Mon, May

Forty-five Years after Watergate: ‘If LA City Council Does It, It’s Legal’


IT’S THE ECONOMY STUPID, PART III-Corruptionism destroys the economy. Speaking on Meet the Press on Sunday morning, November 20, 2016, political analyst David Frum warned that the greatest present danger to the economy comes from corruptionism. Basically, no one cared. 

My response to Mr. Frum is, “Welcome to LA, citadel of corruptionism.” I am marking my calendar for eighteen months from now to see if Mr. Frum’s prediction comes true: that in early 2018, the media will be aghast at the rampant corruptionism flowing from the Trump Administration. While Mr. Frum may be absolutely accurate about the corruption soon to be unleashed in the nation’s capital, it is not clear that anyone will care. 

In Washington, the only thing which is truly bipartisan is corruption. Some of us remember when Senator Leahy complained about the war profiteering in Iraq. Vice President Cheney told him to “go f–k yourself.” Did anyone step forward to stop the vast corruptionism back then or did all of Washington fall in line behind Cheney? When speaking about it years later on the Dennis Miller radio show, Cheney remarked, “You'd be surprised how many people liked that,” then added, “It’s sort of the best thing I ever did.” 

Why is Corruptionism Bad for the Citizenry? 

For a candidate who ran on “It’s the Economy, Stupid” against a candidate who felt that the “Status Quo is OK,” corruptionism is a gigantic threat. Let there be no mistake: Trump’s “Make America Great Again” theme pandered to the racists and the bigots and the xenophobes, but his core promise was to fix the economy. He proclaimed there would be a 4% growth -- nay 6% growth -- rather than the 2% current growth rate. The reason to throw out all the illegal Mexicans wasn’t just because he thought that, with but a few exceptions, they were rapists and criminals, but that they were taking American jobs. Trump’s xenophobic attack on NAFTA was to make America great again by bringing jobs back to our shores. 

Corruption by definition is the diversion of resources away from the honest people in order to line the pockets of those who have the power to loot. The ways of corruptionism are as vast as human ingenuity itself, but one principle holds true: Corruption always steals billions of dollars from the productive segment of society in order to enrich the criminal element. 

If Mr. Frum is correct, over the next several months, President Trump will form a government in which businessmen, foreign and domestic, will know the “point men” in the Trump Administration who will dole out favors from the Administration. This modus operandus is not new to Washington as we have seen with the no bid contracts given to Halliburton during the era of Iraq War Profiteering.

Like Politics, Corruptionism is Local 

Just as all politics is said to be local, corruptionism is also local. Just as the Trump Administration has an affirmative duty to employ sound macro-economics to protect the nation’s economy from destructive forces, our local government has a similar duty. But the City of Los Angeles has failed miserably. 

There is a reason Family Millennials are fleeing Los Angeles and that Los Angeles has lost more employers than any other urban area. There is a reason that Los Angeles has the worst traffic congestion in both the United States and Europe, despite spending billions of dollars on subways and light rail. There is a reason that the rest of Los Angeles’ infrastructure is crumbling and our water mains are constantly bursting. There is a reason that people are needlessly dying because we have a truncated paramedic force and why the Police Protective League has started assailing the mayor for under-funding the LAPD. 

Mediaeval Feudalism is Alive in Well in Los Angeles 

For over a decade, Los Angeles has been run like a 13th Century feudal enclave where the Prince rules by divine right and all his vassals are allowed to be absolute lords and masters of their fiefdoms (council districts) -- provided they maintain their fealty to Prince Garcetti. 

Under the Garcetti System, each Lord is guaranteed absolute and unanimous support by all the other Lords for whatever deal he makes with a real estate developer. Without the guarantee of unanimous support, the councilmembers could not be making any deal they wished with any developer. 

Let’s look at Garcetti’s gift of $17.4 Million to his favorite developer, CIM Group, for its project at 5929 Sunset Boulevard. As this CW article pointed out, LA Weekly had termed CIM Group as Los Angeles’s richest slum lord, yet that did not stop millions of dollars from flowing to CIM Group without any opposition from the LA City Council. The 23-story tower was constructed in violation of a court order without any council opposition.   

Are we to believe that no other councilmember thought that there were better uses of city revenue than to give tens of millions of dollars to LA’s richest slum lord? It did not matter what any other councilman thought since they were all obligated to approve the project with all its corrupt strings because that is what the Lord of Fiefdom CD 13 wanted. 

When the Lady of Fiefdom CD 9, Jan Perry, wanted hundreds of millions of tax dollars for the downtown hotels, all the councilmembers approved. According to the LA Times, in May 2011, the projected cost to the City was $640 million. 

Play Ostrich and Sick Your Head in the Sand 

No one wants to hear how the feudal organization called the Los Angeles City Council throws the doors wide open to corruptionism. Apparently, no one in LA has ever heard of Lord Acton’s maxim that “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” No one, least of all the District Attorney, wants to look at a system whereby all councilmembers have to support all projects in another fiefdom -- including the gifts totaling billions of public funds -- because the Lord or Lady of each fiefdom is the absolute ruler within his or her realm. 

With the LA Times’ expose of the bribery in connection with the Sea Breeze Project in fiefdom CD 15, however, the peasants may become unruly. They just might maybe able to begin to discern a connection between City Council’s unanimous voting and corruption. What would Los Angeles be like if a councilmember could not guarantee approval of each and every behind-the-scenes deal that he or she made with developers? 

The City is Above the Law 

With the Sea Breeze revelations and the advent of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative (which is aimed to stop Spot Zoning,) a major form of developer corruption at City Hall is being revealed. Thus the Prince and his vassals are in a panic. But, not to worry. The courts are riding to the rescue – ready to provide the glue that holds together the Los Angeles City council’s Vote Trading Agreement which requires each councilmember to approve every project in another’s fiefdom. 

This vote trading arrangement is why Councilmember Paul Krekorian can guarantee developers that they can trash Valley Village with impunity. Not a single councilmember had the courage to register even a protest vote against the wanton and unnecessary destruction of Marilyn Monroe’s Valley Village home 

Since rational people know that a group of 15 human beings cannot unanimously agree on thousands of consecutive votes without the “I’ll Scratch Your Back if You Scratch My Back” vote trading agreement, Judge Fruin has initially ruled that the Los Angeles City Council’s voting procedures are above the law. According to Judge Fruin’s Tuesday, August 23, 2016 tentative decision in the SaveValleyVillage Case (#BS 160608), the courts, or at least his courtroom, will no longer question the City Council’s actions. Why? Because its behavior is “Non-Justiciable.” And, like the City has asserted, “In short, the judicial branch of government is not the overseer of the other two.” 

Since the probability that the 99.9% unanimous voting we see at LA City Council could only occur by pure chance is less than once-in-infinity, one can see the need for the courts to hold that City Council’s conduct is non-justiciable. After all, how else can all these prerogatives of the Lords and Ladies and the Prince Himself be protected from the serfs’ complaints? 

For Angelenos, the idea of perpetual and eternal unanimity seems to be the natural order of things, kind of like King James I of England and his Divine Right of Kings theory. Now, it seems that the courts are set to support this James I approach to government. Another politician who attempted this type of absolute rule was Richard Nixon when he declared during Watergate, “If the President does it, it is legal.” 

Almost 45 years after Watergate, we have a California judge echoing that same doctrine – the government’s behavior is non-justiciable.


(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles Attorney. He can be reached at [email protected]. Abrams’ Views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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