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Legislative aide Ricardo Lara accused of straddling communities

April 10, 2009|David Zahniser

Legislative aide Ricardo Lara made a splash last month in political circles in southeast Los Angeles County, holding the first fundraiser of his 2010 bid for state Assembly in a district that includes South Gate and Lynwood.

Yet even as he solicited donations for his run in the 50th District, Lara continued to serve as one of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's appointees on the powerful Los Angeles Planning Commission, where each member must be a city resident. No part of Los Angeles is in the 50th District, which stretches from Commerce to Bellflower.

Lara's dual activities -- planning commissioner in one community and political candidate in another -- have drawn criticism from Assemblyman Hector De La Torre, the district's current representative who will be termed out in 2010.

"If he's in L.A., he's not in my district," De La Torre said. "This is why people are so fed up with politics and politicians. We're not a colony of Los Angeles or anywhere else. This is a community that has . . . its own character and has its own needs."

During a break in Thursday's Planning Commission meeting, Lara told The Times that he would quit the nine-member panel at the end of the day. Lara said he currently lives in Boyle Heights -- a neighborhood of Los Angeles -- but plans to relocate soon to the 50th District.

Lara, 34, publicly announced his bid for the Assembly seat in the weeks leading up to March 8, when he held a campaign fundraiser at Don Chente Bar and Grill in Walnut Park. After that event, he attended four more Planning Commission meetings.

During those sessions, the panel reviewed such proposals as a 16-story hotel in Hollywood, a private school expansion in Bel-Air and the well-publicized effort to overhaul L.A.'s billboard laws.

De La Torre said those projects have little resonance in the 50th District. "But I'm sure that will help him with his fundraising," he added.

Lara, who works for Assemblyman Kevin de Leon, said he has not sent fundraising invitations to anyone with business before the commission.

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david.zahniser@latimes.com

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