engineers

  30. anonymous says:

    Re CRA, log on to cra/la.net. CRA is a separate entity set up for redevelopment purposes by State/City authority. It is called a quaisi organization and is funded by state, federal, city, county funds. ALL TAX PAYER FUNDS. For CRA salaries select JOBS/CONTRACT OPPORTUNITIES, then on left side select CRA/LA CURRENT EMPLOYEE SALARIES. Absolutely amazying! An Administrative Specialist who processes and posts budget tranfers-$100,140. Some staff with only a high school diploma/ged hold these positions. Admin Analyst-$84,276 and Dept. Secretary-$61,104. Staff still get cola’s and senior staff are eligible for bonuses. Staff belongs to PERS. However, employees do not pay their 7% contribution; CRA pays both the employer and employee costs! CRA does pay into Social Security, whereas the City does not. Staff get generous sick, vacation, personal leave, etc, including so little hours of actual work, that is usually done by the lowest staff. Little actual accountability. These are not civil service jobs, so promotions and employment are very judgemental/selective. The Mayor appoints the CRA Board of Commisioners and the CEO. The Mayor/City Council control ALL aspects of CRA and the millions of dollars under CRA control. The last CEo Bud Ovrum has a Calpers retirement of over $200,00 and is also receiving a hugh salary first in the Mayor’s Office and now a City Department Director. Richard Benbow the prior acting CEO also receives a retirement over $200,000 and was appointed immediately as head of CDD. The recent early retirement package is so lavish. CRA should be investigated indepentendly, not by Wendy. It has been audited by Laura Chick, but totally ineffective. CRA discourages paper trails and encourages dishonesty and re-writes or ignores procedures. So much more to be said. We tax payers have been ripped off by the CRA for years.

  31. anonymous says:

    CRA has engineers, planners, proj mgrs; development, acquisition, relocation, property management agents; financial, administrative, contract, etc. Plus consultant, contractors, temporary positions. Salaries are way over the top, then you add in benefits for health insurance, all kinds of leave-holiday, sick, vacation, personal. CRA fully pays for employee’s Calpers retirement contribution. Look at CRA/LA.net for info and how your taxpayer funds are used. You can find the CRA salaries by clicking on Jobs/Contract Opportunities, then CRA current salaries. Take a deep breath.

  32. Anonymous says:

    Those salaries are actually higher than DWP salaries. Interesting…

  33. david r2b says:

    To David G. -
    See what you started! Good conversation everyone. This is how it is supposed to work. Knowledgable folks post information, observations and facts that are almost impossible to normally aquire.
    Thank you.

  34. Anonymous says:

    Try getting a job at CRA. Regardless of the required qualifications on the postings, the jobs go to the politically connected.

  35. Anonymous says:

    OKAY, SO HOW DO WE STOP THIS MADNESS? According to one of David G’s posts, he said a group of activists tried to get City Council to reconsider their approval of CRA’s lavish early retirement program and all of their efforts seemed to fall on deaf ears. THE MAYOR NEEDS TO DO SOME HOUSECLEANING WITH CRA’s TOP MANAGEMENT – BUT I DON’T HAVE ANY CONFIDENCE THAT MAYOR TONY WILL DO ANYTHING.

  36. anon says:

    The present mayor and city council will not change the cra. They have created this mess to all of their benefit. We need to elect new ones who have honesty, values, integrity. Otherwise, la is lost to more of the same. LA cannot survive. This situation is much, much worse than Bell. So many politicians, unions, developers and others are feeding off the cra/city monies, while the budget deficit deepens. The actions of the Mayor/City Counci/cra/cdd/, etc, are all intermingled with layers of decit. Those “feeding” know the process.

  37. anon says:

    The present mayor and city council will not change the cra. They have created this mess to all of their benefit. We need to elect new ones who have honesty, values, integrity. Otherwise, la is lost to more of the same. LA cannot survive. This situation is much, much worse than Bell. So many politicians, unions, developers and others are feeding off the cra/city monies, while the budget deficit deepens. The actions of the Mayor/City Counci/cra/cdd/, etc, are all intermingled with layers of decit. Those “feeding” know the process.

  38. David G says:

    The writer of the previous comments sounds like someone who knows what goes on on the inside. But it also sounds a bit depressing in the sense that we are helpless to do anything to fix the problems in City Hall except to wait for election time and hopefully boot them all out. It’s unfortunate that we tend to have a short memory about all of this and all (or most) will be forgotten by the time we vote unless of course they screw up again.  That’s why the LA Clean Sweep campaign is so important. It’s unfortunate that there’s not more that can be done NOW to shake things up.

  39. Anonymous says:

    You all have too much time on your hands. Run for office or keep your useless opinions to your pathetic, ineffective selves.. Were it not for the internet, you’d be bitching to your oatmeal!
    Anonymous

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