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Controversy Marks Reappointments for CRA Board

By Eric Richardson
Published: Wednesday, December 19, 2007, at 10:31AM
Reappointment Hearing for Joan Ling Eric Richardson [Flickr]

After an hour and a half of debate, the Mayor's three reappointments to the CRA Board were approved this afternoon by the Council. Articles in the Times and Daily News this morning had taken a look at the rare debate surrounding the reappointment of Joan Ling, a commissioner who had raised the ire of several Councilmembers.

Appointments to city commissions and boards are typically simple affairs. As one Councilmember said today, normally the appointee comes up front for the Council to say nice things about them and that's that. Today's session was quite a different affair.

The controversy around Ling's reappointment revolved around a concern that perhaps her own agenda was disrupting what they were trying to do in their districts. Councilman Dennis Zine told Ling that "we have a vision for our districts" and that the CRA board needed to support those goals instead of impairing them.

Councilwoman Jan Perry and Councilman Bernard Parks both expressed pointed concern over Ling's handling of projects in their districts. Parks' questioning revolved around the University Gateway project, slated to rise at the corner of Figueroa and Jefferson. He was concerned that Ling had met privately with the developer, Urban Partners, and had negotiated with them to get another million dollars in affordable housing contribution without the involvement of CRA staff. Ling insisted that she "did not negotiate" with the developer, and that she did not remember who had brought up the idea of the contribution. Parks major concern was that developers looking for similar approvals not be given different deals. He pointed at a similar project developed just down the street that was not required to put together the same sort of package.

Some of the questions asked by Perry pertained to the approval process for Sonny Astani's Opus project at 8th and Grand. The Times story from this morning led off with a comment from Astani.

As he sought approval for three downtown high-rises last year, developer Sonny Astani promised the city's redevelopment agency that he would hire union workers, install expensive underground parking and donate $1.5 million to a skid row housing fund.

None of that was enough for Joan Ling, one of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's appointees to the Community Redevelopment Agency board. Ling also wanted Astani to provide money for affordable housing.

"I was about to say, 'How about my children?' " recalled Astani, whose downtown project was approved on a 6-1 vote with only Ling dissenting.

Astani's $1.5 million donation to Skid Row Housing Trust provided the developer funding for the Abbey Apartments, a 115-unit affordable development currently rising on San Pedro street, but in the hearing Ling had held out for more of a housing contribution. Today Perry asked if there was any CRA guideline that Ling was using to determine how much such a contribution would be. Ling responded that there was not.

In the end Council voted 10-4 in support of Ling's reappointment. While it was clear that the opposition was not going to have the votes to veto the Mayor's pick, it does seem likely that the Council will move forward on drafting rules governing the conditions under which Board members can meet with developers.

Additionally, Council gave a strong message to the CRA board that it expects to see its vision upheld and moved forward. Before the vote Ling told the Council that if reappointed she would "learn directly from the Council offices" about what is going on in each district.

It was Councilman Dennis Zine who best summed up the mood of the day. "Miss Ling, you're still in the hot seat."

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