VOICE OF THE PEOPLE--Were the evictions of more than 20 disabled veterans, elderly and low-income people from 1850 N. Cherokee, (photo above) which left two residents of the rent-stabilized building permanently homeless, a really rare outcome of the LA City Council's habit of giving developers favors to build whatever they want, even if it pushes the poor out of the way? Or is the tragic scenario at Cherokee Avenue actually a lot more widespread than imagined — as testimony this week involving three LA City Council members strongly suggested?
The answer: The testimony revealed that the City Council and LA Planning Department have no idea how many evictions, or how much destruction of affordable housing, they create by approving “spot zoning” — the severe bending of zoning rules on a single piece of land. In fact, City Hall's broken planning system is fueling LA's luxury housing craze — at the expense of everyone else.
Historic 1850 N. Cherokee is the centerpiece of a tragedy, having been emptied in 2013 of its low-income Angelenos by the wealthy Lesser family — to make way for luxury condos. A “spot zoning” change, blessed by avidly pro-developer Eric Garcetti, who was the city councilman for the area until 2012, allowed the Lessers to subdivide the land for luxury condos. This exemption from zoning rules wipes out many rent-stabilized units in Los Angeles. Already 22,000 rent-stabilized units have vanished in LA since 2000, fueling LA's homeless crisis. The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, a reform heading for the March ballot and sponsored by the Coalition to Preserve LA, is focusing heat on the City Council to end its practice of letting wealthy developers get around zoning rules that are supposed to protect communities.
The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative requires the City Council to do its job, by writing a General Plan and 35 Community Plans that respect what communities want, reducing developer control over the planning process.
But as testimony at City Hall this week revealed, the system is broken. Only some Cherokee tenants were paid relocation fees required under the Ellis Act, a state law that allows mass evictions if the building owner wants to permanently transform his structure into a non-rental use. Some Cherokee residents, according to testimony before LA City Council members Gil Cedillo, Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Jose Huizar, were not properly compensated.
Several tenants were also promised a chance at the new condos that were on the way at Cherokee. But then, developer David Lesser persuaded the new city councilman who replaced Garcetti, Mitch O'Farrell (who is even more eagerly pro-developer than Garcetti), to allow Lesser to pursue a much more profitable project — a luxury hotel.
“Susan,” an older woman who was a neighbor to Cherokee for 30 years, was among those mass-evicted by her own landlord under the Ellis Act. Susan told the Council members, “You never quite recover from that. I dream about my old apartment. Now I see it happen to dozens, probably hundreds, probably thousands of other people. It’s unconscionable what’s going on.”
City officials have justified allowing Lesser to switch from condo housing to hipster hotel by portraying the forced-eviction apartment building to be nothing more than a “vacant” shell, no harm done. Which is clearly a lie by city officials. But just as improper, the Department of Planning has declared the proposed upscale hotel to be “residential” not commercial — allowing wealthy developer Lesser to provide fewer amenities, yet another City Hall favor to a developer who drove people out.
“Homelessness is on rise and 1850 Cherokee is an example of that,” Sylvie Shain, an advocate for the displaced who appealed the hotel plan this week, testified to Cedillo, Harris and Huizar. “Two of the former tenants are still homeless three years later — one lives on the couches of benevolent friends and the other is living in his car.”
Sitting as the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee (PLUM), the three councilmembers ultimately did something rarely seen at City Hall: they sided with the little guys. Dawson and Cedillo voted to back Shain’s appeal of the city’s approvals for a luxury hotel at Cherokee, with Huizar voting against Shain’s appeal. (Photo right: Councilman Huizar)
In a revealing and highly unusual exchange, all three PLUM committee members — Cedillo, Dawson and Huizar — appeared stunned that the city's small Department of Planning, whose staff is about half the size of Seattle's, does not know how many people the City Council is displacing by backing “Ellis Act” evictions. Yet the City Council and Department of Planning are the ones who set these evictions in motion, whenever they let developers turn LA’s desperately-needed affordable housing into a different use.
How is this possible? Los Angeles has the highest paid City Council in the nation ($184,000 a year), and each council member has a personal staff of up to 25 aides. Yet read the below back and forth between the three councilmen and Director of City Planning Vince Bertoni at this week's fascinating PLUM hearing (yes, we said fascinating hearing). It reveals that the City Council is utterly in the dark about the human displacement its land-zoning manipulations cause:
Huizar: “Mr. Bartoni when we get these projects before us, seeking an 'entitlement' and/or a new use on a property, is there something in the documents that flags to [us] that the property is under the rent-stabilization ordinance and/or the Ellis Act? Does anything flag us?”
Vince Bartoni, City Planning Director: “I’ll ask Mr. Rausch to come to the microphone to address that.”
Charlie Rausch, L.A. City Planner: “What was question again?”
Huizar: “Whenever there’s an applicant to change a use for a property, do we get somehow flagged in our documents that this [property] is under rent-stabilization or under the Ellis Act?”
Rausch: “Generally not. I haven’t seen one in a case file.”
Huizar: “I’ve always wondered what’s the cumulative impact … At some point we should have an odometer that says, 'Look, you’re taking off [the market] all these rent stabilization units. Does the left arm in housing department, who is in charge of this, really know what we are doing over here?”
At that point, Rausch reminded Huizar of the hotly disputed proposal to transform the affordable Wyvernwood housing development in Huizar’s district in Boyle Heights, displacing a staggering 6,000 residents who stand in the way of 4,400 proposed luxury condos and luxury rentals. Only 15% would be set aside as “affordable.” The gigantic multi-skyscraper urban renewal plan hearkens back to massive, vertical projects pushed by Eastern cities decades ago.
Boyle Heights residents have marched in the streets against Wyvernwood, which would forever transform and gentrify heavily working-class and Latino Boyle Heights. It would pour 20,000 mostly upscale new residents into several 24-story towers, and would include 300,000 square feet of office, commercial and retail space. The wealthy developer, Steven Fink of Fifteen Group in Miami, would be allowed by City Hall to carve up extensive green space and meadow-like grounds that meander through Wyvernwood, to jam in several new streets.
With a nod to respecting the existing tenants, Huizar has nevertheless backed the developer. Simply put, Wyvernwood is the equivalent of displacing a small working-class town for the desires of a single developer.
In the end, this week's City Hall PLUM committee upheld Sylvie Shain's appeal against the luxury hotel proposed at Cherokee, which she based on requirements of CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act.
Cedillo said of the human displacement tragedy created at 1850 N. Cherokee, “People have been basically put asunder.” Dawson said, “We don’t even know if the people got the basic relocation fee — while the letter [of the law] might have been met, the spirit is being violently violated in this case.”
If Cedillo and Dawson stick to their guns at next Tuesday's follow-up PLUM hearing (plus find one more city council member on PLUM to back them with a third vote), the consistently pro-developer LA Planning and Land Use Committee might find itself in an unusual situation: turning down a rich developer with a bad project that breaks the city’s zoning rules and displaces people.
Mark Simon, of the Los Angeles Tenants Union, summed it up best to the PLUM councilmen: “Just walk outside — in maybe 20 feet in each direction, [you'll] get some hard evidence of the devastation projects like these cause on the homeless impact. It's ridiculous to say there’s no hard evidence — my God, we’re all living with it.”
(Jill Stewart is Campaign Director for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative and former LA Weekly editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Miki Jackson writes about Los Angeles politics. She can be reached at: Mikijackson@sbcglobal.net)
CONNECTING CALIFORNIA--How did homelessness suddenly become such a hot issue across California? There are many reasons, and few of them have anything to do with people who are homeless.
Those reasons—economic anxiety, budget surpluses, tax schemes, housing prices, prison reform, health care expansion, urban wealth, and political opportunism have combined to create today’s “homeless moment” in California.
For decades, combating homelessness has been a civic obsession in the San Francisco Bay Area, with its long tradition of progressive politics and generous homeless services. Now that homeless hubbub has spread statewide. To the surprise of many at the State Capitol, a $2 billion bond to pay for housing for the mentally ill homeless—previously a backburner issue in tax-and-education-obsessed Sacramento—became a central focus of this month’s budget negotiations. And around the state, local law enforcement officials have stirred the pot by claiming that recent measures to reduce the California prison population have exacerbated the homeless problem.
In Los Angeles, which has the nation’s second largest homeless population according to federal figures, homelessness has become the dominant political debate. Mayor Eric Garcetti has talked big about addressing the problem—declaring an emergency, promising that no military veterans will be living on the street—and now faces criticism for weak follow-up. L.A.’s city and county governments are now ensnared in huge debates about how to pay for additional public housing.
A similar pattern—of big plans to end homelessness followed by conflict about how to do it—has emerged in cities from Redding to Riverside. In San Diego, with America’s fourth largest homeless population, a leading city councilman called for ending all homelessness by the end of this year. (He’s since backed off). In Orange County, there have been calls for a “homeless czar” to speed up the building of shelters and housing. In Fresno, Mayor Ashley Swearengin just held a press conference at the city’s baseball stadium to tout a plan to end homelessness in the next three years. In Sacramento, homelessness was a leading issue in the just-concluded mayoral election, with the victor pledging to build more housing for the homeless.
Given all this drama, you might expect that the number of homeless people is rapidly rising. To the contrary, homeless counts (the accuracy of which is another big debate) show relatively flat or even declining homeless populations in most of these cities. So why the sudden urgency? The short answer: the homeless are now more visible to the rich people who drive civic conversation. Fancy restaurants and new high-end housing have brought wealthy folks into urban neighborhoods and old industrial areas that once were havens for the homeless. Downtown L.A., home to a large population of unsheltered homeless for decades, has rapidly been transformed from one of the most affordable to one of the most expensive places to live in the city.
At the same time, anxiety about housing has never run deeper. The housing crisis of the previous decade cost many Californians their homes. California’s total failure to build housing—we’ve produced just one new unit for every eight new Californians in this decade—has led to sky-high prices. Many Californians are forced to spend more than half of their incomes on housing, and the prospect of sleeping on the street no longer seems so unlikely.
Politicians, who read polls showing this growing fear, have seized on the opening. Homelessness has become an almost perfect issue for politicians. Expectations of success are low (homelessness is persistent) so any progress can be spun as heroic. Few homeless people vote, so democratic accountability is close to nothing. And the issue doesn’t have a strong partisan profile, so there is room for political horse-trading and risk-taking.
In an extraordinary public letter late last year, Santa Cruz Mayor Don Lane urged experiments with different approaches to the problem—and took himself to task for not having done so previously. “I am as responsible as anyone in this community for our failure to address our lack of shelter and our over-reliance on law enforcement and the criminal justice system to manage homelessness,” he wrote. “I have been a direct participant in many of my city’s decisions on homelessness. I have failed to adequately answer many of the questions I am posing.”
Such self-criticism is easier for politicians when money is on the way. The federal government has stepped up funding for housing the homeless—especially for veterans. The state is running a surplus, and a state fund for mental health services, funded by the Proposition 63 tax on millionaires, is so full of extra dollars that even Gov. Brown, a notorious tightwad, agreed to borrow $2 billion from it to fund housing and other services for the homeless. He and the legislature also threw another $400 million in affordable housing dollars into the budget.
In some places, the notion of a homelessness emergency is seen as a justification for a money grab. LA County supervisors want the state—which famously limits local taxation—to permit them to impose their own millionaire’s tax to pay for more homeless programs. That money, of course, could free up other funds for other purposes—which is all the more reason to decree a homelessness emergency.
To be fair, much of this money will be spent on a strategy that has shown some success—providing permanent supportive housing for the homeless. This housing-oriented approach is a welcome departure from decades of efforts to fix the ills of the homeless—be they substance abuse or trauma or mental illness—before getting them housing.
But the focus on housing is narrow for a problem this complex. And today’s windfall for homeless services is unlikely, in California’s volatile budget system, to last. Even if it did, the disparate nature of the funding—a bundle of incentives and grants—isn’t efficient enough to create the capacity to cover the fluid and shifting homeless populations in California cities.
In his acclaimed new book, Evicted, Harvard professor Matthew Desmond argues that ending homelessness would require greater ambition than anything on the table in California, or anywhere else in the U.S. He advocates “universal housing” as a clear right, like the well-established right to public education.
Under Desmond’s proposal, the government would issue housing vouchers to families below a certain income threshold so that they pay no more than 30 percent of their income on housing. The vouchers could be used to live anywhere they wanted—just as families use food stamps to buy groceries almost anywhere.
Such rental assistance is common in other developed countries like Britain and the Netherlands, which don’t suffer from American-style homelessness. In the U.S., universal housing via vouchers would cost $60 billion, Desmond estimates—real money, but a mere fraction of the hundreds of billions spent subsidizing the housing of wealthier people via the mortgage-interest tax deduction.
Universal housing wouldn’t have much chance of passage in Washington. But universal housing is just the sort of idea that California should try—if this homeless moment is really about ending homelessness.
PLATKIN ON PLANNING--LA City Planning will soon be forced to make a clear choice regarding the Purple Line Subway Extension. In particular, City Planning is sponsoring two community meetings, on June 29 and 30, to undertake station area planning for three stations: Wilshire/LaBrea, Wilshire/Fairfax, and Wilshire/LaCienega, shown on the map above.
Which approach to station area planning will prevail?
The fork in the road for both METRO and the City of Los Angeles is the actual purpose of mass transit. Is it to improve the mobility of Los Angeles residents, to give them more appealing transportation options? Or, is the purpose of transit, such as the Purple Line Extension, to create opportunities for real estate investors to capitalize on suddenly valuable parcels at station areas?
While most people assume the purpose of transit is to improve mobility for local residents, commuters, and visitors, the choice facing City Hall, based on clashing precedents, is much murkier. The direction, therefore, that the planners and then the City’s elected officials make, will have repercussions for decades to come, probably, in fact, past the end of the 21st century.
There is a precedent for planning station areas early in the construction process, to make sure that neighborhoods adjacent to transit stations, generally in a quarter-mile radius, are carefully designed to reflect the concerns of both local residents and future passengers. In fact, the Planning Department already prepared comprehensive specific plans for the subway stations at LaBrea/Wilshire and Fairfax/Wilshire, including visionary station designs. City Planning prepared these plans in the early 1980’s, when the original Metro Rail alignment was Wilshire Boulevard to Fairfax, and then north on Fairfax through West Hollywood, Hollywood, and over the Cahuenga Pass to North Hollywood.
