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DWP’s Water King: “You’re Harassing Me!”

June 10th, 2008 by

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    DWP’s Top Shooter and his oversized eight balls at Ivanhoe Reservoir

David Nahai should be a more open guy. As general manager of the very powerful Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, he’s embraced a noble cause – forcing customers to cut back on their water use this summer. But he’s failing in basic leadership: He won’t step forward and show the people of Los Angeles whether he’s a good role model.

Nahai, a.k.a. The Water King, lives in a $4.6 million mansion in Benedict Canyon. It’s no architectural gem, particularly with the obtrusive three-car garage, but it’s comfortable enough: six bedrooms, seven bathrooms and a swimming pool on a third of an acre.

I’m not ordering him to downsize, but he does have a duty as a public servant to tell us how much of our precious resources he and his wife and three children consume in their 6,012-square-foot palace. And, more important, what they’re doing to conserve like he wants the rest of us to do. His practices could inspire us all.

Last month, I asked the Water King to disclose his water bill. He seemed amused at the time, but now he’s turned prickly and acts like I’m prying into deep family secrets. He welcomes my questions as much as he must like receiving orders from the mayor or DWP’s union boss about who to hire or fire at the influence-charged utility. My hunch is that he wants to avoid the embarrassment of telling the world that what he pays for water and electricity could feed and clothe a small family in Pacoima for a year.

My pursuit of his water bill led me to visit his house and ultimately to file a request under the California Public Records Act, a state law that gives agencies 10 days at the most to respond one way or another.

On Day 15 of my long wait for any word from Nahai’s office, I called a staff meeting here at L.A. Sniper headquarters to develop a strategy. It seemed time for a personal visit to the Water King to make sure he had a current calendar. I caught up with him in Silver Lake later that morning where he had gathered reporters and community members at Ivanhoe Reservoir to release 400,000 black plastic softball-sized balls to float on the surface of the water to keep light from interacting with chemicals and creating cancer-causing bromate.

It’s a delight hearing him talk about the science of water; he’s far less astute grasping the politics of water. I suspect that he’s in way over his head at DWP and is barely treading water. I mean, do you think the Water King ever would have hired Cindy Montanez as a special advisor at $12,500 a month without an order from the mayor? And it goes on and on.

Nahai’s a sharp guy who left his native Iran for boarding school in London. He’s got a degree from UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law and shouldn’t need a lecture from me on public records law. But that’s what our conversation turned into, as DWP crews and community members tossed the balls in the water. At one point, Councilman Tom LaBonge told us to get out of the way of TV crews filming the action.

I laid out the problem for the Water King: “I filed a public records request for your water and electric bills 15 days ago. I haven’t heard word one from your department.”
Water King: “You should talk to public affairs about it.”
Sniper: “I have. They haven’t returned my calls.”
Water King: “It’ll go through its…”
Sniper, interrupting: “You’re breaking the law. The public records act gives you 10 days at the most to respond to a request. The 10 days have gone by.
Water King: “I don’t know anything about it. That’s handled by public affairs and the City Attorney’s Office.”
Sniper: “Why don’t you simply release your water and power bill on your own?”
Water King: “As I said, you filed a public records request and it’ll go through its process.”
Sniper: “You’re telling the people of Los Angeles to conserve. Don’t they have a right to know how the guy who’s making that request of them handles water at his own home?”
Water King: “You filed a public records request.”
Sniper: “Come on, Mr. Nahai. It’s been more than 10 days. You’re a law-abiding guy. Why are you breaking the law when it comes to your water bill?
Water King: “I don’t want to talk to you anymore. You’re harassing me.”

Right after our testy exchange, the water king huddled with DWP’s public affairs director, a.k.a. Water Boy Joe Ramallo. Moments later, Water Boy was on his cellphone talking about the matter with someone.
He and I had this little go-around:
Water Boy: “ I got your message and I will respond to you.”
Sniper: “When?”
Water Boy: “I will respond to you.”
Sniper: “You guys are breaking the law. When will I get a response?”
Water Boy: “I will respond to you.”

