PLATKIN ON PLANNING--Mega-developer Rick Caruso’s proposed 21-story luxury high-rise apartment complex at the intersection of LaCienega and Burton Way is a city planning accident waiting to happen. It also similar to the three nearby Miracle Mile museum projects that I criticized as being oblivious to their surroundings in last week’s CityWatch column. In those cases, I charged that these bizarre museum projects were just plopped into place. They are totally disconnected from the Miracle Mile, and they do nothing to address that historic corridor’s deficient public services and infrastructure and lackluster appearance.
Market-based land use decisions-- Likewise, the 333 S. LaCienega project, which has recently completed its Draft Environmental Impact Report and is now shopping for support among community groups, has the same weaknesses. To begin, at this location -- the former Loehman’s and DWP water treatment site -- this project totally conflicts with adopted zoning and planning ordinances. To be built, the City Council must legally alter the underlying parcel’s zoning and General Plan designation. Until this happens, as designed, this project is dead in the water because it could only be built according to code.
While building to code would totally please surrounding neighborhoods, the developer, Rick Caruso, complains that a smaller building would generate much less profit than a luxury high-rise. He is undoubtedly correct, but reduced future profits are hardly legal grounds to justify spot-zoning and spot-planning. If elected officials cast aside every land use law and adopted General Plan element when investors thought they could make a fatter profit with a more permissive zone and General Plan designation, future accidents would no longer be waiting to happen. They would be happening right now.
Racing against the lock to get approvals-- Sitting in the wings is the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. It comes up for a vote in March 2017. If approved, it would stop spot-zoning and spot-planning for good, and that includes many future accidents, like this one. This is why Caruso Affiliated must keep one eye on the calendar. For this project to go forth, it must obtain all of its approvals before the Initiative forces City Hall to take planning seriously. At the same time, Caruso Affiliated must also keep an eye on anxious neighbors and community organizations since many of them see no need for a luxury high-rise at this highly congested location.
The neighbors not only have full rights to appeal and litigate this project, but also know that this area already has three regional traffic generators: the Beverly Center, Cedars-Sinai Hospital, and the Beverly Connection. They have also realized that City Hall made a colossal error by incrementally turning this area into a regional center through many separate land use actions. Furthermore, with or without Caruso Affiliated’s 333 S. LaCienega high-rise, this section of Los Angels is becoming much busier. The nearby Beverly Connection has been remodeled, while Cedars-Sinai is in a perpetual expansion mode, and the Taubman Corporation’s Beverly Center is undergoing a massive, $500 million renovation.
Despite so much private investment pouring into this area, it does not have nor will it have mass transit. While it has several METRO bus lines, few people who live, shop, or depend on medical care at this location rely on transit. As for the Caruso project, its future tenants only need to pick up the phone and a luxury car and chauffeur will be waiting for them.
While Wilshire Boulevard will eventually have a Purple Line subway station one mile to the south, no one contends that it will reduce traffic congestion in the Beverly Center area. San Vicente, Burton Way, Third Street, and LaCienega will still be a mess when the subway opens for business in 2023, and then for the foreseeable future.
The other disturbing issue is that that if/when the City Council adopts spot-zoning and spot-planning ordinances for this site, the resulting high-rise will be more than twice the height of other nearby buildings, such as Cedars’ new Saperstein wing. Furthermore, its streamlined moderne architectural design is totally at odds with other buildings in this area, except for another Caruso Affiliated luxury project one block away.
Area deficiencies-- But what about this area’s major deficits, other than horrendous traffic congestion? Like most of LA, they are legion, and this building’s proposed Community Benefits deal only scrapes the surface.
To begin, this entire area needs to have its conspicuous and dangerous overhead wires undergrounded. On nearby Third Street, filled with trendy stores and restaurants, they loom over both sides of the streets. This commercial center, like most of Los Angeles, also has broken sidewalks and lacks coherent street furniture, such as light standards, benches, signage, and trash cans.
San Vicente Boulevard is even worse. It is nearly impossible to cross it on foot, and its motley selection of trees includes some that are barely alive. And, since LA welcomes billboards, unlike neighboring Beverly Hills, they are a true blight in this corridor.
At its best, the enormous private investment flowing into 333 S. LaCienega will not fix this area’s many deficits. At its worst, it will exacerbate traffic congestion, if that is possible, and its spot zoning and spot-planning – courtesy of the LA City Council -- sets a dangerous precedent.
Despite disclaimers, it is only time until they are matched with follow-up City Council actions to grant similar requests from other real estate speculators. When this happens, landowners will reap enormous windfalls in increased property values, but none of this instant wealth will trickle down to the local community.
Then, lot by lot, like much of Los Angeles, height and density will increase by spot-zoning, totally sabotaging LA’s besieged planning process. Of course, the necessary supporting infrastructure will still be ignored. Water, electricity, telecommunications, street capacity, waste water, storm drains, pedestrian enhancements, parks, libraries, schools, and much more, will remain after-thoughts.
When this finally happens, though, today’s elected officials will have moved on to cushy consulting jobs, or perhaps they will be winning horseshoe tournaments in their desert hideaways.
What to do? I think one of my neighbors hit the nail on the head in her testimony to a local Neighborhood Council meeting.
She argued that community groups should not bless such projects in exchange for negotiations that produce supposed community benefits.
This is because spot-zoning and sweetheart deals are a slippery slope. They are designed to divide local communities by peeling away shortsighted factions. Their side deals then end up “shredding LA’s zoning code” and destroying entire neighborhoods.
Finally, even when developers have tremendous pull that allows them to usually get what they want, our response should be, “Build to code or don’t build at all.”
(Dick Platkin is a veteran city planner. He reports on local planning issues for CityWatch, and he welcomes comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
LGBTQ PERSPECTIVE--California has long been progressive when it comes to LGBTQ rights, proposing bills for same-sex couples to retain rights and marry long before other states did. Despite a several-year period when Proposition 8 was in effect--banning marriage between same-sex couples from 2008 until 2013--California has taken measures to ensure that the LGBTQ community can live, work, and love safely.
One of the ways the state has attempted to make positive changes for the LGBTQ community is with a Respect After Death Act, which ensures that the death certificates of transgender people will reflect the gender they chose to live with. Because gender identity is a huge part of a trans individual’s life, the law is a big win for the equality movement, ensuring that the deceased’s legacy will remain untouched.
The bill, which was co-sponsored by the Transgender Law Center, is meant to help protect the dignity of the deceased.
Executive director Masen Davis says that it “brings us a significant step closer to making sure that all transgender people are able to live – and die – authentically in accordance with who they really are.”
Recently, the University of California took steps to make sure their bathrooms were more gender-neutral and to change their official records to include a name change. The campus also has gender-inclusive athletic facilities and has been rated among the top schools in the country for LGBTQ students, in part because the school’s student insurance plan offers coverage for hormones and surgeries for those in transition.
In another groundbreaking law, California introduced training for all healthcare professionals on how to best care for LGBTQ patients, including “understanding and applying cultural and ethnic data to the process of clinical care, including, as appropriate, information pertinent to the appropriate treatment of, and provision of care to, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex communities.”
California has also become the first state to protect people from being charged with being a sex worker solely on the basis that they are carrying condoms. Because of the large number of transgender women who have turned to sex work over the years due to discrimination and destitution, women are being profiled by law enforcement and arrested for carrying protection. This law requires the court to state without a doubt that the condoms are relevant to a particular case in order to be used as evidence.
With California taking steps to ensure the legal protection of LGTBQ individuals, it has become something of a safe haven for the community as a whole, especially with laws put into place banning the legal defense of “gay panic,” meaning a person who murders a gay or transgender individual can’t use the defense that they became violent after discovering they were LGBTQ.
Since the state has put measures in place designed to protect members of the gay and transgender community, it has garnered praise from rights groups over the years, as well as from those who have made the move to call California home.
(Caroline Hampton is a teacher and concerned parent. She created OpenEducators.org to make it easier for teachers (and parents) to find reliable, engaging educational resources for the children in their care. In addition to working on the site, Caroline enjoys spending her time organizing events at her church, cycling, and of course, hanging out with her husband and two kids.)
SUMMER OF OUR DISCONTENT-Venice has been a part of the city of Los Angeles for 90 years, but residents have started a campaign to separate the neighborhood to become ... well, it has to figure that out.
But it's SoCal's own Brexit – Vexit.
"What's best for Venice?" says Nick Antonicello, chair of the new ad hoc committee on city-hood at the Venice Neighborhood Council.
The Council voted in late July to explore how a split could happen.
One option would be to "detach" Venice from LA City to become an unincorporated part of LA County. Another would ask a nearby independent city like Santa Monica to annex it. The last – and most ideal – is to become its own city.
The movement is because Antonicello and others are increasingly frustrated about the lack of attention it gets from City Hall.
"People in Venice like home rule and they like to control their own destiny," he says. "Small municipalities work very well."
Antonicello argues that Venetians are the best decision-makers to tackle local issues like housing, homelessness, gentrification and more.
Plus, he sees that wealthy Venice is putting more tax dollars into the city's coffers without getting much back in return.
But no matter how it tries to break off and why, it will be tough for Venice to go it alone. "All of these situations are handled by something called the Local Agency Formation Commission," says journalist Isaac Simpson who wrote about the rift in Curbed LA.
The Commission will put the city through a financial stress-test to make sure it can afford to exist without LA's help. East Los Angeles has failed that test several times when trying to incorporate.
If a city passes the Commission's test, then the issue has to also pass two separate referendums: one by the neighborhood itself, and the other by the rest of Los Angeles. That's what thwarted the 2002 efforts to secede by Hollywood, the San Fernando Valley and the Harbor Area of San Pedro. All those votes failed.
"Venice would easily pass its own ballot," says Simpson. "In terms of getting the entire city to let them go as a second-most-visited tourist location in Southern California, the likelihood there seems extremely slim."
But if Venice does succeed, there will be a clear loser: Los Angeles.
"Well, it probably gets a lot poorer," says Simpson, noting that the wealthy tax base of Venice won't be a part of LA's budget anymore.
Regardless of which option is taken, it could be weeks or months before the Venice Neighborhood Council decides what its next step will be.
(Take Two, exclusively on 89.3 KPCC, 89.1 KUOR and 90.3 KVLA in southern California, and on 88.9 KNPR in Las Vegas, captures the spirit of the West in a conversational, informal, witty style and examines the cultural issues people are buzzing about.) Graphic credit: LA.Curbed. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
POT POLITICS--Although legalization of recreation marijuana did not pass in California in 2010, Robin Abcarian, with the LA Times writes that marijuana is barely labeled as a “gateway drug” anymore, and you hardly find anyone saying it’s evil. Hence she believes that recreational use of marijuana will be legalized when it goes up for ballot in November.
Nearly two-thirds of California voters support legalization of marijuana for recreational use, according to a poll released on Wednesday by the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley. From June 29 to July 18, 2016, 3,020 people were surveyed in this poll.
One of the arguments against legalization is that patients in California can be prescribed to treat practically any ailment. Therefore, according to such opposition, legalization for recreational use isn’t required.
Further, in 2011, California made possession of up to one ounce of marijuana a minor offense that is only as bad as a parking ticket.
However, the Drug Policy Alliance released a report finding that almost half a million people were arrested in connection with marijuana related charges in the last 10 years. Almost 9,000 people were arrested on marijuana-related felonies in 2015 alone.
“Black, Latino, and white people use and sell marijuana at similar rates, yet black and Latino people are more likely to be arrested for a marijuana law violation,” according to the report’s press release.
“Black people were more than twice as likely as white people to be arrested for marijuana misdemeanors and nearly five times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana felonies. Latinos are 35 percent more likely than white people to be arrested for a marijuana offense: 45 percent more likely for a misdemeanor and 26 percent more likely for a felony.”
In addition, arrests of people under 18 for marijuana misdemeanors almost tripled in 2015 when compared to the time period before 2011 - when the charge for personal use possession was dropped to a misdemeanor.
Thousands of people are still being arrested for misdemeanor possession charges, giving away marijuana to other people, or possessing more than an ounce of marijuana.
Upon passing marijuana legalization, possession of marijuana concentrates, giving away minor quantities of marijuana would all be legal. People will also be able to grow up to six marijuana plants in their homes (which is now a felony). And plants can be sold and taxed like in Colorado.
In February, the Denver Post reported that in 2015 legal sales of marijuana in Colorado hit $996,184,788.
“Colorado also collected more than $135 million in marijuana taxes and fees in 2015 — more than $35 million of which is earmarked for school construction projects,” The Denver Post reports.
With a population that is almost eight times larger than Colorado, California’s Department of Finance director Michael Cohen and legislative analyst Mac Taylor reported that California can potentially collect over $1 billion in tax revenue yearly if marijuana legalization passes.
It is argued that legalization will reduce the amount of arrests for marijuana-related charges. That means less people will miss work, lose a job, have an arrest on their record, or restrict their chances of leading a productive life due to a victimless act that shouldn’t be considered a crime.
