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Valley Briefing

Alarcon Accused of Strongarm Tactics for Nonprofit's Profit

November 04, 1994|HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANGER AMID ACRONYMS: Just over a year in office and Councilman Richard Alarcon has become embroiled in a controversy involving a Valley-based business assistance group that has the makings of one of the nastier brouhahas of 1994.

The issue involves a $300,000 grant that the City Council awarded to the Valley Economic Development Center (VEDC) Wednesday to help earthquake-damaged businesses get back on their feet.

John Rooney, president of the nonprofit group, claims Alarcon called him last month and threatened to vote against giving his group the grant unless Rooney agreed to team up with Neighborhood Empowerment Economic Development Inc. (NEED), another business support group in the Valley that has close ties to Alarcon.

As it turned out, the VEDC got the grant on a unanimous vote of the council.

Alarcon denies Rooney's charges and counters with his own allegation: That Rooney's group has not provided business assistance services at a Pacoima office even though the group is required to do so by the terms of a $200,000 city grant it was awarded last year.

Alarcon's chief of staff, Annette Castro, said the councilman called for an investigation into the matter Tuesday. The grant was given on the condition that Rooney's group keep regular hours at a Pacoima office where business owners can drop by for help, she said. But the Pacoima office has no phone and is rarely open, Castro said.

She said she believes Rooney fired his volley at Alarcon in retaliation for the councilman's call for an investigation.

Clearly, there is bad blood between the two camps. But as yet there is no hard evidence that any laws have been broken. So far, it's just a lot of juicy accusations.

Rooney declined to comment publicly Thursday but David Honda, chairman of the VEDC's board of directors, said Rooney told him about Alarcon's actions.

"I was kind of appalled that someone would make such a statement like that," Honda said of Alarcon's alleged threat to vote against the grant. "We feel this is becoming political blackmail. It's a quid pro quo."

Honda said Alarcon demanded that his group team up with NEED, a group headed by James Acevedo, who worked on Alarcon's campaign. Alarcon has also hired NEED to help implement a neighborhood improvement program in his district.

Honda said his group is willing to work with other business assistance groups but has no plans to work with Acevedo's group.

As for Alarcon's charges that services are not provided at the Pacoima office, Honda said the office often goes unused because workers from his organization usually meet with business owners at their places of business, not in the office.

"You can't consult a business by sitting in your office," Honda said.

*

SPEAKING OF ALARCON: His fight to close the Lopez Canyon Landfill has always appeared to be the simple story of a pragmatic politician trying to eliminate a longtime problem for his constituents.

But it has also been the story of family ties caught in the middle of a local political battle.

It so happens that Alarcon's second cousin, John de la Rosa, is a manager at the city-run landfill in Lake View Terrace who worked his way up to that position over 26 years from humble beginnings as a garbage man working the back of a trash truck.

If Alarcon is successful at closing the landfill in 1996, when its current operating permit expires, De la Rosa will in all likelihood still have a job with the city's Bureau of Sanitation. He will simply be without a landfill to manage.

But both cousins say there is no bad blood between them, no family feud that has split relatives into warring factions. In fact, De la Rosa said that when he and Alarcon get together at family functions, they don't even mention the landfill.

"He has his job and I have my job," De la Rosa said. "Usually when we talk, we talk about family."

Still, the two have divergent views on the landfill's future.

Because of the problems the landfill has created for neighbors and promises the city has made about closing it, Alarcon believes it should be shut down and the city should explore other disposal options, such as hauling trash to remote landfills by rail.

But De la Rosa said he agrees with Bureau of Sanitation officials who believe the city would save money by extending the life of the landfill to 2000.

"I believe the economics would favor the city keeping it open," he said.

*

SLOW GOING: In August, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Laura Chick proposed a simple but sensible idea: Each proposal on the City Council's agendas must include an analysis explaining how much its adoption would cost.

For example, if the council were to vote to hire more police, the "financial impact statement" on the agenda would note how much it would cost the city to pay for the new officers.

The idea was that the statements would make it easier for the politician and the public to see the cost of each decision.

But like many sensible ideas proposed in City Hall, it got swallowed up in the bureaucracy.

Chick's proposal was adopted on Aug. 30 and the impact statements were scheduled to begin appearing in the Sept. 20 council agenda. But beginning with that meeting, the council has voted on 596 matters and only seven included an impact statement. That's less than 2% of the items.

Pat Healy, a legislative assistant who was assigned to implement the idea, said Chick's proposal has yet to take full effect, in part, because many of the items on recent agenda were in the pipeline long before Chick's proposal was adopted and therefore no financial statements were prepared ahead of time.

Another reason, she said, is that bureaucrats in the various departments have simply not gotten around to including the impact statements on proposals they put before the council.

"We are just kind of playing with it as we go along," Healy said.

As expected, Chick is not happy with the city's pace of implementing her idea.

"We are certainly not happy with how slow this is going," said Chick aide Diana Brueggemann.

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