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Antonio Villaraigosa

Baca Speaks to Editorial Board of LA News Group……LA Experts Assess Villaraigosa’s Public Safety Report Card…SCOTUS Hears Gay Marriage Next Week

March 22nd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


The LA News Group includes such newspapers as the LA Daily News, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the Long Beach Press-Telegram and so on. Earlier this month, the group published a withering critique of Baca, all but calling for his ouster in 2014 when he is up for election.

But after a meeting with Baca this week, while not by any means offering the sheriff any reelection endorsements, the LA News Group’s editorial board was, at least, somewhat less determined to show him the door.

Here’s a clip from the editorial:

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca mentioned two personal goals this week: Winning re-election next year and living to 100. In recent months the latter had seemed more likely than the former.
The dedicated runner’s physical fitness wasn’t in doubt, but his fitness for office was. After revelations about the unwarranted use of violence by sheriff’s deputies, Baca initially passed the blame to subordinates. A citizen’s commission probing jail violence cited a “failure of leadership. ”

By last fall, the question had become whether Baca, 70, should resign before scandal or voters forced him out.

But the Lee Baca who visited the Los Angeles News Group editorial board this week, to outline responses to the problems in the Sheriff’s Department, appeared as fully committed and as creative as ever in his approach to his huge job. It is still not clear that Baca deserves a fifth term, any more than it was clear before that he doesn’t. But it is clear that Baca will not be easily brushed aside in 2014.

The question now is whether Baca’s wide-ranging responses to the scandals makes up for his inability to prevent them.

The editorial also mentions that, in answer to questions about the exit of Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, Baca said he managed to “finess” Tanaka into leaving.

Here’s the clip:

…More-impressive responses are Baca’s admissions that much of the ACLU’s criticism is correct, and his actions to get to the systemic roots of issues instead of merely blaming underlings.

One was Baca’s move to “finesse” Undersheriff Paul Tanaka into announcing his retirement – and then to essentially eliminate the position. Baca thinks this removes a barrier to communication between him and assistant sheriffs.

The insistence on using the word “finesse” to describe his ouster of Tanaka is classic Baca….

In other words, the retirement announcement was not about the undersheriff’s sudden urge to play more golf, after all.

For LASD watchers, it’s essential to read the whole editorial.


KPCC’s Frank Stolze talks to a list of LA experts about how Mayor Antonio Villagraigosa should be rated as a public safety mayor.

The reviews are generally good, but qualified with the admonition that Antonio was also the beneficiary of some very good luck.

Villaraigosa’s largest stroke of good fortune was his inheritance of Bill Bratton as LAPD’s chief after James Hahn arguably lost the mayoral election to Antonio because he fired Bernard Parks, “a beloved figure in the black community. Hahn lost his once bedrock support among African-Americans.”

(It should be noted that Parks had come to be roundly loathed by the rank and file, who felt that, as chief, he punished them for small infractions while letting his friends do what they pleased. He also alienated the press, members of the DA’s office, and most of city hall for his obstructive handling of the Rampart investigation.)

But while Villaraigosa may not get credit for bringing Bratton to LA, Stoltze reports he does get credit for working very well with him.

Here’s a clip:

In a sense, Villaraigosa lucked out.

“I think he was the beneficiary of the very tough decision that Jim Hahn made,” said UCLA Adjunct Associate Professor of Anthropology Jorja Leap, who studies crime in L.A. “I don’t think Jim Hahn is given enough credit.”

Villaraigosa embraced Bratton, who receives a lot of credit for turning the LAPD around and delivering the dramatic drops in crime by introducing new technology and cooperating more with federal agencies. The mayor also deserves praise for working with the chief to repair long-frayed police-community relations, said Alex Alonso, who monitors gangs and policing on his StreetGangs.com website.

“Chief Bratton and Villaraigosa showed up at churches, showed up at community meetings,” Alonso said. “That’s definitely a plus. Going to the ghettto.”

Villaraigosa also is praised, reports Stoltze, for embracing non-law-enforcement-centric strategies for crime reduction.

While she’d like to see more funding for the GRYD program (it receives about $25 million annually), Kayle Shilling of the Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater L.A. said she’s glad Villaraigosa embraced the gang strategy along with more police — even if it was four years into his administration.

“There are a lot of different approaches in Los Angeles and I think it just takes folks a little while to get up to speed,” Shilling said. “I think he’s landed in a good place.”

Villaraigosa can hardly take sole credit for the historic crime drop that began before he took office. Community groups — some led by former gang members — are more involved than ever in reducing violence.

“You have a lot of other things going on outside of City Hall and outside of government,” said Alonso of StreetGangs.com. “You have nonprofit organizations, you have a lot of gang intervention workers. The mindset is changing within South L.A.”

But with Villaraigosa’s help, the mindset on how to tackle crime has changed at City Hall, too.

Read and listen to the rest of Frank Stoltze’s report here.


We’ll be linking to what we see to be the best of the commentary. So buckle-up and hang on.

Here, for example, is an explanatory story from Michael Doyle of McClatchy Newspapers.

And here’s an interesting blog post by Amy Davidson in the New Yorker about the non-Prop 8 case, that of Edie Windsor. As she writes, Davidson helpfully links to some of the best essays on the two cases.

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, Bill Bratton, Charlie Beck, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, Los Angeles Mayor, Sheriff Lee Baca | 16 Comments »

Why AB 2242 Would Have Counteracted Zero Tolerance Discipline, LA Libraries Reclaim Hours Lost to Budget Cuts…and More

October 16th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


Assembly member Roger Dickinson authored AB 2242 to combat California’s “zero tolerance” school discipline by removing the destructively catch-all phrase “willful defiance” as grounds for expulsion. The bill was vetoed by Gov. Brown because it took disciplinary discretion away from local officials. Dickinson explains why the veto means that kids all over California will continue to be subjected to often whimsical definitions of what constitutes unacceptable behavior. (It’s our understanding that Dickinson plans to reintroduce the bill later on—we’ll keep you updated.)

