To get some context for the events discussed herein, take a look at this excellent preservation-minded timeline.
In late 2016 the erstwhile LAPD headquarters known as Parker Center was yet again threatened with demolition.1 CD14 repster José Huizar made some pretty noises about preserving it, but really, there’s no money in that for anyone, and by January of 2017, when a crucial series of hearings began, he had thrown the full weight of his councilmanic power behind the wrecking ball.
And even though the decision on Parker Center was strictly up to the City Council, which can unilaterally override every City commission or board, and that means that the decision was strictly up to Huizar alone,2 for whatever reason Huizar apparently was reluctant to tear the building down based on nothing more than his raw desire and power to do so.
It’s hard to say why this was the case. Possibly because the Cultural Heritage Commission had taken the fairly unprecedented step of recommending Historic-Cultural Monument status on their own motion, or maybe because the mostly reliably subservient Los Angeles Times had editorialized against demolition, or possibly because phone calls to his office were disproportionately in favor of not tearing the damn building down.
In fact, according to Kristin Fukushima of the Little Tokyo Community Council quoting an unnamed Huizar staffer, CD14 had “gotten like 20 calls this am telling us to preserve it and none to demo it. Also extremely expecting like 40 ppl tomorrow to show up supporting preservation.” In a city with a functioning representative democracy we might at this point expect Huizar to change his position given that no one seemed to support him.3 But this is Los Angeles, friends, which is why instead of changing his position he did what Councilmembers always do when faced with this dilemma.
That is, he ordered his staff to go out and gin up some supporters to come give favorable comment at some meetings in favor of his already-determined position. Comments from the public in favor of whatever a given CM has already decided to do are pearls of great price at 200 N. Spring Street, the preferred medium of exchange, the Fort Knox gold that backs the currency in which political capital is measured.4 Such comments, along with letters to council files, and similar things, are collectively known as community buy-in. A Los Angeles City Councilmember can generally do whatever they want to do, but with community buy-in they can do it with impunity.5
So Huizar’s aides set out to buy some buy-in. They hit up people from business improvement districts and like-minded nonprofits, e.g. the Little Tokyo BID, the Downtown Center BID, the Little Tokyo Service Center, and the Little Tokyo Community Council. And these paid commenters6 showed up in force and did what they were expected to do. And I’ve obtained dozens of emails showing the coordination,7 the use of Gmail addresses by at least one Huizar staffer, the unexplained participation of Gil Cedillo’s planning deputy Gerald Gubatan, and the expected quid pro quo in the form of Huizar’s anticipated support for various Little-Tokyo-centric pet projects. Turn the page for links to and transcriptions of selections from these emails, arranged into an epistolary narrative!
This little corner of the story begins on January 6, 2017, when Huizar staffer Megan Teramoto sent this email to Kristin Fukushima of the Little Tokyo Community Council asking her to rally the troops for an upcoming hearing on January 10:
From: megan teramoto <email@example.com>
Date: Fri, Jan 6, 2017 at 4:09 PM
Subject: Parker Center B3 Option EIR Hearing
To: Kristin Fukushima <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Happy New Year!
I’m not sure if you are already aware, but next Tuesday (1/10), there will be a hearing regarding the Parker Center. The last one was cancelled and rescheduled for this date, (I only just found out about it myself). Our office will be speaking out in support of the demolition of the center and the B3 option and it would be great to get as many community members there as possible.
Ideally, we are trying to get 30-40 people to attend and hoping that some of those attendees will be willing to speak out on their experience and thoughts about the Parker Center and why B3 option is the best course of action. Our office understands that the media as well as the Conservancy group will more than likely speak against this option and will not tell the “real” story of the location. If you could pass this along to as many people as possible it would be greatly appreciated. I will be contacting other community leaders as well. The information for the hearing is below:
When: Tuesday, January 10, 2017
Where: City Hall 10th Floor
Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.
