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Posh Surroundings for Tough Negotiations

LAPD pact: During prolonged talks in high-rise meeting room, cookies and spectacular views eased the tension.

November 04, 2000|TINA DAUNT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sometimes all it takes is a room of one's own; then again, sometimes it also requires plenty of cookies.

In the case of Los Angeles' historic consent decree on police reform, they were chocolate chip cookies and the room in which negotiations were conducted had a view that, on a clear day, spans most of Los Angeles County.

And--perhaps most important--there were always people around who knew how to operate the copy machine. The consent decree was hammered out through endless days and longer nights in the posh 32nd-floor offices of a downtown law firm.

After a while the gleaming, glass-encased conference room at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe became like a second home, with meals and snacks brought in--the sort of first cabin office services that are foreign to civil servants.

"I remember one night we worked until 2 in the morning," said Police Commission President Gerald L. Chaleff, who is a partner in the firm and member of the city's negotiation team. "I can't tell you how many hours we worked on this agreement.

"The firm wanted to provide the space to do this because it understood the importance of what we were doing," he added. "As a large law firm it also had the resources needed to do these kinds of deals."

Although the fashionable digs designed by architect Cesar Pelli--arranged by Chaleff and provided free by his firm--did make life a little easier, they did nothing to alleviate the deep tension that characterized the talks between the city and the Department of Justice.

At one point, a city negotiator called a council member and told him: "Hello. I'm calling from a conference room in hell."

Indeed, the four members of the city's negotiating team often felt embattled in the six-month proceedings: They fought with one another and they fought with the federal government's representatives. But they all agreed on making sure that they had the side of the table where they could see the city.

"We could look out over the heads of the justice officials and we could see the sunrise, the sunset and the city lights," said Chief Deputy City Atty. Tim McOsker, who negotiated for the city on behalf of his boss, City Atty. James K. Hahn. "We literally saw the seasons change from spring, to summer to fall."

Chaleff said the view also served as a stark reminder that what was taking place in the room would influence life in Los Angeles for years to come.

"In the abstract, it reminded us that was we were doing was important to the city," he said.

Plus, McOsker said, the digs beat the city conference room--tucked away at the Department of Water and Power Building--where they originally started negotiating last May.

"We couldn't get the heat or the air to work when we were meeting at the DWP," he said.

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