Here’s a clip from Roger Dickinson’s op-ed for the Sacramento Bee:

I authored Assembly Bill 2242 to help schools trying to increase student attendance and achievement; keeping students who are struggling with behavior on track to graduate and out of the criminal justice system. Everyone wins when students stay in school. By increasing graduation rates by 10 percent, we could prevent 400 murders and 20,000 aggravated assaults in California each year.

Unfortunately, the bill was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown on the basis of preserving local discretion. It came under criticism in a Ben Boychuk column (“Brown wisely keeps local control for school discipline,” Oct. 4).

However, under the guise of leaving discretion to local officials, recent data have found that African Americans are more than 3 1/2 times as likely to be suspended or expelled as Caucasian students, with some districts suspending 60 percent of African American students. Students of color are disproportionately suspended and expelled for low level, subjective offenses.

The problem is not a lack of local discretion, but discretion exercised in a highly discriminatory, sometimes arbitrary manner that kicks children out of school as the easy, out of sight, out of mind fix. The real solution is to keep kids in school and address their behavioral issues with proven alternative means of correction.

Currently, students can be suspended or expelled for “willful defiance,” which is undefined in law. Willful defiance was the grounds for 42 percent of all suspensions in 2010-11, equaling 2,200 students per school day – the highest rate in the nation. This subjective language permits expulsion for anything from failing to turn in homework, not paying attention, not taking off a hat, or swearing in class.

AB 2242 removed willful defiance as grounds for expelling a student from school. In its place, it incorporated specific language on behavior that warrants an expulsion, such as harassment, threats, and intimidation. The bill kept the ability for school administrators to suspend students for up to five days for each offense.


LA public libraries will be opening once again Friday mornings and Monday and Wednesday nights, thanks to legislation that restored library funding after severe budget cuts over the last four years.

LA Weekly’s Patrick Range McDonald has been following the city’s library policy in depth for several years now and had a big hand in embarrassing the city, too. Here’s a clip from his story:

Starting today, the added hours at the city’s 73 libraries is the second phase of returning the public library system to its former glory. The turnaround came after L.A. Weekly exposed severe budget cuts to the libraries. Public library officials and the librarians’ union credit that article for the creation and passage of Measure L, which infused the library system with more cash.

In a recent press release about the restored hours, Villaraigosa noted that libraries “are vital neighborhood resources” and that it “pained me greatly to make the decision to reduce library hours in 2010. Restoration gets the city back on track and one step closer to fully restoring our city’s library hours. None of this would have been possible without voter support of Measure L.”

We’re glad Villaraigosa finally came around to the fact that libraries are important – immigrants use them as places to acclimate themselves to their new city, senior citizens have a place to stay cool during the summer and get out of the apartment, children of single parents go there after school and stay off the streets, and unemployed folks with no computers at home use computers at the libraries to find work.

As City Councilman Eric Garcetti rightly told the LA Times:

“Libraries are important to the soul of the city and together today we reclaim a part of that soul.”


LA Mayor Villaraigosa will be pushing for immigrant I.D. cards at a City Council meeting, today (Tuesday). The I.D. would assist immigrants with things like banking services and would also help law enforcement officers with identification issues.

The LA Times’ Catherine Saillant has the story. Here’s a clip:

“It will be an official ID,” Villaraigosa said in a recent interview.

Critics said Villaraigosa’s proposal is the latest indication that Los Angeles leaders are taking an increasingly supportive view of undocumented immigrants as they encourage them to join in the city’s civic life.
“It is clearly an accommodation,” said Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group critical of illegal immigration. “Los Angeles is making it easier for people who have violated federal immigration laws to live in the city.”

But backers said the mayor is doing the right thing, pointing out that the initiative could reduce crime because fewer people would have to carry cash.

The idea for the city ID card originated in his office, the mayor said, as part of previous efforts to help immigrants open bank accounts so they wouldn’t become targets of crime.

Councilman Richard Alarcon recently introduced a more limited proposal to create a new library card that could also serve as a debit card. But Villaraigosa said he wants to go further and have the city begin offering full-fledged photo IDs.

A handful of cities, including San Francisco and Oakland, issue identification cards to anyone who can prove residency, regardless of immigration status. Villaraigosa said it’s time that Los Angeles — home to an estimated 4.3-million immigrants — joined them.


We’ve reprinted most of the LAPPL’s statement, because it’s a wonderfully outrageous story:

The truthfulness of many bankers was questioned following the 2008 financial collapse. The tales some of them wove unraveled as they drove the collapse of the financial system. So, what do you get when you cross a user ofbath salts with a banker who seeks a payday from the City of Los Angeles? Meet Brian Mulligan – the man best known for his day job as a high-powered banker with Deutsche Bank. Less known about Mulligan is that he, by his own admission, was a frequent user of “bath salts,” a substance that causes euphoric sensations and violent delusions.

Mulligan brought himself to the public eye recently with a wild, lurid lawsuit against the LAPD. As recounted in John Millers report on the CBS evening news, Mulligan’s story reads like a bad screenplay rejected by Fox TV or Universal Pictures, where he had previously been an executive. As detailed by Richard Winton Los Angeles Times, Mulligan accused LAPD officers of detaining him on May 15, 2012, forcing him into a low rent motel, threatening him with death if he left, and then beating him severely when he fled.

“Bath salts lead to delusion, and as in this case, bizarre lawsuits,” said Tyler Izen, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League. “Hopefully, now that the truth is coming out, instead of continuing to spend his money on lawyers and trying to weave a fictitious tale of abuse at the hands of the LAPD, Mulligan will seek the substance abuse treatment he so clearly needs.”

