Archive for the ‘City Policy’ Category

City Hall: Hidden Agenda’s Costing Taxpayers

In City Policy, Word from the Weiss on March 16, 2009 at 6:44 pm

The following article was written for CityWatch and published on March 13, 2009.

“Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb.” – Benjamin Franklin

The subject of taxpayer dollars spent on outside counsel by the City Attorney’s office continues to be a hot topic. The latest gambit appeared on the Council Calendar last Tuesday  (Item No. 17 – Council File No. 09-0148). The City Attorney’s office wanted authorization to spend $500,000 on outside counsel (ostensibly on an ‘as needed’ basis). The money was to come partially from funds the City receives by way of fees and penalties collected from landlords to implement the rent stabilization ordinance, and partially from the fees, fines, and penalties received by the City in connection with the City’s ‘systematic code enforcement program’. This arrangement was ‘worked out’ in private discussions with Councilmember Wesson, the City Attorney’s office, and the Housing Department.

Councilmember Alarcon objected when the matter was first brought up, and Council-member Zine also had questions. Neither, however, asked (until prompted) why it was that the money could not instead go to the hiring of additional personnel or an attorney  in the City Attorney’s office; why, in fact, outside counsel was really necessary.

In a public comment on March 8, I had asked the Council to send the entire matter back to Wesson’s committee so that the details could be explored. Instead, on Tuesday, a compromise was reached where the amount to be authorized was lowered from $500,000 to $300,000 – so at least there will be an extra $200,000 now available for Code Enforcement and for administration of the Rent Stabilization Ordinance which would not have otherwise been available.

A small victory; but a victory nonetheless.

When dealing with the City Council, we would all be wise to try to always look for ‘the head fake’ because rarely is anything really what it seems.

What was the real head-fake here? The owner of the Cecil Hotel had sued the City back in early 2008 to challenge its inclusion on the official list of residential hotels. (The owner wanted to renovate some of the upper floors of the property, but to do so would involve dealing appropriately with the tenants in residence. Having the tenants protected by inclusion of the Cecil Hotel on Housing’s official list was problematic for the owner).

However, instead of going to the Council back in April, 2008, and asking for an appropriation to defend the case by the hiring of new personnel in the office, the City Attorney saw it as an opportunity to farm out the case to outside counsel. The law-firm proceeded  to rack up $200,000 worth of work despite the lack of advance authorization.

To make matters even more interesting, the law-firm’s general contract with the City expired in December, 2008, and was never renewed until now. So really this motion was not accurately presented to the public by the City Attorney.

Did any City Council member take time to look at the law firm’s billings? Not likely.

Since the public was not given this information, and the CLA (Chief Legislative Analyst’s Office) did not provide the information (assuming it had it), the public was denied an accurate description of what was really happening (not an uncommon occurrence).

So the hidden agenda here was to get that law firm paid its $200,000, while leaving an extra $300,000 in the ‘pot’ just in case.

Whether the City was over-billed will remain a mystery unless and until an enterprising reader files a public records request with the Housing Department asking for the law-firm’s billings to the City in connection with the Cecil Hotel litigation. Meanwhile, we can all take some solace in the fact that an extra $200,000 was put back into the code enforcement program and administration of the rent stabilization program rather than be needlessly diverted to outside lawyers.

Another question which could have been asked, but was not, was why if Wesson and his Committee were willing to put $300,000 into a ‘pot’ for future litigation needs, and why, if the current City Attorney staff is overburdened, some of that money can’t be used right now to relieve the burden?

Equally significant was the fact that the City Attorney said nothing publicly during this entire process. All the testimony was left to Ms. Yolanda Chavez of the Housing Department who is to be credited for being as forthcoming as she was.

In this upcoming budget season, let’s keep in mind that important City services are going to be cut. New, different, practical and more pro-active alternatives are going to have to be found in a number of program areas. It would be useful to ask ourselves how much of the services we will lose can be accounted for by the failure of Rocky Delgadillo’s office to deal fairly, squarely, and competently with the public when it comes to the expenditure of program dollars on outside counsel.

If this little ‘window’ into the inside dealings at City Hall is any indication, we confront a challenge when it comes to these issues.

If anyone does bother to follow-up on the payment of these billings from outside counsel (and I hope someone does), please forward the information to CityWatch ( Editor@CityWatchLA.comThis email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it ).

Because the City Council delegated to the Housing Department the full authority to pay the past and future billings of this law-firm at Housing’s discretion, it is not likely we will really know much unless the Controller takes the time to look at these billings and audit them to see if the City was over-billed.

With Wendy Greuel as the new Controller, this is not a likely prospect.

Our only chance is if one or both of the City Attorney candidates promise the people that if elected, they will insist that the Controller audit all outside counsel billings to see whether they were padded or excessive, or that the City Attorney’s office approve them for payment (something the current motion does not do).

There is no reason why the Housing Department is going to be scrupulous about the billings. On the contrary, the Controller needs to do a public audit of both the Systematic Code Enforcement Fee Trust Fund and the Rent Stabilization Trust Fund.

Will this happen?

Don’t hold your breath.

(Noel Weiss is an attorney and a long-time community advocate. Weiss is an occasional contributor to CityWatch.) ◘

CityWatch
Vol 7 Issue 21
Pub: Mar 13, 2009

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The Density Bonus & Developer Incentives Ordinance

In City Policy, Land Use, SB 1818, Uncategorized, Videos on February 24, 2009 at 9:41 pm

Bill Rosendahl Speaks Out Against The Ordinance
Video from 2/12/2008 council meeting. 

 

The Public Speaks, Pt I
Video from 2/12/2008 council meeting.

