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Taxpayers get bill for elected city officials' free ride

LOCAL GOVERNMENT

August 20, 2007|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

One of the great perks of being an elected official in the city of Los Angeles is the free use of a car.

The cars are treated as a taxable benefit. The electeds get free gas, free maintenance and free carwashes, and they can use the car for personal business, as long as they drive it themselves and stay in the Los Angeles metro area. Most of the cars are recent models that sell for about $25,000 to $35,0000.

And what happens if they get into an accident or need a repair? The city fixes the car, no questions asked. Even better, city mechanics aim to please.

"Repair/replace/repaint or whatever it takes to make the keying on the hood and two front fenders look like new," wrote a city mechanic in a report on how he intended to fix City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo's GMC Yukon after it was deliberately scratched.

You may be thinking right now, "How do I file to run for office?" But there's a catch: If elected, you may get that free ride, but you'll also have to learn to live on $171,648 annually as a council member, $188,812 as controller, $205,978 as city attorney or $223,142 as mayor.

So what kind of drivers are the city's electeds?

Of the current 16 elected officials who have city cars -- Councilman Jack Weiss drives his own SUV, and the mayor rides in an SUV owned by the police -- 10 have had their cars repaired a total of 22 times, costing taxpayers $29,890.

Check out the accompanying chart for explanations about those repairs.

Don't elected officials in the city have to file some type of report when they damage their city-owned cars?

Yes and no.

The city's own accident report form states clearly: "This written report must be filed with city attorney within 24 hours of accident. It must be completed by every City employee driving, in control of, or responsible for any City-owned, rented, or mileage motor vehicle involved in an accident (no matter how slight)."

The city attorney's office, however, could find only three reports that had been filed by current elected officials: Jan Perry and Laura Chick filed one report apiece, as did Delgadillo after his SUV was vandalized.

Here's the weird part: Delgadillo's office says those so-called Form 88s don't really have to be filled out.

Asked about the accident forms this summer, and again recently, Delgadillo spokesman Nick Velasquez e-mailed:

"We informed the Times that this office knows of no city-wide policy requiring submission of Form 88s. Regardless, you are certainly welcome to contact the individual [council] members regarding their decision not to file these accident reports."

The city's General Services Department maintains the city fleet of cars and performs repairs, but it, too, doesn't require the elected officials to fill out the forms, said Tony DeClue, the assistant general manager.

"We're the repair shop," DeClue said. "We merely talk to them" -- the elected officials -- "about the timing of the repair getting done and what needs to be done."

DeClue also said that the forms are put in elected officials' cars; several elected officials, however, said they didn't know they had to report incidents.

But here's the kicker: DeClue also said that ultimately it's up to elected officials to report an accident to their department head, in other words, themselves.

One money-saving idea: Let's give them a free bus pass instead.

Pencils up -- it's quiz time. Which television pilot was shooting in City Hall last week?

1) "Backyards and Bullets," a drama about a neighborhood watch group in Milwaukee that turns to vigilante justice.

2) "SeƱor Mayor," about a Mexican American mayor of a large Western town who has the uncanny ability to talk to major appliances.

3) "Deputies," about young legislative aides in City Hall who dress to the nines, display the wit of Chaucer and have tons of sex.

The answer is below.

Any news on the congestion-pricing front?

The U.S. Department of Transportation last week announced the five winners of its competition to receive funds for urban areas that want to implement rush-hour freeway tolls or congestion pricing.

The winners: Miami, New York City, San Francisco and the metropolitan areas that include Minneapolis and Seattle. New York scored $354.5 million for its plan to charge tolls to all vehicles entering Manhattan below 86th Street, and part of San Francisco's plan includes charging variable tolls on the Golden Gate Bridge or one of its approaches.

"Many politicians treat tolls and congestion pricing as taboo, but leaders in these communities understand that commuters want solutions that work," said DOT Secretary Mary Peters.

Attentive readers might recall that the Los Angeles area was bounced from the competition in the first round because its application proposed only to study congestion pricing, not actually implement it.

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