Claremont Insider: Open Government Activist Pressing LA County on Affordable Housing Rule

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Open Government Activist Pressing LA County on Affordable Housing Rule

The Daily Bulletin reported yesterday that Richard McKee, president emeritus of an open government group called Californians Aware, is looking into the way a Los Angeles County commission allowed unelected staffers to change county rules governing how money for affordable housing projects is awarded.

You may recall that Claremont's affordable housing project at Base Line Rd. and Towne Ave. died primarily because it failed to qualify for $2.5 million dollars in county funds that the developer and the city needed to complete the project. The city didn't get the county money because the county's Community Development Commission earlier this year created a new rule that prohibits county affordable housing funds from being granted to projects within 500 feet of a major highway.

McKee, an open government activist from La Verne who was a thorn in Claremont's side on several occasions in years past, is concerned that the policy change should have been made in public by the commission and believes that the change was politically motivated. The Bigham article said:

In his letter to the county, dated April 29, McKee requested all agendas, back-up materials and minutes to public meetings held to discuss the 500-foot rule.

He also seeks the specific legal authority used by the commission to make the decision on a staff level. McKee said the county may not have the authority to establish strict limitations on affordable-housing funding, because the bulk of the money comes from the federal government and is merely distributed by the county.

Most comprehensively, McKee seeks "all writings ... exchanged between and among (commission) staff and supervisorial offices, providing information and/or seeking input on, objections to, or approval of the 500-foot rule."

By law, the county has 10 business days to respond to McKee's request.

Claremont Mayor Ellen Taylor (seen at right) is quoted in the article as saying that she thinks affordable housing opponents put pressure on LA County Supervisor Michael Antonovich's office to get the rule change made.

In making her claim, Taylor, as is her wont, provides no reasons for her accusation, she just puts it out there as fact. It may or may not be true, but the important thing is, Queen Ellen believes it.

Taylor and her friends, as we've pointed out before, probably give Claremonters credit for more power and influence than they deserve. Taylor and her friends, who had pushed the Base Line Rd. project despite some very obvious problems, have claimed in the past that they represent the majority of Claremonter and that the project opponents are a small group of NIMBYs (Not In My Backyard) who should be ignored.

So which is it? Small, inconsequential nothings from a tiny city of 35,000, or all-powerful political animals capable of moving a county of 10 million residents? Make up your minds, dunderheads - you can't have it both ways.

Taylor also continues to ignore the 10-year study released in 2007 by the USC Keck School of Medicine, which found that children growing up within 500 meters (not feet) of a major highway have a greatly increased chance of growing up with impaired lung development. So, Taylor and her friends would have us believe that this Claremont cabal (or are they NIMBY's?) is so omniscient that over 10 years ago it manipulated USC School of Medicine researchers into fabricating a study involving thousands of children, years of work, and large amounts of grant money, all to defeat a project of less than 50 units in little Claremont? Right.

The greatest irony of all is McKee's involvement in this. Remember, McKee's prior organization, the California First Amendment Coalition, back in 2000 awarded Claremont a Black Hole Award "For its campaign of intimidation, disinformation and unlawful secrecy, often in response to criticism of official policy, designed to reduce the public's knowledge of and involvement in their local government."

According to a CFAC press release:
Claremont was cited for:

* its refusal to disclose records relating to a lawsuit settlement;
* its protests contrary to fact that a federal court order precluded disclosure,
* its short-lived proposal to have mental health professionals standing by to assess the threat level posed by citizen speakers at public meetings;
* its city manager's disclosure of the criminal records of a man, in order to discredit him, who had called for an investigation of the death of his nephew, shot by police officers;
* its use of council committees to hold unannounced meetings on a variety of matters; and
* its refusal to allow citizens, during a permitted parade, to hand out leaflets to curbside spectators.

And in many ways this sort of secrecy still goes on. All you have to do is know one of Taylor's fellow Claremont League of Women Voter members, Helaine Goldwater or Judy Wright for instance, and they'll create a "citizen" task force just for you to give the imprimatur of "public process" to whatever stupid project (see Claremont's trolley) they've ginned up over drinks Friday night at Judy's house. Oh, you don't like it? Why didn't you attend the meeting?

Irony, irony, thy name is Taylor.