 

 The Public Speaks, Pt II
Video from 2/12/2008 council meeting.

This is a lousy ordinance that:

  • Destroys the character and scale of our neighborhoods, by giving developers the financial incentive to demolish in order to get increases in number of units, height, and footprint (Floor Area Ratio);
  • Reduces affordable housing and rental housing (rent-stabilized buildings are being replaced by massive upscale condo towers and mixed-use projects);
  • Creates parking nightmares (there is a “free” parking incentive that is given to all projects that qualify for density bonuses);
  • The City destroys California’s desire to create both low income and “moderate” income units, because if a developer includes moderate income units, the City will give the developer TRIPLE the density bonus required by state law (a 15% density bonus, instead of a 5% density bonus) !

Daily News Q & A with Noel

In Campaign Events, City Policy, Uncategorized on February 23, 2009 at 8:43 pm

The Daily News asked all Los Angeles City Attorney candidates to answer a questionaire so that they could better understand each candidates positions and determine who they wanted to endorse. I sincerely appreciated the opportunity to describe to them what I stand for, how I will address the issues facing the City of Los Angeles, and why they should endorse Noel Weiss – # 44 – for City Attorney for the March 3, 2009 Primary Election.

I have decided to post the questionaire and my answers below so that the people of Los Angeles can better undertand my candidacy, as well as view Los Angeles through the eyes of the Daily News.

 

QUESTIONAIRE DIRECTED TO NOEL WEISS – CANDIDATE FOR

LOS ANGELES CITY ATTORNEY

BY THE LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS

1. What would you do differently from current City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo?

This question is very broad in its scope. I will attempt to answer by providing specifics with regard to the various operations of the Office after a general comment:

 General Comments:

 My goal is to move the office beyond the status quo into the next realm by transforming the office of City Attorney into a problem solving tool that works for the people and reaffirms their faith in the viability and vigor of the social contract between government and the people. Because a skillful and successful leader is one who can maintain a healthy balance between ‘ego’ and ‘imagination’, I would strive to reach that balance and encourage others to try as well. All policies and programs of the office would be measured against a governance standard and principle which would require that the program, idea, or policy be practical, pro-active, positive, progressive, and principled.

 I believe the City Attorney represents all of the people, not just the narrow political interests of each Councilmember or the Mayor, or the special interests. Where the narrow political or special interests of the Council or the special interests diverge from the broader public interest, I would endeavor to represent the broader public interest.

 So each of my questions to the questions must be viewed within the context of this overall governance philosophy.

 Criminal Enforcement:

 This is covered in my response to Question Nos. 4-5 below.

 Land Use Issues:

 (a) Enforce the land use laws as vigorously as Rocky enforces the criminal laws against gangs. Rocky has been woefully deficient in enforcing the land use laws. For example, he and his office stood idly by while 62 tenants at Lincoln Place get evicted in a para-military operation in December, 2005, in violation of a ‘no eviction’ promise which the speculator AIMCO (and Robert Bisno) made to procure land use entitlement rights to develop the property. The political and legal malpractice of the City Attorney was confirmed in two Court of Appeal decisions issued two years apart. Despite this, Rocky’s office remains recalcitrant to the needs of the people and to his responsibilities under the law. The City Attorney is responsible for the fact that there are currently 38 acres of vacant apartments at Lincoln Place today – A monument to the failure of our Planning System and the City Attorney’s office.

 Other omissions occurring under Rocky’s tenure are (i) the failure to insist on full compliance with AB 283. This is a statewide law which mandates that a parcel’s zoning be consistent with the community plan where the parcel exists; (ii) the failure to insist that provision be made in the SB 1818 implementation law for the City to undertake an economic analysis of whether a requested density bonus is really necessary or econ-omically feasible. Recently, the City just lost a case because the Planning Department lacked the requisite protocol to evaluate whether the proposed development would have a specific, quantifiable adversely impact on the health, safety, or local environment (the Louise Street case); (iii) the failure of Rocky’s office to publish opinions on core important land use issues which would work to educate the public and Councilmembers on the legal options that exist when confronting a given public policy issue;

(b) I would insist on compliance with the Framework Element of the General Plan which directs that the City preserve the character and scale of our residential neighborhoods and concentrate density along transit corridors;

 (c) I would insist that the laws mandating yearly infrastructure reports be prepared and presented to the public and council be enforced so that the Council could reasonably evaluate whether the zoning needs to be modified pending the City’s providing the needed infrastructure to support development;

 (d) I would insist that the monies set aside under the Ventura-Cahuenga Blvd. Specific Plan that was unspent for the last 10 years be spent on traffic mitigation and beautification. I would ensure that the Housing Authority carry out its duties in a competent manner. Too many dollars are being wasted on incompetence and corruption (it got so bad that late last year, the Postal Service ceased delivery of mail to the residents of Mar Vista Gardens)

 (e) I would ensure that the Housing Department properly, accurately, and thoroughly carry out its functions, particularly with regard to the information circulated to the general public – some of which is just wrong or incomplete;

 (f) I would undertake a thorough examination of how the Housing Authority has done business. There have been numerous concerns expressed by the Apartment Owners Association of Greater Los Angeles about corruption and mismanagement. I would examine and investigate those allegations in partnership with the controller and I would hold public hearings if necessary to gather the facts. I would be very pro-active in sug-gesting proposals for reform. If and to the extent the Housing Authority resisted inquiry and investigation, then I would file suit against the Housing Authority for damages and for remedies to abate and cure what appears to be ‘nuisance-type’ activities which the Housing Authority is allowing to occur on one or more of its properties. This is some-thing which the Oakland City Attorney did to great and positive effect within the last year.