METRO, then called the Southern California Rapid Transit District, hired the Department of City Planning to prepare approximately 13 separate Specific Plans. When METRO changed the original alignment in 1986 because of political pressure, two of those completed plans, including their EIRs, now correspond to the new Purple Line Extension stations. They could easily be pulled out of old file cabinets, dusted off, and with a few changes, be brought up-to-date.
But, don’t hold your breath because of a conflicting precedent, Metro’s Expo Lines. In this case, the planning process has strictly focused on up-zoning and up-planning station area parcels to promote Transit Oriented Development, even though METRO itself calls for Transit Oriented Districts/Commununities.
This alternative is called Neighborhood Transit Plans, an ambitious City Planning program to create local plans for stations on all of METRO’s rail projects in Los Angeles. The most advanced of these plans, for the Exposition Line, is a draft specific plan, first unveiled in January 2015, but yet to be adopted. This draft is, in my view, the template for all future Neighborhood Transit Plans, including those for the Purple Line Extension.
A careful look at this template reveals that it is a zoning document. Even though the template is labeled a plan, it is not, tellingly, part of the General Plan. It is, in effect, a plan implementation tool, zoning, that is mislabeled a plan.
There is also a companion Streetscape Plans for each of the Exposition Line’s stations, but these document are not part of the draft Specific Plan. The differences are critical. The City Planning Commission and the City Council adopt Specific Plans as ordinances. Streetscape Plans, however, are only advisory documents that the Board of Public Works, Cultural Affairs Commission, and the City Planning Commission approve. While Streetscape Plans do include detailed improvements for public areas, they have no implementation authority, such as the City’s budget, capital projects, or Departmental work programs.
Basic Steps for Purple Line Station Area Planning
Given these alternative precedents, how should the City of Los Angeles now proceed with comprehensive planning for the Purple Line Extension, as well as other METRO rail corridors?
First, the entire station area planning process should be completed and implemented before the Purple Line opens to the public in 2023. Considering that the Blue Line, Green Line, and Orange Line are operational, but do not yet have any adopted transit station area plans, this is not a good start. Likewise the Red Line subway, between the downtown and North Hollywood, with a Purple Line spur to Wilshire/Western, only has one adopted plan, the Vermont/Western Transit Oriented District Specific Plan (SNAP). This corridor, like other centers in Los Angeles, does, however, have land use plans prepared by the Community Redevelopment Agency. At some future point, these redevelopment plans will be transferred to the Department of City Planning and may become additional specific plans for transit stations.
Second, the station area planning process should not reinvent the wheel. The dormant station plans from the previous rail alignment should be re-used, but with a warning. Those older plans did not view transit as a gift horse to real estate developers, but as a threat to existing communities located near stations. These plans protected existing communities from over-development by subway projects in older Los Angeles neighborhoods. These plans also included a subsequently discarded planning principle: new real estate projects should be limited to the capacity of local infrastructure and services.
Third, instead of using rail projects to attract new residents to station areas, the plans should focus on public improvements that address the mobility needs of existing residents and commuters. This principle is at odds with the model Exposition Specific Plan, whose purpose is to encourage high-density apartment projects, based on the untested assumption that their tenants will live near subway stations and, therefore, use mass transit.
Fourth, the restored station area plans must address heavy automobile traffic generated by the nearby Cedar-Sinai Hospital, Beverly Center, Beverly Connection, Grove Shopping Center, and Farmers Market. These local traffic generators need be carefully linked to the new subway stations.
Fifth, to properly serve the transportation needs of Purple Line Extension neighbors and commuters, the planning process should include the following agencies and projects:
- Bureau of Street Services regarding systematic tree planning, pedestrian curb cuts, and other sidewalk improvement in the station planning areas, at least a 1/4 mile from the station site. The precedent for these improvements can be found at the Purple Line’s Wilshire-Vermont station, where METRO paid for similar improvements on both Vermont and Wilshire Boulevard.
- Department of Water and Power regarding the undergrounding of power utility lines in station areas. Since the relocation of these utility lines is part of subway construction, some of this work is already underway.
- Department of Transportation, regarding the construction of bicycle infrastructure and pedestrian enhancements, such as intersection redesign and way-finding signs.
- Bureau of Street Lighting regarding the installation of improved street lighting on pedestrian-oriented streets.
- METRO regarding the construction of station-site interfaces for cars (Kiss ‘n Ride and Park ‘n Ride), busses, taxis, carpools, vanpools, pedestrians, motorcycles, and bicycles.
- Los Angeles Police Department regarding citations for automobile drivers who block pedestrian crosswalks with their cars.
The combination of these public improvements is called Transit Oriented Communities (TOC) by METRO, so there should be no reluctance on their part to assure that these features are properly planned, funded, and constructed prior to 2023.
Evolution of Station Area Planning in Los Angeles
Underlying this discussion is the steady evolution of station area planning from broad improvements in mobility to now rolling out the red carpet for real estate projects. While the older plans were growth neutral, the current approach is clearly growth inducing, but with little concern for the public services that additional residents will require.
A deeper question is why has the focus of station area planning changed so much during the 30 years between the first Metrorail project and the current one. The answer, I think, is the continued collapse of the post-WWII liberal order in the United States, which gradually became neo-liberalism. From the early 1970s onward, President Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam War promise to the American public of “guns and butter” could not be kept. The traditional liberal formula of progressive legislation at home (e.g., Social Security, Medicare, Voting Rights Act, EPA) married to a hawkish foreign policy collapsed. Even though the hawkish component quickly resumed, this breakdown included the gradual elimination of many domestic programs, such as the Federal government’s programs for public housing programs and local transportation projects.
To justify these cutbacks in domestic programs, neo-liberal ideology filled the bill nicely. Its main tenant was that market forces, if properly infused by deregulation and incentives to investors, could address stubborn social problems, such as traffic congestion and high priced housing. When applied to cities, neo-liberalism meant the elimination of major urban programs and the deregulation of zoning and environmental review. As a result, local government policies have since then deliberately benefited owners of commercial property, on the assumption that if zoning barriers, such as use, height, density, and parking codes, are removed, developers will build a cornucopia of Transit Oriented Development near transit stations. This miracle cure would simultaneously provide affordable housing and drive up transit ridership. So far this has not yet happened, but its defenders claim they need more time for their zoning plans to be vindicated.
Unfortunately, we do not have enough time for this grand experiment to be played out. The supposed miracle cure of high density market housing built at subway stations, regardless of population trends or the capacity of public infrastructure and services, will lock us in to undesirable land use patterns that will haunt us for generations to come. Affluent residents in these areas are not likely to become regular transit users, while local streets, parking facilities, and other public services will not be able to keep up with increased user demand.
This is why I have argued that the focus of station area plans should be public improvements, such as better sidewalks, not up-zoning and up-planning handouts for real estate tycoons.
It is also why I now argue that the planning for the Purple Line stations forces the Department of City Planning to make some tough choices on the ultimate purpose of mass transit. Will it be the needs of residents and commuters or will it be the needs of real estate speculators?
(Dick Platkin is a former LA city planner who reports on local planning issues for CityWatch. He welcomes comments and corrections at email@example.com.)
MY TURN-Stakeholders keep the heat up on the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) so we will probably be looking at the status of the California Bullet train for the next two decades. Who knows if anything will anything even be completed by that time? The issue has managed to bring out passions on both sides and that is a good thing. This is definitely the year for activism in politics.
David De Pinto, President of the Shadow Hills Home Owners Association and Board member of SAFE coalition are continually trying to have communication with the CHSRA and any other government officials who will listen to them.
There are positives and negatives on both sides. The California electorate passed 1A with certain provisions. They defined "High Speed" as reaching speeds up to 220 miles an hour.
They also were told that it would provide 150,000 well-paying jobs, cut down emissions from cars and trucks by almost half, and put the State into the same stratosphere as other great countries. Now that we’ve been designated the sixth largest economy in the world, we can lay claim to almost being our own country. Not to be cynical... but we know from past experience the number of jobs projected is always less and the costs are always more!
On the other hand, do we need to have such high speeds? I enjoy taking the train from LA to San Diego because we pass through some scenic wonders and it’s a therapeutic start to a trip. It beats flying which is only 40 minutes. Of course, one must add two hours to the actual flying time to stand in security lines. It certainly doesn't make for a stress free start. I could drive the two and a half hours, which can and has turned into a five hour trip on the 405/5. So the train is a great choice even if it goes 50 miles an hour.
The train between NYC and Washington DC is another great ride. One goes through five or six different states and the scenery is fascinating. I think the highest speed is 81 miles an hour. But the majority of Americans seem to be in a perpetual rush. I don't know how much scenery one can enjoy going 220 miles an hour.
If only the project were that simple. People on the east coast try to live within walking distance to the nearest train station. Trains don't run all night and during the day; the sound of a train signaling its approach is rather pleasant.
We Californians -- especially Angelenos -- are a different breed. We’re spoiled! We don't have to worry about digging out of snow. We have a great freeway system, especially at 2 am if – if CalTrans hasn't decided to do "roadwork" and close three lanes. Our cars are included as members of the family. If you believe the Liberty Insurance commercial, we even name them.
But we must consider both the environmental and people impact that the new CHSRA business plan envisions for its ride to LA. The northeastern Valley seems to bear the brunt of the hardships. Several hundred thousand residents are going to be severely impacted over the next 13 years.
Because the CHSRA decided to construct the Northern California portion first, Valley residents breathed a sigh of relief. CHSRC does not necessarily have the best communication skills. I attended one of the meetings where they were reporting progress to the LA City Council. I expected some fireworks and some tough questions from the City Council members. The only searching questions came from the audience and because of Council rules none of the questions could receive answers because they weren't listed on the agenda.
Dave De Pinto keeps me apprised of the SAFE outreach. Here is a quote from his second to latest notice to CHSRA Chairman Dan Richard, the CHSRA Board and CHSRA management and to a zillion other government officials.
Dear Chairman Richard:
On behalf of the united communities in the northeast San Fernando Valley, which includes several hundred thousand residents, I'm writing to again convey that your Agency's follow-up on numerous public _*and*_ elected official requests is inadequate and disappointing. Despite your public statements about increased transparency and your use of the term
"harassment" to describe our many, many efforts to get responses from your staff on numerous matters, as impacted stakeholders engaged in the Authority's outreach program, we will not be ignored or marginalized.
We call for the Authority to be accountable and responsive to our concerns and issues. The most important of those issues remains the continued inclusion of infeasible above ground segments such as above-ground E2, in ongoing environmental studies."
You can read the entire statement the SAFE website. Basically, he wanted to know why CHSRA hadn't had any public outreach in a year. They had promised to hold meetings starting at the beginning of this year.
In the last week both the LA Times and Sacramento Bee accused CHSRA of fiscal malfeasance. Apparently one of the bids received from Spain's giant construction company Ferrovial, had pointed out that the financing for this Bullet Train, including all the monies from various government sources would probably not be sufficient to maintain the rail system and that public subsidies...meaning tax payers would be on the hook. In a study of 111 rail systems worldwide only three did not rely on subsidies. This little disclosure was inadvertently left out of copies of the Spanish proposal.
Proposition 1A passed in 2008 approved $9 billion in bonds to build the rail system, stating it would have to operate without future public funding. That $9 billion has now mushroomed to $64 billion.
The other source of financing was revenue from the Cap and Trade bill which, to date, has not generated its projected dollars.
Not being an expert on railroad construction I asked De Pinto why we couldn't use the existing tracks with the reinforcement for high speeds. This way there would be little need for eminent domain environmental damage and seismic threats.
He replied, "That's called the ‘blended approach’ and we can't get straight answers from them as it's too hypothetical and so many grade crossings would have to be altered, etc. It also causes a problem for them in that by law, they must travel from N. Cal. to S. Cal in two hours and forty minutes. The more they go the blended approach, the slower they go. But, it's cheaper for them and there are existing rights of way, so they do consider it in places. It's not going to use existing track here in the NE San Fernando Valley."
So I asked, what could the speed be if they used existing tracks with modifications?
He answered, "Every train/track situation is different country to country due to equipment, track layouts, etc. In California, they tout 220 MPH as their optimum speed and it's actually in the enabling ballot measure and legislation.
"We know trains slow down around curves and approaching station stops. Based on all that CHSRA has said through the years, to expect 220 MPH through our community. That they would even propose such a thing demonstrates how out of touch and insensitive they are to local communities."
There lies the elephant in the room. Scores of residents would not only have to live with huge, noisy and toxic dust conditions for years but, financially, it would place the values of their homes into a downward spiral.
Just now, I received notice that the CHSRA sent "Permit to Enter" letters which indicated they will be conducting testing from June 2016 until December 2017. This is environmental impact testing for above-the-ground high speed rail. De Pinto notes in his letter to LA elected officials, that this testing is probably more like a three to five year project. SAFE is asking all their elected officials what they are going to do to protect these communities.
There is a motion, which should soon be before the LA County Board of Supervisors, to remove all above ground routes from the existing plan and determine other alternatives. De Pinto's latest message, or as he calls it, his "rant", also suggests that those officials -- who are running for re-election or an open seat -- will be asked their position on the elimination of above ground tracks. The forthcoming election in November will have major consequences for those seeking to represent the Northeast San Fernando Valley.
The only elected official who has publicly supported SAFE is Assembly Member Patty Lopez who is running for re-election in the 39th Assembly District.
This would make a great TV series.
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)
NEW GEOGRAPHY-Over the past decade, Southern California has lagged well behind its chief rivals – New York and the Bay Area, as well as the fast-growing cities of the Sun Belt – in everything from job creation to tech growth. Yet, in what the late economist Jack Kyser dubbed “the creative industries,” this region remains an impressive superpower.
By creative industries, we mean not just Hollywood’s film and television complex, which remains foundational, but those serving a host of other lifestyle-oriented activities, from fashion (photo above) and product design to engineering theme parks, games and food. We may be lagging Silicon Valley in technology and New York in finance or news media, but when it comes to entertaining people, and defining lifestyle, the Southland remains a powerful, even primal, force.
Overall, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., creative industries employ more than 418,000 people in L.A. and Orange counties. This is larger than second-place New York, and more than five times larger than the San Francisco and Seattle regions. Orange County and Los Angeles account for 80 percent of statewide employment in entertainment and fashion. In toys, LA and OC account for over two-thirds of statewide jobs.
