Interview with Neighborhood Prosecutor Mehrnoosh “Nooshi” Zahiri

[Miracle Mile Residential Association Newsletter, November 2014:]

Q & A:

Interview with Neighborhood Prosecutor

Mehrnoosh “Nooshi” Zahiri

Earlier this year City Attorney Mike Feuer revived the Neighborhood Prosecutor Program, which had been disbanded in 2010 due to budget cuts. The program attaches a Neighborhood Prosecutor to every police division in the city to serve as a liaison between law enforcement – as well as other city agencies – and the community. The prosecutors are tasked with overseeing a range of quality of life issues from nuisance abatement and code enforcement to gang activity and other threats to public safety.

Mehrnoosh “Nooshi” Zahiri was assigned in May 2014 as the Neighborhood Prosecutor for the LAPD Wilshire Division [see map], which includes the Miracle Mile. A native of Los Angeles, Zahiri attended UCLA and the Southwestern School of Law and previously worked for a firm that provided prosecutorial services for cities in Los Angeles County. Ms. Zahiri was interviewed November 12, 2014 at the Wilshire Division police station:

What is a neighborhood prosecutor?

While that question sounds easy to answer, I am learning that it can mean a variety of things. On a daily basis, I answer and look into a multitude of issues. What I’ve been telling the community is to contact me, give me the information, and if it is something that I can have an impact on, or help with, then I’m more than happy to contribute. Many issues, for example, auto repair on the street, have departments enlisted to enforce the applicable regulations. In these cases, it might involve me calling that department and explaining to them what is going on, as well as the seriousness of the issue. Further, I can explain to these departments that I will ultimately participate in the enforcement actions, should voluntary compliance not be obtained. In the past, a lot of these cases sort of got lost in the system. With a Neighborhood Prosecutor at the station, and aware of the particular issues, we can ensure that the issues are given the care and attention they need in order to be resolved.

Often the frustrations of the residents are compounded by not knowing who to complain to. There are so many different departments: animal services, building and safety, parking enforcement. Isn’t one of your roles to educate people in how to complain?

Yes. I am continuously learning about the different departments and agencies in the City, as well as the available services. If a community member has a particular issue they are unsure of where to direct, I can most certainly guide them to the appropriate department. 3-1-1 is also a wonderful resource. One of the things I’m learning is that many of the departments are overwhelmed. Therefore, complaints sometimes do not get answered as quickly as we’d like. And due to the lapse in time between a complaint being submitted, and then addressed, once an investigation is conducted the issue might not be present. If I know about the issue, and know the possibility of the particular agency being unable to investigate the situation, I can work to get another department or agency involved in order to address the issue. I can also be in touch with the complainant in order to ensure we have all necessary details.

That raises an interesting question in terms of the hierarchy of complaints. So, when you have a situation with multiple agencies involved, who is on first, who is on second, or does the City Attorney’s office trump them all?

My advice is, if it’s a new complaint and you have not yet referred it to the agency that is meant to address that particular issue–start there. File a complaint. If you don’t feel that it’s being addressed, then let me know and if there is something I can do, I will.  As I mentioned earlier, many of these agencies are overwhelmed and knowing that there is an attorney who will be there once they have conducted their investigation helps. They know that once they get a package prepared, it’s going to get the attention it deserves.

Prop 47 was just approved, which shifted a number of felony crimes downwards to misdemeanors. Will that have an impact on the neighborhood prosecutors?

It is too early to say. At this point, the cases will probably go through our normal misdemeanor channels. Due to the number of cases that will now go to the City Attorney’s office based on Prop 47, we will be there to assist and contribute in any way we can to ease the process. It is likely that new Deputy City Attorneys will be hired to assist with the new case load.

Many people don’t realize that the City Attorney handles criminal cases.

We do, the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office handles all misdemeanor filings in the City. These misdemeanors can include anything from DUI offenses, to family violence cases, to drug cases.  Many crimes are considered “wobblers.” This means they can be charged as felonies or misdemeanors. In this regard, the City does handle very serious criminal cases.

