by Scott Zwartz
When the framers of California’s State Constitution mandated that all municipal elections be non-partisan, their intention was to keep the corrupting influence of political parties out of local government. Their good intentions have resulted in Los Angeles’s City Council’s becoming a nightmare of corruption.
Geographic exclusivity means each councilmember is the sole and only representative for his/her council district. He/she is the sole and only person who decides how to use that vote. The power from one person’s having exclusive control of a council district leads to corruption.
The power which comes with one person’s having complete control over a council district means that the councilmember may use his/her one vote in the way which maximizes his/her power.
That is exactly what each Los Angeles City Councilmember has done. He/she has traded his one vote in order to maximize his/her own personal power. All 15 councilmembers have an agreement that none will ever vote against a construction project in another council district. The seductive power of the “I’ll Scratch Your Back, You’ll Scratch Your Back” voting agreement is overwhelming and it lies at the core of all of Los Angeles problems. It gives each councilmember a free hand to do whatever he/she wants within his/her own geography territory with no regard to how much harm it may cause the rest of the City.
Angelenos tell themselves some silly myth. They pretend that the councilmembers only defer to other councilmembers out of respect. When they defer over 99% of the time, they are engaged in an voting agreement which Penal Code 86 has criminalizes. Penal Code 86 has no exception, “It is OK to have a voting agreement if you say you are only deferring to another councilmember.” When Councilmember #4 defers to Councilmember #2 on the basis that councilmember will defer to him, they both have violated Penal Code 86. When all 15 reciprocally defer to each other, all 15 councilmembers are engaging in a criminal behavior which can carry a four (4) year prison term for each violation.
We know that we are not dealing with a deferring which is similar a Rebuttable Presumption. In that case, a councilmember would start his review of a construction project with the presumption that the councilmember in whose district the project will be constructed “got it right.”
When the other councilmembers discovered evidence that the originating councilmember “got it wrong” or that the project would harm other council districts, then the Rebuttable Presumption would disappear and councilmembers would be free to vote No. The fact that there is never a No Vote on a construction project from another council district shows that we are not dealing with an Rebuttable Presumption agreement by which councilmember only have to show initial deference. Rather, we have an agreement on how to vote with no regard to the merits of the project.
It’s a myth that every construction project is perfect and causes no harm. If that were true, Los Angeles would not be in its current mess with the worse infrastructure in the nation and ranked as 61st of all American cities by Milken Best Cities. L.A. is 74th in job growth (2011-2016) and 91st in high tech job growth (2011-2016). Power corrupts, but corruption destroys.
In December 2010, then Council President Eric Garcetti was boastful that under his tutelage, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously over 99.35% of the time. He took this unanimity to be a mark of efficiency. The “I’ll Scratch Your Back, You’ll Scratch Your Back” voting agreement is efficient in suppressing dissent and it is efficient in allowing developers to run roughshod over all of the Los Angeles. This efficiency placed a huge amount of power in the hands of a tiny, tiny number of people.
The City of Los Angeles has about 3,957,022 people. It takes only two persons to have the Los Angeles City Council unanimously approve a project over which the other 3,957,020 people have no say. All it takes, for example, is one developer who wants to needlessly destroy one of Marilyn Monroe’s old homes and one councilmember, Paul Krekorian CD #2, to decide that the home should be destroyed. It is irrelevant how many of the other 3.9 Million Angelenos want to save and move the home to another location. All Krekorian has to do is place the construction project on the city council agenda and due to the “I’ll Scratch Your Back, You’ll Scratch Your Back” voting agreement, the city council unanimously approves the demolition.
Yes, the “I’ll Scratch Your Back, You’ll Scratch Your Back” voting agreement is very efficient — it is particularly efficient in destroying democracy. When the whims of two people override the desires of over 3.9 million other residents, we do not have a democracy. We have a kleptocracy, of which Garcettism is a subset, where anyone can steal or destroy anything he wants so long as he gets one councilmember to agree with him.
Generally, we think of politics being the process of vote trading with measures being decided by political parties. The most we ask is that the wheeling and dealing not be conducted solely out-of-sight in back rooms deals. Los Angeles City Council, it turns out, is the the most corrupt voting system in the entire nation. All decisions are the product of secret vote trading pact. It’s similar to a jet trail in the sky; maybe you did not see the jet fly overhead, but when you look up into the sky, you know that jet was there. The unanimous agreement 99% of the time without any public discussion of most of the items is the proof of the vote trading pact which has governed Los Angeles City Council for a decade.
The ubiquitous unanimous voting at city council and Penal Code 86 actually are the logical results of the State Constitution which requires that all municipal elections must be non-partisan. It was believed that by removing political parties, they would remove the corruption. They were wrong! In the absence of political parties, individual councilmembers had to find some way to have their measures enacted by the entire city council. How do you get 8 out of 15 other councilmembers to support you without any vote trading?