(g) I would issue many, many more written opinions on land use issues and invite contrary opinions from the legal community. In this way, many of the legal questions which arise in land use issues would be circulated in advance and as part of the protocol attendant to public land use decisions. This would have the effect of lessening the litigation which occurs over these land use matters. It would also empower the people. The special interests and their lawyers know where the City Attorney stands because they get continual and regular access to City Attorney’s staff;

 (h) I would be creative, practical, and pro-active in coming up with creative ways to get more affordable housing, as I did (over the City Attorney’s objection that it could not be done) with a project on Ben Avenue and Magnolia Blvd. in Valley Village (down the Street from No. Hollywood High). In that instance, I was able to mediate a dispute between the community and the developer over a 96 unit development which resulted in the developer’s agreeing to affordable housing promises and covenants to provide up to a 5% discount for teachers, firemen, and policemen. Apart from incor-porating the promise into the land use entitlement conditions, I also empowered the community by declaring the violation of the condition a ‘nuisance’ (under LAMC 11.00, the violation of a land use condition is deemed a ‘nuisance’) which would give standing to the community to enforce the condition via a lawsuit against the developer to abate the nuisance. I also negotiated very strong construction mitigation conditions, with proper notice to the Community which worked well for all concerned. This was done without any assistance or input from the City Attorney’s office or the Council office – It was pure community empowerment. As City Attorney, this is the kind of thing I would encourage and facilitate;

 (i) I would issue opinions as City Attorney on the issue of how the Planning Department is to evaluate the core question of the nature and extent of the ‘cumulative’ development component of Environmental Impact Reports. This is a large loophole through which developers and speculators walk. The Planning Department lacks any formal protocol to evaluate when, how, and under what circumstances the question of the extent and impact a given development will ‘cumulatively’ have on the environment or the City’s infrastructure (physical and social). This must stop;

 (j) I would issue legal opinions on the subject of when and under what cir-cumstances development is appropriate, all designed to ensure that the promises of the Community Plans, Specific Plans, Framework Element, and General Plan are kept (this is part of the social contract between the people and their government). Perhaps the most significant is the possible ‘over-zoning’ of (many R-3) parcels in violation of AB 283 (still state law), and the failure of the Planning Department to do as promised in reconciling the scope of the potential building envelope incorporated into our zoning laws and zoning designations with (i) the initial assumptions which went into the crafting of the Com-munity Plans and (ii) the current capability of our physical infrastructure to handle the anticipated development contemplated by those Plans;

(k) I would create bonds and alliances with progressive cities throughout the Country to draw on their knowledge and experience to formulate ideas and policy choices for the people and the City Council which incorporate into our zoning laws our core social values (like, for example preservation of the middle class) and then recommend changes to the zoning laws (after procuring thorough public input) to the City Council. Ideas such as TOPA (Tenant Opportunity To Purchase Act) would be evaluated from a legal perspective, with an emphasis of providing written counsel to the public on how such ideas can be made to lawfully operate. To date, Rocky’s office has not done anything approaching this. Currently, the City Attorney’s office is the place where all good ideas go to die. I want the City Attorney’s office to be the place where new and exciting ideas are born and thrive;

(l) I would vigorously enforce LAMC 12.95.2 which deals with the protocol on how tenants residing in apartments to be converted to condominiums are to be treated and whether, and under what circumstances the City can and should deny a condo conversion request. Rocky’s office admitted in 2006 that it did not enforce all of the tenant protections in the law (ostensibly because they conflicted with the Ellis Act). If the law is, for reasons not enforceable, then the City Attorney needs to issue an opinion to that effect rather than remain silent.

 

General Administrative Issues and Office Management

 (a) I would assign a Deputy City Attorney to each Council office as a legislative liason to advise that Councilmember on a regular and on-going basis on all matters pertaining to both potholes and policy. I have vetted this idea among City Attorney deputies and they feel it is both practical and pro-active because when Council offices get calls about problems, they just refer them over to the Neighborhood Prosecutor anyway. This position would be a ‘star’ position in the office because it would require the individual to operate on multi-dimensional levels – administrative, political, legal, economic, and practical. In addition, motions will be better drafted to reflect the current dynamic as it exists between the law and the proposed legal changes; and proposed alternative changes to the law can be thought out in advance; and Councilmembers would be better informed when voting on matters. As things are now, there is no guarantee that the Councilmember has been properly advised as to all of the legal practicalities, possibilities, and principles attendant to a given policy decision or a decision on a land use appeal;

(b) I would be pro-active in acting as a bridge-builder between the combined legislative-executive branch (the Council) and the various departments – attempting to identify problems out front and ameliorate and mitigate those problems. This would better ensure that the Agencies of the City Government are adequately, competently, and carefully carrying out City Policy;

 (c) I would have performance audits done yearly as to all aspects of the office’s operations. That could come from the Controller or from an independent auditor;

(d) I would publish a yearly budget and report of office expenses and operations, case results, and independent Council expenditures so the public can clearly know what their City Attorney is doing;

 (e) I would publish my official schedule on a bi-weekly basis;

 (f) I would work to improve morale among the staff City Attorneys by identifying the causes of the current morale problem, and taking steps to inspire and excite the imagination of each deputy in an effort to build consensus around a shared vision of the office and its objectives. The goal would be to then develop a collective commitment toward achieving that vision and those objectives, and to generate a real espirit de corps. There is no reason why the City Attorney’s office can’t be the best public law office in the Country;