By the end of the day, a nice guy named Bryan Woolf, a management assistant at DWP, called to say that the matter was being researched and that I would hear back in a day or so. He called again Tuesday morning to say that I would get a written response in the next day or two. Even Water Boy emailed me Tuesday afternoon to say I would be hearing a verdict on my request by the end of the week.

Over here at L.A. Sniper headquarters, I don’t take confrontations with Water King and Water Boy personally. In fact, I can’t help but think that is generally the way they treat the public. To test that theory, I told the Water King I would be filing a request for a year’s worth of all public-records requests, along with copies of the initial letters the DWP sent in response to the inquiring public. Said the Water King: “Do whatever you think is your legal rights to do.”

I take that as one of those coded messages that hostages inside a bank might make to someone who could help them escape. Yes, deep down the Water King wants me to help him turn around his troubled agency.

Yes, Water King, help is on the way.

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, City Government, environment, Freedom of Information, journalism, LA City Council, media | 14 Comments »

Mayhill, your check (should be) in the mail

June 9th, 2008 by

It’s so nice to see Mayhill Fowler score two of the biggest stories of the campaign season, and so predictable to hear the complaints from the mainstream press and others out to protect their turf and rules and mirage of power. But I have a more practical issue: Shouldn’t Mayhill be getting paid? Look at how she’s raised the profile of The Huffington Post. She and Arianna have been good for each other, and now it’s time to draw up a generous contract to reflect the good times.

And Mayhill needs a new title. The term “citizen journalist” is offensive at a time when we should be in the streets fighting for the rights of all immigrants. Besides, aren’t most journalists “citizens?” And don’t we want more “non-citizen voices” writing about their communities? Until Mayhill gets her contract, George Orwell and I would like to suggest a more descriptive term: Mayhill Fowler is an “unpaid journalist.”

But I want to change that, Mayhill. I’ll be your agent and will open negotiations with Arianna as soon as you call or email me.

OK, OK, OK, it’s fine if you don’t need the money. Even better, actually. We’ll put your well-deserved salary toward setting up an online news site to report local news in Los Angeles. We’ll hire top student talent from USC, UCLA and other local colleges and cover City Hall and the county Hall of Administration like it was done in the very recent past when this was a three-newspaper town.

A proposed name: The Fowler Post.

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, Board of Supervisors, LA City Council, Los Angeles Times, media | 4 Comments »

Jamiel Shaw and gangs

May 11th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

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Here’s how it works:
It isn’t always if you’re a member of a gang…. Sometimes it’s where you grew up….or who you were friends with in elementary school….or who you’ve known all your life because you grew up down the street from each other…or what gang you would have been in if you’d been in a gang….even though you weren’t, and were the good kid who stayed out of it, and did the right thing, and made your parents proud and didn’t bang, or put in work, or really claim a neighborhood, get jumped in……and all that.

Sometimes you can end up dead anyway.

According to gang expert Alex Alonso, it was that kind of tangential association to gangs that may have had much to do with why foot ball star Jamiel Shaw was killed.

Here’s some of what Alonso had to say:


Jamiel wasn’t a bad kid, but he did have relationships with gang members
in his community that led to Espinoza’s fatal assault on him. Jamiel lived in a community occupied by Bloods that have been at war with 18th Street for 12 years. With witnesses pointing out that a Hispanic was responsible for the murder, the only logical assailant would be a member of 18th Street, a predominately Mexican-American gang with some illegal alien members. Reports that 18th Street gang has a membership that is 80% illegal is false. Of the County’s total gang population approximately five to 10% are illegal.


The 18th Street gang formed in the 1960s in the Pico-Union community
of Los Angeles and has formed over 20 separate gangs within Los Angeles County. Collectively they are the largest Hispanic gang operating under the same name, but in actuality, each of the 20 or so discreet 18th Street neighborhoods should be treated as individual autonomous gangs, since many of the separate neighborhoods clash and have internal rivalries in an unstable network. Reports that 18th Street as a “supergang” are media myths that also include gangs such as MS13, Maravilla, Surenos, Crips, and Bloods, all which are NOT gangs but umbrella labels that hundreds of gangs in Los Angeles identify with. If there were any truth to the existence of these “supergangs,” then the Crips, predominately black, would be the largest street gang in Southern California with approximately 20,000 members in Los Angeles County alone and several thousands more in the surrounding Counties. Since the Crips and black-on-black violence was yesterday’s news, our media is no longer concerned with their violence, even though they are responsible for the majority of gang crimes in our city. Mainstream media attention on gangs for some has now shifted to highlighting the violence that the smaller illegal alien gang member population have committed.

