Spending the most money for City Hall lobbyists doesn't always buy results.
That was lesson learned by Foothills Golf Development Group, which forked over $116,788 on City Hall lobbying to build an 18-hole golf course in the Northeast San Fernando Valley a project that in late July was voted down on a 10-4 vote by the Los Angeles City Council.
The Foothills Golf outlay to lobbyists made it the the top spender for lobbying at City Hall for the second quarter of 1997, according to the city's Ethics Commission.
Foothills Golf outspent the next highest spender during the second quarter Duke/Louis Dreyfus LLC, which in May was taken over by Duke Power Co. by more than $52,000.
Duke/Louis Dreyfus was attempting to form an alliance with the city's Department of Water and Power to sell energy outside the L.A. area after deregulation of the industry in January 1998. Duke learned the same lesson as Foothills Golf, as its plans have also been put on hold.
The other top spenders in City Hall lobbying included a group pushing for tax breaks for health maintenance organizations, a company performing earthquake retrofit work on City Hall itself and an airline industry group opposing the transfer of funds from the Department of Airports to the city's general fund.
All told, businesses, trade groups, labor unions, individuals and others spent $2.2 million on lobbying during the second quarter of this year.
In the case of Foothills Golf, which is attempting to build the Red Tail Golf and Equestrian complex on an environmentally sensitive plot of land in Big Tujunga Wash, the amount spent on lobbying may not be a complete loss yet.
Foothills Golf has filed a claim against the city for allegedly "taking" the land by not allowing it to recoup the costs of buying the land through development.
"The project's not over til it's over," Mark Armbruster, the main lobbyist for Foothills Golf. "I would predict that my clients would do very well on its claim against the city."
But Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst at Claremont Graduate School, said Foothills Golf's loss in the council shows that the conventional wisdom that money buys votes doesn't always hold true.
"Everyone continually screams and yells that money buys decisions," Bebitch Jeffe said. "And in this case it didn't."
During the second quarter, Duke/Louis Dreyfus spent $64,732 on lobbying to form a marketing alliance with the DWP. But that money appears to have been spent for naught; the deal is now on hold. A joint venture, Duke/Louis Dreyfus is being acquired by one of the partners Duke Power.
As a result, there have been key management changes that have led to DWP officials to reevaluate the alliance, said Richard Lichtenstein, president of Marathon Communications, Duke's lobbyist.
One of the quarter's other top lobbying spenders was the Health Care Headquarters Association, which paid the law firm Rose & Kindel $52,008 to help convince city officials to lower the business license tax rate for the city's five HMOs a struggle which has been going on since November 1996.
"We're very methodically plodding along and I think we're making progress with the city," said Michael Gagan, the Rose & Kindel lobbyist representing the five HMOs, Blue Cross of California, Health Net, MaxiCare Health Plans, Prudential HealthCare and CareAmerica Health Plans. (CareAmerica is in the process of being acquired by Blue Shield of California.)
"And frankly everyone wants to know when, and I think we're looking at a conclusion no later than two months hopefully before then," Gagan said.
The issue of business license taxes is shared by Kelly Staff Leasing, which is also lobbying the city to not tax it on "pass-through" revenues money that the company receives from a client, but immediately passes on to workers.
TRW Inc., which has a contract with the city to build 911 emergency phone centers in downtown L.A. and in the West San Fernando Valley for $5.9 million, spent $39,452 on lobbying during the second quarter which mostly involved public relations work, said Cerrell Associates Inc. lobbyist Howard Sunkin.
Bovis Construction Corp., the construction management firm overseeing the retrofitting of City Hall, spent $51,250 on lobbyists during the second quarter, making it the No. 5 lobbyist during those three months.
"There have been sort of ongoing issues as to the movement of council members and personnel into City Hall East," said Bob Burke of Rose & Kindel. "We have been working with them to make sure all those procedural things happen smoothly."
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