City Hall’s Bribery Scandal: Where Does the Buck Stop?

True to form, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has washed his
hands of the bribery scandal in the Building and Safety Department, leaving
General Manager Bud Ovrom dangling in the wind as the FBI expands its probe “as
wide and as high as they can.” bribe.jpg

Ovrom sent a nine-page confidential memo to the mayor to
alert him to the fact that the FBI probe which already nailed two
inspectors  was nowturning from the
rank-and-file to supervisors and up the chain of command.

The memo filled with fresh details of the scandal was
accidentally emailed by Ovrom to hundreds of Building and Safety employees and reported
by the LA Times.

Ovrom warned the mayor he was “unsuccessful at staying in
front of this story” and that he might lead to private contractors and
land use consultants who have “an unusually high working
relationship” with certain Building and Safety employees.

“To the extent the problem is the result of poor supervisory skills,
several factors probably contributed to that breakdown,” Ovrom wrote.
“Perhaps the most glaring is that during the last three years the
department’s workforce has been reduced by 150 positions.”

The mayor’s official response to the memo says a lot about
how things have gone from bad to worse at City Hall.

“If Mr. Ovrom has an issue with supervisors, we expect
him to solve it,” said Deputy Mayor Sarah Sheahan.”  The mayor expects every general manager to
run a tight ship.”

Actually, the record of the mayor and his top people is
anything but about expecting every general to run a tight ship.

Unprecedented in modern City Hall history, the mayor’s
record is one of browbeating general managers 
into making him look good politically even if it means lying through
their teeth or embracing policies that waste money and benefit special
interests (like private contractors and land use consultants), not the public

Sheahan is one of 200 or so well paid chiefs, deputies,
assistants and advisers who spend their days putting the mayor in front of
cameras to boast about how he personally reduced crime, created jobs, greened
our lives.

But you don’t see the mayor standing in foot-deep potholes,
cracked sidewalks, overgrown trees, closed libraries or anywhere else where the
failure of his administration is so visible that it can’t be concealed with

So when it comes to tackling the bribery scandal in Building
and Safety, the mayor is nowhere to be found.

It’s simply Bud’s problem. He’s the general manager so

Between inspectors caught red-handed taking bribes and the mayor running away from all responsibility, City Hall is giving new meaning to the old cliche about the buck stopping here.

‘We’re at War with Ourselves’ — My Sunday Column for News-Press & Leader

All politics is local — even wars halfway around the world in Iraq and
Afghanistan. The point comes home with force as we watch our elected
officials at every level grapple with a third year of massive budget
deficits that are forcing drastic cuts in public services, sharp
increases in fees and taxes where they can and causing tense conflict
with public employees who face loss of their jobs or reductions in
wages, pensions and benefits.

It isn’t a pretty picture, and next year and the years after are certain to be even uglier.

The causes are many.

Sweetheart contracts with public employees
who now feel entitled to what they won at the bargaining table in the
form of lucrative pensions, retirement at early ages, heavily subsidized
premium health care, even shortened work weeks for some.

economic meltdown triggered by reckless government policies and
practices by Wall Street and the too-big-to-fail bankers who cashed in
on our obsession with material things — even if we couldn’t afford them,
even if they were all made in China and drained our society of its

But the overriding cause of our national crisis is the
cost of war, the damage it has done to our national psyche, the stress
it has placed on our economy.

Ten years of unceasing war has
caused tragic loss of life and pain to many, including the men and women
who serve in our armed forces, and sent our national borrowing soaring
to dangerous levels, much of the debt held by foreign nations like China
whose interests are not necessarily the same as ours.

and Republicans have stopped speaking the same language as if our fates
were not bound together, as if a nation divided against itself could
long survive without paying a terrible price.

The price is to cut
discretionary funding to the states and the poor. No less gridlocked by
ideology, our own state cuts funding to schools and confiscates funds
for local programs, hitting everyone hard.

All politics is local,
and that’s where the bills are coming due, even in relatively
well-managed cities like Burbank and Glendale.