An initiative to legalize recreational marijuana will appear on the November ballot.
(Neal Rodriguez is a technologist and journalist who has worked for the Neilson Company, AOL and the US Department of Defense. This perspective was posted most recently at Huff Post.)
VOX POP--One of San Francisco’s most iconic luxury housing skyscrapers is sinking and tilting — and it was built by Millennium Partners, the same developer that wants to put up an ultra-controversial mega-project in Hollywood near the landmark Capitol Records building and an earthquake fault.
The Millennium Tower in San Francisco is home to such wealthy folks as former San Francisco 49er quarterback Joe Montana and San Francisco Giants outfielder Hunter Pence, but the 58-story skyscraper, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, has sunk 16 inches and tilted two inches since 2008. That’s a big deal, according to experts, and at least one major lawsuit has been filed — check out the complaint.
The Transbay Joint Powers Authority in San Francisco has also weighed in with a scathing press release. Here’s an excerpt:
The 60-story Millennium Tower is made of concrete rather than steel, resulting in a very heavy building. This heavy structure rests on layers of soft, compressible soil. The foundation of the Tower, however, consists only of a concrete slab supported by short piles that fail to reach the bedrock below. That foundation is inadequate to prevent settlement of a building with the weight of the Tower.
In Los Angeles, the City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti have been strong backers of the Millennium Hollywood mega-project, which features two luxury housing skyscrapers next to the Capitol Records building — Millennium Partners is also behind that. The city of LA has even battled the state of California over the mega-project, which the state says is located near an active earthquake fault.
It’s the kind of political support a developer gets when working LA’s broken and rigged planning and land-use system — Millennium Partners has spent $5.2 million on high-priced lobbyists to win over over city politicians and bureaucrats, according to the LA Ethics Commission.
Now one has to wonder if that City Hall backing will result with LA getting not just one sinking and tilting skyscraper but two!
That’s how things work in LA’s broken planning and land-use system. Shell out big cash in campaign contributions and lobbying fees to win over city politicians and bureaucrats, and then expect very profitable favors in return. Since 2000, the real estate industry has contributed at least $6 million to the campaign war chests of LA politicians.
Enough is enough. We need to reform LA’s broken planning and land-use system, which is what the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will do.
In fact, the Los Angeles Times, the LA City Council, Mayor Eric Garcetti and numerous neighborhood groups all agree that reform is desperately needed.
(Patrick Range McDonald writes for the Coalition to Preserve LA where this piece was first posted.)
AT LENGTH-I was quite surprised to read the Los Angeles Times article about the city asking for ideas on reuse possibilities for the Lincoln Heights Jail. It’s a vacant property the city has owned since 1931. It sits just north of Chinatown across the LA River.
The jail has been closed since 1965 and has been used in various films like Nightmare on Elm Street and Night Train. The music video for Lady Gaga’s song, “Telephone,” was shot there.
The jail is also the site of the Bloody Christmas of 1951—an incident that inspired the fictional film noir thriller, L.A. Confidential. It involved seven young Latino and white men who were mercilessly beaten while in the custody of Los Angeles police officers. Eight officers were eventually indicted, 39 were suspended and 54 transferred when news of the beating got out.
The request for proposals for the jail makes me wonder just how much unused property the city owns that could be put to better purposes especially in light of the proposed $1.2 billion city bond measure to address the rising tide of homelessness.
My first response to the article was, “Am I the only one in the entire city who sees the obvious solution?”
Less than a mile from the old jail is the largest homeless population in the entire county that is getting squeezed out by gentrification. There are dozens of homeless service providers on Skid Row who, with the right amount of funding and a few developers, could work up a plan.
It seems like the perfect solution for both the homeless and for those who see homelessness as a crime: convert an unused jail into the next permanent housing project.
Well, not so fast. Even if someone at City Hall recognized the logic of this plan, it would be years before it got rebuilt.
I wrote to City Controller Ron Galperin about my exasperation.
“The city…asking for ‘ideas’ from the community on what to do with this derelict property is kind of amazing since not more than a few miles from this location is the highest concentration in the city of our homeless population. I am shocked that city government can’t see that the first priority for the reuse of city-owned property is to address the homeless crisis. One of the more affordable ways to address this problem would be to use and re-purpose properties that the city already owns and controls,” I wrote. Finding affordable land in the city is going to be one of the major challenges in deciding where to spend the $1.2 billion.
I then asked the question, “Just how much property does the City of LA own that could be converted to housing?”
The answer that I received back a few weeks later from Galperin was astounding.
“There are several thousands of properties—though not all suitable for development,” he wrote.
He went on to tell me that the Controller’s Office is just now putting together a report listing all of these properties that the city council should consider. When I asked how much these properties might be worth, he replied, “As to their value—that’s a future project!”
Of course, there are those who would simply just chase the homeless out of their neighborhoods and into someone else’s or perhaps throw them all in jail, because as they say, “The homeless are all drug addicts and pedophiles.”
Yet, every law enforcement expert I’ve talked to says homelessness is not a crime and we can’t police our way out of this problem. And they shouldn’t be asked to. Policing our way out is a costlier burden. And, as you can see, it doesn’t work.
So for those who haven’t been schooled on the problem or who are just complaining about it on Facebook, here are the facts—not from me, but by one of the leading nonprofit agencies that deals with this issue.
According to the Institute for the Study of Homelessness and Poverty at the Weingart Center, an estimated 254,000 men, women and children experience homelessness in Los Angeles County during some part of the year and about 82,000 people are homeless on any given night.
Unaccompanied youth, especially in the Hollywood area, are estimated to make up from 4,800 to 10,000 of these.
Although homeless people may be found throughout the county, the largest percentages are in South Los Angeles and Metro Los Angeles. Most are from the Los Angeles area and stay in or near the communities from which they came. About 14 to 18 percent of homeless adults in Los Angeles County are not U.S. citizens compared with 29 percent of adults overall. A high percentage -- as high as 20 percent — are veterans. African Americans make up about half of the Los Angeles County homeless population -- disproportionately high compared to the percentage of African Americans in the county overall (about 9 percent).
Other facts about LA’s homeless population:
- The average age is 40—women tend to be younger.
- 33 to 50 percent are female. Men make up about 75 percent of the single population.
- About 42 to 77 percent do not receive public benefits to which they are entitled.
- 20 to 43 percent are in families, typically headed by a single mother.
- An estimated 20 percent are physically disabled.
- 41 percent of adults were employed within the past year.
- 16 to 20 percent of adults are employed.
- About 25 percent are mentally ill.
- As children, 27 percent lived in foster care or group homes; 25 percent were physically or sexually abused.
- 33 to 66 percent of single individuals have substance abuse issues.
- 48 percent have graduated from high school; 32 percent have a bachelor degree or higher (as compared to 45 percent and 25 percent for the population overall respectively).
Let me emphasize the first point: 254,000 men, women and children experience homelessness in Los Angeles County during some part of the year and about 82,000 people are homeless on any given night. That’s the real challenge and it is huge. The nonprofit and government resources that are available don’t come close to solving this problem. What has come out of LA City Council, thus far, is a patchwork of Band Aids and hammers, with a promise of $100 million per year but resources to only fund $13 million. The Controller’s Office issued a report this past year saying that the cost to the city in law enforcement was some $80 million.
Even with the anticipated $1.2 billion city bond, it will be years before the first project gets built or renovated. No matter your take on the homeless, it’s time to recognize one truth, we can either have them living on our sidewalks, sleeping in their cars on our streets or we can push for change. The first step would be to use a few of these thousands of properties that Galperin has discovered and allow for their temporary use as emergency transition centers, you might liken them to triage facilities, for off street parking or temporary shelter where social services can be offered.
This won’t solve 100 percent of the problem, but it beats waiting five years for the first permanent housing unit to be built and it’s better than the continued whack-a-mole enforcement deployed by Los Angeles Police Department in response to community complaints. There is no guaranteed success with trying this solution but we all know what repeating the same action that’s having no effect is called.
(James Preston Allen is the Publisher of Random Lengths News, the Los Angeles Harbor Area's only independent newspaper. He is also a guest columnist for the California Courts Monitor and is the author of "Silence Is Not Democracy - Don't listen to that man with the white cap - he might say something that you agree with!" He was elected to the presidency of the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council in 2014 and has been engaged in the civic affairs of CD 15 for more than 35 years. More of Allen…and other views and news at: randomlengthsnews.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
VOICE OF THE PEOPLE--For those who thought a new Department of City Planning (“DCP”) Director (“Director”) would mean a new direction for the department, the proof of the Small Lot Ordinance (“SLO”) update process indicates we are back to the same old sausage. Or similar words to that.
Recent changes were made in DCP with promises of Small Lot Ordinance updates after citizens citywide rose to challenge these Small Lot Subdivision (“SLS”) projects. Some skeptics remarked the new Director was the “organization guy” in the underpinning of the original 2005 Small Lot Subdivision (“SLS”) Ordinance.
The DCP cites that, overall, 11% of new projects are appealed, while 22% of SLS were appealed. Wiser planning processes might have been to truly examine the approved/constructed projects and connect the dots with the citizens’ comments.
The La Brea Willoughby Coalition (“LCW”) neighborhood is a microcosm of these dynamics. Four SLS projects proposed and approved within a one-block area resulted in loss of affordable rent-control units on all project lots. The projects also resulted in several appeals and two lawsuits in which LWC prevailed.
The LWC concerns and questions were well represented at two of the three initial public hearings and in two extensive comment documents. In this rare opportunity to build and strengthen the Ordinance, LWC’s plea was for all issues and components to be completed, made clear and concrete, and codified in an enforceable Ordinance. Such an overall planning process and policies would better serve applicants, city agencies, and citizens to promote more collaborative, non-litigious relationships with more rapid planning/construction of community compatible projects.
After all the time and work by citywide organizations, the same “fast track” schedule set under the previous director was kept. Final public comments and questions to the draft documents due by August 8 were invalidated by the lack of sufficient time for a credible Staff Report (”Report”). The City Planning Commission (CPC) hearing was scheduled in less than three weeks on August 25, after the comments were due.
The LWC recognized the staff needed more time to complete a comprehensive Report and citizens needed more time for a full review of the Report. Neighborhood Councils certainly could not agendize or adequately prepare for the CPC hearing. LWC and other citizens raised these facts to the DCP administration several times, first on August 8.
On August 15, a DCP administrator finally called this LWC representative. LWC gave reasons to slow down the Report and review periods verbally and by letter to this administer. The administrator admitted it was not enough time for adequate meetings, review, and motions by neighborhood councils and other organizations. No further follow-up was received as the Report was distributed on August 18 and the CPC hearing was scheduled for one week later on August 25, on the previously set schedule.
Certainly, with this timeline, we wonder if the CPC can truly review the Report or will it simply adopt and approve the staff recommendations? As there has been limited outside review -- and even less time to submit written comments -- the CPC hearing means “1-minute public comment.” Thank you.
The process and outcomes are not shaped by broad citizen input and certainly lack credibility. The Report with limited comments, shows minor, token changes, while major concerns were reduced to brief phases with no context or rationale -- or not included at all. For example, in this Ordinance, with its slippery language, there are no project notices to citizens or obligatory neighborhood council hearings. No enforcement measures are included. The “Design Standard testing” phase has no timeline specified.
The real “shiny object diversion” is the elimination of essential environmental review consisting of a categorical exemption. As it is stated, these smaller developments, with no environmental cumulative impacts, require no review. But wait -- the average lot with a 1500-2000 square foot dwelling and four occupants are in play as SLS will now construct three or more 2000 sq. ft. structures for four or more occupants each, having all the predictable impacts – and it will have no review. Period.
Clearly the DCP systems reverted to the previous models and missed this opportunity to bring in a new planning process -- to provide more eyes and greater insights citywide. This affects all of us, so please attend the hearing and offer your comments for greater citizen participation to shine a bright light on this travesty.
The LWC will continue to rigorously fight for our rights and our neighborhood through our zoning codes and “Q” conditions, all the way through the courts/legal systems.
(Lucille Saunders is the La Brea Willoughby Coalition president and a citywide community activist. She welcomes all comments and questions at email@example.com.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
THE GUSS REPORT-- Tourists in LA hoping to see famous faces sometimes take a not-always-truthful celebrity bus tour. Others troll land-locked Hollywood for movie stars and musicians who more likely live closer to the salty air enclaves of Malibu and points south. But most are at-peace after taking in Melrose Avenue, “The Price is Right” on Fairfax and head to Venice Beach to soak in cheap t-shirt shops, misfits juggling chainsaws and colorful vendors hawking shea butter that later has them asking “why did I buy this?”
But this summer’s most colorful local celebrity might be the loud and brash superstar hanging out in Sherman Oaks ... a free-range peacock named Percival has shown up in backyards, on rooftops and waking the locals since early June.
Percival took a particular liking to the homes in the Magnolia Woods section of Sherman Oaks.
