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MY TURN-In this Rollercoaster world where we live, and each day brings a new revelation, it seems like an oxymoron to celebrate Thanksgiving let alone Tuesday, November 29 as the "International Day of Giving." But life goes on! 

Many Los Angeles organizations prepared Thanksgiving Dinner for those less fortunate. Some were sponsored, like the Midnight Mission servicing the Downtown location. One that particularly intrigued me was the annual Westside Community Dinner

They have over three decades of tradition serving the community a wonderful, free sit-down Thanksgiving dinner. They also provide free haircuts, blankets, clothing, hygiene kits, medical, optical, dental services, vaccination, a resource fair and a children's carnival. 

The Celebration was open to everyone -- no reservations necessary. They fed over 3000 people, both visitors and volunteers. Five hundred turkeys were cooked! It was an eclectic collection of groups and individuals -- students, singles, low-income families, seniors and homeless -- brought together to celebrate Thanksgiving. No one asked who they supported for President and although there may have been political discussions, nothing got out of hand. 

Each year the dinner has received more support. It was held on the grounds of the Westside Veterans Center, whose service personnel gave the attending Veterans information and referrals. The Mayor’s office also provided personnel to pass out information on services provided by the City. 

No videos or press are allowed and no one organization blows its own horn. Publicity for the dinner was handled by all of the Westside organizations and businesses. Everything was donated, mostly products and food, with some cash donations to purchase needed items. It truly is a community affair. 

Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition (LANCC) President Terrence Gomes has been volunteering at this event since he was a young student. He remarked that one of his teachers turned him on to the importance of volunteering. "Chief Chef and civic activist Jay Handel was pleased that so many chefs from throughout the City donated their time and talent to help cook. 

This is the America I know and love. I have no desire to secede from the United States. Those who are talking about the West Coast doing a "Westexit" are frankly not to be taken seriously. 

It is comforting to be able to write about Americans doing good things together for causes they believe in. 

Aside from Black Friday and Cyber Monday having strong sales, we will also be celebrating on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) International Day of Giving. #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving. Since its inaugural year in 2012, #GivingTuesday has become a movement that celebrates and supports giving and philanthropy with events throughout the year and a growing catalog of resources. 

#GivingTuesday was founded by New York’s 92nd Street Y, in partnership with the United Nations Foundation. Together, with a team of influencers and founding partners, they launched a global movement that has engaged over 30,000 organizations worldwide. 

It was created by the team at the recently renamed Belfer Center for Innovation and Social Impact at the 92 Y -- a cultural center in New York City since 1894 that has brought people together around the values of service and giving back. #GivingTuesday connects diverse groups of individuals, communities and organizations around the world for one common purpose: to celebrate and encourage giving. A team of influencers and founding partners joined forces, collaborating across sectors, offering expertise and working tirelessly to launch #GivingTuesday and have continued to shape, grow and strengthen the movement. 

92Y is a world-class cultural and community center where people from all over the world connect through culture, arts, entertainment and conversation. For over 140 years, it has harnessed the power of arts and ideas to enrich, enlighten and change lives, and the power of community to repair the world. 

As a proudly Jewish organization, 92Y enthusiastically welcomes and reaches out to people of all ages, races, faiths and backgrounds while embracing Jewish values like learning and self-improvement, the importance of family, the joy of life, and giving back to our wonderfully diverse and growing community, both locally and around the world. 

These "giving" examples are from both coasts but I know, without a doubt, that similar types of activities are taking place in every other State. This is what makes me optimistic that as Americans we will do the right thing. There will always be people who need to feel superior; there will always be those who have the victim mentality and need someone to blame for their mistakes; there will always be people who think their God is the only one and their beliefs are the only true dictates of human behavior. Fortunately, they are a small minority! 

Do we have problems in this country? Certainly! Can we solve them? Of course! The very characteristic that fringe elements want to eradicate is what makes us great: our diversity, productivity and creativity. Each of us brings something to the table. 

Not everyone can donate money to a favorite cause, but each one of us can give something of ourselves to make the world a better place. So maybe "pay it forward" is a good idea for this Tuesday. As always, comments are welcome.

