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Foaming over City Hall soap opera

I’m not going to take it personally that the day the mayor of Los Angeles couldn’t make time for me because he was too busy on flood watch, he had time to tape a segment for the soap opera “All My Children.”

Antonio Villaraigosa and I may get together as early as this week, I’m told. Unless, of course, “Days of Our Lives” calls.

In the meantime, I’ve got other news to report out of City Hall. Let’s start with a sign of progress.

Jaime de la Vega, the mayor’s transportation deputy, is no longer commuting to work in a Hummer.

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When a spy told me this, I couldn’t believe it. Despite my frequent suggestions the last two years that the man in charge of transportation in a traffic-choked city whose mayor is trying to get us to go green shouldn’t be driving a quasi-military gas hog, De la Vega defiantly stuck with the Hummer.

So did he finally get wise and take advantage of the cash-for-clunkers program?

When I called him, De la Vega said my questions constituted a press inquiry (he’s smarter than you’d guess). He referred me to the mayor’s press secretary, Sarah Hamilton, who e-mailed back to say ‘tis true.

De la Vega either drives a sedan to work, carpools or takes the Red Line. Not that he’s gotten rid of the Hummer, said Hamilton. He uses it “for weekend expeditions with his family.”

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I’d say we’re making progress. De la Vega indicated he doesn’t care to talk to me about the Hummer but said he’s open to discussing transportation projects.

Fine with me, because I’ve got a lot of questions about that too, as soon as he’s free.

Maybe he can explain what’s happening with Villaraigosa’s plan to speed up on major rail and other transit projects. Was that just another example of the mayor outlining a major agenda before he’d come up with workable strategies? And is he still pushing rail even if county officials end up cutting bus service to fill what could be a record deficit?

I know, that’s a lot of questions. And I’m not done. I’ve got a few for another occupant of City Hall: If you missed the stories by my colleagues Maeve Reston and David Zahniser, the D.A.'s office is looking into whether City Councilman Richard Alarcon actually lives in the 7th Council District he represents.

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Alarcon’s wife owns a house in Sun Valley, and the councilman admits he’s been living there, just outside his council district, since October. But he says it’s because a mentally unstable man broke into his wife’s other house and appeared determined to “be a squatter.”

The burglar was arrested, but Alarcon said he would not move back in until he could make the house safe for his family.

Call me a nitpicker, but how could the burglar have become a squatter if the Alarcon family was living in the house?

Alarcon said he’d been making repairs on the Panorama City house for three years but refused to say how often he and his wife stayed there before the burglary.

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So I asked neighbors, who were happy to talk, but not on the record.

“There’s little evidence either of them are over there much,” said one.

“The house appears not to be lived in,” said another. “People will come by now and then, they turn on the lights, and the lights stay on for a week, or two, or three. It doesn’t change day or night. They put up Christmas lights and they stayed on day and night for a month.”

I see.

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In 2007 Alarcon tried unsuccessfully to have his district expanded to include the nearby Sun Valley neighborhood where his wife’s other home is located.

Interesting, don’t you think?

Alarcon e-mailed me to say he can’t comment yet on advice of counsel. But he has “full confidence that when all the facts are reviewed, there will be no question that I live in Council District 7.”

It’s a little frustrating that no one at City Hall wants to talk to me, but all will be forgiven if the mayor comes through this week.

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One thing I want to talk to him about is money. It’s tight all around, for sure; so tight that Villaraigosa is planning to whack 1,000 employees. Of course that raises a question about why the city gave DWP workers a fat raise, even though salaries there are already off the charts.

And the mayor says he’s going to keep hiring more cops, which would make sense if he had the money or crime were on the rise, but the opposite is true. I wonder if the new deputy mayor Villaraigosa hired to oversee job creation will count those new cops as jobs he created.

But even if it’s hard to make much headway now on housing, road improvements and other city services, aren’t there things a mayor can do in tough times to make a positive impact?

When I read that Villaraigosa is exercising more and eating better, I thought about L.A.'s outrageous childhood obesity and diabetes rates and wondered if the mayor could turn his new routine into a public campaign.

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“There’s a lot to be said about the bully pulpit and the voice of the chief elected official in the community setting a goal for that community,” said Steve Goldsmith, who teaches in the innovations program at Harvard’s Kennedy School.

“You could say you’re going to . . . recruit and train 50,000 reading mentors to help every third-, fourth- and fifth-grade child in an underperforming school,” said Goldsmith, the former mayor of Indianapolis.

Or you could really get creative, like the Paris mayor, who turned the banks of the Seine into a summer beach destination and promoted cycling to ease congestion and reduce pollution. Results are mixed, but at least the guy’s using his imagination.

In L.A., the whole Expo rail line may one day be carrying trains again, but it went largely unused for decades. What a shame that someone didn’t step up years ago and turn it into a major east-west bikeway or busway.

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Feel free to send me your own ideas, and I’ll take them to the mayor as soon as he can squeeze me into his schedule.

In the meantime, will someone tell the mayor that if he likes soap operas, there’s no need to leave City Hall?

steve.lopez@latimes.com


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