Transparency in LA: Public Stories Don’t Match Back-Room Deals at LAUSD, City Hall

The political power brokers in LA have long regarded elections in much the same way as the commissars did in the Soviet Union — a mere formality that creates a legal fiction to justify their reign of bumbling incompetence and self-service.

The political power brokers in LA have long regarded the public debate as a carefully scripted presentation of misleading arguments that have little or nothing to do with the private discussions that went on for weeks or months behind closed doors.

But under Antonio Villaraigosa, phony elections and phony public debates have been taken to a new level.

The only thing transparent about what is going on the public schools or at City Hall is the total contempt for the fundamental principles of democracy.

The result is failure upon failure, loss of credibility and rising public discontent.

It should come as no surprise that the mayor called the LAUSD Board President Monica Garcia to his office last week and told her to dump Ramon Cortines as superintendent three months early and appoint “Dr.” John Deasy as superintendent.

That will be done Tuesday, again behind closed doors, at the school board meeting without a national search or a public discussion of the qualifications and goals that LAUSD is trying to achieve.

That Deasy was brought in by the Gates Foundation with help from Eli Broad, driving force behind $500 million public schools paid for by taxpayers, is as irrelevant as the fact that Deasy got the equivalent of a mail-order doctorate in four months with help from a college dean at the University of Louisville who is in prison for five years for fraud.

What matters most is that with the city and schools in dire financial straits, the power brokers no longer feel the need to go through the pretense of public processes in carrying out their back room deals and decisions.

They merely call up the puppet mayor who knows as much about running a school or a system of schools that is the nation’s second largest as he does about managing the city’s nearly $7 billion total budget.

You can be sure the manipulators of public information have been working overtime since news of the Deasy deal leaked out shortly after Garcia left the meeting with the mayor.

What is going on with the appointment of an LAUSD chief is what has long been going on at City Hall under the mayor.

In complicity with other officials, the mayor and his team have engineered the sale of city parking lots to buy a few months time before they have to face the music of the financial crisis. The deal also allows them to get rid of a couple of hundred million in debt so they can borrow more for salaries and benefits of city workers to buy a few more months time.

Controller Wendy Greuel threw her prestige behind the story that the City Council has to accede to the parking lot deal or the city will run out of cash to pay its bills in June (Greuel-Cash Flow Letter.pd

The issue isn’t the revenue shortfall Greuel and city financial experts say it it.

It’s that the mayor and the Council budgeted $53 million in proceeds from the parking lot deal that was nowhere near completion and filled with uncertainty, problems and opposition from the business communities in every part of the city.

Throw in City Hall’s long-term miserable management of the lots and you can understand why 19 banks, corporations and bottom-feeding hedge funds are lined up and drooling at the prospects of huge profits for the next 50 years.

What’s gone on behind the scenes for a year or two as this deal was being put together, what the role of the city’s outside advisers has been, what the real details of the deal are almost totally hidden and will remain secret through the Council’s  scripted public debate that will lead to almost certain approval as quickly as possible and with as little involvement of the public as possible.

Equally mismanaged and burdened with debt, the Convention Center is also up for sale.

But there’s only one bidder — AEG, the Staples Center and LA Live owner thanks to handsome public subsidies. And AEG is only willing to pay one buck for it.

We learned that today, thanks to columnist Steve Lopez, a lone voice at the LA Times who seems to have any qualms about this back room deal that has been in the works with the mayor in secret for nearly two years.

Even more amazing is AEG’s Tim Leiweke suddenly — and without explanation — raising the cost of his NFL stadium downtown by 50 percent from $1 billion to $1.5 billion.

He offered no explanation in his interview with Lopez and apparently wasn’t asked for one. The need for the city to borrow $350 million — up $50 million from previous claims — also is part of the storyline steadily being polished.

You can take Leiweke’s word for it that money will be paid back by AEG and five more luxury hotels will be built downtown and LA will become the No. 1 convention city in America and 25,000 great jobs will be created and the streets will flow with gold.

Councilwoman Jan Perry promised “meticulous and comprehensive review” of every aspect of the project, adding:

“The project would have to be funded solely from new revenues associated
with the project and there would have to be protection to taxpayers and
the general fund, and the proposals would have to generate revenue
above and beyond that which is currently generated by the site.”

“New revenues associated
with the project” is about as calculating a phrase as ever uttered.

Is she talking about direct taxes on tickets and parking or indirect revenue like the $20 million in naming rights Farmers Insurance will reportedly pay or the tens of millions from digital billboards lighting up the 110 Freeway and downtown landscape?

Will new revenues pay off the $500 million in debt on the Convention Center, fund  demolition of the West Hall and garage, make up for lost revenue from the loss of convention business for the four-year construction period?

Will it pay for all the street and freeway improvements?

It’s clear the details of the story for public consumption are still being worked out but one thing is for certain: Inside City Hall, it’s a done deal whether they know or care about any of these details.

What’s good for AEG, what’s good for greedy bankers, what’s good for downtown property speculators is good for LA — isn’t it?

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9 thoughts on “Transparency in LA: Public Stories Don’t Match Back-Room Deals at LAUSD, City Hall”

  1. The revenue will be from billboards that will plaster every inch of the area. The time has come to sue personally every person involved in the approval process.

  2. In two years time, LAUSD will be history…public education will morph (“transform”) into privatized school exclaves, fostering competition on a global scale with little or no social accountability.

  3. Ron, it is going to get worse in the next two years. Antonio is going to be making all kind of backroom, shady deals, so that he will maintain the multi-millionaire`s life style he has gotten used to, once he leaves office.

  4. Controller Wendy Greuel doesn’t have too much prestige to worry about.
    She has delivered for DWP’s IBEW Union by not publishing their salaries while listing those of City Employees not represented by IBEW. A quid quo pro payback for their financial support.
    She was not honest with the voters/taxpayers of Los Angeles and does not deserve consideration for the position of Mayor or any other office.

  5. Since the Arizona shooting, there’s lot of talk about the vitriol directed toward elected officials. But reading Ron’s story puts this into perspective: The graft, arrogance and corruption of our public institutions in Los Angeles apparent to have reached new heights. I deplore the violence in Arizona, but watching the City and LAUSD operate somehow makes that violence sadly predictable. Could it happen here? Been there, done that: Bobby Kennedy in 1968.

  6. First and foremost, this Mayor has engaged in the biggest level of pay to play, and our Republican D>A. has done nothing.

  7. I’m frankly fed up of this BS about Democrats and Republicans. Corruption is corruption regardless of who does it. Humans aren’t born with a democratic or republican gene, so let’s move on. I’m registered D but do not subscribe to a lot for what the party stands for, just as I subscribe to a lot of what the R party stand for. Niether party has it all, and neither are we humans programmed to accept one and reject the other with no sound rational basis. I just wish we’d get away from this party BS, and start focusing on individuals and their character and not the baggage of their party.

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