There, Michelle Pippin, a hair stylist originally from San Diego, says she first saw him in early June, “He was just walking around the neighborhood. He seemed fine with the crowd that had gathered to watch him, and (went) up on a roof. Nobody knows where he came from, or where he went after that, but there was talk of sightings of him just south of Burbank Blvd later that week.”
Katiedid Langrock, a writer and humorist, says “We were inside and my friend thought she saw a chicken in the backyard so we ignored it because chickens pop up in the backyard not infrequently. But then she decided to (look closer) and there was Percival - not a chicken.
We followed him around the backyard for about 10 minutes. I went to open the gate to let him out - thinking he had somehow got stuck in the backyard. That's when he flew into our fence. Then onto the neighbor’s roof. Then out of sight. My toddler and I scanned the backyard for feathers. No such luck.”
Some of their photos can be seen here.
While nobody in the sleepy neighborhood can recall any such sightings in previous years, the phenomenon of the feral flyers is not unheard of in other parts of Los Angeles County. Here is Los Angeles Magazine’s take on how they came to Southern California in the first place.
If your visiting friends and family still want a shot at spotting a famous face, there’s always Costco, where spotting an Oscar winner is not impossible.
(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a contributor to CityWatch, KFI AM-640, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Business Journal, Los Angeles Magazine and others. He blogs on humane issues at http://ericgarcetti.blogspot.com/. Daniel Guss opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.)
DENSITY BY DEFAULT-With debates raging over the regulation of short-term rentals in Los Angeles and the proponents of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative focusing attention on what many see as a broken planning system, a third issue has been steadily gaining attention and generating public outcry among concerned homeowners: the rules that govern the permitting of second dwelling units (SDUs).
This Tuesday, August 23, the full City Council will consider, for the first time, the Planning Department’s proposed repeal of the City’s adopted local standards for SDUs, potentially eliminating protections that have safeguarded the character of LA neighborhoods for decades. In the place of local standards, the City would default to lenient state standards that allow much larger units, up to 1,200 square feet.
The rules governing second units, which are ostensibly built for the purpose of providing accessory housing in single-family areas for aging parents, relatives and guests, have been hotly contested, and were recently the target of successful litigation by homeowners concerned that the City has been unlawfully ignoring its adopted standards in favor of the more permissive state standards. Under those lenient “default” standards, designed by the Legislature for cities that, unlike LA, do not have their own local standards, second units can be developed by speculators as huge rental dwellings that can virtually double the density of single-family neighborhoods while adding pressure to their already over-extended infrastructure.
While it is sensible to allow the construction of small second units that come with reasonable protections for neighborhoods, the lenient state standards would foist “one size fits all” rules on our vast city, allowing enormous SDUs to be visible from the public streets and permitting their construction everywhere, even in delicate Hillside areas.
The Department’s proposed repeal ordinance is on a “fast track” process, discouraging neighborhood councils, homeowner associations and other civic groups from engaging in the process. As we near the vote, many of these groups have nonetheless weighed in to object to the abbreviated timeline, with one, for example, commenting that “the speed and way in which this item has been scheduled prohibits neighborhood councils from evaluating and providing input through a community impact statement in a timely manner.”
CityWatch has covered the history of the issue in further depth, but essentially the City does need to take some action, as ordered by a judge who found that the City had been unlawfully following the lenient state default standards for the past six years.
But there are at least two alternatives the City can take, instead of the Department’s proposed repeal. First, the Zoning Administrator could issue an administrative memorandum that nullifies certain discretionary permitting procedures in the existing ordinance that puts it at odds with state law. Second, the City Council could amend the existing SDU ordinance to formally delete those same discretionary procedures.
Both options would leave in place the City’s current protective SDU standards, providing a far more favorable result than outright repeal. Both options could be executed quickly. Each would bring the City into full compliance with state law without abandoning local protections in favor of extremely permissive state standards.
And what to do about the permit holders who sought applications under the more lenient state standards during the six-year period that the City was unlawfully following them?
The City could retain the current local standards for future permit applications, while simply grandfathering all pending unchallenged permits where applicants and property owners have relied in good faith on the City’s past illegal practices. The City Council should pause and seriously consider its options.
If the City wants to overhaul its second unit ordinance, then that should come only after appropriate study, public outreach and deliberation. LA stands on the edge of voluntarily abandoning its own local SDU standards in favor of standards controlled through Sacramento, a drastic action that no other major city in California has taken. The City Council needs to think carefully before voluntarily surrendering the City’s zoning authority over second dwelling development to the State legislature.
No one in this city who has invested in a home in a single family neighborhood would want to wake up and look next door to find a 1,200 square feet, three bedroom, two bathroom, two-story, full sized home under construction and crammed onto a lot zoned for a single family home.
The Council will vote on the repeal ordinance at its meeting on Tuesday, August 23. Information about the meeting can be found HERE.
CityWatch readers should contact their City Councilmembers in advance of Tuesday’s vote and demand that the existing protections for second dwellings stay in place.
(Carlyle Hall is an environmental and land use lawyer in Los Angeles who founded the Center for Law in the Public Interest and litigated the well-known AB 283 litigation, in which the Superior Court ordered the City to rezone about one third of the properties within its territorial boundaries (an area the size of Chicago) to bring them into consistency with its 35 community plans. He also co-founded LA Neighbors in Action, which has recently been litigating with the City over its second dwelling unit policies and practices. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.)
THIS IS WHAT I KNOW--The rumble between pro-development interests and those who support neighborhood integrity takes a possible new turn with members of the Coalition to Preserve LA stating although they have enough signatures to qualify for the March 2017 ballot, they’d be willing to withdraw the initiative if Mayor Garcetti would agree to an alternative plan. As written, the measure would place a temporary ban on projects outside the existing zoning and land use rules for the area. If Garcetti does not agree with the group’s terms, it’s All Systems Go for the petition, per Jill Stewart, the Coalition’s campaign director.
Most of you probably know the scenario; developers who often have a cozy relationship with City Council members typically plead their case for general plan amendments from the city to move these mammoth projects forward.
“That’s a wake-up call for the City Council,” Stewart told reporters. “No more mischief, no more backroom meetings with developers during a two-year period. Take all that wasted time you’ve spent creating a luxury housing glut in Los Angeles and instead, do your job, create a plan for LA that involves the public.”
The Coalition sent a letter to Garcetti, signed by several dozen reps of grassroots groups, businesses, HOA’s, and celebs including Leonardo DiCaprio, Kirsten Dunst, Chris Pine, Joaquin Phoenix, Chloe Sevigny, and Garrett Hedlund. The new proposal in front of Garcetti would ban “ex parte” meetings between council members and developers, would make the process of updating the General Plan move more transparent and would reduce “spot zoning,” now standard practice. Developers and lobbyists would also be banned from hand-selecting the consultants responsible for Environmental Impact Reports (EIR’s.)
Arguments in favor of streamlining development point to “affordable housing” but more typically, the projects maximize profits for developers, setting aside the minimal required affordable units. Existing tenants are often tossed aside to make room for shiny new development projects and that include small lot subdivisions in areas throughout the city.
One area particularly hit by the rush to develop has been in Council District 2, represented by Council Member Paul Krekorian. The activists of Save Valley Village are frustrated with Krekorian who they say consistently ignores their interests.
Case in point, a duplex on Tujunga that houses section 8 and HUD tenants --developer Apik Minnossian is seeking approval of eight units in three-story terraced buildings, along with 16 parking spaces. Neighbors say the building does not fit the criteria for a “small lot subdivision and is not in keeping with the integrity of the neighborhood.”
“We’re seeing a disturbing trend of deep complicity from Councilman Krekorian’s office and his Planning and Land Use Commissioner Karo Torossian who signed off on it in direct opposition to the Neighborhood Council’s Land Use Commission recommendations,” said an activist.
I’ve been in talks with the Save Valley Village activists and other concerned with development in their neighborhood for several months, sitting in on living room meetings and engaging in phone conversations. Hearing the personal stories of those impacted by the takeover of their streets has been compelling, taking the issue to a new level.
The proposed Tujunga project would impact the tenants of the existing building. The aunt of an existing tenant wrote this email:
“My nephew lives in the triplex at 4531 Tujunga. He is on social security disability income. If these triplexes get demolished there is nothing comparable in the whole LA County for him to go. There is no affordable housing available. I have been researching and I don’t see any affordable housing available. I am very much afraid my nephew will be homeless not to mention the other tenants.
The city keeps letting the developers demolish all the affordable housing without replacing comparable units. It’s creating our homeless epidemic. I don’t know where my nephew will live. HUD and Housing nonprofits have 4 year waiting lists. It’s insane. Please, please reconsider and not allow more people to become homeless.”
Activists say they want Krekorian to put a “Q” provision on the Tujunga block that would limit buildings to 31 feet and to match the architectural integrity or look of the neighborhood. “General and community plans are very specific about new construction conforming to height, aesthetics, and density of the neighborhoods,” said a spokesperson for the neighborhood, which is 95 percent single-story. Instead of serving the interests of developers, the group is asking Krekorian to take into account property values, privacy, environmental impact, and other issues that impact neighbors.
It’s easy to forget at the end of the day that the surge in development and the City Council’s rather lax approval process affects people’s lives, whether those displaced from affordable housing or neighbors who wish to maintain their property values and quality of life. Under the current conditions, development is not adding affordable housing as much as lining the already deep pockets of developers who may continue their cozy, symbiotic relationship with council members without some oversight.
(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.)
TOO MUCH IN THE NEWS-That’s right, my fellow Americans, buck up, because, at a minimum, it’ll be four years before Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and U.S. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte’s shocking hairdos – Trump’s reddish-fox-paprika hued weave and Lochte’s silvery blue-raspberry bubble gum concoction – and equally, their boorish behavior, will finally recede, from both our collective conscience and our national press. Only the most naïve and optimistic citizens can believe otherwise.
No matter how you slice it, Trump and Lochte are in the news, and in the news is where they are going to stay. For how long, many of you viscerally wonder from the depths of your souls? Four more years, I'd say, and, actually, if it’s just four more years, and not interminably longer, that would be good news.
Lochte’s Olympic-sized whopper about being robbed at gunpoint by Brazilian police is just too juicy; for journalists, it’s like how catnip is to most cats (or how cute cat videos are to most people): impossible to resist. This is because, at its rosiest, the true story is that Lochte, the pampered thirty-two-year-old man-child, all decked out in his swanky, super-expensive suede shoes, couldn’t by the end of his all-night partying at the “France House,” hold his liquor or contain his entitled, frat-boy-style antics, much less tell the truth.
Lochte’s boneheaded buffoonery and its collateral shenanigans, characterized by many as a bona fide “international incident,” will undoubtedly surface quickly now (and possibly, and depressingly, forever, or at a minimum, at least until the start of the 2020 Olympic Games) in any extended discussion or commentary about the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. This will be so on TV, online, or in good, old-fashioned print – likely around the world – because ultimately, even Usain Bolt can’t outrun a story with the legs and unflattering optics of Lochte’s petulant, now way overly-public pee.
The same is true of Trump’s sewage, and by that, I mean virtually every word that has come out of Trump’s mouth. Sadly, I submit, that Trump’s dump of bigoted, xenophobic, misogynistic, and otherwise uninformed and unhinged views on life, society, and virtually every other subject of importance and nonimportance, will long stain our public and political discourse – and, will do so much more than Lochte’s gas station tinkle of entitlement.
For how long will we continue to be sullied by Trump and all related Trumpisms (many of you plaintively cry out)? Like Lochte’s lunacy, at least four more years, I’d say, and I pray to God that it’s not even longer. Because come November 9, when Trump’s reality TV style candidacy for presidency confronts reality, no one rightfully and genuinely believes that we’ll stop hearing about Trump – or from him.
Even when Trump embarks on his promised “very, very nice long vacation,” returning “back to a very good way of life,” he’ll tweet, he’ll call-in to radio and TV shows (perhaps even as he unwinds with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken on his twenty-four carat embossed “Trump Force One”). Trump can't resist a chance to opine, without any information or knowledge, on the current news and issues of the day, and, of course, to complain how the system is so “rigged.”
Lochte and Trump are like two peas in a pod of putrid press: Expect to read and hear much more about them again. And, again and again.
(Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
EDITOR’S PICK--The Republican, white-nationalist Donald Trump slanders and insults Latinos, Muslims and women. He promotes violence. He mocks the disabled. He refers to himself as brilliant, citing his fortune—obscenely accumulated over decades of predatory business practices that cheat workers and consumers—as “proof.”
He feuds with the gold star parents of a Muslim U.S. soldier killed in Iraq, claiming that he too has “sacrificed” (like the dead soldier and his parents) by employing “thousands and thousands of people.” It was a remarkable comment: Being born into wealth and in a position to hire a large number of people is not a “sacrifice.” If Trump isn’t reaping profits from all those workers under his command, he must not really be the brilliant, capitalist businessman he claims to be.