 (g) Laws would be written with more clarity and simplicity. An example is the complicated protocol which the City Attorney purposely created in administering the law related to the sums owing to tenants involuntarily relocated. A cumbersome bureaucracy was needlessly created which failed to take into account if, whether, or to what extent a tenant’s was entitled to more money due to being disabled. While the rights of landlords to a hearing were protected; the rights of tenants to a hearing were not. In addition, existing policy changes and administrative changes could be identified and communicated more thoroughly to Councilmembers. This way, something like the billboard settlement would be less likely to occur;

 (h) Opinions on important land use issues would be published on a regular basis so that citizens would know what the City’s positions are on these matters in advance. That would lead to more informed judgments by the City Council and the Commissions; more thoughtful analysis and discussion; more likely compromise in advance of litigation; and therefore less litigation and a greater possibility of getting similar results in similar cases. All City Attorney opinions during the last 20 years would be catalogued, organized, and published on the City Attorney’s website so that citizens could easily search and obtain prior opinions. That includes opinions on cases which involved non-published court opinions. The special interest lawyers have this kind of information. The general public should as well in order to equalize the playing field and ensure that City Council policies are well thought out;

 (i) Assign a Deputy CA permanently to the Neighborhood Councils to provide guidance on procedural and substantive issues (most importantly land use issues). This can be paid for by allocating $5,000 of the $50,000 given to Neighborhood Councils for that purpose. 4-5 City Attorneys should be able to cover the Neighborhood Councils. The City Attorney website can be modified to provide a special Neighborhood Council section where written advice to questions is posted and maintained. This will enable Neighborhood Councils to see how similar problems were handled by others. That, in turn, would lead to having greater consistency across the board in terms of how the Neighborhood Councils would operate and decide issues. It would make more meaning-ful and fulfilling service on the Neighborhood Council;

(j) Provide an alternative means by which Neighborhood Councils could get important core issues before the City Council by using the Office of City Attorney to write reports to the City Council which reflect recommended changes in the law (along with a draft of the proposed ordinance) as determined by political consensus developed by the City Attorney’s office after having met with Neighborhood Councils, Homeowners’ Associations, and other community groups. This is a bit of a slant on the idea of having Neighborhood Councils open council files. My policy would be that if a combination of 4-5 community organizations agreed on the need for proposed changes to a law or admin-istrative procedure, I would help the ‘collective’ develop their thoughts and then present those thoughts into one or more proposed ordinances for the City Council’s consideration. This is one example where the City Attorney’s Citywide Task Force I would create would and could produce tangible results by translating good positive ideas into constructive political action. This way, a Council file is open. This is one way I would work to craft a competent, capable, well thought out whistle-blower and public records access ordinance. Whether the City Council wants to hear the matter would be up to the City Council. But the people would have something on which they could focus; and if the City Council failed to hear the issue, and it was that important, then the City Councilmembers could be held accountable at the ballot box. The possibilities here for vibrant, viable governance are extensive and very exciting. It is a way to repair the breach in the social contract between government and the people; restore people’s confidence in the system; and better ensure that our laws and our governance structure works for the people and reflects our core social values;

(k) I would establish a rule that fair comment and a fair due process on appeals would be that the appellant be given rebuttal time equal to the time taken by the City in presenting its defense to the appeal, not to exceed 20 minutes in total;

(l) I would establish a rule that meaningful public participation requires that all documents relevant to a particular Council Motion be given to the public via internet posting at least 3 days in advance of the committee or council hearing unless there is a defined emergency (this would make public hearings more meaningful);

(m) I would completely reorganize the City Attorney’s website to make it more user friendly. The model I would use is that of the Oakland City Attorney, John Russo (see http://www.oaklandcityattorney.org)

(n) Index and catalogue all City Attorney opinions for easy access, along with tract map decisions on land use issues and post them on the City Attorney’s website at a special place;

(o) I would require that amending motions introduced in committee or in council must allow for public comment before they are voted on;

(p) I would assign a Deputy City Attorney to handle all questions raised during public comment (legal or factual) with a written report back to the member of the public who raised that question and to the Councilmember in whose district the person who made the public comment resides. These questions and answers would also be posted on the City Attorney’s website;

 (q) I would be vigorous in enforcing the rule that each Council member has to be present in the Council chamber when voting on a matter before the Council;

(r) I would insist that the Council show respect to the public during public comment and, if necessary, ask that Councilmemnbers take their seats and listen to each public comment;

 (s) No committee would be allowed to start without a full quorum being present;

(t) I would require that the CLA’s office include in the Minutes of each Council meeting and committee meeting the following specific information: (i) when each council member arrived, (ii) when each council member left, and/or (iii) when each councilmember returned so that each Councilmember’s attendance is clearly and properly reported to the public.

 (q) I would create a City-wide ‘City Attorney Task Force’ modeled on the Watts Gang Task Force and meet personally with citizens in each district on a revolving basis to shepherd ideas and develop a meaningful pro-active agenda.

 

2. Do you believe the city attorney’s expenditures on outside counsel are appropriate or excessive?

 Yes, I believe the City Attorney’s expenditures on outside counsel are excessive – very excessive. Part of the problem is that some of the litigation is needless because it devolves out the City Council failing to set policy; or the laws not being well written; or the City Attorney’s cover up of its its own malfeasance. Needless litigation on Lincoln Place has gone on for years because the City Attorney’s office refused to acknowledge its own bad advice and judgment errors.

 

3. How would you handle the billboard company settlements that have allowed the conversion of static billboards to digital billboards? How would you enforce the billboard ordinance?

