EXPOSING THE LOOPHOLES, BACK DOORS, TRAP DOORS AND CROSSED FINGERS--In nearly every election in California, there's a ballot measure that uses the tricks of phrasing I have long dubbed “And Other Uses” to obtain riches for people who don't deserve them and haven't earned them.
When I was the news editor, and then managing editor, of LA Weekly for nine years, my favorite story that dug into the loopholes and scams lurking on our California ballots was “Reading the Fine Print: How to spot the Loopholes, Legal Doozies and Loose Phrasing in California's Ballot Initiatives.”
In the article, I explain how millions of dollars from the voter-approved “Housing and Emergency Shelter Trust Fund Act of 2006” got diverted away from the desperate and the poor, by Los Angeles elected leaders, into spending on glitzy sidewalk upgrades and other fixes to the posh Figueroa Corridor leading to Staples Center.
How on Earth did billionaire Phil Anschutz's fantastically profitable Staples Center, which former City Councilman Joel Wachs fought long and hard (and sucessfully) to deny public subsidies, end up benefitting from a crucial bond measure meant to help battered women and the homeless?
“And Other Uses.”
Every year, there's a ballot measure jammed with loopholes, back doors, trap doors and crossed fingers that can be mined later for somebody else's profit. Typically, the news media do not call out these loopholes. Journalists are busy, they don't notice, they don't get to page 38 in a ballot measure's endless jargon. Whatever.
This November 8, Measure JJJ is the whopper of the season, at least in Los Angeles County. A disaster. A canard. I could go on.
Let's call JJJ what it is: a Jargon-Jammed Joke. It pulls an inexcusable trick on voters by promising something LA needs, “affordable housing.”
I know a lot about Measure JJJ because it wasn't primarily written to build affordable housing — it was written by City Hall's most connected insiders, to hurt the ballot measure for which I am now the campaign director, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, which will appear on the ballot in March of 2017.
We at the Coalition to Preserve LA, backers of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, got calls about JJJ's underlying purpose back in February. At that time it was dubbed “Build Better LA.” We knew it was coming. And we knew its final language was approved by the most connected people in town. We knew it wasn't primarily about “affordable housing.”
The crafters of JJJ were out to kill our City Hall reform effort — we want to reform the backroom wheeling and dealing at City Hall, a broken and rigged system in which the richest developers in the nation are being allowed to ignore local zoning rules, destroy our neighborhoods, gridlock our streets, and displace thousands of longtime L.A. residents. All in service to erecting luxury housing towers, luxury housing megadevelopments and other luxury glass boxes.
But the City Hall insiders who wrote JJJ failed to stop us. And now their tainted measure is on the November ballot, not an “affordable housing” measure, but a literary miracle of ways to reword and massage the long-proven “And Other Uses” loopholes and trap doors to achieve something other than “affordable housing.”
The Coalition to Preserve LA has published our position paper against JJJ on our website, 2PreserveLA.org.
Below, then, are the 5 Fatal Loopholes that void every promise made by Measure JJJ about “affordable housing” and “local-hire” jobs.
1) The “We don't think this developer is making enough profit” loophole
Under JJJ, developers can ignore your community's zoning to build hundreds of huge, and thus more profitable, luxury towers that aren't allowed under the rules — as long as they promise to add some affordable housing. This promise is false. The City Council can declare the developer is not making “a reasonable return on investment” and then undo the affordable housing promise. (JJJ Section 5, A, g)
2) The “Forget about building affordable housing — just pay City Hall a 'fee'” loophole
Under JJJ, no affordable units have to be built inside these new towers at all, as long as the developer pays an “in lieu” fee after refusing to build affordable housing units. This in-lieu amount is unknown to voters, it will be announced after the election — by the developer-cozy City Council. (JJJ Section 5, A, b3.)
3) The “Forget the affordable housing, forget the fee, just pay a 'surcharge'” loophole
Under JJJ, developers can refuse to pay even the modest in-lieu fee, and opt for a Deferral Surcharge — a price to be set later by the City! This Deferral fee amount, unknown to voters, does not have to be spent on affordable housing. The City Council can divert this cash to pay city employees for running L.A.'s rent-stabilization program — jobs the City must already pay for, by law. (JJJ Section 5, A, c2)
4) The “L.A.'s Affordable Housing Trust Fund is a piggy bank” loophole
Under JJJ, the city's Affordable Housing Trust Fund does not have to be spent on affordable housing. The fund can go to whatever the politicians decide. City Hall's ability to raid our housing construction funds is set out in JJJ as “such other housing activities as that term shall be defined.” (JJJ Section 5, B, c)
5) The “We say we'll create local jobs, but not a single local hire is required” loophole
Under JJJ, contractors need only “make a good-faith effort” to hire residents of L.A. or people living within 5 miles of a proposed luxury skyscraper or a proposed massive luxury complex, a toothless and meaningless standard that will never be met. (JJJ Section 5, A, g).
Please enthusiastically vote No on JJJ on November 8. It wasn't meant to fix a problem. It was meant for other uses.
(Jill Stewart, a former journalist, is campaign director for the Coalition to Preserve LA, sponsor of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.)
GOD BLESS OUR INDIRECT DEMOCRACY--Suppose we ask all Americans to vote on whether anyone whose first name starts with the letter “A” should pay an extra tax, giving everyone else a tax break. The appalling measure would probably pass.
From the perspective of us A-listers (sorry, couldn’t resist), that would amount to a classic case of the kind of “tyranny of the majority” our Founding Fathers were so eager to avoid, illustrating why certain filters, or brakes, on direct democracy are desirable. The idea was that people shouldn’t legislate themselves, but instead leave that up to their representatives.
And even if the people’s representatives get carried away, our political system has other checks and balances to insulate it from too much democracy: Congress itself is split into two bodies; unelected judges protect the Constitution from lawmakers; our nation’s monetary policy is set by an “independent” (undemocratic, that is) Federal Reserve Board. We’ve also developed a stable of technocratic agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Communications Commission to govern areas of American life at a dotted-line remove from the democratic process.
All these checks on democracy, together, constitute the genius of American democracy. We pride ourselves on our freedom to do as we damned please, but at the same time we’ve locked away all the chocolate and given the key to a friend, and warned him not to listen to us if we call to ask for it urgently late some night. Of course we then complain about how the system doesn’t work, about how we can’t binge on chocolate whenever we want.
Such complaints are the fuel of the term “populism.” The word wasn’t current in the era of the Founders, and it remains vaguely defined in ours, but it’s precisely what our republic’s designers were intent on protecting against: The danger that over-indulging majority passions could overwhelm and subvert the system at any given moment.
This is the election year of mad-as-hell-and-not-going-to-take-it-anymore populism (to cite the Howard Beale character from the classic Network movie), with Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump railing against how bankers, Washington, the Federal Reserve, foreigners, and conspiring elites are holding back “the people.” Those are familiar rants, yet, there is something novel about the threat posed by today’s populism: The real threat nowadays is a potential tyranny of an agitated minority, more so than a potential tyranny of the majority.
The two dangers are easy to confuse because agitated minorities can look very much like a majority now that they can mobilize via once unimaginable communications technology and dominate wall-to-wall cable TV news coverage. Who knows how far William Jennings Bryan or Eugene V. Debs would have gotten with a Twitter following, a YouTube channel, and the ability to call into CNN?
Let’s tweak our imagined tax referendum to illustrate what a tyranny of the minority looks like. Suppose that instead of asking Americans whether people whose first name starts with an A should pay more taxes, we ask them to vote on whether A-listers should be exempted from ever again having to pay any taxes.
This measure, if uncoupled from any other balloting in a low-turnout vote, might conceivably pass. Why? Because we A-listers would turn out to vote in droves, and most everyone else would have little incentive to vote, or to speak out against the measure.
The real threat nowadays is a potential tyranny of an agitated minority, more so than a potential tyranny of the majority.
It’s an extreme hypothetical, but too much of American political life has become vulnerable to hijacking by intensely motivated and agitated minorities. It’s why teachers unions can control school board elections, why the gun lobby can punch above its weight in Washington, and why we haven’t fixed our broken immigration system.
The danger of not appreciating the threat posed by an extremely motivated minority, as opposed to an untrammeled majority, is that our society is enabling the former threat with its overzealous vigilance against the latter. So, for instance, while a bicameral Congress and the separation of powers that allots the executive a veto and the courts judicial review are good brakes on majority rule, the Senate’s filibuster rules and the so-called “Hastert Rule” observed by House Republicans go too far in empowering agitating minorities.
The Senate’s longtime filibuster rules were infamous in delaying the adoption of needed civil rights in the 20th century, long after a majority of Americans were ready to go along. This was a case of an aggrieved minority—white Southern Democrats—subverting the will of the majority to protect said minority.
The Hastert Rule in the House is a more recent, and less formalized, tradition in the House of Representatives that has similarly served to block immigration reform favored by a majority of Americans, and by a majority of their representatives in Congress. The policy, enunciated by Dennis Hastert when he was the Republican Speaker of the House (long before he was revealed to be a child molester), and loosely followed by some predecessors and successors, is that proposed legislation should not be brought for a vote on the floor of the House unless it is supported by a majority of the party’s own caucus.
As speaker in recent years, John Boehner set aside the rule at key times to allow for bipartisan votes to keep the government open when some far-right Republicans were threatening to close it down, and that’s one reason Mr. Boehner is no longer in office. But he did not allow the House to vote on a sensible immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in 2013, which would have legalized the status of the millions of undocumented workers in this country. The bill could have passed in the House with the support of Democrats and more moderate Republicans (as it did in the Senate), but the Hastert Rule stood in the way.
The Founding Fathers intended for both chambers of the Congress, as well as the president and the judiciary, to all wrestle with thorny issues like immigration—balancing the will of the people with the Constitution. It’s a perversion of their design for one faction within the House to hijack the process, and allow for an agitated minority of anti-immigration nativists to become the arbiters of what constitutes a proposal worth voting on.
Immigration and international trade feature prominently in this election cycle’s populist discourse, but it’s inaccurate to portray these issues, as the media often does, as pitting elites against “the people.” Opinion polls consistently show that a majority of Americans view trade in a positive light and favor immigration reform along the lines of what the Senate passed three years ago (as opposed to mass deportations and a wall). It’s easy to lose track of that reality, though, given the asymmetry of passion and interest between supporters and opponents of immigration and free trade.
Richard Nixon’s odes to the concept of a “silent majority,” whose support he cherished, were often mocked by pundits in his day but it’s a concept worth revisiting. Today there is a silent majority that thinks it’d be insane to deport millions of hard-working, law-abiding immigrant workers. But, like many other insane ideas out there, this one isn’t going to keep most people from going about their daily business. It’s the supporters of the insanity who likely consider immigration THE ISSUE of our times, and can be found screaming at rallies and pestering their members of Congress, threatening to have them “primaried” if they work with Democrats on the issue.
The dangers posed by agitated minorities are not merely an American phenomenon. They are wreaking greater havoc in other western democracies, like Colombia and Britain, that have ill-advisedly put big questions to a public vote in 2016. Elites in London and Bogotá were seeking additional legitimacy for their decisions to stay in the European Union and reach a final peace settlement with a vanquished narco-insurgency by engaging their silent majorities in the process. In the end, sizable impassioned minorities prevailed.
Trump’s populist campaign narrative of elites pitted against “the people” is off. Today’s politics is pitting elites and a silent (or quieter) majority against a loud, angry, mobilized faction of people susceptible to a populist pitch. The question on November 8 is whether the silent majority makes itself heard, or whether it will cede the electoral battleground to the more clamorous minority.
(Andrés Martinez is the executive editor of Zócalo Public Square. Primary Editor: Joe Mathews. Secondary Editor: Sara Catania. Photo by Brynn Anderson/Associated Press.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.)
GELFAND’S WORLD--This week, the nation's press and pundits are all aflutter about Donald Trump's response to a question that came up in Wednesday's third and final presidential debate. Trump refused to agree to accept the results of the November 8 election. His answer is being quoted by every commentator: "I will look at it at the time," but it might just as well have been, "I'll jump off that bridge when I come to it." My view is that the editorial writers are taking a rather pessimistic view of the American people in treating this one remark as the most newsworthy event of the evening.
First of all, let's make the point that a Trump loss without a formal concession speech would not be the worst outcome ever for an American presidential election. Consider one previous election back in the 1860s, when the state of South Carolina attacked a federal fortification and seceded from the United States. They didn't even wait until Lincoln's inauguration.
So when Trump loses, it hardly matters whether he makes a gracious concession speech, engages in fiery rhetoric, or says nothing at all. It's not going to lead to a civil war. The fiery rhetoric would actually be better for his reputation, because his failure to say anything would just mark him as a pouting loser.
Perhaps I'm being a little naive here, but I took Trump's response to be an attempt at his Trumpian form of standup comedy. His follow up line, "I will keep you in suspense," made that point. What he may have been trying to say in effect was that we are all getting a little tired of the pomposity of debate moderators, so take this question and shove it.
Of course turning the presidential election into one big joke is not what normal people expect, but it's in line with the entire Trump campaign. I suspect that the long-term interpretation of that response eventually will be that Trump came unprepared for this question -- unprepared in the deeper political sense -- just as he has been unprepared on so many other topics.
This is my day to be optimistic about American democracy (fueled in part by the substantial repudiation of Trump's answer by so many well known conservatives). Assuming Hillary Clinton wins, which is becoming ever more likely, the majority of the American people will accept the result as legitimate. It's true that some will refuse to accept the result, but that would be the case whether Trump concedes or not. Most of us will tune in to the inauguration on January 20 and watch the peaceful transfer of power. Those who have some grasp of world history (and particularly European history) will be thankful.
As to the debate itself, a few points are worth making. Let's start with the lesson of Richard Nixon and John Kennedy from their initial debate back in 1960. Historians love to tell us that people who heard the presidential debate on the radio either called it a draw or felt that Nixon won marginally. But television viewers got a favorable view of John Kennedy and an unflattering view of Nixon when picture was added to sound.
Somehow, Donald Trump didn't get the memo. In contrast to Hillary Clinton's poise, he couldn't keep himself from twitching, frowning, smirking, and interrupting. He did a little better job of holding back on the interruptions during the first half hour or so, where he appeared to be scripted and rehearsed. His answers were plainly arguable from the intellectual standpoint, but he had his words in grammatical order and his attacks followed one another in some semblance of structure.
In this, he seemed to have help from the moderator, who has paradoxically been praised for his performance in a lot of places. It's true that he asked real questions and largely stayed away from Bill Clinton's sex life, but his economic biases came through. Particularly when he brought up the national debt, his question, you might say, was questionable. One commentator on the Daily Kos website who writes under the pseudonym dcg2 summed up the moderator's approach deftly. The moderator took it as a given that a mounting national debt is a bad thing, even though some serious economists point out that we don't, at this time, have an economic problem based on the debt.
And yes, it's true that the questions thrown at the candidates were filtered through the conservative perspective, without raising real world worries such as climate change or the continuing loss of union power. This had two opposing effects, one negative and one positive. The negative effect was to force the more liberal candidate to recite a few conservative platitudes such as creating a deficit-free federal budget. The more positive side is that it allowed Hillary Clinton to present the liberal argument on topics such as Planned Parenthood, Roe vs. Wade, and social security, all without some obnoxious talk show host constantly interrupting her. There are not all that many opportunities for the liberal side to tell its story to conservative viewers, and Hillary made use of this one.
Speaking of interruptions, the Donald managed to hold himself in check for that first half hour or so. Perhaps he shouldn't have agreed to participate in 90 minute debates, because he obviously cannot maintain self control for more than a few moments. His style of interrupting with the word "wrong" escalated through the evening, leading to his most serious mistake of the evening, his interruption with the phrase, "Such a nasty woman." Perhaps Trump was trying to play to those who have been propagandized against the Clintons for decades, but the remark will reverberate against him for the remainder of the campaign.
After the debate, I chatted with a few people to get their take. One view struck me as perspicacious: Trump comes across as somebody who is used to talking to underlings. In that context, he can interrupt, insult, and be dead wrong, and he doesn't expect to be corrected. In short, he expects to be treated as the boss. Some of this came out earlier in the campaign, when he complained about debate moderators such as Megyn Kelly. He expects subservience from most everyone, and goes ballistic when he doesn't get it.
In the world of the corporate board meeting, the CEO presides not as an equal, but literally as the boss. There is a big contrast in candidate debates, where no candidate has the right to rule over the others. Trump understands this at some intellectual level, but his lifelong habits, now ingrained as instincts, keep pushing him towards the boss role. He appears unable to help himself, and keeps succumbing to his instincts by making irritating interruptions.
Some of the deeper thinking pundits are beginning to understand that Hillary Clinton is not just the passive beneficiary of Trump's ineptitude. She, along with her otherwise invisible campaign staff, have played Trump like a violin, and he has cooperated in his own downfall.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at email@example.com)
SPECIAL REPORT--Public support for the legalization of recreational marijuana in the U.S. is at a historic high—so to speak—of 60 percent, according to a new Gallup poll just released.
The results come just as a growing number of states vote to legalize recreational marijuana, with another five states casting ballots on the issue this November. Local surveys indicate the efforts are likely to pass in Arizona, California, Maine, and Massachusetts. Nevada, the final state considering legalization, seems more conflicted. (Voters will also decide on medical marijuana questions in Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota.)
A Pew Research Center poll released last week found similar results.
Gallup first asked the question in 1969 and found that public support for legalization stood at 12 percent. It increased slightly to 28 percent during the mid-'70s, but fell back down during the "Just Say No" anti-drug era of the '80s and wavered around 25 percent in the '90s. But it has climbed steadily since 2000, paving the way for an increasing number of states to legalize recreational marijuana, and in 2013 reached a majority for the first time.
The survey also found that young adults overwhelmingly back legalization, with 77 percent of people aged 18-34 expressing their support. But older generations increasingly favor it too, with support at 45 percent among people aged 55 and older.
Politically, the group that favors legalization the most is Independents, who poll at 70 percent support, up from 47 percent in 2003 and 2005. The next is Democrats, at 67 percent, up from 38 percent during that same time period. Republican support has more than doubled, polling now at 42 percent versus 20 percent in 2003 and 2005.
The pollsters said the numbers were particularly important with regards to California's legalization effort. The bottom line, Gallup says, is that California is a political trendsetter in the U.S.—so if it passes there, many other states will likely follow.
"As more states legalize marijuana, the question of whether the drug should be legal may become when it will be legal," Gallup's managing editor Art Swift explained in a write-up of the poll results.