As a whole, visual- and performing-arts providers have done best in percentage terms, growing by 23.8 percent, followed closely by fine arts and performing-arts schools, with 23.2 percent growth. The SoCal creative economy took a big hit during the recession, when overall employment decreased 14.5 percent, compared with 8 percent for all other industries. But recent trends speak to the resiliency of the region’s creative industries. From 2009-14, employment finally began to grow, even as the rest of LA’s economy was still shrinking.
As other local industries fade, the creative ones become more important, making up a growing share of the regional economy. New research by Chapman University’s Marshall Toplansky and Nate Kaspi found Orange and Los Angeles counties boast among the highest per capita employment in these creative fields of any major region in the country.
These jobs are also critical to supporting the region’s beleaguered middle class; 63 of the 80 creative occupations in California have annual wages higher than the statewide median of $38,920.
The Inland Empire does less well in these industries, but has a strong presence in such design fields as furniture and decorative arts. The Coachella music festival, taking place in Riverside County every year, is widely seen as the most successful concert venue in the world and a global incubator of lifestyle trends and fashion.
Overall, in most creative industries, we simply crush the nerd culture of the Bay Area. Los Angeles easily leads the nation when it comes to independent artists, writers and performers, with a location quotient eight times the national average, twice the share of New York. If Arby’s has the meats, we have the artists.
Persistently vibrant --Southern California’s creative economy, as Cary McWilliams noted 60 years ago, came as a result of some very good fortune – largely the exodus of movie producers seeking respite from New York process servers and close proximity to the Mexican border. Once there, they discovered the possibilities of shooting films and living in an ideal climate.
“Here was an industry,” noted McWilliams, “perhaps the only industry in America that required no raw materials, for which discriminatory freight rates were meaningless and, which at the same time, possessed an enormous payroll.”
Hollywood’s geographic spread has grown inexorably over time, moving from its birthplace to what would have once been considered the distant reaches of the San Fernando Valley and the Westside. As entertainment and lifestyle have expanded as industries, the dispersal has been even greater, with fashion and lifestyle-related employment particularly strong in Orange County and with some artisanal production concentrated in the Inland Empire.
The deep roots of the creative industries, and their synergy within the region, helps explain why they have remained intact. For decades, in fields like energy and aerospace, Southern California has been losing both company headquarters and production facilities at a rapid rate. The region’s once-vast manufacturing base, a key provider of middle-class and blue-collar jobs, has been evaporating, the victim of both foreign competition and an ever more strangling regulatory regime.
In contrast, the major movie studios all remain based in Southern California, although their ownership’s home bases tend to fluctuate. Hollywood and other creative fields face regulatory challenges but are not nearly as vulnerable, for example, to high energy costs as industrial or logistics firms. They also benefit from close ties with those who run California’s one-party political system. Finally, they have been fortunate to draw on a workforce that trends young and childless, at a time when families, pressed by high housing prices, have been moving inland and, increasingly, out of state.
The creative industries matter even more to the regional economy, given the losses of aerospace, which has largely decamped to other states that do not disdain a source of technology-oriented, high-wage employment. In contrast, the entertainment economy continues to compete with less-expensive U.S. locales, such as Louisiana or Michigan, as well as well-funded global centers such as New York or London. Much of the employment reflects what might be called the Hollywood mode of production, dominated by small artisanal firms that often sell their services to clients around the world. Working together, they offer levels of expertise not easily duplicated elsewhere.
In creative sectors, notes a report prepared for Otis College of Art and Design by the LAEDC, self-employment is more common than wage and salary employment. In the visual and performing arts, there were over 2.7 self-employed persons in Los Angeles County for every salaried worker. In Orange County, the ratio was even more striking, nearly 4-1.
However, the real appeal of Southern California lies in the area’s way of life. Entertainment professionals, designers and theme-park creators like each other’s company, or at least enjoy gossiping about their co-workers. What the creative industries share with the rest of us is an enjoyment of the dispersed, outdoors-oriented and increasingly culturally diverse lifestyle associated with Southern California.
Impact on the future --This cross-fertilization and creative flair could prove critical in the emerging digital economy, notes a recent Neiman study, where industries, like media, cluster in places where content creators live, notably, Southern California, Washington, D.C., and New York. The LAEDC predicts continued growth in these industries to the end of the decade.
California’s expanded film and television tax credit program also appears to be slowing some of the industry’s migration. But, while incentives will continue to play a role, there remain many challenges, notably the shift to digital production and the potential shift of decision-making from the increasingly antiquated networks and movie studios to digital disrupters such as Apple, Amazon and Netflix.
There is also potential fallout if furniture and apparel manufacturers, closely aligned with the creative industries, are forced to shift more operations to less-regulated, less-expensive regions. Fashion, for example, has thrived largely due to the ability of LA’s flexible garment production sector to churn out “fast fashion” products. If production, partly because of the state’s new $15 minimum wage, continues to depart, this link could be weakened.
As with other industries, the biggest challenge could prove the cost of living. High housing prices are slowing growth in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley; soaring residential costs could also limit the ability of artists and creators to settle permanently in the Southland. Ultimately, the region needs to expand or retrofit its stock of housing so artists can still live a Southern California – as opposed to a New York – lifestyle. The prospect of living in dark boxes in paradise is not what has driven creative people to this region.
To thrive, the creative industries will need to expand regionally, as they have in parts of Orange County and in the old Los Angeles County beach cities. The new-urbanist dream of a densely packed mini-NY is not congruent with the sunlight-oriented lifestyle that, in the final analysis, is our most compelling product.
Southern California’s creative edge ultimately draws inspiration from its climate, open beaches, mountains and its necklace of unique small neighborhoods and towns. We may have lost tech to Silicon Valley, banking to Wall Street, energy and manufacturing to places like Texas and Utah, but we remain paramount when it comes to creation, and that could pace our recovery in the decades ahead.
(Joel Kotkin is a R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism in Houston. His newest book is “The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us.” Charlie Stephens is a researcher and MBA candidate at Chapman University’s Argyros School of Business and Economics; he is founder of substrand.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
SANE SPEED LIMIT LAWS-Every day we hear about drivers killed in collisions on their way to work or pedestrians mowed down when crossing the street. You may be asking yourself, “Why doesn’t anyone do anything about this? Aren’t there laws to prevent this?” Believe it or not, there are legal obstacles to making our streets safer. We have laws dating back to a more car-centric era that treat pedestrians and cyclists as afterthoughts. If we want active transportation to be accepted by mainstream America, a legal framework will have to evolve to protect all of our road users.
In this series, I will examine legal danger zones and potential fixes for reducing traffic-related deaths in California.
One of the most obvious places to start is speed limits. Since we know conclusively that speed kills, why don’t we set lower speed limits?
A 10 mph reduction in vehicle speed from 40 mph to 30 mph, means that a pedestrian who is hit by a car has just increased his or her chance of survival from 10 to 50 percent.
In Los Angeles, police are unable to ticket speeding drivers for violating the posted speed limit on 75 percent of the city’s streets. Why not? Because the speed surveys required by law for these streets have expired. There is a fear in the active transportation community that the city would be legally required to increase speed limits, further endangering the public, if these speed surveys are conducted.
How did we arrive at such an absurd state of affairs?
California law requires that speed limits be set based on the “prevailing speed.” The prevailing speed is determined by a speed survey which calculates the speed of cars in the 85th percentile. Once this speed of majority drivers is determined, the law only allows an additional 5 mph reduction to account for unforeseen safety conditions. This method of determining the speed limit does not consider the severity of injuries inflicted on a pedestrian or cyclist if hit by a car travelling at the prevailing speed. This needn’t be the case. Alternative speed-setting methods have been effectively used both stateside and overseas.
In countries with the highest rates of bicycle ridership, the severity of injuries caused by crashes at a given speed is taken into account when establishing speed limits. This approach is known as Injury Minimization, or Safe Systems. The idea is to minimize the probability of death and serious injury. It is derived from Sweden’s Vision Zero initiative which dictates that car crashes will occur no matter what; therefore, our road systems ought to be designed to protect us. If we wish to have a larger percentage of people engaging in active transportation, this approach deserves a look.
While the Safe Systems approach started in traditional bike meccas such as the Netherlands and Sweden, the philosophy is gaining traction in other jurisdictions as well. Throughout the United Kingdom, the 20’s Plenty for Us campaign has succeeded in reducing speed limits to 20 mph in more than half of the largest urban areas in Britain. This movement encourages people who walk or bike to use the road system safely. Places adopting the lower speed limits results in more children walking and biking to school.
New York City is the first major urban area in the United States to usher in lower speed limits to reduce death and injury. Thanks to strong advocacy from Transportation Alternatives, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the 25mph speed limit into law in 2014. Additionally, Oregon and Washington have both passed legislation allowing for 20 mph speed limits.
There is a glimmer of hope for us here in California since there is already an existing exception to the dreaded prevailing speed/85th percentile law: the school zone. This is a legislative exception carved out to protect vulnerable people, namely children. School zones are exempt from the typical speed survey calculations and mandate a 25 mph speed limit when children are present.
What about designating a pedestrian zone? Or an active transportation zone? The same rationale of protecting vulnerable road users could apply. Don’t children who walk to school deserve the same protections as children who are within the school zone?
If Californians want to experience the benefits of lower speed limits, our work is cut out for us. First, we need a fair and enforceable standard for setting speed limits; second, we need a legislator to champion the cause. The Swedish/Dutch Injury Minimization approach is a solid place to start. We can also learn from successful campaigns implemented in the UK and states such as Oregon and Washington.
The challenge of eliminating traffic deaths is great, but the risks of inaction are unconscionable.
(Andrew Said is a prosecutor with the Office of the Los Angeles City Attorney. He focuses on safe streets and active transportation. This piece was provided CityWatch by the author.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
LATINO PERSPECTIVE--More than 300 law enforcement personnel swept an area east of Los Angeles in an operation targeting two Latino gangs that resulted in 52 arrests and the seizure of drugs with a street value of $1.6 million, California's Attorney General's Office said in a statement.
Police seized 67 firearms, including assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons, as well as $100,000 in cash and quantities of methamphetamines, cocaine and marijuana, in Thursday's raids in Riverside County.
"The large amounts of narcotics, currency, and most importantly, the large cache of weapons seized, will no doubt disrupt the criminal gangs' enterprise, thus making our communities that much safer," the police chief of the city of Corona, Michael Abel, was quoted as saying.
The raids targeted the Corona Varrio Locos gang and the Mexican Mafia, known as "La Eme," a criminal organization that operates throughout the California prison system.
They stemmed from a joint investigation by the Corona Police Department, Riverside County Sheriff's Gang Task Force and the California Department of Justice's Bureau of Investigation Special Operations Unit Southern California team.
"Criminal gangs brazenly trafficking guns and drugs on our streets jeopardize public safety and will not be tolerated," said California Attorney General Kamela Harris.
The Mexican Mafia controls the drug trade and conducts other illicit activity in state correctional facilities and elsewhere, according to public safety officials.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, or CDCR, assisted with the investigations and seizures inside the state prison system, where some of the criminal organizations continue their illegal activities.
"A strong blow has been dealt to the Mexican Mafia that's constantly working to extend their criminal enterprise in this region," Derrick Marion, the chief of the CDCR's Office of Correctional Safety, said.
The Corona Varrio Locos street gang operates in the city of Corona and surrounding areas of the Inland Empire, a region of Southern California, and is affiliated with the Sureños, a Southern California gang that in turn takes orders from La Eme, the state AG's office said.
Criminal activity has been going up in the Los Angeles area recently, but because of these actions by law enforcement our communities are a little less dangerous today.
DEEGAN ON LA--Although homelessness in Los Angeles County has reached crisis proportions, Governor Jerry Brown this week refused to take action on two proposed solutions that were put forward to him by the LA Board of Supervisors.
The problem’s getting worse, not better, by the day. Heat is simmering and a boiling-over point may be on the horizon. “The issue of homelessness is compelling beyond contradiction,” declared Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, addressing his remarks to an audience of county stakeholders on Thursday, June 16. He is one of the most vocal County Supervisors addressing what he calls “an unescapable reality.”
Ridley-Thomas’ rhetoric is matched by his similarly forceful advocacy of solutions: one was a motion to the Governor, co-authored with Sheila Kuehl and unanimously backed by all five supervisors, to ask the Governor to declare a statewide state of emergency to help the homeless that would unlock a half billion dollars from the state’s Special Fund for Economic Uncertainties. Governor Brown said that a declaration by him of a state of emergency to help the homeless “is not appropriate.”
The second motion was an appeal to the state legislature and the Governor for a millionaires’ tax, the so-called “Robin Hood” tax that would allow the County to tax millionaires 1% of their personal income to pay for homeless housing. Brown also turned this down, saying he had “deep concerns” when it comes to allowing local governments to levy additional taxes.
Despite these two rejections, Ridley-Thomas vowed that the County will continue to push the Governor for more action. “Homelessness is not a partisan issue, it is a humanitarian concern. Engaging state leadership to join with us in providing solutions is critically important,” said Ridley-Thomas.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that Governor Brown was trained to be a Jesuit priest. One of the “Six Values” that are known as the “Principles of the Jesuits” is the “Principle of Cura Personalis: Care for the individual person” that includes having concern for the poor and marginalized, categories that squarely define the homeless.
“We are faced with an ever-expanding crisis, and the crisis is worsening” is how Ridley-Thomas characterized the matter. He continued, saying that “the increase in homelessness is trending upward in a very disturbing way, and is clearly not deniable. It isn’t simply our imagination -- the problem is expanding. People throughout the county report they are seeing homeless in their communities that they have never seen before. This makes it abundantly clear that something is going on. According to the polls, homelessness is a top-tier issue of people in the County, and combating homelessness is an unescapable reality.”
What are the other options?
The budget the Governor and state lawmakers agreed on this week would set aside some funding for affordable housing, to be spent only if a separate deal can be reached on streamlining the process for new construction. The Governor recently called for relaxing the rules on construction zoning and environmental reviews in an effort to “streamline” the process for new construction.
There may be $267 million in the new budget to build supportive housing for mentally ill homeless people, but the County’s share of that would only be about $40 million, which is 10% of the estimated $450 million per year it would cost to address housing issues for the homeless. And, that $40 million allocation would be just for this year’s budget.
Another option may be for the city to place a bond measure on the November ballot to build more housing for the homeless. While there may have been public support for millionaires to be taxed to pay for this program, it’s unknown how all voters will react to paying for homeless housing out of their own pockets. An increase of the sales tax or a parcel tax are other options, but both would need supervisorial support and a vote by the public.
Identifying the problem and estimating the cost have been done. Now, getting someone to pay for it is the real challenge.
