It is hard to believe that Herb Wesson’s City Council could sink any lower but the president’s No. 2 man Ed Reyes — with an assist from wannabe Mayor Eric Garcetti — led his colleagues to the bottom of a sea of moral corruption and intellectual bankruptcy on Friday.
Two decades ago, the Community Redevelopment Agency took millions of dollars of taxpayer money and built a 33,000-square-foot supermarket below four floors of affordable housing at Grand Avenue and Cesar Chavez in Chinatown.
Trouble was Albertson’s pulled out of the deal and 20 years later, the city was incapable of a finding another tenant so the supermarket sat empty and Chinatown remained one of LA’s many food deserts where fresh fruits and vegetables at reasonable prices were not readily available.
Enter Wal-Mart, the bogeyman of union kingpin Maria Elena Durazo and her pals, takes over the property. The nation’s No. 1 retailer, as early as last November, starts to pull permits from Building and Safety to make tenant improvements like installing refrigeration, shelves and whatever it takes to get their grocery store operating in a building that was built and zoned for the purpose so the entitlements were already in place.
Durazo and company have long thwarted the retail giant from opening 100,000-plus-square-foot superstores but this one is just for groceries and it’s still unacceptable because Wal-Mart’s is adamantly anti-union — putting its employees in the same situation as LA’s sweatshop workers and 85 percent of the city’s work force.
Suddenly, on March 16, with only the last permits to be pulled, Reyes — who as city planner and Councilman boasts he has been engaged in Chinatown development issues for all these 20 years — awakened from his soporific Rip Van Winkle sleep and discovered the evil Wal-Mart was coming to Chinatown.
So without public input or any kind of hearings, the man who has sat on the Planning and Land Use Committee for a decade put in a motion, seconded by Garcetti, demands for an interim control ordinance to try to stop Wal-Mart from opening the store and adds an amendment that his measure exempts existing businesses and those with under 20,000 square feet.
In other words, it only applies to Wal-Mart as the unions and their front group, the L.A. Alliance for the New Economy, demanded and got because they put guys like Reyes into office and keep them there to do their bidding.
The only trouble was that just before closing for business on Thursday, Wal-Mart pulled the last permit it needed to start construction so what Reyes was trying to do was irrelevant.
It was hardly that Wal-Mart “outwitted” the Council as the LA Times reported; the company had help getting its permits from officials in very high places to head off what was as an explosive anti-business controversy that the mayor could hardly afford to endure when he’s President Obama’s “Latino voters” star attraction and on a roll in the national press.
Reyes knew what had happened so did the rest of the Council when they took up this matter on Friday.
Building and Safety General Manager Robert “Bud” Ovrom was waiting in the wings to be called to testify as soon as they were done with public comment — most of it in support of Wal-Mart with Chamber of Commerce head Gary Toebben “vehemently’ opposed to the ordinance and Central City Association leader Carol Schatz imperiously warning “don’t do this.”
Just because what he was up to no longer mattered meant nothing to Reyes who plunged forward, lying through his teeth about what this was about. I stopped counting when I got past 20 lies. (Watch the upcoming video and count them yourselves).
An elderly person once was hit by a bus in Chinatown. There’s $1 billion worth of new high schools filled with teenagers in the area so traffic and sidewalk improvements are desperately needed. The CRA is gone. The character of Chinatown must be preserved as if the bland, modern building in question fits into the look of the community.
It was all hot air and lies, not a single word about Wal-Mart or the union demands.
Reyes deserved to be rebuked by every member of the Council. Instead, they wiggled and dissembled and voted unanimously as if it were nothing more than a local planning issue to order the Planning Department — which they noted was overworked with 40 percent of its staff cut — to waste hundreds of hours drafting the interim control ordinance and holding hearings.
Trust me, it will be a cold day in Chinatown before that comes back to the Council.