By Edwin Folven, 8/15/2013
Newly-elected city attorney lays out vision
Sitting in his new downtown L.A. office, new Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said he is moving forward with an aggressive agenda to improve residents’ quality of life, and is taking an approach that balances tough enforcement with a look at the root causes that lead to problems in the first place.
Feuer said he has spent the first 40 days in office meeting with the approximately 500 attorneys and hundreds of staff members, and strengthening relationships with the city council, the mayor and constituents in communities throughout Los Angeles. He said he has also been identifying challenges with pending litigation and defending city government’s interests, while also working on key issues that he plans to address during his tenure as city attorney.
“It’s been a very challenging, exciting and rewarding first several weeks,” Feuer said.
The proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries has been a significant concern in many neighborhoods, and it is a problem that Feuer is making a top priority. He said he plans to vigorously enforce Measure D, which was approved by voters earlier this year.
The law provides limited immunity from prosecution to medical marijuana dispensaries that registered with the city prior to a 2007 moratorium, and are in compliance with numerous regulations. They must be located more than 1,000 feet away from schools or 600 feet away from sensitive locations such as community centers, parks and libraries, among other regulations.
The city attorney’s office has posted a list on its website of 134 dispensaries that qualify for limited immunity, and has sent letters to all others notifying operators that they must close immediately or face prosecution. Feuer said he could not discuss details of the city’s enforcement plans, but said he plans to move swiftly to close dispensaries operating illegally. He stressed that Measure D provides no immunity from federal prosecution.
“I can’t discuss the enforcement strategies for obvious reasons, but I can tell you I take enforcement of [Measure] D very seriously,” Feuer said. “I think the voters, when they passed [Measure] D, sent a strong message. The message is that we ought to be balancing a number of goals in regards to medical marijuana in Los Angeles. On one hand, the voters said we want there to be access to medical marijuana for people who are suffering from serious diseases like cancer, where medical marijuana can alleviate their suffering. But the voters also said there are too many dispensaries, they are too close to each other, they are too close to sensitive sites, and they are not paying enough taxes. We believe there are hundreds of dispensaries in the city, a majority of which are unlikely to satisfy the standards set forth in [Measure] D, and that’s where enforcement comes in.”
The new city attorney also said he is very concerned about homeless issues, from protecting residents and visitors from aggressive panhandling and criminal misdemeanors, to balancing the need to provide mental health treatment and other services for individuals in need. One of the key issues involves removing belongings when they are left on sidewalks or on public property.
“Some people who are homeless present some serious challenges, in terms of what happens on the sidewalks or in front of the front door of a business. That’s true in many places around town,” Feuer said. “I think there is a need for us to heighten our focus on grappling with issues relating to homeless people. It’s extremely important for us to think of our homeless population in ways that many people don’t. Often, our society thinks of people who are homeless as a monolithic population, that people have sort of the same needs. It’s not true. There is a significant portion of our homeless population who are mentally disabled. There are those who are grappling with addiction. Others are single mothers with children who can’t afford first and last month’s rent and a security deposit, especially in the wake of the recession. The characteristics of each of these segments of our homeless population should lead us to think in a sophisticated way about what their needs are and how to meet them. One of the key roles I can play in public life is to be someone who solves problems. That’s what the city attorney should be doing, trying to be involved in complicated problems, and helping to solve them. Good lawyers do that all the time.”
Feuer said supportive housing, job training and programs that help people with addictions should be coupled with enforcement. He said he will be working on practical ways to improve the quality of life for homeless people, while protecting residents and business owners from crimes committed by transients. Some of the immediate goals Feuer said he wants to achieve are clarifying how much property someone can have on the street and where it can be stored, as well as where public restrooms should be located. He said those solutions don’t address the underlying problems with homelessness, however, and he hopes to work with other city officials, staff members and community stakeholders on solutions.
“That’s what we have to do a better job of,” he said.
Addionally, Feuer said he plans to strictly enforce laws against other misdemeanor crimes that affect quality of life, such as vandalism, prostitution and blight, as well as domestic violence, elder abuse, abuse of children and drunk driving. He said he plans to expand the neighborhood prosecutor program, where prosecutors are assigned to specific areas and serve as a liaison for community members. Feuer said he is also focused on civil litigation, and protecting the city from lawsuits.
“There is an enormous array of issues on the civil side that we work on all the time, and many of those issues are extremely complex,” Feuer said. “And we write all the laws in the city and advise every agency in the city, and the mayor and the city council. There are all these other elements of the office that are very demanding. For every public servant in elected office, a key challenge is not only to be responsive to issues that arise over which one has no control, but also being ahead of the curve, and being able to put in place some affirmative steps that move the ball forward, even when someone is reacting to the issue of the moment.”
Feuer, a longtime Fairfax District resident whose ties to the area go back to his youth, added that residents should feel confident they have a leader in the city attorney’s office who is familiar with the local community. As director of Bet Tzedek, a legal services organization formerly based on Fairfax Avenue, he fought for the rights of senior citizens, the disabled and low-income individuals. Feuer also represented the 5th District for six years on the Los Angeles City Council, and is the first former councilman to be elected as city attorney. He also spent six years representing the 42nd District in the California State Assembly. Feuer said he plans to continue championing the rights of disadvantaged segments of the population, as well as protecting the rights of all residents and stakeholders. He added that people should feel free to contact his office with their concerns.
“The reason I ran for this office is it provides an opportunity to be so deeply involved in a broad array of issues that our residents care about every day,” Feuer said. “There are few positions in government anywhere that can have such a significant impact on the quality of life of each person in this city as the city attorney. I know it hasn’t always been thought of that way. It’s really important for residents to view the office as the go-to resource on so many issues. If one approaches this job as an office where problems get solved, I think we will make a lot of progress.”
Tags | City Attorney Mike Feuer