The city attorney is late.
It is Wednesday, 9 a.m., at the Peck Park Community Center in San Pedro. City Atty. James Hahn is supposed to be here by now for the first of a series of public forums he is sponsoring for senior citizens around Los Angeles.
Mary Utovac is among a group of seniors sitting on a bench in the lobby, waiting. She is asked what the big issues are.
"As things come up, we discuss them," she says. "Right now we're discussing bingo. Most of the senior citizens like to play bingo. Bingo is a very important part of their lives. And travel. Travel and bingo."
Will her group discuss bingo with the city attorney?
Oh no, Utovac says, her group is not waiting for the city attorney. They are waiting to begin their monthly meeting of the harbor area Federation of Senior Citizens Clubs. Hahn's forum is in the auditorium. The federation, made up of 14 local club presidents, will meet in another part of the community center.
By the time the city attorney arrives, the federation meeting is under way. Only a dozen seniors join Hahn in the auditorium, which is set up for hundreds and seems cavernous in the absence of a crowd. The forum coordinator tries to persuade the federation group to attend, but it has its own business to tend to.
And so Hahn, who has lived in San Pedro for a year, says simply that he is happy to see the group, which he acknowledges is "small, but friendly." He remarks how nice it is to have a morning meeting so close to home. "To be able to come around the corner, as it were, to Peck Park is a real pleasure," he says.
He does not tell them the reason he is half an hour late. According to his deputy, he took a wrong turn and got lost.
So went the morning of Oct. 14 for the city attorney, one of only three public officials in Los Angeles who is elected citywide--the others being the mayor and the city controller, an office Hahn occupied before assuming his current post. In Hahn's job, constituents may be more important than court cases.
"This is how you keep in touch with the people who elect you, the people whom you serve," said Hahn, explaining why he came.
In fact, the very next day Hahn made another public appearance in San Pedro--this one at the Port of Los Angeles, where he was host for a luncheon with economic forecaster Joel Kotkin to discuss "the future of Los Angeles as a major center in the Pacific Rim region." After the luncheon, Hahn conducted a question-and-answer session with about 40 local high school students who attended as his guests.
Why was Hahn spending so much time in the harbor area?
"Poor planning," he joked.
"It was just a matter of calendaring," said his press secretary, Ted Goldstein. "Next week, he has a heavy week in the Valley."
Indeed, according to his staff, the 37-year-old son of veteran County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn is a very busy man.
"You have to understand," said Goldstein, "that everything--and I mean everything--that passes through the City of Los Angeles passes through the city attorney's desk.
"Just this summer, the news in this office has surrounded pit bulls, traffic violence, freeway shooters, the homeless. We have had Louis Farrakhan . . . and then finally it's capped with an earthquake. All of this passed the city attorney's office and landed on the city attorney's desk. And this is not taking into consideration zoning and land use and planning decisions. . . .
"It's a very busy office and a very active one."
So how does Hahn have time to come to San Pedro to talk to senior citizens and students?
"How does he have time?" repeated Goldstein. "He makes time."
And make time he did Wednesday morning, for questions about why it takes the police so long to respond to a call, why dogcatchers don't come when the neighbor's dogs are barking, and why vagrants, finding no toilet facilities in city parks, must urinate in public.
Hahn, boyish-looking yet sophisticated in his tailored gray suit, was sympathetic. Yes, he agreed, the city needs more police officers. Don't give up on the animal control office, he said--a new law permits the city to revoke the licenses of unruly pets. And if he had his way, the city would have more park rangers and plenty of public restrooms.
The crowd--which more than doubled in size when the federation group finished its business and joined in the forum--didn't seem to care that the city attorney doesn't directly handle any of these problems. They seemed rather to adopt the philosophy of Dayle Saffell, who hoped Hahn would prevail upon other government officials to do what needs to be done--in Saffell's case, getting the Harbor City seniors a new hall.
"I don't know if it's going to do any good," she told Hahn, "but if you could put a word in to Mayor Bradley to see if they could get us a building. . . . "
The city attorney smiled, and said he would see what he could do.