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The return of the recall

Jack Weiss' attitude and his ties to developers are fueling an effort to oust him from the L.A. City Council.

June 17, 2007|Marc B. Haefele | MARC B. HAEFELE is a regular commentator on KPCC-FM (89.3). His work appears in the Jewish Journal, Citybeat and on CitywatchLA.com.

I'VE NEVER SEEN Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss wearing a "Do I look like a people person?" T-shirt, but to some of his 5th District constituents, that's his everyday vibe: aloof and abrasive.

As a result, halfway through his second term, Weiss, could face a recall vote just as he commences a run for city attorney. If the petition qualifies for the ballot, it would be the first against a council member since 1984, when voters in the 14th District were asked to recall Arthur K. Snyder.

The forces behind the Weiss recall campaign face formidable odds. Snyder had been reelected in 1983 with barely more than 50% of the vote, and he was an Anglo in an increasingly Latino district. By contrast, Weiss won his second term in 2005 with 72% of the vote, and the councilman, a Jew, represents the district with the highest Jewish population.

And the 14th District voters did not recall Snyder.

Two factors are driving the Weiss recall effort. One is that many residents in the 5th District are fed up with its notorious traffic congestion, growing density and overdevelopment. They say Weiss is partly to blame because he's too friendly to developers.

The second factor is Weiss' attitude. According to a group of Westside homeowners that filed the recall notice last month, Weiss exhibits "extraordinary disdain for the process of governing; [a] complete lack of respect for constituents and [fails] to conduct city business in a transparent manner that allows constituents the same access and consideration given special interests."

The main catalyst for the recall drive was the proposed construction of two 47-story residential towers on what had been one of Century City's last low-rise parcels. Mike Eveloff, president of the Tract 7260 Homeowners Assn. near Century City, approached the project's developer, JMB, seeking $5 million for his group to spend on libraries, roads and parks to alleviate the project's negative effects.

No deal was reached, and the homeowners association sued to block the development, claiming the city underestimated the traffic that it would generate.

Weiss ultimately got the $5 million in mitigation fees from JMB but instead of giving the money to Eveloff's group, he put it under the control of the city, two neighborhood councils and other homeowner groups. Eveloff, who started the recall effort, dubbed the money Weiss' "slush fund."

The complaints against Weiss are not new in the district, which includes Century City, Cheviot Hills, the Fairfax district, the Westside and parts of the Valley. His predecessors, Mike Feuer and Zev Yaroslavsky, also faced development-related recall threats. Notably, today's recall supporters do not argue that Weiss' predecessors were any better on these issues.

It may just be that the district is the victim of its own prosperity and desirability as a place to live. Plus, many of its loquacious residents are quick to criticize; as Larry Levine, who manages Weiss' city attorney campaign, puts it, "everyone there who isn't a lawyer lives next to one."

Weiss' critics aren't saying that his behavior has worsened since his 2005 landslide reelection. So why recall him?

"This is a single-issue recall," Snyder said. "It isn't based on reality.

"Recall is a useful tool in the arsenal of electoral politics," Snyder told me. "But it should only be used when someone has done something so bad he shouldn't be allowed to stay in office."

In 1984, when Snyder faced a recall, a drunk-driving allegation swirled around him, and many people felt his largely Latino district should be represented by a Latino. He ran against the recall on his high level of constituent services and the fact that he spoke better Spanish than lead challenger, Steve Rodriguez.

Since the current recall effort was announced, Weiss has launched a damage-control campaign, even sending a basket of fruit to a fellow council member whom he'd sharply criticized in a closed session. He spends more time at neighborhood meetings in his district and doesn't sound off when residents speak beyond their permitted two minutes of public comment at City Council meetings. But no one is saying that he's suddenly turned into the nicest guy in City Hall.

Why has it been 23 years since the last recall effort made it onto the ballot? In part because of the price tag. To put the Weiss recall on the ballot requires 23,000 signatures and is expected to cost more than $250,000. Is there really a quarter of a million dollars' worth of outrage against Weiss, who responded to the recall notice last week by saying his critics were mad because he stopped them from "shaking down" the developer? Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of dollar that would be needed to run an actual recall campaign against the well-financed Weiss, one of whose closest chums is Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa?

My suspicion is that there isn't.

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