Since the downsizing of the larger city newspapers and the growth of desktop publishing, local community news sources have stepped in to celebrate, ruminate and investigate their local neighborhoods and politicians. It has become more difficult for local politicians to keep information about their activities under their spin and “politics as usual” is taking a hit.
LA Weekly noted that CD10’s Councilman Herb Wesson’s superior connections helped ease his way into the 10th district in 2005 after then Councilman Ludlow moved over to Labor. The influence continued with Wesson’s virtually uncontested second term. But being accountable to a local community was a relatively new experience for Councilman Wesson. The Neighborhood News (TNN) continues it’s ongoing investigation into one of the Council Office’s first local interactions, an effort to assist some residents in the Western Heights Neighborhood Association (WHNA) to keep temporary traffic barriers and to help with their continued effort to install
TNN recently requested public records of all documents related to this issue from the Los Angeles Fire Dept (LAFD), Department of Transportation (DOT) and Council District 10 (CD10). The information discovered in these documents raises compelling and troubling questions about the councilman’s leadership style.
Did the Council Office overstep its bounds by ignoring due process and required procedures? Did the Council office mislead city agencies and the community with misinformation? Have they become involved and active while publicly claiming they don’t have a position on the issue?
As previously reported in TNN, in 2005 the Western Heights community , including local Fire Station 26 woke up to find themselves surrounded by three traffic barriers. City Hall had passed a motion, introduced by Councilman Ludlow, giving WHNA permission to install the barriers and directed DOT to assist. They did this without any community notification, a violation. The motion also contained inaccurate information and no authorization from the required city agencies. During the investigation TNN discovered there were no supporting documents for the motion in the City Hall archives. Five people handpicked by Ludlow’s office to work with DOT to install the barriers, made decisions about placement without community knowledge or input. At the suggestion of DOT they chose to install a barrier next to the Fire Station which prevented residents from leaving and emergency from entering. In an earlier community survey, this choice received very few, in fact, the least amount of votes.
Ludlow promptly left the district and Herb Wesson ran for his seat. When questioned about the possibility that he was passing through CD10 on his way to becoming Supervisor he promised “I’m going to fill out Martin Ludlow’s term. I’m going to finish the things that he started.” Wesson kept that promise with uncompromising support for barriers despite irregularities. He continues to assist with the ongoing efforts to install a permanent gate next to Station 26.
A Troubling Discovery
The most troubling discovery in the documents provided by CD10 was a lack of the important sign offs, particularly the essential LAPD sign off. Because traffic barriers are only installed because of an excess of certain crimes, prostitution and drug trafficking, LAPD must approve. They were not consulted. There must also be a LAFD “sign off” document which CD10 and the residents in charge, insisted they had.
But in a correspondence between Sylvia Lacy (CD10 Senior Deputy, community liaison and point person for this project) and Fire Captain Luke Milick dated 5/15/2009, Captain Milick responds to Sylvia’s assertion that the temporary barriers currently in place had been approved by the LAFD. He corrects her and says;
“The temporary barrier currently in place was not approved by the Fire Department. The Fire Dept. would not approve a barrier that we can’t drive a fire engine through.”
Sylvia responds and corrects him insisting that;
“The Fire Department did “sign off”/ approve the barriers in the Western Heights Neighborhood.”
Yet, this sign off does not in fact exist. A specific request for a copy of it was submitted to CD10 and they responded with “We do not have this document.” Sylvia confirmed in person that they did not possess any written sign offs. So why did CD10 keep insisting they had one?
What they did have was verbal permission. TNN found that DOT had gone to LAFD’s Inspector O’Connell after the motion passed and received verbal approval from the Inspector to install temporary barriers. In a recent conversation with Inspector O’Connell, he claimed that permission was given with the understanding that the temporary barriers would be up just long enough for DOT to finish impact studies and that ultimately LAFD would have final say over what would be placed in the location. Then CD10 got involved and the project spun out of LAFD’s control.
The staff in the Arson investigation department (where the documents were reviewed) insisted verbal approval is not worth the paper it isn’t written on. There is no such thing as “verbal approval” when it comes to executing city operations. So there was no written sign off from LAFD giving DOT permission to move forward before nor after the motion passed. Apparently DOT didn’t bother to ask for the paperwork and city operations were put in motion.
