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Scolding Dr. Cornel West at Mark Ridley-Thomas' Sentencing...

and the bombshell shadow Airbnb corruption case the Feds didn't try

Gentle reader,

Last Monday morning, August 28, your (usually) friendly historic Los Angeles tour guides and historic preservation activists were ready to unplug. Richard had packed a picnic lunch, and Kim had the binoculars. We were off to Crystal Cove to explore the tide pools and check on the ongoing restoration of the seaside cottages, then to Yorba Regional Park to look for birds along the rushing Santa Ana River.

There was just one thing to do first in gritty Downtown Los Angeles. On Saturday, we’d taken a tour group to see the recently discovered historic gay hookup graffiti in the basement speakeasy of the King Edward Hotel, and had forgotten Richard’s thermos underground.

It’s tough on that block, bookended by one of the criminally empty Skid Row Housing Trust hotels that’s heavily tagged, with gaping missing windows the city won’t enforce and pigeons roosting inside, suspicious substances on the sidewalks and bad smells. But it’s beautiful down there, too, and full of ghosts.

We ran into chatty friends on the Nickel, as you do, and time got away from us. Then Kim looked at Twitter and saw that Mark Ridley-Thomas’ public corruption sentence was about to be handed down at the Federal Courthouse a few blocks away. We decided to swing by to see the show.

But when we got to 1st and Broadway, nothing was happening. Reporters, photographers and a few curious citizens were milling around on the plaza, waiting for the players to emerge and make their statements.

While Richard parked, Kim spontaneously “went live” on Instagram.

Anyone who happened to catch this livestream in real time knows we don’t do this often: the feed came out sideways! We’ve cleaned the half-hour, multi-part stream up, and you can find the whole thing right side up on YouTube, a moment in time in a corrupted metropolis. And we pulled the most dramatic 90 seconds from the stream, featured in the embedded video above.

If you have no idea what an Esotouric is, and found this post because it features an angry woman scolding Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Cornel West, welcome. We’re husband and wife tour guides, historians, preservationists and community builders, and we’re essentially the moral conscience of Los Angeles.

This is a role that’s been forced on us through a series of improbable happenings, and at this point we just go with it.

At Angels Flight Railway, which we helped to save.

Fifteen years ago, when we were writing popular true crime and lost architecture blogs and developing tours about Raymond Chandler, Charles Bukowski and The Black Dahlia murder, the new owners of the Los Angeles Times asked us to meet to brainstorm about hyper-local journalism. It was such a disturbing, amateur hour meeting that as we left the beautiful Globe Lobby, Richard said “I guess we’re going to have to landmark this place before these clowns tear it down for redevelopment.”

We did so—though it took a long time, with a long break after threats were conveyed to us via city planning officials. Then at the last minute, an uninvited collaborator elbowed his way in and rewrote the landmark designation for the benefit of property owners Onni Group.

That co-author was city councilman Jose Huizar, who has since confessed to racketeering and will be sentenced to prison later this year, as some of the crummy projects he championed lurch forward like civic zombies looking for a place to fall.

When the action finally started back at the courthouse last Monday, it was a smooth machine, and if you didn’t know the drill, it was tough to find a good spot from which to film. Figuring others would do that work, Kim patrolled the perimeter. Mark Ridley-Thomas’ legal team emerged, with family and friends, to defend the convict and spin his sentence. Later, the DOJ would send their poker-faced people out to provide sound bites and hints of further prosecutions to come. Independent journalist

has the best account of the case to date, and video of the prosecution and defense remarks.

Cuniff also captured Dr. Cornel West’s statement in support of Ridley-Thomas, which you can watch or read below:

"Mark Ridley-Thomas is one of the greatest public servants in the history of this state. The quality of his service manifests shaping the lives of those precious ones here on the chocolate side of Los Angeles, and you can ask any one of them. This is a sad day. But our struggle continues. And I just wanted the world to know, Mark Ridley-Thomas is my dear brother forever, and that his integrity cannot be called into question by legal proceedings.”

