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L.A. on the Record: When will we see Mayor Karen Bass’ appointees?

Los Angeles City Councilmember Traci Park, left, and residents of Venice applaud Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass.
At a reception last week, Los Angeles City Councilmember Traci Park, left, and residents of Venice applaud Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass for overseeing efforts to move scores of homeless individuals into temporary housing.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
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Good morning, and welcome to L.A. on the Record — our City Hall newsletter. It’s David Zahniser, with help from Julia Wick and Benjamin Oreskes, here to give you the top-line info involving our new(ish) mayor and other news about city government.

Since taking office, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass has been laser focused on the crisis of homelessness, declaring a state of emergency and moving scores of homeless people out of encampments in Hollywood and Venice and into temporary housing.

Bass has pointed to those efforts as evidence that she is moving with great urgency. Still, there is another area of city government where her pace has been not quite as breakneck: choosing the citizens who will represent her, and the public, on the city and county’s many boards and commissions.

One of the most potent ways a new L.A. mayor can put their stamp on city government early in their term is by selecting a new slate of appointees to oversee the LAPD, the Department of Water and Power, the region’s transit system, city animal shelters, street repairs and many other services. For now, those panels remain filled with scores of commissioners selected by former Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Bass’ administration is about to enter its seventh week. By midday Friday, she had submitted three commission nominees, including one to the airport commission and another to the library board, according to the city clerk’s office.

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That pace lags behind some of Bass’ predecessors at City Hall.

By his second week in office, Garcetti had announced a slate of new appointees to the five-member Board of Public Works, one of the city’s most powerful commissions — and the only one whose members earn a full-time salary. By his third week, he had picked three new appointees to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board of directors.

Garcetti’s predecessors, Antonio Villaraigosa and James Hahn, moved even more rapidly.

In his first month, Villaraigosa nominated an array of new appointments to the police commission, the public works board, the airport commission and the Metro board. Hahn spent his first month filling commissions that oversee the LAPD, the DWP, LAX, and the Port of Los Angeles.

All three mayors removed most, or even all, of a commission’s members during their first months in office.

Asked about the new mayor’s progress, Bass spokesperson Zach Seidl said she will replace commissioners eventually, at least in some instances. In others, she may only fill commission seats that are vacant due to a resignation or other causes.

New commissioners, Seidl added, will probably be announced next week.

“We look forward to many more commission appointments to come, and will continue moving at the rapid pace that we have taken with bold and unprecedented action on homelessness,” he said in an email.

The lack of commission appointments has created at least a couple of tricky situations.

The five-member police commission, made up entirely of holdovers from the Garcetti adminstration, embarked this month on a hugely significant task: deciding whether Police Chief Michel Moore deserves a second term.

If Bass nominates a new slate of police commissioners now, she could end up interrupting that process midstream. But if she holds off, her new appointees might not be seated until after the panel has cast its vote on Moore.

Vacancies are also becoming an issue for the citywide planning commission, which has seen three of its members resign in recent months. That nine-member panel, which reviews major development projects, had to cancel next week’s meeting because it lacked enough members for a quorum.

It’s worth noting that Garcetti, Villaraigosa and Hahn had a key timing advantage over Bass. They took office on July 1, which allowed them to build their teams over the summer.

Bass took office Dec. 12, thanks to the change in the city election calendar, and had to set up her administration during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

State of play

— POLICE REFORM SOUGHT: The death of a man who was tased six times by Los Angeles police officers has sparked new calls for changes in policing. Activists and some council members have renewed their call for the removal of the LAPD from traffic enforcement duties and the creation of a separate city office to oversee unarmed responses and public safety.

CARNAGE ON L.A. STREETS: Traffic deaths went up again in L.A. during 2022, reaching their highest point in two decades. Out of the more than 300 people who were killed, 159 people died in collisions involving vehicles and pedestrians, a 19% increase compared to the prior year.

— RENTER RELIEF: After a lengthy and dramatic floor debate, L.A. City Council voted unanimously to dramatically expand protections for renters in the city. The legislative body had been racing to approve a new policy before the city’s COVID-19 eviction protections expire at the end of the month.

OLD (AND UNLIKELY) FRIENDS: This might come as a surprise to some, but Bass and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy are friends. Not in the Washington sense, where “my friend” can border on insult, but a genuine affinity that has spanned two decades and both coasts. When McCarthy finally won the speakership, after a protracted 15 rounds of balloting, Bass texted congratulations and mentioned a planned visit to D.C. “I’m coming to collect,” she told him.