In this election alone, "[t]he percentage of Americans living in states where pot use is legal could rise from the current 5 percent to as much as 25 percent if all of these ballot measures pass," he wrote.
(Nadia Prupis writes for Common Dreams … where this report was first posted.)
LA WATCHDOG--Since California is not a battleground state, we have been spared from many of the inane ads for Hillary and The Donald. But that is not to say we are off the hook as an estimated $400 to $500 million will be spent on the State’s 17 ballot measures by powerful special interests trying to convince us to reject or approve selected ballot measures.
Of the 17 November ballot measures, three ballot measures are attracting a substantial portion of cash: Proposition 56 (Cigarette Tax), Proposition 61 (Prescription Drug Pricing), and Proposition 55 (the extension of the “temporary” Soak the Rich Income Tax Surcharge).
Rather than succumb to barrage of ads, we should tell the big money special interests to take a hike, to buzz off, sending a loud and clear message that we are not for sale to the highest bidder, especially when they bombard us with many misleading advertisements.
As such, both Proposition 56 (Cigarette Tax) and Proposition 61 (Prescription Dug Pricing) deserve a YES vote as Big Tobacco and Big Pharma have spent over $150 million into ads opposing these two ballot measures.
On the other hand, Proposition 55 (Soak the Rich Income Tax Surcharge) deserves a NO vote as the California Teachers Association and the California Association of Hospitals have sunk over $55 million into this ballot measure that is betrayal of our trust and not in the best interest of the State and its economy.
YES on 56, the Cigarette Tax
If voters approve this initiative sponsored by the American Cancer Society, taxes on cigarettes will increase by $2.00 a pack. This economic signal to the market will discourage people from either continuing or taking up this nasty habit that costs us billions in healthcare costs.
The expected haul of $1.4 billion in the first year (which will decline over time as fewer butts are consumed) from this new tax will be allocated primarily to funding health care for low-income Californians.
But Big Tobacco (primarily Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds) has “invested” over $66 million to defeat this measure, making numerous misleading claims that this tax will benefit special interests (the medical industry) and deprive schools of much needed money. But these claims have been debunked by numerous credible sources, including our Los Angeles Times which endorses this proposition.
While many people oppose ballot box legislation, this initiative was the result of the failure of the Legislature to pass tax increases because our elected officials were bought off by generous campaign contributions (or threats) from the tobacco industry and their lobbyists.
YES on Proposition 61, Prescription Drug Pricing
Once again, our cowardly legislators have failed to represent their constituents as they have placed the profits of the pharmaceutical industry and their political careers and campaign war chests above our best interests.
In this case, the Legislature’s failure to pass laws that would increase transparency into the rapidly increasing prices of prescription drugs has prompted an initiative led by the Aids Healthcare Foundation (“AHF”) that will prohibit the State of California from buying any prescription drug at a price greater than the lowest price paid by the Department of Veteran Affairs.
While AHF has spent about $15 million placing this initiative on the ballot and purchasing airtime, this amount is dwarfed by the $87 million spent to date by pharmaceutical companies. And the industry is expected to dump considerably more cash into its efforts to defeat this measure, with some expecting expenditures of at least $100 million. The Los Angeles Times, which opposes this measure, raised a number of valid points as to why we should vote NO. But its solution to “fast rising drug prices” is a comprehensive, national solution that addresses competition, the speedy approval of new drugs, the role of federally funded research, and the development of new insurance models is not going to happen without prodding from the likes of AHF and the voters.
By voting YES on 61, we will send a message to Sacramento and the international drug companies that they need to get their asses in gear and develop a comprehensive policy that is acceptable to the voters of California. Otherwise, nothing will change and we (and our wallets) will continue to be sitting ducks for Big Pharma.
NO on Proposition 55, the Soak the Rich Income Tax Surcharge
In 2012, 55% of California’s voters approved Proposition 30. This measure authorized a “temporary” surcharge on higher income Californians to help plug the State’s budget deficit. And now that the State’s revenues have increased by almost $50 billion to almost $170 billion, there is no need to extend the Soak the Rich Income Tax Surcharge beyond its 2018 expiration date.
However, the California Teachers Association and the California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems are leading a $56 million campaign to extend this surcharge for another 12 years. They are also supported by a slew of elected officials, organizations that rely on the State’s cash, and public sector unions that are addicted to our cash and who have no problem betraying the promises that were made in 2012.
While this surcharge will produce an estimated $7 billion a year, it also increases the State’s dependence on the income tax derived from wealthy Californians. But this places the State’s finances in a very precarious position, especially when the stock market tanks, capital gains disappear, and incomes shrivel, resulting in significantly lower tax revenues and massive budget deficits like the State experienced during the Great Recession.
This is why the Los Angeles Times opposes Proposition 55, calling for the Legislature to produce a more comprehensive overhaul of the State’s budget process.
Rather than being bamboozled by Big Tobacco, Big Pharma, and the State’s public unions, we have the opportunity to see through their misleading ads and vote for what is in our best interests and not follow the lead of our Elected Elite who have their own personal agendas.
Vote YES on 56, Vote YES on 61, and Vote Hell NO on 55.
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. Jack is affiliated with Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
PLATKIN ON PLANNING-Deregulation, the elimination of governmental review of private investments, many of them speculative, has benefited a small percentage of high stakes investors, while inflicting tremendous social costs on the rest of the population. In fact, the dramatic increase in inequality in the United States over the past three decades closely tracks the many types of deregulation implemented by the Federal government and local municipalities. While the resulting economic hardship became painfully obviously in the Great Depression of 2007-8, when unemployment, bankruptcies, and foreclosures soared, the sordid history of deregulation is much worse.
A quick Google search for “failures of deregulation” reveals thousands of articles, including the airline industry, stock market, banking, telecommunications, electric power generation and distribution, and agriculture. But, most of these discussions overlook deregulation at the municipal level, which is a national policy easily observable in American cities, such as Los Angeles.
Last week in my CityWatch column I blasted the White House Affordable Housing Tool Kit for offering nothing more than old, recycled calls for municipal deregulation. If followed, its impact and probably its intent would be a lifeline to real estate speculators who extensively donate to Democrats in local and state elections. I also linked the local deregulation that the White House extolls to the long history of ineffective, market-based, affordable housing programs, including LA’s, around since the 1980s. In nearly 30 years they have not produced any net gains in affordable housing, just increased levels of overcrowding and homelessness.
During those three decades political cronies, from Mayors Bradley to Garcetti, have reaped many financial benefits from municipal deregulation, but that is about it. In fact, I would not be surprised to learn that the many Los Angeles Times articles alleging totally fictitious benefits of zoning and planning deregulation – usually the construction of affordable housing – are linked to these same cronies. Like the Gipper, these articles whistle the same old song of deregulation despite a flood of data that it is only a boon for market housing, especially luxury housing.
More specifically, how does deregulation actually take place in Los Angeles?
Spot-zoning: The most common form of local deregulation is the extensive up-zoning and up-planning of private parcels through the legislative actions in the sights of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. The City’s elected officials bend over backwards to adopt spot-zoning changes and General Plan Amendments that green light larger real estate developments for individual parcels. These special laws then allow property owners to dodge future public notices, hearings, debates, appeals, CEQA, as well as additional property taxes on the increased value of their land. Such a deal!
Re-code LA: The most grandiose effort to deregulate zoning is re:code LA. When completed, it will redefine local zoning for most of Los Angeles by establishing a greater latitude of permitted uses. This approach is called form-based zoning, and it is a citywide approach to eliminate the need for real estate speculators to apply for zone changes or variances to build structures that are not currently allowed by-right. Like spot-zoning, this massive, citywide rezoning program allows property owners to avoid future discretionary actions, environmental reviews, and increases in property taxes.
Community Plan Updates: The long-stalled program to update LA’s General Plan by attaching extensive zoning and planning amendments to Community Plans is now resuming, with a focus on the downtown. These complex amendments run on for many pages and substantially increase the by-right population density and building intensity for hundreds of private parcels. Once adopted as an appendix to Community Plans, they not only allow a greater range of uses and building sizes, but also exempt countless parcels from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by eliminating the need for future discretionary actions.
CEQA “Reform:” Another broad brush form of deregulation is efforts to weaken the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), such as annual proposals from the Governor and State Legislature to streamline environmental reviews and appeals. In his latest “reform” initiative, Governor Jerry Brown proposed a statewide ban on additional zoning reviews for residential projects that conform to local zoning.
EIR Exemptions: Complimenting these statewide efforts to erode CEQA are local efforts, most notably Statements of Overriding Considerations. These are City Council legislative actions that grant building permits to mega-projects even though their Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs) document serious environmental impacts. A stroke of the pen and a majority vote whisk away these adverse environmental impacts with lofty – but unverified -- promises of future jobs and transit ridership.
Zoning and Development Streamlining: Year-after-year, like CEQA reform, development streamlining has remained a key priority at City Hall. The actual streamlining, though, only proceeds in small increments, such as the creation of an Expediting Unit in the Department of City Planning. It is here that the City’s zoning specialists advise applicants who have paid extra case processing fees on the best way to quickly get their pet developments through the project review process.
Restricted case notifications: Ideally, all discretionary actions should mail hearing notices to every resident and property owner within a 500 foot radius of a project. In practice, though, many projects only send notices to adjacent properties. This truncated noticing process reduces participation in hearings and appeals for Specific Plans and Historical Preservation Overlay Zones with review boards, Community Design Overlay Districts, and SB 1818/Density Bonus projects.
SB 1818/ Density Bonus is a nearly bullet-proof quasi-zone variance process for many residential projects. Any developer of apartment buildings can apply for on-menu “incentives” to eliminate zoning requirements in exchange for the inclusion of a small percentage of affordable units. Even though this legislation is considered a discretionary action, there are no mandatory findings, no effective right of appeal, and no field inspections. Unlike most other discretionary actions, these cases also do not require posted or mailed notices. If immediate neighbors do not happen to catch a project’s environmental notice in the Thursday Los Angeles Times, the first time they would learn of a nearby SB 1818 density bonus project is when they receive a written determination in the mail. Considering that nearly all such determinations grant additional height that adversely impacts neighbors, this amounts to a gag order on critical comments.
Reactive code enforcement: In Los Angeles, bootlegged structures, such as illegal signs and garage conversions, are widespread. Since LA’s Department of Building and Safety (LADBS) does not proactively cite code violators when City staff observes infractions, the default is reactive code enforcement. The public submits the locations of code violations to LADBS, and the violators are then occasionally issued citations. But, there are rarely consequences, such as prosecution or city-ordered demolitions, when the contractors fail to comply. The result is that LA is filled with illegal buildings and signs. In effect, the City’s failure to enforce its own land use and building laws results in extensive deregulation.
Easy discretionary actions. The approvals that the Department of City Planning grants to projects that violate zoning and planning laws are called discretionary actions. They are almost always “approved with conditions,” such as restrictions on hours of operation. But, there is no reliable authority at City Hall to enforce these extensive conditions, which means they are really sops intended to assuage project critics.
General Plan negligence. In California every city must have an up-to-date and comprehensive General Plan that is regularly monitored. In LA most of the General Plan’s elements are out-of-date, and the City has deliberately refused to monitor the General Plan’s components since the late 1990s. While City Planning is beginning to update LA’s General Plan, other than housing data, the General Plan’s monitoring program has so far been ignored.
The cumulative effect of these many forms of local deregulation is to make real estate speculation the default city planning process in Los Angeles. Carefully planned and monitored growth of public and private areas has been replaced by unplanned growth resulting from multiple investors’ disconnected, short-term efforts to maximize financial return on individual parcels. While these investors do well, the public pays a tremendous price. It takes the form of strapped public services, slow fire and paramedic responses, crumbling infrastructure, unsafe buildings, traffic congestion, sound and air pollution, and esthetically grim corridors and centers.
(Dick Platkin is a former Los Angeles City Planner who reports on local planning issues for CityWatch. Please submit any comments or corrections to email@example.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
DEEGAN ON LA-Just think of Bambi, and you have a pretty searing image of what can happen to wildlife when our tinder-dry hillsides ignite with flames, as they often do, especially in these drought-parched days.
Humans have equally stressful times living in the same tinderbox, but help is available to them by way of robo-calls and mass media warnings. A “yes” vote on propositions FF and GG on the November 8 ballot will enact a parcel tax (that only certain hillside property owners will be asked to pay,) bringing more help to protect the hillside built and wildlife environments – areas where there is a special need for increased fire prevention and more park rangers.
“The hillsides and canyons of the Mulholland Corridor east and west of the 405 are facing significant challenges,” said Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) Ranger Walt Young, who has been patrolling Mulholland Drive for more than 22 years. “After five years of drought, soil moisture is at a record low. Traffic has doubled in just four years, and the risk of dangerous activity is compounded by the surge in use of the scenic overlooks and other parklands. Funding from measures FF and GG will allow the MRCA to increase ranger patrol to seven days a week along the Mulholland Corridor, increase fire prevention and high alert fire patrols, and provide opportunity to acquire open space to protect wildlife and prevent development.”
Measures FF and GG ask selected hillside residents that are covered by each ballot proposition to vote on a parcel tax “...to maintain and conserve local open space, wildlife corridors, and parklands; acquire and protect additional lands from development; improve fire prevention including high fire alert patrols and brush clearing; protect water quality in local creeks; and increase park ranger safety patrols.”
Measure FF, the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority-Area 2, is for the hillside communities of Woodland Hills, Encino, and Tarzana, and would implement a $15 special tax for ten years only, providing $241,000 annually with all funds spent locally in the area.
Measure GG the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority-Area 1, is for the Santa Monica Mountains and Hollywood Hills east of 405 freeway, and would implement a $35 special tax for ten years only, providing $995,000 annually, with all funds spent locally.
Speaking about the value of FF and GG, Alison Simard, Chairperson of Citizens for Los Angeles Wildlife (CLAW) told CityWatch, “The wildlife don’t get the robo-calls that it’s red flag day, or the urgent messages that it’s time to get out. It’s hard for them to find their way out so they stay put. All the more reason protecting wildlife habitats and connectivity are so important to maintain.” She added that “there’s also an acquisition piece to these ballot measures, so there’s a chance that money can be used to purchase open space to protect wildlife habitat.”
What is surprising about this ballot measure is that it highlights a little-known agency (the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority) and funding mechanism (the Mello-Roos state law) that is the only game in town for this sort of contingency. That the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) exists, at all, and that it can take steps to put funding measures on the November 8 ballot is actually a pretty neat thing: they identified a need, such as fire prevention, additional park rangers and protection and possible expansion of wildlife corridors, and then organized a ballot measure to fund it; even more precisely, they targeted it to have the measure funded only by a select group of parcel owners in designated districts. Its closest analog may be a business improvement district.
Councilmember Paul Koretz (CD5), whose district has a significant portion of the hillside that is covered by Props FF and GG, believes that these measures will help. "I strongly support measures GG and FF, which implement a modest special tax in the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Areas, one East of the 405 and one West. They fund maintaining and conserving local open space and wildlife corridors, acquiring and protecting land from development, improving fire protection, protecting local water quality, and increasing local park ranger safety patrols,” says Koretz.
“I was involved in passing a similar measure around 15 years ago, which primarily saved the Briar Summit area from becoming a large development of single family homes, and instead protected open space and critical wildlife corridors. It was a great success and a blessing for hillside residents. I believe these measures will be as well.”
Just what is the MRCA/Mello-Roos combination? Is it a model that can be replicated in other instances and circumstances? The funding capability comes from Mello-Roos, a state law that was enacted after Prop 13 seriously curtailed property tax income. Mello-Roos provides for a “parcel tax” (not a tax levied against assessed value of the property, but on the “parcel”) – a financing vehicle that creates “Community Facilities Districts” to raise money through special taxes for improvements in the district. Two-thirds of the voters in the district must approve measures for passage.
The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) is a local government public entity that was established in 1985 as a partnership between the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, a state agency established by the Legislature, and the Conejo Recreation and Park District, along with the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District, both of which are local park agencies established by the vote of the people in those communities.
The role of the MRCA is the “preservation and management of local open space and parkland, watershed lands, trails, and wildlife habitat.” It also provides ranger services for almost 73,000 acres of public lands and parks that it owns and that are owned by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.
“There’s not lots of city effort towards conservation, so we’re lucky to have these (FF and GG) boundaries established by state legislators” offered Tony Tucci, Co-Director of CLAW and a board member of the Bel Air Beverly Crest Neighborhood Council and a fan of the “community facilities districts” that Mello-Roos creates. He says the funds generated by Props FF and GG are “a local tax that stays local, and creates a great local investment.” Some people are repelled by taxes, but Tucci reports that “...there’s been no published opposition against the measures. What’s refreshing to hear from residents, when we talk about these measures, is that there’s never a negative response. People think it’s low cost for fire prevention.”
For the “Bambis” in our hillsides, ballot measures FF and GG can also be seen as a wellness tactic and a preventative measure to cut down on reckless firebugs (a tossed cigarette can instantly create an inferno.) These measures will provide more ranger patrols, increased fire protection, and protection and maybe expansion of their wildlife corridors. Props FF and GG are equal-opportunity winners -- benefitting all hillside residents, whether human or wildlife.
(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
PLAYTIME AT CALPERS (Part 2)-- Back in the day, CalPERS had a national reputation as the best run, most socially conscious pension fund in the US. However, things began to change by 2000, as returns diminished and “pay to play” allegations began to surface.
The Backdrop-Indictments--Ultimately it emerged that Fred Buenrosto, CEO of CalPERS, and former Board Member Alfred Villalobos had started playing footsie with each other by engaging in falsifying documents and corruption and bribery, as was finally charged in a series of indictments. These schemes started around 2005 and continued until they were caught. Matters clearly came to a head when, as the schemes unraveled, Mr. Buenrosto suddenly decided to “retire” in 2008.
When the heat ratcheted up and it was clear that an illegal conspiracy was in the offing, CalPERS, in the best tradition of large institutions, hired a white shoe corporate law firm (Steptoe & Johnson) to whitewash the mess. And this they did -- putting as happy a face on it as money can buy. Reading their final Report, it is obvious their job was to make everyone still employed look good, and then to come up with “go forward” recommendations. None of that finger-pointing stuff for them. Not bad for $11 million in fees.
The CalPERS Staff--Key to this or any other story involving billions and billions of dollars of public money, is the staff. After all, the Board can only effectuate their will through their staff, and it is therefore the staff that is at the heart of the issues facing CalPERS.
