Friday, November 4, 2016

LA-AYKM #4: DEVELOPERS FUNNEL DONATIONS TO CITY COUNCIL THROUGH APPARENTLY UNWITTING ACCESSORIES

A South Bay project that didn't pass muster with the City Planning Commission got approved anyways, with an odd web of donation money, some of it large sums moving through working class households. Those households' residents' own knowledge of the donations was scant, when asked by the LA Times' excellent diggers Emily Alpert-Reyes and David Zahniser (MASSIVE hat tip) on a round of door knocks.

Zahniser provided some of the story behind the story in this Oct. 31 KPCC AirTalk episode, a roundup of the ever-contentious topic of development in LA that also included The Reef, a downtown LA bohemoth. It's 15 minutes well worth the listen to get an overview of local planning and land use.

My favorite part of Emily and Dave's Times piece is the open (emphasis added):

No one is registered to vote at the run-down house on 223rd Street. The living room window has been broken for months. A grit-covered pickup sits in the dirt front yard with a flat tire. 
Yet dozens of donations to local politicians — totaling more than $40,000 — have come from four of the people who have lived there over the last eight years. 
Victor Blanco, a repairman originally from El Salvador, gave the most: 22 donations totaling $20,300 since 2008, according to contribution reports. More than half that money went to U.S. Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Los Angeles) while she was pursuing local, state and federal office, according to contribution reports. 
Asked about those donations, Blanco could not explain why he gave Hahn so much money. 
“I do not remember,” he said, standing in the driveway of the home, located in West Carson. 
Blanco is among more than 100 campaign contributors with a direct or indirect connection to Samuel Leung, a Torrance-based developer who was lobbying public officials to approve a 352-unit apartment complex, a Times investigation has found. 
Those donors gave more than $600,000 to support Hahn, Mayor Eric Garcetti and other L.A.-area politicians between 2008 and 2015, as Leung was seeking city approval for the $72-million development in L.A.’s Harbor Gateway neighborhood, north of the Port of Los Angeles, The Times found. 
The fundraising effort is a case study in the myriad ways money can flow to City Hall when developers seek changes to local planning rules. The pattern of donations from unlikely sources, some of whom profess to have no knowledge of contributions made in their name, suggests an effort to bypass campaign finance laws designed to make political giving transparent to the public. 
At one critical point, Garcetti invoked a mayoral prerogative — which he has used only twice — to reduce the number of council votes required to approve the project. In several cases, elected officials received the money as they were poised to make key decisions about the development, known as Sea Breeze.

The district attorney will now investigate.

After covering planning and land use since 2010 and somewhat refereeing the LA development fight in freelancing for The Real Deal since July of this year, I am unfortunately not surprised by this story. I'm only surprised that somebody in another branch of government is actually doing something about it.


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