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No Way to Run a City: Underhanded Approval of Autry Museum Expansion Creates Uproar

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Southwest Museum Coalition has sent out an urgent request for supporters to call and email key City Council members to take jurisdiction over the Recreation and Parks Commission’s approval of renovations and expansion of the Autry Museum without a plan to fulfill its commitment to restore the Southwest. The Commission approved the Autry plan last week in an underhanded manner without proper notice or public discussion. Here’s the Coalition’s urgent call to action and draft letter demanding a full Council review (CALL TO ACTION–DRAFT LETTER.docx).

City Hall can get away with almost anything and frequently does with every single person in power nodding in agreement no matter how destructive their actions are, no matter how angry it makes the public.

That’s what makes the latest moves on behalf of the Autry Museum so hard to understand.

If the Autry’s latest plan to expand and actually make the museum an attraction that might draw visitors is such a great idea, why was approval by the Recreation and Parks Department and its Commission done in a manner so lacking in transparency and honesty?

All that was achieved was to inflame the wounds of the Southwest Museum Coalition and leave its supporters — betrayed time and again by the Autry — no alternative but go to war in the political arena and go to court with a lawsuit to tie up the project for as long as possible.

The Coalition has to put together a coherent narrative of all that has happened in the long struggle to bring the city’s oldest museum back to life as exhibition space for the vast collection of Indian and Western artifacts.(Southwest Museum-Back Story.docx)

The short story is that two years after abandoning its plans for a massive expansion of its Griffith Park facility, the Autry is back with a major renovation and expansion within its current footprint in the park but still refuses to offer a plan or assistance to revive the century-old Southwest Museum on Mount Washington in the Arroyo Seco.

Rather than taking the plans to community groups, Autry officials took their case behind the scenes to Rec and Parks officials and Commission President Barry Sanders — architect of the advertising signs in city parks plan — called a special commission meeting and slipped the Autry deal into a long list of items, none of which required an urgent special meeting.

What makes it more sinister is that Southwest Museum Coalition activists never received email notices of the special meeting, apparently because their emails were deleted from the Rec and Parks list without their permission.

Attorney Dan Wright of the Coalition pleaded Wednesday before the City Council for an investigation of this apparent illegality and for the Council to take jurisdiction over the Rec and Parks Commission’s approval of the Autry expansion.

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Jan Perry and South Central Farm: Hero or Villain, Contender for Mayor or Also-ran

Next month will mark the
fifth anniversary of the bulldozing of the South Central Farm, a14-acre island
of tradition, family, community and health, in the industrial core of Los

No one will be

The Farm, run largely by
immigrants and their children, had provided food for the 350 farmers and their
families as well as thousands of others in the community for over 15 years.

Despite support from
thousands who rallied to save the farm, they were no match for City Hall’s power
and old-school thinking in the face of changing demographics and growing
support for urban farming and a green, community-based vision of the city.

At the center of the
controversy over the farm was Councilwoman Jan Perry, who like other Council
members, has near absolute power over what goes on in the district she
represents. Districts are fiefdoms and Council members are their masters
without interfering with each other’s decisions.

It was Perry’s
opposition to the South Central Farm that doomed it five years ago and still
thwarts efforts to bring it back to life.

With her eyes focused on
her campaign for mayor, Perry has the opportunity to rise above the past
conflict and see the need to heal her relationship with the community and take
a stand for greening the inner city and supporting health in the South L.A.
food desert.

But time is running

The South Central
Farmers have learned that the titleholder of the farm at 41st and
Alameda, developer Ralph Horowitz, has an option out on the property so a deal
could close at anytime. 

That’s brought the South
Central Farmers out in force to press the city’s power structure for help to
restore the farm.

The Los Angeles Times has called on Perry to get on
board. Non-profit organizations are ready to provide the financial support the
farmers need but they are waiting for a promise from Perry to get on board or
step aside and not interfere.  