The ‘”real” story’ that Teramoto refers to here8 is the story about how “the city used eminent domain to take land that once held a thriving block of Japanese American businesses and homes, shrinking the community.” I’m told by people who have reason to know that this is an incomplete and disingenuous version of events, by the way, but Huizar surely found it useful. In that same conversation we find an email from Fukushima to a BCCed list of contacts including Ellen Endo of the Little Tokyo BID, whose copy is the one I obtained via CPRA. It was sent on January 9:
From: “Kristin Fukushima” <email@example.com>
Subject: Fwd: Parker Center B3 Option EIR Hearing
Date: Mon, 09 Jan 2017 20:24:54
Please see the message below from CD 14 staffer Megan about the hearing for Parker Center tomorrow. I also recently heard from another CD 14 staffer that they’ve “gotten like 20 calls this am telling us to preserve it and none to demo it. Also extremely expecting like 40 ppl tomorrow to show up supporting preservation”
CD 14 and other city folks are pretty desperate for community support on Parker Center. In addition to our own priorities for First Street North necessitating that Parker Center be demo’ed, I believe this presents a good opportunity to provide support to the city and CD14 at a time when we’re looking for support from CD 14 on a couple key issues for Little Tokyo, again all relating back to First Street North and future developments.
Please try to make it out tomorrow! Feel free to call me if you have any questions (562-895-3295). If you’re able to make it tomorrow, please let me know – I can get to City Hall East (Room 1060) early and fill out speaker cards. While more voices are always helpful, not everyone has to speak as a strong presence/turn out will also be great.
Here’s where the expectation of a quid pro quo is announced. Fukushima notes that “CD 14 and other city folks are pretty desperate for community support” and that therefore that “this presents a good opportunity to provide support to the city and CD14 at a time when we’re looking for support from CD 14 on a couple key issues for Little Tokyo.” This is a crucial point, because as late as April 2015 Fukushima’s employer, the LTCC, had explicitly not taken a position on Parker Center, as shown in this letter:
The Little Tokyo Community Council (LTCC) would like to re-iterate that no position has been taken regarding the presented options for Parker Center. While the community has reached consensus on a number of important issue areas that we do not have a position on any particular option
The LTCC had not previously taken a position, but once the idea of a tacit agreement of mutual support between LTCC and CD14 occurred, they did take a position. And not surprisingly it was the position that CD14 wanted them to take. The next morning before the hearing began, Fukushima sent out an email with a list of talking points for the attendees, and also attached a copy of this letter from the LTCC from October 2016, in case it wasn’t clear enough to the putative supporters exactly what they were supposed to be saying.
The next relevant event was a Planning Commission hearing on January 26, 2017. It was scheduled in Van Nuys for some reason. Take a look at this email chain to see how flipped out and paranoid Huizar staffer Ari Simon was about it. According to Simon the CPC wasn’t required to hear the matter but “… someone must have gotten to them, because they are insisting on hearing it anyway and have expressed disagreement with the EIR.”
Simon was also pretty wiggy about the fact that the hearing was going to be in the Valley: “we suspect purposely planned this way.” He doesn’t say who “we” is, but out of charity I’m assuming it’s his colleagues at CD14 rather than his imaginary-friend-posse or the little angel and the little devil riding around on his shoulders that only he can see.
Perhaps his paranoia also explains the fact that he used his personal email address, which is firstname.lastname@example.org, for the discussion. It wasn’t an oversight, either. He told his correspondents to “[p]lease use my personal email or reach me at 609-731-7834.” The whole message is definitely worth your time:
On Tue, Jan 24, 2017 at 1:51 PM, Ari S <email@example.com> wrote:
Apologies for the urgency, but we’ve just been informed that City Planning Commission has agendized hearing Parker Center via the Civic Center Master Plan. Because this is not a community plan, but instead a public facilities plan, it doesn’t need to go through CPC. But someone must have gotten to them, because they are insisting on hearing it anyway and have expressed disagreement with the EIR.
Unfortunately, the meeting is this Thursday 1/26 8:30AM at Van Nuys City Hall – we suspect purposely planned this way. If there are any reps from the Little Tokyo community who are willing to make the schlep out to the Valley, your voice may be in great need of representation at this commission meeting.