A military veteran gives the Republican presidential candidate his Purple Heart medal, bestowed on soldiers injured in battle. Trump quips, “I always wanted a Purple Heart. This was a lot easier.” Unreal. Donald Trump, Mr. Sacrifice, used college deferments to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War.
How is this noxious candidate even within shouting distance of Hillary Clinton? Let’s separate the fact from the fiction.
The Donald and the White Working Class
One easy, elite answer is to blame the supposedly stupid and racist white working class. It is common to hear mainstream (corporate) media talking heads proclaim that Trump is the candidate of the white working class and “low-income whites”—those that The Wall Street Journal and Trump himself like to call “the forgotten Americans.” These are who Barack Obama described in 2008 as people who “get bitter” and “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.”
How accurate is this narrative? According to exit polls, the median household income of Trump’s primary voters was $72,000, $11,000 higher than the corresponding figure for Bernie Sanders’ and Clinton’s primary voters.
In his analysis of survey data gathered from more than 70,000 interviews in June and July, Gallup economist Jonathan Rothwell found that Americans who favor Trump have incomes that are 6 percent higher than that of nonsupporters.
Trump is less popular with the white working class than Mitt Romney was four years ago. In 2012, Romney garnered 62 percent of votes by “non-college-educated whites” (researchers’ and journalists’ longstanding, if imperfect, stand-in term for the white working class). According to the latest NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, Trump isn’t even backed by a majority of this group, with just 49 percent on his side. Earlier this summer, his support among these whites hovered around 60 percent, suggesting that they are capable of processing information on his toxicity.
When you consider that the nation’s abysmally low voter-turnout rate falls the further one moves down the U.S. income scale, it seems highly improbable that Trump—currently behind Clinton in national polls—will ride some great wave of white-proletarian, Brexit-like sentiment to victory in November.
Still, Trump is doing better than Clinton with working-class whites. In the aforementioned NBC-WSJ survey, she trails him by 13 percentage points among whites without a college education and by 21 points among men in that group. In former union strongholds and deindustrialized, white working-class enclaves like Pennsylvania’s Luzerne County and Ohio’s Mahoning Valley, Arun Gupta recently reported on teleSUR English that voters are “flocking” to Trump.
Where did Trump do best in the primaries? A New York Times analysis found that his strongest base was in predominantly white areas where a proportion of workers toil in jobs that involve “working with one’s hands, especially manufacturing”; a big share of working-age adults are jobless; an unusually high number of people live in mobile homes; and all but a few residents told the U.S. Census Bureau that their ancestors were “American.”
Jon Flanders, a retired railroad machinist and former union leader, told me that he recently “asked a question about who the union workers in the railroad shops predominately supported. The question was asked on a Facebook page with about 1,000 members. The answer? Trump, overwhelmingly.”
Rothwell, the Gallup economist, determined that “the prototypical Trump supporter” is white, male, Christian (but not Mormon), heterosexual and without a college degree. He found Trump supporters significantly correlated with low intergenerational mobility, weak income growth and employment in “blue-collar occupations that have been exposed to competition with immigrants and foreign workers.”
The higher-income figures of Trump supporters relative to Democratic primary voters and non-Trump supporters is largely explained by race. Republicans are far more likely than Democrats to be white, and whites receive considerably higher average incomes than nonwhites.
The Elite Liberal Thesis
So what’s this white working-class preference for the bombastic Trump all about? It might seem counterintuitive, even absurd, that a vicious, opulence-flouting, uber-narcissistic plutocrat and Republican like Trump garners more support than a Democrat from working-class people of any race. We can be sure that many residents of affluent, liberal enclaves nodded their heads in approval when Obama said this about Trump at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia: “Does anyone really believe that a guy who’s spent his 70 years on this earth showing no regard for working people is suddenly going to be your champion? Your voice? ... If so, you should vote for him. But if you’re someone who’s truly concerned about paying your bills, if you’re really concerned about pocketbook issues and … creating more opportunity for everybody, then the choice isn’t even close. … You should vote for Hillary Clinton.”
Then why are so many white workers failing to vote in accord with their purported obvious economic interests, Mr. President? How do we explain this great anomaly? When it isn’t simply writing non-college-educated whites off as irredeemably racist, the standard, elite, liberal-Democratic, campus-town line is that all those poor, pitiful, xenophobic, gun-clinging white proles have been tricked into foolishly “voting against their own pocketbook interests” by clever Republican strategists who divert white workers with convenient scapegoats and social issues—inner-city black criminals and “welfare cheats,” Mexican immigrants, guns, gay rights, abortion and religion. All these ugly cards are played to prevent the white working class from fighting the selfish billionaires who profit from the plutocratic agenda of the Republicans, “the party of big business.”
There’s some truth in this venerable, liberal trope, of course. The divide-and-conquer Machiavellianism this “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” (WTMWK) narrative points to has helped Republicans win white working-class votes since the days of Archie Bunker (at whom much of Trump’s rhetoric seems aimed) and through the age of blue-collar Reaganites and “Joe the Plumber.”
What’s the Matter With the Limousine-(Neo)Liberal Democrats?
Still, the prevailing, liberal, WTMWK narrative is plagued by four basic difficulties. The first and most obvious problem is that post-New Deal era, neoliberal Democrats are no less captive to the 1 percent than the GOP. Like the Bill Clinton and Obama presidencies, the likely presidency of the heavily Wall Street-backed Hillary Clinton will be loaded down with economic elites linked to the top financial institutions and transnationally oriented corporations and to elite corporate policy-planning bodies like the Council on Foreign Relations, the Center for American Progress and the Brookings Institution.
It’s true that the Sanders challenge and the broadly populist mood of U.S. voters in the current New Gilded Age of extreme inequality pushed Clinton’s rhetoric to the progressive-sounding left during the primary campaign. But this is just another example of what Christopher Hitchens once described, in his bitter and acerbic study of the Clintons, as “the essence of American politics”—“the manipulation of populism by elitism.” Clinton’s Wall Street backers have never been concerned about the populace-pleasing rhetoric she’s had little choice but to wield in chasing middle-, working- and lower-class votes. They know “it’s just politics.” They expect a President Hillary Clinton to drop her current opposition to the arch-corporatist Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as soon as possible.
Look at her first major action after locking down the Democratic nomination: She selected Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine as her running mate. Kaine is a financial-sector darling who backed fast-tracking the TPP and supported his state’s anti-union, right-to-work laws.
It is little wonder that top Wall Street operatives flocked to the Democratic National Convention after the Sanders specter advance-surrendered and Kaine was tapped. The large, socially liberal and economically neoliberal wing of the elite financial sector was pining to reunite with the more functional and effective of the nation’s two reigning state-capitalist political parties.
But the Democrats abandoned the working class and embraced the economic elite, including the professional elite (more on that below) long ago (as journalist Thomas Frank noted in his book, “What’s the Matter With Kansas?”). And Democrats of the neoliberal era are no less adept than Republicans at deploying the politics of identity to hide their captivity to the nation’s unelected dictatorship of money. They just play the other, more multicultural, side of the same identity-politics game. Both parties make sure that, in Chris Hedges’ words, “Goldman Sachs always wins,” since “there is no way to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs.”
Is it really all that clear that workers of any race have obvious and rational “pocketbook interests” in the presidential ascendancy of yet another identity-politics-wielding, hedge-fund Democrat like Hillary Clinton?
A Beast of a Different Sort
Second, Trump has hardly restricted his appeal to the white working class by pushing racist, sexist, nationalist, religious, gun-toting and nativist buttons. Making repeated overtures to Sanders supporters, he has mimicked the language of Franklin Roosevelt with denunciations of “big business” and its corruption of government and politics. He’s denounced the North American Free Trade Agreement and “free trade” more broadly, blaming multinational corporations for abandoning working people. He altered the Republican platform to include a plank calling for the breakup of big banks via the reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act. He’s dropped standard Republican assaults on social-democratic “entitlements.” He’s attacked the globalism of the corporate elite and criticized related imperial entanglements the GOP has joined top Democrats in advancing for more than six decades.
Sincerely or not (his profile of advisers and top funders and his most recent economic policy addresses certainly suggest the latter), Trump has tacked further to the liberal-populist-social-democratic-sounding left on economic policy than any Republican presidential candidate in history. This is something the Democrats in Philadelphia seemed not to understand. In one Democratic convention speech after another, they depicted Trump as little more than the usual Republican monster spouting ugly, nativist, racist and patriarchal narratives to hide his allegiance to the wealthy Few. They showed little understanding that Trump is a different type of Republican beast.
Labor-Market Economics 101
Third, it is misleading to draw too firm a line between workers’ “pocketbook” concerns and nativist calls for immigration restriction. It doesn’t take an advanced academic degree to realize that the movement of poor and desperate workers from one part of the world capitalist system to another poses threats to the working and living standards of working people who are in the receiving nation. Of course, white workers have rational economic reasons to want to restrict the size of the “reserve army of labor” that employers can use against the working class in the “homeland.”
In a similar vein, it’s a mistake to think that white workers in, say, West Virginia coal territory or the North Dakota oil fields have no cogent pocketbook reasons to feel threatened by Democrats’ claim (more progressive fluff than serious environmentalist reality) that they will address climate change by cutting back on the extraction and burning of fossil fuels.
Those who find such proletarian pocketbook calculations ethically horrifying might want to recall one of Bertolt Brecht’s more cutting lines: “Grub first, then ethics.” Times are desperate indeed in the burned-out coal fields of Appalachia and the ever more opiate-addicted and suicide-plagued provinces of deindustrialized, post-family-farmland, white America. The “forgotten” counties where Trump did best in the GOP primaries are the same counties in which middle-aged, working-class whites have been experiencing high death rates.
We Are Not the 99 Percent: Between Labor and Capital
Fourth, liberals making the WTMWK argument often seem to operate with a simplistic, two-class model dividing the U.S. into the superrich (let’s call them the 1 percent), linked naturally to the Republicans, and everybody else (the 99 percent), linked naturally to the Democrats. Besides deleting the Democrats’ captivity to the wealthy corporate and financial Few (really the 0.1 percent or even the 0.01 percent), this dichotomy provides undue privilege-cloaking cover to “lesser” elites—professionals, managers, administrators and other “coordinator-class” Americans in the nation’s top 20 percent.
The privilege and power of the professional and managerial elite is no less “true,” “real,” substantive or vital to contemporary hierarchy than that of the financial super-elite. In the U.S.—as across the world capitalist system and even in non- and anti-capitalist workplaces and bureaucracies—ordinary working people suffer not just from the private, profit-seeking, capitalist domination of workplace and society. They also regularly confront what longtime left economist and activist Mike Albert calls the “corporate division of labor”—an alienating, dehumanizing and hierarchical subdivision of tasks “in which a few workers have excellent conditions and empowering circumstances, many fall well below that, and most workers have essentially no power at all.”
It is through regular subordinate and often humiliating contact with the professional and managerial, or “coordinator class” (Albert’s and his fellow radical economist Robin Hahnel’s term), not the 1 percent, that the working class experiences class inequality and oppression in America.
I talked earlier this summer to “Big Frank,” a 40-something, white, graveyard-shift, parking ramp and parking lot cleaner at the University of Iowa. He doesn’t like “rich bastards” like Trump, but it’s not the financial and corporate elite he deals with daily. He sees Trump and other rich and famous Americans like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett on television. He carries out “ridiculous orders” and receives “idiotic” reprimands from well-paid, “know-it-all pencil-pushers who don’t give a flying fuck about regular working guys like me.” Frank is voting for Trump “just to piss off all the big-shot [professional-class] liberals” he perceives as constantly disrespecting and pushing him around.
Listen to Green Party leader Howie Hawkins, the Teamster union activist who got 5 percent of the vote in New York’s last gubernatorial election. “The Democratic Party ideology is the ideology of the professional class,” he says. “Meritocratic competition. Do well in school, get well-rewarded.” Unfortunately, perhaps, his comment reminds me of the bumper sticker I’ve seen on the back of more than a few beat-up cars in factory parking lots and trailer parks over the years: “My Kid Beat Up Your Honor Student.”
“The biggest threat to the Democrats isn’t losing votes to the Greens,” Hawkins says. It is losing votes to Trump, who “sounds like he’s mad at the system. So they throw a protest vote to him.”
It doesn’t help that the professional and managerial class is largely aligned with both the politically correct, pro-immigrant multiculturalism and environmentalism that many white workers have genuine economic (and other) reasons to see as threats to their well-being, living standards and status.
Members of this privileged class beneath the 1 percent may not ride in limousines, but they also don’t go around in the beat-up pickup trucks that “Big Frank” drives both on and off the job. We might designate some of its more liberal members as “Prius Progressives.”
A Trump victory in November seems ever more unlikely. The gaffe-prone and highly unprofessional nature of the candidate, the vastly superior ruling- and professional-class resources being marshaled around the de facto, moderate-Republican Clinton, the racial and ethnic demographics of the national electoral map, and the relative weakness and likely low turnout of his supposed “white working-class base”—all this and more points to a major defeat for “the Donald.”