The LAPD acknowledged that they had encountered Mulligan after receiving calls he had been trying to enter into vehicles in a Highland Park neighborhood. According to news reports regarding the arrest report, Mulligan admitted to LAPD officers he had recently ingested bath salts, not slept for days, and felt depressed. According to news reports, at his request Mulligan was dropped at the low rent motel building. Sometime later, officers again spotted him trying to break into cars. After a short foot chase, officers caught up with him, Mulligan took a fighting stance and reasonable force was used to arrest him. Through his attorney at the time, J. Michael Flanagan, Mulligan adamantly denied ever admitting to LAPD officers that he used “white lightning,” a commercial name for bath salts.

But, unfortunately for Mr. Mulligan and fortunately for the truth, his own voice caught on audiotape proves he was a regular user of bath salts. After seeing a story about Mr. Mulligan in the daily NewsWatch, distributed by the Los Angeles Police Protective League, officers from the Glendale Police Department recognized Mr. Mulligan from their own encounter with Mulligan two days before the initial LAPD contact on May 13, 2012.

In that situation, Mulligan contacted the Glendale Police Department dispatch and flagged down a Glendale police officer in front of the Glendale Police Department, claiming that helicopters were following him. That Glendale police officer spoke to Mulligan for approximately11 minutes.

After the officer assured Mulligan there were no helicopters following him, Mulligan stated to the officer, “I could be nuts… I am a little paranoid.” During the subsequent conversation, Mulligan admitted using bath salts approximately 20 times, with his last use just “two weeks ago,” and that his family was aware of his use of the drug.

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 5 Comments »

Monday Must Reads: The LAPD Makes an Enlightened Move, SCOTUS Deals With Cocaine…& More

April 16th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

by Celeste Fremon and Taylor Walker


Last Thursday night, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck announced a newly crafted, and hearteningly enlightened policy toward transgender people—including a separate LAPD lock-up, the first in the nation. The new policy takes a hugely significant step in healing the problem-laced relationship between the transgender community and the criminal justice system in general.

(According to a study by UC Irvine commissioned by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, nearly 60 percent of transgender inmates in California lock-ups reported being sexually assaulted by other inmates, a rate 13 times higher than for a random sample of the general inmate

The LA Times’ Sam Quinones has the story. Here’s how it opens.

Responding to incidents of violence against transgender arrestees, the Los Angeles Police Department plans to open a segregated lockup for biologically male and female suspects who identify themselves as members of the opposite sex, officials said.

By early May, a 24-bed transgender module will open at the LAPD women’s jail downtown, the first such police lockup in the nation, according to Capt. Dave Lindsay, the jail division commander.

“This is a major change,” Lindsay said. It will allow for “an environment that’s safe and secure, as there’s been a history of violence against transgender people.”

City jails are for holding people only until they are arraigned in court on the charges on which they were arrested, typically a maximum of three days; then they are transferred to the Los Angeles County Jail, run by the Sheriff’s Department. The county jail will not be affected by the changes.

Go, Chief Charlie. This is a very good thing.



ON Tuesday the US Supreme Court will hear arguments regarding whether or not the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 should be, in any way, retroactive If you’ll remember, the FSA is the law that (mostly) rectified the horrific 1-100 sentencing discrepancy between the prison terms handed down for powder cocaine sales convictions and sentences for convictions for crack sales. (The FSA changed the ratio to 1-20-ish.) The problem is that the new law implied —but did not implicitly say— that it would retroactively apply to crimes committed before the act was passed—but sentenced after the act was passed.

The twinned cases of Dorsey v. the United States, and Hill v. the United States are about that retroactivity issue.

Lyle Denniston over at SCOTUSBLOG has a very complete rundown of the finer points of the cases and the law. While he may be a little on the wordy side for non-wonks, his post is quite fascinating and informative if you take the time.

Here are some clips:

Blacks more often got punished for buying or selling the “crack” or “rock” variety of cocaine, which can be easily processed into a smoked version; conviction carried a much heavier prison sentence. Whites more often got punished for dealing in the “powder” or “blow” version, which can be snorted; conviction carried a far more lenient sentence.


For cocaine, that [1986 Anti-Drug Abuse] Act required judges to punish an individual convicted of a crack crime 100 times more severely than one convicted of trafficking in the powder form. In other words, every gram of crack was treated as the same, for punishment purposes, as 100 grams of powder.

[The Fair Sentencing Act] adopted a ratio that works out to about 18 to 1, crack to powder. A crime involving 28 grams of crack would draw a five-year minimum sentence, as would a crime with 500 grams of powder. A crack crime with 280 grams would be sentenced to ten years, as would a powder crime with 5000 grams. The Justice Department has explained the choice of 28 grams as the bottom amount of crack for sentencing on the premise that wholesale distribution of crack usually involves one-ounce quantities — that is, close to 28 grams.

Although only one lawyer will appear Tuesday for the two Illinoisians, the lawyers for each have filed their own merits brief. The brief for Corey Hill (whose lawyer will be arguing) put its main emphasis upon congressional intent in 2010: “Once Congress completed its historic overhaul of crack sentencing policy,” the brief said, Congress “wanted those amendments to apply immediately….The clear implication….was that the new mandatory minimums should take effect rapidly so that the Guidelines would have a model against which to ‘conform’ and be consistent.”


The Dorsey-Hill cases almost certainly will revive within the Court the long-running dispute over how to read federal statutes — to stay focused only on their language, or to look at legislative history, too. If the Court were to use the former approach, it would seem that the Court-appointed amicus has the better of the argument. The 1871 law is quite specific in requiring Congress, if it wants a new criminal law to have retroactive effect, to say so explicitly; Congress did not do that in 2010. But if the Court were to take the latter approach, there is much that went on during the process of passing the 2010 law that suggests that Congress did want retroactivity to the extent being advanced by the government and counsel for the two Illinois men — not least, the removal of the anti-retroactivity provision from the bill.


