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Confessions of a Long-time CRA Board Member: ‘Remember Solyndra’

Long-time Community Redevelopment Agency board member Madeline Janis admits she has felt “pressured to agree” to development subsidy proposals that did not provide adequate protections for the investment of public money.


“In nine years on the Community Redevelopment Agency Board, Madeline Janis As someone who’s spent  nine years as a public official, as a member of the board of commissioners of the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), I know a lot about bureaucracy,” Janis, founder and executive director of the progressive L.A. Alliance for the New Economy, writes on the Frying Pan blog that originated with her group and is dedicated to providing “a platform for those who share our belief that we can and must build an economy that works for all of us.”

“I have presided over the investment of billions of taxpayer dollars and creation of hundreds of economic development deals. I have seen my share of red tape. On some occasions, I have left a CRA meeting feeling badly for a particular developer who had to jump through so many hoops to get a good deal approved.

“But most of the time, I have left those meetings feeling pressured to agree to things that did not have enough black-and-white safeguards in place to protect the public interest.”

The context of her remarks is a post on the bankruptcy of Solyndra, the Northern California solar panel manufacturer that got half a billion dollars in federal loan guarantees from the Obama Administration.

“Why didn’t the officials take more precautions, do more research, put in place more safeguards? How could they have been so dumb and so wasteful of precious government dollars?

“But really, what the conservative Obama critics are saying is that the federal government and states such as California and Wisconsin that invested millions in the company should have had more bureaucratic red tape. Yes, that most hated of terms, “red tape” is something that could have actually prevented a huge loss of government dollars in an unwise investment.”

Janis, a senior fellow at the UCLA School of Public Affairs and leader of the effort to enact the “Living Wage Ordinance,” spends most of her effort criticizing conservatives like Congressman Paul Ryan but she ends by bringing the issue home to L.A. and the CRA’s endless expenditures of vast sums of public money in support of controversial developments that benefit wealthy private interests that have inordinate influence with City Hall politicians.

She ends her post by writing: “So the next time a developer or political leader complains to me about too much red tape, I’m going to take a red pen, write on my hand, and then hold it up for all to see: ‘Remember Solyndra!’ “

As the only CRA board member in years to aggressively question the proposals put together by a staff that has long been deeply politicized, often incompetent and committed by their political masters to downtown/Hollywood-centric policies that rob resources from everyone else, Janis has a right to speak out against the poorly examined and structured deals that do not “protect the public interest,’ or for that matter serve the public interest..

Like everyone else inside the City Hall “family” who tries to preserve their integrity while bringing their talents and beliefs to the task with a sense of public service, Janis faces the constant challenge of determining where is the line between being “pragmatic” and being part of the corruption.

It’s why somehow, some way, the monopoly on power at City Hall long held by narrow special interests must be broken up and shared with the neighborhoods in a way that creates a honest balance that allows the competing interests, values and needs of an enormously diverse city to be met.

lass="Apple-style-span" style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 16px; ">The man or woman who “deserves” to be the next mayor of this city, who the city needs to be mayor, is the one who can make believers out of begrudgers, who can bridge the ideological gap, and bring to City Hall the skill, passion and commitment to fix what is broken by holding top managers to a high standard of achievement rather than obedience and transforming a failed system into one that revives L.A. materially and spiritually.

It takes people like Janis and her ideological opposites and those in between to find the common ground and start to nurture the city so it can start to grow again in healthy ways.
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12 Responses to Confessions of a Long-time CRA Board Member: ‘Remember Solyndra’

  1. Anonymous says:

    Madeline Janis is classic double-talker. Even when she questioned the Katersky deal on Vine Street and held it out as the poster child for killing redevelopment, she voted for it.
    Look at the terms of the deals being made on such projects as the Reseda Theater and Vine Street and even Harold and Belle’s whether they are funded by CRA (property taxes) or community block grants – its all public funds and those entrusted to look out for those public funds instead kiss-up to developers – Just listen to the apologies given to Katersky by the CRA/LA chair during the hearings in January 2011.
    In Los Angeles, the foxes aren’t only guarding the chicken coop – They’re running it and eating up all the chickens.

  2. Wayne "Katersky" fron Encino says:

    WE SHOULD ALL BE LUCKY ENOUGH TO BE KATERSKYS IN L.A! As for the CRA/LA Board of Crooks: HELL HAS A SPECIAL CONDO PROJECT APARTMENT AWAITING FOR EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THESE GREEDY, STUPID, AND ROTTEN PIGS. The CRA couldn’t live with Molly’s serving those under $3.00 breakfast meals on Vine St. to those hardworking students, workers, and tradespeople, many who take public transit. So they gave away 1.1 MILLION to shut down the Hamburger stand and bulldoze it. As for this “confession:” APOLOGY NOT EVER ACCEPTED MS. DIRTBAG! Now go enjoy your evening coctail on the deck of your beachhouse, WHORE!

