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Q&A / CITY GOVERNMENT

River May Get Cleaned, but City Hall Is Still a Mess

July 24, 2006|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

If you had spent a couple of weeks traveling in the Pacific Northwest recently, as I did, you might have encountered the following local stories:

In Ashland, Ore., a City Council candidate who lives in a tent is mounting a campaign to recall the mayor.

In Seattle, animal activists are trying to get the zoo to ship its elephant, Bamboo, to a sanctuary.

And in Victoria, British Columbia, a former mayoral candidate was trying to stop the city from dumping sewage into the ocean by parading around dressed as "Mr. Floatie." (Yes, it's what you think.)

In other words, democracy is messy wherever you go, although perhaps it's a little messier in Victoria.

In the meantime, more than a little democracy has been spilled lately in Los Angeles City Hall ...

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Question: Did Councilman Greig Smith vote for the city's hike in the trash fee?

Answer: Yes, but that's not what Smith is saying.

In an opinion piece appearing on his city website, Smith wrote that he cast the sole vote against the trash fee increase of $17 over four years. The increase is aimed at freeing up money to pay for more police. But city records show and every major media outlet in town reported that the budget passed unanimously.

Smith did cast the lone vote against the trash fee in the council's budget committee, where it passed 4 to 1. But he voted for the full budget, which included the fee, on May 16. He told The Times that day that his vote was merely procedural and that he had already voiced his objections.

Smith was traveling in Asia last week, but his chief of staff, Mitch Englander, defended his boss' statements. "It's clear that the only time that there was a vote on the trash fee as a sole item, Councilman Smith voted no," Englander said.

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Q: Who is running for reelection next year?

A: Greig Smith.

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Q: Did Little Antonio the goldfish die in vain?

A: No.

You may remember this column's experiment in which two goldfish were plopped into a tank filled with Los Angeles River water. One of the fish -- named Little Ed after the council's river chairman Ed Reyes -- is still ticking.

But Little Antonio -- named after a certain mayor -- went belly up last month after 111 days living the good life.

But there is good news, at least for folks who want to see the largely concrete channel restored to something resembling a river: last Wednesday Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) helped shepherd a $12-million appropriation for river projects through the Senate as part of a water resources bill.

The House already has approved the money, and if the appropriation survives a Senate-House conference committee and is placed in a future year's federal budget, that means $12 million for river cleanup efforts and perhaps a down payment on another park along the river.

Boxer was a fan of Little Antonio and this spring she promised she would attempt to get nearly $80 million for river projects. Given the messy politics in Washington, don't hold your breath until the money comes through.

In the meantime, we've decided to help the senator keep track of her promise. Check out the graphic.

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Q: What ultra-cynical thing can be said about the council's attempt to put before voters a ballot measure to give themselves four more years in office?

A: That some council members really want to make sure they are in office on Jan. 3, 2011. That's the date that former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa would be sworn in as governor -- if he runs and wins in 2010.

In the case of a mayoral vacancy, the City Charter says that the council president would then become the acting mayor until a special election is held.

The election primary would probably be in March 2011, and being acting mayor for the weeks leading up to the vote wouldn't hurt a candidate in what would likely be a crowded field.

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Q: What if the term limits extension doesn't pass in November?

A: The 12 council members termed out of office in 2009 or 2011 would have to find a job.

Good news: Some of them already are under instruction for possible new careers.

Wendy Greuel and Jack Weiss recently learned to replace a traffic signal, Jose Huizar got a lesson in curb painting and Tom LaBonge has long excelled in furniture and bulky item pickup.

And soon Eric Garcetti, the council president, and Dennis Zine will show their pizza-flipping skills on a city cable television special about eateries in Zine's district.

Make that with pepperoni and onions, Mr. Council President!

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Q: Which council member angered his colleagues over the issue of term limits?

A: Weiss.

His sin: He made his colleagues follow the letter of the law in putting the term limits ballot measure on the council's agenda.

That raised eyebrows in City Hall because it is well known that Weiss is planning to run for city attorney in 2009 and doesn't want to run against incumbent Rocky Delgadillo, who would be seeking a third term.

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