It goes something like this: You are a large property management corporation that owns and manages zillions of properties throughout the country, including prime commercial real estate in Los Angeles. Recently, the huge architectural firm, Gensler, has agreed to pack up their T-squares and move from their swanky Santa Monica location to your even swankier property at Flower and Fourth, known as the “Jewel Box.”
Even though Gensler has already agreed to become your tenant, you’d like to up the good will quotient and sweeten the deal a bit — you know, a gesture more meaningful than a dozen roses, but less meaningful than a reduction in rent.
What do you do?
You get the City of Los Angeles to give — that’s give, mind you — $1 million of taxpayer money to Gensler to remodel their new digs.
Anatomy of a Hustle
Thanks to an investigation by the Legal Aid Foundation and solid reporting by Steve Lopez at the Times, emails between Thomas Properties exec Ayahlushim Getachew and Marie Rumsey, an aide to councilwoman Jan Perry, have surfaced, offering a bird’s eye view of corporate/government collusion in all its perfectly legal repulsiveness.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the exchange began last November with an email from Getachew.
“Do you have any available block grant available at CDD [Community Development Department] for a really great opportunity in the 9th [District]?” he asked. “What do you think?”
“It is a bit of a long-shot but possible,” replied Rumsey. “What do you have in mind?”
“Confidentially, Gensler just agreed to move their corporate headquarters to our building. We are quickly and quietly working to make this a good move for everyone. I need about $1 million or more for tenant improvements…. Do you think that is doable? Can we work together on this?”
A Done Deal
I hate to ruin the suspense, but Rumsey’s answer was, “Yes.” In fact, Thomas Properties and Perry’s office worked so well together that the deal was virtually sealed that evening. Technically, they still needed the approval of Mayor Villaraigosa — which they received soon after — but essentially, with a few clicks of the mouse that night Los Angeles agreed to spend one million federal dollars to remodel Gensler’s headquarters.
For the moment, forget that the million bucks was supposed to be used for economic development and housing in low-income areas. Forget the asymmetry of the deal that got Los Angeles a promise of a whopping one job per $35,000. Pay no attention to the fact that the mayor of Santa Monica — Gensler’s former location — is ready to declare war on Los Angeles for headhunting its businesses. Even forget that both companies involved contributed to Councilwoman Perry’s campaign for mayor.
Focus instead on the money-grubbing mentality of these corporations. Thomas Properties owns and manages 12.6 million sq. ft. of Class A commercial property throughout America, including City National Plaza downtown and Gensler takes in hundreds of millions per year building everything from the City Center in Las Vegas to China’s Shanghai Tower, the world’s second tallest building. You’d think Gensler would be able to remodel one of its 38 locations with its own dough — or if it’s so darned important, Thomas Properties could give Gensler the remodeling as a house warming present.
But no; they are perfectly happy to let federal dollars earmarked for L.A.’s poor do the job.
Captains of Industry
This is the grubby behavior we’ve come to expect from large corporations. If it’s not B of A dreaming up a new $5 fee in the middle of a crippling recession, ARCO charging a fee for the privelege of buying its gas with an ATM card or Halliburton wiring American fighting troops’ living quarters on the cheap and dangerous, it’s two thriving corporations in Los Angeles hustling dollars out of a broke government for Persian rugs and Armani desks.
Corporate hustles big and small, relentless advertising and the blatant comodification of everything — from erectile dysfunction to religion — has increased the level of corporate avarice to a point that makes their leaders seem more like dime store shoplifters than captains of industry. In other words, if corporations really are people, they’re not people you want in your house.
Occupy Wall Street
It is exactly this “whatever we can get away with” corporate credo and its influence on government that has created the fox-guarding-the-henhouse madness nibbling away at our middle class and exactly what the protesters are railing against at “Occupy” demonstrations throughout the country and beyond.
Getting Big Money out of politics will not be an easy fight. It is so deeply entrenched in our system (and protected by the Constitution and the Roberts Court as freedom of expression) that we will need a constitutional amendment and a really big crowbar to pry it out. But, look at it this way; two months ago the issue of campaign finance reform was dead. Today, it’s all everybody talks about. Occupy Wall Street just might become a really big crowbar.
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