How Big a Deal Can $129 Million Be?

        In keeping with our policy of spotlighting the ongoing waste of funds accumulated by the government, ostensibly for the construction of public works but actually hoarded or squandered, here is another such story. A big, front page headline in this morning’s [Los Angeles] Daily News (“MILLIONS FOR PARKS SIT IDLE”) informs us that the City Controller has gone public with the story that the City of Los Angeles has been collecting park fees from condo developers for, well, parks. But it turns out that none of this money has been spent on parks or anything else for that matter, and the city doesn’t even have a plan for spending it. Ah, but not to worry. The city’s Recreation and Parks General Manager is quoted by the Daily News to the effect that the city is developing a plan that would use technology to map where the money can be spent. Technology, man. We take it that means that city “planners” will be using their desktops to color in the proposed park sites on their maps instead of doing it with crayons. High tech, dude. 

Why is this happening? It seems that the geniuses in City Hall who wrote the ordinance requiring payment of these fees by condo developers, have inserted into it a provision that those fees may be spent only within two miles of the particular condo project, which in fairness doesn’t give the planners a lot of elbow room for doing their thing. We dig their problem as well as that of the draftsmen of the ordinance who evidently didn’t want to see condo fees collected on the West Side but spent on parks in the San Fernando Valley, or vice versa. All that, however, is an explanation, not an excuse for doing nothing and just sitting on all that money. 

More important are the amounts involved. What we are talking about here is $129,000,000, which is probably more than the annual budget of some countries with UN memberships and standing armies. All that money has been exacted from developers (which means that their condos had to be priced higher) in the name of creating parks that aren’t being created. So the hapless denizens of Los Angeles are thus taking it in the chops two ways: more expensive condos (at least they were more expensive until the current real estate crash set in) and no promised parks. The contrroller’s audit also disclosed that the city overcharged the developers and will now have to cough up a $4.5 million refund.

Which brings us to the point of this post. Connecticut may be the nutmeg state, but California is the nutcake state where courts make no bones about their anti-condemnee bias and overtly assert that  fears have been expressed (by whom? they don’t say) that if the people displaced from their homes, businesses and farms for public projects were to receive full indemnity for all their demonstrable economic losses, that would be “too liberal” and an “embargo” on public projects would have to be declared, with the Golden State surely going to Hell in a handbasket as a result. You don’t believe us? Take a look at these cases which repeat that shibboleth ad nauseam, even though no evidence supporting such judicial fears has ever been presented to the courts: People ex rel. Dep’t of Pub. Works v. Symons, 357 P.2d 451, 455 (Cal. 1960).  Bacich v. Bd. of Control of Cal., 144 P.2d 818, 823 (Cal. 1943). Customer Co. v. City of Sacramento, 895 P.2d 900, 909 (Cal. 1995); Varjabedian v. City of Madera, 572 P.2d 43, 51 (Cal. 1977); HFH, Ltd. v. Superior Court, 542 P.2d 237, 248 (Cal. 1975); Holtz v. Superior Court, 475 P.2d 441, 445 (Cal. 1970); Albers v. County of Los Angeles, 398 P.2d 129, 136 (Cal. 1965); Pac. Outdoor Adver. Co. v. City of Burbank, 149 Cal. Rptr. 906, 911-12 (Ct. App. 1978); Orange County Flood Control Dist. v. Sunny Crest Dairy, Inc., 143 Cal. Rptr. 803, 810 (Ct. App. 1978); People ex rel. Dep’t of Pub. Works v. Volunteers of Am., 98 Cal. Rptr. 423, 433 (Ct. App. 1971). 

One final thing that illustrates how those guardians of the public weal, the large metropolitan newspapers are looking out for the public interest. The Daily News which alerted us to this story is a small local newspaper with nowhere near the circulation of the once mighty Los Angeles Times. So well might you ask: what has the Times had to say about this fiasco. Not much. The basic story is briefly reported on page 4 of Section B. And significantly, as of this morning the Times’ on-line edition doesn’t mention this story at all. No editorials and so far, no op-eds. After all, it’s only a lousy $129,000,000 scandal. In contrast, the big, prominently featured L.A. Times story is how upset are the denizens of El Porto, a tiny beachfront area, over the proposal to change the name of their community to North Manhattan Beach. Oh my. Now that’s a real news story, isn’t it?

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