Progressives should view the alleged threat of a great wave of racist, nativist, white, working-class anger ready to “Brexit” the toxic Trump into the White House with a healthy dose of skepticism. Trump’s white proletarian base is not big or energized enough to make that happen. The notion that it is seems calculated to scare left-leaning progressives into voting for the Wall Street-favored, right-wing Democrat, war hawk Clinton and to reinforce the very neoliberal and identity-obsessed politics that helps explain the existence of such white working-class Republicanism in the first place.
(Paul Street is an independent researcher, journalist, historian, author and speaker based in Iowa City and Chicago. This piece was posted most recently at TruthDig.)
FIRST PERSON REPORT--When the music comes on at a rave, a synergetic feeling of mass escape and euphoria runs through the crowd. But this unparalleled collective high has come at a cost.
In July, three people were found dead at the Hard Summer Music Festival near Los Angeles. During the two-day festival, which drew a record 147,000 attendees, an additional six people were hospitalized. Prior to these deaths, the Los Angeles Times counted 26 rave-related fatalities in the American Southwest since 2006. That doesn’t include non-fatal overdoses, a number which could easily reach triple digits if tallied across the country.
The reaction by lawmakers in cities like Los Angeles has been to clamp down on the events themselves, either banning them entirely or demanding strict control over the crowds. Promoters have instituted stricter security policies, while contending that at such large-scale events, drug use is inevitable. But the recent deaths suggest that these “solutions” haven’t solved anything.
Even though this latest tragedy is fresh, the problem is so familiar—and so unchanged—that a Los Angeles Times write-up of the Hard Summer deaths didn’t even bother to find a new doctor to talk to. They just recycled a quote from last year, in which a doctor frets that “there’s something about these events that leads to this rampant drug abuse,” but is unable to put his finger on why.
I’ve been going to raves for six years, and I don’t find the current approach to addressing the problem convincing. What I am convinced of is that it’s possible to have raves without any deaths at all.
Why has it been so hard to “fix” raves? Because we have not accurately identified the problem, which to my mind does not stem from kids disregarding their own lives, but rather from the fact that they never learned how to handle the spectacular, seductive freedom offered by raves.
The way I see it, the danger presented at raves stems from the fact that more than a few attendees are the products of our culture of over-protective parents. These ravers grew up highly supervised without the chance to be left to their own devices. Add to that the subtly influencing hand of teenage hormones and it’s almost surprising that there aren’t more tragedies.
Our society has become increasingly afraid of letting children run wild, and young kids today don’t have the same opportunities as previous generations to venture out into the world on their own, to learn how to handle the small freedoms of youth, to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from them. Instead, children are funneled from an early age into a myriad of adult-monitored activities such as team sports, school dances, and summer camps.
As teenagers, these hothouse kids begin to break out of their confinement. Raves are the perfect venue for youthful experimentation. Even the word “rave” sounds new and different from the “concerts” or “shows” of which adults hold fond memories.
Rave culture has always celebrated the illicit. The very definition of the word “rave,” meaning “to talk wildly or incoherently, as if one were delirious or insane” conjures intoxication. The first raves were born as a mutation of 1970s and ‘80s discotheques, the distinction being that raves were held in basements, lofts, and abandoned warehouses, rather than established venues. These parties often lasted for upwards of 10 straight hours, and people could bring in their own substances hassle free.
At raves, kids are given a shot at unmonitored social interaction, and the chance to finally partake in all sorts of risk-taking away from hovering parents. Unfortunately, these are not the baby-step risks of younger years. And without past lessons to guide them, it’s easy for bad choices to escalate without anyone realizing.
The question of rave safety is not a narrow one. In the past few years, the American electronic dance music (or EDM) scene has exploded, with longer, multi-day festival events routinely pulling in crowds of over 100,000 people. EDM has penetrated the heart of the musical world; it has its own category at the Grammys, and heavily influences the sound of contemporary pop music.
When I got into raving in 2010, I had always felt like a social outcast, but raves connected me with a group of likeminded people who I would never have met otherwise. It wasn’t long before I started going out more, getting into trouble with my parents, and having more fun than ever before.
Regardless of what the law says, the youth will continue to party on. The best thing we can do is to ensure the spaces they party in are as safe and nurturing as possible.
Since then, the rave scene has become firmly cemented in the realm of popular culture. But that didn’t mean the end of drugs or danger. Even as security checks have gotten stricter, drugs have been present at every rave I’ve ever been to. And security checks haven’t prevented deaths.
The good news is that thoughtful alternative approaches have emerged. Some raves are starting to protect their attendees, often by bringing together people who understand how raves work and getting them to work together in the crowds.
The Bunk Police, a group now a few years old, built a strategy on the insight that most overdoes happen after kids at raves take mystery drugs they bought from strangers. Many of these drugs are actually harmful chemicals masquerading as popular club drugs.
The Bunk Police show up at events armed with tests kits that can tell whether a bag of powder is real MDMA, or one of the countless synthetic chemicals that have flooded the rave scene since the popularization of online drug dealing websites, such as the fabled “bath salts” scare of years past. Since their existence acknowledges the presence of drug use, festivals have tried to ban groups like The Bunk Police. Despite this, members hop fences, bribe security guards and risk jail time so that they can keep other people safe.
At Steez Promo’s Moonrise Festival in Baltimore, Maryland, volunteers make sure attendees stay safe while they’re partying. They check on people who look sick or zoned out, and hand out gum, water, and fruit. The best thing about the volunteers is that they’re also ravers, and can be considerably less intimidating than the security staff. In the event of an emergency, a volunteer can help you feel better, whereas a security guard might just detain you. When things get too rough for volunteers, Moonrise is also equipped with two medical tents near high traffic areas, staffed by a team of emergency medical technicians.
While unsupervised spaces like raves inevitably invite dangerous activity, they also provide a place for youths to grow, experiment, and flourish, free to make mistakes away from the judging eyes of adult society. Regardless of what the law says, the youth will continue to party on. The best thing we can do is to ensure the spaces they party in are as safe and nurturing as possible.
(Louis Patterson is a senior at Occidental College studying English, and a summer fellow at Zócalo Public Square … where this perspective was first posted.)
POT POLITICS--An appeals court has ruled that the U.S. Department of Justice can’t prosecute medical marijuana patients and providers for violating federal cannabis law as long as those individuals are in full compliance with state laws legalizing medical marijuana.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit held unanimously that a 2014 budget measure “prohibits DOJ from spending funds” to go after such people.
That’s bad news for the Justice Department’s increasingly controversial war on marijuana. Currently, 25 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the drug for medical purposes.
In the 10 cases from California and Washington state before the court, the 9th Circuit ruled that the Justice Department must show that the defendants were in violation of their state marijuana laws before proceeding with the federal criminal prosecutions. The appeals court sent all 10 cases back to the trial courts to make such determinations.
But Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain, writing for the court, pointed out the precarious nature of the federal block on these prosecutions. In a footnote, he said that “Congress could restore funding tomorrow, a year from now, or four years from now, and the government could then prosecute individuals who committed offenses while the government lacked funding.”
The judge also noted that the next administration may “shift enforcement priorities” and place a greater emphasis on prosecution of federal marijuana crimes.
Nonetheless, “this really is a big deal,” said Sam Kamin, a professor at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law who studies marijuana regulation.
“It’s an assertion by a court ― the largest federal circuit ― that federal prosecutors cannot enforce the Controlled Substances Act against those in compliance with state medical marijuana provisions,” he explained. “It’s not forever ... but it’s a lot more protection than was in place prior to the ruling.”
Kamin added that the panel’s unanimity shouldn’t give the Obama administration “much reason for optimism,” should it choose to appeal.
Tom Angell, chairman of the drug policy reform group Marijuana Majority, was similarly exuberant.
“If the Obama administration is smart, they’ll drop this fight right now rather than risk an even more embarrassing defeat on appeal,” he told HuffPost.
DOJ spokesman Peter Carr told HuffPost that the department was reviewing the decision and declined further comment.
The defendants in the 10 cases had argued that the charges should be dismissed because of a bipartisan budget measure, passed in December 2014, that bars the Justice Department from using federal funds to prevent states from “implementing” their own laws authorizing the “use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
Last year, another Justice Department spokesman said it interpreted that provision as blocking prosecutors from “impeding the ability of states to carry out their medical marijuana laws,” but not from charging medical marijuana patients and businesses that violate federal marijuana laws. The measure’s sponsors, Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Sam Farr (D-Calif.) expressed their profound disagreement at the time.
The 9th Circuit is not the first federal court to say the Justice Department got it wrong. Last year a federal judge in an unrelated case ruled that the department can’t prosecute state-legal providers of medical marijuana and said that its interpretation “tortures the plain meaning of the statute.”
Besides the 25 states and D.C. that have already legalized marijuana for medical purposes, voters in nine other states are expected to consider some form of marijuana legalization this year.
Still, the plant remains banned under federal law. States’ efforts to legalize the drug in some form or another have worked only because of guidance from top DOJ officials urging frontline federal prosecutors to refrain from targeting state-legal marijuana operations.
“I applaud the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for proclaiming the law as it has been intended by congressional legislation,” Rohrabacher said in an emailed statement to HuffPost. He called the court’s decision a victory for states’ rights, medical marijuana patients and “the constitutional process of establishing law.”
The Justice Department, Rohrabacher said, should “go on notice that there should be no more prosecutions and raiding of dispensaries in those states where the state government has legalized medical marijuana.”
And Farr told HuffPost, “California and many other states allow marijuana to be used for medical purposes yet the federal government still considers it as dangerous as heroin. While I’m pleased to see the amendment that I worked on with my colleagues being interpreted by the courts correctly, there needs to be a permanent change to federal policy to ensure medical marijuana patients aren’t criminalized in states that allow it.”
(Matt Ferner is a national reporter for Huffington Post [[huffingtonpost.com]] … where this piece was originally posted.)
CORRUPTION WATCH-Back in the days of yore, when we Baby Boomers were coming on the scene, we were nurtured on values from comic books and TV. We all knew about “Truth, Justice and the American Way.” In grade school, we also heard about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” I always thought that “the American Way” meant “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” So I and my fellow baby boomers blissfully grew up with a vision of America where no wrong went un-righted and happiness was our birthright.
Just as we had picked up other phrases like, “Ring around the rosie, a pocket full of posies…we all fall down,’” we proudly repeated, “Truth, Justice and the American Way.” After all, it opened every episode of Superman. In our minds, the Man of Steel was always on the side of right and that’s how we believed the world to be.
Many of us have never shaken ourselves free from the childish belief that, in America, truth and justice were The Way, and we all had the right to Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Oh, yes, the pursuit of happiness was very important as we became teenagers. Then, the deaths in Southeast Asia entered our world. In our minds, we could still hear the end of the rhyme, “Ashes! Ashes! We all fall down” … dead. We heard that it referred to the Black Plague which had wiped out millions. That was an interpretation that fit the times. Rather than Happiness, Death awaited us.
And, then The War was over and Nixon was gone and we could continue with the American Way.
Decades later, as Baby Boomers, we enter retirement and look back to see our legacy catching up to us. We had been lulled into complacency and now we realize that our children will be the first American generation likely to do worse than their parents. Productivity increases have stopped going to those who produced them. Instead, 90% of all productivity gains since Obama took office have gone to the top 1%. Private pensions are following the path of the passenger pigeon and public pensions are purposefully under-funded.
In 2016, we no longer see Truth Justice and the American Way. Rather, we see “Corruptionism.” The alliance of the wealthy and their pawns in Congress and elsewhere has departed from the path of truth and justice. In its wake, we see a string of multi-billion dollar thefts. Worse, there is no Superman to right the wrongs.
First, there was the piddling Equity Funding Scandal in 1970. Then we had the significant Savings and Loans Scandals where millions of elderly Americans were fleeced of their life savings. Back in the 1980s, some efforts were made to hold the thieves accountable, and so the world of finance learned about Accounting Control Fraud.
Later, we had the Dot Com Crash in 2000, followed by the Enron Bankruptcy in 2001. So, in 2004, we sent Martha Stewart to prison. Really, Martha? At least, there was a diluted notion of some type of justice, weird as it was to seize upon Martha Stewart.
Then, we entered the world in which Rampant Criminality replaced Truth and Justice as the American Way. We got the Crash of 2008 which was due to the massive trillion dollar Credit Default Swap frauds of Wall Street executives. Gone was all pretense of holding the guilty parties liable. The government claimed that Wall Street executives had been merely careless, that nothing criminal happened. How does one carelessly bribe a rating agency to give top ratings to junk bonds?
The government declared that the executives’ foolish risks were so huge that we had to give them back all the money they lost in the Crash, plus a few trillion more. Notice…the money went to the crooks and thieves who had crashed the entire economy, while the average Joe lost his home, lost his pension and ended up divorced, with his kids homeless. Yet the Administration continued to shovel trillions of dollars into the pockets of Wall Street thieves. Let’s remember…the Crash of 2008 began with criminality right here in Southern California with Countrywide and our courts choosing to look the other way.