Not one to give up, Ridley-Thomas said, “The momentum we are building is very encouraging. We are part of a movement that is articulating itself from a perspective of compassion and doing what is right for the homeless.”
(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.
THE GUSS REPORT--Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has reappointed Roger Wolfson to the LA Animal Services Commission, which City Council will undoubtedly unanimously reconfirm on Tuesday. An attorney and television writer whose last IMDB credit was in 2012, Wolfson had no qualifications or prior experience when first appointed, and has since that time failed to consistently attend the twice monthly meetings or do much of the work of a Commissioner except for his self-described “personal” humane pursuits.
“He’s so arrogant that [he] can’t seem to be bothered to show up at all very often,” said Marla Tauscher, an attorney involved in humane affairs inside and outside of the city, and who recently filed suit against LAAS. “In the last 4 meetings I’ve attended, he hasn’t been at three and was late to the fourth. If he’s so busy he can’t make it, he should resign. It’s not as if we can’t live without his searing insight.”
Tauscher is right.
In 2015, of the 22 LAAS meetings that Wolfson was supposed to attend, he was either absent (4x) or late (5x) 41% of the time. And it is tough to tell whether he rolled out of bed in time for the 10am and occasional 7pm meetings in 2014 because he refuses to force LAAS to post the meeting minutes for that year, 76% of which are still missing from the LAAS website.
In 2014, Wolfson did offer a written observation about LAAS before he acknowledged that he was warned that one does not criticize LAAS when on the Commission.
“(LAAS is) a leaking rowboat, Dan. No way to plug all the holes at once. I’m doing my best,” he wrote in an August 28, 2014 email.
To date, Wolfson’s “best” resulted in none of those holes being plugged or even addressed honestly, including:
- The 8,807 pet “adoptions” that the city falsified by simply shuffling animals between cages in city-owned buildings, while Garcetti falsely told the public that “adoptions were up.”
- The inconsistently applied $25 drop off fee that is written in LAAS policy for people bringing an animal to a city shelter, while Garcetti falsely told the public that “impounds are down.”
- Failure to enforce no pet sales laws or to determine why breeder permits are available to anyone who wishes to breed their animals, including pits and Chihuahuas, the two breeds most often killed by LAAS.
- Failure to pick up stray animals reported to LAAS.
- Inability to collect millions of dollars in annual dog licensing revenue, including from Wolfson himself, who failed to pay his dog license fees to the city until he was first appointed by Garcetti, and even then, only for the present year due. According to LAAS records, his obligation remains unpaid, as are his unassessed late fees that others, including City Council president Herb Wesson, are charged when it was determined that he, too, was delinquent.
Wolfson’s delinquency is treated differently than was that of his predecessor Ruthanne Secunda, a wealthy literary agent who was terminated from the appointment when it was discovered that she voted on city leash and licensing laws while disregarding both herself.
Councilmember Paul Koretz, at that time, wrote in an email, “A Commissioner violating a leash law and license law that she voted on or at least clearly knew about is unacceptable. The fact that she acted once she was caught and licensed her animals shouldn’t impress anyone…. Your commissioner is an idiot and absolutely should go.”
Later in Koretz’s email, he erroneously referred to me as a “moron” for pointing out Secunda’s failures, and somehow concluded that it was a criticism of the LAAS GM. Note: Koretz at first denied writing the email, but apologized in person after being shown a copy of it.
At the last Commission meeting that Wolfson actually attended, he called for more nighttime meetings that are held at the local shelters, but simultaneously tried to reduce the amount of speaking time that local attendees could use to share their concerns, rendering such meetings moot. Why have meetings in the community if you are not dedicated to listening to the community?
Wolfson, who did not respond to requests for comment for this article, also admitted the emotional atmosphere in the shelter is so "intense" that sometimes he can't go back for several weeks.
(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a contributor to Huffington Post, KFI-AM 640, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News and other publications. He blogs on humane issues at http://ericgarcetti.blogspot.com/.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
HEALTH POLITICS--Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, Calif., has been in the news twice in the past two weeks. But the stories weren’t about one of its doctors discovering a cure or inventing a new life-saving procedure. They were about 11 tragic deaths that occurred at the hospital and about the hospital’s costly and illegal union-busting campaign that forced Huntington into signing a settlement agreement with the California Nurses Association.
This is what happens when a hospital puts profits over people—its patients as well as its employees.
The 625-bed facility made headlines when it reluctantly admitted that 11 Huntington patients had died between January 2013 and August 2015 after being infected by dangerous bacteria from medical scopes. Another five patients were infected but are still alive. The hospital acknowledged the deaths only after the Pasadena Public Health Department (PPHD) was about to release a report about the outbreak of multi-drug-resistant (MDR) pseudomonas aeruginosa linked to procedures (called endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) performed with scopes made by the Olympus Corporation.
The city agency’s investigation, which began last August with an unannounced site visit and continued with cooperation from hospital staff, blamed both the design of the scope and the hospital for lapses in infection control. For example, according to the report, the hospital used canned compressed air from Office Depot to dry the scopes—which is not recommended by the manufacturer or by nationally recognized cleaning guidelines. The PPHD report triggered stories in the Los Angeles Times headlined “11 deaths at Huntington Hospital among patients infected by dirty scopes, city report says” and “Pasadena hospital broke the law by not reporting outbreak, health officials say.”
Initially, Huntington only notified patients who had been treated with the scope between January and August 2015 about the possibility of infections. The PPHD, after it began its investigation, insisted that Huntington notify all patients who had been treated with the scopes since January 2013. The PPHD had to ask Huntington twice to notify those earlier patients before the hospital complied.
The duodenoscope is, according to the Times, “a long snake-like tube with a tiny camera on the tip that is inserted into a patient’s throat and upper gastrointestinal tract. It is used to treat cancer, gallstones and other problems in the bile or pancreatic ducts.” The PPHD report concluded: “This broad bacterial contamination supports the hypothesis” that the hospital’s disinfection and maintenance “were insufficient to prevent the spread of infection.”
“We take responsibility for the deficiencies outlined in the [Pasadena Public Health Department] report and have taken steps to ensure rigorous compliance going forward,” wrote Derek Clark, the hospital’s director of public relations, in an email response.
The same week that the story about the deaths broke, Huntington also made news when it reluctantly agreed to a settlement with the California Nurses Association (CNA). The hospital agreed to rescind the firing of registered nurses Allysha Shin (whose last name was Almada before she was married last October) and Vicki Lin and restore their full back pay. Both were illegally fired as part of Huntington’s vicious and expensive anti-union campaign last year.
The results of last year’s union election were overturned. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will determine a new election date. Huntington also agreed to abide by labor laws that protect the RNs’ right to organize and agreed to post its commitments throughout the hospital and email the notice to all nurses.
It would hardly be news that a hospital has agreed to obey the law, except that Huntington so egregiously broke the law last year that they had to put it in writing before CNA would approve the settlement agreement.
During last year’s organizing campaign, the union caught Huntington engaging in dozens of illegal acts of intimidation designed to prevent the nurses from gaining a stronger voice in their workplace. CNA brought these unfair labor violations to the federal National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which ruled against the hospital. Hospital officials were scheduled to testify on June 6 before an NLRB hearing. But on June 1, the hospital agreed, as part of the settlement with CNA, to set aside the results of last year’s election and allow the nurses to move forward with a new election.
“We have the best nurses in the world and we continue to respect all of their rights, including their right to be represented by a union, should they so choose,” said Huntington public relations director Clark.
If you’re wondering whether there’s a connection between these two news stories—the 11 deaths and the union battle at hospital—wonder no longer. There is.
Sources among nurses and CNAbelieve that the hospital knew that the deaths were due in part to its negligence in sterilizing its scopes—and its efforts to keep them secret—was about to go public, because a Los Angeles Times reporter had been asking questions. Huntington signed the settlement agreement with CNA on May 31. The Times’ first story about the scopes scandal came out the next day.
Were Huntington’s top executives worried about this double whammy of news stories about the hospital’s self-inflicted wounds? Better to settle with the union than to expose themselves to more negative publicity at the NLRB hearing, where nurses were prepared to testify about the hospital’s outrageous and costly efforts to frighten and intimidate them from organizing and voting for the union. An administrative law judge was slated to review 42 objections to the 2015 election. These included the 175 challenged ballots that led to an inconclusive election result, the firing of Shin and Lin, and other labor law violations committed by Huntington administrators. The NLRB had anticipated a three-to-four-week hearing.
“The terms of the agreement make it clear that we have the right to speak out and that the hospital’s campaign to silence us must stop,” said Terri Korrell, who has been an RN at Huntington Memorial Hospital for 42 years.
But there’s another important missing piece to the story about the tragic deaths of 11 Huntington patients. Huntington nurses warned hospital management about the problem with unsterilized scopes, but their concerns were ignored. It wasn’t until a Huntington nurse expressed concerns to CNA—which then, protecting the nurse’s identity, notified federal health agencies and the Los Angeles Times—that Huntington removed the scopes and began taking appropriate action. This is one reason that many Huntington nurses were organizing to gain a voice in their workplace. It had to do with patient care—specifically, the hospital administration’s prioritizing of revenue over patient care.
In 2014, Huntington nurses felt that they weren’t being listened to about this and many other aspects of patient care. So they contacted CNA and began talking about organizing a union. The nurses who called CNA felt that having a union, with a collective bargaining agreement insuring an independent voice for nurses in advocating for patients, was the only way that they would be listened to regarding the erosion of patient-care conditions, including chronic short staffing and inadequate supplies.
On paper, Huntington is a “nonprofit” institution, but in reality, it operates like a large for-profit corporation. Soon after the nurses’ union drive began in May 2014, the hospital (named for Henry E. Huntington, a turn-of-the-century railroad tycoon) engaged in a nasty and expensive union-busting effort. They paid a bevy of experienced and high-priced anti-union firms and consultants—Littler Mendelson, IRI and Genevieve Clavreul of Solutions Outside the Box—to harass nurses and undercut their organizing efforts. Managers at the hospital interrogated nurses about their union activity, required nurses to attend anti-union “captive audience” meetings and denied pro-union nurses access to the hospital when they were off-duty and wanted to discuss union matters.
When pro-union nurses and community allies, including a number of prominent local clergy, were meeting in the cafeteria, hospital security staff told them to remove their literature from the tables, but didn’t say anything to a group of anti-union staff at the other side of the cafeteria who had their own materials. One of the hospital’s security staff took photos of a pro-union nurse as she passed out leaflets on the public sidewalk outside the hospital. The hospital arbitrarily switched the retirement date of one nurse who had worked at Huntington for 31 years—and who was an outspoken union supporter—so she wouldn’t be able to vote in the union election last April.
Not all the nurses were initially sympathetic to the idea of unionizing. One of the reluctant nurses was Shin, who worked in the intensive care unit. Shin considered Huntington Hospital her second home. Her mother has worked there as a nurse for over 30 years. She was born at the hospital, attended its day care center and volunteered there when she was in high school. She worked as a nurse’s aide in Huntington’s ICU before becoming an RN. The family volunteers their dog at the hospital as a therapy dog.
“I was close with my mom’s coworkers. I loved Huntington,” Shin recalled. “I knew I wanted to go into nursing.”
Given her strong ties to the hospital, Shin was thrilled when she was hired at Huntington five years ago after graduating from the nursing program at California State University in Los Angeles. She worked hard, made close friends among her fellow nurses and enjoyed caring for her patients.
“I was outspoken about patient safety,” Shin said. “In nursing school, I learned that a lot of hospitals use lift teams to help patients turn over or get out of bed, so nurses don’t have to strain or hurt their backs. I gave my manager some research about this, but nothing happened. When we were short on linens or IV pumps, I mentioned it to my manager. But the problem continued. I thought the hospital was jeopardizing patient care, so I said something.”
Her words went unheard.
“To cut expenses, the hospital began rationing supplies, like bed linens and patient gowns,” Shin explained. “Many of our patients in the ICU have very compromised immune systems so the risk of infection is very high. It is absolutely essential that we have adequate supplies of clean linens, yet the hospital is intent on limiting these basic necessities.”
Nurses say that patient care standards at Huntington have eroded, compromised by cuts in nursing as well as support staff. Nurses have been forced to do more work with less help. They were made to do more admissions, more transportations of patients and more housekeeping tasks because of hospital cutbacks in these areas. The unsterilized scopes were among the many issues that nurses brought to Huntington management’s attention.
Thanks to CNA’s efforts, California is the only state in the country to enact a law mandating the ratio of nurses to patients in acute care facilities, which Huntington and other hospitals opposed before it was passed by the California Legislature and signed by Gov. Gray Davis in 1999. The law took effect in 2004, giving hospitals five years to phase in the changes. Nurses report that Huntington has repeatedly violated the nurse-to-patient ratio law, endangering patient safety.
Even so, when some of her colleagues contacted CNA to help them organize a union at Huntington, Shin had doubts.
“At first I wasn’t sure it was a good idea,” she said. “I went to some informational meetings. But I soon realized that we needed a collective voice to be advocates for ourselves and our patients. I’m not afraid to stand up for what I believe is right.”
Shin became a visible leader in the union drive. Before and after work, she met with fellow nurses—in their homes, coffee shops and outside the hospital—to encourage them to support the unionization effort. She was one of three Huntington nurses whose photo appeared on a CNA-sponsored ad on public buses running throughout the Pasadena area. “Save one life, you’re a hero,” the ad said. “Save a hundred lives, and you’re a nurse.”
Last July 26, she spoke out at a public community forum at a local church and at a news conference on the need to improve conditions at the hospital, joined by many local elected officials and community leaders who supported the nurses’ right to organize. A few days later, she was quoted in a local newspaper about conditions at Huntington Hospital and management’s expensive union-busting campaign.
Shin was suspended a week after the article was published and fired several weeks later, despite her long-term ties to the hospital and her excellent performance evaluations.
“I put my whole soul into caring for my patients, and management knows this. At Huntington, I worked as a nurse educator and sat on a committee of nurse leaders who bring patient care concerns to management. I have special training in trauma and open heart,” Shin said. “I care deeply about providing the best possible care, and that’s exactly why I spoke up at the community forum—to help ensure that RNs are supported in providing top-quality, safe care.”
“The next thing I knew, I was fired,” she said. “They tried to silence nurses. They tried to intimidate other nurses from speaking out. It’s wrong.”
