L.A. on the Record: KDL, absurdist theater and a trick play

Good morning, and welcome to L.A. on the Record. It’s David Zahniser and Julia Wick, with help from Dakota Smith.

A little more than a decade ago, The Times wrote a story that annoyed a few people and revealed an open secret at City Hall: Los Angeles City Council members don’t actually need to be sitting at their seats on the council floor to vote.

As long as they remain in a limited section of the building, they can meet with lobbyists or staffers in a back room, use the bathroom or chit chat in a corridor — all while remaining technically present, with their voting machines continuing to work on their behalf.


Get the lowdown on L.A. politics

In this pivotal election year, we’ll break down the ballot and tell you why it matters in our L.A. on the Record newsletter.

Enter email address

Sign Me Up

You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.

The chamber’s voting software is set to register each of the 15 lawmakers as an automatic “yes” vote, even when they are in nearby rooms. However, to vote “no,” members must press a button from their chairs.

This particular set of procedures was used to startling effect on Tuesday, when Councilmember Kevin de León made another chaotic return to chambers — followed by Council President Paul Krekorian declaring a recess, a lengthy standoff and the council ultimately returning to its business with De León out of the room.

We won’t rehash the full hours-long fracas (find that here), but the drama climaxed nearly four hours in, when it became clear that De León had voted on Mayor Karen Bass’ homelessness emergency declaration while seemingly outside council chambers.

Realizing they’d been tacitly tricked, the thinned-out crowd of protesters screamed in outrage as the meeting quickly concluded.

The eagle-eyed spectators who’d previously noticed De León was marked as present on the board and yelled about what his name was still doing up there now had their answer. Hugo Soto-Martínez, one of two new council members who’d vowed to leave chambers if De León was present, said he did not initially realize that De León was in another room casting votes.

Tuesday’s sleight of hand — with De León out of sight, but still present — was a wily and effective tactical maneuver. But it won’t work nearly as well a second time, now that both the public and new council members are hip to what’s happening.

The council members’ first meeting after the winter recess is scheduled for Jan. 10, and their embattled colleague has promised to keep attending.

The way forward will be particularly complicated for progressive council members like Soto-Martínez and Eunisses Hernandez, who exited the room each time De León entered.

Along with Bass’ emergency order on homelessness, the council also approved a one-month extension of the city’s COVID-19 eviction moratorium Tuesday. (The latter vote took place at a moment when De León was away from the council floor, and considered absent.)

Before that vote, Soto-Martínez and Hernandez tried to pass an amendment that would have removed the expiration date indefinitely, until the council has approved a new set of eviction protections. They came up two votes short.

Tuesday’s council meeting felt at times like absurdist theater, with the crowd shouting expletives at bureaucrats delivering bland statements about municipal procedure. Hours were spent waiting for one man to arrive, then another hour was spent waiting for him to leave.

De León briefly reentered the room right after the vote on the eviction protections, prompting Soto-Martínez and Hernandez to walk out. He then left again, and his colleagues strode back in.

The whole cat-and-mouse game was over in about a minute, and it was unclear what, exactly, was going on.

De León spokesperson Pete Brown later clarified that De León had been speaking with Krekorian in a back room during part of the recess and hadn’t realized the council had reconvened. By the time he got back in the room, the council had already voted on the failed amendment, Brown said. He came back so that he would continue to be listed as present for the meeting — albeit from the back room.

The council will have to vote on another one-month extension of the COVID-19 eviction moratorium in mid-January, giving Soto-Martínez and Hernandez another shot at removing the COVID-19 eviction deadline.

De León, however, also supports the delay. His persona non grata presence could bring the council’s new left bloc one vote closer to a hard-fought policy victory.

Here’s where things get even trickier, and the questions at play turn downright Talmudic.

If a politician believes that conducting business with De León in the room is wrong, and also believes that the city has a moral imperative to protect tenants, what do they do when those values conflict?

Chelsea Lucktenberg, a spokesperson for Hernandez, said her boss is “not making a commitment either way” on how she would proceed. Over the holiday recess, Hernandez plans to talk to Krekorian, her colleagues and community members about “how to repair and address harm” caused by De León, Lucktenberg said.