Given her history of
supporting huge tax breaks and subsidies to high-rise developments and luxury
hotel and entertainment projects for downtown, Perry can hardly afford to be
targeted as the enemy of the poor and antagonistic to green space and healthy

L.A. is awash in
concrete and asphalt. That’s no accident. Money from developers and
allied interests plays a dominant role in political campaigns. This gives
developers  enormous clout
with elected officials who can make it as easy or as hard as they want for
projects to go forward in their districts.

Land and water have
always been at the heart of the L.A.’s “Chinatown” history of corruption.
Nothing has changed except both have become scarce, ever precious, resources
that need to be managed for more than private profit.

The history of the South
Central Farm acreage is telling.

Horowitz owned the land before, selling it to the city by eminent domain
in 1986 for use as a city garbage incinerator (Lancer Project).  The community fought having another insult
added to their already blighted and bleak streets. And they won.

In 2003, Horowitz sued to get the land back and got a settlement with Perry’s help without even a token for the families that had turned the weed-covered, garbage-strewn eyesore into an oasis with fruit trees, gardens and flowers.

She sold it out from
under them and back to Horowitz without a care for the Latino community; who make up
92 percent of her constituency, or for the farmers who put food on the table from the farm and found escape from the asphalt and concrete of the surrounding area.

Perry had the leverage to cut a deal with Horowitz that preserved the farm and given Horowitz a handsome profit of more than $10 million at the peak of the real estate. boom. She chose to brush off the community and play to the developer.

It was an extraordinary
political calculation, siding with a Westside
developer, against Latinos whose numbers were soaring in her district.

The fight over the farm
became a major controversy, subject of the Oscar-nominated documentary “The
Garden,” a cause célèbre that heated to the point Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
intervened. When Horowitz looked like he might weaken, Perry
sweetened the pot by turning over the Goodyear Industrial tract at Slauson and
Central to him and Horowitz refused to negotiate with the Farmers. 

The Farm was bulldozed
in a single afternoon.

Two years later,
Horowitz designed a warehouse and trucking hub for clothing manufacturer and
retailer Forever 21 – a heavy contributor to Perry’s campaign war chest.

Villaraigosa, who by
2008 had gotten nearly $1.3 million in contributions from Forever 21 and its
executives in the previous two years for initiatives ranging from tree
plantings to his mayoral election campaign, got aboard the deal.

With that support the
city Planning Department fast-tracked the Horowitz/Forever 21 deal forward,
waiving an environmental impact report. The Farmers fought back, rallying their
supporters and demanding a full EIR that stalled the project which was
abandoned after the economic meltdown.

Sitting on the property
for five years and seeing Gov. Jerry Brown’s efforts to abolish community
redevelopment agencies threatening to dry up lucrative subsidies to develop the
farm property, Horowitz now is ready to sell and get his
cash back with a
handsome profit for doing nothing more than what Perry and power structure
asked of him.

Even in a depressed
property market, Horowitz stands to make a hefty profit if Perry can deliver
the redevelopment money.

Perry brings a lot of
assets to her mayoral campaign. She’s strong-willed, the only Council member
with the courage to stand up to the power of the DWP and its union

But she is at a
crossroads in her political career.

She can stand with the
old guard of Los Angeles’s politicians, those politicians who wheel and deal
their way through the back rooms of City Hall, cutting deals and collecting

Or she can stand with a
band of Farmers and the thousands of voters in every part of the city who
respect the diversity of community and cultural traditions, and want to see
L.A. progress as a greener and healthier city that supports the values and
interests of its residents instead of selling out to the highest bidders, the

For a start, she could
pick up the phone the next time the South Central Farmers expect
a response or, daresay, request a  meeting,  and
thereby give them the same access she gives the Central City Association, AEG
and other developers of luxury downtown developments and, of course, Ralph

Covering Up Chaos and Failure at City Hall

Even Dennis Zine can get lucky and make sense once in a while but twice on the same day? It must be his ambition talking.

First, as chair of the Council’s Audits and Governmental Efficiency Committee, the wannabe City Controller demanded the Department of Transportation report back in a month with the details of every one of the 1,000 parking tickets fixed by the so-called “Gold Card Desk” — “who was it, what was it, where was it, who requested it.” 

