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California

Former L.A. planning director faces $281,000 ethics fine, the largest of its kind

Los Angeles City Hall
Investigators with the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission have recommended that Michael LoGrande, the former head of the Department of City Planning, be fined $281,250 for violating the city’s ethics ordinance. LoGrande has agreed to pay the penalty.
(Richard Vogel / Associated Press)

The former head of the Los Angeles Department of City Planning is facing a $281,250 ethics fine, the largest financial penalty ever sought by the city’s Ethics Commission for a current or former city employee.

Michael LoGrande admitted to investigators that he repeatedly violated the city’s “revolving door” law, which prohibits high-level officials from lobbying elected officials, managers and other decision-makers during their first 12 months after leaving city employment, according to a report prepared by the enforcement arm of the City Ethics Commission.

LoGrande left his government job in January 2016 after spending more than five years running the department, which reviews real estate development projects across the city. Within a few months, he was lobbying planning department officials on behalf of the clients he had picked up while operating his new land-use consulting business, LoGrande and Co., the report said.

One of those clients was Soho House & Co., which was seeking to redevelop an industrial building in the Arts District into a private club. LoGrande, who received $70,000 to influence city officials on that project, contacted planning department staff in May 2016 about making sure that Soho House would not need a zone change from the city, according to ethics officials.

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The department ultimately ruled in favor of Soho House and allowed the project to move ahead without a zone change, the commission’s report said.

“LoGrande was aware of the revolving door restrictions, which indicates that the violations were deliberate,” the report said.

LoGrande has agreed to pay the recommended $281,250 penalty, the largest ever sought by the Ethics Commission for a revolving-door case. The proposed fine must be approved by the five-member Ethics Commission, which could choose to increase or decrease the size of the penalty next week.

If the fine is approved, LoGrande will be required to provide the city monthly installments of $23,437.50 through July 2020.

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Bradley Hertz, LoGrande’s lawyer, did not answer specific questions from The Times but said his client is happy to resolve the case.

“Mr. LoGrande has spent more than two decades working on the most complex projects in Los Angeles, and is pleased to have this matter behind him. He looks forward to continuing to work on economic development projects throughout the region,” Hertz said in an email.

The maximum fine allowed in the LoGrande case would be $375,000, according to the report submitted to the commission.

LoGrande was aware of the revolving-door law when he committed the violations and initially withheld information from investigators, according to the commission’s report.

Nevertheless, ethics officials recommended a lower amount because LoGrande had cooperated with the investigation and had no prior violations.

Sylvie Shain, a tenants rights advocate who ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2017, said news of the violations would only deepen the public’s distrust of city decisions on planning and development.

“It only gives more fuel to the fire,” she said.

The investigation into LoGrande’s consulting business was triggered by a whistleblower complaint and involved multiple interviews and an “extensive” review of documents, according to the commission’s report.

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In addition to Soho House, LoGrande contacted planning department managers about three other development projects during the period when he was prohibited from lobbying, the commission report said.

In one case, he tried without success to reduce certain transportation fees required for a project. In another, he sought unsuccessfully to spare a hotel developer from having to obtain a zone change.

If the Ethics Commission approves the fine, it will be the largest penalty imposed on a former city official since 2006, when former City Councilman Martin Ludlow agreed to pay $105,271 in a case centering on violations of campaign finance laws.

That case was carried out in tandem with state and federal prosecutors and involved other penalties.


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