The next two years will test whether that personal chemistry can yield substantive accomplishments. Bass, who was in D.C. much of the past week, didn’t see her old pal or even visit Congress, meeting instead with Cabinet officials such as Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough and White House Senior Adviser Mitch Landrieu.

— HUIZAR GUILTY: Former Los Angeles City Councilmember Jose Huizar pleaded guilty on Friday to racketeering and tax evasion charges, admitting he extorted at least $1.5 million in bribes from real estate developers with projects in his downtown Los Angeles district. Prosecutors have agreed to request a sentence of no more than 13 years in prison and Huizar promised not to ask for less than nine years. But the final decision will rest with the judge.

MORE CORRUPTION: Dixon Slingerland was once a big name in L.A. political circles, co-hosting fundraisers for Garcetti and President Obama, among others. Now, he’s agreed to plead guilty to two felony charges, admitting he embezzled money from the nonprofit he once ran.

L.A. GRAND STAYS OPEN: Mercedes Marquez, the mayor’s new homelessness czar, announced last week that the city will keep the L.A. Grand Hotel in downtown Los Angeles open for another year as temporary housing. The facility, a cornerstone of the city’s efforts to combat homelessness, had been set to cease operations on Jan. 31.

LINGERING LAWSUIT: Bass also waded into the nearly three-year-old lawsuit filed by the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights, informing a federal judge this week that she would work with county officials to rework a planned legal settlement spelling out services that would be available for the city’s unhoused. “The bottom line is, we feel that if we had 90 days, we could come back with a much better agreement,” she told the judge.

NEW SCHOOL BOARD PREZ: Veteran politico Jackie Goldberg, who served as the Los Angeles Board of Education president 40 years ago and also served on the L.A. City Council and in the state Assembly, was elected president again on Tuesday. The election signals a shift by the school board majority to the priorities of the teachers’ union.

— GOING DOWN: The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which has become a landlord in recent years, is the subject of a tenant lawsuit dealing with its struggle to repair an elevator in one of its downtown properties. Tenants say the lack of a consistently working elevator violates the rights of the building’s disabled residents.

The inauguration and the encampment

You may recall that several weeks back, outreach workers relocated residents of a homeless encampment on 1st Street near City Hall, just days before the swearing-in ceremony for Bass.

At the time, an aide to then-Mayor Eric Garcetti would not say whether the operation was carried out in preparation for Bass’ inauguration event, which was being planned right outside City Hall. The aide instead told The Times that homeless outreach had been taking place on that block since July.

As it turns out, the encampment operation was in fact linked to Bass’ ceremony, according to an email obtained by The Times. Lakesha Williams, a mayoral staffer, made that connection explicit in a Dec. 5 email to various agencies.

“The mayor’s office has been notified that due to Mayor’s Elect Bass inauguration taking place on 12/11 that the encampments located on 1st/Spring will have to relocate,” she wrote.

Asked about the email, a Bass spokesperson referred The Times to a previous statement, which noted that Bass was not yet in office when the encampment operation was under way.

Many of the encampment’s residents were relocated to the L.A. Grand Hotel. The inaugural ceremony wound up being relocated too, due to rainy weather.

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A warning from Bass

Bass spent much of the last week attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ winter meeting, hearing from other big-city mayors about what’s working in their communities. The confab dealt with issues ranging from stagnant downtowns to efforts to bring pickleball to a city near you.

Bass offered a cautionary message about homelessness during one of those sessions. She repeated her oft-used line about how her run for mayor was driven, in part, by fears that L.A. would return to the failed policies of the 1990s.

“I’ve listened to other speakers talk about the problems in their city, and their populations are much smaller. But let me just leave you with a warning from Los Angeles,” she told the audience. “Your population of unhoused might not be as massive as 67,000 people, but let me just tell you, if you don’t get a handle on it, it will be.”

Quick hits

  • On the docket for next week: On Tuesday, Bass and other elected officials will join with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority to launch the region’s annual “point-in-time” homelessness count. The count begins Tuesday in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys and will head to other areas later in the week.

Stay in touch

That’s it for this week! Send your questions, comments and gossip to LAontheRecord@latimes.com. Did a friend forward you this email? Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Saturday morning.


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