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City probing county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas' garage

By Paul Pringle and Jack Leonard

8:13 PM PST, January 16, 2014

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Los Angeles city building inspectors launched an investigation Thursday into whether county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas has an illegally converted garage at his Leimert Park home, where government employees recently performed thousands of dollars worth of work.

The Los Angeles Building and Safety Department opened the investigation less than a day after The Times reported that county crews installed a security system, drywall, an air conditioner and other appliances in Ridley-Thomas’ detached garage.

A search of city databases found no permits for that work or any other improvements to the garage. A source familiar with the property said the garage was being used as an office, complete with a restroom, and appeared to have been converted before the most recent work was done.

The city Building and Safety Department placed a notice of the investigation on its website. “If anybody calls and complains about a politician or anybody, we’ll go out and investigate,” department spokesman Luke Zamperini said.

Generally, permits must be obtained for the installation of restrooms, air conditioners, electrical wiring and drywall, he said. Violators of the city’s permit rules could be ordered to pay fines and correct any improper work, the department website says.

Ridley-Thomas and his spokeswoman did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

The source with knowledge of the work at the supervisor’s garage, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to talk, said county crews replaced older wood paneling with the drywall and, in addition to the air conditioner, installed a flat-screen television, a refrigerator and electric wiring.

The work was done as part of a project to add a security system to the garage.

The county released documents Thursday to The Times that say the “security enhancements” cost $10,038. The source said he was informed that Ridley-Thomas paid for the air conditioner, TV and refrigerator, but it was unclear if he reimbursed the county for any other costs.

The documents, which were heavily redacted, provide no details about the security work and show no reference to the drywall, appliances and electrical wiring.

Principal Deputy County Counsel Dawyn R. Harrison wrote in the county’s response to The Times request for the records that “information which could be used to compromise the security of the homes of the supervisors was redacted as the public interest in non-disclosure of an elected official’s security outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of security measures taken by the local agency.”

The county offers home security systems for the five-member Board of Supervisors as well as for other top county officials, but taxpayer money is not supposed to be spent on unrelated improvements. Supervisors earn an annual salary of $181,292.

The work at Ridley-Thomas' garage was done by employees of the county’s Internal Services Department. Tom Tindall, who retired last year as head of the department, said he was informed before he left his post of the need to upgrade or replace an alarm system.

Tindall said he did not know the details of the Ridley-Thomas project, but work on the walls might have been required to repair damage caused by wiring the security devices.

“The only thing I was a little concerned about is that it was finished space,” he said.

Jim Jones, Tindall’s successor as department director, declined to comment.

Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Michael D. Antonovich said through their spokesmen that the county has performed no work on their homes during the last five years. Supervisor Don Knabe’s spokeswoman, Cheryl Burnett, said she was waiting for more detailed information, but any work done at his house was “not a big security system.”

“He said to me there were lights put up at some point,” Burnett said of her boss.

In 2012, the county spent about $7,400 on security modifications at Supervisor Gloria Molina’s Mt.  Washington home, according to county records.

Molina’s spokeswoman, Roxane Marquez, said the work was done after the Sheriff’s Department for several years strongly advised the supervisor to make security upgrades worth about $12,000. Molina had received threats, Marquez said.

She said the supervisor, whose final term in office ends this year, agreed to only some of the recommendations. The bulk of the work involved upgrades to a gate at the front of the residence and a new alarm system at the home.

“The Sheriff’s Department made clear that the costs could be covered by the county,” Marquez said. “She felt these particular expenses were reasonable.” 

 

paul.pringle@latimes.com

Twitter: @PringleLAT 

jack.leonard@latimes.com

Twitter: @jackfleonard