LA WATCHDOG - Four years ago, on November 7, 2018, the FBI raided the offices and house of then Councilman Jose Huizar.
This set off a chain of events that exposed the widespread corruption at City Hall, eroding what little trust and confidence Angelenos had in the members of the City Council and the Mayor.
Huizar is scheduled to go to trial on February 23 on charges that he violated the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and numerous other federal criminal statutes. The prosecution’s case will be aided by witnesses who have pleaded guilty to helping Huizar facilitate this corruption and have agreed to cooperate with the US Attorney’s Office. They include George Esparza, a City employee and Huizar’s special aide, two bagmen, a well-known lobbyist for Carmel Partners, and his older brother, Salvador, who lied to the FBI about helping disguise the flow of illicit cash.
Despite the overwhelming evidence against Jose Huizar, the conviction of former councilman Mitch Englander, the indictment of Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, and the June conviction of real estate developer Dae Yong Lee (aka David Lee) on fraud, bribery, and obstruction charges, our City Council has failed to make any efforts to clean up its act, including limiting Councilmembers ability over land use decisions in their council districts.
As a result of the disclosure of Nury Martinez’ insensitive and derogatory remarks, the members of the City Council have pledged reforms. They include establishing an independent redistricting commission; removing or limiting the Councilmembers’ direct discretionary power over land use decisions in their districts; reforming the City rule concerning lobbyists as proposed by the City Ethics Commission; strengthening campaign finance regulations; expanding the City Council; and limiting the influence of the public sector unions.
But talk is cheap as we have seen over the last four years.
Will the City Council conduct open and transparent hearings on the proposed reforms? Will the Councilmembers consult with the Neighborhood Councils? Will they hold meetings around the City? Will the proposed reforms make it to the ballot?
Or will the proposed reforms be watered down or even buried in the bowels of City Hall? Or will have to wait four years for another scandal?
Our responsibility as Angelenos who care about our City is to raise hell, hold the Councilmembers feet to the fire, demand openness and transparency, and ensure that meaningful reforms make their way to the ballot, either in a special election or in the March 2024 primary.
At least some good can come from the actions of Jose Huizar and Nury Martinez if they lead to meaningful and robust reforms that will begin the long process of restoring Angelenos trust and confidence in City Hall and our elected officials.
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee, the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, and a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. He can be reached at: [email protected].)