 

(Denyse Selesnick is a CityWatch columnist. She is a former publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: Denyse@CityWatchLA.com) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

THE ABRAMS REPORT-The nation is in a transitional muddle. Green Party Candidate Jill Stein believes that it is appropriate to count the votes. Putative President-elect Trump tweets that, “The people have spoken,” but apparently he is too impatient to take the time to find out what the people actually said. One drawback of tweeting in haste is that, “Yes, the People have spoken and by two million votes, they said that Hillary should be President.” Had Trump been more judicious, he might have issued a statement saying that the “Electoral College has spoken” -- but then, that too is not true since the time for them to cast their votes has not come. 

Assuming putative President-elect Trump ends up being the President, we are still in a muddle. In contrast to his campaign rhetoric, Trump’s policies, since he’s been briefed, appear to be in a quandary. We are no longer going to throw out 11 or 12 million illegals. The sanctuary cities object creating ethnic hostilities, having their economies destroyed and hamstringing their police departments by making them check everyone’s passport or green card. And the Wall? What Wall? Hillary thrown in prison? Oh, she’s too nice a lady. Who will be Secretary of the Treasury? Trump’s secret to defeat ISIS appears to be to ask the Generals who, a few weeks ago, “knew nothing.” 

While the “answers” are in disarray, we Americans are clueless about the government’s role in the one thing that upsets us more than anything else: the economy. 

The economy is particularly vital to people who are starting a family. As long as one is single, renting a loft or sharing an overly expensive apartment can be exciting. But when one wants to settle down, priorities change. Does the government bear any responsibility to plan for the future and for an economy that can support family life? 

Rather than answer that philosophical question, let’s look at the practical situation in which a city government ignores the desires of its new middle class and instead allows its policies to be dictated by an ever smaller clique of billionaires. 

Government at all levels impacts the economy. This has been true since the dawn of civilization. In 1776, Adam Smith wrote Wealth of Nations for this very purpose; and in 1936, John Maynard Keynes wrote his The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money [General Theory] for the same purpose. Both addressed the role of the government in setting the parameters of the economy so as to benefit the nation and its citizens. Yet the average voter never holds the feet of politicians to the fire when the government’s policies devastate the economy. 

On a local level, Los Angeles’ feudal city council which has divided the city into 15 fiefdoms ruled by overlords with absolute power, has turned LA from a destination city into an exodus city from which Family Millennials are fleeing. 

A major force driving Family Millennials away from Los Angeles has been the City’s anti-home ownership policy which has made owning a home in Los Angeles prohibitively expensive. 

On November 26, 2016, Wendell Cox wrote in NewGeography.com, “Progressive politicians, dominant in California, talk incessantly about housing affordability, but blindly pursue policies that will make things even worse. It should not be surprising that the housing-cost adjusted poverty rate in California is the worst in union, underperforming even Mississippi. It should also not be surprising that Californians of every age group, including Millennials, are leaving state in larger numbers than they are being attracted.” 

Under both former Mayor Villaraigosa and current Mayor Garcetti, over 21,000 rent-controlled units have been demolished, something that not only increases the number of homeless but increases the cost of the average apartment. The increased demand for housing in the category of “just above the rent-control level” from those who do not become homeless ends up increasing the housing prices. Also, increasing the minimum wage, while generally a good idea, can cause inflation when there is a shortage of a major commodity such as rental units. 

Particularly harmful to Los Angeles are the increasing number of mixed-use projects in what we call TODs (Transit Oriented Districts). TODs are areas near subways, light rail and bus lines where developers are allowed to aggrandize population density on the patently false belief that people who live in TODs do not need to own cars. 

A host of ills follow in the wake of TODs: 

(1) TODs make land values higher which increases the costs of units built there; 

(2) TODs’ construction costs are significantly higher as building standards are stricter as buildings are taller; 

(3) The City allows developers not to construct off-street parking; 

(4) Residents in TODs then overflow into surrounding neighborhoods seeking places to park; 

(5) Because few people who live in TODs use the mass transit, traffic congestion near the TODs becomes much worse; 

(6) As the city adds more offices to DTLA, Hollywood and elsewhere in The Basin, the commute times from the Valley are becoming unacceptable; 

(7) While population density in TODs increases, the occupancy rate is often too low to make developers happy, so the city gives them infusions of cash; 

(8) The billions of tax dollars which have gone to the developers since 2001 starved all the other infrastructure needs so that LA’s infrastructure has crumbled; 

Garcetti’s mania to pursue “Smart Growth,” despite proof that it is driving away Los Angeles’ new middle class, shows no let-up. Billions more dollars are flowing into TODs, augmented by the $1.2 billion from Measure HHH. 