“We’re not drawing a hard line on anything,” she added. “She’s going to show up to those votes in a way that makes the most sense at the time.”

Soto-Martínez drew a clearer line, saying that addressing the city’s most urgent issues is ultimately more important than “some of the criticism we might get for being on the floor with Kevin.”

“I don’t want to be put in that position. But serving the people is more important than swallowing my pride,” he said.

State of play

— GETTY HOUSE GUEST: Political consultant Rick Jacobs attended an exclusive post-inauguration party for Bass at Getty House Sunday night, according to several sources, rankling those who’ve watched the harassment allegations against Jacobs engulf City Hall.

Jacobs works as a consultant for the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, a union that was heavily involved in supporting Bass’ mayoral campaign. The allegations against Jacobs have stalled former Mayor Eric Garcetti‘s political career, with the U.S. Senate still not having voted on his July 2021 nomination as U.S. Ambassador to India. Jacobs has denied harassing anyone.

Jacobs didn’t respond to a request for comment. When asked by a reporter about Jacobs’ attendance, Bass did not directly respond, saying she was focused on homelessness.

Garcetti didn’t attend the Getty House party and had already moved out of the house by Sunday, said his representative Alex Comisar.

— BASS BUILDS TEAM: Former City Council staffer and Southern California Edison VP Veronica Gutierrez has joined the mayor’s office as interim deputy chief of staff, working on staffing and policy development and overseeing public safety, economic development, economic opportunity and sustainability, per a Friday press release. Former Chief Assistant City Atty. David Michaelson, who was an influential figure in the office of former City Atty. Mike Feuer, will serve as counsel to the mayor.

Senior campaign staffers Jenny Punsalan Delwood, Joey Freeman and Zach Seidl have also been given official titles, with Delwood serving as deputy chief of staff, Freeman as director of policy and budget initiatives, and Seidl named communications director and senior advisor. Seidl will also serve as acting deputy mayor of communications until that position is filled, per the release.

— NOT IN THE PRESS RELEASE: Adam Ma and Alan Moret have also been added to mayor’s office payroll, according to the city clerk’s office. Seidl said Ma is working with transition advisors and did not specify Moret’s role.

—EXECUTIVE ORDER: Closing out her first workweek in office, Bass issued a sweeping directive Friday requiring city departments to rid their procedures of the bottlenecks that slow development of affordable housing and shelters.

Suspended L.A. City Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas congratulates Karen Bass, newly elected mayor of Los Angeles, in Leimert Park.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

— MRT IN THE HOUSE: On Dec. 10 — the day before her inauguration — Bass attended a “homecoming” event in Leimert Park with one particularly notable guest: suspended Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Ridley-Thomas, a veteran South L.A. politician indicted last year on federal bribery, conspiracy and other charges, spoke briefly at the event, congratulating Bass and telling her, “We got your back, Madam Mayor.”

The two have a long history — Bass told The Times last year that she only began to seriously consider running for mayor after Ridley-Thomas said he wouldn’t run.

The new mayor’s own USC scholarship scandal is also interlinked with Ridley-Thomas’ case: Federal prosecutors declared this fall that Bass’ scholarship and her dealings with USC are “critical” to their bribery case and to their broader portrayal of corruption in the university’s social work program. (To be clear, prosecutors have made no indication that Bass is under a criminal investigation.)

— ANOTHER ELECTION … : Nineteen people turned in paperwork saying they plan to run for the San Fernando Valley seat on the City Council vacated earlier this year by Councilmember Nury Martinez. To get on the ballot, however, they will still have to gather 500 valid signatures from voters living in the 6th District, which includes Van Nuys, Arleta and Sun Valley. The election is April 4.

— … AND SOME OF THE NAMES: The list of potential candidates includes Marisa Alcaraz, deputy chief of staff to Councilmember Curren Price; Lanira Murphy, who recently ran for state Assembly and is chair of the Panorama City Neighborhood Council; community relations manager Imelda Padilla, who narrowly lost a school board race in 2017; Marco Santana, a former aide to state Sen. Bob Hertzberg who now works for L.A. Family Housing; community activist Antoinette Scully; and writer/producer Wendy Goodman Thum, president of the Sun Valley Area Neighborhood Council.

