MY TURN--When Councilman Felipe Fuentes (District 7) evicted tenants in the North Valley City Hall, he included a police substation as well as the Sunland Tujunga Neighborhood Council in his purge. Even though a hue and cry was raised by his constituents and this writer; we were told that he had every right to do that. Apparently, who occupies city property is under the purview of the Councilmember in that district.
It opened a Pandora's Box. There are 96 Neighborhood Councils (NC's) in the City of Los Angeles. They receive a budget of $37,500 annually. This must cover their events, flyers and administration. Some pay half their funds in administrative costs ... others don't have an office and parcel out administrative duties and records to their Board of Directors. In keeping with the LA Charter, NC's are supposed to be independent of City government, even though they are a city agency. There is no template on how they are to spend their budget allocation.
The question was raised by the Los Angeles Alliance of Neighborhood Councils (LAANC): if the NC's were part of the City why couldn't they utilize the vacant space owned by the City and also receive a dollar a year lease as some of the other non-agency organizations were paying. This way their budget would be better spent on their stakeholders.
Sounds simple, no? Board of Neighborhood Commissioners ( BONC) member Lydia Grant brought it before her Commission and it was approved to send to the City Attorney for the correct legalese. It is supposed to have the legal approval next week. Then the Rules, Neighborhood Committee can act on it or send it directly to the City Council.
In doing some research on this situation I discovered that the NC Budget Advocates had been requesting a list of LA City owned real estate and vacant land for at least four years. After all, it is considered assets and they were charged with advising on the Mayor's annual budget. At the last Budget Advocates meeting, Matt Szabo from the Mayor's office told the assembled group that such a list did NOT exist and that it would take approximately a year to put one together.
I found this hard to believe. I would assume that these assets would amount to millions if not billions of dollars. In the last couple of weeks the City Council passed a resolution ordering the Banks owning what are called nuisance vacant foreclosures to release them. The City would fix them up and take the cost out of the proceeds when they get sold.
So if the City Council is giving the Banks these instructions ... how about knowing what real estate inventory is in the City portfolio?
When it comes to City money I go to our financial guru Controller Ron Galperin. Not only is he one of the most knowledgeable when it comes to City finances but also the most transparent. Turns out he shares my frustration and bewilderment. The Controller's office oversees money going out ... they don't have jurisdiction on the money coming in like rents, property sales etc.
According to Controller Galperin, "The Controller's Office has been working very hard to compile a list of City-owned properties. Unfortunately, because the lists we've been provided by General Services Department (GSD) are inaccurate and/or outdated and/or incomplete, we've often had to go to other resources to build our database.
For example, we have sought property records from the County Assessor's office. Unfortunately, the Assessor's information doesn't tell us the whole story. For instance some property listed as belonging to the City might belong to the DWP.
Nevertheless, we are determined to build this list--and to publish it on our open data site. What's more, we are determined to build a detailed list that tells us which City agency owns the property and how it is being utilized. These properties belong to the City of Los Angeles and the people who live here. All Angelenos have every right to know what properties their City owns and how they are being used.
I went to GSD looking for some answers. Asset Management comes under their jurisdiction, along with a bunch of other categories. I found their website to be somewhat of a fairy tale or to be kind...wishful thinking. The following is what they profess to do.
The Real Estate Division's mission is to ensure optimal use of all Council-controlled City owned vacant and improved properties and maximize the value of each of these assets. The City relies heavily on the expertise of Real Estate Division in the following areas: acquisitions, appraisals, sales, relocations, leasing, title research, negotiations, property management, energy conservation, and Real Estate Division is committed to providing exemplary services to its customers.
ACCURACY: Every Real Estate Division employee will be committed to maintaining and developing accurate information on its real estate portfolio.
TEAMWORK: Real Estate Division is committed to collaboratively working together within division and other City departments. Since all of our work is so intricately woven together, it is imperative that we are all collegial and cooperative in the performance of City work.
It continues to describe its work
The City of Los Angeles owns and leases real property worth billions of dollars used for diverse public purposes such as office buildings, police stations, fire stations, libraries, public parks, open space, roads and maintenance facilities. Asset Management division negotiates the purchase or lease properties for the City, and annually reviews the capitalization of owned and leased properties to identify refinancing or lease renegotiation opportunities. Also, develops and operates projects jointly with other governments and the private sector to accomplish the real estate needs of the City.
It sure sounds good. Terry Gomes, Budget Advocate Co-Chair and LANNC president, had issued a Public Records Act (PRA) request more than a year ago for the list touted in their Mission Statement. These requests are supposed to be answered in 60 days. Follow up has not produced anything!
Mayor Eric Garcetti prides himself on his administration being at the vanguard of technology and transparency. I sent requests for information to the two people in the Mayor's office who were aware of this situation and Deputy Mayor Barbara Romero. I also sent a few questions to GSD General Manager Tony Royster. Surprise ... Surprise. Not one response. Obviously, having this exposed to our hundreds of thousands of influential readers is not important.
WE are facing a homeless crisis. Some of the open land owned by the City would be viable for people who live in their cars or recreational vehicles, to have a place to park aside from the street. Some of the vacant public facilities could house many of the homeless since the allocation of monies set aside by the City Council isn't sufficient to take care of our needs.
Not knowing, and if there is such a list not distributing it to other City agencies, is disgraceful! The Mayor just completed his annual review of his General Managers. I'd love to see the report on GSD.
I will close with one last quote from the GSD website
Real Estate Division will be the City's resident expert for all real estate issues. Real Estate Division will implement the highest level of customer service and efficiency and is committed to providing detailed review and analysis of existing facilities and sites. Real Estate Division will also be the leader, in providing real estate advice to the Mayor, City Council, City departments and the general public for city owned property. Finally, Real Estate Division will continue to maximize financial and programmatic needs of all city owned properties.
And … a quote from my own personal ‘department of public opinion’: Balder Dash!
As always comments welcome …
(Denyse Selesnick is a CityWatch columnist. She is a former publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: [email protected])
Vol 13 Issue 102
Pub: Dec 18, 2015