Marcie Frost - CEO (as of October 3, 2016)--Marcie Frost is a veteran public pension manager from the State of Washington. She served as the Executive Director of the Washington State Department of Retirement Systems (DRS) prior to being selected as the successor to Ann Stausboll.
At this point, it would not be fair to say anything more, since she has only been on board for a brief time. In fact, when I clicked on her photo under “Executive Officers” on the CalPERS website last week, I got a 404 error message of “page not found.”
So let’s see what she’s inherited.
Ann Stausboll – CEO--Ann Stausboll (photo above) served as CEO from the demise of Fred Buenstroso in 2008 until August of this year. The LA Times hailed her as the change agent to overcome “steep losses” with the fund, even as they glossed over the criminal scandal of Buenstroso and company.
Stausboll, however, was no newcomer to either CalPERS or government. She had previously worked for CalPERS in the 1990s, when the General Counsel was Richard Koppes, later with the big time politically connected law firm, Jones Day. And when Phil Angeledes became State Treasurer, Stausboll left CalPERS to become a Deputy Treasurer and General Counsel from 1999 to 2004.
In 2004, Stausboll returned to CalPERS as their Chief Operating Investment Officer, and twice during that period was the CIO.
Bill Lockyer, who was Treasurer in 2008 and sat on the CalPERS Board, was quoted as saying that “the Board liked her because she is a team player.”
As we shall see, this becomes important because she has appointed virtually all of the current Executive Team to their positions during her tenure; she has also created the current Executive Officer structure.
Ted Eliopoulos, Chief Investment Officer--Stausboll appointed Ted Eliopoulos as CIO in 2014. He started out as an attorney with Latham & Watkins, another of the California power elite law firms whose progeny populate California government. Not coincidentally, he too worked for California Treasurer Angeledes, and became Chief Deputy Treasurer from 2002-2006. And oh, by the way, he was the designated representative for the Treasurer on the CalPERS Board during this time.
In 2007, when Stausboll was back at CalPERS, Eliopoulos came on board as Senior Investment Officer for the Real Estate Division. Under her tutelage he moved from SIO for Real Estate to SIO, and then to SIO for all of the Real Assets Investments.
Douglas Hoffner - Deputy Executive Officer, Operations & Technology--Ann Stausboll appointed Mr. Hoffner to this position in mid-2012. Douglas started out in politics for then Assembly member Fred Aguiar (R-San Bernardino). He also became the Executive Director of & Associates, handling two trade associations (California Building Officials, and the Roofing Contractors Association.
He then worked for 2 years as ‘Assistant Director of Legislation’ for the CA Department of General Services, and moved up to a Deputy Cabinet Secretary under the Schwarzenneger Administration. From there he moved over to the CA Labor and Workforce Development Agency, where he was tapped by Stausboll.
Obviously a politically connected Republican type, Ann Stausboll had him named Interim CEO of CalPERS after she announced her retirement effective August 2016.
Matthew G. Jacobs - General Counsel--Mr. Jacobs came to CalPERS via the big time global corporate sector, namely DLA Piper, LLC. They play with the care and feeding of large corporations; they claim, “we also advise governments and public sector bodies.” The scant information that is readily available would seem to indicate that his area of expertise was in federal litigation.
Cheryl Eason - Chief Financial Officer--Cheryl Eason became the first CFO for CalPERS in 2012. Prior to that, she worked for the Manitoba Lotteries Corporation, and then the British Columbia Pension Corporation. The newly created position was designed to provide oversight of budgeting, accounting, risk compliance, pension contract management and prefunding.
In March of this year, CalPERS announced the creation of a new position reporting to Ms. Eason. Marlene Timberlake D’Adamo is now the new Chief Compliance Officer, a position advertised as strengthening the “Pension Fund’s transparency, accountability and ethics.” She comes from PNC Bank in Philadelphia where she worked in Portfolio and Risk Management.
Donna Lum - Deputy Executive Officer, Customer Services and Support--A longtime employee, Donna Lum started as the IT person for the CA Department of Education Department of Toxic Substances Control. In 1999, she came to CalPERS and served as Chief of the Benefit Services Division before being promoted to Deputy Executive Officer for Customer Services and Support, the division that handles administration of retirement and health account benefits and the associated customer services.
Doug P. McKeever - Deputy Executive Officer, Benefit Programs Policy and Planning--Mr. McKeever came to CalPERS from the Department of Corrections and Mental Health, where he was Director of Juvenile Programs & Director of Mental Health. He is lead for dealing with the health benefits function of CalPERS, such as contracting out health plans, long-term care, retirement planning and research. This function involves some 1.4 million people and more than $8 billion per year.
Brad W. Pacheco - Deputy Executive Officer, Communications and Stakeholder Relations--Originally coming from the CA Association of HMO’s as its Communications Director, Mr. Pacheco joined CalPERS in 1995. Essentially the PR person, he was promoted to the newly created position of DEO, Communications and Stakeholder Relations in 2015.
As such, he is responsible for the CalPERS websites, social media, video, media relations and employee communications -- not to mention that he now deals with public record act requests, not a success story for CalPERS in the past.
The Takeaway--Clearly, after being promoted to CEO in 2008, Ann Stausboll created a whole new structure for her executive team and personally populated it with her picks. This is important for a couple of reasons. First, most of the key management players on the Board Administrative side were simply not around at the time of the corruption scandals involving Messrs. Buenrosto and Villalobos. Also, Eliopoulos, Hoffner, and Jacobs all had heavy political and corporate backgrounds.
Second, having personally created the structure and filling it with her choices, there was little likelihood that any of her staff would say anything to the Board that was not previously vetted by her.
So here’s the question: Why did Ms. Stausboll suddenly announce her retirement in August of this year at age 59?
(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
RANTZ & RAVEZ--Recent news reports and conservations with Los Angeles patrol officers illustrate just how far out of touch the leaders of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Los Angeles Anti-Police Commissioners are with LAPD Offices around the city. From the San Fernando Valley to San Pedro and from West Los Angeles to the Eastern portion of Los Angeles the abandoned feeling and desperation of officers is alarming.
The Anti-Police Commissioners led by President Matthew M. Johnson and followed by rabble rousing Cynthia McClain-Hill and Sandra Figueroa-Villa are to blame for this disconnect. This may be part of the reason recruitment efforts are down at the LAPD. With a budget for 10,000 officers, the LAPD currently has 8,837 officers on the books. That is 163 officers short of the authorized strength. The number of officers does make a difference in crime reduction and police response times.
The Anti-Police Commissioners are criticizing and faulting dedicated LAPD Officers for engaging in police actions against a growing criminal element that is forcing LA’s crime rates to explode. Showing more concern about restricting the enforcement action of LAPD Officers than addressing the criminal behavior of those that prey on innocent victims is the ill conceived and tragic direction of the majority of the current Anti-Police Commission.
Commissioner Johnson set his vision and two goals as Commission President. Number one was the reduction of crime. He has totally failed in that category. Crime is up and continues to rise with reduced numbers of arrests. The October 8, 2016, LAPD citywide violent crime and arrest profile clearly illustrates the frightening numbers. Total violent crimes are up a shocking 36.4% over 2014.
These include Murder, Rape, Robbery and Aggravated Assaults. Property crimes are also on the increase. They include Burglary, GTA, and Burglary from vehicle and personal/other theft. These are up 21.3% when you compare 2016 to 2014. These alarming crime statistics clearly reflect the lack of effectiveness of Commissioner Johnson and his leadership in reducing crime in Los Angeles.
The second category is Johnson’s goal of minimizing the use-of-force incidents. That goal is also missing the mark. With his lack of support and encouragement for the officers that carry out the difficult task of keeping Los Angeles safe, use-of-force incidents continue against those individuals that commit crimes and violently resist arrest.
The number of officer-involved shootings rose 60% in 2015 compared to 2014. 87% of those shot by an officer in 2015 had either a gun or some other type of weapon at the time of the shooting. Many of those shot by officers showed signs of mental illness.
When an officer encounters an individual with a gun or knife or any other type of weapon, the officer attempts to defuse the situation. When all else fails, there are few options left for that officer.
When the Anti-Police Commission attempts to meet on their regular scheduled Tuesday, the loud mouths and Anti-police activists in the audience are permitted to disrupt the meeting by screaming and acting like spoiled children to gain attention for their mission of protesting the enforcement of law in Los Angeles.
Their mission is very simple and has gained the support of the weak and spineless members of the Anti-Police Commission led by Commissioners Johnson and McClain-Hill. During a recent Commission meeting, a women made direct death threats against LAPD Officers. The Commission did nothing to address this Terrorist Threat against LAPD Personnel. The Cowardly acts and a lack of support for LAPD personnel by the Anti-Police Commission are at the root of this matter.
When uniform officers encountered a crazed women with a knife who failed to follow their commands and directions and charged at them forcing them to either run away and hide or face the attack, the Commission discounted the recommendation of Chief Beck who found that the shooting was in policy and found that the officers use of deadly force was appropriate.
The message from the Commission is to run and hide and avoid any encounter that may result in the use of force. I asked officers if it is worth their career and livelihood for themselves and their family to take that risk. Even with the lack of support from the majority of the Anti-Police Commission, some offices are continuing to serve the public and face the risk of negative consequences of trying to “Protect and Serve” the people of Los Angeles.
In recent conversations with LAPD Patrol Officers with 7 months to over 20 years of service, the concern is the same. While the Anti-Police Commission is undermining the actions of the officers and attempting to weaken the enforcement efforts of the LAPD, the officers are receiving support from the people of Los Angeles who appreciate what they are doing to try and make Los Angeles a safe place for everyone.
It is interesting to note that the Commission is not addressing the criminal element in the city that is forcing the crime numbers to increase. They are only pushing to reduce the effectiveness of the police and use of force incidents. In reality and on the streets of Los Angeles, there are increasing numbers of people being released from prison and turning to the law abiding residents of Los Angeles to fill their pockets with stolen items or assault them causing bodily harm.
The recent deaths of three-law enforcement officers shot and killed in Southern California clearly illustrates the point. First there was Los Angeles County Sheriff Sergeant Steve Owen a 29-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Department.
The second and third police officers were shot and killed in Palm Springs. Officer Gil Vega a 35 year member of the Department preparing for retirement in the next two months and Lesley Zerebny who had 1 ½ years of service who just returned to duty after the birth of her child. How tragic for the families of the law enforcement personnel who have died in the line of duty. Black bands will be displayed on the badges of law enforcement personnel and their memory will remain with their family, friends and colleagues.
To date, there is a 55% increase in gun deaths to Law Enforcement personnel across the country. With these increasing numbers, the Anti-Police Commission should be more concerned about the safety of officers then the loud mouths Anti-police activists that are trying to cripple our police officers.
It would be a refreshing change for the members of the Anti-Police Commission to address those who carry guns and commit crime to comply with the orders of officers who are professional and dedicated to protecting ALL the people of Los Angeles. A continuing life of crime is where many who are released from prison end up.
It does not really matter if the person is a hardened murderer, robber, burglar, rapist, and car thief or of crazed mind from drugs, they are all responsible in one way or another for their actions. Holding the police back from protecting the public they are sworn to protect and serve is a constant crime the Anti-Police Commission is committing.
With the continuing coddling of the Anti police activists by the Anti-Police Commission that are attempting to tear down the LAPD and with encouragement by the Anti-Police Commission for those that are undermining the effectiveness of the LAPD, any injury sustained by an officer from a suspect is at the hands of the Out of Touch, and Cowardly members of the Los Angeles Anti-Police Commission.
(Dennis P. Zine is a 33-year member of the Los Angeles Police Department and former Vice-Chairman of the Elected Los Angeles City Charter Reform Commission, a 12-year member of the Los Angeles City Council and a current LAPD Reserve Officer who serves as a member of the Fugitive Warrant Detail assigned out of Gang and Narcotics Division. Disclosure: Zine was a candidate for City Controller last city election. He writes RantZ & RaveZ for CityWatch. You can contact him at Zman8910@aol.com. Mr. Zine’s views are his own and do not reflect the views of CityWatch.)
CONSTRUCTION POLLUTION-The Sunset Coalition is hoping a San Francisco appeals court ruling will soon validate a health standard for protecting children against cancer that will have the collateral effect of forcing reductions in the size of the Archer School for Girls expansion project in Brentwood.
To accomplish this ambitious effort to out-flank the Los Angeles City Council’s controversial approval of Archer’s $100 million expansion project, the Coalition recently filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief in a San Francisco lawsuit. That lawsuit opposes a plan to build an 18,000-seat sports arena for the Golden State Warriors basketball team across the street from a children’s hospital.
“We are supporting the San Francisco case because we believe it can result in a court order establishing a standard for protecting the health of children that will be of tremendous value in our lawsuit against Archer,” said Coalition attorney Doug Carstens, author of the amicus brief. Shortly after the Los Angeles City Council – led by Brentwood councilman Mike Bonin - and Mayor Eric Garcetti approved the Archer project in Aug. 2015, the Coalition and others sued, claiming the project violated city zoning rules and state environmental law.
“It is outrageous and unacceptable that Archer and the city leaders have failed to use the best, most up to date science, to ensure that the over-large Archer expansion project does not illegally expose local residents, but especially Archer’s own schoolchildren, to dramatically increased risks for cancer,” said Carstens.
The cancer risks will be particularly acute during construction of the Archer project, the Coalition maintains.
“The construction activity will create toxic air quality conditions that students and residents will have to breathe,” said Wendy-Sue Rosen, co-chair of the Sunset Coalition, a non-profit advocacy group set up originally to limit the size of the Archer project.
“About 500 young girls will be on the campus for two full school years during the proposed construction,” said Zofia Wright of the Sunset Coalition. “In addition, at least 250 residents who live in the immediate area will also be affected – especially any who are elderly or infirm. The health of these people should not be put at risk.”
The risks are related to the NO2 (nitrogen dioxide is the major pollutant resulting from the combustion of fossil fuels) and toxic particulate contaminants that will be emitted by construction vehicles, said Carstens.
The massive Archer expansion project, scheduled to begin in May 2017 and last for at least 36 months, will involve over 260,000 construction vehicle traveling to and from the Archer worksite, including 9,000 cement truck trips and 10,000 extra-large haul tractors with double trailers. Other heavy equipment will also be operating on the site during construction.
In the San Francisco and the Archer lawsuits, the opponents have alleged that the offending projects and local authorities failed to properly disclose to the public the increased health risks, especially to children, posed by the large building projects. Moreover, they allege, the projects fail to include ways to mitigate the health risks.
“What we’re talking about are violations of basic environmental rules requiring disclosure and mitigation of harmful effects,” said Carstens.
In the San Francisco and Archer lawsuits, it is alleged that, based on new scientific findings, the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has developed guidelines for protecting the health of children, and that those guidelines have been ignored by Archer and the city of Los Angeles (and by the Warriors arena developer and San Francisco authorities).
Those new scientific findings concern the breathing rates of children. Children, in effect, inhale and exhale air at greater rates than do adults. Thus, when there are contaminants in the air, children take in more of those contaminants than adults (as a proportion of their body size). In addition, scientific evidence has demonstrated that children are more susceptible to toxins than adults. As a result, OEHHA has lowered the threshold of acceptable exposure to airborne toxins for children based on the new breathing rate data.
“The science is very clear and the OEHHA’s guidance is very clear but the developers and elected officials overseeing their projects have ignored them,” said Carstens.
Expert analysis using the new OEHHA standards shows that cancer risks for schoolchildren during the most intense periods of construction will be far greater than the risks permitted by Los Angeles’ own health policies, said Carstens.
The San Francisco case has been set for oral arguments on Nov. 16 in the 1st District Court of Appeals. Opponents have claimed the city’s review of the Warriors arena project failed to quantify and mitigate the project’s greenhouse gas emissions and to adequately inform the public about cancer-causing toxic air contaminants.
The city approved the vehicle-intensive Warriors project for construction just across the street from the University of California at San Francisco Children’s Hospital and from residential housing for UCSF students and their families. An analysis using updated breathing rates for children showed the air pollutants from the arena project would increase the cancer risk for children residing nearby by 71 percent.
(John Schwada is a former investigative reporter for Fox 11 in Los Angeles, the LA Times and the late Herald Examiner. He is an occasional contributor to CityWatch. His consulting firm is MediaFix Associates.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
EDUCATION POLITICS-I was at the Los Angeles school board meeting for 10 hours yesterday. I missed the morning session, figuring that since the charter approvals were on the consent calendar, there wasn’t much point. I was right; in one vote, the district lost nearly 6000 students to charter approvals. I guess UTLA made the same calculation because they did not show up either. Four charter revisions or renewals were approved and one new charter got the green light. Eight more charters--including four KIPP--were publicly noticed for hearing next month.
Parent activist Carl Petersen joined me for the last half. All three Magnolia Charters were denied renewal. So they will likely appeal their case to the County, which rarely rejects charters. I don't know what was in the report that was not made public (why?) but even charter champions Monica "Cradle of Reform" Garcia and Ref "Never met a charter I didn't like" Rodriguez voted them down. The report that was public contained a letter from State Superintendent Tom Torlakson telling Magnolia that it was in violation for failing to respond to repeated requests for information. Still, Caprice Young told a television news reporter that Magnolia had provided everything the state requested, the state gave Magnolia a "clean bill of health" and that she thinks LAUSD just does not want good charter schools.
Citizens of the World charter was approved to expand from elementary to middle school. It is located within three miles of five other LAUSD middle schools. For an introduction to their citizenship, take a look at this 1 minute video clip in which they explain that they're the vibrant vine strangling the dying tree of Stoner Elementary School.
Carl and I were two of only three parents at the board meeting advocating for district schools among nearly 200 people in attendance. Dozens more charter supporters had been bussed and waited outside. That’s what happens when a school is threatened with shut down. I guess when LAUSD starts closing our schools, parents might start showing up to board meetings, too. We shall see. We shall see very soon.
UTLA finally showed up in the form of one person, its president. He did not speak even though "labor partners" are allowed to speak on any agenda item. This plays into the charter lobby's favorite device: the fictional teachers-against-parents narrative, always claiming that it’s just doing what parents want.
For the evening session, we parents were only allowed one public comment for the entire meeting even though there were nine agenda items. Carl focused on details of El Camino and the harassment he has been subjected to since blogging about them. There was a collective, audible cringe from El Camino supporters when he approached the podium.
I implored the board to stand up for neighborhood schools and reminded them that they were our only hope because the CCSA has the governor on speed dial. That comment might be why the CCSA started following me on Twitter last night.
