The two candidates battling to be Los Angeles city attorney in next month’s election sharpened the contrasts in their views of the job during a forum Monday.
“We don’t do policy, we do law,” City Atty. Carmen Trutanich told a downtown gathering that focused on three issues: the environment, transportation and the economy.
But former lawmaker Mike Feuer, Trutanich’s challenger in the May 21 runoff, said he sees a broader role for the city’s top lawyer — not only enforcing the law but also providing legal advice to council members and the mayor to help them shape policy and avoid costly litigation.
“An assertive city attorney” should be a leader in promoting collaboration to solve the city’s toughest problems, Feuer said.
The two candidates led off a daylong forum at the California Endowment and sponsored by nearly 30 organizations, including the Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters, Climate Resolve and Green LA Coalition.
Throughout the day, candidates for city attorney, controller and the four city council seats to be decided next month took turns at the podium and were questioned by panelists and audience members. Organizers said they omitted the city’s top race because many forums already had been held showcasing candidates for mayor and they wanted to give exposure to those seeking other offices.
Feuer, who served on the City Council and, more recently, in the state Assembly, touted his record on environmental issues and highlighted his endorsements in this race from the Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club. He said he hoped such endorsements are “indicative of the quality of my leadership on environmental issues” before listing some of the environment-related steps he had taken in the Legislature and on the council.
Trutanich said he has fought to protect the environment during his more than 30 years as a lawyer, first as a deputy district attorney, prosecuting polluters, then as a lawyer in private practice, when he sued the city on behalf of harbor area residents to protect them from pollution from uncovered petroleum coke piles. When he won the city attorney post in 2009, he hired as a top deputy a former federal prosecutor who had an extensive record in prosecuting environmental crimes.
“We are enforcing environmental laws,” Trutanich said. He also defended his controversial decision to take lawyers out of the popular “neighborhood prosecutors program” and move them downtown. He said the move made it easier for them to work with the staff’s environmental attorneys to prosecute polluters.
Feuer, who has repeatedly criticized the “decimation” of the neighborhood prosecutors program, said L.A. needs a city attorney who can provide leadership by bringing together competing interests to find a mutually acceptable solution.
By way of example, he told how Assembly Speaker John Perez had asked him to lead a working group to find a way to protect the firm that wants to build a downtown football stadium from lengthy lawsuits without undermining the protections of the California Environmental Quality Act.
“I’m very proud of that work” because it devised an arrangement that all sides in the controversial issue could agree on, Feuer said.
Trutanich implied the arrangement, which limited potential lawsuits against the builder in exchange for neighborhood protections, was “selling out.”
“Maybe I’m not the most warm and friendly guy,” Trutanich said, but “we’ve taken on the big polluters.”
Feuer said he thinks “warm and friendly and strong, effective” leadership are not mutually exclusive qualities.