Assessing Villaraigosa. Counting on AEG. What more could go wrong with Vernon?

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Not the mayoralty that Villaraigosa imagined: The mayor has a new chief of staff - Gaye Williams, once a deputy mayor for Intergovernmental Relations in the long-ago Riordan administration. Like the several chiefs of staff before her, Williams has (in the words of Jim Newton of the Los Angeles Times) "already . . . impressed people at City Hall with her forceful command of the administration's priorities."

That's what they always say. If only that could be said of the mayor himself. As Newton points out:

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This is not the mayoralty that Villaraigosa imagined when he ran -- either in 2001, when he lost, or in 2005, when he ousted incumbent Jim Hahn. The campaigns were boisterous, promise-filled and biting; they were predicated on the idea that Los Angeles was growing and that the next mayor would be a builder.

But Villaraigosa's brand of feckless leadership has turned out to have none of the focus and persistence required of that kind of city builder. Villaraigosa's time is passing and, as Newton somewhat plaintively asks:

Is this the end of the political line for Villaraigosa? Some of his critics, and even some of his supporters, think so. They see him as damaged personally and saddled with a city so deeply in the hole that even if he governs effectively, it will be hard for him to run [for another office] on his record.

Newton sees a third act in the mayor's political drama, finding a model in Gavin Newsom's escape from personal scandal to be elected lieutenant governor. I'm not so sure.

Not the football stadium the mayor expected: "A football stadium proposed for downtown Los Angeles may not generate the economic benefits predicted by its backers," reports the Daily News. No surprise there.

Not one objective analysis of sports-based economic development has ever confirmed the pie-in-the-sky numbers routinely embraced by stadium developers, team owners, and city council members. According to Mark Whitaker, a policy analyst for the state Legislative Analyst's Office, the economic benefits of AEG's stadium deal would be "minimal," largely due to the "displacement effect."

Everyday consumers have just so many discretionary dollars (and less than they used to). Buying an NFL ticket means displacing some other discretionary purchase. AEG makes money, but the effect is a wash for overall city revenues.

Unless all the stadium seats are sat in by corporate VIPs from Orange County, who never would come downtown otherwise . . . but wait, that's exactly the kind of boutique stadium AEG wants to build.

Not the tax-free bonds Vernon advertised: The IRS is auditing $419 million in tax-exempt bonds issued by Vernon in 2009. If you're counting, that's the third major investigation of possibly corrupt practices by the Vernon city council this year.

According to news reports, the IRS is looking at possible violations of the rules relating to tax-exempt revenue. If Vernon's bonds turn out to be taxable, the government could demand millions of dollars in unpaid taxes from bond holders. And the bond holders would sue the city.

The IRS is only looking at the tax-free status of the bonds. It's not looking at the cozy deals Vernon officials made with its bond advisors or the $130 million in assets the city has lost since 2005 or the half a billion dollars of debt that hangs over the city today or the disastrous arbitrage deals it made as the economy tanked in 2008.

But Vernon has one thing going for it . . . the state Senate, which has voted down the disincorporation bill authored by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez. The senators, many of whom previously supported disincorporation, were persuaded by Vernon's $5-million lobbying campaign that the real issue was jobs and not Vernon's 80-year history of civic corruption.

D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.

The image on this page was taken by flickr user Yaffa Phillips. It is used under a Creative Commons License.

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