One charter dad told the board that it should not oversee charters due to its "implicit bias" on account of the district competing with charters for tax payer dollars. But, he said, don't worry. We're going to get the law changed. In the meantime, here's a great NPR story for that dad to find out what implicit bias really is.
Here is Howard Blume’s report. I’m sure KPCC will have one later today. LA School Report will have several. That’s what they do to influence opinion. They tell the charter story over and over until people believe it.
(Karen Wolfe is a public school parent, the Executive Director of PS Connect and an occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
READ EM AND WEEP--These two bulletins from the City News Service are real and edited only for space.
October 14, 2016, City News Service
Four City Council members will begin a weeklong trip to Europe Saturday for a Cisco Systems-led tour of two cities where private citizens and governments have connected the internet into various household objects and day-to-day functions.
Executives with the telecom hardware giant will show council members Bob Blumenfield, Gil Cedillo (photo above), Curren Price and Mitch Englander around Hamburg, Germany, and Copenhagen, Denmark, said company lobbyist Arnie Berghoff.
The “smart and connected cities” tour will include a stop at Hamburg’s inland port, which has been fully automated, he said. In both cities the council members will meet with elected and other government officials, he said.
Berghoff said Cisco will not be paying for the council members’ trip-related expenses.
October 18, 2016, City News Service
Los Angeles City Council meetings for the rest of the week have been canceled because not enough members will be in town to attend them.
Five council members are out of town, leaving just nine City Council members to attend meetings, which is not enough for the required quorum.
Council members Bob Blumenfield, Gil Cedillo, Mitchell Englander and Curren Price are in Europe this week taking part in a Cisco Systems-led tour of Hamburg, Germany, and Copenhagen, Denmark.
There are a total of 15 City Council seats, but one has been vacant ever since former Seventh District councilman Felipe Fuentes stepped down last month to go work for a Sacramento lobbying firm.
Some City Council committee hearings will still go on, depending if a quorum can be reached.
These two bulletins from the City News Service are real and have only been edited for length and the insertion of links to related campaign finance and lobbyist activity posted at the Ethics Commission website.
There are many who think the councilmember’s travel costs might be better spent on a ‘Priority-Setting 101’ workshop for our city leaders.
(Eric Preven is a CityWatch contributor and a Studio City based writer-producer and public advocate for better transparency in local government. He was a candidate in the 2015 election for Los Angeles City Council, 2nd District. Joshua Preven is a CityWatch contributor and teacher who lives in Los Angeles.)
ALPERN AT LARGE-In the past few CityWatch articles, I focused mainly on the money measures/propositions, and to summarize my $.02:
1) Vote YES on County Measure M (transportation funding), and NO on every other city, county, and state funding measure/proposition on school construction, parks, homeless initiatives, LAX police pensions, health initiatives, etc. unless you:
a) Believe our current spending for these otherwise-excellent priorities is being performed efficiently, effectively, and transparently.
b) Believe that businesses, homeowners, and all taxpayers are doing just swimmingly well, and can afford more taxes because our taxes are relatively low.
2) That means to Vote NO on Measure A, LA Community College District Measure CC, LA City Measure HHH and LA City Measure SSS, as well as State Propositions 51, 52, 55, and 56)
3) Vote YES on governmental reform and transparency (LA City Measure RRR, State Propositions 53 and 54) but NO on governmental overreach in hiring, building and contracting in the City of LA (Measure JJJ)
And now it's on to "law and order" initiatives. Do we:
1) Want another surge of crime from "early release" parolees who were let out early because they "only" had nonviolent crimes on their records (but which were done to be compromising/kind in the hopes they would have enough time in prison to reform their lives)?
2) Do we trust those who've fought and made a joke of every death penalty case to defend us from some of the most violent felons imaginable? Do we reward the naive individuals who defend those who are blatantly guilty (not just hearsay, but undeniably guilty) of murder and prolong their capital punishment appeals for years and decades on end?
3) Do we believe that the marijuana out today is the same relatively weak-potency material present in the 1950's, or recognize that some purified marijuana is about as dangerous as LSD?
4) Do we want marijuana and other controlled substances promoted all over the place, so that our children, even as young adults believe it's more acceptable? Do you want YOUR kids, even as young adults, to start using marijuana?
I'm a physician by trade, and during my training I actually VOLUNTEERED to take every prison patient/rotation I could because I wanted to learn more about the realities of prison life and those who reside within the prison system.
There is room for kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and reform throughout the law enforcement and prison systems. More and more police officers and prison guards are learning that the best forms of law enforcement include the encouragement of personal and professional reform in prisoners' lives...even felons. Recidivism is awful, and a reformed life is beautiful.
Furthermore, medical marijuana--while requiring reform such as proper dosing and evidence-based medical literature that is non-anecdotal--has a proper role in our society, but a "go for it!" message to our youth in the same manner we see with alcohol is a BIG problem that requires attention in a sober (pun intended) fashion.
Is marijuana as big a problem as heroin, crack, bath salts, etc.? Of course not--many people use it recreationally, or even just to relax, and they are high-functioning. But saying it's wonderful and OK for a larger percentage of society?
No, no, and no again to all who think that marijuana plays no deleterious role in the lives of those who become addicted (and it is addictive, particularly with the more potent forms we see today).
1) NO on PROP 57
We should avoid the early release of criminals who will have rap sheets that include rape by intoxication or of an unconscious person, human trafficking, drive-by shooting, hostage taking, arson, failing to register as a sex offender, and a host of other major offenses (LINK: http://www.stop57.com/ballot-argument/)
2) Vote NO on PROP 62, and YES on PROP 66
The death penalty consideration already can be swayed by the families of the victims who had everything (their lives) taken from them. Prison for life without parole is already a consideration for those under special circumstances.
But to reward the crazies and the naive do-gooders who've warped the intent of the appeal system, and who knowingly defend those truly guilty of unforgiveable crimes (particularly when the family of the victims believes that their loved ones' lives merit the death penalty to their loved ones' murderers) is itself a crime.
All efforts should be made to make sure that absolutely NO death penalty is administered on an innocent defendant. DNA testing and investigations should be funded without limitation. Yet when the murderer is truly, honestly guilty, then the death penalty:
a) Establishes that the life of the victim, who is NOT present to represent what they went through when they had their lives ripped away from them, means something.
b) Provides closure to society that wants justice served, and the message promoted that murder is horrible, unforgiveable, and will have BIG consequences.
c) Still exists to let all of society know that murder is never acceptable, and to persist as a deterrent to some, but not all of our criminal population (which does exist, whether we want to acknowledge that or not).
3) Vote NO on PROP 64
When law enforcement officers state that recreational marijuana is "no big deal" then maybe it's not, but the marijuana we see today is too potent, too addicting, and too problematic to just open the doors at this point. DUI convictions are already a problem, and they will go up big time if this ill-advised proposition passes.
By and large, most recreational marijuana users keep it on "the down low" and the police tend to ignore those not using while driving--this was established in laws and policies set up during the Schwarzenegger era.
And medical marijuana, while needing much, MUCH better science to support dosing, indications, side effects, best-practices, etc. that the rest of medicine adheres to, has its benefits and roles within both experimental and clinical medical practice. However, equating marijuana and alcohol at this time as "the same" is too premature and inaccurate to pass this proposition.
So … listen to the police, highway patrol, and other law-enforcement agencies! They can't keep us safe if we undermine their efforts!
And please take the time to vote November 8, ya hear?
(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at email@example.com. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)
TRUTHDIG--Though the 400 to 500 women and men awaiting Bernie Sanders in the parking lot of the American Federation of Musicians in Hollywood represented a fraction of the numbers greeting him during the primary election, the turnout still was impressive—evidence of his continued popularity and support for the cause he was advocating. (Photo above: Sanders campaign headquarters in Los Angeles.)
For me, listening to him and talking to activists in the audience before he spoke was like stepping into a clear, clean lake after wading through the putrid muck of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign against Hillary Clinton. I wondered where all these decent people come from, these folks I never see on television? Was I dreaming?
Sanders was in Hollywood Friday afternoon to speak on behalf of California Proposition 61, which seeks to reduce the exorbitant prices that drug companies are charging for pharmaceuticals. “The pharmacy industry is one of the most powerful forces in Washington,” he said. “They are getting nervous. And you are making them very nervous.”
His oratorical style was as compelling as it was the last time I heard him. That was in May before a crowd that covered much of the football field at Santa Monica High School.
Those in the audience in the Hollywood parking lot were enthused. Sanders seemed to make them feel as though they were part of an inspiring cause bigger than themselves, just as he did during the campaign. Unfortunately for Hillary Clinton, she doesn’t have that skill. She is workmanlike, too cautious to dig into her inner self for the words and emotions that would send people away from her appearances ready to crusade.
What Sanders didn’t do was mention Clinton—a notable oversight, whether accidental or deliberate. That doesn’t matter much in California, a solid Clinton state. But hopefully he urges a vote for his former rival when he’s speaking in battleground states, where Trump wants to suppress the Democratic vote. There, Clinton needs a big turnout.
I heard a yearning for Bernie as I walked through the crowd talking to people before his speech. I also found a new willingness to vote for Clinton as a way of voting against Trump.
Mike Wong, a server with day and night jobs at two restaurants, said Sanders’ loss was hard for him to take.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Wong, a Sanders volunteer during the primary. “But it’s heartening to see Bernie endorsing causes and candidates. That’s why I’m here. The primary was painful. You invest so much into something you feel so deeply about.”
Wong, now for Clinton, had not decided what to do until a month after the Democratic National Convention. “I weighed whether to sit it out,” he said. He didn’t think Green candidate Jill Stein or Libertarian Gary Johnson was viable, “and I don’t want Trump to be president.” In the end, he said he hopes he and the other Bernie backers “will hold [Clinton] accountable for Bernie’s platform.”
I encountered John Cromshaw, who hosts a program, “Politics or Pedagogy,” on progressive radio station KPFK. “I’ve never been a fan of Hillary,” he said. ”She has corporate sponsors. … I’m concerned about her militarism.” But on the plus side, he said, “she’s a typical politician who can be swayed with people who influence her. Bernie Sanders shows he is someone who can influence the course of politics.”
Not a ringing endorsement, but Cromshaw will be pitching for Clinton and against Trump on his program at the end of October, to be built around the theme “eight days, eight years—eight days to elect Hillary, eight years to keep her responsible.”
Wendi Blankenship and her son Jacob were awaiting Sanders’ arrival. “I was pretty disappointed after the primary,” Jacob said. “A few days after the Democratic convention, after Bernie’s speech [backing Clinton] I decided what he said made sense.”
“I think more people will look into Hillary—I hope,” said his mother. “We’re supporting Hillary now,” said Jacob. “She’s obviously the better candidate.”
Sanders supporter Stanley Chatman, who is African-American, told me, “Trump should not be let near the White House. We cannot have a sexual predator in the White House.”
The main item on the agenda, the drug-price control measure Proposition 61, brought Chatman to the rally. “This is something that will touch everyone you know,” he said. The drug companies “will make a little less, but they still would be profitable.”
The measure would require the state to pay the same prices for prescription drugs as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, known as the federal government’s hardest bargainer when it comes to buying drugs for its patients.
California state agencies spend an estimated $4.2 billion a year for prescription drugs for the state’s Medi-Cal (Medicaid) patients, retirees and current employees through benefit programs and for prisoners. That’s a small part of the $298 billion spent nationally on prescription drugs, but as Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik wrote that “it’s enough to give the state potentially massive influence on drug pricing.” Proposition 61 campaigners say they expect Big Pharma to spend at least $100 million to defeat the measure.
“They can spend all the money they want, but they are a bunch of crooks and we are going to beat them,” Sanders told the crowd. “It is an industry that is extraordinarily greedy and one we must stand up to … enough is enough.” He called 61 the “most significant proposition in the country today. … Brothers and sisters, work hard on this issue. The entire country is looking at California.”
This is part of the revolution he talked about during the campaign, centered on electing progressives around the country and promoting citizen action. Speaking in the musician’s union parking lot, with no national media or presidential campaign-sized crowds, is unglamorous work, spreading a message to a few hundred voters at a time. Hopefully in California, those voters will spend the next three weeks campaigning hard against the drug companies.
It was good to see the old warrior, fiery as ever, spurring them on.
WELLS FARGO SCANDAL--As the Wells Fargo scandal unfolded, in the back of my mind was just how the requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, enacted in 2002 in response to the Enron and Worldcom debacles, did not protect the investors, general public and the bank’s employees.
Sarbanes-Oxley is referred to as SOX. It did not create much in the way of new regulations, but it did formalize how publicly traded companies implemented and enforced internal control policies and procedures. It also raised the stakes for key corporate managers – including the Board of Directors, CEO, CFO and in-house attorneys – as far as their individual roles in assuring that the controls governing financial and ethical performance were observed. For example, corporate attorneys must report suspicions of fraudulent acts to their company’s chief legal counsel and CEO. They can go to the audit committee if there appears to be insufficient effort to investigate.
SOX also created the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), or Peekaboo, as it is known by industry finance, auditing and accounting professionals. Peekaboo oversees the external auditors’ work, which had been largely self-regulated. Audit firms are now subject to inspections by the Board.
Violating any SOX regulation could be worthy of criminal charges, yet few executives have faced charges, much less been convicted, under its umbrella. It is seemingly stupefying considering key executives must sign certifications as to the accuracy of the financial statements, but understandable when CEOs are shielded by sub-certifications their companies make lower-level managers sign, creating buffers. It is reminiscent of a scene from Godfather 2, where a lieutenant of the Corleone Family tells a Senate Committee how the Godfather had layers of people between himself and those who took care of the actual dirty work.
But the impact on Wells Fargo’s financial statements was minimal, only $2.4 million. By itself, that would not create any stir on Wall Street, certainly not enough to push the stock price upwards.
And probably not enough to subject John Stumph (photo right) to criminal charges, much less be convicted, for deliberate misstatement of the financial statements. Just think – the DOJ did not bother pursuing a criminal action against Countrywide’s Angelo Mozilo, so why would it start now?
However, the phony accounts did create an illusion of long-term customer loyalty. One could argue that shareholders would be inclined to hold the stock longer than they otherwise would. Think of it as contrived price support.
Regardless, it was fraud.
It is almost certain that some of the sub-certifiers who knew of the scheme would gladly cooperate with the Feds and help prosecutors construct a trail to Stumph and his key people. Call it buffer-busting.
The DOJ should also look to what SOX refers to as Entity Level controls. Also known as “the tone at the top,” these cover the corporate culture and how it affects the risk of circumventing the activity controls directly related to financial reporting. So, an overly aggressive marketing program, similar to the one used by Wells Fargo, may create an atmosphere of fear among the sales staff and lead to fraudulent actions. A definite red flag which should have caused the SOX auditors to dig deeper at Wells Fargo.
In the end, why do we have SOX if it is not used to help bring down unscrupulous executives?
(Paul Hatfield is a CPA and serves as President of the Valley Village Homeowners Association. He blogs at Village to Village and contributes to CityWatch. The views presented are those of Mr. Hatfield and his alone and do not represent the opinions of Valley Village Homeowners Association or CityWatch. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
WHAT KIND OF CALIFORNIA DO WE WANT?--Politicians, housing advocates, planners and developers often blame the NIMBY — “not in my backyard” — lobby for the state’s housing crisis. And it’s true that some locals overreact with unrealistic growth limits that cut off any new housing supply and have blocked reasonable ways to boost supply.
But the biggest impediment to solving our housing crisis lies not principally with neighbors protecting their local neighborhoods, but rather with central governments determined to limit, and make ever more expensive, single-family housing. Economist Issi Romem notes that, based on the past, “failing to expand cities [to allow sprawl] will come at a cost” to the housing market.
A density-only policy tends to raise prices, turning California into the burial ground for the aspirations of the young and minorities. This reflects an utter disregard for most people’s preferences for a single-family home — including millennials, particularly as they enter their 30s.
In California, these policies are pushed as penance for climate change, although analyses from McKinsey & Company and others suggest that the connection between “sprawl” and global warming is dubious at best, and could be could be mitigated much more cost-effectively through increased work at home, tough fuel standards and the dispersion of employment.
Of course, cities and regions should be able to produce high-density housing which appeals to many younger people, particularly before they get married or have children. The small minority who prefer to live that way later in life should be accommodated on a market basis.
But density is not an effective way to reduce housing costs in a metropolitan area. Multifamily urban housing, notes Portland State University economist Gerard Mildner, costs far more to build than single-family homes. For example, the median cost for a room in major metropolitan areas is more than $100 more expensive near the urban core than it is on the periphery.
The case for NIMBYism
When people move to a neighborhood, they essentially make assumptions about its future shape. This can be achieved by zoning, albeit sometimes too strictly, but also in Houston’s more market-oriented system, which allows for neighborhood covenants and has spawned migration to a plethora of planned communities.
This is not a petty concern. For most people, their house remains their most critical asset. Yet, our clerical government pays little attention to the concerns of the middle class, and is all too happy to undermine long-standing local democratic processes on these issues.
Some density advocates suggest that their assault on zoning reflects market-oriented principles but rarely extend this laissez-faire approach to peripheral development, the most effective path to lower land and house prices. Under current circumstances, such limited libertarianism leaves middle-income people no protection against either Gov. Jerry Brown’s “coercive state” or their speculator allies.
In my old neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley, few locals looked upon the creation of ever larger apartments in the area a boon, but rather as a source of increased congestion that strained sewers, water mains, roads and other infrastructure. Yet, in Los Angeles, where “infill” developers tend to also fill the coffers of politicians, our neighborhood did not stand a chance of opposing densification schemes.
NIMBYs are generally stronger in wealthy (and often bluish) places such as Beverly Hills, Palo Alto, Davis, Napa and San Rafael. The anti-forced-density campaign is also getting stronger in already dense places like San Francisco and has engendered an anti-density initiative on the ballot next spring in Los Angeles.
What kind of California do we want?
Ultimately, the question remains over what urban form we wish to bequeath to future generations. Ours is increasingly dominated by renters shoved into smaller spaces and paying ever more for less. California now has the lowest homeownership rate among the top 10 states for people between the ages of 25 and 34. Not surprisingly, the group leaving the state most is those between 35 and 44, a period that coincides with both family formation and home buying.
Forced densification, and the ban on peripheral building, is particularly harmful to the prospects for minorities. Metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles and San Francisco have rates of homeownership among Latinos and African Americans well below the national average, even further below such liberally oriented places as Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Atlanta.