Happy to answer any questions. Please use my personal email or reach me at 609-731-7834.
Now we jump ahead to February 2017. The designation of Parker Center as a historic-cultural monument was on the agenda of the Planning and Land Use Management Committee for the seventh and then on the full Council agenda for the fourteenth. If it was designated, demolition would not have been precluded, but the process would have become much more complex.
Take a look at this extended conversation between Gerald Gubatan, who is Gil Cedillo’s planning deputy over in CD1,9 and our old friend Kristin Fukushima, along with Dean Matsubayashi, ED of the LTSC, and Takao Suzuki, another LTSC staffer. His advice to them begins on February 2, when he told them to fill a bus with people to bring to the Committee meeting, to have them all dress in red and sit in the front row:
On Thu, Feb 2, 2017 at 9:58 AM, Gerald Gubatan <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Dean, Tak, Kristin:
When I briefly worked for former Council Member Richard Alarcon around 2011-2012 (after the prospect of being laid-off from CRA/LA after Governor Brown dissolved redevelopment agencies) on designating the Tuna Canyon Detention Station as a City Monument, Nancy Oda of the SFV Japanese American Community Center mobilized the Northeast Valley JA community and packed the PLUM Committee hearing room. Perhaps Little Tokyo can collaborate with her to literally bus in community members. At the time, everyone wore red for visual impact and sat in the front rows. I highly recommend a strong visible presence to keep up the pressure as well as lining up speakers perhaps dividing up key points (as speakers are typically given only two minutes each). Please let me know how I can be a resource if needed.
By the next day Gubatan was warning them that there would probably be a lot of people at the PLUM committee meeting so they really needed to be organized and make a strong visual impact. Weirdly, he offered to come to a practice session and coach them on how to make comments:
On Fri, Feb 3, 2017 at 4:59 PM, Gerald Gubatan <email@example.com> wrote:
FYI the PLUM Committee Agenda has been released. There are several items which will garner alot of people, such as whether to designate the Bob Hope Estate as a City Monument; also an Appeal challenging expansion of the Brentwood School. Your item is early on the Agenda but sometimes, the Chairman hops around. As noted earlier, it is most effective to have a strong visible presence and to organize speakers to cover key points, since speakers are limited to two minutes each. You may wish to organize a “practice session” in advance. I would be happy to meet up with people on Monday at around 5PM in Little Tokyo if you need a sounding board.
The day before the hearing, on February 6, not leaving one little thing to chance, Gubatan wrote again to the LT-ites, letting them know that elements of the “City family” were lining up against them, reminding them to bring a lot of people to the meeting to speak, and recommending that they contact staffers of members of the PLUM Committee outside the meeting to express their position. He helpfully included a list of those they ought to contact:
On Mon, Feb 6, 2017 at 2:02 PM, Gerald Gubatan <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
FYI – I saw Ken Bernstein informally today at City Hall and he advised that the President and Vice-President of the Cultural Heritage Commission intend to appear personally before the PLUM Committee to advocate for designation of the Parker Center building as a City Monument. Therefore, it appears there may be an organized effort on behalf of the City family to push for the designation.
Alternative perspectives need to be heard in a compelling and effective manner. Therefore, I strongly recommend mobilization and lining up of speakers; as well as communicating your position to Members of the PLUM Committee (via their respective staffs, today and tomorrow leading up to the 2:30PM hearing). I have noted the staff members from each office below:
- Jose Huizar (Shawn Kuk, Kevin Ocubillo)
- Marqueece Harris-Dawson (Lynnell Washington)
- Mitch Englander (Hannah Lee)
- Curren Price (Paloma Perez-McAvoy)
I’ve copied Joanne and Alan Kumamoto with whom I previously spoke about this matter.
And even the morning of the hearing Gubatan continued offering guidance and advice:
On Tue, Feb 7, 2017 at 9:48 AM, Gerald Gubatan <email@example.com> wrote:
Please aim to arrive no later than 2:15PM if not earlier, and sit in the front two rows for visual impact. Also distribute and collect completed speaker’s cards then hand over to the Clerk to make sure Huizar knows there are speakers.