The Baltimore PD, which is the 8th largest department in the nation, plans to begin videotaping interrogations in serious cases like shootings and murders. Criminal justice advocates across the country have been pushing for the move due to the now recognized prevalence of false confessions in innocence cases. Baltimore PD’s dithering—and their determination to make the change—is emblematic of similar policy shifts taking place in agencies all over the U.S.

Justin Fenton of the Baltimore Sun has the story. Here’s a clip:

The department, the eighth-largest in the country, recently began using video as part of a series of reforms of its sex-offense unit. Now officials are exploring equipment options and the policy impact of videotaping homicide and shooting interrogations. Detectives are being trained on subtleties such as where to stand and how their demeanor will play to a jury.

I’m committed to doing this, and I have a bunch of really smart guys working on getting this done,” said police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, who has studied videotaping since he was chief of detectives. “But it’s not as simple as going to Radio Shack and bolting a camera into the wall.”


Hundreds of jurisdictions across the country now videotape interrogations, and it is required by law in several states and the District of Columbia. The shift has been spurred by increasing affordability, as well as by questions of coercion and false confessions as DNA testing has led to the release of scores of inmates.

In Harford County, the sheriff’s department says it has long recorded interviews in major cases and recently got funding to add interrogation rooms to neighborhood precincts.

“It’s pretty much a standard for progressive law-enforcement agencies,” Sheriff L. Jesse Bane said. “People are finding out that the things Hollywood portrays really don’t take place.”


Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is expected to propose a merger between the LAPD and the General Services’ Office of Public Safety cops in his budget, to be presented Friday. The rather curious melding of the officers who guard libraries and courthouses with the LAPD may be a cost-efficient way for Villaraigosa to uphold his promise to add 1,000 officers to the LAPD ranks by the end of his mayoral term—or not.

Here’s a clip from the Daily News’ Dakota Smith’s report:

As part of his budget being released Friday, Villaraigosa is proposing to shift the Department of General Services’ Office of Public Safety into the Los Angeles Police Department, according to City Council members familiar with the proposal.

Under the proposal, some or all of the city’s 250 security officers and sworn officers who guard the city’s parks, zoo, and City Hall would move under the command of the LAPD.

City budget chief Miguel Santana is expected to release a report on the costs, advantages, and risks of moving the department to the LAPD next week.

Additionally, the LAPD is doing its own feasibility study on absorbing the department.

“There’s a lot of homework to do before this can occur,” said City Councilman Dennis Zine, adding he has questions about the plan.

For instance, Zine said the OPS and LAPD officers have different salaries and pension plans.

In any case, at this point, it’s far from a done deal.

The L.A. Times also reported on the issue.


Rafael A. Olmeda of the Sun-Sentinel has the intriguing story. Here’s a clip:

Can an immigrant without a green card get a Florida Bar card?

Aspiring lawyer Jose Godinez-Samperio, 25, a Tampa-area resident, is hoping the answer is yes.

A native of Mexico who entered the United States legally with his parents 16 years ago on a tourist visa, Godinez-Samperio is a graduate of the Florida State University College of Law, the valedictorian of the Armwood High School class of 2004, an Eagle Scout — and an undocumented immigrant.

The Florida Board of Bar Examiners, which grants membership to the Bar, has asked the state Supreme Court to determine whether it can accept someone who is not in the country legally. The Supreme Court flagged the case as “high profile” last week.

Similar cases are pending in NY and California.

Original illustration by Scott McPherson

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, Antonio Villaraigosa, Charlie Beck, City Budget, Courts, crime and punishment, immigration, Innocence, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, LGBT, Must Reads, Sentencing, Supreme Court | 5 Comments »

Too Many People Locked Up Say Americans In New Survey, Antonio Goes to D.C. for Gangs, Warrantless Cell Phone Tracking…and More

April 3rd, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

Starting today, the very smart and talented Taylor Walker is helping me gather stories. Eventually Taylor will be doing a story-gathering and commentary section of her own. But right now, she’s helping me curate and write these multi-story posts. More about—and from—Taylor Walker soon.


The Pew Center on the States has the results of a new survey out that measures attitudes by Americans about who we should incarcerate and for how long.

Turns out that the majority of Americans think that there are “more effective, less expensive alternatives to prison for non-violent offenders and expanding those alternatives is the best way to reduce the crime rate.”

There’s lots more and it’s quite interesting. So check out the summary of the rest of the report here.


The LA Times reports that mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was in Washington DC this week for a gang-violence reduction summit meeting with leaders from Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, San Jose and Salinas.

Sunday, he also met with Attorney General Eric Holder, to hit up Holder for some federal money to help to fund LA’s GRYD programs (Gang Reduction and Youth Development), These were the programs that were gathered under the mayor’s umbrella in 2007, and got up and running in 2009.

Last year, the combined prevention and intervention GRYD programs were budgeted at $26 million, made up of federal, state and local monies. Villaraigosa wants the feds to come across with a good chunk of those millions.

Hopefully he’ll get the money he/we need. I just wish that when the mayor made his pitch he didn’t have to try to attribute LA’s drop in gang crime to GRYD, since even his own evaluators from the Urban Institute say otherwise (namely since the parts of Los Angeles that aren’t served by GRYD have had exactly the same drop).

Yeah, yeah. Picky, I know.


A huge pile of information gathered by the ACLU on law enforcement cell phone tracking protocols was released to the New York Times on Saturday. The report returned results that differed considerably between about 200 agencies that agreed to provide information about how they were using our cell phones to track us. Departments across the U.S. are grappling with the lack of concrete boundaries set in place for officers in regard to cell phone tracking. While some agencies state that they are only using tracking without a warrant in life-threatening situations (and sometimes it does save lives), others are using it when they damn please, including in California where state prosecutors advised local police departments on ways to get carriers to “clone” a phone and download text messages while it is turned off.

(About that text downloading function, unreasonable search and seizure anyone? Seriously, how in the world is that not a 4th Amendment violation?)

