Living not so large in the halls of power


If only I had known that Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich had a popcorn machine in his office, I might have gone a little easier on him.

“Would you like some?” a staffer asked.

No time for snacks; I was on a mission.

I dropped by Antonovich’s office -- which has five photos of President Bush in the foyer -- while touring the eighth floor of the Hall of Administration to see who’s living larger, L.A. County supervisors or their counterparts in Orange County.

My colleague Christian Berthelsen gave readers a nice peek inside the remodeled offices of O.C.’s four newly elected supes Sunday with a story about giant flat-screen TVs costing up to $7,800 and $1,200 executive chairs.


Supervisor John Moorlach, who told me last year that the county’s fiscal irresponsibility on employee pension plans had “gone loopy,” led the buying spree with a $198,525.84 remodeling job.

I wouldn’t call the offices of Los Angeles County supervisors shabby, but the L.A. gang is definitely being outclassed by the big spenders in Orange County. Gloria Molina has a lovely patio set, but she bought it at Kmart and Zev Yaroslavsky’s TV is a small, boxy General Electric that looks like it might have been his college graduation present.

Molina’s remodel earlier this year cost $75,000, according to her staff, but that was triggered by the supervisor tripping on a torn seam in the rug. Her employees begged her to do a little updating. Supervisor Don Knabe has a flat-screen TV in his conference room and a smaller one in his office, but nothing outlandishly opulent as far as I could see.

And Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke’s only indulgence of note is a huge oil painting of -- can you guess whom? Yes, of the supervisor herself. Larger than life, it dominates one wall of her conference room, but it couldn’t have cost much.

Burke did, however, buy a $42,000 Chrysler last year, and despite the binge by Orange County supes, L.A. still has the kings and queens of cushy deals. The supervisors each get $3.3 million in discretionary funds to spend on staff salaries, office expenses and other indulgences. In O.C., supes get a mere $850,000 for their offices and an additional $1 million for parks and capital projects of their choosing.

If L.A. County supes want to, they can seed their own reelection by throwing their discretionary money at community groups. If you ask me, that’s a much more politically savvy way to blow tax dollars than to buy 52-inch TVs.


Before I tell you what else I found in Antonovich’s office besides popcorn and a George Bush shrine, I do have to interrupt the flow here with a bit of news.

Molina told me she was so fed up with the lack of progress at the eternally troubled county-run Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital, she thinks it may be time to get rid of all the employees and contract with a private company to rebuild the staff from scratch.

Molina had just read the coroner’s report on the death last month of a woman with a perforated bowel who writhed in pain on the floor of the emergency room lobby while medical staff ignored her and the janitor swept around her. The supervisor told me that even if state and federal inspectors say the hospital is safe in their next report, she still wouldn’t take her mother there in an emergency.

Antonovich’s staff said he has supported a private operation in the past and might be inclined to do so again, but Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told me he can’t imagine there will be enough support to go that route if inspectors say things have improved at King-Harbor.

I’m not so sure. The coroner’s report calls the May death in the emergency room lobby accidental, but any reasonable person would conclude that the tragedy could have been prevented. I’m told the video of that death is shocking beyond belief and if it goes public, as it should, that could be argument enough to shut the doors at King-Harbor.

On another subject, Yaroslavsky is ticked off that the city of Los Angeles hasn’t moved on his proposal to turn Olympic and Pico into one-way boulevards to ease congestion. And he’s still bristling over a public spat with L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa over the Metropolitan Transportation Authority fare hike.


The supervisor repeated his claim that the mayor sandbagged other board members by stating privately that he would go along with the agreed-upon hike and then staging a last-minute turnaround, timing it to make himself look like a lone hero to transit riders.

Speaking of the office of the mayor, I told Yaroslavsky that former state Assemblyman Rod Wright is predicting that Yaroslavsky -- not Fabian Nunez, who has already been anointed by some -- will be the city’s next mayor.

Not interested, Yaroslavsky said, telling me his job is more interesting.

I’m not buying it for a minute. Most people in L.A. County have no idea who their supervisor is, although I’m trying my best to change that.

That’s why I wrote about Antonovich and the two Cadillac DeVille High-Luxury Sedans that were tied up ferrying him about (one was a backup Caddy, his staff explained), and I also filed a report or two about him mass-mailing political and religious claptrap to constituents at taxpayers’ expense.

And yet here I am in his office, making small talk with Antonovich’s staff while he’s in a meeting.

Wait a minute. Did I just see a dog walk down the hall?

Indeed I did. It’s another of the pooches in Uncle Mike’s adopt-a-pet program. With the popcorn, all they need is a juggler in here and they can call it a circus.


We get to talking about Hope Gardens, the retreat near Sylmar that would house women and children now trapped on skid row, if only Antonovich would give the plan an endorsement. I suggest to the staff that we all meet at the Hideaway Bar & Grill up there to talk it over. How can we not have a good time at a bar that has a hitching post for customers who arrive by horse?

Details are still being worked out, but I don’t see how Antonovich can say no to this. On his Christmas card, he and his whole family were dressed up like cowboys.

Before leaving, I asked to see Antonovich’s office, but the staff balked. I couldn’t imagine what they were worried about. Did the supervisor have a rocking horse in there? A hundred and one Dalmatians? Yet another backup Cadillac?

It’s not going to look good, I warned, if I have to report that it looks like they’re hiding something.

The logic was irrefutable, so they opened the door.

Well, there were no big-screen TVs and nothing particularly posh. But you’d have to admit that not one, but two cardboard cutouts of John Wayne is a little strange.