On election day, the hospital received 539 votes to the union’s 445, but 175 votes were disputed, leaving the final results inconclusive. In addition, CNA filed dozens of objections to management’s illegal conduct during the election period. As a result, the NLRB did not certify the results.
CNA filed many “unfair labor practice” charges against the hospital with the NLRB, including Shin’s firing and other efforts to suppress voting and otherwise rig the outcome of the election. CNA asked the NLRB to seek a federal court injunction to force Huntington to rehire Almada and Lin. In January, the federal agency found that there was enough evidence to show that Huntington had illegally terminated Shin and Lin for their union involvement.
The nurses intend to continue their efforts to win representation with CNA in the near future. They plan to wage another union campaign, and they hope that Huntington will abide by the settlement agreement to obey the law and refrain from hostile intimidation tactics so that the election will take place on a level playing field.
The settlement “is an enormous breakthrough for all Huntington RNs who have worked hard to seek union representation and stood up valiantly for justice in the face of HMH administration’s illegal and immoral campaign,” CNA President Malinda Markowitz said. “Management is finally accepting reality. We nurses deserve a place at the table. Our voices deserve to be heard. In order to be patient-care advocates, we need the protection of a union to fight for our patients.”
The experience had a profound impact on Shin, who was raised in a conservative family and had no prior involvement with activism of any kind. Last October, Shin was invited to the White House Summit on Worker Voice because of her leadership role in the union drive at Huntington. She presented a stethoscope to President Obama on behalf of her fellow nurses and the California Nurses Association. Engraved on the stethoscope was the message: “Listen to Nurses.”
“Watching the courage of my fellow nurses as they dealt with the hospital’s anti-union campaign, and seeing activists from other unions and from the community lend their support, really opened my eyes and strengthened my resolve to fight for workers’ rights and patient care,” she said.
Shin was thrilled by the CNA-Huntington settlement, which she called a “huge success for Huntington nurses.” But she decided to resign from Huntington and continue her nursing career at Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, a CNA-represented hospital nearby.
“For the past six months, I’ve been working at Keck USC, a hospital where RNs enjoy a CNA contract,” she explained. “Huntington RNs deserve the same protections and benefits that RNs enjoy under CNA contracts. I am committed to supporting my former HMH colleagues with their quest to win union protection. I’ll be there each and every step of the way.”
Underlying the scopes scandal and the hospital’s illegal anti-union efforts is a larger problem that isn’t unique to Huntington. At many hospitals, nurses try to alert management about issues with patient care and management blows them off or retaliates. This is emblematic of the corporatization of health care—pushing for profit at patients’ expense. Hospitals like Huntington spend large sums of money in certain areas, while cutting back on areas that support safe patient care. The difference at Huntington is that nurses, unlike the majority of California hospitals, do not yet have a powerful independent voice through union representation, leaving management’s priorities unchallenged.
Since 2010, for example, Huntington has increased the prices it charges for its services 16 percent faster than its costs have increased. In other words, the hospital seeks to boost its bottom line at the expense of patient care. During that same period, the hospital has received almost $2.5 billion in revenue from patients and had a net income of almost $87 million.
On a day-to-day basis, Huntington is run by longtime CEO Steve Ralph, who earned $3.9 million in 2014 according to its most recent 990 form submitted to the Internal Revenue Service. . (Huntington’s PR director refused to provide Ralph’s current compensation). But the hospital’s broad policies and direction are shaped by its board of directors, who include doctors, business people and civic leaders. Nurses and other employees, patients and their families, and community members have a right to hold the board accountable for the hospital’s patient-care problems as well as for its expensive and illegal anti-union campaign.
According to the hospital’s website [[http://ourstory.huntingtonhospital.com/ ]] and press releases, Huntington’s board of directors [[ http://www.huntingtonhospital.com/Resource.ashx?sn=BoardofDirectors ]] include: Paul Ouyang (chairman); Jaynie Studenmund (vice chairman); Stephen Ralph (president and CEO); Sharon Arthofer; former Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard; Wayne Brandt; Louise Bryson; James Buese, M.D.; Michelle Chino; Reed Gardiner; Armando Gonzalez; Christopher Hedley, M.D.; R. Scott Jenkins; Paul Johnson; David Kirchheimer; Ellen Lee; Lolita Lopez; Lois Matthews; Allen Mathies Jr., M.D.; John Mothershead; Elizabeth Olson; Kathleen Podley; James Shankwiler, M.D.; John Siciliano; Rosemary Simmons; K. Edmund Tse, M.D.; and Deborah Williams.
Americans view nurses more favorably than any other profession. Nurses have ranked No. 1 in the Gallup Poll’s “honesty and ethics” survey every year but one since 1999. (The exception is 2001, when firefighters topped the list, shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks). Despite this, hospitals like Huntington refuse to grant nurses the dignity and respect that they deserve.
If nurses had union protection and did not have to fear retaliation for voicing concerns about patient safety at their hospital, would 11 innocent patients have died? The question lingers with many people. Huntington nurses want the hospital to return to its founding mission: to provide quality and safe patient care.
Over the past two years, Huntington nurses and community members alike have had to endure an aggressive anti-union campaign of harassment, intimidation, surveillance, bullying and wrongful termination—a campaign launched with the Huntington administration’s blessing. This costly battle has been waged against nurses who simply want to exercise their federally protected rights to organize a union and, more importantly, to uphold their responsibility to protect the sick and vulnerable admitted as patients under their care.
(Peter Dreier is professor of politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His most recent book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame.)
POLITICS--As the summer and fall of this election cycle get ever closer, it will be very easy to let ourselves choose sides and be divided--but if we're smart, and if we're truly liberal (open-minded) and if we're truly conservative (common sense) this need not happen. Furthermore, we MUST NOT let this happen.
There's a lot of commonality between the many infuriated, disenfranchised and frustrated groups in our nation. We're in shock and horror about the Orlando shooting, and we're in shock and horror over the incident a toddler being drowned by an alligator, and we're in shock and horror over how the Stanford rapist got such a lenient sentence.
In other words, if we hate liberals/Democrats, or if we hate conservatives/Republicans, more than we love this nation, then that's a choice. Some of you may make that choice, but it's still YOUR choice...and one that need not be adhered to.
And if there is any take-home message from the GOP and Democratic primaries, if you're not angry and fed up about how our leaders have run our nation, then arguably you're one of the "privileged and protected" or you're just not paying attention to how ALL empowered sides have sold the majority of this nation (particularly the rule-abiding middle-class) out.
So while the majority of Americans polled did not approve of Donald J. Trump's response to the Orlando shooting, the majority of Americans weren't supportive of Hillary R. Clinton's response, either.
But Clinton's lead over Trump has slipped since Orlando...because virtually all Americans do NOT want these types of shootings to be "the new normal", and they are divided over how to address these shootings.
But we appear to be united in that most of us do not like either Trump or Clinton. We are concerned if immigrants (particularly Muslims) are assimilating into American/Western culture, but we refuse to lower ourselves to racist rhetoric.
We're also concerned about BOTH Bush's AND Obama's screwups that have turned Iraq, Iran, Libya, and Syria into dangerous and empowered cesspools and terrorist violence. Clinton's past actions as Secretary of State are part of this problem, but is Trump likely to be any better?
And has President Obama allowed these types of shootings to be "the new normal"?
But THIS is the big divide: while liberals/progressives have focused on gun control over the role of Islamism as the major cause/problem that led to Orlando (and, before that, San Bernardino), it's the other way around for conservatives/pragmatists.
Yet what if BOTH sides are correct?
That's right...BOTH. It would have been best to have better screened the Orlando shooter before allowing him purchase to certain weapons, and SOMETHING has to be done to best screen potential purchasers of weapons not available when the Second Amendment of the Constitution was written.
Yet there are a few caveats here--because very few believe that law-abiding Americans should be denied access to self-protection. That said, very few of those advocating modified gun control really know what the heck they're talking about when it comes to the guns they want restricted.
Yet while the NRA opposes some of the gun control restrictions of the Left, they also quickly opposed Trump's statements of the benefits of the rights and ease of a "conceal/carry" permit to any customer going into a nightclub, where alcohol is being consumed.
Even in the Old West, there were bars, dance halls, and other public venues where guns and other weapons were to be checked in for purposes of public safety.
And inasmuch as some of us may hate the gun-control advocates or the NRA, their more moderate proposals (better screening, gun show controls, more armed security guards at schools and nightclubs) are probably to be ignored at our collective peril.
And inasmuch as we don't want to devolve into racism, SOME common sense profiling of potential gun purchasers is in order to prevent more tragedies such as Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, and Orlando...so let's not kid ourselves:
The "gun nuts" will need to be more carefully screened, but there will probably be a lot of potential Muslim gun buyers who will be screened, as well.
Because while President Obama might be trying to make the Orlando tragedy into a "gun control thing" it would be better received if he also pleaded for American Muslims to "step up".
After all, it's not unrealistic to be terrified of BOTH crazies that were responsible for the Sandy Hook, Gaby Gifford and Aurora, Colorado shootings (all Democrats, by the way, and unrelated to Sarah Palin) AS WELL AS Islamist extremists (who apparently had friends, neighbors, and families who could have, and SHOULD HAVE, turned them in before the tragedies occurred).
The truth will set us all free--because we will ALL need to step up and do the right thing to prevent future tragedies from occurring. Attorney General Lynch's censoring certain parts of the Orlando shooter's phone calls to remove references to his Islamist extremism won't help anyone, and won't prevent any future tragedies.
So if you, the reader, just HATE Republican and conservatives more than you love this nation, or if you just HATE Democrats and liberals more than you love this nation, then that is your choice.
But it's a choice that you need not make. Listen to all sides, and don't dismiss them as being devoid of excellent and moderate and smart compromises.
Let's let these tragedies unite us, not divide us--we owe it to the memories of the slain and maimed to do the right thing in their name, and in the name of future American generations.
(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.)
EDITOR’S PICK--In the days following the horrific attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando – one of the worst mass shootings in modern U.S. history, which claimed the lives of 49 people (50 counting the shooter) and left over 50 wounded – evidence began to mount that the gunman likely possessed multiple motives. This evidence is not surprising in light of what research has revealed about the origins of violence, which includes the knowledge that most people who commit violent acts are driven by a complex, multifaceted and intertwined set of factors. The underlying root causes of violence, then, cannot be reduced to one or two sources. To invoke a cliché, the world is not black and white. The nature of violence is no exception, and our individual and collective understanding of it must not be either if we are to effectively address and prevent all forms of it.
It is becoming increasingly clear that one of the shooter’s perceived justifications for perpetrating the murderous rampage may have been intense psychological and emotional pain over his sexual orientation – a catastrophic blend of deep shame, humiliation and bitterness over his possible queerness.
Besides his apparent queer inclinations, there were several noteworthy details about the shooter’s life that were omitted during many discussions about motives: his history of domestic violence, both as a victimizer and a witness to it in childhood; his employment with G4S, one of the largest private security firms in the world, for which he rendered services that included the imprisonment and mistreatment of juvenile offenders; and, his fascination with the NYPD, which he apparently idolized as a would-be police officer.
In addition, based on testimony from eye witnesses and acquaintances, racism could also have influenced his choice of target. What is more, we know from reports that both the ideologies behind and atrocities of the so-called U.S-led “war on terror” and terror groups operating across the world could have contributed to the gunman’s unspeakable act.
All these factors, plus additional ones that may surface in the days and weeks ahead, may have played a role in the shooter’s toxic thinking and derangement, and ultimately led to the massacre which unfolded that awful night.
For these reasons, as well as others, the attack in Orlando cannot be explained away by the tired and parochial refrain, “they hate us because of our freedoms,” regardless of the lengths to which some might go to convince people of its validity.
Yet, almost immediately after news of the nightclub tragedy broke, various political leaders and members of the corporate media, among others, began engaging in selective hate and bigotry against Muslims. They did not ask questions. They did not want answers. They conveniently ignored or discounted credible information regarding the gunman’s background and automatically defaulted in their dogmatic thinking to blaming so-called “radical” Islam.
Those who spew hate, especially in the wake of a national tragedy, only reveal their bigotry, cowardice and bad character, and, whether they intend to or not, incite further hostility against vulnerable minority groups. Practitioners of such reactionary thinking tend to use the red herring of immigration and foreign “terrorism” to advance their own xenophobic and jingoistic agendas. This careless and irresponsible behavior only fuels Islamophobia and hate crimes against Muslims.
Demagoguery and fear-mongering about terrorism and the “Other” is extremely lucrative for the multi-trillion dollar war industry. The tragic incident in Orlando could prove to be another opportunity for war profiteers to grow even richer. Islamophobia and racism sells war. A national conversation about homophobia, domestic violence, the security-surveillance state and prison-industrial complex does not.
We will never stop mass shootings if we continue to fault Islam. Sadly, however, the religion will probably continue to be targeted and exploited by small-minded people to communicate and spread anti-Muslim, ultra-nationalist propaganda. Horrendous violence is sometimes committed in the name of Islam, as it is in the name of other religions. However, this in no way makes religion culpable for it, yet Islam is deliberately and repeatedly scapegoated.
It is utter nonsense to attribute mass shootings to Islam, particularly when an honest analysis of these incidents provides some concrete albeit complicated answers regarding the pathologies of violence. If it were about blaming or banning a particular demographic to eliminate mass shootings, the statistical data show that religion should not be a candidate.
The Albany Times Union’s Chris Churchill articulates this point well in a recent column: “…if you look at the long list of recent mass shootings, you can't help but realize that it is entirely dishonest to call this a Muslim or immigrant problem…It would be far more accurate to call it an angry and isolated young man problem. In fact, if the goal is ending mass shootings, it would make much more sense to ban all men under the age of 35 than it would to bar Muslims.”
Not only is the problem of mass shootings far from being rooted in religion, the policy of sound gun control offers some solid evidence about preventive approaches: In his latest column, Nicholas Kristof, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times, calls attention to the fact that, “Over the last two decades, Canada has had eight mass shootings. Just so far this month, the United States has already had 20…. Canada’s population is 3.2 percent Muslim, while the United States is about 1 percent Muslim — yet Canada doesn’t have massacres like the one we just experienced at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., or the one in December in San Bernardino, Calif. So perhaps the problem isn’t so much Muslims out of control but guns out of control.” To insist, therefore, that Islam is the problem would be to expose either profound ignorance or explicit and virulent racism regarding the religion.
The good news is that there is a significant number of antiwar and peace and justice groups working diligently to identify and eliminate the multiple and interconnected forms of violence that could have influenced the mass shooting at Pulse. The #VetsVsHate movement is one example of this work.
