Two members of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, citing concerns about Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's trip on a jet owned by controversial mortgage firm Ameriquest, called Thursday for the panel to consider stricter rules for the use of private aircraft by elected officials.
Commissioner Bill Boyarsky said he would seek a review by the panel's staff to determine whether Villaraigosa acted properly in requesting and using a jet provided by a company with a lobbyist pressing its agenda at City Hall.
"It's not good," Boyarsky said. "We should look at it. I will be raising it at the next meeting."
Villaraigosa borrowed the jet to fly with an aide, two LAPD bodyguards and a pastor from Van Nuys to Detroit on Nov. 1 to speak at the funeral of civil rights veteran Rosa Parks. They returned the next day.
The mayor said he plans to follow the rules in the municipal code and use his political officeholder account to pay Ameriquest the equivalent of coach fare on a commercial airline for himself and his aide. For each round-trip flight, the mayor's office said the cost is $438.
But Boyarsky, a former editor at The Times, questioned whether that amount was sufficient. "I thought that was absolutely ridiculous," he said.
He said he wants the review to look at whether politicians should pay at least the equivalent of first class when flying on private jets.
A flight for five from Van Nuys to Detroit with Clay Lacy Aviation, a charter operator, would cost $19,500 for a one-way trip and an additional $300 to stay overnight and return the next day, as the mayor did.
In that case, the difference between what Villaraigosa intends to pay for the flight and the cost of an equivalent charter would be $18,924.
"The rules and regulations that cover this were all complied with and followed," Villaraigosa said during an appearance Wednesday night on KCAL-TV Channel 9.
As part of a more comprehensive review of city ethics laws, Commissioner Sean Treglia said Thursday that elected officials should be required to disclose the full value of flights on private jets.
"Any time anything goes to an elected official, it raises the specter of why," Treglia said. "The higher the value, the more important it is for the public to understand what the politician is receiving."
The Federal Election Commission requires that federal officials and members of Congress who fly on corporate jets report the equivalent of the first-class airfare. If no commercial service is available, the FEC requires candidates to report the full cost of a charter flight.
Ameriquest, based in Orange, is in negotiations to settle an inquiry into its lending practices by California, 32 other states and the District of Columbia. The company has been accused of inflating costs for borrowers and has set aside $325 million for penalties and restitution to settle the case.
City Controller Laura Chick, a supporter of the mayor, said she is interested to see what city ethics officials come up with.
"Whatever their opinion is, absolutely, I think he and any of us should follow it," Chick said. "If it turns out the reimbursement he has made is not the proper reimbursement, he should correct that."
Chick, who noted that it was an honor for Villaraigosa to be asked to speak at Parks' funeral, said the mayor probably wishes he had taken a commercial flight. "In the rush of getting there, I'm sure in hindsight he would have preferred doing it in a different way," Chick said. "I definitely think that this was a decision that [he] didn't foresee there would be this negative perception."
Villaraigosa, however, has defended the flight and not ruled out flying again on Ameriquest's plane. "It won't be the last time I use a plane like this," he said.
Chick, who was a frequent critic of former Mayor James K. Hahn, said Villaraigosa met the letter of the law with his plan to reimburse Ameriquest.
"I've said it before and I'll say it again with this mayor, that when there is a perception that you've done something inappropriate, you've got a problem," she said.