Kim had no intention of being part of the legal circus. But that smug line about the precious ones on the chocolate side of Los Angeles in defense of a selfish library demolishing jerk like Mark Ridley-Thomas was too fucking much for someone who had just traversed the few blocks that separate the Federal Courthouse—and the City Hall from which MRT was figuratively hauled out in handcuffs—from the human right disaster that is L.A.’s disenfranchised Skid Row. (It didn’t hurt that she knew about the horrifying overdose stats that disproportionately affect black women that were about to be published.)

So Kim took off after the corruption apologist and chewed him out good, on tape, for the world, and you, to see.

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We never did make it to the beach that day, but the birding at Yorba Regional Park was spectacular. We recommend you visit to see the Gorey-esque Black-Necked Stilts menacing ducks who get too close to their nests among the reeds, and the river flowing and halting alongside the highway’s hum.

Looking over the livestream later, something nagged at us. It was footage of Los Angeles Sentinel photojournalist E. Mesiyah McGinnis interviewing Jerry Edwards, the long-time proprietor of Jerry’s Flying Fox club.

We’d photographed the amazing neon signs at the shuttered R&B and gumbo joint in 2014, intending to figure out why this super-cool legacy business (established 1961) was unoccupied, along with most of the surrounding Santa Barbara Plaza (aka Marlton Square) open-air shopping mall. Preoccupied with crooked development drama Downtown, in Hollywood and on the Eastside, we never did.

Until now. And boy howdy, does it matter.

Because the CRA’s 2002 Marlton Square development disaster which caused Jerry’s Flying Fox to close was the same $123 Million scheme that elevated Mark Ridley-Thomas to statewide office, from which he returned to Los Angeles to rule as one of the five little kings on the Board of Supervisors, from which throne he committed the crimes for which he has been convicted!

Capital Vision Equities, run by the notorious Christopher Hammond, aided by CRA-chief-turned-lobbyist John Molloy and hand-picked by MRT and then Mayor Jim Hahn to redevelop the historic open air shopping center, bounced its first check to City Hall. But big checks to help MRT gain his seat in the State Assembly presumably cleared. These goons squandered one of the limited Federal Community Block Grants available to the city on a failed and felonious project that remains blighted more than 20 years later. Shortly after MRT was indicted, the city announced a search for a new developer, suggesting that this mess was allowed to fester until he was again in a position to profit. So that sucks.

But even more distressing is what the DOJ brought out in the courtroom prior to Mark Ridley-Thomas’ sentencing, a document that

shared in her newsletter later that day: a 25 page exhibit of additional crimes for which the politician was not charged.

We are nerdy and kind of enjoy following public corruption trials, but MRT’s has been dull. The charges against him—colluding with a USC dean to provide a soft landing for sex pest son Sebastian as he fled Sacramento ahead of a workplace harassment scandal—are hard to get excited about, and Angelenos are suffering scandal fatigue when it comes to USC.

So what a shock to discover the Feds were sitting on additional evidence that would have caught the attention of every tenants’ rights activist, every preservationist and every homeless citizens’ advocate in the state!

Read this and marvel. The first 17 pages are emails that appear to show MRT taking very specific Los Angeles County policy direction in February 2018 from—and we’re taking an informed leap here, so please note that what follows is speculation and may not be 100% accurate—a lobbyist from the home share industry with business in the City of Los Angeles.

By far the biggest home share company active in Los Angeles is and was Airbnb, and its only registered lobbyist that year was one John Choi.

John Choi University Of California, Los Angeles Los Angeles, California, United States | Linkedin As Of September 6 2023
1.52MB ∙ PDF file

Who? According to his Linkedin, the little known Choi left his policy role at Airbnb in December 2022. Before this, he was something of a political Zelig, with gigs as Antonio Villaraigosa’s body man, Economic Development Director for the scandal plagued L.A. Federation of Labor and a Public Works Commissioner in Los Angeles (the same powerful commission that produced cooperating public corruption witness Joel Jacinto).

