L.A. agency improperly used funds

first_imgThe embattled Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which oversees the region’s homeless programs, repeatedly violated regulations by using about $1.7 million in federal funds to bail out other programs, the Daily News has learned. The improper transfers were made in fiscal 2004 and 2005 when the LAHSA staff used U.S. Housing and Urban Development grants to make “temporary loans” to pay emergency bills when the proper funds weren’t as easily accessible. William Vasquez, HUD’s Los Angeles field office director of community planning and development, acknowledged in an interview that the authority violated federal rules that ban commingling of funds. He also said the loans were made without HUD’s knowledge. HUD, which this year awarded LAHSA $60.4 million – some of which LAHSA gives directly to housing authorities – could impose sanctions against the agency. Penalties could range from suspending the authority’s federal funding to requiring repayment of the money with nonfederal dollars. City Controller Laura Chick questioned the continuance of LAHSA, a city-county authority created in 1993 that was given fiscal autonomy in 2001. With a fiscal 2006 budget of about $50 million, the authority has a staff of 65 aiding dozens of nonprofit agencies helping the region’s approximately 80,000 homeless. “The possibility of having to return precious dollars for the most needy in our society is more than a flare, it’s like sending up fireworks saying, ‘Pay attention,”‘ said Chick, whose auditors uncovered fiscal problems at the agency last summer. “I really have concerns and doubts that LAHSA is a viable and effective agency that should continue in its current form.” LAHSA Commission Chairman Owen Newcomer said the agency has “been straightened out,” and he isn’t concerned about the previous federal violations. “It has been corrected,” Newcomer said. “There are a lot of people who disagree with us. Those who look at the old problem need to look at the current situation.” But LAHSA Commissioner Douglas Mirell, a Villaraigosa appointee, said the new disclosure about HUD violations is “extremely troublesome.” “I’ve received various assurances from various people (that) these are all historical anomalies,” Mirell said. “I’d heard about the commingling, but (the HUD violation) is new to me.” Ramona Ripston, another Villaraigosa appointee and executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said the disclosures are worrisome. “There must be a problem there, and we have to look at how LAHSA operates and how they got there,” she said. Mitchell Netburn, the $150,000-a-year executive director for LAHSA, said in an interview that he couldn’t “recollect” whether he knew the “temporary loans” were a violation of federal regulations at the time they were made. But Netburn – whose performance is to be discussed in closed session as part of a commission meeting today – said he now does. “In retrospect, it was wrong and we’ve put in procedures to keep it from happening again,” Netburn said. “The reason we did it … we had no line of credit, and very often there was a length of time to draw down funds (from the correct funding source). We had very small providers who were going to close their doors and homeless people were going to be on the street. To prevent that from happening, we did this. Ultimately, no, it was not justified.” It was quicker to draw on HUD funds than to go through more cumbersome processes with other funding sources when emergencies arose, he said, adding that LAHSA also occasionally used other funding sources to pay emergency bills. “They had to rob Peter to pay Paul,” said Terri Kasman, the county’s chief accountant auditor, who has been working to reconcile LAHSA’s numerous grants. Los Angeles County Auditor-Controller Tyler McCauley said he wasn’t aware that the temporary loans violated federal regulations. McCauley said HUD officials told the county they just wanted the books corrected, with the grants reconciled with the programs they were originally supposed to pay for. “They (auditors) corrected all the things they (LAHSA) did,” McCauley said. “They put them back in the right buckets.” Vasquez said HUD’s monitoring has been stalled by LAHSA’s failure to complete its fiscal 2004 independent audit – now nearly a year late. “All of a sudden, the system fell apart,” said Vasquez, who said it is unusual for an organization of LAHSA’s stature to have broken federal regulations. “You’d expect an organization like LAHSA to have a professional accounting system in place that we could easily track,” he said. Netburn – defending his performance amid a political firestorm at City Hall, where Villaraigosa has shaken up the LAHSA commission with five new appointees – said he should get a second chance. He blamed a constellation of problems for the situation, including the agency