Fuentes Explains Early Resignation from LA City Council

LOS ANGELES (CNS) — City Councilmember Felipe Fuentes, whose resignation will become effective in September nearly 10 months before his term ends, said he is confident his district will be well cared-for after his departure, noting that his new job as a lobbyist will feed his interest in the “wonky” side of politics.

Fuentes will leave the council on Sept. 11 to become a lobbyist with Apex Group in Sacramento, representing the Associated General Contractors of California.

Although Fuentes announced in January he didn’t plan to seek re-election in March, his new employer asked him to leave early so he can work this fall during a special legislative session on statewide infrastructure and prepare for the regular 2017 session of the Legislature beginning in January.

“They (AGC) asked that I begin the transition this fall in preparation for what hopefully will be better outcomes as it relates to financing and infrastructure for the state,” Fuentes told reporters during a conference call.

Fuentes’ early departure will mean that an official with the Chief Legislative Analyst’s Office, which advises the City Council, will become the “caretaker” for the 7th Council District.

That official will handle constituency services for a district that includes such San Fernando Valley communities as Sylmar, Pacoima, North Hills, La Tuna Canyon and Lake View Terrace.

While the City Council will be short one person when voting on citywide issues, Fuentes said there “are no controversial decisions or projects that are in the pipeline that are anticipated to take place” prior to July 1, when a new council member will be sworn in following the spring election.

Fuentes said his new position as a lobbyist, a job that will pay more than his roughly $180,000 salary as a councilman, will allow him to “work on even larger issues than we do in Los Angeles” and satisfies his interest in “the policy, wonky side of things.”

Prior to joining the City Council in 2013, Fuentes was an assemblyman and member of then-City Councilmember Alex Padilla’s staff.

Fuentes said that after announcing his decision not to seek a second term, he weighed various job prospects, including working in the utilities industry, or becoming a lobbyist on “infrastructure” issues.

“I was talking to many organizations and many people after my announcement, and they (the Associated General Contractors of California) were the ones that are the best fit for me,” Fuentes said.

While he had conversations with lobbying groups before deciding not to run for re-election, he did not have “serious conversations with AGC about working with them until after my announcement,” he said.

Fuentes’ unexpected announcement in January that he would not seek a second term has attracted 21 potential candidates.

The field includes Karo Torossian, director of planning and the environment for City Councilman Paul Krekorian’s office; Los Angeles Unified School District board member Monica Ratliff; and former Board of Public Works commissioner Monica Rodriguez.

Others seeking the position include Deputy Attorney General Venessa Martinez, financial adviser Terrence Gomes, equestrian center director Johnny Higginson and property manager Nancy Woodruff.

Martinez said Fuentes’ resignation “comes as a shock to many, including myself.”

“I can’t help but be disappointed that Mr. Fuentes would not finish out his term before heading up north to Sacramento to work as a lobbyist,” she said, adding that his leaving early “calls into question the merits of the DWP (Department of Water and Power) reform he spearheaded,” because he will be “long gone by the time the reform measure hits the crowded November ballot.”

Fuentes pushed for his City Council colleagues to place a measure on the ballot to change the governance structure of the DWP.

Martinez said Fuentes’ unfinished business in the 7th District includes in-progress projects such as Fire Station 31 in Sylmar, spreading grounds in Pacoima and Tujunga, and sediment removal in the Pacoima Reservoir.

Other tasks that will be left hanging include the rehabilitation of Foothill Boulevard in Sunland/Tujunga, park renovation projects and an effort to increase patrols in LAPD’s Foothill Division to improve police responsiveness, Martinez said.

Torossian said during his campaigning, he frequently heard complaints from 7th District constituents that “their voices haven’t been heard” under Fuentes.

Torossian said Fuentes has had a rocky relationship with some politically active constituents. Earlier this year, Fuentes evicted the Sunland Tujunga Neighborhood Council from the North Valley City Hall to make room for some nonprofit groups.

While the other groups were deserving of the space, Torossian said more could have been done to accommodate both the neighborhood council and the nonprofit groups, and the next council member would need to “improve those relationships that were tarnished between city and community groups.”

Torossian also noted that the district needs someone who can take a “stronger stance” than Fuentes on ensuring the high-speed rail project, which has a proposed route through the district, does not destroy open space and hurt wildlife in the area.

Other needs faced by the district includes trying to open a fire station closer to brush-heavy areas in Sylmar, and more effort to bring major public transit initiatives to revitalize the East San Fernando Valley area.

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