“BEHIND THE SCENES, WINK WINK”--A firestorm erupted in LA neighborhoods this week after State Sen. Kevin de Leon (photo above an NBC press conference), the second-most powerful man in Sacramento, told KNBC that elected volunteers on LA’s Neighborhood Councils have “strangled” and “handcuffed” and issued “threats” against the Los Angeles City Council over housing development.
De Leon unleashed his bizarre, untrue and unprovoked slam on the air, saying, "I’ve had City Council members say to me, ‘You know what? Officially, I’m going to oppose [Senate Bill 35] but behind the scenes, wink wink, please get it passed, because we have been strangled, we have been handcuffed, by the NIMBYism and the threats from Neighborhood Councils."
Neighborhood Councils contain 2,000 purely advisory volunteers who put in long hours to better their areas. They hear out developers and residents and they take the work seriously. The vast majority are fair-minded. I know this, because the Coalition to Preserve LA has attended 80 such meetings across LA this year — while Kevin de Leon was in backroom meetings.
Neighborhood Council leaders responded fiercely, in this Coalition website post, "Kevin de Leon Called Bigoted and Anti-Diversity after Attack on LA Neighborhood Councils."
But the looming question remains:
Which Los Angeles City Council members, all of whom publicly praise the Neighborhood Councils, slyly told de Leon how they'd mislead them and how they scorned their concerns?
I don't know, because what happens in backroom City Hall stays in backroom City Hall. And de Leon did not return the Coalition's call this week to explain himself — no surprise there.
But I would like to suggest some possible candidates for Top 5 Most Likely City Council Members Who Undermine and Diss the Neighborhood Councils. You may have a candidate that tops my five.
In no particular order:
1) Jose Huizar
Huizar, chairman of PLUM, the City Council committee to which huge developer campaign donations flow, continually defers to developers and does not track the human displacement caused by City Council-approved gentrification. In a rare admission of this, Huizar last year said "we need an odometer" so they can tell what they're doing.
2) Herb Wesson
Wesson, the City Council president, has been sitting for months on campaign finance reform proposed by Councilman David Ryu that would ban LA elected officials from taking money from developers. When asked about his failure to call a hearing on the campaign reform, Wesson told the LATimes in July, "I don't bury anything" — he's just too busy to allow a public hearing.
3) Mitch O' Farrell
O'Farrell, representing Hollywood and environs, after the State of California geologist revealed that an active earthquake fault runs directly through Hollywood — where O'Farrell wants to erect lots of tall glass towers — publicly moaned that worrying too much about fault locations could put a crimp in development.
4) Mike Bonin
Bonin, who represents the Westside, has looked the other way on abuse of Airbnb including the hollowing out of apartment buildings that have been turned into illegal tourist hotels, worsening the area's housing shortage and sending rents nearby skyrocketing. He's now on thin ice with thousands of residents for shutting down lanes on a major commuter route, without serious public hearings.
5) Bob Blumenfield
In the West Valley, Blumenfield backed City Planning to push through LA's latest health-endangering Black Lung Loft — a big luxury housing complex at the site of the demolished Woodland Hills Post Office, just feet from the spewing exhaust of the 101 Freeway. Researchers have begged City Hall to stop harming children by approving any further Black Lung Lofts.
I may have these particular guesses wrong. I don't know which of the 15 City Council members told de Leon how they misled their most involved constituents about opposing a bill in Sacramento that they actually secretly lobbied de Leon to push through.
I do know that the increasingly intense closed-door nature of power in Los Angeles City Hall, its arrogance and its sense of entitlement, hurts LA. Every single day.
(Jill Stewart is the Executive Director of the Coalition to Preserve LA … a citywide movement of concerned residents who believe in open government, people-oriented planning, equitable housing and environmental stewardship of Los Angeles through advocacy and empowering the community.)