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VALLEY NEWS

LAFCO Chief May Have to Register as Lobbyist

Politics: Larry Calemine, head of group studying Valley secession, must explain his outside consulting work to city's ethics panel.

February 17, 2001|MICHAEL FINNEGAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles City Ethics Commission has asked Larry Calemine, the official in charge of drafting plans to break apart the city, to register next week as a paid lobbyist or explain why he shouldn't have to.

Calemine is the full-time executive officer of the Local Agency Formation Commission for Los Angeles County, the autonomous agency weighing cityhood proposals for the San Fernando Valley, Hollywood and the Harbor area.

On the side, he runs a private consulting business.

In a letter released Friday, Bruce Aoki, the director of the Ethics Commission's lobbying disclosure program, told Calemine his consulting work "may require you to register as a lobbyist.

"This letter is to remind you that the city's lobbying ordinance regulates persons" who are paid to try to influence city decisions, Aoki wrote.

Developers and other clients have paid Calemine tens of thousands of dollars for advice on winning City Hall approval of real estate projects in the Valley, The Times reported last week.

In one case, lawyer Rob Glushon said he and Calemine lobbied City Councilman Hal Bernson to support a zoning change for a Spectrum Club Fitness Center parking lot in Northridge. Calemine was paid more than $10,000 for his work on the project, records show.

In his letter, Aoki questioned Calemine's fees on the Spectrum project and the annual salary of more than $10,000 that he collects from Porter Ranch Development Co., the builder of a sprawling housing and commercial project in the northwest Valley.

Aoki gave Calemine until next Friday to register retroactively as a lobbyist and file disclosure reports for the time he "should have been registered"--or to "provide a detailed written explanation about why you believe you are not required to register."

Calemine said he would not register.

"There's just no evidence at all anywhere that I've ever conducted myself as a lobbyist," he said in an interview. "It just doesn't exist. And when all the chips fall, everybody's going to know that I'm not."

He refused to comment on Glushon's statement that he helped lobby Bernson.

"I don't want to get into details and respond to unsubstantiated rumors and innuendoes," he said.

Commission Defines Lobbying, Sets Rules

City law requires anyone who is paid at least $4,000 in a three-month period for lobbying activities to register. Lobbyists must disclose who pays them, how much and why. They also must name the agencies they lobby.

The Ethics Commission defines lobbying as "direct communications" with city officials, "providing advice or recommending strategy" to a client, researching an issue or monitoring public meetings of city officials. It applies to efforts to influence both legislation and agency decisions, including zoning changes.

In an interview last month, Calemine, a former commercial property manager, said he offers advice to out-of-town builders unfamiliar with City Hall and to Los Angeles clients who need a zoning specialist.

"There are times when people come along and say, 'Hey, look. We want to get a site going,' " Calemine said. "I give them my good advice."

Calemine Paid $10,000 to Advise Builders

Among Calemine's clients in 1998 was Kamber Group, a firm headed by lobbyist Harvey Englander. It paid Calemine a consulting fee in the range of $1,001 to $10,000 for advice on winning City Hall approval for MiniMed Inc., an insulin-pump maker, to build a facility at Cal State Northridge. "I recommended who the right people are they should be talking to, and so on," Calemine told The Times in January.

Another client, developer Stephen Taylor of Del Mar, said that his company, Homeplace Retirement Communities of America Inc., paid Calemine more than $10,000 for guidance on winning City Hall approval of an apartment complex for the elderly in Northridge. Calemine "can tell you who to go to," he said.

Failure to file lobbying disclosure reports is punishable by Ethics Commission fines of up to $5,000 per violation or triple the amount of the undisclosed lobbying fees. It is also a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail, but City Atty. James K. Hahn's office has not prosecuted any cases, said Charles Goldenberg, chief of the city attorney's special operations branch.

Hahn's policy is to let the Ethics Commission impose civil fines, but his office would take "appropriate" action if the panel provided evidence of criminal violations, Goldenberg said.

Calemine is paid $100,000 a year by the Local Agency Formation Commission. He is the most powerful official in shaping how Los Angeles would be divided if voters approve secession proposals for the Valley, Hollywood or the Harbor area. The nine-member commission that oversees his work decided Wednesday to review his outside income at a closed meeting on March 13.

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