By Edwin Folven, 1/17/2013
Panelists face off on values, ethics and billboards
Los Angeles City Attorney candidates Mike Feuer, Greg Smith and Noel Weiss squared off against incumbent Carmen Trutanich in a debate Monday evening at Temple Israel Hollywood.
The debate was organized around the theme, “How Do Values and Ethics Inform the Job of City Attorney”, and all four candidates outlined their vision for the office of the city’s top prosecutor. Trutanich, who was elected as city attorney in 2009, said his record shows that he ardently defends the city’s interests. He touted that his office has secured “favorable verdicts” in 134 of the 147 civil liability trials, saving the city more than $280 million.
Trutanich also said he has been tough on crime, prosecuting drug dealers and individuals who prey on vulnerable members of society. He said he is particularly concerned about people in need, and takes monthly walks through Skid Row to see first-hand how efforts to help the homeless are moving forward.
“As the city attorney of Los Angeles, I can tell you the culture in this office has changed. We have added the tone of a trial attorney to this office since I’ve been there,” Trutanich said. “We’ve taken on the big banks who have tried to foreclose on homes illegally. We have taken on insurance companies, who took health insurance from women with breast cancer. We have taken on corporate polluters throughout the city of Los Angeles, big oil companies and gang members who seek to sell drugs on Skid Row. It takes a real leader, someone who knows how to try cases, knows the outcomes, in order to make this office successful.”
Feuer, who formerly represented the 5th District on the Los Angeles City Council and the Hollywood and West Hollywood areas in the State Assembly, said he has deep roots in Los Angeles. As a former director of the Bet Tzedek law firm, a nonprofit that helps low-income residents with legal advice and representation, Feuer said he understands the need to help the most vulnerable people in the city. A compassionate but dedicated approach is needed to address problems affecting neighborhoods, Feuer said, adding that his top three priorities will be to renew the city attorney’s Neighborhood Prosecutor Program, combat gun violence and improve school safety.
“I am dedicated to using the law to help those in need and to fight for families and neighborhoods, and as city attorney, I am going to work to make our streets safe and our kids’ schools safe, to protect seniors, and to prevent crime by expanding programs for at-risk youth,” Feuer said. “I am also going to be the city’s chief problem solver — that is what a good lawyer does — and focus on our top priorities. I’ll be a city attorney you can trust.”
Smith, a private attorney who primarily represents police officers, firefighters and other municipal employees against the city or government agencies, and is a member of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said he will fight to stop discrimination and prevent crime. He said he will bring a fresh perspective to the city attorney’s office, and will work to forge the partnerships needed to be successful.
“I am here because I want to make change. I want to do what I can to fight discrimination in this city, to partner with law enforcement to stop gangs and to get involved with intervention programs to keep our kids away from gangs,” Smith said.
Weiss is a private attorney who has practiced real estate, corporate and environmental law in Los Angeles since 1976. He said he is passionate about protecting tenants, children and seniors, and vowed to crack down on criminals who prey on vulnerable individuals. He also claimed that a stronger relationship is needed with the city council for the city attorney to be more effective.
“My view is, the office of the city attorney is the office of the people, and for the people,” Weiss said. “The city council has gone rogue. What we want to try to do here is have the office as an effective check and balance on the excesses of the city council, so we can get the right result for the right reason in the right way, and the system can work in the way it is intended to work.”
The candidates addressed some of the issues facing the city, such as the proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries. All said there needs to be a balance between access for patients and preservation of public safety. Trutanich criticized Feuer for not taking a tougher stance on the issue while on the city council and in the Assembly. He stated that his office had drafted an ordinance that sought to limit the number of dispensaries allowed in the city, but it was later repealed because of discrepancies with state laws.
“For a guy who professes to be a problem solver, he had more dispensaries in his district, Council District Five, than anywhere in the city.”
Feuer served on the Los Angeles City Council from 1995 through 2001, however the proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries primarily occurred between 2000 and 2007. Feuer responded to Trutanich by stating that the city attorney’s office is responsible for cracking down on illegal dispensaries, and criticized Trutanich for not taking a stronger approach to closing the hundreds of collectives that have sprung up across the city.
“The city attorney has all the tools he needs to see the problem solved,” Feuer said. “Medical marijuana needs to be available to people who are genuinely sick to alleviate their suffering. But there are too many dispensaries in the city. Some of them have caused public safety problems in their communities, and marijuana is too easily accessible at many of these facilities. Striking that balance is something the city attorney could have been doing for years. It’s striking that balance that defines leadership in this job.”
Weiss said much of the blame for the proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries should be directed towards former City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, Trutanich’s predecessor, and the city council. He said the current discussion about striking a balance would not be necessary if public officials had prevented the problem from getting out of control in the first place.
Smith called medical marijuana a “hot button issue,” and said he believes some dispensaries should be allowed to stay open to provide access, but that the city needs to have tough enforcement against illegal operations. He also said the city should be generating revenue by increasing taxes on dispensaries.
The candidates also squared off over billboards, with each outlining different approaches. Trutanich touted his record in cutting down on billboard blight, particularly in places like Hollywood, where he was successful in forcing a building owner to remove a supergraphic sign that was wrapped around a building near the Hollywood and Highland complex during the Academy Awards.
Feuer said he has been tough on billboard blight since his years on the city council, adding that he cracked down on signs advertizing tobacco and alcohol. Smith said he believes a balance is also necessary with billboards, adding that it is important to restrict signs in residential areas to preserve their suburban character, but also to protect the rights of businesses by allowing them to put up signs in locations such as L.A. LIVE and the Staples Center.
Weiss, however, criticized the city council’s decision to allow CBS and Clear Channel Outdoor to erect digital billboards in Hollywood and the Westside in a deal that required them to take signs down in other locations. He said the deal, which has been ruled illegal by an appeals court, was made without transparency, and he vowed to restore that transparency in the city attorney’s office.
The candidates closed the debate by touting their experience in litigation and prosecution, and some illustrated the point through endorsements they have received. Feuer, who was endorsed last week by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and has secured endorsements from numerous legislators and organizations at all levels of local and state government, said he is qualified to be city attorney because of his experience in running Bet Tzedek, and in serving on the city council and in the state Legislature. Trutanich emphasized his experience as a successful trial lawyer, and his record during the past three years serving as city attorney.
Weiss said the city attorney doesn’t need to be the “best litigator or trial lawyer you can find,” rather an effective manager who can work with city council to get things accomplished. Smith added that the city attorney should be someone who can “stand up to special interests” and focus on the job of making the city safer. He also criticized Trutanich for originally stating he would not run for another public office while serving as city attorney, only to enter the race for Los Angeles County District Attorney last year, where he did not qualify for the run-off between Alan Jackson and Jackie Lacey, who eventually won the office.
People who missed the debate Monday at Temple Israel of Hollywood can see the candidates square off again tonight at 6 p.m. at the Taglyan Cultural Complex, 1201 Vine St. in Hollywood. The debate is sponsored by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. For information, visit www.hollywoodchamber.net.