Then, just an hour later during the full Council meeting Tuesday, he cast the lone vote against creating the so-called “Collections Sheriff” – an inspector general for revenue collection so the city stops writing off hundreds of millions of dollars every year in parking lot taxes, ambulance charges, housing fees, even parking tickets that were never paid or fixed by the Gold Card Desk.

“Creating an inspector general position will create more government. Putting more layers on top of the inability to collect is not going to collect more. It’s just going to waste more money,” Zine said.

“The inspector general will not have the ability to do anything. They’re going to be able to write reports. We don’t need any more reports or recommendations. We need to actually get things done to collect money that’s due the city.”

I know it’s just his ambition talking but Zine has a point.

City Hall shouldn’t need a Collections Sheriff to make sure various departments do the jobs they are supposed to do.

The city needs leadership from the Mayor, the Controller and the Council members to hold these highly-paid bureaucrats in the Finance, Transportation and other departments accountable.

This endless turning to powerless “inspector general” positions is an admission of failure, a failure of leadership, a failure of management, a failure of workplace discipline.

Far more troubling than the sweetheart deals for unions and contractors, and the tax breaks and subsidies to developers – all of which have put the city into financial hell – is the organizational breakdown that has been exposed as officials dance around the budget problems.

Waste, inefficiency, lack of coordination and communication between departments – not to mention bribery and widespread abuses of power – have become visible in almost every area of city government.

The shotgun approach to early retirement packages and transfers of 4,000 workers – 90 percent of the general fund job eliminations they are so proud of – have added to the chaos at City Hall.

Furloughs, layoffs, paid overtime bans, deferred raises, endless rewriting of union contracts, bullying of top managers by the mayor’s office and to a lesser degree by the Council have combined to create a politicized and toxic work environment.

The fact is the Collections Sheriff, the DWP Rate Payer Advocate and other attempts to add layers of government on top of failed systems will achieve nothing of significance without the political will at the top to face up to the fiscal and organizational problems.

What the public wants, what city workers need, is straight talk from the top and real solutions – not the hot air of political ambition and phony inspectors general without power.

Let’s see those ambitious officials like Zine, Wendy Greuel, Eric Garcetti, Jan Perry step up to the plate and show they are prepared to lead the city without favor or fear. Let’s see any of the others who yearn to be mayor show how they will break the reign of special interests at City Hall and fix all that is broken.

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Antonio’s Exit Strategy: Countdown to Midnight June 30, 2013

With one foot in a cast and the other in the political
grave, Antonio Villaraigosa hobbled into the lion’s den of San Fernando Valley
unrest Monday night and offered a little song, a little dance and a lot of
seltzer down everybody’s pants.

Mostly, he seemed preoccupied by the merciful end to his
reign and his pain at 11:59 p.m. on June 30, 2013 – a fact he kept bringing up
during an hour-long performance before a crowd of 200 Valleyites who attended
the Daily News Town Hall with the mayor at Reseda High School, an event that is
part of the newspaper’s celebration of its 100th anniversary year as
the “Voice of the Valley.”

Editorial Page Editor Mariel Garza did her best to push
Antonio on the critical issues facing the city, its residents and businesses:
City Hall’s overspending and under achieving.

What she got was the well-worn narrative that everyone in
City Hall is using to conceal their failure:

We are victims of circumstances largely beyond our
control, the economic meltdown.  We are
in the same boat as every other big city in America and done a better job than
any of them in dealing with our budget problem. We have dealt with $1.5 billion
deficits in the last three years and made enormous progress by eliminating
4,600 jobs out of the 14,000 civilians paid from the general fund. We have gotten
concessions from city unions to increase their contributions from 7 to 11
percent for pensions and health care.

You have heard it all before, if you’re listening at all,
to the City Council and the bureaucracy’s financial managers.

The narrative is partially true and largely lies.

When you give sweetheart contracts to city unions over
two and three decades providing wages, pensions and health care with costs that
exceed your revenue even in good times, you are not managing the public’s money

When only 400 of the jobs eliminated were done by layoffs
and most of those part-timers and the rest are achieved by a sweetened early
retirement package and transfer to the DWP payroll at higher salaries, you are
not managing the public’s money prudently.

