Public Housing Residents Rise Up Against LA City Board

Public Housing Residents Rise Up Against LA City Board

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Residents of a public housing development in Boyle Heights — who have been complaining since late last year about one board member — now want the entire Board of Commissioners for Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) to resign.

As previously reported by EGP, some Pico Gardens/Las Casitas residents have long been calling for the resignation of Resident Commissioner Maria Del Angel. They also want an investigation into whether Del Angel has received special perks and retaliated against Housing Authority employees in cases where they have refused to do her bidding or have questioned her authority.

Citing new concerns about possible ethics violations and conflicts of interest, the residents who are pressing their concerns told EGP that they now believe all the commissioners should resign.

Pico Gardens Resident Advisory Committee (RAC) member Rebecca Guerra says evidence is mounting that all the commissioners have abused their authority. She said that she and many fellow residents are worried that proposed policy changes will give the commissioners more power.

Guerra was at the Feb. 14 special meeting of the HACLA Board of Commissioners where changes to the Housing Authority's procurement policy were on the agenda. She and two other members of the community asked the board to vote down a proposal to end open bidding on procurement contracts. They also asked the board to initiate an investigation into Del Angel's activities.

Guerra said a local television reporter who said he is investigating the board's spending habits approached her after the Feb. 14 meeting. Guerra met with CBS 2's Investigative Reporter David Goldstein at her Pico Gardens home. She told EGP that Goldsteing told her about a report detailing HACLA commissioner credit card charges for the Ritz Carlton, expensive dinners and furniture purchases.

The report has since been broadcast.

"It's shocking, I'm appalled," Guerra said.

Alvivon Hurd, who is known to her friends as "Bonbon," also found Goldstein knocking at her door with information about questionable commissioner expenditures.

"It's really sickening," Hurd told EGP, adding there is no accountability on commissioner spending. "I hope we can put a stop to this. You [the board] can't keep doing this to us and you're really not doing anything [for the residents], you're just taking money and spending it at will."

Hurd said she hopes Goldstein's report and EGP's continued coverage of Pico Gardens will bring accountability to the board and send the message that "someone is watching them."

Guerra and Hurd were among residents who in December claimed Del Angel was receiving special perks because she is a housing commissioner. Del Angel has denied claims of favoritism and wrongdoing. HACLA officials have also denied that Del Angel has received any special improvements or housing assignments. (See related stories at www.EGPNews.com.)

But a number of residents have told EGP they do not believe explanations offered by HACLA staff.

During the public comment portion of the Feb. 14 meeting, Guerra asked the commissioners to look into why both the Pico Gardens' manager and assistant manager are being transferred out of the development.

"We want to know the reasoning behind it and who, if any [one], is doing this decision," said Guerra.

She said she believes the transfers are in retaliation for past controversies involving Del Angel.

At the same meeting, Boyle Heights stakeholders Margarita Amador and Jose Aguilar expressed concern that a proposal by board members to change their procurement policy could eliminate competitive bidding on many HACLA contracts.

"Having an open competitive bid is always the best way to go," Amador said.

In the past, a cost analysis was required for all procurements, but under the new proposed policy — specifically VII Section III (G) — "no such price analysis shall be required if HACLA undertakes a Request for Qualifications involving a developer."

"The point of the section change is that price will not be the determining factor for the evaluation of an RFQ," HACLA's director of Media Relations Eric Brown told EGP in an email on Tuesday.

RFQs, as opposed to RFPs, don't look for the lowest bidder, but are used to determine a developer's capabilities or qualifications to do the work, explains Brown.

Brown said the change in the procurement policy is not to avoid an RFP but is due to the new role of the board. He said the board "will now manage the development of the RFQ and oversee the procurement process. This is a reflection of their interest in becoming more involved, and the importance of these types of projects."

He said the city of Los Angeles would also play a larger role, including on evaluation panels.

"All of this activity, the RFQ to be released, the selection of the panel and the final evaluation and award will all be done at the board level and fully open to the public," he said.

Brown said the policy change will only apply to the Jordan Downs redevelopment project in Watts.

But none of the documents obtained by EGP — including the Feb. 14 Board of Commissioners Special Meeting agenda, the Feb. 14 HACLA Staff Report to the Strategic Planning Committee of the Board of Commissioners or its attachments, "A" Major Revisions and "B" Revised Housing Authority Procurement Policy — refer to Jordan Downs or state that the policy applies only to that or any other specific project. Nor was it specified by Brown in any of his e-mails to EGP.

Residents say these types of inconsistencies lead them to question HACLA's willingness to be transparent.

Amador and Aguilar are both members of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council but spoke as individuals at the commission meeting. They both indicated that they don't fully trust that commissioners will award contracts fairly, and claim that Del Angel has participated in the awarding of some past HACLA contracts despite having a conflict of interest.

"I would like for the record, and to officially request that an investigation be conducted in regards to possible conflicts of interest as it relates to the involvement of Commissioner Del Angel to the business of Estrada Courts RFP...," Amador told the board.

Del Angel and her family lived at Estrada Courts until she was granted an emergency transfer to Pico Gardens on the grounds that her life was in danger. EGP has reported that Pico Gardens residents said they believed Del Angel orchestrated her transfer out of Estrada Courts because the site may be converted into Section 8 housing, which she might not be qualified to receive. HACLA officials said they granted the emergency transfer after the commissioner's tires were slashed and a brick was thrown through her window.

Guerra says residents don't get transferred for "random vandalism."

Pico Gardens and Ramona Gardens residents have also joined a lawsuit against HACLA filed in January by the Los Angeles Rights Housing Collective, a coalition of organizations from across the city, The lawsuit accuses HACLA of continuously failing to provide adequate notice for the Board of Commissioner meetings and violating the Brown Act.

New revelations of questionable spending by commissioners is adding to residents concerns that HACLA is not acting in the interest of Housing Authority residents, but rather in their own self-interest.

"We want Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to ask the commissioners to step-down," says Guerra.

Gloria Alvarez is Editor of Eastern Group Publications. Gloria Angelina Castillo is a writer for Eastern Group Publications.