Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter has publicly rebuked a longtime Venice ally for undermining community credibility with his developer-funded Ulan Bator Foundation, one purpose of which is to promote Mongolian culture in the Westside.
In a stinging letter to Venice community activist Arnold Springer, Galanter said Springer's actions threatened to "risk our collective credibility and sow . . . seeds of divisiveness in the interests of nominally promoting Mongolian culture as a cure for what ails Venice." The letter was released late last week to community groups and the press.
Springer had created the Ulan Bator Foundation with money paid last year by developer Jerry Snyder to get Springer to abandon a lawsuit that threatened to upset the financing and delay construction of Snyder's massive Channel Gateway project on Lincoln Boulevard.
In response to Galanter, Springer this week challenged the councilwoman, who is seeking reelection in April, to reflect on her leadership strategy. "Certainly I provoked this, but I have to tell you . . . it is not my error you see, but your own," wrote Springer, a colorful character known for his wardrobe of skirts, eye liner and dangling earrings.
It is Galanter's policy to ask major developers in her district to negotiate with community representatives over what they want in a project and what they can get for the community in the form of money for such purposes as affordable housing and child-care centers. Springer, a professor of Russian history at Cal State Long Beach, was one of the community negotiators on Channel Gateway.
The councilwoman's public response to Springer's private deal came nearly six months after developer Snyder agreed to a $450,000 settlement with the activist.
She said her "profound disappointment" at Springer's actions was rekindled by a recent Times story in which Springer referred to the portion of the money allotted to the foundation as his "play money."
In a telephone interview, Galanter said she tried to persuade Springer at the time to drop negotiations with Snyder, to no avail. She also said she advised Snyder not to pay the money. Galanter said she did not go public with her criticism of the brewing deal because it would have made no difference. Springer "dances to his own drummer,' she said.
Under his deal with Snyder, Springer receives $200,000 for his foundation, paid out over five years. The developer also promised to raise $250,000 for a Venice community center. Snyder declined to be interviewed on the escalating Ulan Bator controversy.
Springer has thus far donated $1,000 to save a child-care center, a bequest prompted by a plea from Galanter. He also gave $7,000 to pay legal fees for another community group in which he is heavily involved.
But is is Springer's use of the money to fix up an apartment in his home for the foundation's headquarters and the hiring of friends and relatives that Galanter said she found unconscionable.
Galanter wrote that the Springer-Snyder deal cast a shadow over the integrity of the community participation process: "The specter of ever-escalating demands and arbitrary breaches of faith now looms over the process."
Defending the Mongolian connection to the foundation, Springer said: "Perhaps it would be valuable to look on it as a magical element." Springer, 52, said the foundation is named for the capital of Mongolia because he was visiting the city when the California Coastal Commission rejected his appeal and denied him a hearing on the effects of the project on coastal access. This set up his legal standing to sue.
Springer explained the Mongolian-Westside connection as a bathtub with two balls floating in it. The larger one represents a problem of "systemic sclerosis," which in his view can be resolved by a sub-regional approach to development, rather than a project-by-project strategy.
"Call the smaller ball Mongolia," Springer said. "Both balls float and then spin in the bathtub. The spray they shoot into the air is charged with a synergistic energy, and it is in this atmosphere that a major rethinking and restructuring of our life in the West Los Angeles Coastal sub-region can take place."
Of his own actions, Springer insists: "I have done nothing wrong except to dance unseemly in public and to advocate that non-elected politically active people think of play as they politic," Springer responded on Ulan Bator letterhead.
The logo for the foundation is a mythical beast with horns, fangs and hoofs.