So why only two cheers for NIMBYs? Anti-density activists still need to come up with an alternative housing agenda. You just can’t say no to everything. Communities should embrace some new alternatives, both on the periphery and by building appropriately dense housing in redundant office parks, warehouses and, most particularly, the growing number of semi-abandoned, older malls. These areas can provide housing without overstressing the roads and other infrastructure.
NIMBYs are not the biggest threat to the California dream. That honor goes to planners and speculators seeking to reshape our state and limit the opportunities for single-family and other family-friendly housing. Until the state Legislature recovers some respect for people’s preferences, NIMBYs remain among the last, if imperfect, bulwarks against a system determined to weaken our future middle class, leaving ample housing the province only of those with similarly ample means.
(Joel Kotkin is the R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University in Orange and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism (www.opportunityurbanism.org. This column was posted most recently at New Geography.) Graphic credit: LA Weekly.
ELECTION 2016--This election cycle has been filled with thrills, chills, and media spills. Ugh, double ugh, and triple ugh. If ever there was a time for cynicism and a focus on logic and "what will my candidate/this proposition DO" it's this year, when both major presidential candidates are justifiably feared for their personal character flaws. And we MUST also ask what each proposition/measure will DO.
As mentioned in my last CityWatch article a tough assessment of why so many governmental hands are in our face for more money is critical.
The economy, despite what propaganda that the Pravda/Tass-like media proclaims, or whichever government outlet states, is NOT doing so great, and part-time jobs are too much "the new normal" while the City, County, and State budgets are (like the rest of us) hanging on by their collective fingernails.
Public sector spending is NOT acceptable because it is NOT sustainable--hence the need for more taxes when we're already more taxed than virtually all other states, and the middle class is under siege. So here's the big questions for any financial/tax/bond measure or proposition:
Will the new money be spent well, is it already being spent well and is it a priority?
There are a lot of city, county, and state governmental hands in our faces, asking for money, money, and more money! Our money.
1) Vote YES on County Measure M--After being on the fence for the past year, it's becoming obvious to most of us that this measure is the most transparent and needed of all we're being asked to vote on. The biggest complaint is that it doesn't go far enough. But it pays for transit and freeway and road operations. This stands out as the one measure that deserves our vote.
2) Vote NO on County Measure A--I love parks and recreation, but a parcel tax is coming on the heels of many past, current and future parcel taxes. Everyone should pay into this, and if we keep over-relying on homeowners, we'll see another Proposition 13-style taxpayer revolution. I admit to being less concerned if this passes than with other measures.
3) Vote NO (heavens, NO!) on LA Community College District Measure CC--What on earth is this district doing asking us for more money after burning through and misspending on lousy and scandal-plagued work? Don't give an addict money and expect proper spending.
4) Vote NO on LA City Measure HHH--This is painful for me to oppose one my personal heroes (Councilmember Mike Bonin). He is responsible in large part for the aforementioned Measure M...but Metro has developed a reputation for proper oversight, while the city homeless czars have earned quite the opposite reputation.
Will this $1.2 billion bond measure money be spent well? Is this our top priority over our aging infrastructure? We must listen to our neighbors and constituents and NOT let our City be a "homeless magnet"...but efforts to convert the West LA VA Med Ctr to help our vets should be lauded. I applaud Mr. Bonin for all of his efforts, but I don't trust those spending this money.
5) Vote NO on Measure JJJ--There are a lot of "feel-good" features, and minimum wage/residency requirements appear good on first glance, but the "Build Better LA" initiative is a cheap, tawdry distraction from the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative (NII) which will be voted on this spring. The NII will demand we obey our City laws and build within long-overdue updated Community Plans.
6) Vote YES on Measure RRR--It's only modest reform to the LADWP, but it's a good start.
7) Vote NO on Measure SSS--If our public sector pension is driving the City into bankruptcy, or threatening our financial stability, why would adding to that instability make any sense? Yes, our LA Airport Police Officers deserve a good pension, but the whole darned police/fire/public sector pension system is...just...not...sustainable. Let's really FIX the problem, please? Pretty please?
So it's now on to the state, with a gazillion propositions. I don't have the time here to get into all of them, but I'll address the most co$tly ones. Let's recap and remember: California is NOT doing well economically because the middle class is under siege and/or has fled the state.
There are NOT enough millionaires to pay for everyone, and if there's another Wall Street decline (it happens, you know!), then the loss of the middle class will be felt more keenly than ever. A guide:
1) Vote NO on Proposition 51 (heavens, NO!)--Our K-12 population is stable or even decreasing. Previous K-12 school building bond funds have been hideously, if not criminally, misspent (overpriced iPads come to mind). See the diatribe above for more community college districts funds (NO on Measure CC). Even the Governor isn't on board with this.
2) Vote NO on Proposition 52--This measure is too opaque and vague, and too fraught with the likelihood of ill-advised spending/benefits for wealthy hospital CEO's, for a yes vote. Do our hospitals need our support? Yes--but this proposition is too vague without a more careful measure of how the money will be spent.
3) Vote YES on Proposition 53--Requiring the voters/taxpayers to be able to vote on bond measures that cost over $2 billion is a no-brainer. We've the right to deny Sacramento a blank check. And YES, our fellow voters/taxpayers can be entrusted to do the right thing and invest in our future.
4) Vote YES on Proposition 54--Posting all Legislature bills on the Internet, changes and all, before it could vote on these bills is entirely consistent with the Brown Act and all "sunshine" acts. As with Proposition 53, this is a no-brainer. It's called "transparent, good government". This is long overdue!
5) Vote NO on Proposition 55--We were TOLD that the temporary tax hike on those making over $250,000 would be just that...temporary. Folks making over $250,000 in THIS state are hardly poor, but they sure as heck aren't rich. Furthermore, all the claims of "the schools need the money" should be answered with:
a) Will this money be spent well? Has the previous money been spent well?
b) Is this a blank check? Can the Legislature take this same amount of revenue and backfill it into our ever-growing maw of the pension crisis and/or special interests and/or prevent it from truly helping our schools, our poor, etc.?
c) Will this further drive small business owners and retirees out of this state?
d) Stop with the class envy! If we're going to tax higher-income earners, can we at least allow for transparency in how it will be spent?
6) Vote NO on Proposition 56--I very much USED to favor cigarette taxes, but these have gone up so high that it's amazing there's not more of an illegal cigarette industry than there already is. There are fewer smokers than ever. Choose a "better" sin tax, California! And again...will the money be spent well???
7) The "moral" or "law and order" initiatives have to be addressed in a future CityWatch article, but PLEASE consider what the police have to say about them. Laws and punishment have their roles, and throwing away the laws just to give us all a warm, fuzzy feeling inside ignores the rising crime trends that are occurring in our state. LISTEN to the cops--they're trying to protect us!
And please take the time to vote November 8, ya hear?
(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at email@example.com. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)
TRANSPORTATION POLITICS-Proposition M brings out many conflicting views held in the LA Basin communities and in many suburban areas -- viewpoints of what is needed in the towns, cities and communities regionally. Citizens are demanding better and more representative planning.
This is important because Prop M is now asking for hundreds of billions in tax dollars that will set a course for spending for decades. Much of the conflict is related to the proposed commuter rail. Due to that extensive and expensive influence, there could be a lifestyle and economic impact for many affected citizens.
This issue is critical because Proposition M does not work physically (can’t put rail in existing boulevards), socially (because of inequity and lack of social mobility options for many), or economically (excessive costs of new corridor impact mitigations). It will lead to over concentration of density (leading to even higher land and housing costs for the majority) and will require a behavior modification for many who would prefer a more convenient and direct means of mobility.
Furthermore, Metro has proposed unworkable and infeasible additions to the transportation system that can’t achieve goals for better mobility or bring about a sufficient reduction in VMT and reduced GHG emissions as required by SB32; it also creates some rail redundancy that puts the whole system in potential jeopardy.
Prop M is being rejected by citizens because of these conflicts and deficiencies. Everyone should take note because there are much better alternatives that do not require such excessive spending and actually are the technological future of transportation in greater Los Angeles.
However, a basic regional commuter rail network and Metrolink are being constructed now, paid for by the existing Measure R and Props A and C. This is what Downtown LA wants and they are on their way to getting it – a DONE DEAL. By purchasing previous rail corridors at low cost, Metro has brought the basic network together along with Metrolink, which is good. The low hanging fruit is being picked.
From here, however, there is a lack of available low cost corridors for urban commuter rail transit. The impacts of forcing such corridors through communities makes it necessary to re-think what is the best way to improve both mobility and the socio-economic circumstances for livability in our communities and region.
Thankfully, there are vehicular innovations emerging for cars and trucks, as well as buses – innovations that can make Bus Rapid Transit truly rapid and with an extensive and very affordable network. These improvements support existing development; and it’s integral, not like old RR lines that were built away from existing suburban towns and city development.
Prop M should be turned down and better planning should be prepared. It may also mean that no such future sales tax increase is needed. Both the presidential candidates and the government in general want to begin increasing Federal spending for infrastructure, so it is very likely the LA County taxpayers do not need to be hit so hard and long as they would be with the Prop M two cent out of every dollar “forever tax.” Federal contributions and better planning can make that possible.
This needed better planning is consistent with not having over-development in the LA Basin communities. It would also turn towards making more urbanizing growth in existing suburbs, bringing sustainability and becoming a way to help achieve climate change goals.
Already there are protests from LA Basin communities about over-development and traffic congestion, a conflict that would increase with new rail-induced development. More rail and associated Transit Oriented Development, especially regional office and commercial land uses, would increase vehicular traffic and the intrusion of cutting through neighborhoods. This is especially so when rail is put into existing boulevards such as Lincoln, Sepulveda, Santa Monica, La Brea, Van Nuys and others, as has been referenced in Prop M. Such a tactic has been identified by the recent Westside Mobility Plan studies as resulting in “unavoidable impacts and increased congestion” plus intrusions into neighborhoods. Neighborhood traffic impacts and social equity impacts would increase. All of that would occur while VMT and GHG emissions are not being reduced.
Fixing LA Basin congestion so there are not excessive GHG emissions as well as reducing the average length of trips in the suburbs with the proximity of urbanizing land use, is a strategy that can massively reduce GHG emissions countywide. It gets the County on the path to the transportation share of reduced emissions to meet SB32 goals. This is meaningful because Prop M will not achieve the necessary reductions in GHG emissions.
As it stands, suburban towns, small cities and communities would not have enough funds to develop transportation improvements that work best for their communities in order to improve the function, livelihood and livability that is needed.
So now we are at the point where community-scaled planning concerns and multi-community connections require a transportation improvement method. Since rail impacts the community scale and brings more congestion, a more integral mode for fixing LA Basin congestion corridors and helping to structure future growth to the suburbs is needed. That kind of innovation is emerging in transportation technologies in both vehicular and innovative roadway use, as we now read about in the media every day.
GHG EMISSION EXAMPLE: If the LA Basin congestion were fixed in the Santa Monica Boulevard corridor and 405 corridor on the Westside, it would be equivalent to the Measure R rail GHG savings of gasoline. The Measure R rail program is taking almost 40 years to be built and more than $20 billion in costs. Fixing the Santa Monica and 405 corridors would achieve the same reductions in gasoline used, would be about one twentieth as much in cost, and would take about 4 years.
By combining advanced vehicular improvements with advanced roadway architecture in selected urban corridors, car, bus and truck modalities are given improved function and become part of the general solution which reduces GHG emissions and VMT growth.
It is evident that the suburbs and dispersed cities of the County want and need to plan for their own growth and sustainability, instead of looking to the LA Basin for job security. In that case, it means evolving existing streets into advanced roadways that support and structure community growth in a timely process, according to their internal needs for growth.
Combined with the envisioned dispersed growth is the objective of reducing VMT by reducing average trip length, due to the proximity of needed land use functions as each community, town and city becomes more self-sufficient.
If you have kept up with transportation strategies of reducing GHG in significant amounts, this will occur by increasing, each year, the CAFE standards of greater mpg for vehicles. This massive reduction in GHG emissions is now in process.
The County TSSP traffic signal program for suburban streets, where signals are spaced greater than two miles apart, is very “cost effective” at reducing GHGs. In the TSSP program, along 220 miles of streets, this is equivalent to reducing 3.74 times the amount that Measure R will reduce -- and at 1/1,000th the cost. Another way of describing the cost efficiency is that $1 of signal synchronization is worth $4,125 put into rail development, as is proposed in Measure R. And more areas of the County can use TSSP.
In the LA Basin, already congested communities can eliminate congestion because “advanced roadways and advanced vehicles” can now come to our streets combined as digital systems.
For this more urban context, where signals are close together, a new innovative roadway architecture can allow continuous flowing traffic, essentially doubling the capacity of normal street lanes that presently have stop-and-go driving. The LA Automatic Traffic Surveillance and Control (ATSAC) system gives the necessary signal timing and brings integration with other related existing areas of the street network. What would be taking place is the “digitization of roadways” in selected portions of the vehicular network, with the new roadway architecture facilitating “continuous flowing traffic” (CFT).
An example of improvement with CFT would be the elimination of the 5 mph traffic congestion on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. Today’s failing 5 mph peak period stop-and-go speed has a capacity of around 300 vehicles/lane/hour and is emitting GHGs at about 2.5 times the amount as when traffic flows at 30 mph. A managed speed of 30 mph (not allowing slower or faster traffic,) provides CFT capacity at about 1200 vehicles/lane/hour -- four times as much than the 5 mph failing traffic flow. This solves traffic congestion and GHGe.
In the I-405 corridor and its related cross streets from Sunset to Pico Boulevards, the area encompasses a daily traffic volume of around 680,000 trips per day. It’s a problem that a tunnel for vehicles or a single line of rail transit, however configured, cannot address. The congestion is inherently a vehicular problem where traffic to the Westside is widely dispersed north, south, east and west in the morning and collected again in the PM. So the congestion solution lies with advanced vehicles and roadways with high capacity.
Metro talks about a “rail tunnel” going through the Sepulveda Pass, making a light rail line connection between the Valley and LAX. That would be one expensive line! First, finding a corridor from LAX to WLA, then the tunnel, probably under the 405 from the I-10 to Sherman Oaks or further, would involve enumerable problems. The rationale is flawed in that the through-travel demand is just 42,000 person-trips/day. Given the possible 40% attraction to a rail tunnel being just 17,000 person-trips/day, this would become way too low of a ridership to justify such a construction expenditure.
A much better use of a tunnel through the Sepulveda Pass is for extending the Purple Line Subway to the Valley. That connection has the ability to attract as much as 54,000 person-trips/day ridership (70% of 76,000 travel demand,) in that it not only connects to Westwood and UCLA but goes on to Century City, Beverly Hills and the Wilshire corridor -- all the way to Downtown.
A Boston Consulting Group (bcg.com) report warns about costly low ridership rail lines: “Rail companies may even end up in a downward (economic) spiral with reduced overall ridership. Rail companies’ overall unit costs for all remaining passengers will escalate because of the inherently high proportion of fixed costs in operating a train network. This could trigger price increases or reduced schedules, which would result in a further reduction in ridership.”
Segments that include a costly “rail tunnel” with low ridership, too many low ridership commuter lines and forcing rail into boulevards (where mitigation is costly and there is vehicular competition,) would incur losses threatening to consume the entire rail system with costs -- setting a downward spiral for all of the County system. And the taxpayers would be required to pick up the cost of such losses.
This is why better planning is required in all areas of the County. More citizen participation is needed to define exactly what communities, towns and cities should be. Greater attention must be paid to all the economic costs and benefits.
Citizens, Prop M has the ingredients for creating a rail transit and real estate bubble which would collapse, leaving the County with bankruptcies. VOTE NO ON M!
(Phil Brown AIA, has invented the CFT roadway system improvement by research and development that has occurred over the last twelve years analyzing the Westside traffic problems and the socio-economic needs of Greater Los Angeles. Contact is available through the website FlowBlvd.com as well as postings of his previous recent CityWatch articles.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
VOX POP--On October 11, at a Los Angeles City Council meeting, Christopher Thornberg, the founding partner of Beacon Economics and a popular talking head, chose not to reveal a little known, yet important fact — he’s a paid campaign consultant for the developer-funded campaign that seeks to kill the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative and stop reform of LA’s rigged development approval process.
You see, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, a March 2017 ballot measure that’s sponsored by the Coalition to Preserve LA, seeks a much-needed fix of LA’s broken planning and land-use system. Even Mayor Eric Garcetti agrees it should be revamped.
But the Coalition to Protect LA Neighborhoods and Jobs, the misleadingly named campaign that’s funded by billionaire developers and LA business interests, is hell-bent on maintaining the status quo for developers, smashing anything that gets in the way of huge profits. Miami-based Crescent Heights and Australia-based Westfield are major funders of that anti-reform campaign.
Enter Christopher Thornberg (photo above), who’s often quoted by the Los Angeles Times and other news outlets and a founder of the LA-based research firm Beacon Economics.
According to the city’s Ethics Commission, Beacon Economics and Thornberg have been hired by the Coalition to Protect LA Neighborhoods and Jobs as a high-priced campaign consultant. So far, Beacon Economics has incurred $11,400 in fees.
Now cut to October 11 at LA City Hall inside Council chambers. An articulate, glad-handing Thornberg shows up in front of the LA City Council to deliver a presentation about the economic health of LA.
“It’s nice to be back today,” says Thornberg, “particularly to present all sorts of wonderfully good news.”
He makes a strong sell for more development in LA — and says that the reforms in the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative must be stopped.
“We know the propositions that are coming up,” he says. “We know the rules that people are trying to put into place…My only last message to you is: Please, don’t allow them to win.”
Thornberg adds, “You are seeing a growing interest in urbanization…it’s the dense, urban cities that are growing. And that’s a wonderful opportunity for the city to capitalize on.”
Defeating the reform movement that’s the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative and building more luxury development will also help wealthy developers — the people who are paying Thornberg’s bills — reap millions upon millions in profits. And often at the expense of lower-income and middle-class Angelenos.
But does Thornberg disclose to citizens who are watching the Council meeting that he’s a paid consultant for the anti-reform campaign funded by billionaire developers? Nope. Never.
That’s how things work at City Hall, where lack of transparency, backroom deals and soft corruption are the norm. And that’s why citizens across LA are joining the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative movement.
(Patrick Range McDonald writes for Preserve LA. Read more news and find out how you can participate: 2PreserveLA.org.)
