4LAKids Q: So what do Westside developers have to do with public education in LA?
4LAKids A: Read on, gentle reader – read on.
Developers make big plans for Westside, write big checks for Antonio.
By DAVID ZAHNISER | LA Weekly
Wednesday, August 2, 2006 - The homeowner associations that cover much of the Westside let out a collective groan last March after developer Beny Alagem unveiled plans for dramatically remaking the Beverly Hilton — razing the tiki bar known as Trader Vic’s and building two 13-story condominium towers on the site.
After all, neighborhood leaders had learned only two weeks earlier that another developer planned to add 262 condos to the
Community groups in and around
The huge sums have created a corridor of contributions along
“[The money] influences the process,” Broide said. “And this whole episode shows more than anything the need for public financing of our city elections, and for cleaning up the rules that govern campaign donations.”
Reports filed Friday showed that Villaraigosa raised nearly $1.1 million as of June 30 for his Committee for Government Excellence and Accountability, which is waging an aggressive public-relations campaign promoting a bill pending in
Alagem, the owner of the Beverly Hilton project, gave Villaraigosa’s school committee $75,000. A second developer, Chicago-based AP Properties, donated another $100,000 on June 7, two weeks after a hearing on its proposal to build 483 condominium units across three buildings — two 47-story towers and a 12-story loft building, all in Century City. (AP Properties is an affiliate of JMB Realty, which is more frequently named as the project’s developer.)
Westfield Corp., owner of
“What this does clearly is give access to the Mayor’s Office — good access. He will call them back,” said Robert Stern, president of the Center for Government Studies, which has called for greater restrictions on fund raising for campaigns like Villaraigosa’s. “We’re not talking about $3,000 or $4,000 here. These are major contributions.”
When Villaraigosa ran for mayor, developers were permitted to give him no more than $2,000 apiece — $1,000 in the primary and $1,000 in the runoff. Because he is waging an issue-based campaign, however, there are no limits on the amount he may seek. The school donations are among the largest raised by City Hall since former Mayor James Hahn collected six-figure contributions for L.A. United, the campaign that defeated
Nathan James, a spokesman for the mayor’s political-action committee, could not say how the mayor chose the contributors. But he confirmed that Villaraigosa made the calls personally, adding that the money is needed to counter a costly public-relations campaign against the mayor’s school initiative being waged by L.A. Unified at taxpayer expense.
James maintained that contributors who gave money to Villaraigosa did so because they know that the quality of public schools affects the
Traffic and development are among the most sensitive political issues on the Westside, where homeowner groups have hired lawyers and even their own traffic consultants to scrutinize megaprojects. When JMB Realty/AP Properties released an environmental-impact report for its 47-story condo towers, a coalition of 10 neighborhood groups responded with a 55-page, highly technical letter criticizing the document.
The homeowner coalition insists the city understated the amount of traffic that will be generated by the towers. Jonathan Broad, a lawyer and
Representatives of JMB and Alagem said both contributors have a long history of giving to philanthropic causes — money that is not tied to any specific development. “We have substantial investments in
Both the towers and the
Political-contribution reports show that Villaraigosa’s school-initiative supporters span the ideological spectrum, with influential Republican businessmen providing the money and established Democratic Party political consultants getting paid to provide the services. The committee spent $25,000, for example, on SCN Public Relations, a Democratic opposition-research firm whose main consultant, Ace Smith, played a huge role in Villaraigosa’s successful 2005 mayoral campaign.
Although Villaraigosa is one of the Democratic Party’s rising stars, more than half of his committee’s funds came from many of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s biggest contributors. Univision executive Jerry Perenchio, who gave Villaraigosa’s school committee $500,000, has spent nearly $6.4 million in the last 18 months on Schwarzenegger, the California Republican Party and the governor’s various ballot initiatives.
Baxter also has been active in the Club for Growth, a political-action committee that funds hard-line fiscal conservatives. That committee tried without success last year to defeat Republican Senator Arlen Specter of
Teachers union activist Paul Huebner, a critic of Villaraigosa’s school plan, accused the mayor of straying from his progressive roots as he embraces more and more Republican campaign contributors. James disagreed, saying Villaraigosa wants his initiative to be a bipartisan effort. “The bottom line is, it’s not what party you’re from, but whether it’s going to be good for
Whether Villaraigosa will turn to other conservatives — or
LA Weekly's David Zahniser guested on the KCRW radio show Thursday, August 3rd: listen online HERE
Debate over who should control Los Angeles schools has produced some nasty political rhetoric from both sides, becoming LA's hottest political issue since the ill-fated drive for Valley succession. Now it's devolving into disputes about fundraising, and legislative analysts in both the State Capitol and City Hall say Mayor Villaraigosa's plan might be unconstitutional. The Mayor has accepted huge contributions for school reform from developers who will need his approval for controversial projects. The school board is spending tens of thousands of public dollars to defeat the Villaraigosa's effort. Now, We try to sort it all out with some of the players, including the author of an article in today's LA Weekly on developers' contributions to Villaraigosa and lawyers from both sides.