In order to get the information, 35 ACLU affiliates filed over 380 public records requests with state and local law enforcement agencies to ask about their policies, procedures and practices for tracking cell phones.

This is from the ACLU’s statement:

What we have learned is disturbing. While virtually all of the over 200 police departments that responded to our request said they track cell phones, only a tiny minority reported consistently obtaining a warrant and demonstrating probable cause to do so. While that result is of great concern, it also shows that a warrant requirement is a completely reasonable and workable policy.

They’ve got a point. And, given this recent SCOTUS decision, I think the SUPREMES may think so too.


Within the next year, students may see optional sexual orientation check-boxes on their application forms for California state colleges. While the purpose may be to gauge the size of the LGBTQ community on campus, and thus offer better services, some fear it may be an invasion of privacy or that the information may be improperly used or wrongly divulged. The LA Times reports.

Posted in ACLU, Antonio Villaraigosa, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, LGBT, prison, prison policy | 3 Comments »

Much Chatter Follows Resignation of Jeff Carr, Villaraigosa’s Chief of Staff

July 7th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

When Antonio Villaraigosa’s Chief of Staff, Jeff Carr,
resigned unexpectedly on Wednesday, “to return to the non-profit world” there was much speculation about whether or not the resignation was entirely voluntary.

Dennis Romero of LA Weekly wrote:

Interestingly, he said he didn’t have another job lined up, but that he wanted to return to the nonprofit world. (No “more-time-with-the-family” for this guy, apparently).

Carr, if you remember, was the city’s first Gang Czar before being elevated to be the mayor’s top guy.

The LA Times’ David Zahniser reported Carr’s upcoming exit with more detailed speculation:

Villaraigosa supporters offered differing accounts as to whether Carr had been encouraged to leave. Carr himself denied receiving any pressure. But others in the mayor’s orbit said Villaraigosa, who will be forced out by term limits in June 2013, wanted a change in management that would allow him to complete key goals.

“The mayor’s got two years left. He’s got a lot of stuff he wants to do,” said one source close to the mayor who would only comment if not identified because Villaraigosa did not grant permission to speak. “It just felt like there’s enough time left to get the house in working order better, to finish strong.”


Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., said Carr “did his best” in a city suffering from a bruising recession, a string of budget shortfalls and a badly decaying infrastructure, particularly streets and highways.

“The chief of staff is supposed to keep the trains running on time. And I don’t believe there’s anyone in the city who would say the trains in L.A. are running on time,” he said.

Discord over Carr’s leadership also could be found within the mayor’s office.

One person familiar with Carr’s departure said members of Villaraigosa’s staff went to Carr last week to express concerns about his management style. That person also would not speak if identified, saying the mayor had not given authorization to discuss the staffing changes.

Based on what my sources have told me, David Z. has it right- about a group going at first to Jeff Carr but then, feeling unsatisfied with the outcome of the meeting, to the mayor. This was reportedly combined with the fact that Villaraisgosa has the intention to do a reboot of his administration and his political trajectory—a process into which presumably Jeff Carr was no longer seen to fit.


Joseph Mailander of Mulholland Terrace is having a good time speculating. Check out his List of Six.


For the next few days, keep an eye on the WLA Twitter feed, on the right of the page here. ——>

And, yes, I did see the story about the guy in Yellowstone who was attacked an killed by a griz on Wednesday.

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, City Government | No Comments »

Head of DCFS Trish Ploehn is Out: Did We Want Someone to Blame?

December 14th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

The announcement went out Monday morning that the head of the Department of Children and Family Services
, Trish Ploehn, has been removed as the head of DCFS.

The LA Times predicted her ouster over a month ago.

Axing Ploehn may or may not be the right thing to do. The opinions around town (and beyond) on the matter are all over the place.

Some feel she was simply not up to the job, and that a recent string of child deaths proved it. Others suggest that, in a long troubled and secretive department that has been chronically plagued by child deaths and other horrors, she was simply the nearest and most obvious person to blame.

(The LA Weekly reported in November that as early September, Ploehn’s attorney wrote the County CEO about a “smear campaign” against her allegedly coming from a couple of the supervisors.)

She will be replaced on a purely interim basis by Antonia Jimenez, a top aide to county Chief Executive William T Fujioka, while a nationwide search for a permanent director takes place.

In a story for the LA times, Garrett Therolf writes that it is hoped that Jimenez will begin whipping the department into shape even during her temporary tenure.

Jimenez will not have the benefit of significant child welfare experience. She came to Los Angeles County government only months ago after working as a senior manager at Deloitte, the management consulting firm, and in Massachusetts state government, including the governor’s office, focusing mostly on healthcare issues.

Since arriving in L.A., however, she has gained officials’ confidence for her management expertise and has been admired for her reputation as a turnaround expert. Behind the scenes, she has asked supervisors’ aides to pull back from their involvement in the department’s affairs to give her and the chief executive’s staff the opportunity to take nearly singular ownership of the day-to-day efforts to correct the agency.

Looking in from the outside, the disheartening part of this whole thing is that Ploehn is just the latest in a string of DCFS directors who have gone from being the the possible saviors of the LA County foster care system.

I don’t know Ploehn, but I did talk at length, on several occasions with her predecessor’s predecessor, Anita Bock.

Bock was a rising star in the foster care world, recruited in 1999 to come to Los Angeles after she had a dramatic success in overhauling Miami’s smaller but similarly ailing foster-care system.

When we talked a decade ago, in the spring of 2000, Bock was still viewed as the new DCFS savior, but I found her to be very down to earth and passionate about the work. This is a little of what she said about what needed fixing at DCFS:

“Most of our social workers have 50 or 60 cases, which is quadruple the nationally recommended number of 15. That’s clearly unworkable. We also have a bureaucracy that actively prevents people on the frontlines from making decisions that are in the best interests of the child, and tends to meet its own needs first.” She smiled wryly. “Which means it’s doing whatever it can to avoid liability. We can’t afford to operate like that anymore. We have to put the needs of the kids first, the needs of everybody else second.”

