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L.A. City Councilman Mitchell Englander to vacate his seat

L.A. City Councilman Mitchell Englander to vacate his seat
Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander said he will vacate his seat at the end of the year. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander said Thursday that he will step down at the end of the year to take a job with a sports and entertainment firm, becoming the second council member in recent years to quit before finishing his term.

In the surprise move, Englander, who represents the northwest San Fernando Valley, will join Oak View Group in January as its new executive vice president of government affairs. Oak View Group is headed by Tim Leiweke, a former executive at Anschutz Entertainment Group.

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In a statement, Englander billed it as a chance to work with “some of the most brilliant and well-respected leaders in their industry.”

“While I didn’t seek this out — sometimes tremendous opportunities find you,” Englander said.

It is unclear when and how a new representative will be chosen. City Clerk Holly Wolcott said the council could call a special election or appoint a replacement. If a special election is called, a caretaker would probably be selected to handle day-to-day constituent concerns for the district, she said.

Because Englander is leaving at the end of the year, “there's plenty of time to figure out the mechanics of how to fill the vacancy,” said Vanessa Rodriguez, spokeswoman for City Council President Herb Wesson.

Englander announced his resignation two years after Councilman Felipe Fuentes, also a Valley representative, quit to become a lobbyist in Sacramento. When Fuentes left early, Wesson became the temporary caretaker of that district until a new member was elected and sworn in.

First elected to the council in 2011 and reelected in 2015, Englander has more than two years left in his term. He is the sole Republican on the council and serves as a reserve officer with the Los Angeles Police Department. Two years ago, he made an unsuccessful run for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, finishing fifth.

Englander sits on two of the council’s most powerful committees — one dealing with the city budget, the other with the police and fire departments. He also represents some of the most politically conservative neighborhoods in Los Angeles, areas frequently resistant to new taxes, critical of the Department of Water and Power and opposed to the construction of multistory housing.

“The North Valley is a little bit different than the rest of the city,” said Kyle Ellis, a member of the Granada Hills North Neighborhood Council in the district that Englander represents. “Folks in my district look at a lot of issues with a little more of a conservative lens.”

Englander, an occasionally prickly presence at City Hall, has sometimes taken stands at odds with the rest of the council. He was the sole vote against raising the minimum wage in Los Angeles, arguing that it might hurt the people it was supposed to help. After the troubled rollout of a new city recycling program, Englander floated the idea of canceling it entirely — an idea that did not ultimately gain traction.

As a councilman, he represented the neighborhood of Porter Ranch as it endured the massive Aliso Canyon gas leak that displaced thousands of residents, and he called for the facility to be permanently shut down.

“Throughout these crises, our community always came together — never running away from, but always toward danger in order to help each other,” Englander wrote in a statement Thursday.

During his tenure, Englander backed the rollout of body cameras for police, sought to crack down on illegal street racing and recently called to make it illegal to download blueprints for 3-D printed guns.

Wesson said Englander “will be remembered as a champion not only for the Valley, but all Angelenos.”

“His ability to reach across parties and personalities to deliver for his constituents is invaluable,” Wesson said in a statement.

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Los Angeles City Council members are paid about $205,000 annually, according to the city’s personnel department.

Thursday’s announcement drew mixed reactions among residents of his San Fernando Valley district: Granada Hills resident Jim Summers welcomed the news, saying his neighbors had become so frustrated with the councilman that they had talked about trying to recall him. Summers said they were unhappy with how he had handled the Aliso Canyon gas leak and his support for new real estate development in Chatsworth, Porter Ranch and Granada Hills.

“He's just sided with the money people, big developers, for a long time over the wishes of the people,” said Summers, a former president of the Granada Hills South Neighborhood Council.

Bill Hopkins, who sits on the Granada Hills North Neighborhood Council, sharply disagreed with that view. Englander recently helped residents scale back a mixed-use development planned on San Fernando Mission Boulevard, taking it from 440 units to 242, he said.

“He could have ignored all the communities and said, ‘I can’t do anything,’ ” Hopkins said. “Instead, he worked with us and the developer to reach a more satisfactory outcome.”

In his statement, Englander called the job with Oak View Group a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” Oak View Group, headed by Leiweke, describes itself as an L.A.-based global advisory, development and investment company for the sports and live-entertainment industries and is part of Azoff Co., led by Irving Azoff.

This year, Oak View Group sought a contract with the parks department to manage the Greek Theatre in Griffith Park, which ultimately went to another company. It spent more than $52,000 this year to try to influence the council and the parks department on issues related to the Greek, according to city lobbying disclosures.

Council members are barred from negotiating future employment with people who have a matter pending before them, according to Ethics Commission materials. Englander spokesman Colin Sweeney said Thursday that “Oak View Group is not and has never been a contractor with the city of L.A., they have no business with the city of L.A., and nothing pending.”

6:15 p.m.: This article was updated with additional reaction and background.

1:05 p.m.: This article was updated with background on former Councilman Felipe Fuentes, who also vacated his seat early, and a comment from Englander’s spokesman.

This article was originally published at 12:45 p.m.

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