  3. Anonymous says:

    “But most of the time, I have left those meetings feeling pressured to agree to things that did not have enough black-and-white safeguards in place to protect the public interest.”
    Madeline Janis isn’t alone having a lack of backbone.
    DWP Commissioner Chistina Noonan brought out some excellent points when she questioned proposed contract awards and extensions/change orders asking poignant questions and even making the comments that she knows that other companies could have done a better job and this item should have gone out to bid.
    Then what does she do? – She abstains – WHY?
    When not vote NO?
    Why should anyone feel “pressured” to vote Yes or even abstain?
    That is the point of Citizen oversight commissioners even though they are politicized by having Mayoral appointees (with City Council approval).

  4. Anonymous says:

    Antonio`s communist representative on the CRA Board. She has destroyed the City. Antonio`s biggest legacy.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Ron, I took the meaning of your column was that
    Janis did her best. I re-read it this morning
    and now realize that she did not. She did exactly what she wished to do and that was to
    ruin our city by stealing our tax monies. Someone said Communist and that is also one of
    her prerogatives, control the populaion. UCLA is just like Berkley in that respect due to the ignorance of most of the faculty.

  6. City Hall Fly on the Wall says:

    The present Charter has set the stage. Some commissioners go with the City Hall status quo without flinching because their post is a resume’ builder. Others don’t want the shame of being asked to step down or being replaced at the end of their term (they sign resignation letters in advance-before they are even voted in by Council).
    The mayor’s office culture today is you’re with them or against them. A commissioner cannot hold staff or management accountable because that would be viewed as being a trouble maker. Every now and then, a well thought out diplomatic “no” vote can slip through; but it becomes a “pick your battle scenario” and is few and far between.
    Speaking of “no” votes, one should always be diplomatic; it’s common courtesy. However, one shouldn’t have to be afraid to vote no and that’s what the set up is today. Shoot, even Council does it. They might huff and puff (like Zine) but they usually always vote “yes” in the end.
    They even tell commissioners who they want voted in as president.
    Really, the way it’s set up today, commissions are a waste of time and resources. I’m not saying the entire “new” Charter is bad, but the commissioner portion sucks. Serving at “the pleasure of the mayor” is contrary to why they are there.

  7. The issue with Solyndra is that you have incompetent, politically appointed fools making decisions with other people’s money.

  8. anonymous says:

    I think every motion made by elected or appointed officials should start with “I move to spend the people’s money…..”

  9. Dwight Eisenhower's ghost says:

    Solyndra at least employed people here in the US and manufactured consumer goods; considering the billions with a B blown on Blackwater, Halliburton, Burn & Loot, etc. and the scores of other politically-favored MIC companies over the past 10 years to produce nothing but billable hours and employ mostly third-party nationals in hell’s half acre, more than a few of the alleged fiscal conservatives criticizing the Solyndra loans might want to look in the mirror…
    And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

  10. Anonymous says:

    Two points about the discussion above:
    1. Voting to abstain is recorded under commission rules as a “Yes” vote. Therefore, a commissioner in Los Angeles who abstains is really just casting a chicken shit “yes” vote but trying to avoid accountability for it. If a commissioner like Janis or any of the political ass kisser /resume builder on the City Commissions are truly committed to their opposition to something, the only ethical vote is “No”.
    2. Whenever a little voice in the pea brain of Madeline Janis told her she might not be voting in the public interest, she should have followed that voice by registering her displeasure with “No.” But she never/rarely did that. She”went along to get along” so she could be considered for future — higher positions in the sick and dysfunctional “City Family.”
    Thanks to Madeline Janis’s lack of integrity, lack of leadership, and lack giving voice to the public interest, we the people get:
    1. The Cesspool on Vine
    2. Continuing and expanding urban blight of billboards in CRA districts that are supposed to be protected from such scourge.
    3. $50 million gift of public funds to Eli Broad, the “poor little” billionaire who used lobbyists to steal the money for a parking garage for his little ego museum.
    4. Midtown Crossing without adequate protection of the adjoining community
    5. The expenditure of millions on retail projects in South LA that include more liquor sales outlets to prey on the people.
    6. Welfare for rich developers, like the one who lied to clueless CRA Board members that Blossom Plaza had a profit of 10% and then bragged to other investors that with the CRA subsidies the profits would be 40% — anybody think that any CRA funded project was much different that this?
    So thanks Madeline Janis, for your whoring for the rich while mouthing your “living wage bullshit”. Your entire career at the CRA is an embarrassment.

  11. david J barron says:

    Appreciate all the lovely truthfull comments. However, at the end, I wish we had our own printing press; so we could get the urgent news out to all the voters: Vote for not one politically connected candidate, or incumbent. Absolutely, Not One !

  12. Anonymous says:

    The message provided by City Hall Fly on the Wall is mostly correct. He forgot to mention that most agenda items are discussed with council prior to action. So the persuasion is there prior to the actual vote. How can commissioners serve the public when they too are at will. It’s a matter of ethics and morals. Do the right thing. Let’s look at the Board of Public Works. Before they vote on controversial issues they meet with council members who dictate how they should vote. The process is set up for failure. Failure to serve the public and to be self serving. Let’s vote new, fresh blood into office. If we don’t it will be the same thing over and over again.

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