not having its own line of credit for emergencies – an issue also to be addressed at today’s commission meeting. He said the number of grants the agency received was expanding rapidly – including more complexities, such as when the city’s three contracts split into 20 – at the same time his fiscal staff of 11 was about half of what was needed and a new chief financial officer was hired. Netburn said establishing a line of credit had been discussed but was never seriously pursued because of the interest payments that would be required. And he said the mandated fiscal 2004 independent audit was put on the back burner. “With limited staff, the audit came second,” he said. The authority’s disintegrating fiscal situation was flagged, he added, by his reports to commissioners who report to elected county and city officials. “People make mistakes and learn from them,” said Netburn, who took over the authority in September 2000 and said he has saved the county and city money by being understaffed for years. “The goal was altruistic, but wrong. In retrospect, I wouldn’t repeat it. At the time, we’d do a temporary loan – or have somebody on the streets.” Beth Barrett, (818) 713-3731 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESanta Anita opens winter meet Saturday with loaded card Los Angeles County auditors have been working for the past five months to correct the violations. LAHSA officials and auditors said this week that the practice has been stopped, borrowed federal funds have been repaid, and procedures are in place to prevent the practice. They also said no criminal fraud has been found. But the violations are the most serious yet in a string of fiscal and mismanagement problems that surfaced last year when auditors disclosed that the authority owed homeless providers $5 million, but had just $700,000 in the bank. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Thursday that he is “very concerned” about the possibility LAHSA has violated federal regulations. “We are quickly getting to the point where it will be difficult to defend the status quo at LAHSA given the pattern of mismanagement over a sustained period of time,” said Villaraigosa, who has asked for a management audit of the authority. last_img read more

Mars and Moons Shed Cocoons

first_imgWith so many spacecraft touring our solar system, there’s almost too much news to process.  Here are a few highlights, starting with Mars, then comets, asteroids, a Titanic puzzle, and what Cassini found mini moons ago.Mars Ice Age:  Mars Express may have found evidence for deep ice deposits on Mars around the equator in the past, reports BBC News.  The article also states that, unlike Earth, Mars is subject to changes to its tilt axis of up to 15° due to the lack of a large moon.No Mars Life from Methane:  “Forget microbes or Martians,” begins an article on Science Now.  According to veteran planetary scientist Sushil Atreya, the methane comes from a natural geological process called serpentinization.Mars Gusev Crater Had Water:  A team analyzing Spirit data believes they have chemical evidence that water moved and deposited some of the rocks, according to a U of Washington press release.Mars Missing Carbonates:  Sky and Telescope proposed a solution to the Martian missing carbonates problem: they never had a chance to form in the first place.  This is one of the “great mysteries” about Mars.  “Thus far, geologists have yet to find more than small amounts of carbonates on the Martian surface,” the article said.Comet Tempel 1, a Gutless Wonder:  “Comet reveals crumbly guts” says [email protected]  The texture appears to resemble “a loose collection of particles, like a weak sponge held together only by its own gravity.”  Investigator Michael A’Hearn thinks you could dig from one side to the other with your bare hands.  Science News made the Deep Impact mission its cover story for Sept. 10, and it also made prominent press in Science last week.  The presence of carbonates and other minerals on the comet, thought to require formation in liquid water, is also puzzling.  More detail on the spectral analysis can be found at Earth Files by Linda Moulton Howe who interviewed Dr. Carely Lisse of the Deep Impact team.    Now that Comet Tempel 1 looks soft and crumbly, the mission planners of Rosetta are worried their spacecraft won’t find a solid surface to land on when it encounters another comet in 2011.  New Scientist is asking why in the last four comet encounters, the scientists’ predictions were all wrong.  In “Comet Tails of the Unexpected,” Stuart Clark begins, “We have now had four close encounters with comets, and every one of them has thrown astronomers onto their back foot.”Cowabunga, Hayabusa:  A little-known Japanese spacecraft named Hayabusa has arrived at an asteroid.  The Japanese Institute of Space and Astronautical Science has its first close-up picture of asteroid Itokawa. If successful, it may become the first sample-return mission of an asteroid.  