 (a) I would push the City Council to waive the attorney-client privilege on its discussions of the earlier settlement so the people can know, understand, and appreciate what occurred during the settlement discussions which led up to the Council’s approval of the Billboard settlement in September 13, 2006 (Council File No. 03-2771);

(b) I would ask the Court to set aside the Settlement Agreement on the ground that (among other things) (a) the Oral Motion presented to Council by Bernard Parks and Greig Smith to accept the settlement (presumably prepared by or with the advice or consent of the City Attorney) was deficient in that (i) it failed to adequately describe the fact that what should have been discretionary actions requiring CEQA (environmental) review (the conversion of static billboards into digital-electronic billboards) were being turned into ministerial actions over which the City (presumably) would have no control (thus prejudicing the public, but giving the Council members license to say to the public – ‘There’s nothing I can do’), (ii) it failed to provide for any due process or notice to the public whose communities would be adversely impacted by the digital signs, (iii) and the public was denied a fair and meaningful opportunity to comment on the Motion (a possible violation of the Brown Act). In short, the broader public interest was sacrificed on the alter of the narrow political interests of the Council and the special interests of the Billboard companies; and (b) the City gave up too much of its power to regulate billboards in the settlement and thus is an unlawful settlement and otherwise prejudicial to the public. The current City Attorney refuses to do this because the political malpractice and legal malpractice of the office in recommending such a settlement would be revealed;

(c) I would subpoena the records of every billboard company (in partnership with the Controller) and obtain a full list of every billboard location in the City. Unlawful signs would go down after a reasonable period of time (90 days) and both the landowners and the billboard companies would be prosecuted to the full extent of the current law. I would then initiate administrative proceedings within the City Attorney’s office (or within Planning) where formal hearings would be held against landowners (lessors permitting these billboards to be erected on their property) and establish and determine whether the signs were or were not lawful. Performance conditions would then be put in writing and recorded against each property as part of what I would characterize as administrative nuisance abatement. Until the City Council got around to adopting a policy on billboard proliferation, these matters would be handled on a case-by-case basis. Some, I suspect would involve improper actions by the billboard companies in having landowners sign permits. One major Lessor of billboards, Mort Allen, has taken the companies to Court contending they forged his signature on permits. If such allegations are true, the permits would be challenged and voided out. The nuisance abatement conditions which would be established would include provisions which control lighting conditions, maintenance conditions, and actual sign conditions (including size and security). The restrictions would thereafter run with the land and violations of the same would constitute a misdemeanor fully prosecutable by the City Attorney’s office. This would begin to put a dent into the billboard problem;

(d) Other candidates have talked about prosecuting the executive officers of the billboard companies. I would also look into that. But before I did that, I would hold public hearings as City Attorney asking the Billboard companies to respond to the citizen complaints and issues in an effort to try to generate some public comment and communication. If the billboards wanted to take a tough line, I would take an equally tough line on behalf of the people; and I would win.

4. What would you do as city attorney to reduce violent crime?

 (a) I support the idea of Jack Weiss and Janice Hahn for the City to pass an ordinance to prohibit certain misdemeanor convicts from owning a firearm for ten years. This will help keep guns out of the hands of gang members and those who commit dangerous misdemeanor crimes.

(b) I would vigorously enforce the laws pertaining to gun and ammunition sales.

(c) I would seek to partner with each of the 87 Cities in Los Angeles County and to the extent possible have each City agree to assign a Deputy City Attorney to a violent crime collective who would be deputized by the District Attorney to investigate gang crime and violent crime. Because there are so many different legal jurisdictions in Los Angeles County, the Cities have to begin to work more closely together;

(d) I would create a Citywide ‘City Attorney Task Force’ where I would meet once each week in each Council District with community members, police, religious, and other civic leaders for 3 hours. This would be modeled off of Janice Hahn’s Watts Gang Task Force which, in its three years (I have been a member 2.5 years), has reduced crime in Watts by 50% year over year (including violent crime). The meetings would be run by Human Rela-tions (as is the case with the Watts Gang Task Force). I would be there to listen, to learn, and to elicit direct community input on what a community needs to effectively combat violent crime;

(e) I would be much more proactive with the schools in terms of attempting to initiate education programs on coping skills and dispute resolution techniques;

(f) To the extent the violent crime results from drinking and alcohol, here the land use laws impact. There needs to be less liquor stores in some communities and I would endeavor to try to find a way to control where new liquor outlets are placed after older ones cease operating;

(g) An aggressive push to prevent Domestic Violence would also help because violent crime is also borne out of domestic violence situations;

(h) A much more aggressive graffiti abatement program must be initiated and enforced;

(i) To the extent that violent crime is the result of foreign gangs invading our country with the express intent of undermining our youth and our core social values, I would ask the City Council to pass a Resolution asking the President to declare known foreign gangs as Official Foreign Terrorist Organizations. This would enable the City to more closely partner with the US government in going after foreign terrorist gangs. To the extent that the City Attorney can and will seek to partner with other Cities as indicated above, then the collective, combined resources of law enforcement on all levels can be brought to bear.

(j) As with land use issues (where we don’t have good data on the vacancy rate or on traffic mitigation issues) I would endeavor to get better core information on all of the details relating to violent crime (the demographics of violent crime; the socio-economics; the nature of violent crime committed by parolees);

(k) I would stay on top of the rape kit issue, which is something Jack Weiss failed to do, despite the contrary implication set out in his campaign commercial. (See Council File 02-2082 – Introduced by Jack Weiss September 20, 2002 – and let die with no follow-up action (other than receipt of an LAPD report in October, 2004)).

 In short, what is required is a true partnership between everyone in the City to (a) assure that those who commit violent crimes suffer quick and severe penalties; (b) that a viable social and support service network is created and nurtured (the Citywide Task Force) on all levels so that a collective, meaningful effort can be engaged to not only deal and confront the violence itself, but one or more of the root causes of the violence.

