Reporter Sniffs Out a Few Fishy Items at City Hall

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles City Ethics Commission sits on the 24th floor of City Hall. Visitors must take two elevators to get there, and it’s fair to speculate that it’s in an out-of-the-way place for a reason.

It is a small office filled with filing cabinets. The cabinets, in turn, are stuffed with candidate finance reports, conflict-of-interest and lobbying disclosures, and, best of all for bored reporters, old campaign mailers from our current City Council members.

Some have them saying or doing things that don’t always add up:

Question: Anything odd about mailers from Eric Garcetti and Jan Perry?

Answer: He wrote: “I believe that our parks, our rivers and the air we breathe are precious jewels that we have a responsibility to preserve…. That’s why protecting our environment has been a critical part of my work in the community over the last 30 years.”

Garcetti was 30 years, 2 months old at the time.

And then there’s a reelect Jan Perry flier from 2005 showing Perry walking a golden retriever down the street.

Perry doesn’t own a dog.

“I wanted to show downtown has changed,” Perry said last week. “And I wanted a downtown resident, and Buddy” — the retriever — “was the first mammal that came to mind.”

Q: Did the council members get enough to eat when they dined with lobbyist Joe Cerrell while on a recent city business trip to Washington?


Cerrell — who represents a variety of Los Angeles businesses and agencies — was kind enough to invite Times Washington bureau reporter Matthew O’Rourke to sit in on the event.

The meal at Charlie Palmer’s steakhouse, on Capitol Hill, began with a salad of “farm-fresh mixed greens drizzled with warm toasted fennel vinaigrette.”

The main course required a difficult choice:

“Grilled European-cut filet mignon splashed with a natural red wine sauce served with caramelized shallots,” or:

“Roasted Amish chicken slow-roasted and naturally flavored with lemon thyme,” or:

“Goat cheese and mascarpone tortelloni served with a fricassee of leeks and shitake mushrooms accompanied with a leek fondue.”

Dessert was a stomach-wrenching decision between “delectable chocolate hazelnut pyramid,” “Charlie Palmer’s delicious cheesecake” and something called “creme brulee en parade.”

Let’s repeat that just because it’s fun to say: a parade of creme brulee dancing across the table!

Such dinners are perfectly legal. In fairness to the council members, after reporters began asking about the event, each announced they were paying their own way — $105 a person — and there were dozens of elected officials from other Southern California cities also there.

What it comes down to is a matter of appearances and access. Do constituents get this kind of access? Do lobbyists and their clients really benefit? Will the elected officials be hitting up the businesses later for campaign donations?

In other words, it’s easy to write that L.A.'s leaders were bellying up to the trough of big money in the shadow of the nation’s Capitol. But it’s much harder to prove — and maybe not even true — that anything was gained. Well, other than an inch around the waistline.

“A responsive government also means removing the influence of money in politics,” is a passage from the website of Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, who attended the dinner.

She is also one of several council members pushing a proposal to increase the public funding of campaigns for city office to help remove the influence of money on politics. The full council will likely take up the matter this summer.

In the meantime, and in the interest of transparency, Greuel was asked to disclose which dessert she enjoyed. “I had the cheesecake,” she said. “It was delicious. But I saw someone else had fruit — I wish I had known you could get the fruit.”

Q: What lurks in the sewers of Los Angeles these days?


The fun never seems to stop down there.

In Hollywood, an old sewer line that originates in the Valley has been stinking up the neighborhood near the defunct Durant Library for years.

To fix the problem, the city is about to convert the old library property into something the bureaucrats call an “air treatment facility” — basically a giant fan.

A sewer soap opera has been unfolding in Studio City, where the Department of Public Works must decide where to excavate a shaft to dig a new sewer.

The two places that have been under consideration: the recently refurbished Woodbridge Park in Studio City and a nearby Caltrans maintenance yard.

The park looks like it will be spared, but stay tuned.

Q: How bad is traffic on the Westside?


At 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 16 it took this Times reporter 9 minutes, 47 seconds to drive the half-mile on Pico Boulevard between Beverly Glen Boulevard and Avenue of the Stars.

That works out to an average speed of 3 mph. The culprit seems to be motorists using Pico as a detour around the mess caused by the reconstruction of Little and Big Santa Monica boulevards.

That project — detailed at— ; is due to be completed this summer, when everyone can look forward to traffic moving twice as fast in Rancho Park.

Q: Whatever happened to Little Ed and Little Antonio, the goldfish subjected to water from the Los Angeles River?


As of last night, they’re still swimming, and the fish are available for online viewing at

Little Antonio has developed black splotches, but appears to be faring well; we think it had to do with a chemical imbalance in the tank.

The experiment, not surprisingly, has brought an array of responses from readers, ranging from high praise to this being the single stupidest thing ever to be published in The Times.

Then there was this gloomy note from one reader: “Just like you and me, Little Antonio and Little Ed aren’t getting out of this alive.”

After the goldfish cam is turned off, Little Ed and Little Antonio will continue to live in river water in their aquarium, but we’ll mitigate for some of the unique problems. We’ll try to give the fish a good life in exchange for being good sports.

Way to take one for the team, fellas!

Q: Does Dr. Cappy Rothman have an idea how the city can pay for a new police station in Pacific Palisades?


As everyone knows, the Palisades has long held a dangerous reputation. On a recent visit, you didn’t have to look hard to find almost-expired parking meters and shifty-eyed people surveying other people’s food at a local eatery.

After several armed robberies in the area last year, Rothman believes the Palisades deserves its own LAPD station — the closest being in West Los Angeles — and Rothman has even brainstormed a way to pay for it: Eligible council members can sign up to be donors at the California Cryobank, a sperm bank where he serves as co-owner and medical director.

“We have about 300 donors, but none are politicians,” Rothman said. “With two or three specimens a week, they could make $500 or $600 a month.”

Obviously, that means a lot of donating if building a police station is the goal; the new LAPD headquarters downtown is expected to cost $340 million. Even worse is that eligible donors would have to drive to the Westside to contribute.

Hint: Avoid Pico.

Told later of the financing scenario, Councilwoman Janice Hahn was overcome with a wave of consumer protectionism:

“Buyers beware,” she said.

Get our Essential California newsletter