To make certain that Truth, Justice and the American Way were dead forever, Obama invented, “Too Important to Prosecute.” That’s right, Lex Luther and his minions are too important to Metropolis. Rather than let Superman imprison them in an ice cave, they became Los Angeles’ mayor and city councilmembers.
And that brings us to the Los Angeles City Council and its criminal voting trading pact. Surely, a criminal enterprise that fleeces the city of billions of dollars is contrary to “Truth, Justice American Way.” If Mayor Luther wants anything, he takes it and all his City Council buddies agree to unanimously agree 100% of the time: “Yeah, we should tear down the homes of the poor people. Whadda ya gonna do about it?”
Truth, Justice and the American Way no longer exist. Penal Code § 86, which forbids all vote trading on a city council, is apparently unenforceable unless all the city councilmembers write out their vote trading agreement in blood and post it on the front door of City Hall. Even then, could we ever find a judge who could figure out that 1,000 consecutive unanimous votes is indicative of a vote trading pact? Oh no, nothing amiss here…must be a coincidence or maybe the unanimity reflects how well the city is run?
If the people who live in the Hills near Lake Hollywood do not find the nerve to reject Boss Garcetti’s choice for CD 4 councilmember, then watch for the resulting increase of tourism in the Hills. Don’t worry about the fire danger and the fact that tourists who are totally unaware of the extreme fire danger will toss cigarette butts into the underbrush. Let’s pretend the fires won’t occur. Let’s ignore the car crashes on the too narrow streets -- and the people who die because the paramedics cannot reach them in time in the too-congested hills. There’s a price to pay for crossing Boss Garcetti. For the people above Lake Hollywood, it’s the ever increasing danger of losing their homes and lives to fire.
When the City Council votes unanimously 99.9% of the time, you know it is a criminal enterprise, but when Lex Luther’s niece is the DA, you won’t see any action. Don’t expect any Justice from the courts. In modern day Los Angeles, Justice, along with Truth and Superman, is in exile.
(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney. He can be reached at: Rickleeabrams@Gmail.com. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
EDITOR’S PICK--Yep, it finally happened. In early May, after a long, long run, the elephants of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus were ushered into retirement in Florida where they will finish their days aiding cancer research. The Greatest Show on Earth was done with its pachyderms. The same might be said about the Republicans after Donald Trump’s version of a GOP convention. Many of them had also been sent, far less gracefully than those circus elephants, into a kind of enforced retirement (without even cancer research as an excuse).
Their former party remained in the none-too-gentle hands of the eternally aggrieved Trump, while the Democrats were left to happily chant “USA! USA!,” march a barking retired four-star general and a former CIA director on stage to invoke the indispensable “greatness” of America, and otherwise exhibit the kind of super-patriotism and worship of the military usually associated with... no question about it... the GOP (whose delegates instead spent their time chanting “lock her up!”).
And that’s just to take the tiniest of peeks at a passing moment in what continues to be, without the slightest doubt, the Greatest Show on Earth in 2016.
My small suggestion: don’t even try to think your way through all this. It’s the media equivalent of entering King Minos’s labyrinth. You’ll never get out. I’m talking about -- what else? -- the phenomenon we still call an “election campaign,” though it bears remarkably little resemblance to anything Americans might once have bestowed that label on.
Still, look on the bright side: the Republican and Democratic conventions are in the rearview mirror and a mere three months of endless yakking are left until Election Day.
In the last year, untold billions of words have been expended on this “election” and the outsized histories, flaws, and baggage the two personalities now running for president bring with them. Has there ever been this sort of coverage -- close to a year of it already -- hour after hour, day after day, night after night? Has the New York Times ever featured stories about the same candidate and his cronies, two at a time, on its front page daily the way it’s recently been highlighting the antics of The Donald?
Have there ever been so many “experts” of every stripe jawing away about a single subject on cable TV from the crack of dawn to the witching hour? Has there ever been such a mass of pundits churning out opinions by the hour, or so many polls about the American people’s electoral desires steamrollering each other from dawn to dusk?
And, of course, those polls are then covered, discussed, and analyzed endlessly. Years ago, Jonathan Schell suggested that we no longer had an election, but (thanks to those polls) “serial elections.” He wrote that back in the Neolithic Age and we’ve come an awful long way since then. There are now websites, after all, that seem to do little more than produce mega-polls from all the polls spewing out.
And don’t forget the completely self-referential nature of this “campaign.” If ever there was an event that was about itself and focused only on itself, this is it. Donald Trump, for instance, has taken possession of Twitter and his furious -- in every sense, since he’s the thinnest-skinned candidate ever -- tweets rapidly pile up, are absorbed into “news” articlesabout the campaign that are, in turn, tweeted out for The Donald to potentially tweet about in a Möbius strip of blather.
What You Can’t Blame Donald Trump For
And yet, despite all the words expended and polls stumbling over each other to illuminatenext to nothing, can’t you feel that there’s something unsaid, something unpolled, something missing?
As the previous world of American politics melts and the electoral seas continue to rise, those of us in the coastal outlands of domestic politics find ourselves, like so many climate refugees, fleeing the tides of spectacle, insult, propaganda, and the rest. We’re talking about a phenomenon that’s engulfing us. We’re drowning in a sea of words and images called “Election 2016.” We have no more accurate name for it, no real way to step back and describe the waters we’re drowning in. And if you expect me to tell you what to call it, think again. I’m drowning, too.
You can blame Donald Trump for many things in this bizarre season of political theater, but don’t blame him for the phenomenon itself. He may have been made for this moment with his uncanny knack for turning himself into a never-ending news cycle of one and scarfing upbillions of dollars of free publicity, but he was a Johnny-come-lately to the process itself.
After all, he wasn’t one of the Supreme Court justices who, in their 2010 Citizens Uniteddecision, green-lighted the flooding of American politics with the dollars of the ultra-wealthy in the name of free speech and in amounts that boggle the imagination (even as that same court has gone ever easier on the definition of political “corruption”).
As a certified tightwad, Trump wasn’t the one who made it possible to more or less directly purchase a range of politicians and so ensure that we would have our first 1% elections. Nor was he the one who made American politics a perfect arena for a rogue billionaire with enough money (andchutzpah) to buy himself.
It’s true that no political figure has ever had The Donald’s TV sense. Still, before he was even a gleam in his own presidential eye, the owners of cable news and other TV outlets had already grasped that an election season extending from here to Hell might morph into a cornucopia of profits.
He wasn’t the one who realized that such an ever-expanding campaign season would not only bring in billions of dollars in political ads (thank you, again, Supreme Court for helping to loose super PACs on the world), but billions more from advertisers for prime spots in the ongoing spectacle itself.
He wasn’t the one who realized that a cable news channel with a limited staff could put every ounce of energy, every talking head around, into such an election campaign, and glue eyeballs in remarkable ways, solving endless problems for a year or more.
This was all apparent by the 2012 election, as debates spread across the calendar, ad money poured in, and the yakking never stopped. Donald Trump didn’t create this version of an eternal reality show. He’s just become its temporary host and Hillary Clinton, his quick-to-learn apprentice.
And yet be certain of one thing: neither those Supreme Court justices, nor the owners of TV outlets, nor the pundits, politicians, pollsters, and the rest of the crew knew what exactly they were creating. Think of them as the American equivalent of the blind men and the elephant(and my apologies if I can’t keep pachyderms out of this piece).
In this riot of confusion that passes for an election, with one candidate who’s a walking Ponzi scheme and the other who (with her husband) has shamelessly pocketed staggeringmillions of dollars from the financial and tech sectors, what are we to make of “our” strange new world? Certainly, this is no longer just an election campaign. It’s more like a way of life and, despite all its debates (that now garner National Football League-sized audiences), it’s also the tao of confusion.
Missing in Action This Election Season
Let’s start with this: The spectacle of our moment is so overwhelming, dominating every screen of our lives and focused on just two outsized individuals in a country of 300 million-plus on a planet of billions, that it blocks our view of reality. Whatever this “election” may be, it blots out much of the rest of the world. As far as I can see, the only story sure to break through it is when someone picks up that assault rifle, revs up that truck, gets his hands on that machete, builds that bomb, declares loyalty to ISIS (whatever his disturbed thoughts may have been 30 seconds earlier), and slaughters as many people as he can in the U.S. or Europe. (Far grimmer, and more repetitive slaughters in Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, and other such places have no similar value and are generally ignored.)
Of course, such slaughters, when they do break through the election frenzy, only feed the growth of the campaign. It’s a reasonable suspicion, though, that somewhere at the heart of Election 2016 is a deepening sense of fear about American life that seems to exhibit itself front and center only in relation to one of the lesser dangers (Islamic terrorism) of life in this country. Much as this election campaign offers a strife-riven playing field for two, it also seems to minimize the actual strife and danger in our world by focusing so totally on ISIS and its lone wolf admirers. It might, in that sense, be considered a strange propaganda exercise in the limits of reality.
Let’s take, for instance, America’s wars. Yes, the decision to invade Iraq has been discussed (and criticized) during the campaign and the urge of the two remaining candidates and everyone else previously involved to defeat and destroy the Islamic State is little short of overwhelming. In addition, Trump at least has pointed to the lack of any military victories in all these years and the disaster of Clinton’s interventionist urge in Libya, among other things.
In addition, in an obvious exercise of super-patriotic fervor of the sort that once would have been strange in this country and now has become second nature, both conventions trotted out retired generals and national security officials to lecture the American public like so many rabid drill sergeants.
Then there were the usual rites, especially at the Democratic convention, dedicated to the temple of the “fallen” in our wars, and endless obeisance to the “warriors” and the U.S. military generally -- as well as the prolonged Trumpian controversy over the family of one dead Muslim-American Marine.
One of the two candidates has made a habit of praising to the heavens “the world’s greatest military” (and you know just which one she means) while swearing fealty to our generals and admirals; the other has decried that military as a “disaster” area, a “depleted” force “in horrible shape.” For both, however, this adds up to the same thing: yet more money and support for that force.
Here’s the strange thing, though. Largely missing in action in campaign 2016 are the actual wars being fought by the U.S. military or any serious assessment of, or real debate or discussion about, how they’ve been going or what the national security state has or hasn’t accomplished in these years.
Almost a decade and a half after the invasion of Afghanistan, the longest war in American history is still underway with no end in sight and it's going badly, as American air power has once again been let loose in that country and Afghan government forces continue to lose ground to the Taliban. Think of it as the war that time forgot in this election campaign, even though its failed generals are trotted out amid hosannas of praise to tell us what to do in the future and who to vote for.
Meanwhile, a new, open-ended campaign of bombing has been launched in Libya, this time against ISIS adherents. The last time around left that country a basket case. What’s this one likely to do?
Such questions are largely missing in action in campaign speeches, debates, and discussions; nor is the real war and massive destruction in Iraq or Syria a subject of any genuine interest; nor what it’s meant for the “world’s greatest military” to unleash its air power from Afghanistan to Libya, send out its drones on assassination missions from Pakistan to Somalia, launch special operations raids across the Greater Middle East and Africa, occupy two countries, and have nothing to show for it but the spread of ever more viral and brutal terror movements and the collapse or near-collapse of many of the states in which it’s fought its wars.
At the moment, such results just lead to “debates” over how much further to build up American forces, how much more money to pour into them, how much freer the generals should be to act in the usual repetitive fashion, and how much more fervently we should worship those “warriors” as our saviors. Back in 2009, Leon Panetta, then head of the CIA,talked up America’s drone assassination campaign in Pakistan as “the only game in town” when it came to stopping al-Qaeda. Seven years later, you could say that in Washington the only game in town is failure.
Similarly, the U.S. taxpayer pours nearly $70 billion annually into the 16 major and various minor outfits in its vast “intelligence” apparatus, and yet, as with the recent coup in Turkey, the U.S. intelligence community seldom seems to have a clue about what’s going on.
Failed intelligence and failed wars in an increasingly failed world is a formula for anxiety and even fear. But all of this has been absorbed into and deflected by the unparalleled bread-and-circus spectacle of Election 2016, which has become a kind of addictive habit for “the people.” Even fear has been transformed into another form of entertainment. In the process, the electorate has been turned into so many spectators, playing their small parts in a demobilizing show of the first order.
And speaking about realities that went MIA, you wouldn’t know it from Election 2016, but much of the U.S. was sweltering under a “heat dome” the week of the Democratic convention. It wasn’t a phrase that had previously been in popular use and yet almost the whole country was living through record or near-record summer temperatures in a year in which, globally, each of the first six months had broken all previous heat records (as, in fact, had the last eight months of 2015). Even pre-heat dome conditions in the lower 48 had been setting records for warmth (and don’t even ask about Alaska). It might almost look like there was a pattern here.
