The room was packed and emotions ran high at the January 15 Planning & Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee hearing where the massive Crossroads Hollywood project was on the agenda. While representatives of business and labor groups spoke in support of the project, there were a number of people who spoke against, and many of those opposed brought up the FBI investigation that has raised serious ethics concerns about the way business is done at City Hall. The home and offices of the former PLUM Chair, Councilmember Jose Huizar, were raided by the feds last year, and Huizar stepped down from the Committee shortly afterward. He was replaced by the current PLUM Chair, Councilmember Curren Price.
There was an especially contentious moment when Miki Jackson, of the Coaliton to Preserve LA, stated that some PLUM members were mentioned in a recent warrant tied to the federal investigation into bribery, extortion, and money laundering. Acting PLUM Chair Marqueece Harris-Dawson seemed to take offense, stating, "Say who you're talking about or don't besmirch all of us." Jackson then clarified, saying that the warrant mentioned former PLUM Chair Huizar and current PLUM Chair Price. Price was not at the hearing, probably because his wife, Del Richardson, has been working with Crossroads developer Harridge Group to move tenants out of existing apartments on the project site. These rent-stabilized units will be demolished if the project goes forward.
Others on the PLUM Committee were bothered by accusations of corruption. The LA Times quoted Councilmember Gil Cedillo complaining about the "hysteria" surrounding the FBI probe. According to the Times story, Cedillo went on to say “It’s like ‘The Day of the Locust’ here at City Hall now."
So is it just "hysteria"? Is a confused public lashing out blindly at City Hall, hurling unfounded accusations at innocent Councilmembers? Well, let's start by taking a look at campaign contributions received by Cedillo to see if there might be any possible improprieties. Interestingly, the LA Ethics Commission web site says that $1,400 in campaign contributions were made to Cedillo by businessman George Chiang, who was mentioned in the warrant tied to the FBI investigation. Cedillo has also received campaign contributions amounting to $1,200 from Liner LLP, a lobbying firm that represented Harridge Group until it merged with DLA Piper, which is currently representing the Crossroads project. But the most interesting number that comes up in connection with Cedillo on the Ethics site is the $4,700 he's received from employees of Harridge. Of the total from Harridge, $2,100 was given on a single day, December 31, 2015. Could these contributions have possibly influenced Cedillo's vote on the project? Undoubtedly the Councilmember would say such accusations are simply the result of "hysteria". (Apparently Cedillo later returned $700 he received from David Schwartzman of Harridge.)
So let's take a look at current PLUM Chair Curren Price. Are you surprised that Price also received campaign cash from George Chiang, of FBI investigation fame? It was only $700, but it's worth mentioning that Price got another $1,400 from employees of Concord Realty, a firm that Chiang worked for. But the most interesting fact about the Chiang contribution is that the date given, December 30, 2015, is the same day that David Schwartzman, James Hearn, and Brad Woomer, all Harridge employees, kicked in a total of $2,100 for Price. And it gets even more interesting when you realize that this was one day before the same three Harridge employees gave exactly the same amount to Cedillo's campaign.
Since PLUM Vice-Chair Harris-Dawson was the one who bristled at accusations that members of the PLUM Committee might be corrupt, let's take a peek at his campaign contributions. And once again, there's a connection to George Chiang. Turns out back in 2017 Harris-Dawson got $800 from Synergy Alliance Advisors, which listed Chiang as its CEO. As for tie-ins with the Crossroads project, Harris-Dawson also received $1,500 in campaign cash from Harridge CEO David Schwartzman, with $800 of that arriving on December 27, 2018, just weeks before the PLUM hearing on Crossroads.
It's worth noting that since 2013 Harridge employees have contributed $21,850 to the campaigns of current Councilmembers or candidates running for City Council. Of that total, $2,400 went to Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell, in whose council district the Crossroads project would be built; $1,900 went to Council President Herb Wesson; and $1,300 went to Mayor Eric Garcetti. You might also find it interesting that Garcetti, Wesson and former PLUM Chair Jose Huizar all received campaign cash from companies or persons associated with George Chiang, the man named in the FBI warrant.
So is it all just hysteria? Is it just that members of the public have been whipped into a frenzy by media reports of an investigation into corruption? Are Hollywood residents unfairly venting their anger at innocent politicians who would never think of approving projects in exchange for campaign cash? Are developers and lobbyists showering our elected officials with thousands of dollars out of sheer generosity, with no expectation of favors in return?
Or has the planning process in LA become completely corrupted by a culture where project approvals are awarded on the basis of how much campaign cash our Mayor and Councilmembers have received? UN4LA believes it's the latter. And we only hope that the federal investigation expands beyond Downtown to look at some of the shady development deals that are happening all over Los Angeles.