THE GUSS REPORT-(Editor’s Note: This Daniel Guss piece was posted on CityWatch on August 9. We offer this in-case-you-missed-it ‘replay’ because David Zahniser’s excellent column in Thursday’s LA Times flushed the financial struggles of City Council president Herb Wesson the top the LA politics conversation again. It’s worth a second read.) Herb Wesson is one of the most influential and talented local lawmakers in the United States. As President of the Los Angeles City Council, former Speaker of the California Assembly, and recipient of a consistent and generous government paycheck and perks since 1982, the irony of his potentially losing the homes he and his wife Fabian own is immense. Yet that is the dangerous dance they have narrowly sidestepped as far back as 2002 and as recently as a few weeks ago.
Their former residence in Ladera Heights, which sits on an earthquake fault line, was first in default 14 years ago this month. But as recently as a few weeks ago, the Wessons were notified that the million dollar house would be sold at auction for just $382,229.50 in July if their obligations were not immediately satisfied. They have received similarly ominous warnings virtually every year since 2011.
That house, according to the Council President’s filings, provides the Wessons between $10,000 and $100,000 in rental income per year by leasing it to a Pasadena-based business that uses it as a for-profit assisted living facility. (That company was cited this summer by the Department of Social Services for having broken appliances, indoor furniture and exposed trash in the yard, and poor maintenance of patient records.)
Wesson’s office did not respond to a request for an interview regarding why that revenue was not used to satisfy the latest mortgage default, what conditions presently exist in the house, what is its current ownership status and the condition of its residents.
Things are more worrisome for the city’s leading lawmaker when it comes to the home in which he and his wife reside. Earlier in 2016, they were in default by $33,248.24, an amount similar to earlier default notices and more than double those from earlier years at the other property.
One mortgage executive, who estimates that that figure represents roughly eight months of missed payments, says that it makes no sense that the properties have not yet been seized and sold. “With their hefty income, significant equity and one property being a revenue-generating, non-owner occupied home, no lender would knowingly say that is a hardship worthy of a refi[nance]. I would want to see their loan docs [to determine among other things] whether they have represented to their lenders that they are the occupants of the home they’re leasing out … A refi in that type of situation would be a big no-no.” The executive also points out that the Wessons may have cured their defaults with money from a source other than a refi.
According to Wesson’s Ethics Commission filings, their combined household income in recent years ranges between $200,000 and $500,000 per year. They enjoy the city’s Cadillac-level health insurance plan and free automobiles that the taxpayers also fuel, maintain and insure at no cost to them, leading to the question: how is it they are able to hold foreclosure at-bay?
Perhaps it is because some of the defaults are in Wesson’s legal first name, Herman; others are in his more familiar name, Herb, with and without his Junior suffix; and others are in his wife’s name. It should be noted that one of his sons is similarly named Herb Wesson III who, like one of his brothers, is also employed in a City Council staff position.
Complicating matters even more, Wesson has not recused himself from voting on City Council agenda items that relate to the rotation of lenders who hold and hand-off their defaulting mortgages like a hot potato. Wesson’s office, in response to multiple public records requests, says no records exist regarding those votes.
While some of the Wesson’s problems stem from a massive federal tax lien, as well as a state tax lien, their mortgage woes predate those liens by at least six years.
At an event last year, Wesson told a sidebar of constituents concerned about their personal and community’s economic woes that their “suffering is God’s way of testing your faith.” But by that measure, Wesson’s own faith is being mightily tested, as well. The question is, since Wesson has the ability, authority and talent to do something about their situations and his own, why hasn’t he?
While this may explain a bit why Sacramento and the City of Los Angeles are in a perpetual fiscal morass, it might be time for Wesson to offer a confession of his own … or at least an explanation.
(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a contributor to CityWatchLA, KFI AM-640, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Business Journal, Los Angeles Magazine and others. He blogs on humane issues at http://ericgarcetti.blogspot.com/. Daniel Guss opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.