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Elephant Hill: The Endgame

THE ARTFUL DODGERS - So say you are a resident of LA and you would like to see whether your elected officials are betraying their duty to act in the public interest with your hard earned tax dollars.  How do you do that?
If it’s Elephant Hill and Councilman Jose Huizar the answer is simple – you are not even going to know.  By the way, thanks to Scott Johnson of Mayor Sam for finding out about this one, as the Council swapped over 2 million dollars of taxpayer money less than  $500,000 at the behest of Councilman Huizar.

Here’s how the deal worked, and how our elected officials manipulate the system so that you and I stand no chance of knowing what they are doing or being able to participate in a public discussion over their actions.

On November 2nd Councilman Huizar introduced a motion (Council File  11-1877) to sell five acres of the 20 acres of Elephant Hill that the City owns to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy for an unspecified amount of money.  The motion sits around for a while without anyone knowing about it, and then is suddenly sent to the Information Technology and General Services Committee for action.

The what committee?  This is a land use issue, not computers or general services.  Of course that is the beauty of the shell game — no one is ever in a million years going to look at an agenda of the Information Technology & General Services Committee for a major land use deal.  You have to tip your hat to this kind of major league underhanded skullduggery.

So then what you do is with the bare minimum legal notice you agendize the matter for an afternoon meeting of the Committee on November 15th, and at the same time place it on the City Council Agenda for the next day on the 16th for final action starting at 10am.  With the ink still wet on the Committee report, no doubt.

This way the suckers (oops, I mean the citizens you are elected to represent) will never stand a chance of knowing about any of this until it’s too late.  And oh yes, just to give the appearance of propriety, you let one or two of your political allies/political operatives know in advance so they can show up with glowing letters of recommendation in hand to say how groovy you are.

In this instance, ally and political operative Elva Yanez provided the gloss at the Committee meeting.  Some of you may remember Elva as the political operative who on behalf of mayor elect Villaraigosa and Councilman Huizar controlled the LA-32 Neighborhood Council when these politicians wanted to ram through a Northeast LA Interim Control Ordinance a few years ago – to hold the hillside properties hostage and block virtually all building.

Well, it worked out pretty good for Elva.  As a political payoff, the mayor dumped actor and environmentalist Ed Begley Jr. off of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Board and replaced him with Elva.  And oh yes, her relative Alana got a job working for Assemblyman Kevin De Leon. Not too shabby.

Back to our story.  Elva magically appears at the Committee meeting letters in hand to provide glowing community support for this wonderful deal that no one else in LA City knows about.  She, of course, gets accolades from CD14 and the Committee of One/chair Councilman Richard Alarcon.  

That’s right, just to compound the insult, the Committee meeting consists of one elected official — no stinkin’ quorum requirements for the members of the LA City Council, no sir!

And oh yes, you’ll like this one, the motion from Councilman Huizar was so full of technical holes that the Committee of One had to clean up the motion to reflect that the 5 acres is actually being sold to MRCA (Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority), a joint powers shell company only controlled by the SMMC and CD14.  Says so right in the Committee Report.

Not only that, in what can only be called a masterpiece of obfuscation, we discover that the reason that this land use deal is being heard by the Information Technology and General Services Committee is that, ta dum, the Committee is declaring the 5 acres ‘surplus property’ and as such will allow the General Services Department to be instructed to sell the ‘surplus property’ to the MRCA.

If you have any doubt by now how corrosive and undermining of the public’s right to know what’s being done to them by their elected officials this action is — here’s the kicker — there is absolutely no mention either in the motion or the Committee Report of how much we paid for this property or how much it is being sold for!  Not one factual dollar amount.  

Here’s how they did it, and I quote: “DIRECT the GSD to base their sale price on the value of this land as open space, as presented in its completed 2011 Class A appraisal estimate for these parcels.”

Nowhere in here is any mention of Councilman Huizar deliberately overruling the Planning Department and City Attorney in the disposition of Elephant Hill.

Nowhere in here is there any mention of the City then having to shell out some $9.1 million dollars [link] of taxpayer money to settle the ensuing lawsuit by Monterey Investors.  

Nowhere in here is any mention that everyone concerned knows full well that the sale price for these 5 acres is in fact under $500,000 in a cozy prearranged deal.

No indeed.  Instead, Councilman Alarcon happily cleaned up Councilman Huizar’s motion, zipped a Committee Report of One over to the Council in time for the next day’s meeting, and the Council ‘adopted the matter forthwith.”

Forthwith ain’t forthright.  No one has seen a copy of the agreement settling Monterey Investors lawsuit against the City.  No one has ever told the public where the $9.1 million dollars in ‘borrowed money’ came for to pay for the settlement.  No one has ever explained how these 5 acres came to be valued at less than $500,000.

And nobody is going to explain to us how you can do this kind of major land use deal with absolutely no dollar amounts ever being in the record without violating the Brown Act.  Big time.

Even better, I believe that this is the gift that is just going to keep on giving.  Do you want to bet on whether or not this 5 acre parcel controls access to the rest of the 19 acres?  Do you think that would decrease the value of the balance of the property?  Do you think that there’s another deal or two in the works behind the scenes to sell the rest of the property over to the MRCA for a song?  Do you have any doubts why this deal was supposed to slide through the City Council with no one being the wiser?

Humbug, and god bless Council District 14.

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist and currently serves on the Glassell Park Neighborhood Council. He blogs at –cw

Tags: Elephant Hill, Jose Huizar, Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, Elva Yanez, Mayor Villaraigosa, MRCA, City Council, Richard Alarcon, Ed Begley Jr.

Vol 9 Issue 93
Pub: Nov 22, 2011