But in 2013, John Choi was everywhere, at least in Council District 13. Heavily funded by his former union bosses at the Fed and supported by former political boss Kevin de Leon in Sacramento, he moved into the neighborhood and ran an ugly City Council campaign against local favorite Mitch O’Farrell, promising if he won to give labor a seat at the table in City Hall. (Sound familiar?)

Mitch O’Farrell won that election and proceeded to ruin Hollywood for the benefit of Netflix and party hotels and EB-5 visa fraudsters. John Choi quietly slipped into the role of home share industry lobbyist, from where we presume he is the redacted individual who wrote policy for Mark Ridley-Thomas, then got shaken down by the sex pest son for donations. But these acts were not something the Feds deemed worthy of bringing up in open court, or charging as a separate offence.

Could this mean that public corruption in service of the home share industry is next to be charged as a crime? Please! Los Angeles desperately needs our limited affordable housing stock back on the market, and anyone in power who has helped displace Angelenos for tourist bookings quashed.

Most of the people who take our tours are Angelenos, and they all have an idea of what’s wrong with this city—the systemic corruption that blankets our politics and breeds rage and distrust. But we also get a steady stream of visitors, like Jessica Prupas from Virgin Atlantic’s VERA Magazine. They want to understand why such a remarkable city, a hub of creativity, with gorgeous landmarks and a climate to dream about, has gone so wrong. We do our best to explain, but it’s almost too big and too boring to nail down.

But every crook needs to hear: If you love money and power more than you love Los Angeles, you have no right to lead, and certainly no right to demand our respect.

That’s why we call out corruption when we see it—because we love this city and its people, and from studying the past we know what is possible now and in the future. That beautiful future is being strangled in real time by these stodgy turds who cling to their power, prop each other up with unearned commission appointments and squandered charitable donations, and stand in the way of real progressive change, safe housing, collaboration, art, love, gardens, music, books—they are starving the city and the citizens.

If you saw your neighbor treating a pet the way the so-called “leaders” of Los Angeles treat this city, you’d report them for abuse!

In this week’s edition of The Crown City Podcast, we talk with host James Di Pietro about our love for Los Angeles and our collaborative vision for using historic preservation campaigns to shape how people feel about the city, and to show them the policy ropes so they see that they have more power than they know.

So yeah, Kim bullied Dr. Cornel West and chased him off the Federal Courthouse Steps, for the mortal sin of lending his voice—a voice to which citizens who yearn for a better America have cocked their ears—to the disgusting lie that MRT did not betray his constituents, that the courts are biased, that citizens need to accept this dirty status quo as good enough.

And as for Mark Ridley-Thomas’ supporters, we understand and respect that there are people in South Los Angeles who feel concern for a politician who has always been there for them, and who needs their support today. We’ll always stop to listen to them, as we stopped to listen to Jerry Edwards. None of them are running for President, or using their powerful channel to normalize corruption or to lie to the people.

We don’t know who is paying this guy to play this part, but we hope he puts a sock in it and lets real progressive voices be heard, here in Los Angeles, and everywhere.

yours for Los Angeles,

Kim & Richard


Psst… If you’d like to support our efforts to be the voice of places worth preserving, we have a tip jar and a subscriber edition of this newsletter, vintage Los Angeles webinars available to stream, in-person tours and a souvenir shop you can browse in. We’ve also got recommended reading bookshelves on Amazon and the Bookshop indie bookstore site. And did you know we offer private versions of our walking and bus tours for groups big or small? Or just share this link with other people who care.