Unfortunately, as the world careens toward “an environment never experienced before,”according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, one of the two parties to the American spectacle continues to insist that climate change is a hoax. Its politicians are almost uniformly in thrall to Big Energy, and its presidential candidate tops the charts when it comes to climate denialism. ("The concept of global warming," he's claimed, "was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.") Meanwhile, the other party, the one theoretically promoting much-needed responses to climate change, wasn't even willing to highlight the subject in prime time on any of the last three days of its convention.
In other words, the deepest, most unnerving realities of our world are, in essence, missing in action in election 2016.
You want to be afraid? Be afraid of that!
The Shrinking Election Phenomenon
So you tell me: What is this spectacle of ours? Certainly, as a show it catches many of our fears, sweeping them up in its whirlwind and then burying them in unreality. It can rouse audiences to a fever pitch and seems to act like a Rorschach test in which you read whatever you’re inclined to see into its most recent developments. Think of it, in a sense, as an anti-election campaign. In its presence, there’s no way to sort out the issues that face this country or its citizens in a world in which the personalities on stage grow ever larger and more bizarre, while what Americans have any say over is shrinking fast.
So much of American “democracy” and so many of the funds that we pony up to govern ourselves now go into strengthening the power of essentially anti-democratic structures: a military with a budget larger than that of the next seven or eight countries combined and the rest of a national security state of a size unimaginable in the pre-9/11 era. Each is now deeply embedded in Washington and at least as grotesque in its bloat as the election campaign itself. We’re talking about structures that have remarkably little to do with self-governance or We the People (even though it’s constantly drummed into our heads that they are there to protect us, the people). In these years, even as they have proved capable of winning next to nothing and detecting little, they've grown ever larger, more imperial, and powerful, becoming essentially the post-Constitutional fourth branch of government to which the other three branches pay obeisance.
No matter. We’re all under the heat dome now and when, on November 8th, tens of millions of us troop to the polls, who knows what we’re really doing anymore, except of course paving the way for the next super-spectacle of our political age, Election 2020. Count on it: speculation about the candidates will begin in the media within days after the results of this one are in. And it’s a guarantee: there will be nothing like it. It will dazzle, entrance, amaze. It’s going to be... the Greatest Show on Earth. It will cause billions of dollars to change hands. It will electrify, shock, amuse, entertain, appall, and...
I leave it to you to finish that sentence, while I head off to check out the latest on The Donald and Hillary. (Include a reference to elephants and you’ll get extra credit!)
(Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs TomDispatch.com.)
LA WATCHDOG--The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Gannett, the nation’s largest publisher of newspapers, has sweetened its offer to purchase Tribune Publishing* (“Tribune” or the “Company”), the owner of the Los Angeles Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, the Chicago Tribune, and six other daily newspapers around the country. (Note: Tribune Publishing changed its name to “tronc,” which was derived from TRibune ONline Content.)
While the terms of this overture were not disclosed, it is most likely north of the all cash $15 a share offer that was rejected out of hand by Tribune’s Board of Directors in late May. But this unilateral action of the Board was not appreciated by many of the other shareholders who believed that this offer, double the price of the stock when Gannett made it first offer in April, represented an excellent price for Tribune.
The back story of this rejection of Gannett’s very generous offer started in February with the private sale of 15% of Tribune’s stock at a below market price to Michael Ferro, a Chicago based internet entrepreneur, in a back room deal most likely orchestrated by Eddy Hartenstein, the then Chairman of the Board and the former publisher of the Los Angeles Times. Hartenstein, not to his credit, was an associate of Sam Zell, the controversial Chicago based financial wizard who was responsible for the 2008 bankruptcy of the Tribune Company, the former parent of the Company, that was saddled with $13 billion of leveraged buyout debt.
Within two months, Ferro had fired the Chief Executive Officer, replaced him with one of his long time henchman, and reconstituted the Board of Directors, leaving him with absolute control of Tribune. Today, Hartenstein is one of the two remaining directors.
In May, subsequent to Gannett’s offer of $15 a share, Ferro engineered the private sale of 5 million shares at $15 a share (a total of $75 million) to Patrick Soon-Shiong, a Westside medical entrepreneur who is reputedly the wealthiest person in Los Angeles. (He also owns a minority interest in the Los Angeles Lakers which he purchased from Magic Johnson.) Combined, Ferro and Soon-Shiong, now the Vice Chairman of Tribune, own 28% of the stock and control the Board of Directors.
But the other 72% of the shareholders, many of which are sophisticated institutional investors and hedge funds, will not be happy campers if Tribune rejects another very generous offer from Gannett. And this time, it will result in litigation.
On June 13, Oaktree Capital Management, a well-respected Los Angeles based investment firm and the owner of 13% of Tribune stock (18% prior to the diluting sales to Ferro and Song-Shiong), sent a five page letter to Tribune asserting its right under Delaware Law to inspect the books and records of the Company. Of particular interest are the shenanigans associated with the February below market sale of over 5 million shares to Ferro and the subsequent actions that allowed Ferro to seize control of the Company without paying a premium price.
Other institutional investors have also indicated their displeasure at the cavalier rejection of Gannett’s offer, calling for the Board to retain an independent financial advisor to determine the fairness of the Gannett offer and to enter into negotiations with Gannett.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Tribune is expected to respond to the new offer by the end of the week. At that time, we will know if the Company has entered into a $1 billion deal with Gannett (this includes almost $400 million in debt). Tribune’s Board may also decide to enter into negotiations with Gannett with the desire to increase the offer or to entertain offers from other potential purchasers, including News Corporation, a company controlled by Rupert Murdoch.
If the Board of Directors rejects Gannett’s generous offer, the outside shareholders will no doubt haul the Company and its directors into court in an attempt to force the Tribune to sell the Company.
Alternatively, Gannett may bide its time and launch, with the support of the outside investors, a proxy contest to oust the current directors at next year’s annual meeting.
In any case, stay tuned.
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
LA WATCHDOG--Of the 24 ballot measures* on our November ballot, the least controversial is Proposition 54, the California Transparency Act, unless, of course, you are a Sacramento insider who likes the cover of the dead of night.
This initiated Constitutional amendment will prohibit the State Legislature from “passing any bill unless it has been in print and published on the internet for at least 72 hours before the vote, except in the case of public emergency.”
This straight forward, easy to understand provision would eliminate the “gut and amend” maneuver where “legislative leaders hollow out innocuous bills and insert new language on unrelated but often controversial issues, then ram the bills through in the final hours of a legislative session.”
If approved by a majority of the voters, we will have a more transparent legislature as the media and the voters will have the opportunity to review, analyze, and comment on any last minute changes made by the politicians and their cronies. This contrasts with the past practice where numerous state budgets and spending bills were ram rodded through the Legislature at the last minute, benefitting special interests and often times much to our detriment.
Proposition 54 also requires the Legislature to make audiovisual recordings of its public meetings in their entirety and post them on the internet within 24 hours. These recordings must be available to the public through the internet for at least 20 years.
We will also have the right to record by audio or video any public meeting which recordings may be posted on the internet and used for any “legitimate” purpose without having to pay any fees.
Wouldn’t it be fun to catch a legislator catching a few zzzz’s or playing internet games while the Assembly or Senate was in session!
The opponents have claimed that this Constitutional amendment will result in “unnecessary and costly delays” that will cost “millions of dollars – funds that could be used to improve education, lower tuition costs, or help create jobs.” But the Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance estimate the initial cost to be $2 million and the annual cost to be about $1 million, not even budget dust compared to the State’s annual budget that is rapidly approaching $200 billion.
The opponents of the California Legislature Transparency Act will also take shots at its backer, Charles T. Munger, Jr., claiming that this son of a philanthropic billionaire has his own political agenda. To the contrary, Munger’s stated goal is “to take power from narrow factions and return it to ordinary Californians.”
This initiative has broad bipartisan support which is already having an impact as the Legislature is on good behavior knowing that any last minute “gut and amend” shenanigans will be used to promote Proposition 54.
Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, or a Libertarian or a Green, this common sense initiative is a no brainer.
Vote YES on Proposition 54, the California Legislature Transparency Act.
NEED TO KNOW
The following is the ballot language:
Prohibits Legislature from passing any bill unless it has been in print and published on the Internet for at least 72 hours before the vote, except in cases of public emergency. Requires the Legislature to make audiovisual recordings of all its proceedings, except closed session proceedings, and post them on the Internet. Authorizes any person to record legislative proceedings by audio or video means, except closed session proceedings. Allows recordings of legislative proceedings to be used for any legitimate purpose, without payment of any fee to the State.
*There are 24 ballot measures: 17 State measures, 2 County measures, 4 City measures, and a last minute $3.3 billion bond measure sponsored by the Los Angeles Community College District.
Yes on Prop 54: Voters First, Not Special Interests: www.YesProp54.org
Vote No on Prop 54, Stop the Special Interest Power Grab: www.NoOnProposition54.com
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at: email@example.com.)
LA WATCHDOG--Saturday’s scoop by David Zahniser of the Los Angeles Times that Marcie Edwards (photo above), the respected General Manager of our Department of Water and Power, has been in discussions with Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office about retiring, but only after an orderly transition. But what was not disclosed is that these discussions have been going on for several months and that Mayor and his office were unable to make a timely decision on how to transition from Edwards to a new General Manager.
As a result of Zahniser’s article, Mayor Garcetti reacted by announcing on Monday afternoon that Edwards will retire on August 16 and that David Wright, the Department’s Chief Operating Officer and Edwards’ choice as her successor, will be appointed as DWP’s Interim General Manager. (See the press release below.)
Edwards, who was appointed General Manager in February of 2014, has done a very credible job. Most importantly, she developed a strong management team that allowed the Department to address a number of politically sensitive controversies. These include the brouhaha over the Joint Training and Safety Institutes and the questionable use of $40 million of Ratepayer money and the flawed Customer Information System that resulted in a large number of highly publicized billing mistakes.
She also built on the legacy of Ron Nichols, the previous General Manger (January 2011 to January 2014), by establishing credible relationships with the Ratepayers, the environmental community, and the City Council. These relationships, coupled with numerous meetings throughout the City, allowed the Department to implement a five year, $1 billion rate increase without the usual controversy.
David Wright (left), the Interim General Manager, is a relatively new addition to the Department’s management ranks, but has had considerable utility experience, including as General Manager of Riverside Public Utilities. As the Chief Operating Officer, he also has an understanding of DWP, its management, its strengths and weaknesses, and its highly politicized environment.
He also has a strong working knowledge of the proposed charter amendment involving the partial reform of DWP’s governance and contracting and procurement policies as well as the follow up ordinances that have been considered by the City Council Rules Committee.
Over the next three months, Garcetti will need to focus on who will be the next General Manager of our Department of Water and Power. The new full time General Manager, which may well be Wright, must have considerable management experience in the utility industry and be able to develop a strong and deep management team and to establish strong relationships with the members of the City Council, Ratepayers, and other outside constituencies.
However, if the DWP Charter amendments are approved by the voters in November, the process for selecting the General Manager will be changed to follow the more elaborate process used in selecting the Police Chief.
In any case, the appointment of the General Manager is the most important decision that the Mayor makes involving our Department of Water and Power and that is why the Ratepayers need to be an integral part of the decision making process.
The following is Garcetti’s press release.
MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI
CITY OF LOS ANGELES
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 1, 2016
MAYOR GARCETTI ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT OF LADWP GENERAL MANAGER MARCIE EDWARDS, NAMES DAVID WRIGHT AS UTILITY’S INTERIM LEADER
LOS ANGELES—Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) General Manager Marcie Edwards will step down after more than two decades of service to the utility, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced today. She retires as the first woman ever to lead LADWP in its 114-year history.
Concurrently, Mayor Garcetti named the Department’s current Chief Operating Officer, David Wright, a 27-year public utility veteran with a strong background in reliability, infrastructure development and customer service, to serve as Interim General Manager.
During Edwards’ more than two years of service as LADWP’s General Manager, she guided and stabilized the utility through a critical moment in its history. As punishing drought conditions strained local water supplies, she led the push to cut LA water use by 20 percent in just one year.
At the same time, she effectively navigated LADWP through significant unforeseen issues with its billing system, and built widespread consensus for a sensible rate increase plan to enable critical future investments in sustainable water and power infrastructure, maintaining LADWP’s exemplary reliability track record and completely getting off coal.
“When I took office, LADWP was facing difficult challenges -- we needed a visionary leader to put our utility back on track, and that’s exactly what Marcie Edwards has done,” said Mayor Garcetti. “She has left an indelible mark on our city, and I am deeply grateful for her service.”
Wright has been at DWP since early 2015 focusing on fixing the billing system and improving customer service after spending nearly a decade as General Manager of Riverside Public Utilities, earning consistent praise for his success in improving service to his customers. He has also served as Chief Financial Officer for the Las Vegas Valley Water District, the Southern Nevada Water Authority and the Silver State Energy Association, overseeing a nearly $1 billion budget for the three water and electric organizations.
