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My Sunday Columns in Daily News and News-Press & Leader

Getting Closer to the Impossible Dream

“Start by doing
what is necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the
impossible.”

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
increases.

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.
specialists.

(READ FULL STORY)


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
Americana at
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
possible.

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
interests.

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
come true.”

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
abuses.

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
to me.”

 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
plan.

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13 Responses to My Sunday Columns in Daily News and News-Press & Leader

  1. Anonymous says:

    Pleassseeee Ray Patel sold out for the almight dollar. He’s not fooling anyone. When you are passioante and believe in your cause you fight until there isn’t a breath left in you. Patel knew and had heard Caruso would most likely cave in adding more money $$$. Sadly, money talks sometimes louder then the cause he took the bait. I feel badly for all those people who rallied for Patel and took the time to attend the meetings and press conference. Hope they think twice before getting behind a man who coward in the face of money.

  2. Anonymous says:

    This was the kind of response I expected. The expectation that someone should be a martyr to an activist’s cause. There is enough corruption in CRA that people who rally to a cause should not be expecting someone to sacrifice their lives for that cause. In this case, it was not needed. Enough had been written about it that anyone who wanted to turn this into a cause celebre did it for their own glory. Move on.

  3. Anonymous says:

    This was the kind of response I expected. The expectation that someone should be a martyr to an activist’s cause. There is enough corruption in CRA that people who rally to a cause should not be expecting someone to sacrifice their lives for that cause. In this case, it was not needed. Enough had been written about it that anyone who wanted to turn this into a cause celebre did it for their own glory. Move on.

  4. anonymous says:

    Ron wrote: “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.”
    Question: Were they really laid off? Were some of these positions empty ones that were just not filled? Or, were some of these lay offs actually transfers? Of the real lay offs, were any on administrative leave?
    Don’t get me wrong, I’d hate to see good workers laid off. I just want to know if these lay offs were real or another City Hall paper shuffle.

  5. Joey B. says:

    are we really still talking about this? i was under the impression that since Patel sold out the story became mute.
    however … now that we are back on it … he seems to contradict himself a bit here when he says: “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 come true.”
    if he owed it to his father to fight to keep the hotel, then why did he end up selling out? i guess that will remain as the million dollar question … oh wait: we have already the answer to that one … and it is in the MILLIONS!
    Joey B.

  6. Anonymous says:

    @March 13, 2011 5:24 PM
    Your statement doesn’t make sense, perhaps you can elaborate.
    Redevelopment should be abolished. The Law allowed Caruso to use Glendale to threaten Patel with eminent domain.
    The Hotel was not blighted and the owner followed the law and still the law allowed Caruso to use the City of Glendale as his personal muscle.
    The groups that flew out to aide Patel did it based on the assurance that Patel did not want sell. No one is saying that Patel should be a Martyr. Patel had every right to negotiate without a threat from Glendale.
    All the groups that came out, Institute for Justice, Pacific Legal, and Californians for Property rights did it because they were told that Patel refused to sell.
    In that sense they were used by Patel. Patel was not honest about it up front.
    All Patel had to do was be honest with those groups and say look, I don’t want to be forced to sell under a threat. Then these groups would make a decision on flying out and putting their name on this cause.

  7. Anonymous says:

    TO Anonymous on March 13, 2011 5:26 PM:
    You are right, nothing smells worse than old news and the Golden Key Rick Caruso story ran weeks ago.
    So why is Ron writing about it, why are you reading it, and more importantly, why are you commenting on it?
    Lastly, why am I commenting on your comment. Let’s move on everyone.
    We got life threatening issues such as radiation poisoning in Japan and we need to stop any Nuclear power in California – You got that Walter?

  8. Anonymous says:

    The owner of the Golden Key pointed out on many occasions to anyone that would listen that Rick Caruso was a crook and that his father was a crook: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,865774,00.html
    Then the Hotel owner outsmarted the crook, Caruso and gave him his come up ins. Patel handed Caruso his ass.
    Patel said all along that he would prevail because he thought Caruso was a jerk and his ego would get him in trouble and he was right.

  9. Chris Potter says:

    to “By Anonymous on March 13, 2011 10:55 PM”
    Patel has not handed Caruso’s ass back to him! in fact, Patel has handed everybody their butts.
    don’t believe one second that Patel hadn’t planned to sell the hotel to Caruso! does that make him a “business man”? yes, a strange, calculating and dishonest one … at least in my book.
    he (Patel) could have sold his hotel from the get go by just having the media out there … obviously he’s got coverage nationwide and yet he waited until the last moment to show his real hand / face.
    what’s the difference between Patel and Caruso? there is NONE!
    Chris

  10. Anonymous says:

    Patel’s story serves as a good reminder especially since Caruso is considering a run for LA’s mayor in 2013. My recollection is that Patel purchased the hotel/land knowing that the property was included in the redevelopment zone, i.e., he understood the inherent risks in purchasing the property. I really can’t find fault with Patel maximizing his property values/rights. That’s not to say I like how he used well-meaning groups to further “his” cause.
    I also can’t fault the guy for not wanting to spend years in court fighting for his rights, especially since the Kelo decision has stacked the odds against such action. I am certain there will be another opportunity to challenge eminent domain.

  11. Larry says:

    TO: Chris Potter on March 14, 2011 11:00 AM
    I can understand your points, but that does not in any way diminsh the need to abolish Redevelopment Statewide and that Caruso is not deserving of public office. The fact that Caruso could use the law and use the City of Glendale to gain an advantage over a property/business owner show us why this needs to change.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Chris Potter – Isn’t Patel the better of the two – between Caruso and Patel?
    After all why couldn’t Caruso just make Patel an offer and be done with that? But no, “little Ricky” as Patel called him, had to amp it up and get a corrupt government to back him up.
    So even though Patel deceived some of those who marched in his protest to City Hall – It was only because Caruso got City Hall, as corrupt as they all are, to go along with him.
    So Caruso started this fight and Patel ended it as the winner.
    Patel out-foxed Caruso (like he told his supporters he would). Patel reminded people that Caruso was a crook and that his pettiness and ego would bring him down.
    Yes Patel was cunning, but he wouldn’t be in the position he was if it was not for Caruso firing the first shot.
    Now Patel will laugh all the way to the bank and drop off Caruso’s ass in a safety deposit box and leave a key for one of Caruso’s affiliates.

  13. Anonymous says:

    For March 15, 2011 7:11 PM:
    The problem is that Caruso won’t accept having to pay the Hotel owner the money, so the people of Glendale will pay for it in the end either through other property acquisitions on behalf of Caruso or with a subsidy or additional tax break.
    That is how Caruso handled the Americana.

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