5. What’s your assessment of the gang injunction program? Is it working? Should it be changed?

I know something about gang injunctions because I have been a member of the Watts Gang Task Force since October, 2006. I believe the gang injunction program is similar to a nuisance abatement program, in this case, with the target being gangs. I am not aware of any studies on the effectiveness of gang injunctions. As City Attorney I would examine this question – pro and con – in order to make the policy more effective where it works, and to cure its deficiencies where it does not work.

 The members of the Watts Gang Task Force (the community and the police) discussed for a long time the fairness and practicality of how the gang injunction program can be used as part of a rehabilitation tool – how people once on a gang injunction can get off. After about a year, the City Attorney’s office did come up with a program and a protocol as to how individuals who were never in a gang (but named in the injunction) or who were in a gang but are no longer in a gang can be removed. The City Attorney is now touting this program and it is a good program because it does not help the community when one is proscribed or unable to get off a gang injunction when one has really reformed one’s conduct.

 Moreover, the need for a thorough study is important because gang injunctions, by law, are required to be limited to a given geographical area. What if, for example, a gang injunction in one area pushes the gang members to another area. In that case, the injunc-tion would have the effect of spreading gang violence rather than limiting it. That is relevant and supportive of my proposal to have the Los Angeles City Attorney lead a county-wide task force of City Attorneys from other Cities, have the District Attorney deputize those City Attorneys, and then attack the problem from a more focused, planned, strategic perspective. Then the strategies employed in Los Angeles will better serve the residents of not just Los Angeles, but of the entire County. In addition, our precious public resources can and will be spent more efficiently and effectively.

A related concern is that gang injunctions can lead to needless police harassment. As the Watts Gang Task Force demonstrates (and it is comprised of LAPD law enforcement from the Deputy Chief level to the Captain level to the Sargent level) and its members will attest, there is a problem at times with how the injunctions are enforced. Where it leads to perceived harassment, it breaks down the bonds of trust between the police and the community that are critical to fighting crime. The citizens must perceive the police as their ally, not their adversary. So care has to be taken that enforcement of the gang injunctions by police through the application of bad law enforcement techniques don’t undermine the goal – which is the reduction and elimination of gang crime.

I would also look to other ways to expand the injunction to take into account the ways and means gangs finance their activities. Apart from just congregating together, why can’t civil collective gang abatement activity take the form of going after identify theft, credit card fraud, copyright infringement, drug laundering operations, tracing where these people get their money. More aggressive and affirmative civil remedies in addition to injunctions can be employed – like getting a Receiver appointed to examine the finances of individuals or groups reasonably suspected of engaging in commercial unlawful gang activities which help to finance their unlawful and criminal enterprise. Here again is an area were cooperation between jurisdictions would be extremely beneficial. Merely getting standard gang injunctions is not enough. People who harbor gang members must be identified and pursued as co-conspirators. As noted above, it would help if President Obama declared one or more of the foreign gangs (in El Savador in particular) Foreign Terrorist Organizations so that the City could obtain the benefit of the resources of the Federal Government.

To often in our City, our policy makers lack core data which can inform their decisions. What is the vacancy rate in the City? We don’t know. What is the drop-out rate? We don’t know. What is the homeless rate? We don’t know. What is the number of individuals who live in bootlegged (unlawful) housing? We don’t know.

On the gang injunction side, lets’ evaluate the effectiveness of the gang injunctions in place. They are geographic so we can begin to get a handle on what really occurred after they were put into place – particularly as it relates to drug trafficking, homicide, and other violent (gang related) criminal activities.

 The LA Times reported in May, 2005 that:

 “Although the injunctions make for good political rhetoric, their effectiveness remains in question. Cheryl Maxson, a UC Irvine criminologist, said the actions have a modest effect on crime and may help perceptions about an area. In the late 1990s, Jeffrey Grogger, a former UCLA professor now at the University of Chicago, studied 14 gang injunctions and concluded that violent crime fell 5% to 10% in the year after they took effect. Critics, however, warn that often those named in the court actions move to new turf, leaving a younger generation to take over the affected territory.”

Chief Bratton has said repeatedly that we cannot arrest our way out of the gang problem.

I would be much more aggressive and pro-active on graffiti in this City as part of the gang injunction effort. Graffiti is an indication and reflection of the degree of our success in overcoming this gang problem.

6. Should the controller be allowed to audit programs in the offices of elected officials?

Yes.

 

7. How would you ensure people have full and fair access to public records in the city?

(a) I would sponsor and persuade the City Council to pass an ordinance which would guarantee the right to all the Citizens of the City (including the news media) to all public records possessed by any City Official. I would contend and advocate for a clear statement in the law that all documents produced with taxpayer money belong to the taxpayers. That way it would be clear that letters, correspondence, etc. of Council-members and officials belong not to them, but to the City. As such, upon leaving office, those documents would have to be turned over to the City for permanent safe-keeping. In addition, as City Attorney, I would ask for copies of all reports and documents on pending matters (or major pending matters I would identify). That way, for example, Eric Garcetti could not get away with ignoring the PA Consulting Report, or play a game by having a third party summarize it for him and then keep those documents from both his City Council colleagues and the public. Because the document came into my possession as City Attorney, I would release it to the public along with my opinion on its legal implications. This is yet another example of the City Attorney acting in the broader public interest as the attorney for the people, rather than protecting the narrow special business or political interests of the groups or individuals seeking action by the Mayor and Council on a particular issue. The same applies to the Mayor’s operation of one or more public schools. As City Attorney, I would require that all documentation attendant to the Mayor’s activities be made public; and as City Attorney I would issue a written opinion on whether the Mayor was acting lawfully or properly with regard to his duties (My current opinion is that the Mayor lacks the power under the Charter to run public schools – But everyone is silent on that question. It does not serve the public interest in any way, shape, or form for this to occur).

