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California

L.A. gave him a $54,750 consulting gig. But did he do any work?

Former L.A. city planning chief Michael LoGrande
Former L.A. city planning chief Michael LoGrande was fined more than $281,000 by the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission.
(David Zahniser / Los Angeles Times)

When Michael LoGrande stepped down as the head of L.A.'s planning department, he immediately scored another lucrative gig with the city: a consulting contract that paid $18,250 a month.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said his office signed off on the three-month contract in early 2016 so that LoGrande could finish up work before a new planning director arrived. But when asked for evidence of the work performed by LoGrande, officials in Garcetti’s office and the planning department told The Times they had nothing to turn over.

LoGrande agreed in July to pay a penalty of more than $281,000 for illegally lobbying the city just months after he left his position. Three of the four violations occurred while he was being paid by the city as a consultant.

To better understand what LoGrande was doing for the planning department while he was lobbying city staffers, The Times requested written memos, reports, meeting appointments and any other documentation of the work performed by LoGrande under the consulting contract, which spanned Feb. 1, 2016, to April 30, 2016.

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Garcetti said during an interview in August that LoGrande had indeed performed work under his contract. The mayor said at that time that his office would provide examples of his work product.

Weeks later, officials in Garcetti’s office and the planning department had both responded to the California Public Records Act request for such documentation, saying they had none. LoGrande, now a registered City Hall lobbyist, did not respond to repeated requests for examples of his work under the consulting contract.

One City Hall critic, when told the terms of the agreement, said it sounded as though LoGrande had secured a “no show, no work” contract — one that essentially functioned as a severance package.

“This is a payoff to get rid of him without any muss or fuss,” said Jack Humphreville, co-chairman of Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates, which watches over city spending. “They’re paying him to get lost.”

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A Garcetti aide did not dispute the notion that the agreement was written, at least in part, to ensure LoGrande left the department entirely.

Under the terms of the eight-page consulting contract, LoGrande was required to submit a letter of resignation and release the city of any legal or personnel claims. The agreement was structured to allow LoGrande to provide on-call support to the planning department “should the need arise,” said agency spokesman Yeghig Keshishian.

The need never arose, Keshishian added.

The contract, which was signed by one of Garcetti’s deputy mayors, said the planning department would have the opportunity to rely on LoGrande for strategic advice on an array of policy issues, including redevelopment, transportation planning and transit-oriented development.

LoGrande also could be called upon to provide “internal assistance” on a proposed ballot measure — later known as Measure S — that would have cracked down on some of the city’s biggest development projects, the contract said.

As part of that effort, LoGrande might be asked to work with City Atty. Mike Feuer’s office on fine-tuning responses to the ballot proposal, according to the consulting agreement.

The Times asked Feuer’s office whether LoGrande had conferred with the city’s legal team on the proposed ballot measure.

“Not that we recall,” Feuer spokesman Rob Wilcox wrote in an email.

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Before he left the city, LoGrande was paid more than $227,000 annually, according to a personnel department spokesman.

Garcetti said in August that when the consulting contract was signed, he saw LoGrande as an expert in helping the city “continue streamlining systems and think through good planning.” LoGrande was replaced by Vince Bertoni, who previously had been running Pasadena’s planning department.

The Ethics Commission never publicly discussed the question of whether LoGrande performed any work as part of his consulting contract. Instead, its investigation focused on whether he had improperly lobbied the planning department within 12 months of stepping down, in violation of the city’s “revolving door” rules.

Under city rules, certain officials are barred from lobbying the city for a full year after ending their city employment. The ban is supposed to prevent former officials from immediately turning around and using their insider knowledge and connections to help moneyed interests influence government decisions.

While he was being paid as a consultant to the planning department, LoGrande was also reaching out to department staffers on behalf of real estate developers who had hired him to advocate for their projects. For instance, he contacted a planning department supervisor, a personal friend with whom LoGrande had worked for many years, about a request by a client to convert a site in Hollywood into a parking lot.

That supervisor approved LoGrande’s request to expedite the city’s review of the project, Ethics Commission investigators found.

A Garcetti aide said that no one in the mayor’s office was aware of LoGrande’s illegal lobbying activity at the time.


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