There are two other controversial issues on the agenda and a large crowd is expected for all these items.
And at this point Kristin Fukushima was ready! Both ducks and Little Tokyo-ites all in a row! Here’s what she had to say about it:
On Tue, Feb 7, 2017 at 9:58 AM, Kristin Fukushima <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Thank you, Gerald! I believe we’re expecting about 50 people, so I will be going extra early to secure those first 2-3 rows and fill out speaker cards.
There’s no way to tell at this point how many of her minions actually showed up, but take a look at this spool of speaker cards from the meeting. There are 39 of them. Here’s how they break down (Against means opposed to designation, so in favor of demolition, For means for designation, so opposed to demolition:
|Little Tokyo associated (against)||29||78.3%|
|Other paid speakers against||3||8.1%|
|Idiotic gadflies & Patti Berman (??)||3||8.1%|
|Cultural Heritage Commission members (for)||2||5.4%|
|L.A. Conservancy (for)10||1||2.7%|
|Other supporters (for)||1||2.7%|
After a show of force like that what does anyone expect to have happened? Well, the PLUM Committee voted unanimously to deny historic-cultural monument status to Parker Center, thus clearing the path to demolition. And Kristin Fukushima knew well how to seal the deal. After the meeting, here’s what she had to say to Gerald Gubatan:
On Tue, Feb 7, 2017 at 6:36 PM, Kristin Fukushima <email@example.com> wrote:
Thank you again so much for all your support, insight, and help in this!! And please send our thanks to the Councilmember – I know that he is a big preservationist, but I very much appreciate his nuanced reflections on preservation, including how we tell our community’s histories, and who is telling those stories. We appreciate that he heard our community, and ultimately voted no on the HCM designation.
Thanks again to you and Sharon for all you do to support and build up all our communities!
See how she preserves the lie that Cedillo’s vote was the result of some kind of open and honest political process? As if Cedillo’s planning deputy would have spent a week coaching her and her co-conspirators in how to give effective comment if Cedillo hadn’t already made up his mind? But no one can speak that truth out loud, at least not if they want to continue to have their seat at the table. And having their seat at the table is, after all, the whole point.
Oh, and the question of the designation of Parker Center as a historic-cultural monument was not yet settled. Don’t forget that Council Committees can’t make decisions, they just recommend. Decisions must be made by the full Council. And this one was scheduled for February 14th. Characteristically Gubatan was leaving nothing to chance, and thus did he write to Fukushima:
On Wed, Feb 8, 2017 at 10:01 AM, Gerald Gubatan <firstname.lastname@example.org>/ wrote:
Kristin and Friends,
Your effective mobilization and advocacy definitely influenced the outcome of the vote. The matter next comes to the full City Council so you should track it with the City Clerk’s Office to determine when the the item will be scheduled before the full City Council. PLUM Committee’s vote is only a recommendation to the full City Council. Technically the public hearing was already held, but any Council Member can call the item “special” and reopen the discussion; in addition, if a member of the public submits a speaker’s card, then the item is reopened for discussion.
I recommend, if you can pull it off again, to mobilize for the full Council session – No need to submit speaker’s cards this time but only have a strong visible presence. You don’t know if the Cultural Heritage Commissioners or Office of Historic Resources or LA Conservancy will attempt to reverse the recommendation. The goal would be for the Council to adopt the PLUM Committee Report as a “consent” item without further debate.
Let’s be in touch, and CONGRATS!
See how Gerald Gubatan also can’t bring himself to speak the truth, which is that the whole hearing was a piece of political theater? Thus does he tell Fukushima that her “effective mobilization and advocacy definitely influenced the outcome of the vote.” As if he would have been involved at all if Cedillo hadn’t already made up his mind? As if the committee would dare to vote against Huizar’s wishes? Sheesh.