VOICES FROM THE SQUARE--For most of 2016, American politics could best be described as caught in a populist moment. Populism has always come in two variations, and we’ve seen both this year. The most familiar form, ably represented in all its raw madness-of-crowds by Donald Trump, is based on resentment of immigrants and other non-majority identities (racial, ethnic, linguistic, and religious most prominently), and rancor directed at political elites for their perceived role in changing social norms. This is the populism familiar from historian Richard Hofstadter’s “status anxiety” explanation of late 19th Century populism, or, in more recent history, the presidential campaigns of George Wallace.
The other version of populism is built around policies that would support working and low-income families, often coupled with a sharp critique of economic elites—“the 99 percent” versus “the 1 percent.” This was the populism that Bernie Sanders rode during a surprisingly successful challenge to the anointed Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and that mobilized younger voters almost as powerfully as Barack Obama had eight years earlier.
It would be a mistake to treat these two populisms as flip sides of the same coin. The white cultural resentment generated by Trump—particularly because it represents a distinct minority defined by identity rather than ideology—is a profound challenge to the Republican Party and to mainstream conservatism, just as Wallace’s was to the Democratic Party in another era. The policy differences between populist Democrats like Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren and their mainstream counterparts such as Clinton and her running mate Tim Kaine, however, are subtle. Sanders’ proposals, for example, flowed easily enough into the party platform and the vision of its nominee Hillary Clinton.
Remaining policy differences between the two camps are relatively minor, such as those between “free college” and “debt-free college,” or between a restoration of the New Deal-era Glass-Steagall banking regulations repealed in 1998 and a proposed new regulatory regime. These are still differences of ideology, but modest ones; and the differences in identity between the Sanders and Clinton camps, other than on matters of age and style, are hard to find. Instead, the left’s version of populism can seem more like a fresh coat of paint, or a sharper argument for otherwise standard liberal policies.
Nonetheless, the distinction between left populism and mainstream progressive politics does diverge in one significant way: Sanders and Warren want to name names. Their narrative, like Trump’s, is one of “heroes and villains”—the villains being not immigrants, but the “millionaire and billionaire class” or big political donors. Warren, for example, has been relentlessly focused on personnel, more insistent on limiting the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street and going after the Obama administration acolytes of former Citigroup chairman and Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin (whom she blames for the tame treatment of executives during the financial crisis) than on any other particular policy.
In Hillary Clinton’s view of the world, though, there are few villains, and when they are named it is with legalistic care. (Trump himself is a villain, but carefully distinguished from other Republicans, even those who support him.) Politics, in this view, is a matter of problems, to be fixed, often by elites wielding dispassionate expertise.
So one of the central questions of our era has become: Does successful American politics need villains? Since the rise of the Tea Party in 2009, left populists have imagined that the politics of resentment that motivates the right can be coopted or converted to the left, redirected toward corporations, Wall Street, and the wealthy. While Trump attacks the “corruption” that leads to, in his view, bad trade deals, an ill-fated embrace of immigration and diversity, and American failure, left populists seem to be betting that an attack on “corruption” that names alternative targets betraying the American ideal—the Citizens United decision, middle-class wage stagnation, or the cost of college—will hook voters in the same way.
But there are major flaws in this thinking. The bonds of right populism are not so easily broken and reformed. The “heroes and villains” of Trump’s narrative (he is the only hero) are not forged by policy positions but by deep ties of cultural identity and affinity. Put more bluntly, white Trump and Tea Party supporters are not interested in a populism that involves an alliance with non-white, younger, culturally diverse voters. Meanwhile, the relentless attack on “corruption” from populists on both sides has led to the strange paradox that voters still view Hillary Clinton, merely a lifelong denizen of the existing political system, as more corrupt than the genuinely venal Trump, a master of tax scams, direct-marketing scams, and charity scams. Politics based on resentment and attacks on “corruption” have merely deepened mistrust of government, which is in itself a barrier to the policies that left populists favor.
Instead, perhaps what American politics really needs is a third kind of populism. Instead of the “them” populism of left and right, we should look to the tradition of “us” populism—one in which citizens work together, from local to national levels of government, to define and solve problems. A politics in which citizens are not just engaged as angry protestors calling on the system to change, but as part of the system itself.
America has had a populism like this before, as described in historian Lawrence Goodwyn’s portraits of the rise of late 19th century agrarian alliances, in Democratic Promise: The Populist Moment in America, and several other books. Where Hofstadter saw only resentment and status anxiety, Goodwyn saw millions of people who had been quiescent suddenly becoming engaged, participating fully through unions, farmers alliances, and new political movements to redesign the economic structures of a fast-growing country. He celebrated the cross-racial alliances forged in the South and the transformations of political consciousness experienced by individuals participating in this democratic renascence.
Our democracy would benefit from an investment in this kind of “us” populism, especially its ideas about refining existing institutions to strengthen citizen voices and public trust, and creating new mechanisms for public engagement and deliberation. This might include steps such as setting up participatory budgeting or seeing labor unions, community organizations, and similar associations as civil society institutions—rather than just economic claimants.
This new populism can’t simply be conjured into existence. It has to rise up from the lived experience of millions of individuals. But we have tools, including new technologies and new techniques of organizing, that can help. There are signs of a more meaningful and participatory democracy emerging in many American cities. Perhaps by the next presidential election, this budding “us” populism can compete with the populism of resentment that dominated in 2016.
(Mark Schmitt is the director of the Political Reform Program at New America. This piece originated at Zocalo Public Square.)
GELFAND’S WORLD--It would be a mistake to jail Dick Cheney just as it would be a mistake to jail Hillary Clinton
The other night, Donald Trump said that if elected, he would throw Hillary Clinton in a dungeon. OK, I exaggerate a bit. He said that he would appoint a special prosecutor whose job it would be to send Hillary to jail. But actually, the two accounts are not all that different, since the desired outcome is essentially the same and the underlying attitude is essentially feudal.
There are powerful historical and social reasons for opposing this approach to government and, curiously enough, they are exactly the same reasons why it would have been wrong for the Obama administration to try to prosecute George W. Bush or his vice president for war crimes.
In stating this assertion, I oppose positions stated emphatically on the one hand by some American liberals and on the other hand by some American conservatives. The one group wanted Dick Cheney sent to prison, and the other group is now calling to have Hillary jailed.
Those who fail to understand why both sides are wrong are failing to understand the fragility of democratic governance.
Consider: We take for granted that there will be a presidential election every four years and that there will be a new president every four or eight years. This hope is actually one extreme on a continuum. It is optimistic in the sense that we have a national tradition -- presidential elections -- that has never been broken, but perhaps under the wrong circumstances could be.
If we are to recognize that maintaining this tradition for over 220 years has at least partly been a lucky break for us, then there is a corollary: We should be careful about not taking democracy for granted, and we should be especially careful about doing what it takes to maintain the democratic tradition.
There is of course an opposing, more pessimistic point of view: In one form, it is the claim that the current president intends to postpone or cancel the next election. I think I first heard people making that statement as far back as the Nixon administration, and the claim seems to get reborn with each new presidency. When you look at this claim carefully, it becomes apparent that it's opposite in one critical way from the throw her in jail trope. The throw her in jail view, although malicious, takes the continuation of our democracy for granted, while the assertion that the president plans to carry out a coup by cancelling elections assumes that our democracy is illusory. After all, if the president can crown himself king or declare himself dictator then it isn't much of a democracy.
Historians tell us that we've had moments in our history when presidents took extraordinary powers. Lincoln negated the right of habeus corpus at one point in his presidency. Nixon in effect took the U.S. off the gold standard. George W Bush allowed the use of torture. Obama is accused (true or not) of violating the Constitution.
Many of these allegations are demonstrably true, and others are matters of opinion. So if it is possible for an American president to act like a dictator, then what sort of democracy do we actually have?
One obvious answer is that no president gets to be a complete dictator. Presidents sometimes push the envelope, but none has so far managed to collect a crown and royal scepter. There is plenty of balance in our system of checks and balances.
But the most important element of this presidential system of ours is that new presidents come in and old presidents go out. The ultimate solution to presidential overreach is to elect a different one. The solution to political party overreach is the same. Routine elections are the answer.
It's how we get rid of dictatorial behavior on the part of our leadership. Presidents stay as long as their electoral terms last, and no longer. It's almost the definition of true democracy vs. faux democracy. Any country in which the leader can cancel the upcoming elections (or never has elections) is not a true democracy.
I'd like to think that there is a reason for why we have been able to maintain our tradition of 8 years and out. Part of that reason is that our government involves the participation of multiple actors, from presidents to senators to congressmen, and they have one thing in common. They are all players in a political game with defined rules of winning (getting more votes) and losing (getting fewer votes). It's not just a game of taking power as in a feudal monarchy, but a game of winning power according to a particular type of conflict.
You might therefore treat our electoral system as having certain features analogous to chivalry. There is a cultural system with its own norms. Rather than the loyalty of the knight to his duke, we have a certain level of loyalty to a system as a whole. You can call it fealty to Constitutional law, or you can just say that this is the way that things are done. In either case, there were a lot of Republicans who chose loyalty to the system over their loyalty to Richard Nixon during the Watergate crisis. We can see some of the same reaction from Republicans who are deserting Trump.
Now let's imagine for a moment that when Obama ascended to the presidency, he didn't give George W Bush that well-photographed hand clasp, but instead acted to prosecute Bush and Cheney for war crimes. What message would this send?
If you have any sense of history, you would immediately recognize that this would be a recipe for any future Republican president to find some reason to prosecute his predecessor. Allow me to remind you that a lot of Republicans carried decades-long grudges over the forced resignation of Richard Nixon. "He was hounded from office" was their claim. It took a while, but they finally got even (rightly or wrongly) through the impeachment of Bill Clinton.
The effect of a current president taking legal action against a former president would create a dangerous incentive. Any current president would understand the risk inherent in becoming a former president. It could get him or her thrown in prison. One way of avoiding becoming a former president is to find some excuse for cancelling elections.
In other words, our democratic system depends on a tradition, and we don't know whether that tradition is strong enough to stand up to presidents prosecuting their opponents. There's a reason that the authors of the Constitution limited removal of the president to a specific series of actions that require both houses of congress, and leave the sitting president out of the process other than as the person facing trial. The founders even required a supermajority in the Senate to complete the act of removing a president from office. Notice by the way that there have only been two impeachment trials in the history of our republic, and both failed to achieve a guilty verdict.
Viewed in this way, Donald Trump's threat to jail Hillary Clinton is more feudal than modern. It is the idea that kings battle against other kings, with the winner taking all. America rejects that culture, replacing it with written rules that define how authority is gained, and how it is shared among competing arms of government. It's true that there have been occasional lapses, as when a member of congress beat another member in response to a difference of opinion over slavery, or when Alexander Hamilton died in a duel. But our culture does not exult Aaron Burr the way feudal culture exulted conquest and assassination. We make changes in executive power by electing new presidents, not by a process in which presidents imprison their opponents.
While preparing this column, I came across a piece by Garrison Keillor. It says some of what is said here (at least I'd like to think that) but in the unique Garrison Keillor style. It's worth a read, particularly where Keillor, referring to Trump's views, says, "The government is not a disaster; it is a culture of process and law and organization that is alien to him."
One more brief story. A few years ago, I attended a scientific meeting in an eastern city. I shared a cab to the airport with a fellow scientist from one of the remaining dictatorships. He asked me a little about the American system, and as we passed various monuments, I tried to explain: "What made George Washington great was that he gave up power." There have been many military leaders, but not many national leaders have established a tradition of the peaceful transition of power. My fellow scientist looked a little surprised at this answer, as it was not something that his world included.
The peaceful transition of power signified by the presidential inauguration is a continuing miracle in a world that has only slowly been adopting such traditions. It is this peaceful transition of power that Trump mocks in his threats to jail his opponent.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for City Watch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
MY TURN-I literally have spent the last week trying to figure out why there is such fear and loathing expressed when it comes to Hillary Clinton. I have read so many outlandish "facts" from friends and neighbors on Facebook and other sites that baffle me beyond description.
Some are people I have known for forty or more years. We carpooled together...our kids grew up together...we celebrated and commiserated together. How these honest, and in most cases, bright people could not only swallow but repeat these outlandish stories is beyond me.
I have stayed away from writing about the Presidential election. I have never been a partisan voter, even though I identify more with the Democratic platform than with the Republican. I vote according to my considered preference, whether it comes to politicians or initiatives.
When I discussed the content of this article with CityWatch publisher Ken Draper, it was supposed to be ready for last week. I wrote it, then let it sit for a day; then I decided I came off almost as strident and emotional as the people I was accusing.
So I decided to start all over again. Believe it or not, this now represents a far more gentle approach. Now is a good time to reflect with so many "news" programs have lavished opinions and from all sides. Unfortunately, it was too early to start drinking so I doubled my usual caffeine intake.
Many pundits trace the "Hate Hillary" phenomenon to 1992 when Governor Jerry Brown was running for President against Bill Clinton. Brown accused the former Governor of Arkansas of helping his wife’s law practice while he was in office -- an accusation that was never substantiated, like many of the Hillary tales.
Hillary fired back via the press with a sentence that roiled traditionalists who were already fired up by the era’s culture wars:
“I suppose I could have stayed home, baked cookies and had teas,” she said. Most of the media outlets neglected to report her complete quote that went on to say, “The work that I have done as a professional, a public advocate, has been aimed…to assure that women can make the choices, whether it’s full-time career, full-time motherhood or some combination.”
Go back to the eighties and nineties. Women were going through their own evolutionary process. Gloria Steinem was accused of starting a gender war. Women had started to join the workforce but in mostly non-decision making positions.
When Bill Clinton appointed Madelyn Albright as Secretary of State it was a huge achievement for women. I must admit, when I first heard Hillary talk about baking cookies I could relate to this because I felt the same way. My children will never have the memory of smelling freshly baked cookies emanating from their mother’s kitchen. To this day, I still burn the garlic bread.
Intellectually, one can understand why men would have resented Hillary in those days. She was not the kind of role model they wanted their wives and daughters to emulate. And they were starting to resent the changes occurring to the traditional "Father Knows Best" male roles. Unfortunately, men in Trump's age group were the first to experience these vast social changes.
Why do women hate her so much? I think it’s been partly due to jealousy; she’s always been doing important things perhaps while some have remained in traditional roles. However, over the years, she has served as a role model to more and more women, millions of whom have since discovered they have options too.
We should differentiate between what is true and what is urban myth. I don't remember any hue and cry when Ronald Regan accepted a two week, two million dollar fee plus the usual travel/staff perks from Japan shortly after he left the Presidency. At that time, Japan was one of our main trade competitors. Of course, he was a man and was “worthy” of such an expense. A woman receiving $250,000 for a speech was unheard of.
There was no investigation of the private RNC email server President George W. Bush used and where 55 million emails were "lost," even though they are supposed to be retained. There were no investigations of Condoleezza Rice when we had more than five terrorist attacks against U.S. embassies and military bases during her tenure.
The fact is, Jason Chafitz, Utah Congressman and Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, turned down the request for extra money the State Department requested to beef up security at embassies and consulates in dangerous areas. This was before Benghazi.
As a journalist, I have learned to check what are called "facts." Even the Investment Service Motley Fool, known as one of the most reliable Investment companies in the industry, recently included a list of the "Hillary Myths." They certainly do not have anything to gain and I don't see them on the list of Hillary donors.
Trump also blames Hillary for her husband of signing NAFTA, calling it the worst trade deal ever negotiated on the part of the United States. The initial beginnings for NAFTA were under President Reagan, who originally wanted a free trade agreement with Mexico. The famous Conservative think tank, Heritage Foundation, helped draft it and the first President Bush signed it.
While NAFTA was being negotiated, there was a lot of talk about a future extension -- eventually having a “Common Market” for the Americas. It was thought then to be a smart move to compete with the European Union.
One more thing that irritates me: Everyone refers to Trump as "Mr. Trump.” His surrogates, news reporters, employees and even his critics have given him this "Mr." title, which infers he is above everyone else. Hillary refers to him as "Donald," which I am sure, in his world, is a breach of etiquette. On the other hand, most of the time she is referred to by her first name.
The tapes that have been released as of this writing have featured ten women who tell Trump groping stories. He and I are from the same vintage and I will bet almost every woman over fifty who was in business or in the work force has been subjected to verbal and physical sexual overtures. (I can recall almost every incident that I ever experienced.) We didn't say anything because, 1) we would lose our jobs 2) we would lose the client 3) or we would upset our husbands, who might have thought we encouraged this kind of behavior, or worse, would threaten violence against the perpetrator.
I developed some pretty smart responses to those overtures to ensure that a man wouldn't feel resentful and would want to continue our business relationship. I also developed a pretty good right hook. That brings up another couple of points.
The complaint that Hillary said she has a public position and a private position is not a cardinal sin. Anyone in business faces the same situation.
Lastly, appointed Cabinet officials "serve at the pleasure of the President.” As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton’s responsibility was to carry out the wishes of President Obama, whether she agreed with him or not. Similarly, the job of Trump's surrogates is also to defend his behavior and policies, whether they agree with him or not.
Those of you who have a supervisor or a "boss" do the same.
I think we can all agree that this election is like no other in our lifetimes. The outcome has not been determined and, in spite of the Trump rhetoric, it is not a rigged system. What frightens many of us is the consequences of either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump being elected as the 45th President of the United States. It is going to be an interminable three weeks.
My personal opinion is that Hillary Clinton is being subjected to a double standard and is definitely encountering gender bias.
Before you resend an inflammatory email or tweet, check with the professional non-biased fact checkers. Do not add to the very tense and dangerous atmosphere we are encountering. All of the facts I have discussed have been substantiated and are available online.
As always comments welcome.
(Denyse Selesnick is a CityWatch columnist. She is a former publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: Denyse@CityWatchLA.com) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
WORKING AND WAITING FOR CHANGE-In these dismal days of climate change, imperial decline, endless war, and in my city, a hapless football team, I seem to be experiencing a strange and unaccustomed emotion: hope. How can that be? Maybe it’s because, like my poor San Francisco 49ers who have been “rebuilding” for the last two decades, I’m fortunate enough to be able to play the long game.
But what exactly is making me feel hopeful at the moment?
For one thing, we seem to have finally reached Peak Trump, and the reason why is important.
Calling Mexicans rapists and drug dealers didn’t do it. Promising to bring back waterboarding and commit assorted other war crimes didn’t do it. Flirting with the white supremacist crowd and their little friend Pepe the Frog didn't do it. But an 11-year-old video tape of Trump bragging about grabbing women “by the pussy” seems to have been the drop of water that finally cracked the dam and sent even stalwart Republican leaders fleeing a flood of public revulsion.