When you bludgeon the remaining civilian workers into
paying something for health care for the first time by promising to cover all
the future soaring costs of health care until the day they die, you are not
managing the public’s money prudently.

When you boast about adding 800 officers to the LAPD like
you promised when you tripled the trash fee and don’t mention you’ve taken that
same number of cops off the streets because you can’t afford to pay them
overtime or have them doing civilian desk jobs and civilian jailers jobs, you
are not telling the truth about where all those millions went and about what
was really achieved.

But who cares? You’ll be gone at the stroke of midnight
June 30, 2013.

Dakota Smith, the Curbed LA blogger turned legit reporter
for the Daily News, saw through the mayor’s presentation and ignored it,
preferring to focus on the audience’s concerns.


about a possible sewer tax. Concerns about budget cuts at a Porter Ranch fire
house. Frustration at a lack of adequate mass transit.

concerns aired at a Daily News-sponsored town hall with Mayor Antonio
Villaraigosa in Reseda on Monday night reflected the worries of residents
living in a cash-strapped city

to the 200 people who attended, Villaraigosa offered little solace, repeating
over and over: The city is broke.

a finite pool of money here,” Villaraigosa told the crowd. “Everyone has
to shoulder the burden.”

Gambling in Casablanca? Corruption in City Hall? Shocking, Isn’t It?

Captain Renault: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that
gambling is going on in here.”

Croupier: “Your winnings, sir.” gambling.png

Captain Renault: “Oh, thank you very much.”

Bribery, favoritism, freeloading – I’m sure we are all just
as shocked and dismayed as the Mayor, Controller and their fellow elected
officials to find out there is rampant corruption in City Hall.

Surely they must all be deaf, dumb and blind not to know
high-priced lobbyists bundle fortunes in cash into their war chests in exchange
for tax breaks and subsidies so their clients can build luxury condos, hotels
and entertainment complexes, or win lucrative city contracts.

Shocking indeed to learn city workers feel  entitled to inflated wages, pensions and
benefits after years of sweetheart contracts bestowed on them by officials put
into high office with their generous campaign contributions.

The “Gold Card” fiasco brought to public attention last week
by Wendy Greuel is laughable in its
relative insignificance compared to the widespread abuses of power and position
that have gone on so long in City Hall, compared even to the tens of millions of dollars in parking tickets that go unpaid without consequence. goldcard.jpg

“You should not need political pull to expedite the investigation of a
ticket … “There were no
specific policies to guide the review of these citations,” wannabe mayor Greuel declared in announcing she had discovered a 20-year-old scheme by which elected officials have been fix parking tickets for friends, family, contributors, even sometimes for ordinary constituents if they complained loud enough or had a real good sob story.

The mayor himself was shocked, shocked I tell you, to learn of this ticket-fixing scheme run by an outside contractor at public expense, he immediately canceled it and went on the attack against Greuel for daring to bring to light one of the hundred ways City Hall does favors for those in favor.

Greuel not only used the scheme and voted to award the contract for it to

Affiliated Computer Services.

“As chair of the City Council’s Transportation Committee
then-Councilmember Greuel was briefed on all aspects of the department’s
operations and was fully aware of the Gold Card Desk,” said Villaraigosa’s office. “For example, in 2007 and 2008, LADOT staff
briefed the Mayor’s and City Council field offices about the parking
citation process as well as the adjudication process so that they
provided better service to our constituents.”

There you have it: No less an authority on quid pro quo favors than the mayor himself reports they all knew about the scheme, condoned it and availed themselves of it some 500 times a year, according to the Controller’s audit.

KCET’s SoCal Connected looked at emails involving the 40 fixed tickets that Greuel sampled out of the 1,000 dismissed over two years and found they were handled as a matter of routine business by staff members.

“Complaining to city council members or sharing a sob story may have
been the best way to get gold-card treatment under the city’s secretive
parking citation hearing program, at least according to the picture
emerging from internal e-mails obtained by SoCal Connected,” the website reported.

