The Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to initiate the process of establishing an Office of Anti-Corruption and Transparency and an Inspector General for Land Use and Development, which would oversee, investigate and subpoena city officials.
The office would focus on preventing corruption and increasing transparency on land use and planning decisions, according to Councilman David Ryu, who introduced both proposals.
Similar offices operate in other cities, like the Inspector General’s Office in Chicago, which has 100 staff members investigating potential fraud, abuse and corruption, Ryu said.
“It is beyond clear that we need more oversight in City Hall and more accountability and transparency over planning and land use decisions,” he said. “Cities across the U.S. have inspector generals that investigate and root out corruption before they become federal crimes. It’s time for an inspector general in Los Angeles.”
The proposed office could exist on its own or within the city Controller’s Office or Ethics Department, Ryu said.
The number of fraud investigators in the City Controller’s Office has been reduced in the Los Angeles budget from four in 2008 to one, which is “far too low,” Ryu said in a letter to the council’s Budget and Finance Committee.
City staff will now report back to the council on the feasibility, funding and structure of such an office in City Hall.
Ryu said his motion was first introduced amid a sweeping FBI and Department of Justice probe into corruption around real estate development and the abuse of land use power in Los Angeles.
That probe led to the arrests of suspended Councilman Jose Huizar and former Councilman Mitch Englander.
Huizar pleaded not guilty last week to federal charges alleging he ran a $1.5 million pay-to-play scheme in which developers were shaken down for cash bribes and campaign donations in exchange for his help getting high-rise projects through the city’s approval process.
On July 7, Englander pleaded guilty to a federal criminal charge for obstructing an investigation into whether he took cash, escort services and other gifts from a businessman involved in major development projects in the city.
Ryu has also filed motions to remove the power City Council members have to interfere in specific development projects before the City Planning Commission.