In the midst of the most frightening and depressing presidential election of my life, the reactions to this latest glimpse into the Mind of Trump have actually lifted my spirits. Not that many years ago, an exchange like the one between Donald Trump and Billy Bush would hardly have been news. Sexual harassment was an expected part of the lives of working women -- par for a Trump golf course. I remember, for instance, paging through my family’s New Yorker magazines and coming across a Whitney Darrow cartoon about a lesson at a secretarial school. A businessman is chasing a woman around a desk as the teacher explains, “Notice, class, how Angela circles, always keeping the desk between them...”
There you have it: the devaluation of women’s work (secretarial skills reduced to techniques for evading the boss’s advances), the trivialization of sexual predation, and in Angela’s knowing smile, admiration for the woman who keeps her sense of humor while defending her virtue.
What’s most surprising about the response to Trump’s hot-mic moment is the apparent national consensus that speaking -- or even thinking -- about sexual assault the way Trump did on this video is neither normal nor amusing. This shared assumption that women are not trophies for the taking marks an advance toward full personhood that we have achieved only in my lifetime. When you stop to think about it, it’s an extraordinary cultural shift. And once people figure out that women are, after all, human, it’s pretty hard to stuff that genie back into the bottle.
Of course, there are still a lot of men who have a hard time with the woman-human being equation. Paul Ryan, for example, responded to the Trump video release by opining that “Women are to be championed and revered” -- a view that suggests we are either helpless creatures to be saved by a “champion” or other-than-human creatures belonging on some Victorian pedestal.
Then There’s Hillary
In her first debate with Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton actually said the words “systemic racism.” Never in our history has a mainstream presidential candidate described our country’s racial institutions in that kind of language. Indeed, one of the biggest political problems the movement for racial justice has faced in the post-Civil Rights era has been how to account for the fact that, absent legal segregation, people of color, and especially African Americans, remain disproportionately represented among the poor, the unhoused, and the incarcerated. Institutional, or systemic, racism describes the mechanism at play.
Here’s what Clinton said in that debate:
“And it’s just a fact that if you're a young African-American man and you do the same thing as a young white man, you are more likely to be arrested, charged, convicted, and incarcerated. So we've got to address the systemic racism in our criminal justice system.”
She’s right of course. And she deserves credit for saying it, but it’s the analysis of groups like RaceForward, the organizing skills of the young activists of Black Lives Matter, and the moral voice of older leaders like the Reverend William Barber II of the North Carolina NAACP who created the atmosphere in which she had to say it.
We are, in other words, witnessing a sea change in how people in mainstream politics talk about racism. Of course, there’s been pushback against Clinton’s rhetoric, but the idea that actual institutional structures exist that deeply constrain the lives of African Americans has now been admitted to the grown-ups’ table.
Black communities have long known that they, and especially their young men, are at risk of police violence. That’s why sooner or later so many black parents of every economic class have “the talk” with their children about how to try to stay safe (or at least safer). But in the two years since the murder of Trayvon Martin by a self-styled vigilante, Black Lives Matter has focused national attention for the first time on the repeated deaths of unarmed black men and women at the hands of those who are meant to protect and serve. Now, even the mainstream media no longer treat such deaths as isolated incidents unworthy of coverage. Instead, it is recognized that they form a systemic pattern, and even presidential candidates have to respond to that pattern. That is a victory and it was almost beyond imagination even a few years ago. Of course, the real victory will come when police stop shooting unarmed people, but at least now the country generally admits that it happens.
Similarly, many of us on the left have long known that wages in this country began to stagnate in the mid-1970s. We’ve watched the minimum wage (once intended to be for a family’s “breadwinner”) shrink to a poverty stipend. We’ve seen income and wealth inequality swell to the greatest levels since the Gilded Age of the nineteenth century. But it took the Occupy movement to remind us that the 99% could reclaim political power. It took organizations like OUR Walmart and the Fight for $15, lifted by Bernie Sanders’s run for the Democratic nomination, to bring that discussion into the mainstream.
For the first time in years, the words “working class” have slipped back into public discourse. CNN now runs stories with headlines like “Working class white men make less than they did in 1996.” A few years ago, as far as anyone could tell from the mainstream media, we lived in a country populated by a vast, undifferentiated “middle class,” and a few wealthy or impoverished outliers. Now, both the Trump and Clinton campaigns have found that they must address the pain of working people. We may not agree with their proposed solutions, but they have to talk about it. That, too, is a change and a victory of sorts.
Wait! You Mean We Won Something?
For many years I’ve noticed that my corner of the political world, roughly the American left, has had a very hard time recognizing and claiming our victories. Maybe that’s because it’s cost us so much to understand all the ways in which the standard American narrative is a lie, to grasp how little the American Way -- whatever Superman may have believed -- has had to do with truth and justice.
From birth, Americans normally swim in an ocean of heroic mythology about American exceptionalism, and for many of us it’s been difficult to make our way out of its riptides. So our knowledge has been hard-won. Figuring out that the United States is not the international defender of liberty we learned about in school wasn’t easy.
It took work to realize and accept, for instance, that our country routinely supported dictators and torturers. We opposed U.S. efforts to prop up strongmen like Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines and Augusto Pinochet in Chile, and called out the hypocrisy when the U.S. government was shocked(!), shocked(!) to discover what they actually were.
Having invested so much effort in recognizing the lies of the American exceptionalist narrative, we find it difficult to acknowledge when our government does something right.
The Paris Agreement on climate, signed by 190 countries, comes into effect this November 4th. That’s because on October 5th, the world met two key criteria: ratification by at least 55 of the signatory countries, and ratification by countries responsible for producing 55% of the planet’s greenhouse gases. It’s fair to say that, without the Obama administration, this agreement to confront the extinction-level threat that climate change represents would not have come into being. Like any compromise, it’s by no means a perfect accord, but it’s the best chance we’ve seen in a long time that the Earth will remain the habitable and welcoming place for human beings (among many other species) that it’s been these last tens of thousands of years. This victory belongs to environmental activists around the world, and we should claim it!
It’s almost as if, having worked so hard to understand the role and power of the United States on the world stage and of a ruling elite at home, we’ve imagined this country as a far greater powerhouse than it is. It’s almost as if recognizing any cracks in the edifice of American power might endanger that hard-won worldview. It’s almost as if the possibility that we can sometimes push our country to do something right, that our side can sometimes win, seems to rattle us. Faced with that disorienting possibility, I suspect it’s sometimes easier to believe that, while we must always fight the good fight, our adversary is too strong for us ever to expect victories.
On the domestic front many of us, both people of color and white Americans, have struggled to recognize our personal implicit racial biases. We’ve likewise taken the time and effort to reexamine what we were taught about U.S. history so that we could grasp the enduring and shape-shifting longevity of systemic racism. Knowing this history so well seems to make it harder for some of us to recognize and claim victories when they come. When, in front of 80 million Americans, Hillary Clinton says that “implicit bias is a problem for everyone, not just [the] police,” that is a victory, and we should take it in and savor it.
When President Obama responds to mass incarceration by commuting the sentences of federal drug offenders, that is a victory, however modest. It took half a decade for the ideas in Michelle Alexander’s groundbreaking book The New Jim Crow to penetrate to a mass audience. Now, the country has finally begun to recognize what prison activists have been saying for years: there is something very wrong when the “leader of the free world” has the largest prison population on the planet. An outrage that, a decade ago, was invisible to just about everyone except the affected communities and a small number of activists is now known to all. Our prisons are a national and international scandal and the spread of that knowledge -- and the urge to do something about it -- is also a victory, one worth celebrating, however provisionally.
Who’s Most Likely to Be Hopeful?
In the 1980s, I spent six months in Nicaragua’s war zones at a time when my government, the Reagan administration, was supporting the Contra armies against the Sandinista government. Together with many sectors of Nicaraguan society, the Sandinistas had thrown out the U.S.-supported dictator, Anastasio Somoza. Over and over I was struck by how living in the midst of war was like being stretched between two temporal realities.
In the morning, a Nicaraguan in the town of Jalapa might help dig a communal refugio to shelter children from airplane attacks. In the afternoon, she might risk attack or kidnapping by the U.S.-backed Contras to plant trees that would take years to mature on mountains that had been clear-cut by American lumber companies during the Somoza dictatorship. You always had one eye on the present and the other on a better future.
The Nicaraguans I knew seemed eternally ready for a party under the worst conditions imaginable. One day, in the city of Estelí, I remember running into an American friend who told me this story: she’d been feeling bummed recently because the Contras had attacked a little town near where she was living and killed seven children. It seemed to her as if this miserable war would never end. The family with whom she was staying was going to a fiesta that night and asked her along.
“I don’t feel like it,” she said. “I’m too depressed.”
“You can afford to be depressed,” they told her, “because you’re going home soon. We are the ones who will still be stuck in the war, so we have to have hope for the future. We have to dance. Now, get dressed, we’re going to a party.”
What group in the United States is most optimistic about the future? Surprisingly, according to a recent Gallup Healthways poll, it’s not the billionaires among us, but poor African Americans. A Brookings report on the poll suggests a number of reasons for this, and adds:
“[T]he optimism of black Americans -- especially the poorest -- is a reason to be a little more hopeful. The second term of our first black President is nearing its end, but a renegade political candidate with open disdain for minority groups is enjoying rising support. At such a moment in history, it is noteworthy that it is black Americans who seem to be keeping faith with the American Dream.”
Another poll, commissioned in 2015 by the Atlantic, found that “African Americans and Latinos are far more likely to be optimistic than their white counterparts, both about their personal station in life and the future of the country more broadly.”
Such people are anything but stupid. They know that their communities are confronting terrible challenges, but they know, too, how important it is not to forget to dance.
Why Doing Politics Is Like Surfing
How do outrageous ideas -- for example, that women are human beings, or that the U.S. locks up way too many people, or even that gay people should be able to get married if they want to -- suddenly morph into everyday commonsense? It’s rarely an accident. It almost always involves dedicated people working away for years on an issue, often unnoticed, before it seems suddenly to surge into general awareness.
Sometimes I think the politically engaged life is like surfing. You expend an enormous effort paddling past the breaking surf. Then you sit on your board breathing hard, scanning the horizon for the wave. Sometimes you sit out there for a long, long time, but when that wave comes, you have to be ready to grab it -- and enjoy it.
Even when the wave looks like a sinking Donald J. Trump.
(Rebecca Gordon, a TomDispatch regular, teaches in the philosophy department at the University of San Francisco. She is the author of American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes. Her previous books include Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States and Letters from Nicaragua.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
AN AMERICAN IS CRIMINALIZED EVERY 25 SECONDS--Two prominent human and civil rights organizations are calling on the U.S. government to decriminalize all drug use and possession in a new report which finds that the so-called war on drugs has caused “devastating harm.”
The joint report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that there were 574,640 arrests for marijuana possession nationwide in 2015, outnumbering arrests for all violent crimes combined, and that the massive enforcement of drug laws takes a toll at every level, from the individual to the institutional—ruining lives and pulling families apart, discriminating against people of color, and undermining public health.
In fact, the groups found, in the U.S., someone is arrested for low-level drug offenses every 25 seconds.
“Every 25 seconds someone is funneled into the criminal justice system, accused of nothing more than possessing drugs for personal use,” said the report’s author and HRW/ACLU Aryeh Neier fellow Tess Borden. “These wide-scale arrests have destroyed countless lives while doing nothing to help people who struggle with dependence.”
The long-term impacts of drug law enforcement range from the separation of families to lifelong discrimination, the report states. People arrested for drug use can be excluded from employment opportunities, housing and welfare assistance, and the right to vote, among other things. The organizations interviewed hundreds of drug users, family members of those prosecuted, government officials, defense attorneys, activists, and service providers, and analyzed data from Texas, Florida, New York, and the FBI.
One woman interviewed in the report, “Nicole,” whose name was changed for privacy, was held pretrial for months in Houston, Texas away from her three children and eventually pled guilty to her first felony—possessing an empty baggie with heroin residue. The conviction cost her student financial aid, employment opportunities, and the food stamps she used to feed her children.
“The felony conviction is going to ruin my life…I’ll pay for it for[ever]. Because of my record, I don’t know how or where I’ll start rebuilding my life: school, job, government benefits are now all off the table for me,” she states in the report. “Besides the punishment even [of prison]...It’s my whole future.”
The report also found that while black adults do not use drugs more than white adults, they are over two-and-a-half times more likely to be arrested for possession. When looking just at marijuana possession, they are almost four times as likely to be arrested.
“Under international human rights law, prohibited racial discrimination occurs where there is an unjustifiable disparate impact on a racial or ethnic group, regardless of whether there is any intent to discriminate against that group,” the report states. “Enforcement of drug possession laws in the U.S. reveals stark racial disparities that cannot be justified by disparities in rates of use.”
As the organizations point out, since the war on drugs was formally declared by President Richard Nixon in 1971, use has not significantly declined—and criminalization, coupled with a lack of treatment for addicts, forces users to go “underground,” exposing them to increased risk of disease, overdoses, and other dangers, while making it less likely that they will recover.
“While families, friends, and neighbors understandably want government to take action to prevent the potential harm caused by drug use, criminalization is not the answer,” Borden continued. “Locking people up for using drugs causes tremendous harm, while doing nothing to help those who need and want treatment.”
The report concludes by calling on state legislatures and U.S. Congress to decriminalize personal use and possession of all drugs, and invest in risk reduction and voluntary treatment programs.
“Criminalizing personal drug use is a colossal waste of lives and resources,” Borden said. “If governments are serious about addressing problematic drug use, they need to end the current revolving door of drug possession arrests, and focus on effective health strategies instead.”
(Nadia Prupis writes for Common Dreams … where this piece was first posted.)
PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE, ROUND 2--The second presidential debate arrived, and if this were another year and a different set of candidates, we would probably be reading that Trump came back from his earlier defeat due to a stronger performance this time. After all, he didn't melt down into a pool of slag or run pouting from the stage. He stood his ground and exchanged punch for punch, accusation for accusation. Some commenters will score this one as a draw or even a modest Trump victory. But it's not a different year or a different Republican candidate, and this debate took place under circumstances that were not only bizarre, they appear to be rebounding against Trump.
The following episodes are historically unprecedented but as we shall see, they have something in common.
Trump came into the day of the second debate facing a situation in which a significant number of Republican leaders were pulling their support from him due to his comments about groping women. When you lose John McCain and others of his stature, you are pushing the envelope pretty hard. Trump got off a sort-of-apology for his comments, but he tried to make it sound as if it was just a boyish phase he was going through. After all, he was only 59 years old at the time.
But what defines Trump as a political phenomenon is that he does things that others won't. In this case, it was his press conference held on the same day as the debate, in which he introduced women who had all accused Bill Clinton of doing something bad. The subtext was "if I did something wrong, the Clintons have done worse." The fact that his opponent is Hillary Clinton, not Bill, is obvious, but this was a play to Clinton haters of all stripes.
The pre-debate press conference caused the MSNBC commenters to be all aflutter, with worried prognostications that Trump might call Bill Clinton a rapist during the debate itself. The story must have played out interestingly in foreign markets.
During the debate, in response to Hillary Clinton's suggestion that Trump has avoided paying income taxes, Trump responded with dreary repetitions that a couple of other billionaires -- Warren Buffet and George Soros, alleged to be Hillary's friends -- also use available tax deductions. Once again, it was the argument that whatever Trump does, some liberal does it worse.
When you look at these Trumpian games, it eventually becomes obvious that Trump is engaging in a technique that the American right wing has developed into a fine art: Whatever you are most guilty of, accuse your opponent of the same thing. When George W. Bush was facing a real war hero in the person of John Kerry during the 2004 reelection campaign, his side brought out the Swift Boaters. All of a sudden, Bush's failure to serve was balanced by a concerted attack on Kerry's battlefield performance.
It's like the psychological concept of projection, except that instead of unconscious thoughts being painted onto other people, the political technique is to recognize your own defects at the conscious level and then to defend your own vulnerability by accusing the opposition of the same thing.
In the case of Sunday night's debate, Trump took this technique to the extreme. Here is an excerpt from CNN.com.
Donald Trump on Sunday night issued a remarkable threat against Hillary Clinton, telling the Democratic presidential nominee he would seek to imprison her if he was elected next month.
"If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your (missing email) situation," Trump said, "because there has never been so many lies, so much deception."
Trump's threat -- which he has made before on the campaign trail -- is extraordinary even by the standard of the vitriolic 2016 campaign.
The comment is remarkable for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is how it forced Trump's campaign workers to scramble in the aftermath. His latest adviser explained this remark as Trump channeling the strong feelings of his followers. That reacting at this level to mob sentiment is the opposite of leadership didn't seem to occur to this spokesperson. The irony is rich indeed.
But we should also notice that Trump's remark is another example of Trump doing a little conscious projection. He is the one who is under attack over the Trump University fraud as well as other scandals. He may not be at the level of criminal prosecution, but the trial over the Trump University case is approaching.
So Trump threw the first punch. Now it happens to be true that the argument about jailing Hillary is not new. It's been going around since the early days of Trump's campaign. But this was a new element for a presidential debate. Those of an age to remember the Nixon-Kennedy and subsequent debates will recognize how weird this was.
So Trump took out a little insurance against his own potential prosecution in the event that he does not win the presidency. He got in the first punch. But his threat is so out of bounds that even Ari Fleischer objected. You can read his remark in the CNN story quoted above.
As for Hillary Clinton, she held her own on substantive points, but that wasn't what this debate was all about. She was forced to repeat the approach she took in the first debate, namely:
1) Point out that it is hard to fact-check Donald Trump during the debate itself, so the viewers should check out her website.
2) Point out that what you just heard wasn't true, and that Donald lives in his own reality.
These were useful stratagems during the first debate, but they weren't delivered with quite the oomph this time around. They sounded like something that Hillary was reminding herself to say, and didn't get the follow-up they could have profited by.
On the other hand, Hillary did an effective job explaining that Trump is not fit for the job of president. She also got a boost from the moderators when Trump was asked to stop interrupting.
There is one major difference in their competing personas. Over the course of their nomination acceptance speeches and two debates, the difference became clear. Trump presents himself as perpetually angry, outraged, and pessimistic. It's worked for him during the primary process, but it remains to be seen how well it will work for him in a general election. Hillary has taken the more optimistic approach.
In one way this was forced on her, because it was necessitated by Trump's slogan "Make America Great Again." How do you compete with that, other than to say that America is great already? She is also trying to ride the Obama coattails, so she has to claim that things are improving. It's been a tightrope for Hillary to walk, but she seems to be doing about as well as she can. Historically, presidential candidates who present a positive message seem to have an advantage, as Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama showed.