In the Arlington Heights neighborhood, a preliminary investigation reveals that the shooter from 18th Street went to the door of one of Jamiel’s neighbors and shortly thereafter saw Jamiel walking on the street, who was wearing a red belt, a common gang identifier in that neighborhood. According to a witness, the shooter asked Jamiel what gang he was from and then he shot him. All indications about Jamiel was that he was a good teen with a bright future, but what may have caused the shooter to single Jamiel out was his association with the neighborhood including amiable relationships with Blood gang members. His relationships with these gang members should not take away from his good character nor does it justify his murder, because people such as Jamiel inevitably interact with gangs because they are in the neighborhood, on the school bus, protecting residents from other gangs, on the street corners and at the high school.


Many of our City’s 40,000 gang members in the database a
re teens like Jamiel, just mere associates that interact with those in the community and play sports. They are not of the criminal element, but based on his associations, law enforcement would categorize young Jamiel as a gang member, and if they read the following quote that Jamiel wrote on one of his myspace pages under “people I’d like to meet,” it would raise more eyebrows to his gang affiliation:


“I’D LIKE 2 MEET OTHER B-DOGS SOME FREAKY GIRLS BECAUSE U GOT 2 BE A VERY FREAKY 2 TALK 2 ME. SOME crabs SO I CAN BEAT THOSE c-monstas. BUT MAINLY OTHER GIRLS. aND 2 TALK 2 MY FREAKS”

Source: http://www.myspace.com/lilckaboom

The term “B-DOGS” in the above quote is a reference to Blood gang members,
and “crabs” is a derogatory reference to Crip gang members. I would characterize the above statement as normal adolescent behavior but law enforcement will call this gang related. Jamiel was not a bad kid, but he was specifically targeted because of his gang association……..

Jamiel’s association with the Bloods was strong enough to cause the shooter to target him
, making this shooting purely gang related as the shooter’s purpose was to benefit the 18th Street gang’s objectives. When the shooter asked, according to a witness, where Jamiel was from, that provided the shooter’s motive lessening the role of race in this shooting. The murder of Cheryl Green in Harbor City in 2006, the murder of Kenneth Wilson in 1999, the murder of Christopher Bowser in 2000, and the murder of Anthony Prudhomme in 2000, all in Highland Park were black residents killed in purely racially motivated fashion where the victims had no gang affiliation in communities where black gangs were not even present. Additionally all the Hispanic assailants in the above murders were US Citizens.


Where Alonso has it right is that Jamiel’s death is a reminder of how complex
our city’s gang problems really are, and that those who would simplify the tragedy that is gang violence with stupid, arbitrary laws, in the end, become part of the problem.

It would be nice if something as wrong-headed and simplistic as Jamiel’s Law and/or Dennis Zine’s related resolution could make a substantial dent in the mess that is gang violence, and thus would prevent future tragedies like the death of Jamiel Shaw.

But unfortunately it just isn’t the case.

If we want to keep other Los Angeles mothers from enduring the unbearable loss
that Jamiel’s mom faced this past Mothers’ Day, we’re going to have to work a little bit harder than that.

Posted in crime and punishment, Gangs, LA City Council | 28 Comments »

LA & GANG Intervention: Finding What Works

April 22nd, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

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When the LA Times snatched David Zahniser from the LA Weekly
last summer, it was a very, very smart move. Dave Z is extremely intelligent, savvy and skeptical—particularly about City Hall.

So, after Antonio Villaraigosa delivered his State of the City
speech last Monday, I figured I could afford to look on the bright side of AV’s gang plan (which I looked at here and here), because I knew I could count David to mad dog it, so to speak.

