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Councilwoman Perry Attends to Civic Doody

Times Staff Writer

On a recent Saturday morning, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry was in her downtown home having breakfast when she got a panicked phone call.

The weekly farmers market in South Los Angeles was about to begin, and there was a problem. A man who often lives in a park just off Central Avenue had done something dog-like on the sidewalk, and no city crews could be found to help with the cleanup.

Perry first called 311 -- the city’s all-purpose help line for residents -- and then jumped in her car and motored down to the market.

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Question: Does Perry take matters into her own hands?

Answer: Take it away, councilwoman:

“I realized that we weren’t going to get any assistance in time, so I went to a market next door and bought a bottle of bleach,” Perry said. “And then the local beautification team got a shovel, and we cleaned it up ourselves. I was upset because there were little kids walking down the sidewalk.”

Not only did Perry clean it up, but she had someone take photos of her doing so. And then she called a reporter to report she had photos. Obviously, Perry was looking for some ink.

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“I want people to understand what the real-life impacts are when you allow people to live on the street, whether they are living there voluntarily or not,” Perry said. “The individual who did this has a home, but he is acutely mentally ill.

“What bothered me was seeing kids walking down the sidewalk with their families at a farmers market that we’ve nurtured for three years -- and it’s been a struggle to get it going -- and it’s not normal to have to step around something like this to go shopping for healthy food.”

Perry has been an advocate for allowing the police to sometimes move people off the streets. That has put her at odds with the American Civil Liberties Union, which has argued that using police to sweep homeless people off the streets can lead to harassment and is unfair in a city without enough shelter beds.

It is a difficult policy issue and one that seems no closer to being solved. There are thousands of homeless in the L.A. area, but not enough shelters or supportive housing. And even if there were, it’s not clear how many people would use it.

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This much can be said: “I deal with this sort of thing almost every single day,” Perry said.

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Q: What official protocol gift will council members soon be giving visiting dignitaries?

A: A magnifying glass.

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Council President Eric Garcetti recently distributed the new gift to his colleagues. He said he designed it himself -- one side bears an image of City Hall above the words “Los Angeles City Council” -- and he chose the magnifying glass over other options such as pen sets and a Los Angeles snow globe.

“It says we believe in sunshine and openness,” Garcetti said. “And it can be used both as a paperweight and for reading legislation late at night.”

In other words, the fine print. And, in this case the fine print on the back of the magnifying glass says “Made in Taiwan.”

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Q: Will stopping lobbyists from donating money to city candidates make a difference at City Hall?

A: You decide.

In fact, Los Angeles voters will get the chance to decide at the polls Nov. 7. A ban on lobbyist donations is part of a ballot measure that would also ease term limits for the City Council.

So, for those who don’t mind a civics lesson with breakfast, we’ll take a look at each of the ethics proposals in this column over the next several weeks.

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In 2005, candidates for city office in Los Angeles raised a total of about $20 million. Of that, $327,045 came from registered lobbyists -- or about 1.6% of all donations.

The city Ethics Commission has recommended in the past that lobbyist donations be banned. One reason is to counter the perception that City Hall can be bought by people paid to influence elected officials.

The other reason is that most of the money that lobbyists donate -- 87% in 2005 -- is given to incumbents, a sign that perhaps the lobbying community is trying to keep its friends in office.

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Q: Would the proposal stop donations from people or firms doing business with the city?

A: No -- and this is significant. Most lobbyists represent at least several clients, and those clients can still donate to campaigns. Most of the money donated or delivered to elected officials by lobbying entities in recent years hasn’t been from lobbyists but from their clients.

As one lobbyist who spoke on the condition that she not be named said: “It’s not about the check that comes from me, it’s about the check [to candidates] that I request from my clients.”

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Q: Do lobbyists really have that much sway over the council?

A: Sometimes. In late April, the Department of Water and Power board voted to increase the two fees that cable television companies pay the city to hang their wires from DWP poles.

One fee went from $5 to $15, the other from $10 to $30. It was the first change since 1999, when the fees had been lowered.

Cable firms and their lobbyists complained to the council, which quickly acted to veto the rate hike, with only Jack Weiss dissenting. Tony Cardenas was absent.

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It didn’t matter because DWP chief Ron Deaton exercised his authority to raise them anyway.

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Q: And the moral of the story?

A: The lobbyist who represented the cable firms was Matt Klink of Cerrell Associates. In the last six years, he has donated $100 total to one council candidate -- Alex Padilla.

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Over the same time period, the Los Angeles Cable Operators Assn., which fought the DWP rate hike, has given $28,499 to council candidates.

If the ballot measure passes, Klink will be forbidden to donate any more money. But the cable operators can keep right on giving.

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Q: Any bold ideas for the council after it returns from recess in two weeks?

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A: This column is always on the prowl for initiatives that politicians may be too busy to think of themselves.

Take the matter of the Pearson’s salted nut roll, a candy bar. Not to editorialize, but it is extremely scrumptious and also very difficult to find in the L.A. area because it is made by a St. Paul, Minn., company and not widely distributed here.

Maybe the council could do something about it?

Councilman Dennis Zine -- who is always a good sport -- was willing to consider the issue. Last Tuesday, he sat at a conference table in his City Hall office and taste-tested a salted nut roll alongside a Payday bar, its closest equivalent in local stores.

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“Mmmmmm ... ,” Zine said, demolishing the nut roll in a few bites.

“You’re not allergic to peanuts are you?” asked Chief of Staff Sharon Sandow -- although it should be noted that she first waited for her boss to take several bites.

Zine then similarly devoured the Payday bar, examined the wrappers for nutritious content, mentioned something about a program he’s developing to get more city employees gym memberships, then rendered his verdict.

“I think the nut roll has a much less negative impact on your body, and it’s much tastier,” Zine ruled. “In fact, I’m going to order a box of them.”

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So there you have it. And we look forward to Zine leading the city’s effort to make Los Angeles, the City of Low Expectations, a happier place by finding a way to bring nut rolls to the city when the council reconvenes Sept. 5.

In the meantime, this column is also going to take a recess of two weeks to recombobulate and reload for a busy fall legislative season.

Until Monday, Sept. 11, we are adjourned.

Steve Hymon can be reached at steve.hymon@latimes.com.

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