#VetsVsHate was inspired by efforts including the Veterans Challenge Islamophobia campaign, an national initiative of Veterans For Peace launched earlier this year in collaboration with Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). The campaign seeks to confront and stop the verbal and physical targeting of Muslims. Along with on-the-ground nonviolent protest/civil disobedience actions against the vitriol being directed at Muslims, social media has been a vehicle through which veterans and allies have expressed their defense of and solidarity with the Muslim community.
As an organization dedicated to abolishing war as well as ending violence in all its forms in order to help build a more just and peaceful future, VFP believed it had a responsibility to release a statement on the mass shooting in Orlando. The statement reads, in part: “Tragedies like this often lead people to look for someone or something to blame. Veterans For Peace rejects attempts to perpetuate hatred against the LGBTQ and Muslim communities. We ask all to resist this temptation. We call on all people to challenge the forces of division and hatred, and to stand against all forms of hate; and at this time particularly against homophobia, Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry. Let us instead recommit ourselves to working toward a world without hatred and prejudice.”
IVAW also released a statement about the attack on Pulse which touches on many of the same points that were conveyed in the VFP statement.
Veterans have a unique perspective on the various ways in which enmity and violence develops and destroys lives, as many of them were thrust into situations where it was inescapable and on full display. Veterans can speak with authority on how and why demonization and persecution of the “Other” can and does produce violence. Frequently, they are eager to share their insights with anyone willing to listen and learn. The aftermath of the Pulse massacre has proven to be one such time when veterans are speaking out.
Below are the voices of four veterans who offer their perspectives on the Pulse nightclub attack and the hate rhetoric and blame game that followed:
“Anytime a shooting or bombing occurs around the world, the collective hearts of 1.7 billion Muslims is shattered and the anxious prayer "please don't let them claim to be Islamic" is uttered. This is because all Muslims know that the tenets of Islam proclaim that the unjust taking of one life is equivalent of killing all of humanity in the sight of God, particularly during this time of Ramadan -- when it is forbidden to even engage in an argument with another person much less commit a mass shooting. This is precisely how every single Muslim in the world knows that the Orlando shooter was a fraud, whose only belief system was violence and hatred. But, true to form, in the aftermath of this tragedy, the world is witnessing the charity and goodness of Muslims, who are donating blood (even though they are fasting from food and water), bringing sustenance to those in need, or, like me, standing shoulder to shoulder with the LGBTQ+ community through tears in solemn vigils of remembrance for the beautiful souls we lost. We know that our bonds of kinship as minority communities cannot and will not be torn asunder by violence because our bonds are made of love and unity and they are everlasting.” –Nate Terani (Navy veteran, VFP member, and Phoenix-based VCI field organizer)
“Hijab. Allah. These are terms we think of when we come upon the word “Muslim.” People also think “terrorist,” which is a destructive way of thinking. Both the events of 9/11 and the Orlando massacre caused tremendous suffering for many. But we must not forget these tragedies hurt the Muslim community as well. When 9/11 occurred, I like many Americans said we needed to go over there and do something about it. However, I didn’t understand Islam. I ended up meeting a man wanting to explain the beliefs of Islam to people who didn’t know, to strike down the belief that all Muslims are evil. Since that time, I’ve never looked back and even in the Marine Corps (while I never deployed) I stood up for our brothers and sisters, some of whom were Muslim. Two quotes come to mind for me: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” (Santayana) and “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” (Gandhi). Knowledge is power and if we do not understand Islam we need to educate ourselves in order to dispel Islamophobia.” –Renee Whitfield (Marine Corps veteran, #VetsVsHate supporter)
“As a Latinx. A Muslim. A Veteran. A serious conversation is necessary to discuss the ways Toxic Masculinity, Militarism, Homophobia, and Islamophobia contributed to the shooting in Orlando, as well as helping shape the narrative told by US media outlets and posturing of U.S. politicians. We live in a society that is homophobic, heterosexist, and is discriminatory towards marginalized people. In communities across the U.S., both children and adults are learning to perpetuate oppressive behavior towards the LGBT+ community. Homophobia like Islamophobia can be fear-driven, but it is also contempt-driven.” –Ramon Mejia (Marine Corps veteran, IVAW member, Texas-based VCI field organizer)
“A long time ago, I made it a point not to watch the news, listen to the radio or read a newspaper regularly. It felt like ingesting poison. Existing in our society – at times – feels the same way to me; an onslaught of verbal insults or the stare of the unspoken judgement. It has been a long journey of realising my existence is not an embarrassment, the colour of my skin is not some mistake, who I love is not “a sin and I am going to hell” or that my last name does not warrant that I be singled out and labelled. When I step outside my home, I must emotionally and spiritually prepare myself to deal with “the world”. I know I will encounter individuals who believe what mainstream mass media has been feeding them: ready-made summaries consisting of lies and fear and pre-packaged judgements of hate. When I am directly (or indirectly) confronted with someone who unleashes their poison upon me, I must work times over to not mirror their behavior, lest I prove true to that person what the media machine has fed them. I believe we are all truly connected. Admittedly, I struggle with this belief when I encounter another’s fear and hate. Whether in that moment or thereafter, there is a deep realisaton that their anger and hate is a symptom of the insecurity and dis-empowerment syphoning upon the spirit of the many in our country. My responsibility, is to ensure my journey and activism remain genuine and fluid, rooted in from a spiritual connection.” –Monique Salhab (Air Force and Army veteran, VFP board member)
If more people in the U.S., especially our lawmakers, truly listened to and took voices like the ones shared above seriously, we might be able to make meaningful strides in curbing the sort of violence that took so many innocent lives and devastated so many families last week in Orlando. Hate rhetoric and anti-Muslim sentiments will fail to bring us closer to stopping violence. It will, however, continue to breed hostility and erode the Constitution. This is unacceptable and must be countered by individual and collective efforts to grow diversity, inclusivity and equality and secure civil and human rights for all people, both at home and abroad.
(Brian Trautman is an Army veteran and currently sits on the national board of directors of Veterans For Peace (VFP). He teaches peace studies and economics at Berkshire Community College in western Massachusetts and resides near Albany, NY.)
PERSPECTIVE--Sunday, I woke up to the news “that someone had shot up a gay club in Orlando and there were many injured and killed.” I then went about my morning getting ready to go to a gay family picnic celebration. There would be a jumping castle and lots of games and fun stations set-up for kids to play. The news hadn’t sunk in yet, and I didn’t look for details.
There was some talk at the event and a couple folks said they were glad this celebration was taking place at a (and this is my description) “gated” park and that reservations were required to attend.
I like to think the reservations were so those organizing the event would know how many to plan for … but now I wonder. Here in New Orleans we still have closed family Facebook groups and operate by rules some of y’all might think are from the days in which social tolerance was much lower.
My initial thought regarding the shooting at Pulse in Orlando was that this was a hate crime planned for Pride. The social psychologist in me guessed some perceived threat had likely led to this event and, indeed, the detail about Omar Mateen’s fury over seeing two men kissing was reported early. It was only after I had returned home that I started to learn the details and that the death toll was rising.
There are so many angles and lessons to learn from this event, but I felt compelled to share my opinions on the symbolic importance of the gay bar to myself and the gay community, spurred by these two tweets from Jeramey Kraatz:
Growing up a sexual minority means you were most likely raised by the majority script. This means you likely weren’t taught the skills or coping mechanisms to deal with your sexuality and most definitely homophobia. You live in fear that those you love the most may not understand. Moreover, you go from one day being what you thought of as “typical” and having unrecognized privileges to coming out. In the next moments, many of those privileges are wiped away and you have to re-frame expectations for yourself and what you can do and what is possible … just because of a few words you said out loud.
For many non-heterosexual people, gay bars help us find our way. They are often the most accessible safe spaces available. So much so that they have academically been compared to churches for the LGBT community, complete with rituals, a sense of community, and a routine. Religious scholar Marie Cartier wrote a history of life at gay bars before the Stonewall riots. “The only place that you could be a known homosexual — even though you could get arrested there and it was not safe,” she wrote, “was a gay bar.” Even today, just knowing that they are there is powerful.
I have gone years not really celebrating Pride, but during a week like this you realize why it is there and why we do it and why it is important.
(Lisa Wade is an associate professor of sociology at Occidental College, currently on leave and living in New Orleans. Her newest book, American Hookup, is about the emergence and character of the culture of sex that now dominates college campuses all across the country. This piece was posted first at Pacific Standard Magazine.)
SECURITY WATCH--When I learned that Omar Mateen, the Islamic terrorist who killed 49 Americans at a gay bar in Orlando, Florida and wounded 53 others was a security officer working for a company called G4S I decided to do some research on this company. What I have found is not only disturbing, but downright terrifying. Now, understand that I am not someone who readily subscribes to conspiracy theories, but I am a trained military intelligence officer and I know how to analyze information and draw conclusions based on that information.
I have found that G4S is a British security firm operating in over 100 countries with over 600,000 employees. It has a checkered past to say the least. It had to pay millions of dollars to the British Government for its failure to provide security to the 2012 Olympics in London. This failure caused the British government to deploy thousands of troops to provide adequate security. There have also been other scandals involving the company.
G4S acquired a U.S. Security firm named Wackenhut Corp., also with a questionable history, and made it a subsidiary company named G4S Security Solutions USA Inc. This is the company that actually employed Mateen in 2007. The U.S. affiliate initially claimed to know nothing about any FBI questioning of Mateen. However, it finally admitted that it was aware of the first FBI investigation of Mateen, but not the second.
G4S also claims to know nothing about the terrorist threats Mateen made that had been reported by one of his fellow employees. FOX News interviewed this former employee, Daniel Gilroy, who confirmed these allegations. G4S then refused Fox News’ requests for a response. However, the firm relieved him of duties as a security guard at a Florida courthouse because people complained about Mateen’s negative comments about women and his Jews and his expressions of admiration for the radical Muslim that killed 13 American soldiers and wounded 32 others at Fort Hood, Texas.
So this where it gets scary: G4S has contracts with numerous federal agencies including the State Department, Departments of Interior, Labor, Justice, Energy as well as the IRS, DEA, Homeland Security. It has also been hired by the U.S. Army, Air Force, and NASA. As a result, G4S has worked on projects at Guantanamo Bay, and provides security services for over 50 American embassies around the world, 90 percent of the nuclear facilities in the United States, as well as numerous prisons and juvenile detention facilities around the country.
In the case of the contract with DHS, the G4S has a rather unique job. It is to provide secure transport for people who have entered the United States illegally and are OTMs, (from countries other than Mexico) to sanctuary cities in the United States. In other words, people who have already violated U.S. laws by entering our country illegally and who are from Central American countries or from the Middle East and could be gang members, drug dealers, or even terrorists are being provided with a free pass into our cities with no questions asked.
This means that G4S is an active participant in the Obama administration and DHS efforts to violate U.S. immigration laws, the U.S. Constitution, and a federal court order. This is placing Americans around the country in danger of being subjected to criminal activity, and more possible terrorism like what just occurred in Orlando.
When it comes to providing security for U.S. embassies, G4S had an epic failure in 2011 at the embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan when their underpaid local security guards hired went on strike. They were immediately replaced by new local guards who were not subjected to any background checks. The embassy was severally at risk until the company finally agreed to increase the pay of the strikers.
Now we have an employee of G4S that has committed a major atrocity against Americans by killing and injuring almost 100 innocent people, yet he continued to be employed by this company despite the fact that there had been two FBI investigations of him, a complaint by a fellow employee that he made statements indicating he was a dangerous individual, and there was documentation of his involvement with an American jihadist who ultimately became a suicide bomber in Syria.
If G4S allowed an obvious security risk like Omar Mateen to continue as an employee it makes you wonder how many others like him are out there guarding prisons, nuclear sites, embassies, and other sensitive government facilities. Why are federal agencies continuing to employ this company and pay it millions of tax dollars, seemingly oblivious to the problem?
This also raises another, more insidious question. Are the actions of G4S just the failure of a private company employed by our government -- or is it the result of political correctness run amok? Was Mateen allowed to continue working for the company and have a license to carry firearms because G4S was prohibited by our government from firing him because he was a Muslim, despite the clear danger he represented?
Instead of launching an all-out assault on law-abiding American gun owners, Obama and Congress should be investigating why someone like the Orlando shooter was granted a security clearance by G4S that ultimately allowed him to go forward with his radical Islamic terrorist agenda.
Unfortunately, it will not happen. Just today I have learned that a radical female Muslim has recently been granted U.S. citizenship. Her name is Laila Alawa, a Syrian who was appointed last year to the Homeland Security Department’s subcommittee on Countering Violent Extremism.
She has an active Twitter account and I have read some of her posts. She clearly seems to believe that the free speech of anyone opposing radical Islam should be severely restricted; that the real danger to the security of the United States is the “white race.” In addition, she praises the terrorist attacks on 9/11 as a good thing. She is clearly a racist, radical jihadist, and a supporter of radical Islamic terrorism – yet she is now an employee of our very own Federal government.
See her posts in the article that appeared on ClashDaily.)
Why isn’t Laila Alawa being investigated by Congress?
(Michael Connelly is a US Army veteran, a retired attorney, published author, freelance writer, and instructor of Constitutional law. He is an occasional contributor to CityWatch. Reach him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
TRUTHDIG-California’s economy has recently surpassed France’s to become the sixth-largest in the world. The populous state grew 4.1 percent in the last year and had a gross state product of $2.46 trillion. The state also outpaced the rest of the U.S. in job growth.
Although there are numerous reasons for the Golden State’s economic growth, The Washington Post points to a 2012 increase in taxes on millionaires. The newspaper contrasts the economic development of California to that of Kansas, which reduced taxes on income and sales the same year.
The Post reports:
In 2012, voters in California approved a measure to raise taxes on millionaires, bringing their top state income tax rate to 13.3 percent, the highest in the nation. Conservative economists predicted calamity, or at least a big slowdown in growth. Also that year, the governor of Kansas signed a series of changes to the state’s tax code, including reducing income and sales tax rates. Conservative economists predicted a boom.
California’s economy grew by 4.1 percent in 2015, according to new numbers from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, tying it with Oregon for the fastest state growth of the year. That was up from 3.1 percent growth for the Golden State in 2014, which was near the top of the national pack.