The feudal nature of Los Angeles’ government deprives the citizens of any forum for challenging the City’s demise. Councilmembers who represent the Valley may not object to the excessive concentration of office towers in the Basin even though the added traffic congestion “over the hill” will make life much worse for their constituents. 

As detached single family homes become rarer, they become much more expensive. The threat from Granny Flats deters potential home buyers everywhere. No one wants to make the largest investment of their entire lives in a family home when in five to ten years, the R-1 streets will possibly be transformed into rental alleys. Granny Flats potentially turn every R-1 neighborhood into areas where each lot can have two houses with no backyard – just rental units. 

The potential for a developer to buy an R-1 home and then construct a second house on the lot in order to rent out both the houses forces up the sale price of the home beyond what a family can afford. The commercial value of lots where Granny Flats can be built is much greater than the value of a living space with a back yard, fruit trees and gardens. 

No one has pointed to any social, economic, or political force which will reverse the exodus of Family Millennials from Los Angeles. As the cost of housing escalates due to the Garcetti Administration’s catering to the pocketbooks of the developers, more employers will leave Los Angeles. Employers know that they ultimately bear the costs that the Garcetti Administration is forcing upon the average citizen. Employers foresee that their employees will not pay three times the price for a home in a deteriorating Los Angeles over what it would cost them a home in Austin, Texas, where all the measures of the good life are far better. 

People forget that it was not only the great weather that attracted people to Los Angeles starting in the 1890's, but it was also the vast expanse of single family homes. The war on the detached home mandated by “Smart Planning” has killed the American Dream for LA. A more descriptive word than “killed” would be “murdered.” The American Dream of owning a single family home with a yard in a decent school district has been deliberately murdered in cold blood – and the slaughter continues. 

Government policy affects people’s lives. In a feudal society where the serfs have been locked out of governance and have no power to influence policy, a mass exodus is the wisest choice. The same forces that existed in all the lands from which our forefathers fled are now operating in Los Angeles. 

When a tiny cadre of the ultra-wealthy seize control of the government, people look for a better life elsewhere.

 

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney. He can be reached at: Rickleeabrams@Gmail.com. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

PERSPECTIVE-The outcome of the presidential election was a surprise to me as much as it was to anyone. What is not a surprise is the reaction to it. 

There have been some extreme events and outbursts, including rioting by some Clinton supporters and some nasty displays of neo-Nazism by the loosely organized Alt-right group. Fortunately, these reactions are not acceptable to the population as a whole. Most of us are moving forward and dealing with change in a rational manner. The checks and balances embedded in the Constitution will prevent significant, or even sudden, permanent changes to our government. 

However, one proposed remedy to Trump’s victory resurrects an issue this nation has faced before…secession from the United States. 

As a practical matter, according to an opinion piece in the Washington Post, it is virtually impossible, short of an apocalyptic disaster which throws our nation into dysfunctional chaos. Although there are many who believe we have been dysfunctional for a long time, I have news for you – the national government has not only survived, it has expanded its influence.

The Post article states: “Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution specifies how a state can gain admission to the United States. There is no stipulation, though, for the reverse. Even if Obama wanted to let Texas go — a thought that probably appealed to him for at least a second — there’s no mechanism for him to do so. There’s no mechanism for Congress to simply say, ‘Sure, off you go.’ Once you’re in, you’re in. The United States was born an expansionist enterprise, and the idea of contraction, it seems, never really came up.” 

To those proposing a Cal-exit, don’t waste your time, or those of the state’s voters, with a referendum to seek secession.  

Having said that, the topic is worthy of an interesting hypothetical discussion. 