Yesterday, his first round of analyses came out
in an article that focuses on the main thing that could reduce Antonio’s gang strategy to rubble—-or more accurately to business as usual (and not in a good way).

In a word: Evaluations.

I spoke with David on Friday as he was still wrestling with where he wanted to go with his analysis of the gang plan. (That’s one of the excellent things about him. He’s not afraid to wrestle mightily until he finds the right thread to follow.)

You can find the article that resulted here. Below I’ve excerpted a few relevant clips:


Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
made a splash when he announced plans last week for ending L.A. Bridges, an anti-gang initiative under fire since the Riordan administration for failing to demonstrate clear results.

….in dropping the L.A. Bridges programs
and shifting the money to his appointed “gang czar,” Villaraigosa put off yet again answering one key question: Are these programs, which last year received $13.2 million, successful in quelling violence and keeping kids out of gangs?

When Villaraigosa’s proposed budget is made public today,
it is expected to offer an additional $7.2 million to gang prevention and intervention programs, allowing the same contractors who ran programs under L.A. Bridges the opportunity to apply for even more money.

Because the anti-gang efforts are being redesigned
, a full evaluation of those programs won’t be practical until at least 2010, said Deputy Mayor Jeff Carr, the city’s gang czar.


What??? Didn’t the mayor promise he would hold all of his gang programs
to a rigorous outcomes-based standard? And now many of the much criticized gang prevention and intervention programs operating under the umbrellas known as LA Bridges I & II, may have the chance to get funded all over again…..with no evaluations for another two years or more????

Among the problems with Bridges is that many City Council members have long had their pet programs within it, and have resisted seeing them too closely scrutinized.

Dave Z details a disheartening history of people who were told—explicitly or implicitly—that they couldn’t evaluate LA Bridges—ranging from former City Controller Rick Tuttle, to today’s Controller Laura Chick, to Connie Rice, to my pal Jorja Leap.

In 2000, the program came under fire from then-City Controller Rick Tuttle, who said it was so poorly run that it should be shut down. The council responded by denouncing Tuttle — and demanding that L.A. Bridges stay put.

“I knew it was a bad idea 10 years ago,
the way Bridges was going,” Tuttle said last week, looking back on the fight.

City officials received an evaluation
of L.A. Bridges’ intervention programs two years later, which found that one city contractor had taken two teens out of gangs. Meanwhile, gang-prevention contracts were so lax that workers could meet the city’s requirements by taking certain children to a baseball game and a picnic in a 12-month period, Carr said.

[SNIP]

“Los Angeles has historically awarded agencies multiple contracts year after year after year without holding them accountable by tying the dollars to proof that the desired results have been achieved,” [Chick] wrote in her report.

Here’s how Jorja lays it out:

Leap said she offered the Community Development Department a free review of L.A. Bridges four years ago and got nowhere. But she voiced hope that results would be measured this time around, using basic questions such as: Has a targeted child stayed in school? What is their attendance record? Were they placed on the state’s gang database?

If the city fails to evaluate its redesigned programs, support for such initiatives will evaporate, Leap added.

“This is it,” she said. “If they blow this, it’s over.”


Look: We want and need the mayor’s program to succeed.
And we don’t expect overnight miracles. But we do expect some kind of reasonable accountability and measurability—and we’ll keep demanding it until we get it.

Photo by Gina Ferazzi, LA Times

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, Gangs, LA City Council | 12 Comments »

Should Cops Be La Migra? – UPDATE

April 21st, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

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If my schedule will cooperate,
I’m going to try to sort through the various views of Special Order 40 and where LA ought to go with it from here. This includes the points of view of LAPD Chief Bill Bratton, City Councilman Dennis Zine and his proposal to amend SO40, the proposal contained in Jamiel’s Law (which is just a little different than what Zine is suggesting), the view taken by the Police Protective League, which in general supports Zine’s proposal.

In the meantime, take a look at this opinion piece in Sunday’s LA Times in which researcher Monica Varsanyi tells what 450 police chiefs across the country said when asked how they feel about cops doing immigration enforcement.

And be sure to read the compilation in this morning’s LA Times Opinion
in which 40 “prominent Angelenos”—chosen from one end of the political spectrum to the other—sound off on Special Order 40.