 (b) I would also advocate for the passage of an ordinance protect whistle-blowers by providing for immunity from prosecution, a right of action to share in any cost savings which were obtained as a result of the whistle-blower’s allegations being substantiated (modeled off of the Federal System); and provide that any and all depositions and legal documentation from any lawsuits involving allegations of misconduct by any official in the City Attorney’s office be made public at the conclusion of the litigation. This did not occur in connection with the litigation against Rocky Delgadillo and the City of Los Angeles back in June, 2006, in Lynn Magnandonovan’s wrongful termination lawsuit against the City where the depositions of Rocky and his top aides were sealed.

 With a proper and thorough Public Records law in Los Angeles and an effective whistle-blower law, things typical of that which occurred in the Lynn Magnandonovan wrongful termination suit would not have occurred; and the actions of Rocky in covering this matter up would also have been a less likely occurrence. In the end, the City was hit with a $1.5 Million judgment, along with a multi-million dollar fee award, something which all of the ‘core four’ candidates (all the candidates other than Jack Weiss) have decried.

Noel on News RAW

In Campaign Events, City Policy, Videos on February 21, 2009 at 3:49 pm

Earlier in the week NBC 4 Los Angeles invited me to come in and discuss my candidacy for Los Angeles City Attorney.

Wanna watch the video? Just click on the picture below (please note that you will be re-directed to their site)!

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Thank you to NBC 4 for this opportunity.

Noel on Protecting the Middle Class

In Accomplishments, City Policy, Land Use, SB 1818 on February 16, 2009 at 10:49 pm

The subtle attack on the middle class in Los Angeles is a main concern of mine, because of the economic impact this inflicts on our city. History shows us that no civilization can sustain a viable economy without a vibrant middle class.

Currently, no local policymaker has stepped forward to try and protect the rights of the middle class. I am committed to doing what I can to make the system work better for the people, help bring the City together, and have our system better reflect its core social values and principles.

So what exactly have I done that is evidence of this promise?

  • I have lobbied the City on behalf of middle class tenants to get various core tenant protections incorporated into the tract map conditions. These conditions were then capable of being enforced by the Planning Dept. and were subsequently incorporated into Planning Dept. policy. This policy change is something that the current City Attorney said couldn’t be done, yet I got it done.
  • I lobbied City Councilmembers about the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) which will be included into the City of Los Angeles Housing Element (2006-2014). (see Council file 08-1933, page 6-33.)
  • I wrote the original motion to raise the tenant relocation fees for tenants who were evicted from buildings that were covered by the rent stabilization ordinance, and then lobbied City Council members to get it passed, as the relocation monies hadn’t been raised since the mid 1980’s.
  •  I am experienced in establishing dialogue between responsible developers and the community they seek to improve.  For example:
    • A developer in Valley Village was able to get his 96-unit project through by incorporating affordable housing promises* into tract map conditions, in such a way that it gave the Community standing to enforce violations of these conditions, under a nuisance theory.   This action, which never had to be invoked, made the community a real partner with the City Attorney and the Council office in ensuring enforcement if necessary.  The net result?
      • The character of the neighborhood was protected;
      • The developer was able to relay the agreed-upon conditions to his vendors before the work began, eliminating misunderstandings; the community knew what to expect, and when, due to regular communication; and
      • The community will benefit from an influx of middle-class incomes when the facility is completed.

The developer even sent his thanks, as the project has moved along quite fluidly. The system can work when a responsible, reasonable, and fair-working partnership is established.

 What I have done in these examples is done all the time for the special interests who pay lawyers and lobbyists. But it has been rarely done (if at all) by a public policy advocate who has not been paid by anyone to advocate for a policy and has nothing personal to gain except the self-satisfaction of doing something positive, and leaving behind a positive legacy. This type of advocacy is what we should expect from our elected officials, and is the type of advocacy that I would continue as City Attorney.

 The current system, where laws exist but are not enforced until they are litigated, must stop. It is inefficient and unacceptable because it violates the social contract between the citizens of this City and their government, and it wastes taxpayers’ dollars. This is what has to be changed. My pledge to you is that as City Attorney, it will change.

 *The ‘affordable housing’ to be created at this location is a mandated (up to) 5% discount for teachers, firemen, and policemen. The project is near North Hollywood High School, creating an incentive for middle-class teachers to eliminate their commute AND be rewarded with a housing discount by the developer. A great situation for many community partners.

Fighting For All Residents Against Overdevelopment

In City Policy, Land Use, SB 1818 on February 15, 2009 at 4:58 pm

Councilmember Hahn Speaks Out Against The Ordinance
Audio from February 13, 2008 Council Meeting 

The  Density Bonus & Developer Incentives Ordinance was approved by the City Council in February 2008, on a vote of 11-4.  Councilmembers LaBonge, Rosendahl, Hahn, and Zine sided with residents and voted against the ordinance.  Janice Hahn was concerned about reducing notice and appeals for the neighbors of large projects.  Bill Rosendahl is an affordable housing advocate who noted that this ordinance is a scam, that provides for overdevelopment in the name of affordable housing.  During several days of debate on this ordinance, we do not recall Councilmember JACK Weiss uttering one word, probably because he was already running for City Attorney and had already faced a RECALL effort by angry residents in his district (which gathered TWENTY THOUSAND signatures in only four months for a special recall election, and was only stopped by time constraints on signature collection).

JACK Weiss sided with the developers and voted to approve the ordinance.  JACK Weiss helped craft the ordinance, so he knew exactly what it would do to our neighborhoods when he voted.