While the elected officials had to deal with the real world of politics, the theoreticians thought that they could force each elected official to independently and rationally investigate each measure and then make an informed vote. Presto! In 2006 the State Legislature amended Penal Code 86 to make any type of voting agreement a form of criminal bribery. No councilmember may agree to give or without his/her vote in return that another councilmember will give or withhold a vote on this or another matter. Legally speaking, buying a vote with a return vote is no different from buying a vote for cash. It is criminal bribery to buy a vote by giving a councilmember a paid trip to Hawaii or by getting the councilmember’s grandson admitted to a ritzy private school, and it is criminal bribery to approve a construction project in CD 13 knowing that all the other councilmembers will then approve any construction project that you want in your council district. The unanimous vote trading pat which governs Los Angeles City Council is the worse vote trading agreement possible.
In the typical give-and-take of political horse trading, the political parties thrash about over special bills and each party puts forth its objections and desires as to a particular bill. While we know this system is likewise filled with unethical behavior, at least each project gets attention. At the Los Angeles City Council, there is no attention to individual items of the agenda. As Councilmember David Ryu indicated — it’s a waste of time to study some construction project when you know everyone will vote Yes.
The criminal voting agreement is the reason we have the worst streets in the nation, why we are the most park-poor large city, while our sidewalks are so atrocious that we lost a $1.3 Billion lawsuit for our sidewalks being non-ADA compliant, why Angelenos are needlessly dying because we have given billions of dollars to real estate developers rather than fund more paramedics, why the LAPD is being under-trained, under-manned while violent crime and property crimes escalate, why we cannot attract new employers to the city, why the city’s pension fund faces multi-billion deficits, why housing costs are soaring, why Los Angeles has become an exodus city from which Family Millennials are fleeing, why our middle class tax base is eroding, etc. When each council member can build whatever he wants with no regard for the law, The General Plan, the zoning or the Specific Plans, we have a city which is run for, by the developers and of the developers. No matter how many laws a development may break, the criminal voting agreement requires that it be unanimously approved.
The Movers and Shakers sounded the same alarm in 2013. In the December 2013 report of the 2020 Commission, The Time for Truth, the leading downtown lawyers (especial macher Mickey Kantor, Esq.), who helped create the mess, decried Los Angeles’ decline. [see 1-24-2018 Note below]
Los Angeles is barely treading water while the rest of the world is moving forward. We risk falling further behind in adapting to the realities of the 21st century and becoming a City in decline. A Time for Truth page 1
The follow-up April 2014 report, A Time For Action, however, showed that downtown leaders were clueless about the origins of Los Angeles’s woes and had no solution. As many of Mickey Kantor’s cohorts were attorneys at the prestigious law firms who represented the real estate speculators in Los Angeles, they did not want anything to interfere with their business. As matters stood, a developer’s attorneys only had to be “nice” to a single councilmember in order to have their client’s project approved by City Council. The “I’ll Scratch Your Back, You’ll Scratch Your Back” voting agreement was the foundation of millions of dollars in attorney fees and to make matters even better, no matter how many laws a project violated, there was no chance the developer’s attorneys could not deliver. All they had to do was to make nice with one councilmember and the project would be unanimously approved. In other words, Mickey Kantor and his cohorts are prime examples of (allegedly) good people who allow evil to thrive by their silence.
Most people believe that the purpose of a City Council is to consider various measures, undertake study of the measures, and then Vote Yes or No on each measure based on their own analysis and the wishes of their constituents. That is not the L.A. system. The Los Angeles system is dramatically different.
Councilmembers have an agreement that no councilmember will Vote No on any construction project in another council district. Thus, when a project comes up for a vote, councilmembers have two options: (1) Vote Yes, (2) Not To Vote. If enough councilmembers simply did not vote, then a bad project could not get a majority of the members to vote Yes. In order to pass each construction project must receive a majority of the members of the entire 15 member city council. That simply means, there must be 8 members who vote Yes.
However, each council project always passes unanimously. One has to wonder, how can every single councilmember vote for every single construction project every single time. Why don’t we see some Non-Votes. In L.A. you will never see 5 Yes Votes, 5 No Votes and 5 Non-votes (abstentions). Here’s why.
Council Rule 48a requires that every non-vote has to be automatically counted as Yes Vote. People can see how this matter operates by watching Channel 35’s city council sessions or by going to the City’s webpage and calling up old council sessions or watching the live streaming as the council votes. Many councilmembers are not voting; they are milling about behind their chairs, smoozing with aides and other councilmembers, leaving the council chambers for rest room breaks, yet within 2 seconds, the clerk reports unanimous approval.
We can see with our own eyes Council Rule 48a in operation. People, whom we see are not voting, are counted as having voted Yes.