UPDATE: I missed linking to Rick Orlov’s column on the issue, which is at least fun to read, while advancing the dialog

Here’s pieces of his Bratton quote:

(ABOUT ZINE & HIS MOTION)

“He has not had a conversation with anyone, including my leadership team. He talks so much about being a reserve officer, he should go to his commanding officer for clarification.”

(ABOUT SO 40 IN GENERAL)

“I don’t understand what’s so difficult.
We don’t ask people their immigration status if they are not breaking the law. Once they are arrested, we check to make sure they are in the country legally.”


“Our priority is going after gangbangers,”
Bratton said. “Once they are arrested, we check their immigration status and if they are in the country illegally, turn it over to ICE.”

I love when Bratton gets on his high horse. (I’m not being ironic here. I actually do.)

And here’s Councilman Dennis Zine:


“This chief doesn’t think anything needs to be changed,”
Zine said. “Ask any 10 officers on the street and they will tell you they don’t know what to do with Special Order 40. They feel they can’t do anything.”

Which suggests that Bill Bratton’s right; it’s not a legal issue, it’s a training issue. The problem isn’t with Special Order 40, it’s with the rank and file’s knowledge of it—-meaning the training and oversight on the matter is faulty.

But….although I’ve taken a POV on the issue before,
I’m willing to concede that its a complex matter with various valid perspectives to consider. So I’ll continue to gather puzzle pieces for further discussion.

PS: I’ve put in a call to the LAPPL for clarification of their stand.
Back with more on that tomorrow or the next day.

Posted in Bill Bratton, City Government, Gangs, immigration, LA City Council, LA County Jail, LAPD, law enforcement | 15 Comments »

Janice Hahn Makes a Promise

April 17th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

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After watching a shockingly hideous Democratic debate last night (What is wrong< with Charles Gibson and George Stephanopolous????)…..let’s turn to the local:

Wednesday night I was on Warren Olney’sWhich Way LA? with Councilwoman Janice Hahn
(plus LA Gang Czar Jeff Carr, and activist Charlotte Austin-Jordan, a woman who’s lost 2 kids to gang violence), and, in the course of the show, Hahn made an important promise.

The show had to do with the mayor’s gang plan
introduced on Monday at the State of the City speech, which came on the heels of last week’s decision by the city council-–after endless turf battles—to move all of LA’s gang intervention and prevention money and programs to the mayor’s office, as had been strongly recommended by City Controller Laura Chick.

Hahn was on the show in particularly to discuss her support
of a November ballot measure that would ask LA residents to pay three dollars a person per month toward gang violence prevention and intervention programs, a tax that could generate an additional $30 million a year. (On Monday, Hahn and Councilwomen Jan Perry and Wendy Greuel announced that they’d joined together to form what they are calling Mothers Against Gang Violence in order to push the three-buck a person ballot proposal.)

Certainly, with the city facing a $400 million deficit this year, an additional $30 million more for the desperately needed programs is a great idea- –especially now that we’ve got the beginnings of a coherent gang plan that will be administered under one roof. But, Hahn’s fundraising gambit begged a question: would politics as usual still call the shots should the measure be passed?

In other words: now that the City Council has been boxed into handing over control of the city’s gang money, would Janice Hahn try to yank that new $30 mil into the council’s pocket? Or would she put turf wars aside and hand it all over to the mayor?

Earlier in the week, I’d discussed the issue with one of Hahn’s aides, and he told me that he honestly didn’t know.

So toward the end of the Wednesday night’s show,
I brought up the issue and said I hoped that the Councilwoman would do the latter. At that juncture, Warren Olney jumped it and asked her directly.

There was a pause,
and then Janice Hahn, to her credit, showed leadership and made the right commitment.

“Absolutely,” she said.

So there you have it. After two years of turf wars over gangs….actual progress.

NOTE: LA City Beat has an interesting interview
with Laura Chick about gangs and city hall turf wars.

ALSO, you can listen to the show here.

********************
PS: What kind of person asks a presidential candidate questions like
: “Does Jeremiah Wright love America as much as you?”