Bock also described the required training for foster parents as woefully inadequate. “And we should do a complex psychological and social evaluation before we place a child, in order to determine their specific needs and match them with an appropriate family,” she said. “Instead, we thrust children into care without any kind of effective assessment. That’s just a recipe for problems.”

So what to do?

Bock sighed. “We have to gently and humanely unravel the mess that is L.A. County foster care,” she said. “And the community needs to step up to the plate as well. There’s a good reason that all these kids are flooding into the system. American children are in deep trouble. That’s obvious everywhere you look.” Still she insisted that she is optimistic. “I think in six months or a year, this agency is going to really surprise everybody — not just the state but the whole country.”

As I said, that was ten years ago.

Unfortunately, instead of gobs of progress, there were some incremental moves forward. The bureaucracy and the resistance was formidable. Yet, while Bock made visible improvements. The troubled department didn’t move fast enough and, after three years, Bock’s contract wasn’t renewed.

Following Bock, there was David Sanders, another purported savior. Sanders wasn’t tossed out, but got so fed up that he quit DCFS to go work elsewhere.

Enter Trish Ploehn, the first director promoted from within the organization and someone on whom many hopes were pinned. And now exit Trish Ploehn.

That’s three directors in 10 years— soon to be four.

It makes one wonder if perhaps the problems are not just with the directors. Perhaps there is something deeper and more systemic that continues not to be addressed.

Still, as foster care activist/journalist Daniel Heimpel points out, under Ploehn there were some substantive changes.

He writes:

Not knowing the full circumstance of Ploehn’s removal, I can only offer what I do know. Under her watch the number of children in care was dramatically reduced, sparing thousands of children from the trauma of removal. She was the architect of a culture shift that compelled social workers to toe the scary line between the safety of foster care versus the value of leaving that child in a family home.

“This is not the easy route,” Ploehn wrote in a letter to her workers announcing the end of her tenure. “But it is what we know to be best for the children and families we serve. And this is the work that needs to be done moving forward – ensuring that each and every child in our County truly enjoys a sense of wholeness, of the security that comes with being a member of a safe, strong, loving family.”

From the outside things seem black and white. But we as a culture left those hard decisions to the workers under Ploehn’s watch. They were the ones who had to decide whether a child was safer in his or her family home or in a foster care system known to be imperfect. As one worker told me “the only way they [the children] would be safer is if we slept in the homes with them.”

But the workers don’t sleep in broken homes and humans have the capacity to act horribly. Whenever that happened, we looked for someone to blame. Too often that was the Department and its head. Now she is gone. Without someone to blame, maybe it is time we all ask what we can do to help our collective children.

Yes. What he said.

UPDATE: in January 2003, the wonderful writer Ed Hume wrote an article for LA Magazine called “The Unwanted. It was about DCFS in general, and the infamous and now-closed MacLaren Hall, in particular. I was rereading the story this morning and was struck by this paragraph:

Bold pronouncements from county officials that a solution is at hand have become an annual ritual, followed by another ritual: rounds of finger-pointing and firings when little is solved. (Anita Bock, ousted last July as director of the Department of Children and Family Services is only the latest casualty….)

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

Photo by Anne Cusack, Los Angeles Times


It’s good. Read it.

Here’s how it opens:

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s inauguration, on a sunny Los Angeles morning 5 1/2 years ago, was a moment of celebration and promise. Villaraigosa’s personal future appeared limitless; the city seemed poised to reap great things. “We need,” he said that day to 3,000 adoring supporters, “to start thinking big again.”

That feels like a long time ago.


The NY Times’ Sheryl Gay Stolberg analyzes what Monday’s ruling on the health care bill really means in a practical sense. (Hint. It’s not good.)

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, Foster Care | 5 Comments »

The Anne Factor: Or Why Jerry Will Be Different This Time

November 10th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

The Daily Beast has a brand new profile of soon to be California First Lady,
Anne Gust Brown, and her affect on the life and work of the governor elect. But before we get to the DB story, a few personal recollections on the same topic:

MY FIRST VERY BIG STORY AS A YOUNG AND NOT AT ALL EXPERIENCED JOURNALIST was a nationally syndicated interview/profile
I managed to wrangle with then California Governor Jerry Brown in 1976 when he was running for president as a dark horse candidate. For a few months of that year, and a few amazing primaries, it looked like he might very well have a shot at being the nominee. But it was not to be. The Democratic party leadership preferred someone a bit more…um….controllable and Jerry’s style campaign played better in the east and the west than it did in the deep south.

During my reporting for that story, I followed Brown around through a variety of circumstances and I remember in particular one late night in the governor’s office when staff and legislators were trying to get Jerry through the process of signing or not signing a large stack of bills, which was a maddeningly slow affair because Brown’s instinctive intellectual curiosity, combined with with his notoriously whimsical attention span, caused him to question things that were often really not worth questioning, given the circumstances.

As the process dragged on and on into the wee hours, I remember one politico—either a staffer or a state senator, I can’t remember now— expelling himself from EGB Jr’s office, flushed and steaming. “We gotta get this guy a wife,” growled the man for the benefit of anyone who happened to be within earshot. “We got to get this guy a wife who will kick his ass!”

In the intervening years I’ve interviewed and/or reported on, or simply chatted with Jerry Brown many, many times, and have often thought back on the rightness of that remark. Not about the ass-kicking part, but the fact that, like certain kinds of very bright people, he needed some sort of grounding person in his life, somebody who would hold on to his kite string, a counterweight to bring him to balance.

Enter Anne Gust in 1990. After first dating, and then living together, she and Brown married in 2005.

I met Anne only once, when the three of us sat together during lunch at a benefit for the California relief organization, Operation USA, and the rightness of their pairing struck me immediately.