As of this writing a few hours after the second debate, snap polls show Hillary Clinton as the winner. Interestingly, she won big in the category of appearing more presidential. Perhaps this can be explained by Hillary's ability to maintain a straight face in response to Trump's attacks. Compare that to Trump's constant grimacing and frowning when attacked. Perhaps future historians will conclude that Hillary turned out to be the better actor, in spite of Trump's television experience. Or perhaps it was a mistake for Trump to adopt his television persona during his presidential campaign. Alternatively, it may be that the majority of the public found Trump's aggression distasteful and for that reason, found him to be less presidential.
One question: Does Trump always know that he is going over the line? Admittedly a lot of his performance is contrived, a vaudevillian shtick. But perhaps that anger he presents is the real Trump, and what we are hearing is that anger spilling over. What presidential candidate would fail to know that threatening to jail your opponent is off limits in the American political tradition? At the extreme level, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis were not thrown in prison by the victorious side. Perhaps Trump's followers should remind him.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at email@example.com)
LA WATCHDOG--Of the 24 ballot measures on the November ballot, only four are specific to the City of Los Angeles. And of these four, only one deserves a YES vote (RRR - DWP Reform), two deserve a NO vote (HHH - the $1.2 billion homeless bond and SSS – Fire and Police Pension Plans), and one deserves a HELL NO vote (JJJ - Build Better LA). (See Ballot Summaries below.)
When determining how to vote, the first and most important question is whether you trust the proponents of the ballot measure. And in the case of the City of Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council have not earned our trust and confidence as they have not embraced the reform of our City’s finances. They have ignored the excellent budget recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission, have refused to address the Structural Deficit where the increase in personnel expenditures (salaries, pensions, and medical benefits) exceed the growth in tax revenues, have passed on reforming the City’s two pension plans which are $15 billion in the hole, have failed to develop a plan to repair our streets and the rest of our failing infrastructure, and continue to bow to the wishes of real estate developers and billboard operators.
NO on Proposition HHH, the $1.2 Billion Homeless Bond
While our Enlightened Elite who occupy City Hall have told us that addressing homelessness is a priority, they have failed to make the average payment of $65 million a year a budget priority despite a $1 billion increase in City revenues over the last four years and another $600 million over the next four years. Rather than continue with this $2 billion revenue grab over the next 30 years (including interest payments) through an increase in our property taxes, the City has the capacity to pay for the homeless bonds by eliminating their discretionary slush funds, reduce their bloated staffs, and discontinue the hundreds of millions in “giveaways” to international hotel operators and mall operators such as Westfield.
The City has not developed a credible financial plan to fund the $2.8 billion gap between the $4 billion cost of 10,000 units of permanent supportive housing and the $1.2 billion in bond proceeds. Nor has it addressed the over the top cost of $400,000 a unit. Nor has it entered into a definitive agreement with the County which is considering a quarter cent increase in our sales tax ($350 million) to fund its service to the homeless.
The concept of throwing cash at the homeless problem without a financial and operational plan does not pass muster, especially given the lack of meaningful oversight.
For more information, see the CityWatch article, Los Angeles Must Resolve Its Homeless Crisis … This $1.2 Billion Taxpayer Ripoff is Not the Way to Do It.
NO on Charter Amendment SSS, the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pension Plans
If approved by a majority of the voters, Airport Police officers will be eligible to participate in the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pension Plans (“LAFPP”) instead of the less generous Los Angeles City Employees Retirement System (“LACERS”) plan. But without real pension reform that addresses the billions of unfunded liabilities of both LACERS and LAFPP, this ballot measure does not deserve our support. This scheme will also result in significantly higher pension contributions by the Airport and eventually its airline tenants.
The Los Angeles Times urges a NO vote. Police Pension Measure SSS Raises Too Much Doubt to Support.
HELL NO on Initiative Ordinance JJJ / Build Better LA Initiative
The Build Better LA Initiative is a crude attempt by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor to take advantage of the affordable housing shortage in the City of Los Angeles. It would require real estate developers who request a zoning change or variance to include units of affordable housing in the development and to agree to the equivalent of a Project Labor Agreement. While there has not been any detailed analysis of the financial impact of this measure on housing costs, preliminary estimates indicate that it would drive up costs by 30% to 40%. This added expense will result in a transfer of money intended for affordable housing into the pockets of construction workers and their unions.
This misleading, self-serving ballot measure will make affordable housing more unaffordable.
The Los Angeles Times urges a NO vote. Measure JJJ Could Make LA’s Housing Crisis Even Worse.
For additional information, see the CityWatch article, Build Better LA Initiative: Affordable Housing Made More Unaffordable
YES on Charter Amendment RRR, DWP Reform
The major problem with our Department of Water and Power is City Hall. Unfortunately, this charter amendment does not address the issue of Ratepayers being used as an ATM by Mayor Garcetti and the City Council. Nor are there any major changes in the governance of the Department. But it does allow for more efficient procurement and contracting, increased oversight by the Ratepayers Advocate and a newly created Water & Power Analyst that reports directly to the Board of Commissioner, and a more transparent process of appointing a new General Manager. It also requires the Department and the Board of Commissioners to prepare a Four Year Strategic Plan beginning in 2020 for consideration by the City Council and the Mayor.
The major source of controversy is that this charter amendment begins the process that may lead to the Department establishing its own Human Resources Department for its 9,000 employees that is separate and distinct from the City’s Personnel Department and remove the Department from the City’s cumbersome civil service rules and regulations. The City’s civilian unions are labeling this as a “power grab” because it would lessen their influence over the affairs of the Department and limit the transfer of City employees to better paying jobs at DWP. But any major changes would require Council approval which would “undoubtedly prompt an epic political battle.”
While this ballot measure is not the answer to our prayers, it is a step in the right direction.
As a side note, City Council President deserves a pat on the back for ushering this ballot measure through the City Council. And with his leadership, hopefully other meaningful changes will be implemented by the City Council.
The Los Angeles Times in a very good editorial urges a YES vote.
Ballot Summary / Question
HHH - HOMELESSNESS REDUCTION AND PREVENTION, HOUSING, AND FACILITIES BOND. PROPOSITION HHH.
To provide safe, clean affordable housing for the homeless and for those in danger of becoming homeless, such as battered women and their children, veterans, seniors, foster youth, and the disabled; and provide facilities to increase access to mental health care, drug and alcohol treatment, and other services; shall the City of Los Angeles issue $1,200,000,000 in general obligation bonds, with citizen oversight and annual financial audits?
SSS – CITY OF LOS ANGELES FIRE AND POLICE PENSIONS; AIRPORT PEACE OFFICERS. CHARTER AMENDMENT SSS.
Shall the Charter be amended to: (1) enroll new Airport peace officers into Tier 6 of the Fire and Police Pensions System; (2) allow current Airport peace officers to transfer into Tier 6 from the City Employees’ Retirement System (LACERS) at their own expense; and (3) permit new Airport Police Chiefs to enroll in LACERS?
JJJ – AFFORDABLE HOUSING AND LABOR STANDARDS RELATED TO CITY PLANNING. INITIATIVE ORDINANCE JJJ.
Shall an ordinance: 1) requiring that certain residential development projects provide for affordable housing and comply with prevailing wage, local hiring and other labor standards; 2) requiring the City to assess the impacts of community plan changes on affordable housing and local jobs; 3) creating an affordable housing incentive program for developments near major transit stops; and 4) making other changes; be adopted?
RRR – CITY OF LOS ANGELES DEPARTMENT OF WATER AND POWER (DWP). CHARTER AMENDMENT RRR.
Shall the Charter be amended to: (1) add qualification requirements, stipends and removal protections for DWP Board; (2) expand Board to seven members; (3) require DWP prepare four-year Strategic Plans for Council and Mayoral approval; (4) modify DWP’s contracting, rate-setting and other authority; (5) permit future alternatives to existing civil service standards for DWP employees through collective bargaining; and (6) require monthly billing?
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. Jack is affiliated with Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
LA WATCHDOG--On Tuesday, the Board of Water and Power Commissioners voted 4 to 1 to approve an above market, 10 year, $41 million lease of four vacant floors of subpar office space at Figueroa Plaza, a 615,000 square foot, City owned office complex located north of the downtown Central Business District.
LA WATCHDOG--On September 28, Mayor Eric Garcetti issued his Fiscal Year 2017-18 Budget Policy and Goals to all of the General Managers of All City Departments. The goals include closing a projected $85 million deficit for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2017, identifying over $40 million in new general funds to maintain the City’s current commitment to the homeless, and hiring 5,000 new employees by June 30, 2018 to restore services and replace retiring workers.
This missive is focused on next year’s budget and does not address the long term reforms that are desperately needed to tackle the City’s Structural Deficit (where the growth in personnel costs exceeds the increase in revenues), the massive unfunded liabilities of its two unsustainable pension plans (estimated to be in the range of $15 billion based on a more realistic investment rate assumption), and the deferred maintenance on its infrastructure (estimated to be north of $10 billion).
On October 4, the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates (“NCBAs”)* delivered the following recommendation to Mayor Garcetti and the City Council.
Early White Paper Recommendation
The Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates (the “NCBAs”) urge the City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti to implement the following recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission as part of its budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year:
- Create an independent “Office of Transparency and Accountability” to analyze and report on the City’s budget, evaluate new legislation, examine existing issues and service standards, and increase accountability.
- Adopt a “Truth in Budgeting” ordinance that requires the City to develop a three year budget and a three year baseline budget with the goal to understand the longer-term consequences of its policies and legislation. (Council File 14-1184-S2)
- Be honest about the cost of future promises by adopting a discount rate and pension earnings assumptions similar to those used by Warren Buffett.
- Establish a “Commission for Retirement Security” to review the City's retirement obligations in order to promote an accurate understanding of the facts.
We request that the Budget and Finance Committee assign a Council File for each of the recommendations and agendize each of these items for its next meeting on October 17, 2016.
The implementation of these recommendations will be the first step in addressing the City’s Structural Deficit, the massive unfunded liabilities of its two unsustainable pension plans, and the deferred maintenance on its infrastructure.
The adoption of the recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission will result in increased transparency into the City’s complex operations and finances and begin the process of restoring Angelenos’ trust and confidence in City Hall and its elected officials.
The NCBAs are making these recommendations prior to the 2017 Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates White Paper so that they will be an integral part of the upcoming fiscal year’s budget process.
The NCBAs look forward to a timely response.
Stay tuned to see if Mayor Garcetti and the City Council are willing to implement meaningful reform or will it be business as usual, kicking the can down the road and dumping tens of billions in unfunded obligations on the next generation of Angelenos.
NEED TO KNOW
*The Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates are the elected to represent the charter authorized Neighborhood Councils. Their role is to explore, research, study, seek input, prepare and present the concerns and interests of the communities of the City of Los Angeles ("City") about the use of City funds, City revenue collection, City budget and budget allocations, efficiency of City government, City finances, City financial obligations and other such concerns and related to financial matters of the City to the Mayor and City Council.
Join the discussion:
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. Jack is affiliated with Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at: email@example.com.) – cw
LA WATCHDOG--Mayor Eric Garcetti and his budget team are putting a full court press on the Board of Water and Power Commissioners to approve an above market, 10 year, $41 million lease for four vacant floors of office space at Figueroa Plaza, a two tower, 615,000 square foot City owned complex located north of the Central Business District in DTLA. (Photo above: Sculpture by Terry Allen. The bronze statue is located in Downtown L.A. at 7+FIG Plaza, on the corner of 7th and Figueroa Street, outside the corporate offices of Ernst Young)
But this deal, like the previous 10 year, $63 million lease for six vacant floors that was proposed in June, does not pass the smell test because this above market lease is not in the best interests of the Department of Water and Power or its Ratepayers.
Which leads us to the question of whether the five Commissioners, led by President Mel Levine and Vice President Bill Funderburk, will stand up for the interests of the Department and the Ratepayers or will they bow to the pressure from Mayor Garcetti and his budget team who are looking to balance the City’s budget on the backs of the Ratepayers?
Figueroa Plaza is not considered a desirable location for law firms, investment banks, commercial banks, consulting firms, or other professional organizations that occupy Class A space because of its poor location north of the Central Business District. In addition to being out of the way, this older building has a poor reputation for maintenance, services, and amenities. This is not helped by rent roll dominated by government employees.
Yet the City wants our Department of Water and Power to pay Central Business District Class A rents for this subprime space. At the same time, the City wants DWP to pony up $9 million for tenant improvements, an expense that is usually born by the landlord, in this case, the City of Los Angeles.
From the Mayor’s perspective, in the first year of the lease, the City will receive $3 million in rent and “save” $9 million in tenant improvements. This $12 million swing will help the City close its projected $85 million budget deficit for the upcoming fiscal year.
The Department maintains that it needs this additional space to accommodate 700 new employees. But without a well thought out Space Utilization Plan for its 9,576 employees, an 8 to 10 year lease is inappropriate, especially given its above market cost.
Any space plan would need to address the updating of DWP’s 50 year old historic headquarters building located across from the Music Center in downtown Los Angeles. But this is problematic as IBEW Local 18, DWP’s domineering union, will assert jurisdiction over all the work at overtime rates, doubling the cost and the time to completion. This will cost Ratepayers an additional $150 to $200 million.
The question has also been raised whether the IBEW and Union Bo$$ d’Arcy would claim jurisdiction over the work at Figueroa Plaza.
At its meeting on September 20, the Board of Commissioners discussed the proposed $41 million lease in closed session. When the $63 million lease was on the agenda in June, the Board deferred the matter until a later time. As a result, there has not been a public discussion or any outreach involving this controversial lease whose main beneficiary appears to be the City, not DWP or the Ratepayers.
The Department has prepared a 229 page memo outlining this transaction. This includes a 161 page report that justifies the lease. But several experts, including potential tenants and their representatives, have discounted this report stating it was “made as indicated” and does not reflect the real rental market.
Will the Commissioners conduct an open hearing on this above market lease? Will the Commissioners demand that DWP prepare a Space Utilization Plan before entering into this above market lease? Will this study include many different alternatives, including selling the DWP headquarters and moving to an area that would benefit from the economic development? Will the Commissioners demand that the Department update its Personnel Plan to reflect the addition of 700 new employees?
In other words, will the Commissioners act in the best interests of the Department and the Ratepayers and tell the Mayor and his budget team to buzz off?
(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.)-cw
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LA WATCHDOG--Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Herb Wesson led City Council are using the homeless issue to pick our pockets for almost $2 billion over the next 30 years in an effort to cover up their abject failure to make this unfortunate situation a priority in the City’s budget over the last four years.
If Proposition HHH (Homeless Reduction and Prevention, Housing, and Facilities Bond) is approved by two-thirds of the voters, the City will issue $1.2 billion of bonds over the next ten years. These funds, along with billions from politically wired real estate developers and other governmental entities, will finance the construction of 10,000 units of permanent supportive housing for LA’s homeless population at a cost as high as $4 billion.
LA WATCHDOG--Many believe that California would be better off if we sent Attorney General Kamala Harris to Washington to succeed Barbara Boxer, the 75 year old “junior” senator from California. But then again, is it fair to the rest of the country to stick the nation with the highly partisan Kamala Harris when Loretta Sanchez is the more qualified candidate?
Kamala Harris’ fatal flaw is that she is a staunch opponent of pension reform.
During the last two years, she has authored unfavorable and biased summaries for two bipartisan ballot measures that would have reformed California’s unsustainable pension plans. Pension reform is the most important financial issue facing all levels of government as ever increasing pension contributions are required to cover the estimated unfunded liability of up to $500 billion. But these growing contributions are crowding out basic services such as public safety and the repair of our infrastructure as well as progressive initiatives involving education, affordable housing, and services to the homeless.
This has resulted in numerous ballot measures for new taxes which, despite their stated use, are really going to fund the upside down pension plans.
But rather than endorsing pension reform, Harris sold out to the campaign funding leadership of the public unions who are vehemently opposed to any reform of the very generous pension plans. As a result, Harris has benefitted from significant cash contributions to her campaign war chest.
Obviously, Harris did not get the memo from Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo that “you can’t be a progressive and be opposed to pension reform.”
Ever since Harris was elected Attorney General in 2010, she has used her office as a stepping stone for higher office. Over the years, she has been gallivanting around the country, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on first class travel, five star hotels, and limousines and hitting up the usual out of state suspects for campaign donations.
She has also used her office to reward her campaign contributors. In 2015, Harris placed so many conditions on Prime Healthcare’s acquisition of the money losing hospitals owned by the Daughters of Charity that the buyer walked away from the transaction. According to subsequent litigation, it was alleged that Harris was doing the bidding of the SEIU which was in a labor dispute with Prime Healthcare.
No wonder the SEIU has been so generous to Harris’ campaign war chest.
Harris has been so busy running around the country raising money and planning her next campaign that her office has suffered from the lack of organization and leadership and high turnover. Her office has failed to implement or follow through on numerous initiatives such as gun control and criminal justice. But that has not stopped her from claiming credit for the work of others as was the case with the national mortgage settlement that was spearheaded by the Attorney Generals in New York and Delaware.
Sanchez, on the other hand, has developed a reputation over her twenty years in House of Representatives as a legislator who can work in a bipartisan manner, much like Senator Diane Feinstein who has been an effective proponent for California. She has the endorsement of 17 of the State’s Democratic Congressional representatives, almost double the number that are supporting Harris.
Sanchez also has a strong working knowledge of immigration, a very important issue to Californians, as she is the co-chair of the Immigration Task Force, a member of the Hispanic Caucus, and the daughter of hard working immigrants who achieved the American Dream.
She has an excellent understanding of the water issues facing the State, having worked on matters involving conservation, groundwater, the Salton Sea, and other complex problems facing Orange County and Southern California.
She is a ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, but voted against the Iraq War, and the House Homeland Security Committee.
Without doubt, Sanchez, an MBA and a financial analyst in the private sector before she upset B1 Bob Dornan in the 1996 election, is familiar with the federal budget, a complex issue that impacts all Californians.
While Sanchez and Harris are both Democrats, we have the choice between Harris, a San Francisco ideologue who has derailed pension reform in return for union campaign cash, or Sanchez, a Southern Californian and a seasoned legislator with private sector experience who has demonstrated that she can work in a bipartisan manner to get things done.
While Harris is leading in the polls, Sanchez has the unique opportunity to upset Harris by putting together a coalition of Hispanics, moderate Democrats, independents, and Republicans.
(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.)