Jessica Garrison and David Zahniser (Los Angeles Times) | November 28, 2010
Rudolf Montiel holds one of the biggest government jobs in Los Angeles, running a $1-billion-a-year agency responsible for sheltering more than 60,000 of the city's neediest families.
He is also one of the city's best-paid officials, with a compensation package of about $450,000 a year, including 10 weeks of vacation.
But despite his power and perks, in his six-year tenure Montiel has mostly flown beneath the radar — until a dust-up this month over a move to evict nine public housing tenants who picketed with others outside his Rancho Cucamonga home.
The eviction effort infuriated City Council members, who took to their microphones and rained down nasty sound bites on Montiel — calling him "Big Brother," "childlike" and manipulative — while angry tenants upset over city policies roared their approval.
"Where is Rudy?" Councilman Bill Rosendahl demanded. "Where is he?… I would like Rudy to come before us and answer every question about this."
Montiel, 49, did not appear, later saying he did not feel the council chamber was safe, even though it is guarded by metal detectors and armed police officers. He said he had felt threatened by some of the tenants.
But some council members wondered who was threatening whom when Montiel's agency sent a video cameraman to a news conference called that same day by housing advocates to denounce the eviction efforts. Some, including Councilman Richard Alarcon, accused Montiel of trying to intimidate tenants.
In the two weeks since, sharply divergent pictures of Montiel have emerged at City Hall. Some praise him as a brilliant reformer who saved a struggling institution that had been plagued by scandal for decades. Others call him paranoid and vindictive, and question the terms of his lucrative employment, which also includes a $3,600-per-month housing allowance and, this year, a $25,000 bonus.
"Given that he is receiving such a nice package … you would think that [he] would be up there on a daily basis working with the people he serves," Alarcon said. "I get the picture that this is a person who really wants to stay away from [tenants] and wants to manage them like he would manage cattle."
The flare-up represents one of the biggest public debates in years over the person who leads the largest public housing authority west of the Mississippi. And it comes as the agency is moving aggressively to redevelop an aging housing stock, including Jordan Downs in Watts, where there are ambitious plans to rebuild the barracks-like complex into an "urban village" with shops and market-rate housing mixed in among units for the poor.
Those efforts, as well as a related move to modify how some public housing subsidies are calculated — which some fear could raise rents — have provoked concern among activists who are part of a nationwide network fighting what they call "the privatization of public housing."
"This is a huge philosophical, political shift where the government is saying they will no longer ensure that the poorest people have housing that is publicly owned," said Barbara Schultz, a lawyer who has sued Montiel on behalf of the nine tenants who were given notices of eviction, saying he violated their 1st Amendment rights.
Article continues at: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/la-me-rudy-20101128,0,2590141.story
Image source: Karen Tapia-Andersen, Los Angeles Times / October 18, 2007