The Kansas economy, on the other hand, grew 0.2 percent in 2015. That’s down from 1.2 percent in 2014, and below neighboring states such as Nebraska (2.1 percent) and Missouri (1.2 percent). Kansas ended the year with two consecutive quarters of negative growth—a shrinking economy. By a common definition of the term, the state entered 2016 in recession.
Other effects of the Kansas tax cuts, which were meant to spur entrepreneurship, are well-documented.
While state officials anticipated that the reductions would create a shortfall in the state budget, tax revenues have been consistently below even those expectations. Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s Investors Service have signaled that they could reduce Kansas’s credit rating, indicating there is a chance the state cannot pay its bills.
The shortfalls have forced Gov. Sam Brownback (R) and lawmakers to make additional adjustments. The state canceled the initial reduction in sales taxes, then increased them again, while delaying additional scheduled reductions in the income tax.
On the whole, Brownback’s policies modestly increased taxes for the poor and working class, who pay more in sales taxes than income taxes, while reducing taxes drastically for the rich.
The poorest 20 percent of households—those making less than $23,000 a year—are paying about $200 more, on average, according to an analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy in Washington. For the middle class, the changes have been a wash, with less-affluent households paying somewhat more and more-affluent households giving up a little less.
Meanwhile, the wealthiest 1 percent of households, those making at least $493,000 a year, are saving an average of $25,000.
Read more here.
(Donald Kaufman is an L.A.-based producer, composer and mix engineer. He is also the songwriter and frontman of the band Visceral Design. He writes for TruthDig where this was originally posted.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
GELFAND’S WORLD--Bernie Sanders wants the Democratic Party to reform. I don't think he goes far enough. Think of the following as a wish list.
The party should show respect for intellectual freedom. Here's one story. I was once the president of a Democratic club in the LA area. We had a new congressman who represented the district. In conversation, he told me he'd like to meet with my club. I said, "Sure, why not." It turns out that there is a "why not" among Democratic Party activists. This congressman was a Republican.
So even though congressman Steve Horn had a lot of clout that could affect our residents -- congressional offices get involved in everything from helping you find job training to helping you get a new passport in a timely manner -- apparently Democrats aren't supposed to be allowed to get within speaking distance of an actual Republican. I guess I have too much of an academic background for this type of thinking, because it never would have occurred to me that residents of Lakewood shouldn't be allowed to meet and talk with their own elected representatives.
We went ahead with the public forum, but not without difficulty. There was Hell to pay, to put it mildly. One local Democratic club passed a resolution asking the L.A. County Democratic Party to take away our club's charter. A local activist explained to me that allowing Democrats to hear from a Republican might convince them to vote for the other side. (This didn't show a lot of faith in the power of Democratic values, I must say. And what about the idea that conversation with Republicans such as Horn might bring a little political movement on their part?)
Here is another example of a constricted intellectual philosophy that ran over into a deranged moral philosophy: Everyone was supposed to support all Democrats, even those who were out and out crooks like Paul Carpenter. Another: Democratic organizations have endorsed judicial candidates who are demonstrably inferior to other candidates, just because the opponent is registered as a Republican.
This policy strikes me as the sort of attitude that pushes a lot of people away. Intellectual freedom should be one element in Democratic Party philosophy. If we expect honorable Republicans to repudiate the candidacy of Donald Trump, then we have a right to expect the Democratic Party to support integrity within its own ranks.
There are legitimate reasons that lots of liberal people choose to register as independents. They support the Democratic Party's principles and vote for non-criminal Democrats in elections, but refuse to give up their sense of political autonomy. They should be embraced by the party. Perhaps Bernie Sanders is just being opportunistic when he calls for the primary system to be universally opened to independent voters, but there are people who have legitimate reasons of their own. Opening primary elections to independent voters isn't a deep philosophical question. People who don't state a party preference are a significant fraction of the electorate, and they have a right to participate in the selection of the president.
Bernie's idea of getting rid of superdelegates makes some sense. Reserving one vote out of each five at the convention for unelected delegates is ridiculous. Even using the term superdelegates to describe these voters makes little sense. The party should rid itself of the problem by taking away superdelegates' votes or requiring them to vote in accord with their states' primary election totals, turning them in effect into pledged delegates.
By the way, it makes sense to allow elected members of congress and state governors to attend the convention. That's the idea behind the superdelegate system. They just shouldn't be given convention votes automatically.
One reform Sanders seems to have failed to think about is the order the states go in the primary system. As I've written previously, New Hampshire and Iowa were not awarded primacy in the system through any virtue of their own, and certainly not as a result of a decision by the rest of the country. They just took it. And they enforce their power by rejecting candidates who don't kiss up to them. This is why we don't hear much about water rights out west, or big city issues for the first year or two of the presidential election cycle. The candidates are too busy promising Iowans that they really do believe in ethanol subsidies and promising New Hampshire voters that they get to have first pick in the primaries forever.
There are a lot of possibilities for reforming the primary system, ranging from a lottery system to a simple reversal of the current order for the next couple of elections. Let California go first and Iowa go last. This is a reform suggestion I'd like to hear coming from Bernie Sanders. Let him show that he is as honest and independent as his supporters think he is.
Here's another big idea that will be hard to accomplish, but belongs as a central element of any future Democratic Party that is worth its salt. Make unionization a top priority, not only for the trades but for part time workers and for the tens of millions of white collar workers. Make it a long term Democratic Party priority to make it easy for workers to create unions, and make it a serious crime to interfere with this process. Perhaps the state of California could potentiate the process of creating white collar associations and protecting workers who choose to participate. The rest of the country could follow.
Bernie Sanders wants reform and restructuring of the Democratic National Committee. It's actually a useful goal, even if most voters don't have the least idea what the DNC does. Most party activists have never been near a DNC meeting. The DNC organizes the national convention. Since the convention has ultimate power over accepting or rejecting delegates, the DNC has a lot to say about what happens in primary elections. Anybody remember the credentials fight over the Michigan delegation in 2008? There are lots of other DNC powers such as raising and spending hundreds of millions of dollars.
Most of all, the DNC members are superdelegates. This doesn't make a lot of sense. At least the congressmen and senators who are superdelegates had to win elections and might therefore be said to represent the reality of the party at some level. As far as the DNC is concerned, not so much. The DNC has a lot of power, and there ought to be checks and balances.
Finally, the biggest idea of all. The Democratic Party ought to wean itself away from the big corporate money that funds campaigns. The idea isn't as farfetched as it sounds, because the Democrats used to accept union money and spurn management money. The Democrats held control over the congress for most of half a century under this system. But somewhere along the line, they figured that since they had control of the congress and business lobbyists had to come to them anyway, they might as well start taking the money.
When the system broke down under Newt Gingrich, the Democrats were left trying to represent Democratic Party values but having become beholden to big money contributors. The current situation for the Democrats is sort of Catch 22, since they want to take back control of congress, and this takes money.
One possible solution is to bring back the idea of public financing of elections. Los Angeles is partway there, as are other places. If it weren't for a particularly annoying Supreme Court decision from a few years ago, we might be moving down that road. A more honest Supreme Court may be more accepting of public financing.
Another approach that may build by itself is the movement into internet mediated political contributions. I get email requests for money several times a week from DailyKos and several party organizations. When politicians in strongly Democratic districts win congressional seats by relying on cleaner money, we will be making progress. This is something that goes to the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. It's a long overdue reform.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for City Watch. He can be reached at email@example.com)
LA WATCHDOG--The politically appointed Board of Commissioners of our Department of Water and Power recently approved two money losing water recycling projects that will result in DWP blowing $93 million of Ratepayer money. This amount represents about a quarter to a third of the recently approved five year, 25% increase in our water rates.
These Board decisions (with only one the five Commissioners voting NO on both deals) were made without relying on any financial analysis prepared by the Department. Nor were these two projects compared to other alternative water saving investments that may have higher rates of return. To the contrary, I supplied the Commissioners and DWP management with a cash flow analysis (based on the Department’s assumptions) for both recycling projects that showed that these two uneconomic water recycling projects were stinkers.
But the politically appointed Commissioners were only following the wishes (orders) of Mayor Eric Garcetti (photo above) who, through his Executive Directive No. 5 (Emergency Drought Response – Creating a Water Wise City) dated October 14, 2014, established a goal of reducing the purchase of imported water by 50% by 2024. This will require increases in local supplies through conservation, the remediation and replenishment of our aquifers, and increases in our local supplies through the recycling of wastewater and storm water.
Unfortunately, this aspirational, politically inspired Executive Directive was not accompanied by any operational or financial analysis, putting the Department in a very difficult and awkward position.
The first project, the $20 million Griffith Park South Water Recycling Project, is located within the nation’s largest urban park and will supply 477 acre feet (156 million gallons) of recycled water a year to the Roosevelt Golf Course and the surrounding area. Based on the Department’s assumptions for the purchase price of treated water from the Metropolitan Water District (“MWD”), this project does not recoup its investment until 2040 (23 years).
Alternatively, it would take over 40 years for this debt financed project to repay a loan that had an interest rate of 5%.
Furthermore, this deal is double stinker as it is a pet project of former City Councilman Tom LaBonge and the responsibility of the Department of Recreation and Parks, not DWP and its Ratepayers, since it located entirely within Griffith Park.
The second water recycling project, the $73 million Elysian Park Downtown Water Recycling Project, will supply 2,561 acre feet (835 million gallons) of recycled water a year to Elysian Park, DTLA, Exposition Park, Boyle Heights, and other adjacent areas, once again reducing the need for potable (drinkable) water. But like the Griffith Park pet project, the DWP does not recoup its investment until 2040 and would not be able to repay the loan until 2057.
The economics of these two projects assume that they will have a life of 30 to 50 years. However, this may be a bogus assumption if the recycled water from the LA-Glendale Water Reclamation Plant can be processed into potable water (direct potable reuse or better known as toilet to tap) that can be introduced directly into our water system. This would result in a “stranded” asset, resulting in an even greater hit to the Ratepayers.
The debt laden Water System does not have the flexibility to sink cash into money losing projects as its ambitious $5.5 billion capital expenditure budget is already causing its long term debt and debt ratios to balloon to levels where it will endanger its coveted bond rating.
While the aspirational goal of reducing our dependence on purchased water from Northern California and the Colorado River is worthy target, it must also be accompanied by a rigorous operational and financial analysis that results in the Department investing in projects that have positive rates of return and at the same time discarding the dogs. Otherwise, Garcetti’s green policies will result in considerably less green in our wallets.
[Note: On Wednesday, MWD, the major supplier of water to our City, issued a press release stating that its “stress test” showed that it had sufficient water supplies to meet the demands of its customers for the next three years.]
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
LA WATCHDOG--Mayor Eric Garcetti and the members of the Herb Wesson led City Council must think we are absolute fools if they believe that we will vote to approve massive tax increases in November while they continue to neglect our City and trash our quality of life.
On Friday, the Rules Committee of the City Council will consider placing on the ballot a measure to authorize the issuance of $1 billion of bonds. This money will be used to finance the building of more housing for the homeless.
The County is also considering a yet to be determined $250 million tax to help fund its homeless initiatives, including, subject to Sacramento’s approval, a controversial “millionaire’s tax” of 0.5% on incomes north of $1 million.
The County is also contemplating a $200 to $300 million parcel tax to fund the repair, operation, and creation of parks throughout the County, especially in underserved areas.
At the same time, Metro will place on the ballot a permanent half cent increase in our sales tax to fund transportation related projects and operations. This will increase our sales tax to a whopping 9½%.
Over the next 40 years, this new Metro tax, along with the existing transportation taxes, will raise almost $300 billion, of which almost $25 billion will be kicked back to City Hall as part of the Local Return program.
Despite a kickback from Metro of over $200 million this year, City Hall does not have a comprehensive plan to repair our lunar cratered streets and alleys, some of the worst in the country.
Nor does City Hall have a detailed plan to repair our residential sidewalks in a timely manner. Rather, homeowners may have to wait up to 30 years pursuant to the court mandated Sidewalk Repair Program unless residents are prepared to pony up their own dough to pay for a substantial portion of the cost to fix their broken sidewalks and replant their trees.
City Hall is also starving our Department of Recreation and Parks by hitting it up for almost $60 million a year as part of its “full recovery cost” program. This represents a third of its General Fund charter mandated allocation. As a result, our parks have deteriorated and the Department has embarked on an unpopular program to commercialize our parks.
The City Council and the Jose Huizar led Planning and Land Use Management Committee are preparing to allow the campaign funding billboard industry to install intrusive digital billboards in many areas outside the designated sign districts. But the light blight from these highly profitable digital billboards is an assault on our quality of life.
The Mayor and the City Council are also selling us out to real estate speculators and developers by approving zoning variances for luxury residential skyscrapers that will result in increased congestion on our already clogged streets.
There are also hot button issues involving small lot subdivisions, short term rentals (AirBnb), granny flats, mansionization, and the hillside communities that have inflamed the impacted residents.
At the same time that the City is neglecting our infrastructure and failing to protect our neighborhoods, City Hall has no problem entering into a new contract with the City’s civilian unions that will eventually cost an extra $125 million a year. This will result in a structural deficit of over $100 million for the fiscal year ending 2020 as opposed to a previously anticipated surplus of $68 million, a swing of $169 million.
And this does not include the impact of the “goal” of hiring 5,000 new City employees or the underfunding of the City’s two pension plans by at least $400 million a year as the City relies on an overly optimistic investment rate assumption of 7½%.
The three ballot measures all have fatal flaws that will make it difficult for them to obtain the approval of two-thirds of the voters. They are also the beginning of an onslaught of new taxes (including DWP, stormwater, and streets and sidewalks) that will have the cumulative impact of raising our taxes by at least $1.5 billion. This is the equivalent of a 30% increase in our real estate taxes or a 3% increase in our sales tax to 12%.
City Hall will put on a full court press to convince us to approve these taxes. But City Hall’s reputation for neglecting our streets, sidewalks, and parks; for not respecting our quality of life; for selling out to the real estate and billboard industries; for its kowtowing to the City’s civilian unions; and for its unwillingness to really balance the budget will doom these ballot measures to failure.
Who are the fools now?
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at: email@example.com.)
LA WATCHDOG--On Thursday morning, the Rules Committee of the City Council released its recommendations for the reform of our Department of Water and Power. This 2,300 word document addressed three areas of reform: 1) a more independent Board of Commissioners designed to limit undue interference and meddling by the Mayor and the City Council, 2) more efficient contracting and procurement policies that would free management from overly burdensome overhead, bureaucracy, and red tape, and 3) the establishment of a DWP Human Resources Department, free from the City’s civil service requirements, that would allow for hiring flexibility.