Without Council Rule 48a, it is possible many of these horrible projects would not be approved. Look at The Millennium Project which straddles the active Hollywood earthquake fault line. Is it not strange that not a single councilmember was at least wary enough to Not Vote? We will never know. If a councilmember does not vote, the complete absence of his/her vote is counted as a YES vote. That violates the requirement that 8 members (physical human beings who are present in the room must vote yes). Nowhere on earth, except in Los Angeles, is zero members voting counted as unanimous Yes Vote.
This raises an interesting question: Because measures have to pass with a majority of members Voting Yes, how can we count members who do not vote towards the majority?
The answer is: we cannot — unless we wish to break the law. The Council Rule 25 requires:
Council Rule 25: Ten members of the Council shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business, but a smaller number may adjourn from time to time until a quorum is present and may compel the attendance of the absentees. Except as otherwise required by the Charter or other law, or by these Rules where not inconsistent therewith, action by the Council shall be taken by a majority vote of the entire membership of the Council.
Council Rule 25 requires a majority vote of the entire membership, which is 8 members, actually voting Yes. There must be eight (8) living and breathing councilmembers who themselves are actually voting in order to obtain a majority to pass anything. When a councilmember is walking round the council chamber and does not vote, that member did not vote. This is what we call a tautology. A non-vote means that the councilmember did not vote. A member who did not vote may not be counted a part of the 8 members who voted.
The council’s voting machine automatically votes for all members unless they quickly press the “no button.” When one views the voting at City Council, they witness the following.
(1) Call the Vote, two second pause
(2) Tabulate the Vote, one second pause
(3) Unanimous vote reported.
Due to the automatic tally of all Yes Votes and all Non-Votes together with a single report of unanimity, there is no way for anyone to know whether 8 councilmembers voted Yes or only 5 voted Yes or whether zero voted Yes.
When one watches the City Council voting, it is clear that very often enough councilmembers are not close enough to their desks to vote. In fact, in some cases, one can see that so many councilmembers are not voting that there were not 8 members who voted. Yet, the machine shows unanimous Yes. That is a fraud on the public who believes that all the members had voted Yes. The public does not suspect that perhaps no member voted.
It is unconstitutional, unlawful, and unjustifiable for the City Council to report its vote tallies as if the members had voted. Instead, we have criminal voting agreement where members do not vote No, knowing that the council’s voting machine will then make it look as if the member had voted.
Angelenos need to realize that they are watching a criminal voting conspiracy. They think that they are seeing a process whereby eight (8) or more councilmembers have actually voted in favor of a project, when in reality there is no way to know if even one councilmember voted Yes.
We pay each Los Angeles City Councilmember $187,160.00 per year plus we provide them perks and benefit packages. In return, the least they could do is bother to vote at council sessions.
Here’s the new system. Each council district will have three (3) at large councilpersons. As there are fifteen (15) council districts, that means the City Council will have 45 members. This number is consistent with other large metropolitan areas.
Chicago has 50 councilmembers. Their districts are called “wards” And each councilmember represents and serves 54,000 resident.
New York City has 51 councilmembers and each serves 158,824 residents.
San Francisco has 11 councilmembers and each serves 77,273 residents
Present day L.A. City Council has 15 councilmembers, and each serves 330,468 residents [The City’s population in 2015 is 4,957,022 people.] The Los Angeles City Council has the worst per resident representation in the entire nation.
Increasing the number of L.A. councilpersons to 45 will still leave Chicago and San Francisco with a better ratio of residents per councilmember. Chicago will have 54,000 residents per councilmember, San Francisco will have 77,273 residents per councilmember and Los Angeles will have 110,156 residents per councilperson.
Thus, the new 3/15/45 City Council will move Los Angeles from being dead last in representation to being third best in representation.
The goal of the 3/15/45 City Council, however, is to destroy the present criminal voting system. Merely expanding the number of councilmembers will not achieve that goal. The problem is that each member has geographic exclusivity which makes him/her the dictator within his district. The only way to limit his/her power is to counter-balance it with other power.
The key to ending corruption is a new balance of power and that requires destroying geographic exclusivity. Geography exclusivity is easily destroyed. When each council district has three councilmembers all who serve at large and who are elected in the same election, no councilperson will be the exclusive voice for his district. All councilpersons will be in competition with each other to get votes for the next election. Since only the top three vote-getters will be one of the three councilpersons, no one’s position is secure. They will have to work and earn their $187,610.00 per year.
When each councilperson has one out of three votes, no single councilperson can deliver his/her entire district in support of another district. If councilperson #1 is a shill for the developers and votes yes for a project in another district, the other two councilpersons are likely to vote No.