Did the Civil War really resolve whether secession is constitutional? I touched on this subject in an article I wrote for Citywatch in connection with the Civil War Sesquicentennial. 

As I pointed out, the seven states that seceded prior to Lincoln’s inauguration could have gotten away with it had Fort Sumter had not been fired upon by Confederate batteries. Absent the catalyst the attack provided, the nation had no stomach for war, much less a civil war. Had Lincoln raised troops to forcibly end secession, it is likely the entire Upper South would have joined the Lower South, including the critical border states of Kentucky and Maryland. Washington would have been isolated; Lincoln’s administration would have been dead on arrival. 

A southern-leaning Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Roger Taney, a slaveholder himself, may have ruled in favor of the break. 

What the Civil War did make certain was the illegality of forceful secession. 

Does that mean peaceful or passive secession is permissible? 

As mentioned earlier, there is no process for separation via legislation. There is nothing in the Constitution to guide Congress; nothing even stipulating a voting margin for such an action. Any request by a state to secede would simply die. 

But let’s just say it did occur. 

Just like divorce, there would be a property settlement...and would that be costly to California! Do you think the rest of the states would transfer control of Yosemite and other national parks for a song? How about military installations and other federal government real estate? 

The financial obligations California would incur for buying out its share of the unfunded liability of Social Security and Medicare of its citizens would be worse. 

California claims to receive less monies from the federal government than it sends. That is so much BS. The benefits to the state from physical protection and security provided by the federal government is incalculable. In terms of economic trade, California’s primary trading partners are part of the Pacific Rim. Without the leverage of the federal government behind us, we would be at a disadvantage in negotiations with China and Japan, whose economies dwarf those of the Golden State.

Then there are details of establishing a monetary unit and a central bank. 

How about supporting embassies throughout the world? 

The nation of California would be bankrupt from the get-go. 

One other thing. There are regions within California which will not go along with the plan. Much of California’s agriculture and water is attributable to the Central Valley and Sierra Nevada, respectively. Those regions would balk at the plan. They would form their own state, or possibly request to join Nevada. Sacramento would find itself isolated from the rest of its subjects. California would be totally dependent on a foreign government for food, water and energy. 

The secession movement is laughable until you realize its proponents really believe it is plausible. For their sake, I sure hope they do not receive Nigerian e-mail solicitations. 

But just the talk of secession further alienates California from the rest of the nation. 

One of our top attractions is Wine Country. We do not want to be labeled Whine Country.

 

(Paul Hatfield is a CPA and serves as President of the Valley Village Homeowners Association. He blogs at Village to Village and contributes to CityWatch. The views presented are those of Mr. Hatfield and his alone and do not represent the opinions of Valley Village Homeowners Association or CityWatch. He can be reached at: phinnoho@aol.com.) Graphic: Jeff Durham/Bay Area News Group. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

LATINO PERSPECTIVE-Most Latinos in California were shocked earlier this month with the election of Donald Trump as President. But here in Southern California there is cause for celebration because diversity in the political arena is alive and kicking with the election to the United States Congress of three Latinos. 

These three Democrats, Lou Correa, Nanette Barragán, and Salud Carbajal were elected to represent parts of Orange County, Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara. This is very important coming from the most diverse state in the country. We now have the largest Congressional Hispanic Caucus in history with 31 members. 

Correa will replace Latina Rep. Loretta Sanchez who is a Democrat from Orange County in the 46th Congressional District after defeating another Democrat, the mayor of Garden Grove, Bao Nguyen. Sanchez lost her bid to be the next U.S. Senator from California. But what I think is important to notice is that Carbajal and Barragán are replacing white members of Congress.  

Lou Correa has been serving Orange Country since 1998. Over his 16 year career, Lou has represented the 69th Assembly District in the California State Assembly, served as Supervisor in Orange County’s 1st Supervisor District, and represented the 34th Senate District in the California State Senate. 

Lou Correa introduced himself to voters as the only homegrown candidate. As the son of working class parents, Lou saw first hand what it took to escape poverty and have a shot at the middle class. He ran for office in 1998 to fight for the same working families he grew up with, and ensure their children would have the same opportunity to succeed that he had. Lou has a track record of getting the job done and has developed a reputation with countless public officials as a dedicated civil servant interested in solving real problems, not playing partisan games. 

