(Editor’s note: This article, which ran January 10 in the Valley Current, is the second installment of a two-part series delving into the practices and controversies surrounding LA City Controller Kenneth Mejia. The column aims to shed light on the biases, contentious decisions, and unorthodox theories that have marked Mejia’s tenure. In a role that demands impartiality and meticulous accuracy, the actions and methodologies of the City Controller hold significant consequences for the governance and public trust in Los Angeles. It is reprinted with permission.)
By ANGELA MCGREGOR
In December, the City Controller released three audits and reports. the first examined where City employees live. According to Mejia, 64% of city workers, including 86% of Fire Department employees and 81% of Police employees, live outside Los Angeles, in far-flung locales like Long Beach, Whittier and Inglewood.
According to the audit, city employees who live in the City of Los Angeles will have “shorter commutes and faster response time in case of work emergencies” and generate “fewer greenhouse gases.”
However, the commute from Long Beach to City Hall via the Metro is direct, affordable, and eco-friendly. It typically takes less time to travel to and from Whittier during rush hour on the 5 than to return to Woodland Hills (in Los Angeles) on the 101.
The most startling “fact” in this report is that 506 of the city’s employees are actually living out of state, in places as far away as Idaho and Texas. Are they working remotely? Mejia’s report on the city’s website doesn’t say. Only his Instagram page revealed that the Controller’s office included pension data in this study.
About 77% of pensioners (categorized as an occupation by Mejia) reside out of state — something the Los Angeles Times (“California Cops and Firefighters Are Taking Their Pensions to Idaho’s ‘Little Orange County’”) noted in an article that ran a couple of weeks after the release of Mejia’s audit on December 21.
The report recommends the City spend money on incentives to keep its employees from living outside the city limits. However, in April, Mejia was accused of pressuring his employees to move into the building he lives in near City Hall, thereby garnering him a commission.
HOMELESSNESS AND INTERIM HOUSING DATA:
On February 13, 2023, Mejia (via his X/Twitter account) promised a review of “City Data on Homelessness & Interim Housing” by the summer. The summer passed without such a report, but on December 5, Mejia released an audit of LAHSA’s online system for tracking shelter bed availability.
(Six months earlier, in July, LAHSA released its own report on the effectiveness of the Mayor’s Inside Safe initiative, including comprehensive figures on using motels and hotels for interim housing.)
Mejia’s cover letter to the mayor’s office noted that the “systems and data” for tracking the availability of shelter beds were lacking, and several recommendations were made.
What neither the letter nor any of Mejia’s social media mentioned, however, was that LAHSA had already responded to these recommendations three weeks earlier.
In a November 17 letter included in the back of the full report, LAHSA informed Mejia’s Director of Auditing that it was already upgrading the agency’s shelter bed availability portal — part of an ongoing, comprehensive overhaul of LAHSA’s Homeless Management Information System that would include all types of interim housing, including motel rooms and Bridge housing.
Mejia’s report also stated that because there are more homeless individuals than shelter beds, the fact that some facilities reported plenty of vacant beds implied the data was invalid, something LAHSA strongly disagreed with.
LAPD AIRBORNE OPERATION:
That brings us to December 11, 2023, when Mejia’s office released what it termed “its first-ever audit of the Los Angeles Police Department’s (LAPD) airborne operation.”
In fact, the City’s helicopter patrol operation, which dates back to 1956, has been reviewed many times, beginning in 1968 when NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory undertook a review a of the program and determined that the use of helicopter patrols for crime-related activities other than mere traffic control had, in fact, resulted in a reduction in crime.
By contrast, Mejia’s report states that “There is no persuasive empirical evidence that shows a clear link between helicopter patrols and crime reduction, and the LAPD has not done the work to collect necessary data to test such claims,” leaving the reader wondering if the $46 million a year spent on this program — 1.5% of the LAPD’s total budget — is worth the money, and why the Controller performed this audit at all, given that the “necessary data” isn’t available.
The audit also contradicts itself on the critical topic of how the helicopters are being used. In the cover letter, Mejia mentions, “61% of flight time was dedicated to activities not associated with the highest priority incidents, such as transportation flights, general patrol time, and ceremonial flights.”
But 18 pages in, based upon flight log data, the report gives an entirely different list of the most common LAPD helicopter flight activities (in order): “felony incidents involving personal injury or harm; burglaries; grand theft auto; robberies, training missions; and other activities that otherwise do not align with a defined flight category.”
As we noted in an article last February, according to the City Charter, the Controller holds no real authority over the City, and in order to effect real change must integrate themselves into City Government and work closely with the City Council. But the City Council did not request these audits, and it’s unlikely they will result in any real change or further scrutiny.
Mejia’s supporters maintain that his accessible, easy-to-use website and engaging Tik Tok, YouTube, and Instagram posts are fulfilling his campaign promise to educate the public on the issues facing the city. But if these reports are based on incomplete and unreliable data and are skewed to create inflammatory headlines, what is the point?
Perhaps an audit of the City Controller’s office is in order.