Following last month’s FBI searches of the home and offices of Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition passed a motion Saturday calling on Huizar to resign.
Although neighborhood councils are merely advisory boards with no official power, the vote is a sign Huizar’s political support at the grassroots level could be eroding following the searches, which occurred on Nov. 7 when at least a dozen FBI agents armed with a search warrant seized boxes and bags of potential evidence from Huizar’s City Hall office while also searching his home and a Boyle Heights field office.
Huizar has refused to answer any direct questions about the searches, and no City Council members or Mayor Eric Garcetti have called on him to resign.
No one has been arrested in connection with the searches, and the FBI has not stated what its agents were looking for, but Laura Eimiller, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, confirmed the IRS is involved in the investigation.
LANCC President Terrence Gomes said earlier that the councilman should step down.
“With his behavior and also now with the allegations with the FBI going in, the IRS going in, we can’t have that kind of leadership anymore,” Gomes said.
After the searches, Council President Herb Wesson stripped Huizar of all of his committee assignments, including as chair of the influential Planning and Land Use Management Committee.
The LANCC is made up of one representative of each of the 99 neighborhood councils in the city. Gomes said that any LANCC member can place a motion on the agenda, but they did not have to be identified publicly. He added the motion was placed on the agenda by a LANCC member from northeast Los Angeles, which is an area Huizar represents, but that the member did not want to be identified because “they don’t want retaliation in case it doesn’t work.”
The LANCC will send an official letter to Huizar and Wesson with the result of Saturday’s vote.
Huizar’s attorney, Stephen J. Kaufman, said Saturday that “Councilman Huizar is focused on serving all the residents in Council District 14, as well as advancing citywide efforts.”
The motion not only refers to the FBI searches, but also to some other past issues Huizar has had. It states LANCC “demands that Councilmember Jose Huizar resign immediately. With the current FBI and IRS investigations and several, prior high profile incidents, including his affair with his chief of staff that cost the City $200,000 in legal fees, an after-hours car crash that was settled with $185,000 of city money, and his role in the $72 million pay-to-play Sea Breeze development scandal, he is a distraction and the people of Los Angeles and Council District 14 deserve better.”
Huizar previously admitted to an affair with a former staffer, Francine Godoy, who sued him for harassment and retaliation in 2013. Huizar denied any harassment, and the lawsuit was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum, although the city paid his legal fees, and a report from the city’s Special Committee on Investigative Oversight concluded there was no evidence of wrongdoing by Huizar.
The City Council in 2013 unanimously approved a $185,000 settlement with a private investigator whose car was rear-ended in 2012 by a vehicle driven by Huizar. Huizar released a statement after the settlement saying that “while this was the type of unfortunate accident that could have happened to anybody, I take full responsibility for my part in this matter.”
Earlier this year real estate developer Samuel Leung — whose $72 million Sea Breeze apartment complex in the Harbor Gateway area was approved three years ago by the City Council — pleaded not guilty to using straw donors to funnel tens of thousands of dollars to the campaigns of more than a half-dozen local politicians. One of the politicians was Huizar, although neither he nor any elected official has been charged with anything related to the case.
Lynda Valencia, president of the Arroyo Secco Neighborhood Council, said she wants Huizar to resign, although she added that she would not use “some of the same language” contained in the LANCC motion. Huizar’s Council District 14 includes part of the Arroyo Secco Neighborhood Council’s area, although the majority of it lies in Council District 1.
“Normally, I like to wait more until we know more or there is more investigation. But I think, just based on what’s happened since the investigation began, I think it probably would be a good idea if he stepped aside,” Valencia said.
Valencia added that she was only speaking for herself, and that she had not spoken to any other board members about the LANCC motion. She also said the Arroyo Secco council’s November meeting agenda had already been set before the FBI searches happened, and that the board is not scheduled to meet in December.
Valencia also said the motion would likely be placed on the Arroyo Secco NC’s agenda in January.
“Whatever LANCC agrees to, we will place it on our agenda. If it’s a motion to the city, or whatever it is, we will support LANCC,” she said. “We pretty much always support LANCC on these types of issues.”
Patti Berman, president of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, said she does not want Huizar to resign, and also that her NC does not participate in LANCC.
“I’m not saying this is a great situation — it isn’t. I’m not saying that I think that he is probably particularly innocent and therefore they never should have done this, I have no idea,” she said. “All I’m saying is, as of this time, he’s not been even accused of anything and until he’s convicted he’s not guilty, that’s how this country works. And from a practical standpoint, I would rather have an office that is staffed with really good people who can work with me — and we need them to keep going — than to end up with a mess there because everybody decided to kick them out.”
She added, “I also don’t think all the neighborhood councils around the city should have the same weight as those that actually deal with this office.”
Rocio Rivas, president of the Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council, said he supported the LANCC motion, and that Huizar’s “unethical activities, abuse of power, behavior and overall hypocrisy is too much for Angelenos, especially the individuals facing homelessness and poverty. He had his own agenda, which did not include the people he was elected to serve. He used his seat and power for self-aggrandizement. What a big disappointment on many levels.”
Huizar has served on the City Council since 2005 while representing Council District 14, which stretches from Eagle Rock to downtown Los Angeles.