Are you getting hit with a lot of these quality of life issues?

Very much so. I ‘ve attended various Neighborhood Council meetings, as well as other neighborhood association meetings, and much of the community has gotten to know me – and how to contact me with their issues. Additionally, I intentionally sit beside the Senior Lead Officers when I’m at the station so that I have immediate contact when they are getting complaints and I can be aware of them.

Do you spend most of your time downtown or at the Wilshire station?

It’s sort of a mix. I have a desk at both locations. There are benefits with being at both locations. If I’m filing a complaint, or need to brainstorm with other Neighborhood Prosecutors, it is great to be at City Hall. While being at the station allows me to have direct contact with the community and the officers.

If you file a complaint are you the attorney handling it at court?

Yes. As a Neighborhood Prosecutor, vertical prosecution is a great tool. A lot of times after general quality of life crime makes their way through all the necessary channels, and to court, the appearing attorney cannot be aware of the significance of the issue, or the particular sentence that can abate and remedy the issue for the community. And because we are in the community, and have directly filed that case, we are aware of its significance, and the best way to handle it.

Given the budget cuts that the courts have gone through – the backlog of cases – does it have an impact on your work?

It does. Although prosecution is a tool, and for many cases the only tool, we as Neighborhood Prosecutors can use other tools and methods to obtain results without necessarily filing cases and prosecuting them in the court.

So you directly interface with the parties involved in a complaint?

Yes, I usually have directly interfaced with the individual who brought the original complaint. And if the complaint can be resolved without utilizing the court system, then we will go that route.

That would seem to be very effective, because you are implying that we can resolve this here or in court.

It is. Many times, explaining the law, as well as the possible repercussions to failing to comply can resolve an issue. If the problem can be resolved this way, then we can save the time and resources it takes to get something before a court. Our goal is not to go to prosecute, but to abate the issue in an effective manner.

Give us a short lesson in how to properly complain.

Start off with complaining to the right department. If you don’t know which department to contact, either contact me or call 3-1-1, they’ll help you. Keep records, and take photos if possible. Of course, never put yourself in any kind of danger while gathering evidence. Check back with that department to find out who the inspector assigned to your case is, and you can contact them directly if you need further information. For many issues, it can be appropriate to bring me in from the beginning. It’s important that people feel free to contact me, that’s my job: to serve the neighborhood.

What’s the best way to contact you?

Email is definitely the best way.

•••

Mehrnoosh “Nooshi” Zahiri
Wilshire Neighborhood Prosecutor
mehrnoosh.zahiri@lacity.org
(213) 978-2220

Useful City Phone Numbers

2014 Annual Online Survey

[Miracle Mile Residential Association Newsletter, November 2014:]


Miracle Mile Residential Association
2014 Annual Online Survey

Click on map to enlarge.
In November 2013, the MMRA launched its first online survey of Miracle Mile residents to gain a better understanding of your attitudes and opinions on central issues, such as traffic and development. Last year’s poll had 114 respondents; the results can be reviewed here.

The 2014 annual survey repeats many of the key questions asked in last year’s survey, which will indicate how opinions have shifted (or not) in the past 12 months. While hardly a scientific survey, the poll provides a “snapshot” of the community and helps guide the MMRA in prioritizing our efforts. The Miracle Mile Residential Association is a consensus driven organization and polling helps to ensure that the actions of the MMRA reflect the will of the residents we represent.

The MMRA also uses more targeted polls to gauge opinions on single topic issues. Both the “MMRA Mansionization-RFA-HPOZ” and “LACMA Bridge Over Wilshire” surveys are still open. You can participate in those polls or view the results in the links below.

The annual poll is not just for residents living within the boundaries of the MMRA [see map above], we are also interested in how residents in neighboring areas feel, too. The survey will remain open until December 31, 2014. The results of the annual survey will be featured in the January 2015 newsletter.

We utilize SurveyMonkey for our polls; it is a secure and simple way to gather your input. Participation is completely anonymous and your honesty is welcomed. So, please take a few minutes to complete the poll – there are 60 questions with opportunities to make specific comments. And you can skip over the questions that don’t interest or apply to you.


