Getting Closer to the Impossible Dream
“Start by doing
what is necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the
Those words from St.
Francis of Assisi have become the guiding light
to efforts to reform Los Angeles
City Hall. Concerned
citizens from all over the city came together to work for honesty, integrity,
fiscal responsibility and a seat at the table of power for every part of this
diverse and complex city.
Back in the summer with
public discontent growing, a small group of ordinary citizens met to plot a
ballot box revolution to topple the City Hall political machine.
The policies of the mayor
and City Council over many years had pushed L.A. toward the brink of bankruptcy.
Libraries were closing two days a week. The streets and sidewalks were crumbling,
and efforts to maintain them were all but abandoned. The DWP was out of control
with rates soaring endlessly even as workers were getting massive wage
City Hall’s response was
pathetic: 2,400 workers were paid off handsomely to retire with full pensions
as young as their early 50s, 1,600 others were being transferred to the DWP or
into other special-funded jobs, often getting pay raises of 40percent or more.
Even today, nearly three years into the fiscal crisis, barely 400 workers out
of more than 50,000 in all the city departments have been laid off.
And the unfunded costs of
pensions and lifetime health care – costs taxpayers were liable for – had
climbed to more than $16 billion, the city’s entire general fund revenue for four years.
Yelling “We’re mad as hell, and not going to take it anymore,”
seemed a futile gesture. Something concrete had to be done to break the
gridlock on power held by a political machine that was funded by
developers, contractors, consultants, unions and held together by a
network of highly paid lobbyists, political operatives and P.R.
Ray Patel’s Story: His Fight to Save the Golden Key Hotel
Hours after finalizing a deal last Tuesday to sell his
Golden Key Hotel to billionaire developer Rick Caruso, Ray Patel smiled happily
sitting poolside while a couple of out-of-town guests basked in the warmth of
the Southern California sun.
It was a deal made on Patel’s own terms despite the clout of
Brand developer and the threat of the city seizing his property under eminent
domain as it had done with so many other properties to make the project
For the 41-year-old Patel, it was a deal he couldn’t refuse
- much to the disappointment of property rights activists and organizations who
rallied to his support and hoped the Golden Key would be a test case for
governments power to seize private property and turn it over to other private
Some call him a sellout but martyrdom to a cause was never
the Ray Patel way.
“I owed it to my family to make the best deal possible,” Ray
said. “I owed it to my father to fight to keep the hotel. He dreamed of owning
the Golden Key almost from the time he arrived here in 1971. It was a dream
The family came from the state of Gujarat, a rich farming
area in western India
in 1971 and has worked hard, saved and lived the American Dream.
Owning a small hotel is a 24/7 job and Ray Patel has done
that since buying the Golden Key in 2002 from the family of the long-time owner
who his father had built a close relationship with over the years.
The hotel is near the southern edge of the central
redevelopment area and skeptics at City Hall suggest Ray hoping to cash on the
fact that the property was a likely target from the time he bought it.
Ray is a well-educated with a business administration degree
from Cal Poly and far from a naïve small businessman. He is president of the
Northeast LA Hotel Association and gotten involved in a political fights with
LA City Hall over attempts to reclassify some hotels in poor areas as
residential to boost the numbers of units of the affordable housing stock.
The skill he has shown in playing his cards in recent months
lends some credence to the skepticism about his motives in buying the Golden
Key. But his story is far more innocent.
“Once hit with the threat of eminent domain, it is on your
mind every. You can’t stop thinking about it. I felt like I was behind the
eight-ball where you really don’t stand a chance,” he said.
It didn’t help relations much during the two years of
construction of the Americana
when dust and noise chased away hotel customers and Ray sued for damages, a
suit that was settled for $500,000 prior to the sale to Caruso. Both sides have
decided to keep the sale price confidential but undoubtedly was far more than
the $6 million the developer had previously offered.
Since last November when Glendale city officials told him to negotiate
a deal or they would take his property under eminent domain and the price would
be resolved in court, Ray has waged a sophisticated campaign that has brought
together local supporters and state and national groups fighting eminent domain
The story of the Golden Key even became national news and
Ray Patel became a cause célèbre among those who have being warring against
eminent domain abuses since 2005.
That was when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a Connecticut
case known as”Kelo” that government agencies could take private property under
eminent domain and turn it over to other private interests.
“The media, the Internet, blogs -it spread across the
country,” Ray said.
“A lot of help just came together, people from all over who
cared and offered advice, people who cared a lot about property rights. There
are so many narratives about what happened but it was just regular folks like
myself coming together, nothing rehearsed.”
On Feb. 15, Glendale
officials were set to decide on whether to accept Ray’s proposal to renovate
and expand his hotel – a plan he spent $30,000 for architects and engineers to
design – to approve seizing his property so Caruso could build space for three
shops on Colorado Boulevard.
It was a foregone conclusion what they would decide.
With the moxie of a public relations expert, Patel staged a
rally at the hotel with 50 or so people in attendance and lots of TV cameras
and reporters. Californians for Property Rights, the Pacific Legal Foundation
and the Institute for Justice sent representatives.
They marched to City Hall chanting “Let Ray Stay” while
inside the courtyard, Caruso’s team was serving coffee and pastry to city
business leaders and supporters.
The City Council Chamber was packed, standing room only, but
the meeting didn’t happen.
For the first time, Ray and Caruso met face-to-face for serious
talks. After more than an hour, they came into the room and briefly asked for a
delay so talks could continue.
As TV cameras and reporters crushed against him throwing
rapid-fire questions, Ray appeared shaky for the first time, admitting going up
against the billionaire and his high-priced lawyer was “overwhelming.”
Ray can still run the Golden Key until the end of the year,
which gives him time to look for a new site, maybe even in Glendale.
What sticks in his memory most of all from his nine-year
journey with the Golden Key is how he felt on the day of the rally.
“I saw how much support there was that day. It made me
realize all those people are here for me, they want me to be OK. It meant a lot
Ironically, it is community redevelopment officials who are
worried now As soon as next week, the Legislature is likely to abolish all CRAs
and their Kelo eminent domain powers as part of Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget-balancing