Here’s why the other councilpersons will not also shill for developers. Since all councilpersons in one district have to run against each other in the same election, they are all competing against each other, knowing that the top three vote-getters will become councilpersons. When councilperson #1 is the developers’ shill, candidates #2 and candidate #3 concentrate on voters with other interests. Councilperson #2 may appeal to voters with a passionate interest in the schools, or parks, or street repair, or in DWP reform, or in traffic improvement. Candidate #3 may be the anti-developer person and there may be enough anti-developer candidates to make him one of the three. Appealing to the non-developer votes can gain the other candidates enough votes to come in 2nd or 3rd in the election and hence become a councilperson.
Under the new 3/15/45 city council, the council candidates know that they can oppose the mega-developers or any other special interest group like billboard companies and still be elected. It does not matter if the developer candidate out spends everyone else 100 to 1 in order to get elected. There still will be two other councilpersons who are not beholden to the developers.
As Councilmember Garcetti proved, under the current system, one may remain councilmember until terms limits kick him out of office, and he will never have to pay any attention to anyone except to the mega-developers with their mega-bucks. If Councilmember Garcetti had had two other CD 13 councilmembers, they would not supported the Millennium Earthquake Towers, they would not have supported the fatally flawed Hollywood Community Plan, or the Target Store at Sunset and Western. Instead, the other two CD 13 councilmembers would have been more likely championed a better qualify of life for Hollywoodians — not more profits for mega-developers.
Under the 3/15/45 system, retaliation against a councilperson who votes against a bad project in another district is impossible. While Councilperson #1 may want everyone to vote for his bad project, when one or two of the other councilpersons from his own district vote No, there is no way for him to retaliate against councilpersons from another district. So what if two councilpersons from San Pedro vote against a Project in the Valley and councilperson #1 tries to retaliate by voting No on a San Pedro project. There are still two other councilpersons from his district to support the project in the San Pedro area. The present criminal voting pact is held together by the threat of retaliation, but when Geographic Exclusivity is destroyed, the ability to retaliate is destroyed.
The same would be true for Councilmember Krekorian’s CD 2. All three CD #2 councilmembers would not have allowed Marilyn Monroe’s home to be unlawfully demolished. With three councilpersons representing the same council district, no single councilperson can guarantee a developer that his project will be approved despite his breaking the law. The other councilpersons will have a vested interest in exposing the unlawful behavior.
1) Each district has three (3) councilpersons.
2) Each councilperson serves at large. No councilperson will ever be allowed to have exclusive control over a geographic area. That means no sub-districts.
3) All three councilpersons have to run in the same election against each other. There will be no staggered elections within a council district. Competition among the three councilpersons is crucial in order to create a balance of power. No competition = no balance of power
4) Because all three councilpersons are elected in the same election, that requirement reduces the number of votes needed to become a councilperson. The third top vote-getter may receive less than 20% of the vote.
5) More people are likely to vote when they realize that the chances of their obtaining some representation is much higher.
Right now, a challenger has to get 51% of the vote to unseat a councilmember and that is very hard. The challenger has poor name recognition. When voters see a familiar name on the ballot, they overwhelmingly vote for that name. [That’s the way things are, not the way they should be.]
With the new 3/15/45 city council, there will be an absolute guarantee that there will be three (3) winners in each election. Thus, the percentage of votes necessary to become a councilperson is much lower. Someone with only 20% might come in third place. Under the present system, that person has no chance to become a councilmember.
Another way to phrase it is that the emphasis shifts away from trying to drive someone out of office to trying to gain enough votes to be one of the three who is put into office. That requires a lower total number of votes for the third candidate.
The likelihood that more citizens will vote is much higher with the new 3/15/45 city council. Voters will realize that there is a good chance that their candidate will win one of the three seats. People do not vote when they see it as hopeless, but they do take the time to vote when there is a realistic opportunity to put “their guy/gal” into office.
Also, under this new system, the most dishonest and the most honest councilpersons have to behave properly. They all have to strive to please the voters. But, let’s say one councilperson has the deep pocket support of the mega-developers? So what? He won’t have the power to get approval of the developer’s projects as he has only 1 out of 45 votes. Rather, projects will be judged on their merits – something that never occurs under the present system.
How would this 3/15/45 system have worked in real life Hollywood during the 2000’s? For one thing, Hollywood would have had a new Target Store years ago. When Councilmember Garcetti demanded that Target construct an unlawful project which violated SNAP, Target would have moved to the next councilmember who wouldn’t be making extortionist demands. Garcetti would have lacked the power to carry out his alleged threat to prevent Target from building unless they built what he wanted. Target would have walked out on Garcetti and gone to a councilmember who wasn’t involved in extortion.
Thus, it is vital that we break the Geographic Exclusivity which each councilmember holds. Even two councilmembers are likely to collude. The triad of three makes collusion virtually impossible as it will be so very easy for the voters to kick one or two of them out of office.