Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Legacy of Bell's corruption case: high tax rates, new civic engagement

Charlie's Chop Shop

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Charlie Ortiz, owner of Charlie's Chop Shop in Bell, gives Joshua Bolin a haircut under the watchful eye of his father, Red Bolin, and a mural of Bruce Lee

Bell Mayor Ali Saleh

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Bell Mayor Ali Saleh speaks to local business people at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Jan. 16, 2013.

Opening Hearing For Bell City Administrators

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File: From left Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez, former council members Luis Artiga, former Assistant City Administrator Angela Spaccia and former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo appear during a preliminary hearing at Los Angeles Superior Court February 22, 2011 in Los Angeles.

Several former city council members from the city of Bell go on trial next week on charges of public corruption. They are accused of taking large city salaries for no work, attending phantom meetings, and receiving illegal loans from the city.

Since their arrests, and that of former City Manager Robert Rizzo and his assistant, new leaders have been trying to restructure the city. Residents and business owners say they are noticing a difference, although the pace of change has been slow.

RELATED: Jury selection begins in Bell corruption trial in Los Angeles Superior Court

Charlie Ortiz opened Charlie's Chop Shop in Bell a dozen years ago when the Rizzo regime was in full swing. Ortiz swiftly made professional and personal friends with members of the local police department, but suspected something might be wrong.

"I used to think your voice wasn't heard as loud, before," he says.


Los Angeles city attorney candidates trade jabs at Hollywood debate

From left to right, incumbent City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, attorney Noel Weiss, attorney Greg Smith and former State Assemblyman Mike Feuer pose for a photo after their debate Thursday (01/17/13) at the Taglyan Complex in Hollywood.

Four candidates for Los Angeles city attorney debated at the Taglyan Complex in Hollywood Thursday night (01/17/13). From left to right are State Assemblyman Mike Feuer (standing), attorney Greg Smith, incumbent City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, and attorney Noel Weiss. The primary election is March 5.

Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, who is seeking a second four-year term, blasted his challengers during a debate inside the ballroom of the Taglyan Complex in Hollywood Thursday night.

“We’re talking about the Meg Whitman of candidates,” Trutanich said of attorney Greg Smith, who has poured $620,000 of his own money into his campaign. Whitman spent $144 million of her fortune on her losing 2010 campaign for governor.

“Thanks for comparing me to Meg Whitman,” Smith replied. “If I had a fraction of her money, I wouldn’t be here.”

Smith, who often represents LAPD officers who sue the city over workplace conditions, said he’s been forced to fund his own campaign because he is a “political outsider.”

Trutanich also assailed his other main opponent in the race, former State Assemblyman Mike Feuer.


Public Utilities Commission blasted in state audit

The State Department of Finance says the staff of California’s Public Utilities Commission has been misreporting the balance in special funds the agency manages. That’s the finding of a state audit that blamed "general confusion and lack of knowledge" for the mistakes. 

The PUC manages 14 special funds that use monthly fees from consumers to pay for special programs like the Universal Lifeline telephone service for low-income Californians.   It turns out that in 2011, agency staff miscalculated how much those funds held.

"It created the appearance that there were more funds than there really were,"  said David Botelho, who heads the audit team at the Department of Finance.

The audit was launched after discrepancies of nearly a half-billion dollars were found between what the utilities agency reported to the Finance Department and what it reported to the state controller. The Universal Lifeline Account showed the largest difference — $158 million.


Mayors Villaraigosa and Bloomberg to talk gun control Friday — separately (UPDATED)

LA Mayor Villraigosa Discusses Immigration Reform In Washington

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Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa included comments on gun control in his speech earlier this week at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

UPDATE: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will not appear with NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a Friday press conference as originally scheduled. A Villaraigosa spokesman gave no reason for the change of plans. L.A.'s mayor will discuss gun control on two cable news channels Friday.

ORIGINAL STORY: L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa teams up with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting Friday in Washington to target gun violence. The mayors say they will keep the pressure on Congress to pass an assault weapons ban and other gun control measures.

Villaraigosa also wants stronger background checks, data bases for the mentally ill, and Congressional approval of a new director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Earlier this week, at the National Press Club, Villaraigosa attacked members of Congress and others who use the Constitution as an excuse not to act, saying: "They use the Second Amendment to defend the unconscionable, to defend what’s wrong, to defend what doesn’t make sense to the vast majority of us. And that’s the challenge."

Vice-President Joe Biden on Thursday asked the Conference of Mayors for help with the White House gun proposals.

Both California and New York already have an assault weapons ban. Villaraigosa co-authored California’s law when he was Assembly Speaker. Bloomberg has put up millions of his own dollars to support political candidates willing to tackle gun control issues. 


California high-speed rail pairs with Amtrak for cost and clout


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California High Speed Rail Authority CEO Jeff Morales, Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo, and Amtrak President Joe Boardman. (L-R) Photo credit: Kitty Felde/KPCC

California’s high speed rail czar is in Washington, D.C. this week to mend political fences - and to find partners who can help make it tougher to derail California’s cut of new federal rail funding.

He may have made progress with both.

Jeff Morales, CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, met this week with Republican Congressman Jeff Denham (R-Fresno), the new head of the House transportation subcommittee that oversees railroads.

Morales says Denham, a long time critic of California's high speed rail project, has questions and concerns - and he says it's the California High-Speed Rail Authority's responsibility to answer them.

"We’re confident we can do that," says Morales. He described his meeting with Denham as a "good step."

Morales also announced California is partnering with Amtrak to shop for locomotives and passenger cars - what railroad types call "train sets." These "train sets" will be a complete set of cars, and the high-speed version will have the power to run the train embedded in each car.