2014 Miracle Mile Residential Association Annual Online Survey

Participate in the survey


MMRA Mansionization-RFA-HPOZ Survey (May 2014)

Participate in the survey
View the results


LACMA Bridge Over Wilshire Survey (July 2014)

Participate in the survey
View the results


LACMA’s Billion Dollar Debt

[Miracle Mile Residential Association Newsletter, November 2014;] 

LACMA’s Billion Dollar Debt 

(and Michael Govan’s Very Good Day)

Commentary by Greg Goldin

 

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas: Is this Michael Govan Day in L.A. or what? We’re trying to figure that out. Did you know what today was?

Michael Govan: That today was?

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas: Yeah, Michael Govan Day in the city, in the county of Los Angeles? Did you know that? It is. Thank you.

Michael Govan: Thank you.

– November 5, 2014 MeetingLos Angeles County Board of Supervisors

On November 5, LACMA’s plan to build a new museum that would span Wilshire Boulevard got its first enormous contribution. To help kick off the Museum’s fundraising campaign to build the proposed Peter Zumthor building, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors opened the public treasury and signed a check for $125 million. The gift, hailed as proof of the county’s commitment to art and culture, whizzed through on a unanimous vote, but it seems neither the supervisors, nor the reporters present that day, had read the fine print. The colossal sum was not nearly enough, it turns out, to get the ball rolling on the Swiss architect’s $600 million (and-climbing) oozing mega-structure. So, the Supervisors agreed to kick in another $300 million – this in the form of a government-issued bond to be repaid over 30 years by LACMA’s patrons and donors.

Even for the multi-billion dollar county, $425 million is a pile of money.  One would have hoped that the self-avowed fiscal conservatives on the board – among them, the socially liberal but financially prudent Zev Yaroslavsky – might have questioned how the money would be repaid and what the citizens are getting in return.  Yet, to hear the string of fulsome remarks by the Supervisors themselves [see link below], the mere appearance of LACMA chief Michael Govan was sufficient recompense for the public’s investment. One of the fawning Supervisors declared it “Michael Govan Day” – only to be told that such a decree violated the state’s Brown Act, and thus had to be withdrawn. LACMA’s imperial and expansionist dreams, it seems, justify the taxpayers’ gifts and loans without inquiry, investigation, or a single note of caution.

Some math is useful here. The County’s Chief Executive Officer, William T. Fujioka, laid the facts out to the Supervisors in his November 5 report. The citizens of Los Angeles county will donate $125 million to LACMA – a gift that will ultimately cost the county $10 million a year for fifteen years, topping out at $150 million. That’s the money that made the headlines. Since LACMA can’t raise the remaining $475 million in construction funds fast enough, the county has agreed to step up, to “provide adequate and timely funding for the proposed Project during its eight year delivery schedule.” That’s the $300 million bond, which will saddle LACMA with new debt of $18 million a year – adding up to $540 million over the 30-year lifetime of the loan. And that assumes the price tag for Zumthor’s creation will actually be $600 million. There are many independent estimates that put the figure at closer to $1 billion. Will the county close that gap, too?

If the past is prologue, there is ample reason to question the soundness of these arrangements. As the Supervisors know well, LACMA is already burdened with debt, and those debts have forced the Museum to compromise recent plans, to the public’s detriment.

The story begins in 2001 when LACMA undertook “Transformation,” its self-proclaimed plan to march west toward the May Co. building. For $50 million, that landmark was going to be refurbished to add 20,000 square feet of gallery space, renew the Boone children’s gallery, and carve out office space for staff. But the money had to be diverted because Museum Associates, which runs LACMA, couldn’t repay the $383 million debt it had amassed to build the Broad Contemporary Art Museum and the Reznick Pavilion. During the deepening recession, LACMA couldn’t bear the costs of restoring the May Co. while shelling out $15 million a year for the debt service for the BCAM and the Reznick. Thus, the May Co. renovation was jettisoned.

