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Villaraigosa plans to attend girlfriend Lu Parker's pet project [Updated]

July 16, 2010 |  6:43 am

Mayor <a class="taxInlineTagLink" 

id="PEPLT007500" title="Antonio Villaraigosa" 

href="/topic/politics/antonio-villaraigosa-PEPLT007500.topic"  />Antonio

 Villaraigosa</a> attends a church service with Lu Parker last 

summer before being sworn in for his second term. The two have been 

dating since March.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is scheduled to appear Monday at an event launching his girlfriend’s fledgling charity to help animals and at-risk young people.

The Lu Parker Project, created by the KTLA news reporter who has been dating the mayor since early last year, is organizing young community volunteers to repaint the lobby at the city’s South Los Angeles Animal Shelter.

It is the first in a series of events and fundraisers the group hopes to sponsor, according to representatives at It Girl Public Relations, which handles publicity for Parker.

While the mayor is scheduled to appear with Parker at Monday’s kickoff event, he has no role in the organization, said Juliette Harris, It Girl’s chief executive officer.

Nonprofits seen as being associated with politicians and those close to them warrant scrutiny, some government watchdogs say.

Speaking generally, Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause, said vigilance is needed with such charities to “make sure they are not a back channel way for special interests to find special access to electeds that regular constituents don’t have.”

The motivation for Parker, a longtime animal advocate, is to beautify the city and help animals and children in the process, according to a press release.

"As a former high school teacher, I have always believed children crave an outlet to express love and compassion,” she said in a statement. “My dream is to help them find that outlet through Lu Parker Project by introducing them to animals who otherwise would never have a shot at knowing what love feels like.”

According to the project’s website, which describes how financial donations can be made, the organization’s federal tax-exempt status is pending and expected to be approved this year.

Among those on the new nonprofit’s board of directors is Villaraigosa appointee and Animal Services Commission President Melanie Ramsayer, according to the group’s website and interviews.

Harris, the publicist, said the charity hopes to hold an annual fundraising event to cover operating costs. A projected three-year budget is being prepared for the Internal Revenue Service but is not yet available publicly, said the group’s attorney, Jessica Shofler.

[Corrected at 6:21 p.m.: An earlier version of this post misspelled Jessica Shofler's last name as Sholfer.]

Monday’s painting project, involving groups that work with former gang members and children at risk, is being put together entirely with volunteers and donated supplies, Harris said.

Asked if Parker had considered restricting donations from those seeking business or permits from City Hall, Harris said that sort of question will be considered when fundraising activity begins.

In response to questions about the mayor's appearance and possible future support of the charity's fundraising efforts, press secretary Sarah Hamilton issued a statement. It said   the mayor "attends numerous community events like this each year and is happy to support the Lu Parker Project and its efforts to give at-risk youth the opportunity to volunteer their time to beautify their local animal shelter and help homeless animals."

-- Rich Connell

Photo: L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa attends a church service with Lu Parker last summer before being sworn in for his second term. The two have been dating since March. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times