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, City Government, Gangs, LA City Council | 11 Comments »

THE GREAT LA GANG WARS: Tony C. Does the Right Thing for the Wrong Reasons

April 9th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

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Well it’s settled, signed sealed and delivered, written in stone
…and thoroughly peed on by all who felt the need to make their mark on the thing:

Just before 1 pm today, the Los Angeles City Council voted to officially take
all the city’s gang prevention and intervention programs and move the whole kit and kaboodle to the mayor’s office for oversight.

In act of transparent face-saving, Councilman Tony Cardenas
made the needed motion using glowing terms that suggested that the idea of shifting control of the programs from the City Council to Villaraigosa’s office was his all along—never mind the fact that he’s been fighting the idea tooth, nail and press release ever since Controller Laura Chick made the transfer recommendation in her February report.

It was Controller Laura’s contention (and Connie Rice’s before her)
that having the programs strewn among various city agencies made adequate oversight impossible (hence things like the No Guns scandal). Chick further pointed out that, if the city’s budget-challenged gang funds were to be used effectively, they needed to be consolidated under a single roof, and the most logical roof was that of the mayor’s office.

Cardenas, who has positioned himself as the Council’s gang guy (and despite his annoying behavior seems to genuinely care about the issue), is the chair of the Ad-Hoc Committee on Gang Violence and Youth Development, a body that has managed in 2 years to do little more than spawn a gang intervention subcommittee, which itself spent nearly a full 11 months settling on a definition of gang intervention—and not a very good one at that. (I say this with all kindness and affection since some of the gang intervention players I most like and respect are on this $#$&^%$#* subcommittee, but too many cooks…..yadda, yadda, yadda.)

Yet, despite the fact that his own committee
was displaying increasing signs of terminal dysfunction, Cardenas refused to cede power (and accompanying budget) to the mayor.

A City Hall source told me today that City Council Prez Eric Garcetti
was the main person who managed to sit Cardenas down and slap some sense into him about abandoning his increasingly indefensible turf battle.

There was also another teensy, weensy event on the horizon that prodded Cardenas to cease his non-stop roadblocking. And that was the inconvenient fact that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa reportedly intends to make gang violence reduction the center piece of his State of the City message to be delivered on Monday. And once the mayor put forth his own gang plan, Cardenas territorial foot-dragging would look more foolish than ever.

Faced with the aforementioned realities, yesterday Cardenas said the equivalent of “maybe. I’ll think about it,” as David Zahniser at the LA Times reported here.

But, what David Z did not spell out is that Cardenas demanded a 18-22 month “sunset clause,” which would have meant that at the end of 18 months or two years, even if the programs were working just swimmingly under the mayor, they would automatically revert back to council control.

In response to this so-called compromise Chick rightly said,
.Oh, he-e-ell, no (or words to that effect)

So today Cardenas finally read the political graffiti on the wall,
got religion, and embraced he relevant motion that authorized a transfer of power (with a review but not a Sunset clause), as if it was his baby all along.


“The Ad Hoc Committee on Gang Violence
and Youth Development has been meeting regularly for over two years carefully reviewing all gang intervention, prevention, re-entry and youth development programs [and so on and so on and so on]….” began the motion.

“We have come to the conclusion that it is necessary for the Los Angeles City Council to move toward the immediate restructuring and consolidation of gang intervention……. [blah, blah, blah]….”authorize the Mayor to begin the consolidation of…”


You get the picture.

In other words, Tony Cardenas did the right thing for the wrong reasons. But that’s okay. With gang members still daily blowing horrific holes in the lives of LA families and communities and throwing away their own futures in the process, we’ll take this much needed move any way we can get it.

**********************************************
PS: The shape of new agency at the mayor’s office has yet to be outlined.
Will LA Gang Czar Jeff Carr run the thing? While smart, sincere, honorable and knowledgeable, Carr has yet to distinguish himself as the savvy political player needed to lead such an endeavor, so some feel that having a strong administrator to support Carr’s field and inter-agency liaison work might be a good combo.

Likely we’ll know more on Monday. So stay tuned.

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, City Government, Gangs, LA City Council | 3 Comments »

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