While everyone’s attention was focused on the delivery of Michael Heizer’s very large rock, LACMA’s finances were sinking like one. Its debt was nearly twice as large as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and almost $100 million more than the Museum of Modern Art. The viziers on Wall Street weren’t as easily diverted by the “levitated” spectacle as the citizens and their elected representatives were. The Museum’s bond rating, then perilously close to a default, was downgraded, which put the institution in the unfortunate position of having to find a way to re-leverage itself.

The answer came when a seemingly friendly marriage was arranged between the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences (which had failed more times than can be recounted to open a museum) and LACMA. The Academy agreed to an up-front payment of $36.1 million to lease the 300,000 square-foot May Co. building and a chunk of real estate along its backside for the next 110 years. The Academy would get a museum and LACMA was free to reschedule its debts. For the Academy, it was a sweetheart deal; for the public, not so. The Academy paid the pitiable sum of ninety-two cents per square foot in virtual perpetuity, when the cost of much less glorious and valuable space across the street on Wilshire is four dollars a square foot and climbing. Govan told the Los Angeles Times in June of this year, “The idea was not to haggle, not to make an issue of money; whatever was fair was fair.”

The difference between market rents and this no fuss, no mess deal comes directly out of the taxpayer’s pockets, since the County already furnishes LACMA with $30 million a year in operating costs. In effect, the County is now subsidizing the Academy, one of the richest institutions – with access to seemingly unlimited Hollywood money – in the universe.

All disappointing evidence that LACMA lacks fiscal accountability. Now it is proposed that in addition to its current annual tab of $15 million in debt service, another $18 million be heaped on. For the foreseeable future, LACMA would be more than $1 billion in debt. What will this staggering sum mean to the County when the next recession hits?

And, while everyone agrees that public subsidies for the largest encyclopedic museum west of the Mississippi are worthy, shouldn’t forking over $690 million (the real price of the debt repayment) have some steely strings attached. For example, who will own the new Museum if it ever gets built? Will County negotiators extract a guarantee that LACMA have free admission when the new building opens? (The Hammer, in Westwood, is now free, and the new Broad Museum, in downtown, will be as well when it opens in fall 2015.) And, at long last, will the public be given seats on the Museum’s Board of Trustees – that exclusive, self-anointing body of the super-rich who govern LACMA?

Even if Museum director Michael Govan’s plan melts into the tar that Peter Zumthor says inspired his design, these questions will remain. If the Los Angeles County Museum of Art  – whose very name embodies its public heritage – is to be a truly civic institution, then what better time that now, on the brink of its receiving more than a half a billion dollars from taxpayers, to ask for genuine accountability and a place at the table for its true stakeholders?

Michael Govan photo courtesy of Aaron Salcido, Zócalo Public Square; Zumthor LACMA model courtesy of Los Angeles Times (© Atelier Peter Zumthor & Partner)Levitated Mass photo courtesy of Jen Pollack Bianco, My Life’s a Trip.

Sources:

County of Los Angeles, Chief Executive Office: Museum of Art: Proposed East Campus Replacement Building Project Approval of Financing Concept and Funding for Preliminary Design and Planning Activities

November 5, 2014, Meeting of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors: Transcript

San Gabriel Valley Tribune (3/14/13): Tim Rutten: Financial questions need answers before LACMA swallows MOCA

Los Angeles Times (6/2/14): Film Academy to pay LACMA $36.1 million for movie museum lease

For additional information:

Los Angeles Times (11/6/14); L.A. County supervisors embrace LACMA’s financing plan for makeover


Greg Goldin is the coauthor of Never Built Los Angeles and a curator at the A+D Museum. From 1999 to 2012, he was the architecture critic at Los Angeles Magazine. He is a longtime resident of the Miracle Mile and was featured in the MMRA Channel’s YouTube presentation: “The Miracle Mile in Three Tenses: Past, Present, and Future.” Greg is an occasional contributor to this newsletter; “LACMA: The Sky’s the Limit” appeared in the August 2014 edition.