Jane Usher

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

This has been a rich week where my inner news junkie has several candidates for the title of favorite story.

I’ve been intrigued by the tale of Blanca Figueroa, the part-time mayor of South El Monte in the San Gabriel Valley. She either is, or is not, living in the city hall office she’s supposed to share with her fellow elected officials.

Then there was the great comedian Carl Reiner, who got an award from the Paley Center for the Media, but at age 86 showed he could still read a room like a comic master.

He knew what everybody was buzzing buzzing about. When he got to the dais he was prepared.

I don’t do impressions, so imagine Reiner’s delivery.

“Food is so important,” he said. “Like tonight. Wouldn't it have been nice to have great food tonight?” Everyone roared.

On the bitterly serious side, the Madoff ponzi scheme has cost so many people their nest eggs and may lead to rethinking of the Securities and Exchange Commission as a protector from frauds and cheaters.

The revelations have been so acutely painful for Jews in LA that the Jewish Journal launched a running news blog they call Swindlers List.

My reporter’s pride also forces me to mention a scooplet I broke in which the president of Ashley Madison.com -- that’s the Internet dating service for people having affairs –- offered to give $1,000 to the first client who would go with him on Channel 5 and say good things about the company.

In disguise.

You can stop by LA Observed.com if you want to hear the company’s explanation.

My favorite LA story of the moment is a little more nuanced and insider-ish. But it’s the kind of story that will take years to play out fully. And by then the city may be a much different place.

Jane Ellison Usher, the president of the City Planning Commission, resigned in what looked in public like an abrupt decision, but which in actuality had to have been brewing for awhile behind the scenes.

She quit in a long letter to the mayor who appointed her, Antonio Villaraigosa. Usher laid out pointed suggestions for fixing some of what ails the city, putting her finger squarely on some hot button issues that have deteriorated on the mayor’s watch.

On the visual clutter of billboards, Usher advised city hall to give up the “artifice” -- her word -- of pretending to enforce sign laws and get serious about deciding the future cityscape.

Part of the look should be new designs that encourage more graceful, attractive interaction with the street and less devotion to the traffic that dominates the street.

But she essentially called BS on the mayor’s approach to letting developers build wherever a bus might someday pass, in the name of transit friendly growth.

“Please reject the careless, sprawl-inducing approach of adding density at every rapid bus stop,” she wrote to Vilaraigosa.

It’s unnecessarily hostile to the city’s healthy low-density neighborhoods. Including, she might have added, her own Windsor Square adjacent to Hancock Park.

Usher observed that a sea of opportunities to build low-income housing has been wasted, while the mayor and city council dickered over how best to encourage affordable construction.

Villaraigosa thanked Usher for her service, then replaced her on the commission with a developer. One who works for Henry Cisneros, the former Clinton Administration official who earlier this year hosted a big private fundraiser for Villaraigosa -– in Texas.

Cisneros just happens to have a bunch of projects he wants to build in Los Angeles…and, well, things tend to stay the same here. Especially the way politics work.

But Usher’s letter at least gives people another reason to start talking about what the future might be.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.