As Councilman Jose Huizar is busted on public corruption charges, here's how Angelenos can claw back some of what he stole

Gentle reader,

This morning, finally, Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar was arrested on RICO charges for his role directing a criminal conspiracy that sold lucrative land use votes for illicit gifts of cash, casino chips, clothing, travel, prostitutes and fancy dinners.

You can watch the press conference or read the charging documents, in PDF form, here. Make some popcorn: it’s a novel.

But to boil 172 pages down to a nasty nugget: Huizar conspired with Ray Chan, who Mayor Eric Garcetti put in charge of Building and Safety, to shake down (mainly) Chinese developers for millions of dollars in exchange for ensuring their oversized, otherwise illegal projects breezed through the permitting process. And as term limits threatened to hamper Huizar’s political power, he steered the bribe spigot towards political action committees supporting his wife Richelle’s campaign for the CD14 council seat, as he plotted his next gig: City Attorney, Mayor or Senator. {Shudder.}

That horrible fantasy came crashing down around Huizar’s fat neck on November 7, 2018, when the FBI raided his home and office. But Los Angeles is still stuck in the nightmare he crafted.

The decade long public corruption investigation of Los Angeles City Hall isn’t finished, and we don’t believe that Jose Huizar is the prime target. But his harmful policy actions in Downtown Los Angeles have regularly brought us into direct conflict with the Councilman and with his arrogant staff, some of who are also implicated in the criminal conspiracy. So this day feels momentous to us.

We believe in preserving Los Angeles landmarks, and are dedicated to advocating for threatened places, so we saw first hand that there was something rotten behind Huizar’s sharky grin and free street parties.

We were compelled to speak out against his lousy ideas for “renewing” Pershing Square, his attempts to flush out Broadway’s small Latino businesses for more lucrative corporate tenants (through a walking tour series), his pointless scheme to destroy Parker Center for public-private redevelopment, and his support for demolition of the youngest of the historic Los Angeles Times buildings, William L. Pereira’s Times Mirror corporate HQ.

At first, we just thought he was misguided, one of those powerful dudes who overestimates his own abilities and instincts. But the closer we looked, the dirtier he got. By the time the raids came, all we could say was, “Finally! What took you so long?!” And still, even after that, Huizar controlled lucrative land use decisions, and sabotaged our Los Angeles Times landmark designation. And yet… there is still hope.

The DOJ’s case against Huizar is thorough and damning, and implicates many others in the self-styled “City Family.” We expect more arrests and additional charges to reveal a vein of rot that eats right through the departments and commissions in charge of planning, land use, permitting and zoning in Los Angeles, implicating major developers, law firms, lobbyists and… who knows who else?

We’re pretty angry about it, and frustrated. Because if more people had listened to the preservation community, Jose Huizar would not have run amok in City Hall for so many years. Preservation people were the canary in the coal mine, shrieking that the air stinks because unlike so many Angelenos, we got into the trenches and saw a bully who rewarded overseas developers over local business, who played fast and loose with the law, who polished his brand at the extent of his constituents. But money was flowing, and Huizar threw good parties. He got away with too much for too long.

And so he gets to be immortalized in one of our noir bus tours, eventually.

Dear Angeleno: you might not realize it, but you’re a crime victim. Your city was sold out from under you for the cheap pleasures of a creep. Your quality of life has been diminished in ways that can’t be quantified.

But what can you actually do about it? Turns out, there is a way that the citizens of Los Angeles can be partially compensated for the wrongs they’ve suffered, and transform projects that got approved through bribes into a public good. And the answer is sitting right there in the California Code.

Section 1090 is a short and sweet conflict of interest clause, that also bans any individual from aiding an elected official in violating the law. If the charges against Huizar are true, he and his staffer, developer, lobbyist and land use attorney buddies ran roughshod over Section 1090 for years. The fruits of their criminal conspiracy are dotted across the landscape, in the form of half-built towers, valuable upzoned parcels and completed buildings. We have no idea how many large projects were tainted by Huizar’s criminal behavior, but it could easily number in the high dozens.

And we can seize these assets under Section 1090, because any contract between a developer and the city is void if tied to illegal acts by elected officials. Those hundreds of millions of dollars in waived hotel tax revenue? The income from digital sign districts? That could all be clawed back into the city’s general fund. Upzoned luxury towers that only exist because Jose Huizar pocketed some casino chips, groped a paid escort and waved his magic wand? They could become desperately needed public housing, social service centers for the indigent, community rooms, medical clinics, libraries, museums, et cetera.

To do something like this would require a bold legal challenge, taking on wealthy, ruthless people in an attempt to right the wrongs suffered by Angelenos. But it happened in Palm Springs, and with some visionary leadership, and sufficient public pressure, it could happen here, too.

What about the enablers implicated in the expanding public corruption investigation of City Hall? We believe any developer who bribed officials should be banned from developing projects in the city forever… that every lobbyist, consultant and land use attorney who helped facilitate a bribe should be barred from City Hall for life… and that every member of the City Family who was involved in these disgusting activities ought to be wrapped in duct tape, rolled in library paste and dumped in the La Brea Tar Pits to meditate upon their sins. They can never come back to work, either.

Here’s to a fresh start in the City of Angels. Lord knows we could use one!


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AND FINALLY, LINKS

Road Trip! Although public bus tours are on hiatus, we still get around on our social distancing road trips around our beloved Los Angeles. Be a virtual backseat companion when you click the #esotouricroadtrip hashtag, on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

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