The recommendations are a constructive start, but need to be refined over the next three weeks if the measure to reform the Department is to be placed on the November 8 ballot for our approval.
One recommendation of the Rules Committee would require the Department to develop a “four year strategic investment and revenue plan (the “Plan”) for approval by the City Council and the Mayor.” This would also include a robust discussion on our water and power rates. While this planning process would give the City Council more authority over the DWP, it would also provide the Board and the management greater operational and financial flexibility as long as they stayed within the Plan’s guidelines.
[Note: The City Council should take its own advice and develop a multiyear strategic, operational, and financial plan for our City!]
Once the Plan is approved, the Board of Commissioners, the General Manager, and her management team should be given considerable authority to operate the Department without undue interference and meddling from the City Council and the Mayor. This would include the elimination of the burdensome requirement that the Board and the Department clear agenda items with the Mayor’s office.
The Rules Committee recommended that the seven part time commissioners (an increase from the current level of five part time commissioners) serve three year staggered terms. But three years does not allow Commissioners enough time to learn the intricacies this $5 billion a year enterprise and would deprive the Board of important institutional and industry knowledge. Rather, the term should be five years as outlined in Councilmember Felipe Fuentes’ January 22 motion that kicked off the discussion of the reform of our Department of Water and Power.
The Rules Committee recommended that Commissioners could be removed by the Mayor with the concurrence of the Council or by a vote of 75% of the Council. To the contrary, removal should be only for cause and not at the discretion of our elected officials.
The recommendations appear to address the General Manager’s request that the Department be granted more freedom in contracting and procurement by amending the City Charter to allow the Department to enter into selected power contracts, leases, and design build arrangements with the approval of the Board of Commissioners, bypassing the need for a time consuming ordinances approved by the slow moving City Council.
The biggest disappointment is that the Rules Committee was not able to follow through on Fuentes’ motion to “authorize the Department to oversee its own hiring functions and remove the Department from its obligation to follow civil service rules.” While reform was endorsed by the Union Bo$$ d’Arcy’s IBEW Local 18 (a scary thought to some), this motion ran into a buzz saw as the leaders of the City’s civilian unions were vehemently opposed to the Department establishing its own Human Resources Department, free from civil service. Rather, they are demanding that the City “meet and confer” which will allow the City unions to demand concessions from the Department in return for their approval.
This collective bargaining may result in an impasse that will most likely result in litigation if the City Council has the gumption to take the side of the Ratepayers and pursue the establishment of a Human Resources Department that reports to the management of DWP.
According to insiders, this is a continuation of the bad blood between the City’s civilian unions and IBEW Union Bo$$ d’Arcy as the civilian unions have contract envy and resent d’Arcy’s justified opposition to the 2009 Early Retirement Incentive Program that allowed 2,400 senior City employees to retire early at a cost of over $300 million to the City (and its taxpayers).
In the meantime, the Rules Committee should recommend that the City’s Personnel Department devote considerable resources to DWP and establish an fully staffed office at DWP to serve the Department’s needs, similar to the successful arrangement with the City Attorney. Furthermore, the Department should be allowed to have 10% of its work force be exempt from civil service so that it has the flexibility to hire staff to fill positions in IT, customer service, purchasing, training, and other important departments.
The Rules Committee has conducted an open and transparent process, taking input from many constituencies. This compares to the process with Measure B in 2009 (Mayor Villaraigosa’s ill-conceived solar plan) and Proposition A in 2013 (the permanent half cent increase in our sales tax). Both were rejected by the voters.
We have two to three weeks to rework and refine the Rules Committee’s recommendations, during which time we need continued transparency and flexibility.
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
LA WATCHDOG--If we are to hold the senior management of our Department of Water and Power accountable to the Ratepayers, the City Council, and the Mayor for the efficient operation of this complex, asset-intensive $5 billion a year enterprise that is transitioning its power and water systems to meet overly aggressive environmental mandates, then the management team must have the flexibility and authority to make operational decisions without undue interference from the City Council, the Mayor, the leadership of the City’s unions, and other self-serving special interest organizations.
There are two operational reforms that will allow DWP to be more nimble and efficient.
The first operational reform would allow DWP to establish its own Human Resources Department to oversee its 9,000 employees, allowing the Department greater flexibility by removing its reliance on the City’s slow moving, overly bureaucratic Personnel Department and its burdensome civil service rules and regulations. This would result in increased accountability as Human Resources would report to DWP’s General Manager, unlike the current situation where the Personnel Department is not accountable to DWP management.
Furthermore, the personnel and hiring policies needed for the successful operation of the nation’s largest municipally owned utility are significantly different than those of the City given the engineering background and specialized skills required by the Water and Power Systems.
The second operational reform would permit the management greater discretion in its procurement and contracting process, eliminating time consuming bureaucratic delays as contracts work their way through the DWP and the City’s cumbersome bureaucracy. This reform would eliminate the Mayor’s micromanagement of operational contracts and increase the contracting authority of the General Manager to more realistic levels of $5 to $15 million depending on the type of contract.
Over the last month, City Council President Herb Wesson and his Rules Committee have held at least four open meetings discussing the reform of our Department of Water and Power, including unprecedented evening meetings in the Valley and South Los Angeles, where numerous people and organizations have had a chance to air their opinions and recommendations and engage in discussions with the Council Members. (Thank you, Herb.) But we have yet to see any Committee action or instructions to the City Attorney which will leave us with very little time to review, analyze, and comment on the proposed ballot measure.
There are also the issues involving the role and independence of the Board of Commissioners, the potentially illegal 8% Transfer Fee from the Power System which supplied the City with $267 million this year, and the impact on the Ratepayers of efforts to have DWP subsidize the operations of various governmental entities (LAUSD and Recreation and Parks) and even greater environmental mandates.
While these financial and governance issues are very important, they should not overshadow the need to reform the Department’s Human Resources function and the Contracting and Procurement policies so that the Department may operate more efficiently and we, in good faith, can hold the General Manager and the rest of her management team responsible for their management decisions.
LA WATCHDOG--The reform and restructuring of the governance and operations of the our Department of Water and Power is intended to make our utility more nimble and efficient so that it is better able to address the increasing complex operational, organizational, technological, management, financial, and regulatory challenges it faces and will continue to face in a rapidly changing and increasingly complex environment. At the same time, our engineering focused DWP must earn the trust, confidence, and respect of its 1.5 million Ratepayers by developing into a more customer centric and efficient enterprise.
There are three areas of reform that have been discussed at multiple meetings throughout the City: 1) a more independent Board of Commissioners designed to limit the interference from the City Council and the Mayor, 2) improved contracting and procurement policies to eliminate overly burdensome overhead and layers of bureaucracy and red tape, and 3) the establishment of a DWP Human Resources Department for the Department’s 9,000 employees, separate and distinct from the City’s slow moving Personnel Department and City’s cumbersome civil service regulations.
While there has been considerable discussion about the three areas of reform, there has been no meaningful discussion of the Transfer Fee/Tax because of the class action litigation alleging that this fee/tax is illegal because it violates Proposition 26 (the Supermajority Vote to Pass new Taxes and Fees) that was approved by California voters in 2010. However, Councilmember Felipe Fuentes suggested that the Transfer Fee/Tax, which provided $267 million to the City’s coffers this year, be capped at its 2010 level of $221 million.
On the other hand, a better idea would be to ask the voters to phase out the Transfer Fee/Tax over a 10 year period and waive the repayment of the $1.5 billion of illegal transfers made since 2011. But to win over the voters, City Hall must be willing to reform its budget policies by agreeing to place on the ballot for our approval or rejection a charter amendment that will require the City to Live Within Its Means.**
There also appears to an appetite by City Hall to hit up the Ratepayers to support other initiatives that are not part of the core mission of the Department.
At Tuesday’s meeting of the City Council, Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, Chair of the Arts, Parks, and River Committee, proposed that DWP (read Ratepayers) subsidize the utility bill of the Department of Recreation and Parks to the tune of $20 million a year. Mayor Garcetti also proposed to lower the rates for the Los Angeles Unified School District, DWP’s largest customer.
While Recreation and Parks and LAUSD provide important public services, the Ratepayers should not be required to foot a portion of their utility bill. This is not our responsibility. Rather, these poorly managed government entities should feel the pain of the full impact of the recent $1 billion rate increase, just as we Ratepayers are forced to do.
There are also others on the City Council and in the environmental community who are pushing the One Water agenda which would essentially put Ratepayers on the hook for financing a good chunk of the City’s $8 billion stormwater and urban runoff plan over the next 20 years. This would deprive Angelenos of the right to approve or reject this massive project.
There are others who want to expand the Department’s green agenda for the Power System without giving any consideration to the impact on the Ratepayers. As it is, we are going to be hit with a $1 billion rate increase over the next 5 years plus another $150 million in new DWP related taxes.
City Council President Herb Wesson has taken DWP reform under his wing, conducting a number of open meetings of the Rules Committee which he chairs. He has also indicated that he intends to meet with labor and environmental groups, hopefully in open and transparent sessions where the public will be able to listen in and participate.
We have yet to see any definitive ballot language. This is disturbing since the ballot language needs to be determined within a month in order to be on the November ballot. And as we all know, the devil is in the details, especially when it involves the politicians and their cronies who occupy City Hall.
The reform and restructure of our Department of Water and Power will be a tough sell to the voters who do not trust or respect DWP and City Hall. Rather than trying to do too much which will only complicate any ballot measure, the City Council and the Mayor (who has yet to come forward with any definitive thoughts) are strongly advised to follow the old KISS adage: Keep It Simple, Stupid.
** The “Live Within Its Means” charter amendment, if approved by the voters, will require the City to develop and adhere to a Five Year Financial Plan; to pass two year balanced budgets based on Generally Accepted Accounting Principles; to benchmark the efficiency of its operations; to fully fund its pension plans within twenty years; to implement a twenty year plan to repair and maintain our streets, sidewalks, and the rest of our infrastructure; and to establish a fully funded Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee the City’s finances and operations.
LA WATCHDOG & POLL--More than likely, our Los Angeles Times will have a new owner as Gannett, the publisher of USA Today and the largest newspaper publisher in the country, has offered to buy Tribune, the owner of The Times and the Chicago Tribune, in an all cash deal for $15 a share, double the price of Tribune’s stock prior to the publication of Gannett’s initial offer of $12.25 a share on April 25.
While Tribune’s newly installed, self-centered management and clueless directors may resist this very generous offer, most investors will be standing in line to sell their shares at this bonkers price. At the same time, while Gannett is not an eleemosynary institution, our Los Angeles Times will be better off being free of Chicago based Tribune which has mismanaged The Times ever since Tribune acquired Times Mirror Corporation, the owner of our hometown paper, in 2000 for over $8 billion (including debt).
It has been downhill ever since for The Times as the ivory tower know-it-alls from Chicago, armed with their MBAs and little else, dictated policy and cut costs, resulting in a LA Times that lost touch with Angelenos. In 2007, the financial wizards that were running Tribune concocted a complicated leveraged buyout deal led by Sam Zell, a real estate magnate with a questionable reputation, which left Tribune with $13 billion in debt. A year later, in December of 2008, an overleveraged Tribune filed for bankruptcy.
Tribune emerged from a contentious bankruptcy in December of 2012, controlled by vulture capitalists whose wheeling and dealing resulted in the August of 2014 tax free spinoff of the Tribune Publishing, a newspaper company with dim prospects and almost $400 million in debt, from Tribune Media, a very profitable broadcasting company.
At around the same time, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation and Gannett spun off their newspaper assets into publicly traded, debt free companies that were better able to transition from print publications to a more competitive digital world.
About the only good news was that Tribune appointed Austin Beutner as Publisher of The Times in August of 2014. His vision was local, to focus on the City, the County, and Southern California which included the synergistic acquisition of the San Diego Union Tribune. But Beutner was canned in September of 2015 by Jack Griffin, Tribune’s power hungry CEO, who was unwilling to invest in local content or in developing a strong digital product.
Beutner and other Angelenos made a run at returning The Times to local ownership, but they were rebuffed by Griffin and the Tribune Board of Directors.
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In February, 2016, Jack Griffin and the Tribune sold 5.2 million shares to Michael Ferro, a Chicago internet entrepreneur, for $8.50 a share. This $44 million investment resulted in Ferro owning 16% of the Company. Less than three weeks later, he canned Jack Griffin and took control of Tribune.
[Note: If Ferro sells his shares at $15, he will have a profit of $34 million, a return on investment of 75% in less than 6 months.]
Since Ferro seized control of Tribune, he attended the Oscars, snagging tickets meant for the news staff, and blew the synergistic acquisitions of the Orange County Register and the Press Enterprise in Riverside because he was the smartest guy in the room and was unwilling to listen to experienced advisors who knew how to navigate the antitrust issues.
This transaction makes sense for Gannett, even if it is a high price given the poor business outlook for the newspaper industry. Gannett, a publisher of daily newspapers for the most part in small and midsized markets, will acquire the papers in LA and Chicago, two of the three largest markets in the country, as well as papers serving Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, Baltimore, and Hartford.
We need strong local coverage, because without it, “we’re gonna have corruption at a level we never experienced,” according to Bob Schieffer, the trusted TV journalist who was the moderator of Face the Nation (CBS) for 23 years. And we all know that we cannot trust City Hall whose occupiers and their cronies are more than willing to sell us out to the real estate speculators and developers and the leaders of the City’s unions.
We need to make a deal with Gannett, that in return for subscribing to the paper and its web site and supporting its advertisers, it will provide us with strong local coverage. This support may also involve setting up charitable entities to sponsor journalists covering the City and its proprietary departments (DWP, LAX, and the Port), the County, LAUSD, our failing infrastructure, and underfunded pension plans.
We need a vibrant Los Angeles Times, one with an institutional memory, properly staffed with inquiring journalists who are willing to spend the time protecting our interests from predatory politicians who have no respect for our wallets. At the same time, the Times needs our support and our money.
While we may not agree with The Times on all issues, the paper has helped defeat ballot measures that would have nicked us for billions. These include its opposition to Measure B, Mayor Villaraigosa’s 2009 solar plan that was a payback for IBEW Union Bo$$ d’Arcy’s generous campaign contributions, or the ill-conceived effort in 2013 to increase our sales tax by a half cent to a mind boggling 9½%.
Put another way, a few bucks here and there for The Times will save us billions if the Mayor, City Hall, and the newly constituted Board of Supervisors were to have its way.