Controversial Chamber Consultant Resigns : Redevelopment: Activists had questioned the use of taxpayer money to pay an ex-aide to Councilman Michael Woo. She was hired to organize merchants.
A consultant hired at city expense to organize Hollywood Boulevard merchants has quit the $50,000-a-year job just as a city official and activists were questioning the use of taxpayer money for her salary.
The consultant, Nina Dunavan, has been a source of controversy since her contract was approved in May, 1990. The contract, which was up for renewal last week, has been put on hold while city officials determine whether they want to try to find a replacement.
A former aide to Hollywood-area Councilman Michael Woo, Dunavan was quietly given the contract by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which hired her on the same day it received the money from the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency. Dunavan, who recently married and changed her name from Greenberg, was given the contract at Woo’s urging, without advance notice and without competitive bids.
Dunavan was on vacation last week and did not return several calls seeking comment on her resignation.
In the last year, Dunavan and her contract have been a source of conflict in Hollywood. Some Hollywood community activists, who have long been at odds with Woo because of his vigorous support of the CRA’s Hollywood redevelopment plans, cite the contract as evidence that Woo, the CRA and the chamber are secretly working to plan the $922-million revitalization project without regard for local merchants and residents.
The loosely worded contract required Dunavan to organize merchants in the Hollywood Boulevard area into an assessment district. The district would raise money from merchants to upgrade the boulevard’s appearance and improve services.
In the last year, however, the merchants repeatedly rejected Dunavan’s attempts to organize them.
In memos to the CRA, Dunavan said she gave up on the assessment district after several months of work and concentrated on meeting one-on-one with merchants, property owners and developers to secure their support for programs to clean up Hollywood Boulevard. Such projects included helping to raise almost $20,000 for police bike patrols and helping to organize a cinema district to draw more moviegoers to Hollywood.
On June 6, the CRA board approved spending $54,250 for the second year of Dunavan’s contract, or $1,750 less than last year’s contract, which included the $50,000 salary plus expenses. The contract was awaiting approval by the City Council committee that oversees the CRA, and by the full council, when Dunavan resigned earlier this month.
Dunavan’s resignation, which was not announced or publicized, occurred shortly after the chamber suddenly withdrew its support for her contract, and after a July 31 City Council committee hearing in which her relationship with merchants, Woo and the CRA was sharply criticized.
Chamber President Brooke Knapp said she began to feel “very uncomfortable” with the contract after a labor lawyer told her that it could create problems because of changes in state law regarding independent contractors.
Cooke Sunoo, project manager of the CRA’s Hollywood redevelopment effort, said he was disappointed by the chamber’s decision not to accept the money.
“We’ll be losing a very effective organizer on the boulevard,” he said of Dunavan.
During the committee hearing, three Hollywood activists questioned what Dunavan did to earn the money. Some complained that they wanted a say in who this year’s organizer should be, or that they would rather see the money spent on hiring another police officer to fight crime along the blighted boulevard.
Critics told committee members that existing civic organizations would be better suited to spend the next allocation of taxpayer money, contending that Dunavan was hired to do the bidding of Woo, her former boss, and the CRA.
“I question whether any work was done by (Dunavan),” activist Howard Watt said. “Now you’re giving them $54,000 more, and we the citizens want to know exactly how that (first year’s) money was spent.”
One committee member, Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, told Sunoo that he was concerned about the lack of competitive bidding and suggested that the chamber should have been allowed to pick its own consultant.
Yaroslavsky also questioned the appropriateness of Woo’s lobbying to get his former staff member working for him in his district with taxpayer-funded redevelopment money.
“This is the complaint my staff has had and other people have had,” Yaroslavsky said. Despite being on a different payroll, he suggested, Dunavan was essentially still functioning as Woo’s deputy. “That’s sort of what this comes down to.”
Woo and CRA officials defended the contract, saying that they gave it to Dunavan because time was short and because competitive bids were not required.
Sunoo said CRA officials felt betrayed by the chamber’s sudden about-face. He also said officials might try to find another consultant to replace Dunavan and another group to replace the chamber as the recipient of the money.
“But we have to wait until the dust clears first,” a CRA official said.