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LA Weekly

Friday January 18, 2013

Will Mayoral Candidate Wendy Greuel Turn Back Clock on Slum Housing Prevention?

By Patrick Range McDonald

Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel, who's running for mayor, is stirring up outrage with a recommendation that could return L.A. to a time when slum housing conditions went largely unchecked by the city.

Wendy Greuel

Greuel wants to move housing code enforcement away from the Housing Department and to the troubled Department of Building and Safety -- even though her own audit shows numerous problems with DBS.

"It would be a disastrous thing to follow through on," says tenants' rights activist Larry Gross, who promises that other activists will strongly oppose and fight the recommendation.

The L.A. City Council has yet to vote on Greuel's suggestion, with the L.A. City Administrative Officer currently developing a report on it. Mayoral hopefuls Eric Garcetti and Jan Perry, who both sit on the City Council, have yet to voice any loud opposition to Greuel's plan.

Last year, on October 3, 2012, Greuel had released a damning audit of the Department of Building and Safety, which had been rocked by major scandals of employees taking bribes. Greuel found that the ailing agency needed to "streamline the processes of permit issuance, respond to code violations, and improve administrative functions."

In other words, DBS needed a sweeping and major overhaul to do basic work.

Greuel noted that DBS "does not always conduct required follow up inspections to determine whether cited safety or building code violations have been corrected." The city controller also found that DBS "appears to be over-billing some customers [and] others appear to have been undercharged."

Greuel, however, came up with the idea that housing code enforcement that's been conducted by the Housing Department, where activist Larry Gross says things have been working fine, should be transferred to problem-plagued DBS.

In a November 29, 2012, report, Greuel justifies the move as a way to "improve intra-department communication and service delivery, management oversight, customer service, and ultimately in cost savings processes."

So apparently Greuel's recommendation is "ultimately" based on meeting the bottom line.

Gross is so beside himself with shock and horror he can barely contain himself.

Greuel's recommendation will "jeopardize people having safe and sanitary conditions to live in in all of Los Angeles," says Gross, longtime executive director of Coalition for Economic Survival.

Greuel also apparently doesn't know her city history.

In 1999, the city created a Blue Ribbon Citizens' Committee on Slum Housing, which found that the Department of Building and Safety was dropping the ball on stopping slum housing conditions in L.A. -- its inspection program was a certified mess.

In response, the blue ribbon panel recommended that the Housing Department take over housing code enforcement, which was approved by the City Council and Mayor Richard Riordan. Now Greuel wants to change that.

"For no reason whatsoever," says Gross, "the controller is suggesting we go back in time when the city wasn't enforcing housing code violations."

Greuel's office did not respond to queries before press time.

Gross says, "We've been there and we've done that and it doesn't work. We would oppose [Greuel's recommendation] vigorously."

The ball is now in the court of L.A. City Council President Herb Wesson and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa -- as well as council members Eric Garcetti and Jan Perry. So far, they have shown signs of going along with Greuel's idea, which had been quietly working its way through the system.

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