Glendale Kia in Glassell Park wants to buy this piece of city-owned land… (Gary Friedman, Los Angeles…)
Los Angeles City Councilman Ed Reyes is one of a handful of elected officials leaving City Hall next week, part of an exodus of politicians who are stepping aside because of term limits or election-year defeats.
But while packing boxes and participating in farewell ceremonies, the term-limited veteran councilman has also become enmeshed in a nasty dispute with the man who will soon replace him in his Eastside council district: veteran state lawmaker Gil Cedillo.
Since the May 21 election, Reyes and Cedillo have traded charges and countercharges centering on campaign money, a property deal and thinly veiled allegations of pay to play.
The feud broke into the open three weeks ago, when the City Council moved ahead with a plan for selling a piece of city-owned land to Glendale Kia, an auto dealership in Glassell Park. Reyes, who spearheaded the effort, said he was looking to keep a pivotal business from leaving the city. Cedillo said nearby residents thought they were getting a park on the site.
Cedillo appeared personally before his future colleagues and asked them to delay a decision until after he takes office July 1. Then, in a highly unusual move for the city's clubby group of politicians, Cedillo suggested that Reyes had fast-tracked the transaction to benefit Glendale Kia's owner, a major supporter of the man Cedillo defeated in last month's election: Jose Gardea, Reyes' chief of staff.
Kia dealer Onnik Mehrabian gave $15,000 in February to a group that sent attack mailers criticizing Cedillo for spending campaign funds at such hotels as the Standard in Los Angeles and Harrah's in Las Vegas. With Mehrabian in the council chamber, Cedillo told his future colleagues that a contribution made "in the urgency" of this year's council campaign should not be allowed to influence the timing of the property sale.
The council ignored Cedillo and moved ahead with the transaction, setting a final vote on it for Friday. So far, the only dissent has come from Councilman Richard Alarcon, who warned this month that the timing of the donation and the property transaction would stoke cynicism about City Hall. "A skeptical viewer, a cynical viewer, would look at this and say, 'Wait a minute,' " he said.
Reyes has repeatedly defended the sale, saying that it has been in the works for more than two years and would help a business that generates a significant amount of tax revenue. Reyes also lodged his own allegation, saying Cedillo personally threatened Mehrabian after learning of the auto dealer's financial support for Gardea.
"Gil Cedillo showed up at the workplace of Mr. Mehrabian ... and essentially told him that he would not have a friend on the council, while shaking his finger in his face," said Reyes, who leaves office June 30.
In the middle of the fight is Mehrabian himself, a reserve deputy with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Mehrabian's lawyer, Michael Gonzalez, said Cedillo showed up at his business unannounced on March 4, one day before the primary election and right after the attack mailers had gone out, and told Mehrabian that he had "ruined his reputation" in the district.
"He wags his finger at Mr. Mehrabian and gave him three basic points: He's going to win the election. He's going to be councilman for the 1st District. And [Mehrabian] is not going to have a friend at City Hall," Gonzalez said.
Cedillo confirmed that he showed up at the Kia offices without an appointment but said he did so only to find out if he had done something to offend the auto dealer. "I don't make comments or threats like that," he said.
Under the city's proposal, Kia would buy a 7,700-square-foot lot on San Fernando Road for $427,000, the value listed in an appraisal conducted last August. The site makes up a small portion of a piece of property purchased by the city's Bureau of Sanitation in 2001 for nearly $1.2 million. Reyes said he never committed to putting a park on the section of property sought by Kia but did create 40 acres of green space down the street.
Mehrabian has been trying for years to acquire the land, which he has been leasing at a cost of $9,721 per month. He made a formal request to city officials in February 2012, according to a report prepared by sanitation officials. By then, Reyes was actively supporting Gardea, his longtime aide and one of three men looking to win Reyes' council seat.
While city officials were putting together the paperwork for a property sale, Mehrabian became a supporter of Gardea, the man backed by Reyes to replace him. One of Mehrabian's companies gave $15,000 to the pro-Gardea independent expenditure committee on Feb. 27, according to city records. Within 48 hours, a woman showed up at the Kia dealership looking to speak with Mehrabian about that money, said Gonzalez, Mehrabian's lawyer.
Gonzalez said the woman, an acquaintance of Mehrabian, spoke loudly with Mehrabian — first in Armenian, then in English.