Councilman David Ryu introduced two motions Tuesday to establish a city office that would investigate and enforce anti-corruption laws and to reform how building projects are approved in Los Angeles.
“Corruption is alive and well in City Hall,” Ryu said. “We need strict oversight and sweeping reform to root it out. The public has lost faith in their local government, and we need reform and stronger checks and balances to change the culture that has fostered pay-to-play politics in Los Angeles.”
Ryu cited the recent allegations of corruption investigated by the FBI involving City Council members. Former Councilman Mitch Englander has agreed to plead guilty in one case, and the offices and home of Councilman Jose Huizar were raided by the FBI 18 months ago, although Huizar has not been charged with a crime.
“While laws alone may not stop a crime, we must dismantle the system that gives City Council far too much influence over planning and land-use decisions,” Ryu said.
The first motion would establish an office of anti-corruption and transparency that would act like an inspector general for Los Angeles. The office would have the power to subpoena city documents, compel testimony from city staff and elected officials and be staffed by independent auditors and investigators to prevent fraud, corruption and misconduct.
Similar oversight offices have been established in cities like Chicago and Philadelphia, Ryu said, and the Los Angeles office would focus on planning, land use and development, and construction approvals before the city.
The second motion seeks to remove City Council members’ power to override and rewrite land-use decisions made by the City Planning Commission. It seeks a charter amendment to be placed on the November ballot to strike the section that allows the City Council to overwrite the actions of planning commissions.
“Every Angeleno deserves an honest, transparent and accountable City Hall, and I will do everything in my power to make sure that is the case,” said Councilman Paul Koretz, who seconded both motions. “Corruption in any form is unacceptable and has no place in Los Angeles. Democratic government rests on the public’s trust and it is our duty to uphold that trust.”
Ryu said though the power of rewriting land-use decisions is “rarely used,” allowing the City Council to have that authority gives them too much leverage over building approvals. It also provides private developers an incentive to influence a council member’s actions, he said.
The charter amendment would align the City Council’s oversight of planning commission decisions with the authority and process that is in place for all other city commissions, allowing for yes or no votes and returning the matter to the commission if necessary.