THE EASTSIDER - As God’s Gift to the Eastside, Jose Huizar, awaits his trial this year, it would seem that he and Kevin De Leon have nothing in common. Huizar led a staggering criminal enterprise, while Kevin is relatively new to LA City, and is simply enduring a recall effort.
But wait, there is a serious, underreported nexus between the two. It’s a Trust for CD 14 called CLARTS, and it’s got a huge pile of money which De Leon has evidently tapped into just as his predecessor, Jose Huizar did.
Courtesy of an Eagle Rock friend, I now have the exact name of the Trust: “Central Los Angeles Recycling and Transfer Station Community Amenities Trust Fund”, more commonly known as CLARTS. I’ve put in a Public Records Request for the description of the fund and the amount currently in it, but don’t hold your breath. The City is pretty slippery about responding to PRA’s.
So let’s go back to the days to when my friend Scott Johnson was running the blog ‘Mayor Sam’s Sister City’. In a great article, he laid the whole scheme out. It’s well worth the read.
“Simply, if the Lopez Canyon Amenities Fund worked in providing funding in the communities impacted by the Landfill, then why not replicate the same idea in the areas impacted by the now city-owned CLARTS location? Thus, a CD 14 Amenities Fund was born. Unfortunately for then Councilman Pacheco, he did not get the chance to fully see his vision of the CLARTS Fund come to fruition as he lost re-election to Antonio Villar in 2003. Since that time, especially under the reign of current Councilman Jose Huizar, issues regarding openness and transparency regarding CLARTS-related expenditures, have become controversial.(even becoming an issue in the 2013 CD 9 City Council Elections). The blunt facts were (and still are) that The Office of Councilman Jose Huizar, ignored numerous California Public Records Acts requests which led to speculation of possible nefarious fiscal conduct that we extrapolate further upon below”
For context, at about the same time as the MayorSam article, I wrote about how going to the NC meetings in the area over CLARTS really got me going with CityWatch.
“Johnson's revelations are of personal interest to me, since back in the day when Mr. Huizar was running for re-election, this fund was the subject of much controversy at a number of El Sereno Neighborhood Council meetings. A community activist and really nice guy named Carlos Morales had filed a public records request for information on the CLARTS fund, and was rewarded for his efforts by being treated really really badly by the Council office. Watching these machinations and their equivalents in Lincoln Heights & Boyle Heights were a large part of my personal journey into community activism -- and not pleasant to watch.
Further, I got to see Huizar's Chief of Staff, Ana Cubas, lie through her teeth at the Neighborhood Council meetings as she stonewalled the community and blew off the public records requests. I say lie because it is preposterous to think that the Councilman's very own Chief of Staff would know nothing about how he moved money around & took care of 'friends'. Ms. Cubas, some may remember, was later rewarded for her efforts as she miraculously carpetbagged her way into Jan Perry's CD 9 in an unsuccessful bid to add another safe (as in Huizar controlled) Latino into what had been historically an African-American District. Fortunately, it didn't work.”
The Larger Issue
Somewhere in this pursuit, our very own Jack Humphreville got interested in the bigger issue of how the City hides all kinds of financial manipulation from the 15 City Council members.
“Over the years, the City Council has systematically diverted funds to their less than transparent slush funds, depriving the General Fund of resources that could have been used to fund more worthwhile projects such as maintaining our streets and sidewalks, building affordable housing, or assisting our ever growing homeless population.
Sources of funds for these slush funds include the Street Furniture Fund (advertising revenues from bus shelters), Oil Pipeline Franchise Fees, the Real Property Trust Fund (50% of the sale of surplus property in a Council District), and AB 1290 Funds (tax increment funds associated with the dissolution of the corrupt Community Redevelopment Agency).
There are also several lucrative slush funds that are under the thumb of individual Council Members. Felipe Fuentes controls the Lopez Canyon Community Amenities Trust Fund while Jose Huizar watches over the disbursements of the controversial Central LA Community Recycling & Transfer Station (better known as CLARTS) Communities Amenities Fund.
Unfortunately, the total amount of money flowing in and out of these slush funds is a mystery that the City Council is unwilling to disclose. But it must be considerable as former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa claimed in 2010 that these “pet project funds” held $40 million, money that he wanted to “borrow” to help close the City’s projected $212 million budget deficit.”
First, while Kevin De Leon is the current face of a CD 14 Councilmember using CLARTS money to pay for goodies to keep himself in office, he isn’t the lone ranger of the practice, and he learned from the best - Jose Huizar, his predecessor.
Second, it is obvious that De Leon is not alone. Who knows what each of the 15 Councilmembers have going on the sly that you and I know nothing about? If you try to use the Public Records Request system, good luck in getting helpful information that will assist you. A few of us have had limited success, but it is just that, and can get you bounced from Department to Department if your request is not detailed enough.
To that end, here’s from a recent PRA response from the CAO:
“The Office of the City Administrative Officer (CAO) of the City of Los Angeles is in receipt of your request for public records regarding a copy of Council District 14's current budget, including any discretionary funds. Please be advised that the CAO has not identified any documents that are responsive to your request, and therefore considers this request completed and closed.
Information on the total budget for City Council, which is not broken out by Council District, can be found on the CAO's website. This is the only budget information available from the CAO.”
(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch. )