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This long goodbye is an overblown extravaganza

Times Staff Writer

The only things missing were dancing bears, strippers and a man being shot out of a cannon.

I’m talking, of course, about the farewell to Los Angeles City Councilman Alex Padilla that chewed up two hours of last Wednesday’s council meeting. The party included cheerleaders singing out his name and a marching band. Seriously.

Padilla was elected to the state Senate last month, so he’s resigning his job to spend much of his time in lovely Sacramento. Amazingly, Padilla is both the youngest member of the council and its most tenured, having first been elected in 1999.

We’ll get to the three-ring circus that was his send-off in a moment -- but first a few words about the state senator.

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In the nearly two years that I’ve covered Padilla, he has never ducked an interview and was always a gentleman, even when The Times published stories that didn’t make him look so great.

He is also someone who is deeply proud of his public service and his heritage as the son of Mexican immigrants.

His father, in fact, still works as a cook at Du-par’s restaurant in the Valley. When he finally purchased a home a few years ago, Padilla chose a small one in the modest community that is Pacoima. Bel-Air it’s not.

In other words, this column wishes Padilla well in his journeys and will miss, for now, rummaging through his voluminous campaign fundraising reports.

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That said, if you work for Alex Padilla, right now might be a good time to turn the page.

So what was the farewell like?

The craziest part had the marching band and cheerleaders from Padilla’s alma mater, San Fernando High School, appearing before the council.

The cheerleaders even had a cheer that spelled out his name.

Then came the 30-minute video tribute.

Near the top, a female narrator -- with the kind of soothing voice you might hear on an infomercial hawking vacuum attachments -- had this to say:

“It was [then-Councilman Richard] Alarcon’s election to the Senate that left Alex’s community without a representative on the City Council. Alex saw it as his responsibility to run for the office so he could work to address the many needs of his community.”

Isn’t Padilla’s election to the state Senate leaving his community without a representative on the City Council?

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Yes.

And the district will not have a vote in city or district-related matters until a successor is elected, either in the March primary or a May runoff.

What else was on the video?

“He focused time and resources on providing the basic infrastructure that people take for granted,” intoned the narrator. “Gutters, curbs, street lighting. It wasn’t glamorous, but it made a difference for residents.”

Then, over a series of photos of Padilla looking very statesmanlike:

“Alex’s future couldn’t be brighter. A grateful city thanks Alex Padilla for all he’s done and all he will continue to do for the people of Los Angeles.”

Then, over a photo that showed Padilla in silhouette at the end of one of City Hall’s long corridors, the narrator said: “To be continued.”

The only thing missing: “Paid for by the Committee to Elect Alex Padilla Mayor of Los Angeles in 2011 or 2013 or maybe 2017.”

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And the council’s role in this?

The video, quite naturally, included each member of the council giving a tribute to Padilla.

And -- you guessed it -- when the video concluded, each member of the council then felt compelled to give a live tribute as well.

That was about the time I scribbled “get a room” in my notebook.

How much time did the council spend this past May to honor 30 city employees who performed beyond the call of duty?

Five minutes.

The rest of the ceremony had to take place on one of the City Hall patios.

And who organized this great going away?

Padilla’s staff. The video was done in conjunction with the city’s cable television channel, which usually produces videos -- yes, at taxpayer expense -- whenever an elected official leaves the city.

As for the length of the ceremony, Padilla spokesman Bill Mabie needed but two seconds to come up with this quip: “We can’t control the quantity of people who wanted to say good things about him.”

Surely not everyone in the city’s 7th Council District believes Alex Padilla is that great?

There are few things this column more heartily enjoys than providing counter-programming.

Just two weeks ago, at one of his final meetings, Padilla denied public comment to residents of his district who had come to City Hall to protest a 39-unit subdivision proposed for Lake View Terrace.

The developer: Mark Handel, a Padilla campaign donor.

The Planning Department and the Planning Commission had recommended against the development, citing concerns that the homes would consume too much open space near the San Gabriel Mountains.

Planners also expressed some unease about an earthquake fault under the property.

After the project’s size was cut in half, Padilla won approval for it from his peers on the council’s planning panel and, on Nov. 21, from the full council.

One of the residents who came to City Hall that day, only to be denied a one-minute chance to express her opposition to the project, was Amanda St. John, a member of the Lake View Terrace Homeowners Assn.

What does St. John think of losing her councilman to the state Senate?

“I’m delighted to be rid of him, although I also think he’s going to cause trouble up there,” St. John said.

Mabie, the Padilla spokesman, said the councilman worked out a compromise to cut the number of homes to be built in half and also won a slew of conditions that will make the project a good neighbor in Lake View Terrace.

“That has been his track record -- cutting density and improving the aesthetics and incorporating changes that the community advocates for,” Mabie said. “For every person you make happy, you’re going to find folks that aren’t.”

As for not giving time to the residents to address the council, Mabie said it was common to waive public comment for projects that already had been heard in committee.

St. John’s reply: “What would it have taken him to let us speak for four minutes? What was so damning was for him to muzzle his own constituents.”

Was there anything else on the council’s agenda that residents had to wait around for while Padilla was feted?

The not-so-small matter of whether the council would override the mayor’s veto of a $2.7-million settlement in the lawsuit brought by Tennie Pierce, the firefighter who alleged he was fed dog food as part of a racist prank.

Good thing no one in town is interested in that!

As it turned out, the council came up four votes shy of an override. For those interested in how their council member voted in the matter, please see the accompanying chart.

As for those who have e-mailed about the Pierce case, I’ll borrow a paraphrased line from one of them: It’s fascinating how many perspectives residents of the same city can have over who is right, who is wrong and who is to blame.

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steve.hymon@latimes.com

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Begin text of infobox

L.A. City Council votes

Recent votes on a legal settlement in the Tennie Pierce case: On Nov. 8 a yes vote was to approve the $2.7-million settlement. On Nov. 14 a yes vote was to reconsider the settlement. On Nov. 29 a yes vote was to override the mayor’s veto of the settlement.

*--* Member District Nov. 8 Nov. 14 Nov. 29 Ed Reyes 1 Yes Yes No Wendy Greuel 2 Yes * No Dennis Zine 3 No Yes No Tom LaBonge 4 * No Yes Jack Weiss 5 Yes No No Tony Cardenas 6 * Yes No Alex Padilla 7 * * No Bernard C. Parks 8 Yes No Yes Jan Perry 9 Yes No Yes Herb Wesson 10 Yes No Yes Bill Rosendahl 11 Yes Yes No Greig Smith 12 Yes Yes No Eric Garcetti 13 Yes * Yes Jose Huizar 14 Yes Yes No Janice Hahn 15 Yes No Yes

*--*

* Absent

Source: Los Angeles city clerk


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