In 1979, when she was student body president at John Kennedy High in Granada Hills, 17-year-old Wendy Greuel was nominated by the vice principal for one of Mayor Tom Bradley’s youth leadership awards. It launched an amazing time for the ambitious teenager.
“I came downtown and met him [Bradley] in the tower at City Hall,” said Greuel. “I sat there just in awe that I was in this building and meeting this mayor, and I became part of the mayor’s youth council. I thought ‘I really like this.’”
Greuel, a lifelong resident of the San Fernando Valley, found the romance of political life so enticing that she served on Bradley’s youth council for two years and then interned in his office while studying at UCLA. After that, she graduated to the mayor’s staff where she worked for 10 years. From there she left to work in the Clinton Administration at the department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), serving under Cabinet Secretary Henry Cisneros. She remained in the employ of the federal government from 1993 to 1997.
Greuel then joined the corporate affairs department at DreamWorks Movie Studios from 1997 to 2002 [while there she met her husband-to-be, Dean Schramm], but her romance with politics never ended. She ran for the City Council’s second district in the northeast portion of the Valley, defeating former state Assemblyman Tony Cardenas to complete the term of former Councilman Joel Wachs. She took office as a City Council member in April 2002, and served on the Council for seven years, attaining the position of president pro tempore. Greuel chaired both the transportation and the audit committees, and served on the budget committee.
“Everything that I am today was [from] that time working for Mayor Bradley,” said Greuel. “My gut of what to do and how to solve problems came from him.”
Since 2009, Greuel succeeded Laura Chick as city controller, a critical position as auditor and general accountant of the city budget. As controller, she’s charged with watching over the city’s finances, reigning in unnecessary spending and government waste.
Like most other mayoral candidates, Greuel sees “jobs and economic development” as the major problems for the city she describes as the best in the world.
“Many of the challenges that the city faces–which are revenue and expenditure problems as to how you balance your budget–relate to how you create a job,” she said. “Like Father Greg Boyle [executive director of Homeboy Industries] says, ‘There’s nothing that stops a bullet like a job.’ If someone has a job they’re going to be able to go out and provide for their family; they’re going to be able to buy things which, of course, means we have more revenue in the city, and we’re able to go out and buy things for the residents of Los Angeles.”
Greuel lays claim to the title of “architect of business tax reform in Los Angeles,” an effort she instituted to make the city more business-friendly.
“I started getting emails and calls from people who were getting these demanding, scary letters–from gardeners and maids and small business people–saying, ‘We’re getting these letters, and they are threatening us.’”
The letters accused the entrepreneurs of not having paid their taxes, and threatening jail time if they weren’t paid, said Greuel.
“This is not a way to encourage businesses,” she said. “I learned working with Tom Bradley it was about encouraging small businesses. It was about providing them the resources. So that began my journey to address that. We did business tax reform–everything from cutting business tax across the board 15 percent; small businesses with gross receipts of a $100,000 or less no longer have to pay business taxes in the city of Los Angeles.”
If a new business moved into the city, they were assured they wouldn’t pay taxes for your first two years. That exclusion has now been extended to three years, she said.
Greuel’s effort, according to her biography on smarttvoter.com, “eliminated the business tax for more than 60 percent of the city’s businesses and made the tax system more equitable with neighboring jurisdictions. The reforms have saved Los Angeles businesses nearly $100 million since their inception.”
It’s not only businesses that Greuel was concerned about. Under Bradley, she had worked on issues of homelessness and economic development, but on the evening of April 29, 1992, as she and others in the mayor’s office were preparing to meet at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church (FAME), something earth-shattering happened to the city–the 1992 riot. Greuel heard over the car radio the verdict absolving the police officers who had beaten Rodney King, and immediately turned around and headed back to City Hall. It would be a long night as the flames of rioting sprang up around the city.
In her three years as controller, Greuel has sounded the alarm on all kinds of governmental laxity and financial abuse. To name a few:
*A former city employee had retained access to the city purchasing system.
*A $10 million city loan had benefited a developer then under federal investigation.
*Purchases were made by city departments for items that were not being used.
*Contracts were unnecessarily awarded to outside vendors.
*There was lax collection of funds owed to the city.
*More than $100 million in grants had only resulted in 55 jobs.
*A gang prevention program had misspent about $500,000.
*Money had been wasted on worker’s compensation.
*A city cell phone bill of totaled nearly $5 million.
*Animal Services had failed to keep track of guns and collect fees
More recently, a Los Angeles Times headline, charged “Villaraigosa and City Council ‘asleep at the switch,’ Greuel says”. The story concerned her release of an audit showing that millions of gallons of fuel had been consumed at city fueling sites with no record of where it was going. Apparently $7 million worth of gasoline was unaccounted for.
In the process of these revelations, the controller also made some powerful enemies.
Earlier this month, the city quietly declared a fiscal emergency and, oddly enough, much of the blame was laid at Greuel’s doorstep–for rewriting Laura Chick’s audit of fuel usage, for a poor job of “recouping half a billion dollars the city is owed,” for farming out an audit of fire department response times rather than doing it herself, and other charges.
Greuel is facing at least three opponents who will be gunning for her and each other as the race for mayor heats up. Like Greuel, they all want to hold the position that Mayor Bradley once held.