Find links to more images at Space.com.Cigar Moon:  A planetoid on the outskirts of the solar system is spinning so fast, says Nature Sept. 8, that it is stretched into a cigar shape.  If orbital calculations are correct, its day is under four hours.Spoken For:  Ring scientists have finally detected the elusive spokes in Saturn’s rings, reports the Cassini imaging team.  Their manifestation is apparently a function of solar incidence angle on the rings: the lower the sun angle, the more they appear.  With these facts, scientists are working on new models of spoke formation.New Titan Landscape:  Cassini photographed a new region of Saturn’s moon Titan on Sept. 7.  The JPL press release shows an H-shaped region of contrasting dark and light areas named Fensal and Aztlan.  The dark patches are littered with light-colored “islands” that may be upwellings of water ice surrounded by hydrocarbon precipitates.  Individual images can also be found on the imaging website.Titan Moonsoons:  A suggestion by Dr. Ralph Lorenz that Titan may have rare “monsoons” of liquid methane rain generated a headline on New Scientist.  (For context, see the Planetary Society blog by Emily Lakdawalla, who attended the meetings of the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society in Cambridge last week, and reported what she heard.)  The idea is that Titan has long periods of dryness punctuated by heavy downpours, similar to American southwest deserts.  Govert Schilling wrote a short report for Science Now, called “Your Outdoor Adventure Guide to Titan.”  It’s a world of cryovolcanos, convective clouds, outgassing and condensing methane, and other strange things.Titan Canyonlands Seen in Radar:  The radar data swath from the latest Titan flyby, feared lost due to a commanding error to the solid state recorder, was partly recovered and released Sept. 16 – and what a beauty.  In three stunning panoramas, scientists detected a methane-lake shoreline, a system of channels most likely scoured by methane rain, and a region of deep canyons up to 650 feet deep and 0.6 miles wide.  Some of the canyons can be traced for 120 miles.  As noticed before on other parts of the moon, there is a dearth of impact craters in all three frames.  See the Cassini press release for the full scoop, images and captions.  Space.Com also has a writeup.Splash of the Titans:  Southwest Research Institute thinks that an exotic form of life may inhabit Titan, now that evidence for liquid hydrocarbons has been found.  BBC News reported on Jonathan Lunine’s contention that Titan, like Earth, occupies a “sweet spot” in terms of temperature and mass that drives active geological and atmospheric processes.  Liquid of any sort is all that is needed to get speculations about life flowing (see 07/26/2005 also).Enceladus: Me Too:  Science Daily reported a claim by Robert Brown about the results from Saturn’s little moon Enceladus, that the “building blocks of life” could have formed in subsurface liquid water.Miller Time Hangover  Back at Earth, Washington U scientists are speculating that there actually was a reducing atmosphere on the early earth, just like Miller and Urey supposed back in 1953 when they generated a few amino acids with their famous spark-discharge apparatus.  They deduced this by complex models about minerals in chondrites that they think made up the infant earth.  Geologists dispute the scenario, they admit, and getting a reducing atmosphere is not the only requirement for resurrecting the Miller scenario (see 08/15/2005, 06/16/2005).Brown gets Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week for trying to stimulate funding by appeals to the L word:So you’ve got subsurface liquid water, simple organics and water vapor welling up from below.  Over time – and Enceladus has been around 4.5 billion years, just like Earth and the rest of the solar system – heating a cocktail of simple organics, water and nitrogen could form some of the most basic building blocks of life.  Whether that’s happened at Enceladus is not clear, but Enceladus, much like Jupiter’s moon Europa and the planet Mars, now has to be a place where we eventually search for life.”   (Emphasis added.)This is known as the JAWS theory of life (just add water, stupid).  We can enjoy the discoveries in the Golden Age of Planetary Science better without the mythoids and the noise of banging crutches on the funding trough (see Berlinski quote).    Readers who appreciate more substance than the usual newspaper fluff are encouraged to go nugget hunting on the Planetary Society blog, provided one knows how to separate data from opinion.  There are very strange goings on out there (not only at Cambridge, but throughout the solar system).(Visited 12 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img read more