Nanette Barragán, the youngest of eleven children raised by immigrants from Mexico, Nanette Diaz Barragán beat the odds and put herself through UCLA undergrad and USC Law School. She knows what families need and the power of a good education. In Congress, she will fight to get more funds for our schools and better paying jobs for our communities. As a councilwoman, Barragán balanced fiscal common sense with the right priorities. She balanced budgets, fixed streets, helped expand afterschool programs and hired new police officers without raising taxes. 

Salud Carbaja, a Santa Barbara County Supervisor, won an expensive race against Republican Justin Fareed to replace longtime Democratic Rep. Lois Capps in the Central Coast’s 24th Congressional District, which also includes San Luis Obispo County. Salud earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Santa Barbara and his master’s degree in Organizational Management from the Fielding University. He served eight years in the United States Marine Corps Reserve, including active duty service during the 1991 Gulf War. 

In 2004, Salud was elected to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. During his tenure, he has demonstrated a commitment to protecting our environment, promoting sustainability, strengthening our schools, and enhancing the health and safety of our community. 

Drawing upon his own childhood experiences growing up in an economically disadvantaged neighborhood, Salud shares a passion for improving the lives of at-risk youth. He found innovative ways to strengthen our schools by creating a job skills and mentorship program for at-risk youth and providing summer programming for our kids. Salud is married to his wife, Gina, and has two children, Natasha and Michael. 

Salud Carbajal and Lou Correa also have links in Spanish on their websites. 

After the election, CHC Chairwoman Rep. Linda T. Sánchez, Democrat from Whittier, said that the caucus would request a meeting with Trump in the coming weeks to “make sure he better understands the challenges our community faces and does not act on his extreme rhetoric.” 

The Latino caucus will work hard to protect our Latino communities, you can be sure of that.

 

(Fred Mariscal came to Los Angeles from Mexico City in 1992 to study at the University of Southern California and has been in LA ever since. He is a community leader and was a candidate for Los Angeles City Council in District 4. Fred writes Latino Perspective for CityWatch and can be reached at: fred.gwnc@gmail.com.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

 

PARK LABREA NEWS REPORT--As the Miracle Mile Residential Association (MMRA) approached the finish line in a years-long effort to establish stricter protections from the invasion of McMansions, a different group of residents mobilized to try to hit the brakes.

Box-shaped homes like the one on the left dwarf existing structures in the Miracle Mile. Residents in the neighborhood agree that McMansion development needs to stop, but they don’t agree on the right tool to get it done.

The Los Angeles Planning Commission on Dec. 8 will consider the proposed historic preservation overlay zone (HPOZ) that will protect the Miracle Mile from developers who want to replace existing residences that were built between 1921-1953 with larger, box-shaped homes. “Mansionization” – the influx of the larger homes – started years ago, and the MMRA said it will destroy the character of their neighborhood if it continues. In September, the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission (CHC) concluded that the Miracle Mile neighborhood maintains its cultural significance to the city of Los Angeles. But other property owners have joined together to oppose the restrictions that come with an HPOZ.

“I first heard about the ‘No on HPOZ’ people literally five minutes before it was going to be decided on,” said Councilman David Ryu, 4th District, at an MMRA meeting earlier this month where dozens of residents waved red “No on HPOZ” signs.

“Even though you came in the last minute, I wanted to make sure [you were] heard.”

Opponents to the HPOZ argued that the preservation plan – which includes guidelines and review procedures for 1,350 properties – is too strict, and will stall the neighborhood’s growth and ability to attract new families. At the meeting, attendees waving red signs said they were worried that the proposed HPOZ will require residents to get approval from the HPOZ board or the city’s planning department to change any exterior component of their homes, and that it can be costly and time-consuming to obtain the permits.

The “No on HPOZ” group said they are in favor of stopping “McMansions,” but suggested the Miracle Mile instead rely on the city’s baseline mansionization ordinance (BMO), which they hope will be adopted in January. Jay Schoenfeldt, one of the leaders of “No on HPOZ” group, said they are against the preservation plan in its current form and asked Ryu to consider other options “aside from taking away property owner rights that can prevent mansionization.”

