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Despite Outages, City Hall Power Plays Continue

Times Staff Writer

As power outages continued across the city last Tuesday, the Los Angeles City Council demanded some answers.

So, naturally, they summoned Ron Deaton, chief of the Department of Water and Power.

There were three cameras present from local television stations, something not lost on council members who began poking their “request to speak” buttons.

Everyone, it seemed, had a question. And why not? With residents being urged to set their thermostats to 78 degrees, the air conditioning was running full blast in council chambers. It was the best place in town to cool off. (After a reporter wrote about it, the air conditioning was shut off the next day.)

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Councilwoman Wendy Greuel had a pertinent question for Deaton: Why couldn’t her constituents without power reach anyone at the DWP over the phone during the weekend?

Deaton replied that the agency didn’t have enough operators on hand, but never fully explained why.

“I think during a crisis period the people want a live body,” Greuel said.

Hmmmm.

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Question: Where was Greuel’s live body during the outages in her Valley-based district last week?

Answer: On July 23, at least part of her day was spent schmoozing with prospective Jewish voters at a pro-Israel rally on Wilshire Boulevard.

Greuel, who isn’t Jewish, was seated behind Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on the dais, wearing a bright red blouse -- just the kind of color political consultants tell their clients to wear to be noticed.

And it worked! Anyone watching television at home couldn’t miss spotting her on the news that night.

By all indications, Greuel did take care of her constituents during the heat wave. But it has become increasingly difficult to overlook that she’s also spending a lot of time outside her district at camera-drawing press events involving Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who was also at the rally. So was Councilman Jack Weiss, another Villaraigosa ally.

What gives? Greuel is up for reelection next year -- she has no challengers thus far -- and she’s also eyeing a run at controller in 2009 and possibly mayor at a later date. Therefore, she’s in a never-ending quest to raise her profile across L.A. -- and what better place to start than the Jewish community?

Greuel’s communications deputy Matt Szabo took exception to the suggestion that his boss wasn’t where she should have been.

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“Wendy was working all weekend on behalf of constituents who lost power, and to suggest that Wendy neglected her duties as a council member by attending a rally for Israel on a Sunday is totally absurd,” said Szabo. “If she had to do it over, she would without question.”

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Q: Any other public officials have something interesting to say about power outages?

A: New Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster told reporters Tuesday that he did not personally become aware of the extent of the problem until Monday afternoon -- thus causing a delay in the city’s opening shelters for its residents without power.

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Q: And what was Foster’s previous gig before becoming mayor July 18?

A: He was president of Southern California Edison.

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Q: Which utility is a power supplier to Long Beach?

A: Southern California Edison.

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Q: When will it be possible to ride a bike from the San Fernando Valley to downtown without having to play bumper cars with inattentive motorists?

A: The council last week approved the beginning of eminent domain proceedings against a handful of properties blocking an extension of the bike path that runs from Griffith Park south along the Los Angeles River.

If the extension goes through, the bike path will almost reach the new state park at the Cornfield that is under construction, probably in the next two to three years.

The key word is almost.

Sitting between the bike path extension and the park are the MTA’s Gold Line maintenance and storage yards. As the photo shows, the river bank there is narrow, leaving little room for the bike path -- so something seemingly has to give.

Councilman Ed Reyes, the chairman of the council’s river committee, has said that the MTA years ago promised to move the yards some day.

Robin Blair, a transportation manager for the MTA, said it doesn’t appear the yards will be moved anytime soon. It’s very expensive and, besides, the MTA needs someplace to store and repair the trains.

“There is no clear solution,” Blair said.

Having a network of bike paths across the city has long been the dream of many cyclists -- including former Mayor Richard Riordan.

And slowly it is beginning to happen. Councilman Alex Padilla soon will cut the ribbon on a new 1.75-mile path along San Fernando Road in the northeast Valley that eventually will cover the nine miles to Burbank. Councilman Tom LaBonge also recently helped open a route between North Hollywood and Burbank and a bike path that spans the Valley along the Orange Line busway.

Keep your eye on this one. If the city is to have a world-class bike path system, it needs to connect the Valley to downtown -- and the river path is the only feasible route.

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Q: When is the funeral for Little Antonio?

A: This just in: His body recently went missing from the freezer at The Times’ website.

Readers of this column may recall that Little Antonio was the goldfish who survived for 111 days in a tank filled with water from the L.A. River.

After wiggling his last fin in June, Antonio was put on ice until a memorial service could be scheduled. And then he disappeared.

Website officials say it remains unknown whether Little Antonio was stolen, thrown out or used to chill someone’s Diet Coke.

There is good news: Despite an algae explosion in the tank and a few other mechanical problems, Little Antonio’s compadre, Little Ed, is faring well.

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Q: Any new candidates in the race to replace Padilla on the council?

A: Former City Hall deputy Monica Rodriguez told The Times last week that she’s in.

Of course, Padilla hasn’t gone anywhere yet. But he won the Democratic nomination for the state Senate’s 20th District last month and, without a Republican challenger in the heavily Democratic district, is expected to win easily in November, creating a vacancy in his northeast San Fernando Valley district. The election would be next March.

The other announced candidate is Assemblywoman Cindy Montanez, whom Padilla beat for the Senate nomination. Padilla’s chief of staff, Felipe Fuentes, also is going to run but hasn’t said so publicly.

“I’m just someone who was raised in the district and is very passionate about the issues,” Rodriguez said last week. “I come from a family very deeply rooted in public service, and I believe I have a great shot.”

Rodriguez, 32, is currently the housing opportunity manager for the California Assn. of Realtors and lives in Mission Hills. She interned for then-Councilman Mike Hernandez in the 1990s, was a community affairs deputy for former Mayor Richard Riordan and has an experienced consultant in John Shallman.

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Q: What else is interesting about the race?

Faithful readers may also recall that Montanez last fall hurled a glass of wine in a Democratic Party official’s face after the mere mention of Padilla’s name.

And this past spring, Fuentes was on the wrong end of a citizen’s arrest when he allegedly got into a shoving match with a Padilla campaign aide he was firing. No charges were filed.

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Q: And what should Rodriguez learn from this?

A: When it’s time for her and her opponents to debate, avoid the middle podium.

Times staff writer Deborah Schoch contributed to this report. Reach Steve Hymon at steve.hymon@latimes.com.


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