And, as you can see in the email conversation, the lead-up to the hearing on the 14th was more of the same, with Gerald Gubatan sharing detailed recommendations on how many people to bring, insider analyses on how matters were likely to unfold, and so on. And take a look at all the other emails as well. Again, it’s more of the same.
And congrats for making it to the end of this long but important story! Anyone who attends Los Angeles City Council or committee meetings has seen this kind of political theater unfolding prior to yet another unanimous vote. The backstage organizing, though, isn’t so easy to catch sight of.
The level of effort needed to pull off these scenes turns out to be astonishing. It seems to me, doubtless because I’m politically naive, that it would almost be easier for the City Council to hear only honest and sincere public comments, to hold only honest and sincere debates prior to honest and sincere votes. And maybe it would be easier, it would certainly be better for the people and the City of Los Angeles. But where’s the money in it?
Image of Kristin Fukushima is ©2019 MichaelKohlhaas.Org. Somehow related to this KF.
- I’m sparing you a history of pre-2016 developments in this story, mostly because I don’t know much about them and don’t have time to learn. Google is your friend.
- Because of the fact that no CM will vote against the wishes of any other CM for a matter wholly contained in that CM’s district.
- I think this is an example of a problem with term limits that I haven’t seen discussed very much. When a politician is termed out they have no motive to please voters any more, but they have endless reasons to please zillionaires and otherwise powerful people who can help them move on to their next elected offices. So their bar for changing their minds based on popular opinion becomes “will it get me arrested or recalled” rather than “will it get me defeated in an ordinary election.” The answer to the first question is mostly no, no matter how bad the decision. Unfortunately for Huizar, of course, it’s not always no.
- I mean the legal pearl of great price, the legal preferred medium of exchange, the legal Fort Knox gold, of course. The unqualified version of all these metaphors for value is that ultimate metaphor for value, which is of course cash money, as conclusively demonstrated by the fact that Huizar is headed to federal prison in the near (but not near enough) future.
- In Los Angeles politics the word “impunity” is shorthand for “even more impunity than usual.”
- Not paid by Huizar, at least not as far as I know, but paid by their jobs to be nice to Huizar. Essentially the same thing.
- These 61 emails are part of a larger release, consisting of more than 800 emails from the Little Tokyo BID, mostly to/from people at lacity.org but also containing a few sporadic but interesting other correspondents. The full set is available here on Archive.Org.
- And, in an uncharacteristic moment of typographical honesty, applies scare quotes to. Note that the honesty is uncharacteristic of Council staff, not to mention Councilmembers, as a class. I neither know nor mean to assert anything about Megan Teramoto’s characteristic level of honesty in particular. Not saying she ain’t honest. Also not saying she is.
- It’s an open question as to why Gubatan was interested in this matter at all. And as you’ll see from the emails he was very interested indeed. It’s true that his boss was on the PLUM committee at that time, and I suppose he wanted cover for his planned vote to deny historic-cultural monument status to Parker Center, but why was he so determined to deny it? If you have any idea why Cedillo might have been so very interested, to the point that he instructed his planning deputy to take so much trouble to counsel these Little Tokyo folks on this matter and you want to share please drop me a line at mike (at) michaelkohlhaas (dot) org or leave a note in the comments here. Given the proclivities of Cedillo’s colleague Huizar, perhaps Cedillo had already accepted bribes to determine the outcome and was nervous that he’d be exposed if he voted against designation without a credible show of support from the public, or what passes for the public at 200 N. Spring Street.
- It’s curious to note that the Los Angeles Conservancy apparently made no effort to bring members or additional staff to speak for preserving Parker Center at PLUM. They proudly tout themselves as the largest member-based preservation organization in the country, but fail to capitalize on that power by bringing people to City Hall. Where is their bus, matching shirts and saving seats in the front? After forty years of political preservation fights–including their great loss of the Ambassador Hotel to José Huizar’s LAUSD board–why are they apparently less politically savvy about the theater of these hearings than everyone else in these email chains? With a former high ranking Conservancy staffer (Ken Bernstein) now running the Office of Historic Resources, it certainly is perplexing.