At Riverside Public Utilities, Wright led a complete overhaul of the customer service system, an upgrade that provided customer satisfaction levels that were at the top of the industry. The effort was so successful the City of Riverside later adopted the platform to handle all of its constituent services through their 311 call center. As one of his first tasks, Mayor Garcetti has asked Wright to develop and implement a “customer bill of rights” to provide specific service level guarantees for the utility’s ratepayers.
“LADWP exists to serve the people of Los Angeles -- its leader should be someone who has a proven customer service track record,” said Mayor Garcetti. “David Wright has spent his career making public utilities work better for the people they serve, and I’m proud to appoint him as LADWP’s next Interim General Manager.”
Edwards will step down as General Manager on August 16, 2016. She will assist with an orderly transition and serve as special advisor to the Mayor, LADWP Board and Mr. Wright, the interim General Manager, through Dec. 31.
“It’s been a privilege to lead LADWP through both difficult challenges and transformative efforts to build a sustainable future for Los Angeles,” Edwards said. “I am grateful to Mayor Garcetti for the opportunity to serve my city.”
“I am deeply honored that Mayor Garcetti has chosen me to lead LADWP during such an important period for the utility,” Wright said. “I will do everything I can to make LADWP a utility that not only focuses on infrastructure, reliability and sustainability, but that strongly focuses on improving service levels to our customers to significantly higher levels. It’s important that LADWP makes it easy to do business with us by working better and more efficiently for our customers than ever before.”
LA WATCHDOG--How does Metro expect us to understand its 27 page, 12,000 word ballot measure that would increase our sales tax by half a cent to a whopping 9½%, one of the highest rates in the county?
Or should we just trust Metro’s Board of Directors led by Mayor Eric Garcetti, his three appointees, and the four County Supervisors who voted to place this ill-conceived measure on the November ballot?
But there is much more than a plain old multibillion dollar tax increase buried in these 27 pages of mumbo jumbo that will make the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and its Board of Directors less accountable to the voters.
If the proposed half a cent increase in our sales tax is approved by two-thirds of the voters, Metro will collect an additional $860 million in the first year, bringing the total haul from the four voter approved sales taxes to $3.5 billion in 2018.
However, unlike the 2008 voter approved Measure R half cent increase that was to expire in 30 years (2039), this tax does not have a sunset provision unlike the March version of this ballot measure. Furthermore, this measure proposes to make the Measure R half cent tax permanent.
As a result, Metro will be able to incur substantially higher levels of debt that will burden the next generation of Angelenos who will not have the opportunity to say “No More Debt” at the polls.
There are also serious questions about Metro’s management and organization and whether it has the ability to manage its daily operations, increase ridership and fares, properly maintain its aging infrastructure, and execute its ambitious expansion plans on time and on budget, especially given recent problems with the widening of 405 through the Sepulveda Pass and the Regional Connector.
Metro claims that there will be enhanced level of accountability for expenditures. But how is it possible for seven politically appointed members of the Independent Oversight Committee to oversee a sprawling enterprise with over 9,000 employees, $2 billion in annual expenditures, a $750 million operating loss, $15 billion in assets, and a multibillion capital expenditure program?
There are also a number of pet projects in the measure’s Expenditure Plan, including $1.1 billion for the bike path along the LA River, the “LA Street Enhancement & Great Streets Program,” and Jose Huizar’s Historic Downtown Street Car. And needless to say, there are other stinkers buried in the $120 billion Expenditure Plan.
Metro has been actively promoting the Los Angeles County Transportation Improvement Plan, assisted by Garcetti, the Board of Supervisors, and all the special interests who will benefit from the increased revenue and the proceeds the billions in new debt. But this measure is going to be a tough sell.
In 2014, Measure J, the thirty year extension of the Measure R half cent tax, received only 66% of the vote, just short of the two thirds needed for approval. But this ballot measure is more complicated as Metro is asking us to pony up an additional $860 million a year and $120 billion over the next 40 years.
The voters of the City of Los Angeles are also frustrated with City Hall. For example, our City does not have a plan to repair our lunar cratered streets despite the fact that the City is entitled to more than 8% of the sales tax revenue generated from the four voter approved sales taxes. As of now, the City is expected to receive over $18 billion from this Local Return program over the next 40 years.
Furthermore, Garcetti and the Herb Wesson led City Council have refused to reform its finances, refusing to Live Within Its Means and ignoring the common sense, easy to implement recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission. These include multiyear budgeting, the establishment of an Office of the Transparency and Accountability to oversee the City’s fragile finances, and the creation a Commission on Retirement Security to review the City’s unsustainable pension plans.
And finally, we, the voters, are being overwhelmed by numerous ballot measures (see the note below) that will funnel billions of our hard earned money to our inefficient, bloated State, County, and City governments which are controlled by self-serving politicians and their cronies.
Metro does not deserve a $120 billion blank check.
The ballot measure shall read as follows:
Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan. To improve freeway traffic flow/safety; repair potholes/sidewalks; repave local streets; earthquake retrofit bridges; synchronize signals; keep senior/disabled/student fares affordable; expand rail/subway/bus systems; improve job/school/airport connections; and create jobs; shall voters authorize a Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan through a ½ cent sales tax and continue the existing ½ cent traffic relief tax until voters decide to end it, with independent audits/oversight and funds controlled locally?
Note: In addition to Metro’s permanent $850 million increase in the county’s sales tax, voters are being bombarded by the City’s $1.2 billion bond measure to fund supportive housing for the homeless and the County’s evergreen $95 million parcel tax for its parks. The Los Angeles Community College District announced a $3.3 billion bond measure. And the state ballot has a $1 billion cigarette tax, a 12 year extension of the $10 billion of “temporary” soak-the-rich income tax, and a measure authorizing $9 billion in school construction bonds,
Other taxes that are waiting in the wings are a $4.5 billion bond measure to repair the City’s streets and sidewalks, a homeless tax to fund the County’s homeless initiatives, a tax to fund the City and County’s $20 billion stormwater / urban runoff program, and an increase in the State’s gas tax. There is also the issue of how to fund the unfunded pension liabilities of the City and County that exceed $65 billion (about $10,000 for each of the City’s 4 million residents).
Earlier this year, we were also hit with an additional tax of $150 million associated with DWP’s $1 billion rate increase.
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
LA WATCHDOG--On June 23, the politicians on the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Board voted to place on the November ballot the “Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan” which, if approved by two-thirds of the voters, will increase our sales tax by a half cent to 9½%, one of the highest rates in the country.
The Supervisors also decided to make this a permanent increase, eliminating the 40 year time horizon that was an integral part of the previous proposal in March.
This ballot measure will also make permanent the Measure R half cent tax increase that County voters approved in 2008, eliminating the 2039 sunset provision. Interestingly, in 2012, the County’s voters did not approve extending this tax for another 30 years until 2069.
If this measure is approved, it will increase Metro’s tax revenue over the next 40 years by $120 billion to an estimated $300 billion. These funds will be used to subsidize Metro’s money losing operations, fund its pensions, and finance its very ambitious, debt fueled capital expenditure program that will burden future generations of Angelenos.
But this appears to be just the beginning of our Enlighten Elite’s efforts to raise our taxes to astronomical levels.
In all likelihood, once Janice Hahn (who never met a tax or rate increase she did not like) is elected to the Board, the Supervisors will approve placing on the ballot a quarter of cent increase in the sales tax to fund the County’s homeless initiatives.
Of course, our Elected Elite will tell us that this new homeless tax will be offset by the expiration on December 31, 2016 of the quarter of a cent sales tax under the terms of Proposition 30 that was approved by 55% of California voters in November 2012.
Our City is also on the sales tax bandwagon.
In 2013, the Herb Wesson led City Council placed on the ballot Proposition A, a permanent half cent increase in our sales tax to finance City services. Despite City Hall’s well-financed campaign and threats by Mayor Villaraigosa and Police Chief Charlie Beck to lay off cops, 55% of the voters rejected this tax increase.
Interestingly, mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti opposed Proposition A because he said that Angelenos were already paying their fair share and could not afford another hit to their wallets. Yet now, as Mayor and a member of the Metro Board, Eric is an enthusiastic backer of this new tax that will cost County taxpayers an estimated $850 million next year.
In 2014, the City considered placing on the November ballot another half cent bump in the sales tax to finance the $4.5 billion plan to repair and maintain our lunar cratered streets. But the Save Our Streets – LA proposal never made it to the ballot because City Hall realized that skeptical voters would have trashed this measure, especially after they were made privy to Controller Ron Galperin’s critical audit of the Department of Street Services.
Garcetti and the Herb Wesson led City Council are cooking up numerous schemes to raise taxes so they can throw money at problems rather than figuring out how they can make the City operations more efficient.
We are hearing chatter about the City’s infrastructure needs, ranging from streets and sidewalks to stormwater and urban runoff. There are discussions about budget busting increases in the size of the City’s work force by hiring 5,000 new civilian employees. And the City and the County need to address their unsustainable pension plans that have a combined unfunded pension liability of at least $70 billion (almost $10,000 for every Angeleno).
With all of these “needs,” a 10% sales tax might be considered a bargain by our elected officials.
Before we consider approving the Metro’s half cent increase in our sales tax, the City $1.2 billion bond issue for the homeless, and the County $100 million parcel tax for its parks, we must demand that the City and the County develop a long range operational and financial plan that outlines the total burden they want us to bear. The City should also implement the recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission to implement multiyear budgeting, to establish an Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee the City’s fragile finances, and to form a Commission on Retirement Security to develop information and solutions to our unsustainable pensions.
Until then, these ballot measures deserve a NO vote.
And this Note: These City and County tax proposals are in addition to the State ballot measures involving the issuance of $9 billion in school construction bonds, an additional $1 billion tax on cigarettes, and the 12 year extension of Proposition 30’s “temporary” multibillion dollar “soak the rich” income tax.
LA WATCHDOG--Why haven’t Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council President Herb Wesson followed up on the recommendation by the LA 2020 Commission to “establish a Commission on Retirement Security to review the City’s retirement obligations in order to promote an accurate understanding of the facts” and make “concrete recommendations on how to achieve equilibrium on retirement costs by 2020?”
Why? Because these two ambitious politicians fear alienating the campaign funding leaders of the City’s unions who do not want a public discussion of the facts surrounding the City’s ever increasing annual contributions to the City’s two massively underfunded pension plans that are forcing the City to scale back on basic services.
Over the last ten years, the City’s contribution to its two pension plans (Los Angeles City Employees Retirement System and the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pension System) has tripled to $1.1 billion, up from $350 million in 2005. As a result, pension contributions now chew up 20% of the City’s $5.6 billion budget, up from less than 10% in 2005.
This $750 million increase in pension contributions has forced the City to cut back on basic services such as public safety and the repair and maintenance of our streets, sidewalks, and parks. The City has even resorted to placing an ill-conceived $1.2 billion bond measure on the November ballot to fund supportive housing for the homeless.
Unfortunately, it is only going to get worse as the City, its pension plans, and their fiscally irresponsible, Garcetti appointed Commissioners are banking on an overly optimistic rate of return of 7½% on the combined investment portfolio of $33 billion.
But the stock and bond markets are not cooperating as demonstrated by this year’s less than 1% return on CalPERS (California Public Employees’ Retirement System) $300 billion investment portfolio.
If the City’s pension funds earned this meager 1% as compared to the targeted 7½%, it would result in an investment shortfall of an estimated $2.7 billion, an amount equal to about half of the City’s annual budget. This “loss” will increase the unfunded pension liability as of June 30, 2016 to almost $11 billion, representing a funded ratio of an unhealthy 74%.
However, if the investment rate assumption was a more reasonable 6½% as recommended by knowledgeable investors such as Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett, the unfunded pension liability would jump to over $16 billion, representing a dangerously low funded ratio of 66% and almost three times the City’s annual budget.
Over the next five years, the City’s two pension plans will rack up an additional shortfall of over $5 billion if the rate of return on their investment portfolios is 6½%, a much more likely outcome than the targeted return of 7½%.
But rather than recognizing this combined shortfall of $7.9 billion over the next five years, the City has cooked up a scheme to amortize these losses over a 20 year period, reducing the hit to the City’s budget.
Even with this scheme, the City’s pension contribution is expected to increase by more than 50% over the next five years to $1.7 billion, representing 27% of the City’s projected General Fund budget.
Garcetti and Wesson, along with Budget Committee Chair Paul Krekorian and Personnel Chair Paul Koretz, will tell us they made significant reforms to LAFPP in 2011 and LACERS in 2013 and 2015. But these cosmetic amendments are nickels and dimes and did not address the overly optimistic investment rate assumption of 7½% and the unsustainable post-retirement medical benefits.
This pension time bomb is a weapon of mass financial destruction where we will burden the next generation of Angelenos with tens of billions of unsustainable debt. This will destroy their standard of living and their environment.
It is time for Garcetti, Wesson, and the members of the City Council to get off their fat asses, put on their big boy pants, and begin to address this problem by establishing an independent, well-funded Committee for Retirement Security.
Only then will we be able to begin the hard task of developing a solution where the City and its future will not be devoured by the pension monster.