The impression was reinforced a couple of times when I was interviewing Jerry on the phone at his home office, and he needed to pause several times to interact with his wife and the interplay spoke volumes.

One of the most charming things about his election night speech, for those of us who have watched Jerry Brown for a very long time, was the way he credited Anne for his victory and nattered on happily about how she would be California’s first lady. He gushed really. Jerry forgot to be cautious, or hyper intellectual. He was instead publicly adoring. And it was great.

I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: for better and occasionally for worse, Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown, Jr. was and still is one of the brightest people in American public life. He is also one of the canniest, politically speaking.

But common sense? In the past, sometimes not so much.

As a consequence, both as a governor and also as a presidential candidate, and even during his time in Oakland, he would occasionally give rein to creative but poorly thought out actions on a whim (more often then not with the encouragement of his longtime Pre-Gust “closest adviser,” the interesting but decidedly peculiar, Jacques Barzaghi). Some of those actions were to Brown’s—and/or our—detriment.

That’s where Anne Gust Brown comes in. She is not only extremely bright herself, she is a very savvy professional—a lawyer and businesswoman—who worked for 14 years for The Gap, first as general counsel and then Chief Administrative Officer.

She clearly gets him and in no way tries to keep Jerry from being Jerry. But, when need be, she sits down firmly on the other side of his teeter-totter. To his credit, he is grateful for it.

By the way, I think if Jerry had been settled down and married to Anne Gust when he was running for president in 1992, the year that William Jefferson Clinton became the nominee, and eventually a two term president, we might very well have had POTUS Brown.

All these years after his first two terms as governor, Jerry Brown is about to embark on his third. It will assuredly be his most difficult, given the state of the state. But with just a little bit of luck—and a lot of Anne Gust Brown—it may possibly be his best.

OKAY, NOW BACK TO THE DAILY BEAST PROFILE OF ANNE GUST BROWN , whom writer Joe Matthews calls The Most Powerful Woman in California.

It’s a definite must read. And he might be right about that most powerful woman thingy.

Here are some clips:

The conventional wisdom has hardened quickly: Californians, in rejecting Silicon Valley CEOs Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, supposedly declared in last week’s elections that they don’t want corporate executives running their government.

Nonsense. California voters may have turned down the applications of Whitman and Fiorina for the governorship and a U.S. Senate seat, respectively. But in the very same election, they voted to put a female corporate executive from the Bay Area in charge of their state’s government.

The name of Anne Gust Brown, a former top lawyer and executive for The Gap, wasn’t on the ballot, but it might as well as have been. She served as de facto campaign manager for the campaign of her husband of five years, the once and now future Gov. Jerry Brown. And by all accounts, she will serve as his top aide (albeit on an unpaid basis) as he runs the government.

That’s why no one batted an eye when Governor-elect Brown suggested this week that he may not bother appointing a chief of staff. The statement only seemed to confirm that Anne Brown will be in charge, even if she doesn’t hold the title. This would be nothing new. She performed a similar role during Brown’s just-completed four-year term as California attorney general.


Even Brown’s GOP opponent Meg Whitman, when asked during a debate this fall what she admired most about Brown, responded: “I really like his choice of wife. I’m a big fan of Anne Gust.”

Me too.


In case you missed it, Tuesday’s LA Times profile of Antonio Villaraigosa’s chief of staff and former LA gang czar, Jeff Carr, by Patrick J. McDonnell is worth reading if particularly you have an interest in the ins and outs of city government.

It’s a fairly friendly profile, written in a fashion that, allows some room for criticism, but will likely alienate no one.

Still, doing the piece was a good idea, as Carr is an interesting person in the city’s landscape, and someone with an ambition to eventually move up the ladder in California’s political world, so best you get to know him.

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, City Government, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry) | 34 Comments »

FOLLOW THE GANG MONEY: Part 1 – by Matthew Fleischer

August 16th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

EDITOR’S NOTE: The article below is Part One of WitnessLA’s two-part investigation into how the city of Los Angeles spends its $26 million per year in gang violence reduction dollars.

This investigation was reported and written by Matt Fleischer (and copy edited by Craig Gaines). It is the first effort to come out of the LA Justice Report, which was created through a partnership between WLA and Spot.Us.

You’ll find that both sections of this series are quite critical of multiple aspects the gang programs that have operated under the umbrella of the mayor’s office for the past two years—and with good reason. We went to great lengths to get documents and information that the mayor’s people made clear they did not want us to have. Much of what Matt found at the conclusion of his digging and reporting is, we believe, cause for concern–and rigorous rethinking.

However, just to be clear: our criticism does not suggest for a minute that the $26 million in gang dollars is not worth spending. All that money and more is needed to address the fact that hundreds of thousands of LA kids feel unsafe walking to school because of gang violence. But it is essential—particularly in these budget strapped times—that those much-needed funds are spent in ways that are measurably effective in addressing the problems for which they were allocated.

To that end, we give you Part One of Follow the Gang Money. We’ll have Part Two in a couple of weeks.

Then in September, we’ll have a wrap-up that looks at where we go from here.


Are LA’s Gang Prevention Strategies Excluding the Kids Who Most Need Our Help?
by Matthew Fleischer

On a hot day in early May, nearly 200 gang-reduction experts
under the umbrella of the city of Los Angeles’ Gang Reduction and Youth Development program, or GRYD, gathered in the LA City Council chambers to fight for their jobs. There were too many intervention workers, some of them former gang members with extravagant tattoos and shaved heads, to cram into the rows of seats in the City Council chambers, so they spilled into the hallways instead, greeting each other fondly and chatting nervously about their fates. With the city facing a $212 million budget shortfall, the City Council was looking to do some serious fiscal trimming, and GRYD’s $26 million in operating funds were slated for the shears.

