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Seek Political Success? Contemplate Naval Duty

Times Staff Writer

It was a long, hot summer for City Council President Eric Garcetti.

There was the everyday job of keeping the council running smoothly, as well as a slew of hot-button issues with which he had to contend.

The list included wrangling a ballot measure to ease term limits for the council through the council -- it was harder than it sounds! -- and dealing with the delicate issue of which naughty words people could use when testifying before the panel.

After this Friday’s meeting, the council adjourns for a two-week recess. And that’s where we’ll begin.

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Question: How is Garcetti spending his vacation?

Answer: In the Navy.

That’s right -- the 35-year-old Garcetti is heading to Pensacola, Fla., for a two-week training session as an intelligence unit officer in the Naval Reserve.

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Garcetti joined the Navy last year and has been attending weekend training sessions once a month in San Diego. There is also the possibility he will be called up to active duty in the next eight years.

Driven by patriotic pride? Or politically savvy?

“I’m a proponent of mandatory national service, and I think we have sacrificed very little in my generation,” Garcetti said, explaining his decision to join. “I think this will help me understand foreign policy better when I return to that sort of work in politics and outside.”

A secondary reason, Garcetti said, is that he is considering running for Congress, and having military experience will help him do that job better.

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It’s hardly a surprise that Garcetti has set his sites on Washington. He studied diplomacy in college and taught it at Occidental College before his election to the council in 2001. He has also spent time living overseas in England, Myanmar, Eritrea (in North Africa) and Japan.

At Pensacola, he’ll be staying in a barracks, learning to shoot and making his bed military-style, studying naval history, swimming and learning how to disrobe in the water and making a flotation device with his clothes by inflating them like an air mattress.

Garcetti joked that after this summer he’s looking forward to taking orders from someone else. How’s this: Swab the decks, Mr. Council President!

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Q: How is Project Restore restoring City Hall?

A: By setting it on fire.

The nonprofit organization that promotes historic preservation of buildings ignited a blaze in City Hall on Saturday night with poorly aimed fireworks at its annual gala fundraiser.

Fireworks have been part of the show in the past, but this year they didn’t work out too well. One ember poked a hole in the ninth-floor office belonging to the Department of Public Works and blew up when it hit a wall. That triggered the sprinkler system, dousing more than a dozen desks and computers.

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“The thing that was the most disturbing was the smoke emanating from the ninth-floor window,” said one attendee of the event, who spoke on condition that he not be identified because he “didn’t want to embarrass the city any further.”

“There were rockets hitting the building like a missile,” said Councilman Tom LaBonge. “I said to someone ‘watch the palm tree,’ and sure enough, the palm tree got it.”

Giant fans were running in the ninth-floor offices Monday morning as crews examined a giant scorch pattern on the wall, complete with a pock mark where the explosive struck.

Water damage, either from sprinklers or Fire Department hoses, extended from the seventh through ninth floors and also on the fourth floor, including in some of the council offices. There are no estimates yet on the cost of the damage.

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“I think you have to look at the bright side,” Project Restore chief Ed Avila said Monday. “The response was immediate and effective.”

And, he added: “One thing for sure, City Hall won’t burn down. The fire system installed worked just like it was supposed to.”

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Q: Isn’t downtown Los Angeles filled with many tall buildings where it may not be a wise idea to stage a fireworks show?

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A: The National Council on Fireworks Safety could not be reached for comment Monday.

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Q: Did multimillionaire developer Geoff Palmer catch a break from the city?

A: No.

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As this column detailed last week, Palmer was seeking a waiver from city law that requires him to set aside for affordable housing 15% of the units in an apartment building that his firm is putting up downtown.

The new building, the 350-unit Lorenzo, would be one of several Italian-themed apartments that Palmer has built in downtown over the last decade.

But the Planning Commission last week ruled 4 to 0 against Palmer’s request. Surely the fact that Palmer has a combined $38 million in homes in Malibu and Beverly Hills had nothing to do with it.

Palmer can appeal the ruling to the full council but there is no word yet from company officials if he’ll do so.

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Q: What giant city isn’t the Tour of California visiting next year?

A: The City of Angels or, in this column’s view, the City of Low Expectations.

The tour is a professional bike race modeled on the Tour de France. More than 1.3 million spectators turned out to watch the inaugural race in February.

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Here’s a partial list of the recently announced cities that will host the 2007 race with a brief editorial comment.

Sacramento: Moo.

Stockton: Moo.

Santa Clarita: Moo.

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Solvang: Triple moo.

Race organizers didn’t return calls about the routing, but there is no sign that anyone in City Hall in Los Angeles lobbied for the tour to be here.

The Tour de France finishes each year under the Arc de Triomphe in a little city known as Paris. The Tour de California?

It winds up in Iowa-by-the-Sea, a.k.a. Long Beach.

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Q: Why wasn’t last week’s column online?

A: A technical glitch that has since been fixed. That column can be found at www.latimes.com/termlimits. Our apologies.

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Times staff writer Steve Hymon can be reached at steve.hymon@latimes.com. Readers from Sacramento, Stockton, Santa Clarita and Solvang should write “moo you” in the subject line.


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