“The e-mails depict conversations among staff members and public
officials, including the former head of the city’s transportation
department and even a staffer for a California Assembly member. In some
cases, staff were told to dismiss tickets without any written
justification. In others, they actually discussed the relative merits of
the case.”

Talk about the tip of an iceberg — if Greuel or anyone wanted to know who is getting this favored treatment, they would look at all the tickets and the links with politicians.

They would take it a lot further and look at all the special treatment that the favored few get from the politicians and their staffs.

They would check all the contacts with the Police Department, Planning and every city agency and see how the Mayor and the Council and their staffs routinely use their influence to advantage contributors.

Why they’d even seek a grand jury investigation and put under oath the political fund-raisers, the lobbyists and the staffers who connect the special interests to special treatment by city agencies.

What would be exposed would surely be shocking and dismaying to us all.

My Sunday Column for the Glendale/Burbank News Press & Leader: Making an effort to connect

Nobody was ever delusional enough to think Arnold Schwarzenegger was
some kind of saint, but the disclosure of his love child with his
housekeeper and how she remained part of the family household for a
decade shatters what little was left of his public image after the
pathetic end of his political career.

Incredibly, there are
people who thought of Osama bin Laden as some kind of holy man, an
apostle of moral righteousness, and not the fanatical murderer he was.
It turns out he not only was shacked up in secluded luxury with three
wives, but the owner of a vast collection of pornography — fuhsha in
Arabic — to keep things lively.

Then, there’s the case of wealthy financier Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head
of the International Monetary Fund and favorite to be the next French
president who is under house arrest on charges of attempting to rape a
maid in a luxury hotel in Manhattan.

It’s a crazy time we live in, like no other in my lifetime.

wretched excesses of the rich and famous barrage our minds from every
direction: the press, TV, radio, magazines, the Internet, the buzz among
our friends and co-workers.

Does it really mean anything to us
that Ashton Kutcher has taken over the lead on TV’s top sitcom from the
bombed-out Charlie Sheen?

Surely, it fills some void in our lives
when news that General Electric manipulating Congress so it pays no tax
on $23 billion in profit barely creates a ripple, when the Big Oil
companies reap tens of billions in windfall profits and fight with all
their might to preserve $2 billion in tax breaks.

The stock
market has fully recovered from the economic meltdown caused by the
greed of Wall Street and the bankers, yet they are richer than ever, and
millions of people are still unemployed and you can’t sell your house
for 60 cents on the dollar.

Arabs are dying in the fight for
freedom from Libya to Syria, yet it’s rare when more than one in six
voters right here bother to cast ballots in local elections where
critical decisions are being made that directly affect the quality of
our lives, the value of our property, our jobs, our businesses, our
personal safety.

Maybe it’s just me and the effects of old age.
But a few days of serenity celebrating my 70th birthday on Catalina
Island has done nothing to change my mind that powerful forces are in
collision, and the world we live in is changing forever.


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Advertisements for Myself: Guest Commentary on NBC’s ‘The Filter with Fred Roggin’

The Filter with Fred Roggin, NBC’s innovative news and commentary show is back on the air as part of the network’s statewide programming on its digital channels. I’ve been a regular guest on The Filter since its inception nearly two years ago. Here’s the segment from tonight’s 6:30 p.m. broadcast on Time Warner Digital Channel 225, Cox Channel 804, Charter Channel 304, Verizon FIOS Channel 460.

View more videos at:

Thumbnail image for Kevin_James.jpgYou can also listen to the podcast of my midnight Wednesday chat with KRLA-870 talk show host Kevin James about the City Council’s unanimous approval of the budget for next year. CLICK HERE.

City’s Hall Credibility Gap: Putting a Smiley Face on Hurting Workers, Residents and Businesses


We are not all on the same page in reading the narrative of the state of the City of Los Angeles. We’re not even reading the same book; the gap between the storyline offered by the city’s leadership is not the same as the reality of the experience of residents, businesses, even city workers and their union bosses.

Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry Miller started “Budget Day” on Wednesday by proclaiming he could “see the light at the end of the tunnel” to the three-year budget crisis thanks to the great work done by the mayor and City Council to reduce services to public, handsomely pay off 2,400 senior employees to retire early, transfer 1,500 others to the DWP and other special funds and actually lay off 400, mostly part-time, workers.

It was a metaphorical cliche that the first speaker in public comment, namely me, could not resist picking up on and suggesting it must be a very long tunnel Miller is looking down since he acknowledged massive deficit loom for years to come, labor relations have been badly damaged and everyone from Neighborhood Council members to activists with the Martin Luther King Coalition and Chatsworth Republicans have lost faith in the city’s leadership and worried about the dire consequences of continued failure.

Council President Eric Garcetti would hear none of that, insisting that he and his colleagues had achieved a degree of fiscal responsibility working cooperatively and respectfully with labor unions and the community that no other city in America had achieved.

The “light” of a new of prosperity and harmony is at hand, he suggested, presumably the minute he hopes to be sworn in as mayor on July 1, 2013.

Given the failure of his leadership to honestly and courageously face the city’s problems, I suppose he felt he had no choice but to put on his best choir persona and smiley face and pretend everything is great even as the heat of hundreds of angry city engineers and firefighters still smoldered in the City Council Chamber.

A tedious and pointless game than played out over the next six hours before the Council unanimously agreed to the mayor’s spending plan for 2011-2012 virtually as proposed with only one significant change: They won’t borrow nearly $50 million to pay current bills — at least not until all the markers for cuts and revenue that were used to “balance” the budget turn out to be as phony as they appear.

The only issue in contention during those hours involved Fire Chief Millage Peaks plan to end the rolling “brownouts” that rotated closing for fire stations, engine companies and ambulances in a random and confusing manner.

Instead of putting 22 engine companies and six ambulances out of service every day, Peaks used computer modeling with millions of data points to determine that the Fire Department could operate cheaper and more efficiently by permanently closing 18 engine companies and four ambulances and eliminating more than 300 firefighters through attrition over three years — permanent, structural savings of $200 million.

The firefighters union was up in arms over the idea of losing 300 dues-paying members. Councilwoman and soon-to-be Congresswoman Janice Hahn was apoplectic at the likelihood that Wilmington with all its gas pipes and refineries will explode any day now with its fire station being closed while Bill Rosendahl’s heart was breaking at the high risk of a brush fire conflagration destroying the Pacific Palisades and all of its residents, isolated as they are in their wealthy enclave.

The solution was ingenious: Peaks plan for “permanent closings and job reductions” was revised by simply calling it “temporary closings and job reductions” with the promise all services and staff will be restored as the soon as that light at the end of the tunnel arrives and fills the treasury with hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue.

In the meantime, the mayor and City Council expect the firefighters, and the cops for that matter, to cough up 2 percent more of their wages for health care out of the goodness of their hearts and their commitment to public service.

Fat chance after the runaround they have been given.

That’s why the city engineers were up in arms. They have been trying to negotiate a basic contract for 18 months but can’t get anywhere because the city’s leaders want them to agree to give up all job security and allow for all their jobs to be outsourced to private companies even though the costs overall would be higher.

Engineers aren’t the kind of people to shout and protest and threaten to strike but they did on Wednesday.

How Garcetti can talk about how City Hall is such a happy family ranks as one of those audacious lies in recent city history, and that is saying something.

The basis mode of labor negotiations right now is threats and coercion. Even when confronted with the choice of paying 4 percent of their salary for health care or losing 15 percent to furloughs, barely half the civilian workers agreed to the deal.

Basic trust has been violated and not just with the rank-and-file.

Department heads and top executives face the same kind of bullying to force them to accept policies they believe are bad and to keep their mouths shut about them.

If there were any doubt about the fear and desperation beneath the smiley faces worn by the city leaders, they used the same tactics on the eve of “Budget Day” by having the mayor’s henchman warn Neighborhood Council leaders to mind their manners or face the loss of all their funding, not just the 10 percent cut that was planned.

This is no way to run a city. It’s how you ruin a city.

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