Ryu explained that the HPOZ measure was not created or intended to be “used as a tool to prevent mansionization,” and it has become an unintended cure for the phenomenon. But the process for the BMO is often delayed, and preservationists worry it could be too “watered down” to prevent mansionization by the time it is adopted. Further, the existing interim control ordinance that protects the Miracle Mile now expires in March.

Jim O’Sullivan, president of the MMRA, said the conflict arose from misinformation and misconceptions about the proposed HPOZ. Ryu blamed misconceptions on the language in the proposed preservation plan, and said the city’s planning department “really created a mess.”

“I have to admit, the planning department really screwed up with the report,” Ryu said. “They should have done a much better job because a lot of the things they told us, they didn’t really turn out that way. So we’re fixing it.”

Ryu’s office met with MMRA leaders and the “No on HPOZ” group after the annual meeting to clarify language that the MMRA agreed was “somewhat obtuse.” The MMRA explained that the intent of the HPOZ was to devise a plan that was unrestrictive and flexible.

“Both sides agreed that the language in the preservation plan, as written, was too ambiguous and could be interpreted to be more restrictive than desired,” the MMRA reported in its newsletter. “This resulted in a collegial and successful discussion of how to simplify and revise language in the plan to accurately reflect the will of the community.”

In addition, the groups clarified specific details. For example, the preservation plan will not regulate paint color. The exteriors of all properties in their present condition will be “grandfathered” once the HPOZ is adopted, and there will be no regulations on any property’s interior, or any planned additions that cannot be seen from the street. There also will not be landscaping regulations “as long as at least 60 percent of the front yard is planted with some sort of greenery.” Second story additions will also be allowed with certain setbacks.

On Wednesday, O’Sullivan said they were waiting for final clarification from the planning department. He said he is hopeful but cautious after the meetings with Ryu’s staff and the “No on HPOZ” group. The MMRA’s newsletter last week declared that the group does not expect any further obstacles in adopting the revised HPOZ Preservation Plan.

But Schoenfeldt said “that’s not exactly accurate.” On Wednesday, he said they did clarify a lot of the issues during their meeting, but that other issues were disregarded, such as boundaries of the HPOZ that fall outside of the MMRA’s jurisdiction. He said that’s a major concern because those homeowners might not have been informed or consulted. At the MMRA meeting, residents from Council District 10 asked that their homes be taken out of the Miracle Mile HPOZ. Schoenfeldt described the preservation plan as “overwhelmingly restrictive” with 255 design guidelines, of which they said 40 percent need further review.

“We felt this really needed a second meeting,” Schoenfeld said, adding that agreements made to revise the HPOZ language were not approved by planning staff, and the scale of the rewrite will be “daunting.”

The Miracle Mile HPOZ covers approximately 1,347 properties bordered by Wilshire Boulevard to the north, San Vicente Boulevard to the south, La Brea Avenue to the east and Fairfax Avenue to the west. The CHC found that most properties reflect styles associated with the designated period of architecture.

The Planning Commission will consider the HPOZ on Dec. 8 at Los Angeles City Hall, 200 N. Spring Street, in Room 340. The meeting time has not yet been determined.

(Gregory Cornfield is managing editor at the La Brea News where this report was first posted.)

-cw

REPRESENTATION RE-BOOT-I have said this before and Tony Butka has said it again recently, but I will now try it again: today’s Neighborhood Councils are “leaders” who are leading the NCs in the wrong direction.

Neighborhood Councils have lost sight of who they really are. Each NC is supposed to consider the local and city-wide concerns of everyone in that community. 

I usually agree with Bob Gelfand but this time his suggestion requires an opposing response. Bob knows that the original idea of NC representation was to include all the “stakeholders” concerned with each NC. The words "live, work or owns property" were put into the Charter to make each NC represent all the people in their communities. To “live, work or own property” means to allow non-residents (those who work or own property in an NC) to participate in all of the NCs they choose. I would even extend that privilege to non-residents who just find a given NC worth their interest. That is about as far as the concept of "inclusivity" can be extended. 

