Sun, Jul

Corruption at City Hall


LA CORRUPTION - I have said it in the past, but I’ll repeat it again: You could elect Jesus Christ to the LA City Council and within 18 months he’d probably be corrupted. With so many million-dollar contracts, and so many high paid lobbyists and so much political donor money floating around to influence the power brokers, it’s baked into the system.  It’s not just the elected officials who get corrupted. It’s a few of the people inside the Department of Water and Power; it’s a few people who run the LA department of building and safety, and some folks who run the Port of LA. They all end up getting corrupted too.  It’s not just outright bribery, money laundering and extortion either. 

The ethics violations add even more to public distrust, as is the case of former Harbor Commission president, Nicholas Tonsich, who was banned for life from having anything to do with clean air issues at the port by the LA Ethics commission. Yet his company CAEM received millions for the Shorekat on-dock ship emissions capture technology, which Random Lengths News reported on in the last edition of the newspaper. The technology never worked at the PASHA Green Omni terminal. And no one in the city ever seemed to question why the ban was never enforced.

However, just to be clear, the corruptions of a few should not be an indictment of the many, yet it does expose a culture inside that allows it to exist often unchecked. This is what needs to be corrected.

More recently, since the infamous “racist rant recording” a year ago toppled Nury Martinez’ council presidency, City Councilman Curren Price was charged with multiple counts of embezzlement, perjury, and conflict of interest. He denies these charges. Yet others like Mark Ridley Thomas, Mitchell Englander, former Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan and others have faced federal prosecution and jail for their dealings. It’s a bad look for a city that imagines itself as a model for the 21st century. However, we are dealing with a century-old problem.

LA City Hall isn’t the only place where there’s corruption. It’s happening across the county and state because there’s really no one holding the government accountable. The cities of Industry, Carson, Downey, Long Beach, Torrance and others have all had their own share of scandals. And this doesn’t even take into account the crimes of the LA County Sheriffs or LAPD. So, what can we make out of this?

First in my mind is that we believe we live in a strictly transactional economy which is heavily influenced by the money in politics (that everything can be bought for a price ethos), even the departments of government that politicians control. We see in our daily lives that we live under a system where everything seems to be for sale. And yet there are some things that are not and should not be bought and sold — like votes for council actions on developments or  votes we cast to get these people elected in a democracy. Votes should be like the air we breathe — unpolluted. Yet, it’s not. 

Second, there has been a significant decrease in media scrutiny in both large and small cities because of declining advertising revenues and corporate consolidation of the media. Even here in Los Angeles there are local news deserts. Have you ever wondered why the local news stations spend more time reporting on the weather than on good investigative reporting?  It’s due to the chase for ratings and ad revenue. What has devolved from this is infotainment and chatty news-lite programs or features.

What’s happened is that the Fourth Estate has pretty much been gutted, allowing the foxes to watch the hen house. Crime reporting only comes to the surface when the Justice Department and the FBI start sniffing around city halls and handcuffing officials. Sure, once in a while the LA Times finds a bone worth gnawing on, but little else comes from the corporate-owned press which makes astounding profits during campaign seasons. For the corporate press, it’s a transactional equation. I have a good perspective on this being in the media and seeing the growing migration of journalists into PR mouthpieces or seeing the death of independent papers, like the LA Weekly. 

Local governments, large and small, should be budgeting outreach dollars for independent media across the county, and stop pretending that social media is an adequate surrogate for disseminating public information. Platforms like Next Door app, Facebook or even the Ring camera’s Neighbors feed have limited demographic reach. And though these apps rely on information sharing between citizens, the lack of expertise means these apps lack the ability to investigate leads. These apps are a petri dish for disinformation. Even with the rise of so-called “citizen journalists,” there is no replacement  for trained reporters who work a beat covering the halls of government. Google, Yahoo News or Facebook are never going to cover  local news the way you need it to be covered until it hits the national headlines and it becomes sensationalized after someone has been indicted. It’s covered by publications who don’t get paid for this content by digital media.

The other piece that is lacking is that city or county ethics commissions are completely underfunded and understaffed, with little independence from the governments they are entrusted to watch. And they are not given subpoena power to actually investigate anything thoroughly. The end result is that they just catch the careless or clueless.

The first time the city attempted to correct this level of corruption, it was 100 years ago. The Spanish Flu  pandemic was several years-old and a whole new city charter was constructed based upon progressive principles. It’s high time to do it over again and throw out some things and change what’s broken. Los Angeles may be on the verge of a new progressive era of reform.  It’s certainly long overdue.


(For over four decades James Preston Allen has been a guiding progressive political force in the greater Los Angeles Harbor community focusing his keen editorial eye on a multitude of issues both local and regional.  As one of the early supporters of Neighborhood Councils Mr. Allen championed this cause in his editorials, nurtured public support for them and fought for charter reform. Publisher of Random Lengths News where this article was first published.)

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