In a recent conversation with Pauline Chan from the Department of Transportation and in documents received from them, she points out that LAFD had recently approved the installation of a gate at the location next to the Fire Station. But in a discussion with two LAFD officials familiar with the issue (and who prefer to remain anonymous), TNN was told that the approval for the installation of the gate was a separate issue from approving the installation of the temporary barriers. LAFD never signed off on the installation of the current temporary barriers before or after the 2005 motion to install. They were notified by CD10 that the temporary barriers were staying and they would be replaced by a gate installed next to the station. Signage, partial barriers, speed bumps were not an option. LAFD insisted on certain requirements for a gate installation and the sign off they recently provided was to approve the gate (if requirements were met). CD10 asserts that the 2005 motion gives them authority to override LAFD’s concerns. But as previously reported in TNN the motion contained inaccurate information unverified by city agencies and the jury is still out as to whether or not CD10 does not have to give LAFD’s concerns, priority.
Why is CD10 fighting for gates?
In another email sent on 11/5/07, Sylvia Lacy responds to Pauline Chan’s concern with the claim from this writer that the installation of either gates or a partial barrier (allowing traffic to leave and emergency to enter unobstructed) was a neighborhood decision not the Councilman’s choice. Sylvia asserts;
“the configuration of the barriers is up to the neighborhood and the City family should not engage in that discussion. Herb made it clear that this office would not engage in further discussion.”
But in email after email, CD10 and Sylvia Lacy repeatedly assert themselves in the process, issuing directives to agencies right and left to ensure a gate is installed. In the same email she goes on to say that;
“to now make a decision based solely on what a neighbor wishes, over what has been installed by the City and against what the neighborhood group wishes, opens up another whole episode of this situation.”
And what would that episode be? If CD10’s claim is true, that the choice of a gate or partial barrier is a neighborhood decision, then why was Sylvia, a representative from CD10, asserting an opinion (or obvious directive) to DOT to continue with the gate project? Why has TNN discovered emails
placing CD10 in the middle of the ongoing effort to get the gates in place? Why did Ms. Lacy tell a WHNA meeting that Wesson “approved” a gate, but failed to add on that it was ultimately the community’s decision leaving them with the impression that the Councilman was in charge of the decision? Why did she lead DOT to believe it was the concern of one resident when CD10 received many emails from several people in the community with the same concerns?
CD10 Misleads or Misinterprets?
In a letter sent to community barrier project lead Christine Carlson from Rita L. Robinson, General Manager of the Department of Transportation, Rita indicates to Christine that Councilman Wesson’s support of a permanent full closure (gate) was based on polling results they conducted with “results favoring the full closure”. In fact, no documents exist supporting this statement. The documents indicate only that CD10’s polling asked residents if they supported barriers. They received 80 signatures in support of barriers. CD10 eventually received a 90 signature petition from the community indicating a preference for a partial barrier instead of a full gate next to the Fire Station which included many names from the CD10 poll. CD10 dismissed it as did WHNA.
What Happens Next.
Although the residents in support of the barriers and the Council Office have ignored the petitions from the community, the Permit office which has a copy of the petition, hasn’t. When asked for an update on the effort of the group to get the permits needed for the gate, the office replied:
“Due to the controversy that exists within the community, BPW approval of the Revocable Permit (R-Permit) will be required. A board report will need to be prepared by BOE staff.” The B-Permit (BD002811) is the construction permit. - The application for an R-Permit was submitted 2/26/10. Initial application fees of $1,284 were submitted 3/5/10. However, because a board report is necessary, additional fees of $2,514.50 will be required to prepare the board report. At this point, due to staff reductions and work load, the board report may take 8 to 10 months to process. Once BOE management has approved the report, it could take 2-3 more weeks before a meeting is scheduled.”
These are just a few of the troublesome facts the records have revealed. Requests to CD10 since 2005 to explain some of their choices and actions have consistently been met with “the councilman has said all he intends to say on this matter”. In other words, no comment. The Western Heights Neighborhood Association has not held a meeting in over a year. Its regular members have created a Western Heights Homeowners Association, renters not allowed. They have a committee to deal with the barriers. They are not obligated to communicate their activities to the community.