Personally, I have served on the boards of two NCs where I did not live, in addition to my “home” NC. I was interested in and worked on the local and the city-wide issues of all three councils. I tried to be the "poster-child" for the non-resident NC Stakeholder. 

NCs are not home owner associations -- although they often act like them. 

In most Neighborhood Councils, homeowners make up the majority of active stakeholders and board members. Their challenge is to invite and engage the interest and participation of renters, local (non-resident) property owners and local business owners and employees. Our 100 NCs have never been active or successful at "outreach" to these non-homeowners. All "outreach" attempts have failed to produce any meaningful "reach back." 

Bob Gelfand proposed and others have argued that the NCs’ stakeholders should be limited to the voters in their neighborhoods so as to have a closer relationship with their respective City Council members. That would require a Charter change in which NC participation would be restricted to residents only. That would not create better relations between the NCs and their respective City Council members.

An alternative way to make the NC neighborhoods align with their City Council members is to change the boundaries of the City Council Districts to match the boundaries of the NCs. 

However, the 2012 Redistricting Process showed that the City Council (led by Herb Wesson) did not want NCs to be geographically contained within specific City Council Districts. The Redistricting Commission was presented, and presumably considered, a proposal that would have rearranged the Council Districts in such a way that only a few NCs shared more than one City Council member. 

The Winnetka NC wanted to be in both CD3 and CD12. The Redistricting Commission (headed by Herb Wesson’s senior staff member, Andrew Matthews) ended up setting City Council boundaries that denied the suggestions of most NCs, putting over 40 of them in two, three and, even, four different City Council Districts. The most flagrant examples of that are: Koreatown which, in spite of its strong request to be in one City Council District, ended up having to deal with four City Council Members. 

Also, Tom LaBonge’s CD4 was gerrymandered to include the Larchmont Area, enough of the Los Feliz area to include Tom’s beloved Griffith Park and the Toluca Lake Area (which, coincidentally, is Andrew Matthews “home” NC.) West Hills NC which traditionally, emotionally and demographically was in Council District 3 (the Southwest San Fernando Valley) ended up in the dramatically different Council District 12 (the Northwest San Fernando Valley.) 

When the NCs address and act on these concerns, they will begin to realize the original vision of the 1998 Charter Reform. Most importantly, they will begin to truly represent all the people who are interested in their communities.

 

(Daniel Wiseman, M.D., is a long-time Neighborhood activist and an occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GUEST WORDS-High above, somewhere behind the black glass façade, President-elect Donald J. Trump was huddled with his inner circle, plotting just how they would “drain the swamp” and remake Washington, perhaps the world. On the street far below, inside a warren of metal fencing surrounded by hefty concrete barriers with “NYPD” emblazoned on them, two middle-aged women were engaged in a signage skirmish.  One held aloft a battered poster that read “Love Trumps Hate”; just a few feet away, the other brandished a smaller slice of cardboard that said “Get Over It.”  (Photo above: Security agents in front of Trump Tower, New York.)

I was somewhere in between ... and the Secret Service seemed a little unnerved.

Trump Tower is many things -- the crown jewel skyscraper in Donald Trump’s real-estate empire, the site of the Trump Organization’s corporate offices, a long-time setting for his reality television show, The Apprentice, and now, as the New York Times describes it, “a 58-story White House in Midtown Manhattan.”  It is also, as noted above its front entrance: “OPEN TO THE PUBLIC 8 AM to 10 PM.”

When planning for the tower began in the late 1970s, Trump -- like other developers of the era -- struck a deal with the city of New York.  In order to add extra floors to the building, he agreed to provide amenities for the public, including access to restrooms, an atrium, and two upper-level gardens.    

When I arrived at Trump Tower, less than a week after Election Day, the fourth floor garden was roped off, so I proceeded up the glass escalator, made a right, and headed through a door into an outdoor pocket park on the fifth floor terrace.  Just as I entered, a group of Japanese tourists was leaving and, suddenly, I was alone, a solitary figure in a secluded urban oasis.

But not for long. 