As the council meeting came to order and the public comment period began, these men and women stepped to the microphone at the center front of the chambers and told stories of bullets whizzing, children dying and the great risks they took in their daily lives to keep their communities safe. In between their testimonies, a sprinkling of tweedy academic types from the administrative ranks of these same gang-reduction programs came forward to bolster the street workers’ pleas with facts and figures.

No money should be slashed from GRYD, each of them said, in one impassioned way or another. Despite its budget woes, this is one program cut Los Angeles cannot afford.

“We’re saving lives,” was the common refrain.

Last to speak, and most eloquent, was civil rights attorney and gang intervention expert Connie Rice, whose 2007 Advancement Project report, “A Call to Action,” was part of what triggered the formation of GRYD in the first place. More recently, Rice and her Advancement Project have been tapped to run the city’s Los Angeles Violence Intervention Training Academy (LAVITA)—which is attempting to train and professionalize gang intervention workers. “We are celebrating low crime, but in the hot zones, kids still dodge bullets,” said Rice. “These [gang workers] are the people who keep the kids safe. The GRYD office is absolutely essential. We just spent $7 million for a reptile enclosure. I’m happy for Reggie [the alligator], but we need to save our kids first.”

Although some of the city council members fully intended to snip GRYD’s funds, Rice made her pitch with the knowledge that the program enjoys the unequivocal backing of LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Ever since his school reform efforts sputtered and stalled, Villaraigosa has taken to GRYD as his new flagship policy effort. He routinely touts it as “among the most innovative in the U.S.,” and has the habit of making lofty claims about GRYD’s impact: “The program has reclaimed our city for our citizens.”

Within days of the City Council hearing, the mayor, Connie Rice and the rest of the GRYD network got their way: GRYD would receive full funding for another year, which in 2009-10 amounted to $26 million, $18.5 million of which came directly from LA’s general fund. In the following weeks, virtually every other program in the city would be cut amid LA’s budget crunch—the library system, city attorney’s office and even the LAPD’s counterterrorism task force among them. GRYD was among the few allowed to remain intact.

It was a major political victory for Villaraigosa and Gang Reduction and Youth Development.

The mayor reacted to the news with a celebratory tweet: “Our GRYD programs WORK—gang crime is way down and more kids have a way out of the gang life.”

A two-month investigation by the LA Justice Report, however, has revealed that the mayor and the City Council’s confidence in GRYD’s central programs isn’t grounded in quantifiable facts. In truth, no one knows if, how well or how poorly GRYD is working—not the mayor, not the police, not GRYD itself.

Power and accountability have been consolidated in the mayor’s office, but there is still no way of determining whether the program is effective. And there are many indications that methodological errors have been made that have cost—and continue to cost—the city millions of dollars.

A recent audit by LA City Controller Wendy Greuel stated that, after nearly two years, GRYD, much like LA Bridges, still has no adequate evaluation of its effectiveness, or lack thereof—despite the city’s spending $525,000 (with another $375,000 soon to be paid out) for an assessment report from the Urban Institute (UI).

“We had years of a feel-good program under LA Bridges,” Greuel says. “Now we’ve spent more than $500,000 on a tool to see what’s working, but we still don’t have that yet.

“Transparency is the biggest problem we face.”

But while Greuel placed most of the blame on the irritatingly secretive assessment conducted by the UI, the Justice Report found the real failings to be not with the UI researchers’ evaluation of the GRYD programs, but with the programs themselves. Though it took weeks and multiple California Public Records Act requests, we acquired a copy of the UI’s 60-page evaluation and found it most revealing. After speaking with the UI head evaluator and two independent evaluation experts, we have learned that UI had a perfectly acceptable methodology in place. GRYD, however, has been hampered by serious bureaucratic blunders, prime among them poorly negotiated contracts that resulted in the loss of a year of data.

But beyond pure evaluation and data-collection screw-ups—of which there have been plenty—the Justice Report discovered gang prevention programs that may be systematically excluding many of the kids that most need their help and intervention programs that are based on a model that has little or no proven success. Further, the programs may fail to emphasize the most basic services that have been shown to help the men and women in LA’s most violent, troubled neighborhoods leave gang life behind.

As with many city and county problems, the situation is complex, so bear with us. Policy analysis can be wonky at times. But this is no academic exercise. LA is the gang capital of America, and the stakes of the gang-reduction debate are measured in blood.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, Gangs, LA City Council, LA city government, THE LA JUSTICE REPORT | 12 Comments »

Meet the New Chief-to-Be

November 5th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa invites you personally (plus all your closest friends and associates)
to meet Charlie Beck, Los Angeles Police Department Chief Nominee, on Thursday November 5, 2009 at 6:00 p.m. at a Community Town Hall.

The Town Hall will take place at the El Sereno Senior Center located at 4818 Klamath Place, Los Angeles, CA 90032. Doors open at 5:15 pm.

I’d be there, were it not for the fact that I’m taking the night off and will instead be watching the taping of Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! —which seems like much-needed and entirely silly fun.

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, LAPD | 1 Comment »

It’s Charlie!

November 3rd, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


Although many false messages went out last night……
(More about that later or tomorrow.)

…The New Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department is Charlie Beck.


GREAT choice, Mr. Mayor. (Chosen from a 3-some of strong choices.)

The new era begins!

P.S. For a glimpse into what kind of leader our new LAPD head guy will be, and what kind of person he has been before the floodlights turned his direction, reread this July 2008 interview with Chief Charlie. It’ll make you feel good. I promise.

PPS: The LAPPL reminds me that Beck started his career in the LAPD
as a reserve officer. He volunteered. Did it for free. And then went to the academy. All this and he’s a motocross champ, a problem solver, a respecter of civil rights, and a guy with that command presence. He is also personally secure enough that he is unafraid of allowing his own views to evolve—and admitting to it.

Chief Beck is completely read to lead now, but watch him also grow on the job.

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, LAPD | 12 Comments »

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