Noel filed the first lawsuit against this new law on April 3, 2008 on behalf of a homeowner in Valley Village.  Hubbard vs. City of Los Angeles is currently in litigation. The reason Noel agreed to file the lawsuit was because the Density Bonus and Developer Incentives Ordinance was NOT narrowly tailored to comply with the state law, SB 1818, but was even more generous to developers, unnecessarily so. 

As City Attorney, Noel will advise the 15 City Councilmembers on land use applications, large projects, proposed laws affecting land use and zoning, CEQA (The California Environmental Quality Act) and Environmental Impact Reviews (EIR’s). The City Attorney’s Office is present at (almost) all PLUM Committee (the City’s Land Use Committee) and City Council meetings!

 

Read the rest of this entry »

The Platform

In City Policy, Uncategorized on February 15, 2009 at 1:04 pm

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Noel Weiss ( # 44 ) is running for City Attorney so the City returns to a positive course. Angelenos must have greater, meaningful input into what happens in and to their neighborhoods. Noel will make the system work for the people. Noel has a proven record of performance in working for our middle class and ‘the little guy’. The cozy relationships between the insiders and the politicians will end when Noel becomes City Attorney.

As City Attorney, Noel will:

1.  Encourage performance audits by the Controller every year;

2.  Publish a comprehensive year-end review which will clearly delineate the City Attorney’s budget, and how it is spent, including payments to outside counsel, litigation expenses, operating costs, and lawsuit payouts;

3.  Vigorously enforce billboard blight laws. I intend to be very aggressive on billboard blight and will support the broader public interest.

4.  Work closely with the Controller to put together a package of reforms which will protect whistle-blowers, preserve emails, and make public records requests of our officials a priority;

5.  Require that City documents be available to the public at least 3 days before any public hearing in front of City Council. I will also take steps to ensure that appellants in land use cases will have the final word at public comment to rebut the contentions of the Planning Department and the City Agencies often arrayed against them;

6.  Improve the Neighborhood Prosecutor program by teaming even more closely with business and task force groups. Together, we will shut down dozens of drug properties, put slumlords out of business, stop unlawful dumping, and attack graffiti.

7.  Organize a City Attorney Governance Task Force modeled on the Watts Gang Task Force and meet personally with citizens in each district on a revolving basis to shepherd ideas and develop a meaningful proactive agenda;

8.  Neighborhood Councils must be further empowered. I would use the City Attorney’s office to bring the common issues to the Council by issuing a City Attorney’s report reflective of these common concerns which would incorporate suggested practical and legal alternatives. Because a City Attorney’s report would result in the opening of a Council file, the City Council could then decide whether to hold hearings on such issues, both in Committee and before the full Council.

My Pledge is for Practical, Pro-Active, Positive, Progressive and Principled Governance.

ELECTION DAY IS MARCH 3, 2009

ABSENTEE BALLOT DEADLINE SUBMITTAL: FEBRUARY 24, 2009

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# 44 on your ballot!

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A Better Way to Govern LA



Hundreds of “Kiosks” Invading LA

In billboards, City Policy on February 13, 2009 at 6:53 pm

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The City is in the process of installing 500 “kiosks” throughout our neighborhoods.  They are enormous, three-sided stand-alone advertising objects and they destroy the character of our streetscapes and block various viewing angles.

As City Attorney, Noel will advise the 15 City Councilmembers on the best ways to legally fight electronic billboards, pillars, kiosks, supergraphics, and other advertising blight, and Noel will also make sure that the City’s laws are being followed by the billboard companies.

One of the reasons Noel is running for City Attorney is to stop the wallpapering of our neighborhoods with all of this visual noise, before it’s too late.

To see pictures of PILLARS, which are even LARGER, click here.

Just Say NO To PILLARS

In billboards, City Policy on February 3, 2009 at 9:40 pm

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Expect ONE HUNDRED of these to be installed RIGHT AFTER the election. The PILLARS are 6 ft wide & 15 -18 ft tall. They’re basically monstrous cylindrical billboards permanently bolted into the sidewalks. There are currently no pillars in Los Angeles, the only other known California city that has them is San Francisco. These pillars will dominate our streetscapes and destroy the character of our neighborhoods.

Noel STRONGLY OPPOSES Advertising Blight, including PILLARS, Supergraphics, Electronic Billboards, and Illegal Billboards!

Land Use

In City Policy, Land Use, SB 1818 on January 22, 2009 at 8:29 pm

The video below, which I came across at Curbed LA, is a great visual example of the impact that the City Attorney can have on the city.

12449 Louise Ave.

This street could be any of the thousands of streets in Los Angeles, where the character of neighborhoods have been adversely impacted over the last 8 years.

Growth is a fact of life, but growth needs to be pursued in a manner that does not destroy our neighborhoods for the sake of development, and the process by which growth is allowed to occur is transparent, with the discussion taking place in full view of the public. All parties – developers, city officials, and constituents – should have an equal opportunity to participate.

One of the roles of the City Attorney is to advise the Planning Department and the Council in all legal matters. In matters of land use, my approach would be to develop a public dialogue with counsel on both sides of these land use questions. By debating these land use issues thoroughly and thoughtfully in advance with all stakeholders, we can create productive land use policy that respects the character of our neighborhoods, addresses growth in a positive, proactive manner. The result of this apporach would be land use policy that both the community and developers can respect. In situations where there is disagreement and litigation does arise, the litigation would be more focused, instead of today’s environtment, where there is litigation for litigations sake. Litigation should be the last result, not the first.

The era of policy making by litigation in LA needs to end. In these tough economic times, it is better to make policy right the first time, than waste taxpayer dollars attending to lawsuits that could have been avoided in the first place.