Tour Gift Certificates


Pasadena Confidential Crime Bus Tour (Sat. 9/9) • Franklin Village Old Hollywood Walking Tour (Sat. 9/16) • University Park Walking Tour (Sat. 9/23) • Angelino Heights & Carroll Avenue Walking Tour (Sat. 10/7) • Eastside Babylon Crime Bus Tour (Sat. 10/14) • The Birth of Noir: James M. Cain’s Southern California Nightmare Bus Tour (Sat. 10/21) • The Real Black Dahlia Crime Bus Tour (Sat. 10/28) • Evergreen Cemetery, 1877 Walking Tour (Sun. 10/29) • The Run: Gay Downtown History Walking Tour (Sat. 11/4)


Nathan Marsak's R.I.P. Los Angeles blog is back, with a post a day all September, including today’s plea to preserve the lovely Spanish hacienda that was the only home Marilyn Monroe ever owned.

Gulp! The Hollywood Cherokee Building is for sale, including treasured legacy business retail tenants Larry Edmunds Bookshop and Boardner's, custom patterned sidewalks, Juliet balconies and Beth Short's gynecologist's office. Imagine owning this!

Waiting for an LA bus and sweltering? As the Mayor's office proves clueless about LADOT's media stunt La Sombrita, we'd like to know why Outfront JC Decaux had the bus shelter contract for two decades and failed so spectacularly.

We share Avoiding Regret's dismay with the replica Hot Dog (on a) Stick stand by the Santa Monica Pier.

Thanks to "Mr. Window" James Dastoli, one of L.A.'s most iconic dingbat apartments is under consideration as a landmark. We'd like to see the earthquake retrofit pylons blend in better—maybe more mosaic?

Empty Los Angeles says It's About Time as the city of Los Angeles sues over illegal party house short term rentals. It only took about a decade of citizens screaming for help! So what changed? Dirty Mike Feuer is out. Plus, she’s looking to talk with victims of Ellis Act evictions.

You may have heard that ground was broken for limited renovation work on Pershing Square, chipping away at what was built in the '90s, but not creating something new. We helped ensure Barbara McCarren's literary inspired public art is not lost along the way.

It is the same in every city. Politicians and corporate sports promoters have no ideas beyond demolishing useful old places citizens love in order to generate money and publicity. We stand with Tokyo’s Jingu Gaien gingko trees!

An unexpected side effect of Mitch O'Farrell letting developer CGI Properties displace the Villa Carlotta's longtime tenants for a failed boutique hotel scheme: it’s hard to imagine a scammer like David Bloom getting past the sly old timers who got kicked out!

The California Apartment Association must be pretty scared of Michael Weinstein's efforts to fix rent control statewide to launch a ballot measure meant to muzzle him. Widely demonized, with ginned-up slumlord accusations, he's one of LA's angels. If journalists reported on AHF's return of illegally emptied Skid Row hotels to use, more would know this.

Witness Janet Lever corrects the record on who really saved the magnificent Los Altos Apartments. Like the revival of California sourdough, you can thank Larry Silverton. And we do!

Michael Govan trolls Angelenos incensed over his destruction of the open air 1960s LACMA campus for a grim concrete overpass with an Ed Ruscha retrospective. Burn, baby, burn.

We love this Eater LA story about Armon’s in Eagle Rock—which opened as Macau's in 1962 and has been site of a neighborhood diner for a century—a classic American diner with a menu that reflects the Thai disaspora.

John Bengtson spots locations from Laurel & Hardy's early collaboration Duck Soup, including a bike chase on old Bunker Hill. A few years later, a film about L.A. hobos conscripted to fight a fire wouldn't be funny.

The Real Deal picks up Jamie T. Hall's lawsuit against PLUM's scripted land use vote for the benefit of Monkeypaw's Ian Cooper and Rachel Foullon's palace on Mt. Washington's steepest slope.

Wild tale about how a first novel about the Southern California drive-in hot rod scene got published, exposed a vanity press scam, and roared again.

News from Esotouric's Secret Los Angeles
News from Esotouric's Secret Los Angeles
Esotouric's Secret Los Angeles