Alarcon Avenue

No wonder Richard Alarcon enjoys running for public offices (state senator, assemblyman, city councilman, mayor, etc.): The private sector just doesn't offer as many opportunities to boost the property values of a guy's fiancee.

Of all the secondary highways in all the 6,500 miles of public thoroughfares in all of Los Angeles, Alarcon had to re-designate just one 338-foot stretch of Panorama City's Wakefield Avenue as a "collector street," potentially relieving a developer there from giving up 15 feet of frontyard for an otherwise mandated street-widening. Good thing too, because the developer in question is the woman he married Saturday (two months after proposing the re-designation), and the property affected includes his own official residence.

Alarcon is no stranger to the brazen. He served just weeks in his most recent term in the Assembly before rejoining the L.A. City Council, with its $58,000 extra in annual salary. He's trying to change the boundaries of his district so it will include the house in Sun Valley he prefers to sleep in. He told Times reporter David Zahniser that Wakefield Avenue needed to be kept narrow because, uh, it would help traffic . . . even though his now-wife, Flora Montes de Oca, wants to tear down the house and replace it with as many as nine separate domiciles. Asked about the apparent-though-still-legal conflict of interest -- which would have been illegal had the two been married in June instead of August -- Alarcon said, "Well, we weren't engaged when I did it. Or at least, when the issue came up." The two had actually been engaged since February.

It is, to be sure, entirely possible that this one block of this one street would be best designated as a "collector." But the point of governance in a city as sprawling as Los Angeles shouldn't be the micromanagement of chunks of concrete known to council members only because of the circumstances of their love lives. Stories like these are why people develop cynicism about the purposes and practices of City Hall and question whether this is the kind of service we should expect for $172,000 a year. Alarcon says the conflict can be managed by recusing himself from voting on the proposal, now that he's married. But ethics regulations can only go so far in preventing abuse by politicians who love zoning as much as their wives.

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