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Get it in Writing

RETHINKING LA - When LA’s City Hall wants something from the residents of LA, it sends a written demand with a threat of fees, fines, and penalties for noncompliance. The next round of nasty communication is also in writing and comes with a notice of potential garnishment, liens, and other legal action.
Yet when City Hall makes a promise to the people of LA, it comes in a verbal assurance that gets bookended with “Don’t worry!” and “Trust me!”

The City of LA is fast to find fault with its residents and slow to accept responsibility for its mistakes, a pattern that is demonstrated by its reluctance to put things in writing when it puts the City of LA in an unfavorable position.

Consider the mid-city family who requested permission to park in their driveway, between the curb and the sidewalk. The LADOT inspected their property and a supervisor gave them a verbal assurance that their habit of parking parallel to the sidewalk while leaving it clear was within code. A decade of parking officers respected their unique use of limited space and all was well.

Then the LADOT began writing tickets.

The fight was on but the residents had nothing in writing from the LADOT’s now-retired supervisor.

The LADOT’s General Manager was purportedly following the City Attorney’s “instructions” regarding the new interpretation of the law governing apron parking, a dubious claim for two reasons.

First, the City Attorney advises his client, the City Family, and he doesn’t direct General Managers. Unless they’re simply shifting the blame to him to avoid taking responsibility for the unpopular decision or action.

Second, the City Attorney is often quoted for positions that don’t make it to print. Verbal CA positions are referenced in Animal Services when the volunteer program was iced, in the LAPD when policies and interpretations are debated, and in neighborhood councils when Brown Act challenges are made.

Where is this huge body of City Attorney interpretive work? Why is there no archive of City Attorney opinions that could be used to guide the City Family with some sense of even application of the law and policy?

Within Council District 13, a local community member has engaged in a campaign of Code Harassment against members of adjacent neighborhoods, one that has spanned several years and has disrupted the lives of hundreds of families.

Most recently, 177 families were subjected to Over Height Fence complaints, all within a small neighborhood that is densely populated and home to two gang injunctions.

The families received written notices of fees, fines, and penalties for non-compliance with the city’s 42” limit on front yard fences. Then the City Attorney’s office issued written notices threatening “garnishment, liens, and other legal action” if the bills weren’t paid.

Through it all, the individual families could “buy” a variance for $4800, a form of Code Harassment extortion that legalizes the illegal for a fee.

Councilmember Eric Garcetti introduced a motion calling on Planning, Building & Safety, and the City Attorney to report back with recommendations on creating tools to address the community’s desire to address public safety issues with fences.

It was in writing.

The motion also called for recommendations on lifting the financial claims and liens. This motion was followed up by a written letter to Building & Safety that called for a moratorium on any action regarding existing and new cases.

This was wonderful news to the community members who were on the receiving end of City of LA written claims and threats.

But it didn’t come with written assurance that their specific cases were covered by the moratorium, that the fees, fines, and penalties were frozen or waived, and that the threat of “garnishment, liens and other legal action” no longer applied.

Specifically, the people who had received written claims and threats from the City of LA wanted to receive written notices that the claims and threats had been rescinded.

After all, when the City of LA wanted money, it knew who they were and where they lived. What would be so hard about simply sending a followup letter from the same departments that made the initial claim, putting the new status in writing.

Eight months after the initial barrage of Code Harassment charges, no written verification of the current status has been offered by the City of LA.

Three months after the City Council motion addressing the situation, no written verification of the current status has been offered by the City of LA.

To this day, the 177 families who live under the cloud of Code Harassment have files full of written claims and threats but they do not have a written assurance from the City of LA that they are free to enjoy the verbal promises that simply never make it to paper.

This pattern of “Don’t worry!” and “Trust me!” comes from all directions, including Public Works. Even something as simple as taking the trash out includes relying on verbal assurances from a Supervisor that the location and use of dumpsters is approved.

Of course, city staff gets furloughed, transferred, and retired which leaves residents at the mercy of a verbal tradition of supervision and enforcement that gets backed up by a written system of claims and threats.

With authority comes responsibility and if City Hall wants to truly demonstrate leadership, it will start by taking responsibility for its decisions and actions by putting them in writing, not just the threats, but also the assurances of compliance and forgiveness.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)
–cw

Tags:  Stephen Box, City Hall, Los Angeles, City of Los Angeles, the City, LADOT, City Attorney, CD 13, LAPD







CityWatch
Vol 10 Issue 8
Pub: Jan 27, 2012


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