— CEDILLO SPEAKS: Just hours after his City Council term ended, Gil Cedillo released a three-page letter titled “Why I Did Not Resign” that suggests he is a victim of cancel culture.

— FUNDRAISING FINE: The Ethics Commission voted this week to issue a $5,000 penalty to former Department of Water and Power board member Jill Banks Barad-Hopkins for violating a law barring city commissioners from fundraising for the campaigns of city candidates. Barad-Hopkins raised money for Councilmember David Ryy’s reelection campaign in 2020 and former Councilmember Paul Koretz’s recent bid for city controller. Both men lost.

— HOTEL HEADACHES: The Cecil Hotel opened its doors last year in the middle of the city’s homelessness crisis, offering tiny apartments to anyone with a government voucher. One year later, two-thirds of the building’s units remain empty. The Times’ Jaimie Ding looked at the reasons for that, and some of the challenges faced by the facility, which sits on the edge of skid row.

— FESTIVAL OF LIGHT: Bass, all five county supervisors and several City Council members attended a Grand Park Hanukkah event hosted by the Jewish Federation that focused on the alarming rise in antisemitism.

Bass also spoke about how she “grew up in the Jewish community in the Fairfax District” and pledged to work to combat antisemitism in the city.

Musical chairs

A quick rundown of some city staffers who’ve moved around the building, plus a few brand-new hires…

  • Mitch O’Farrell’s former Chief of Staff Jeanne Min is now Tim McOsker’s chief of staff.
  • Former O’Farrell legislative director Star Parsamyan is now Traci Park’s chief of staff.
  • Kevin Brunke and Gabriela Medina (of O’Farrell’s
    and Joe Buscaino’s former offices, respectively) have also both joined Team Park.
  • Former City Controller spokesperson Chelsea Lucktenberg is now communications director for Eunisses Hernandez, who also brought on Eric Ares and Jose Rodriguez as her housing and homelessness director and district director, respectively.
  • Kate Pynoos, a former Mike Bonin staffer who ran in the CD 13 primary and later endorsed Hugo Soto-Martínez, has joined Soto-Martínez’s office as legislative director. Josh Androsky and Jesse Alson-Milkman have also gone in house with Soto-Martínez.

Know of other hires we should be listing? Email us at [email protected]

Another inauguration

While Bass’ inauguration grabbed much of the city’s attention Sunday, another, more modest swearing-in took place earlier in the day, in a parking lot under a tent near Dodger Stadium.

While rain pelted the tent’s roof, newly installed City Atty. Hydee Feldstein Soto told the small crowd that the symbolism of her victory sunk in after she saw the portraits of her predecessors at City Hall.

“They were all black-and-white pictures of men,” she said. “I kind of went, ‘Whoa, yeah, I am going to be the first woman in the history of the office, going all the way back to 1850.’”

Feldstein Soto told the audience of her Puerto Rican and Jewish heritage, describing how father fought for the rights of prisoners and her mother championed the work of an addiction treatment center. She also described her philosophy during her legal career.

“My standard line for private practice was, if it’s not illegal, immoral or fattening, I’ll do what my client needs me to do,” she said.

Feldstein Soto promised that, in office, she would incorporate two other elements into her legal approach — transparency and a drive to do good.

Enjoying this newsletter? Consider subscribing to the Los Angeles Times

Your support helps us deliver the news that matters most. Become a subscriber.

Quick hits

  • Who’s running the city? Adios, Eric Garcetti. Hello, Karen Bass. (Guess it’s time to retire this question.)
  • Line of the week: “She’s the only person in Los Angeles who doesn’t have at least two gigs.” — late-night host Seth Meyers quipping about the fact that Bass had to retire from Congress before assuming L.A.’s top job.
  • On the docket for next week: City Council will be in recess.

Stay in touch

That’s it for this week! Send your questions, comments and gossip to [email protected] Did a friend forward you this email? Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Saturday morning.

Comments are closed.