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Council District 15: The candidates on the Housing Authority

December 27, 2011 | 11:43 am

Joe Buscaino

How does a voter, or an editorial board, judge the quality of a candidate? Raising issues and asking the candidates to talk about them is important, of course. But I've often found it more enlightening to ask candidates about issues they bring up themselves.

It's fine, for example, for a candidate to mention a recent news item, especially one that has the public riled, such as the $1.2-million severance payment to the departing director of the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, or  HACLA, and the lavish meals and junkets that the oversight commission took at public expense. That shows the candidate is up on the news. But ask what it is that went wrong, and how common it is, and what he would do to fix it -- then the response may reveal how well he or she really understands. Was the candidate just seeking cheap applause by demonstrating outrage? Or has there been serious thinking about the issue?

When members of The Times' editorial board interviewed City Council candidates Joe Buscaino and Warren Furutani, we didn't bring up the HACLA scandal; they did. So what was their analysis of the problem?

The Times has endorsed Buscaino, but on this issue both candidates were disappointing. It would have been OK if they weren't familiar with the issue and said they had to pass on answering the question. But remember, they brought it up. And it would have been OK if they had opinions that differed from ours; the point was not to see whether they agreed with us but whether they knew what they were talking about.

Or am I being too hard on them? Judge for yourself; Here are audio excerpts of questions from me and from Editorial Page Editor Nicholas Goldberg, and partial transcripts of the candidates' responses. Below that is a summary of the HACLA issue.

Listen: Buscaino on HACLA

Is there a problem? Is there a problem? I think with HACLA I would like to see more representation from property owner's side as well. Not just -- it's very heavy on the tenant. You have the tenants being the voice. I'd like to see more of a balance. It's not happening, and that's something I look forward to addressing or questioning if indeed I become elected.

Listen: Furutani on HACLA

The public perception of it, though. I'm sure legally in the contract everything's there. There's gonna be no lawsuit after this is done. But in terms of public perception; if the public doesn't realize that that's in fact what's happening. And then you add to it dinners and lunches and junkets, going on trips. All of this is a package; we go, uh huh, there it is again. That's what's wrong with it.

The problem is people have to know, people have to be aware of what goes on in government, and we have to be transparent. Now bringing the best talent to Los Angeles is always difficult in terms of how you attract them. Housing costs are very high; living costs in L.A. are very high; how you bring a superintendent, how you bring a chancellor, how you bring a professor to the University of California, how you bring executives. This is a difficult situation. It's something though we've got to explain better to the community so they know if you want this, if you want government to do this, if you want the best talent, it's going to cost you....

And in terms of that reality, whether you want to bring the top professors to the UC system, we have to explain that to the public so they know what they're paying for, and what in fact they're going to get as a benefit. And some of this other thing, though, in terms of the overall, the public perception: "It was a boondoggle, here they go again." That's what's wrong with it.

The Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles uses federal money to operate public housing projects and other subsidized housing programs in Los Angeles. Its controversial executive director, Rudy Monteil, was fired as KCET-TV's "SoCal Connected" reported on the spending practices of HACLA staff and commissioners. Monteil then was granted a severance package amounting to $1.2 million. The Times editorialized that the problem was a lack of mayoral oversight. Read The Times' news stories here:

L.A. council members call for more control over housing authority

Mayor's staff was told of housing official's payout

Villaraigosa didn't know about agency chief's payout, aide says

Ousted L.A. Housing Authority chief leaves with $1.2 million

Los Angeles public housing authority fires its CEO

Members of Los Angeles' housing board say they'd welcome a city audit

Dust-up with picketing tenants puts L.A. housing authority chief in spotlight

L.A. housing official sought to evict nine tenants who protested at his home

Warren Furutani


Endorsements and the Jan. 17 runoff

Questions, and frustration

Voting now underway

When Warren Furutani met Joe Buscaino

Watts and Not-Watts

Harbor Gateway, the city on a shoestring

 -- Robert Greene

Photos: Candidate Joe Buscaino (top) and Warren Furutani (bottom) make calls on Nov. 8, the day of the primary election in their race to be elected to represent the 15th District on the L.A. City Council. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times

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