Taking a seat on a silver aluminum chair at a matching table, I listened closely.  It had been a zoo down on Fifth Avenue just minutes before: demonstrators chanting “love trumps hate,” Trump supporters shouting back, traffic noise echoing in the urban canyon, the “whooooop” of police sirens, and a bikini-clad woman in body paint singing in front of the main entrance.  And yet in this rectangular roof garden, so near to America’s new White House-in-waiting, all was placid and peaceful.  There was no hint of the tourist-powered tumult below or of the potentially world-altering political machinations above, just the unrelenting white noise-hum of the HVAC system.     

On His Majesty’s Secret Service

The Stars and Stripes flies above the actual White House in Washington, D.C.  Inside the Oval Office, it’s joined by another flag -- the seal of the president of the United States emblazoned on a dark blue field.  Here, however, Old Glory flies side by side with slightly tattered black-and-silver Nike swoosh flags waving lazily above the tony storefronts -- Louis Vuitton and Saint Laurent, Burberry and Chanel -- of Manhattan’s 57th Street, and, of course, Trump Tower-tenant Niketown. 

That I was standing beneath those flags gazing down at luxe retailers evidently proved too much to bear for those who had been not-so-subtly surveilling me.  Soon a fit, heavily armed man clad in black tactical gear -- what looked to my eye like a Kevlar assault suit and ballistic vest -- joined me in the garden.  “How’s it going?” I asked, but he only nodded, muttered something incomprehensible, and proceeded to eyeball me hard for several minutes as I sat down at a table and scrawled away in my black Moleskine notepad.

My new paramilitary pal fit in perfectly with the armed-camp aesthetic that’s blossomed around Trump Tower.  The addition of fences and concrete barriers to already clogged holiday season sidewalks has brought all the joys of the airport security line to Fifth Avenue.  The scores of police officers now stationed around the skyscraper give it the air of a military outpost in a hostile land.  (All at a bargain basement price of $1 million-plus per day for the city of New York.)  Police Commissioner James O’Neill recently reeled off the forces which -- in addition to traffic cops, beat cops, and bomb-sniffing dogs -- now occupy this posh portion of the city: “specialized units, the critical response command, and the strategic response group, as well as plainclothes officers and counter-surveillance teams working hand-in-hand with our intelligence bureau and our partners in the federal government, specifically the Secret Service.”  The armed man in tactical gear who had joined me belonged to the latter agency. 

“You one of the reporters from downstairs?” he finally asked. 

“Yeah, I’m a reporter,” I replied and then filled the silence that followed by saying, “This has got to be a new one, huh, having a second White House to contend with?”

“Yeah, pretty much,” he answered, and then assured me that most visitors seemed disappointed by this park.  “I think everyone comes up thinking there’ll be a little more, but it’s like ‘yeah, okay.’” 

Small talk, however, wasn't the agent’s forte, nor did he seem particularly skilled at intimidation, though it was clear enough that he wasn’t thrilled to have this member of the public in this public space.  Luckily for me (and the lost art of conversation), we were soon joined by “Joe.”  An aging bald man of not insignificant girth, Joe appeared to have made it onto the Secret Service’s managerial track.  He didn’t do commando-chic.  He wasn’t decked out in ridiculous SWAT-style regalia, nor did he have myriad accessories affixed to his clothing or a submachine gun strapped to his body.  He wore a nondescript blue suit with a silver and blue pin on his left lapel. 

I introduced myself as he took a seat across from me and, in response, though working for a federal agency, he promptly began a very NYPD-style interrogation with a very NYPD-style accent. 

“What’s going on, Nick?” he inquired.

“Not too much.”

“What are you doing? You’re all by yourself here…”

“Yeah, I’m all by my lonesome.”

“Kinda strange,” he replied in a voice vaguely reminiscent of Robert De Niro eating a salami sandwich.

“How so?”

“I don’t know. What are you doing? Taking notes?” he asked. 

I had reflexively flipped my notepad to a fresh page as I laid it between us on the table and Joe was doing his best to get a glimpse of what I’d written.      

I explained that I was a reporter. Joe wanted to know for whom I worked, so I reeled off a list of outlets where I’d been published. He followed up by asking where I was from. I told him and asked him the same. Joe said he was from Queens.

“What do you do for a living?” I asked. 

“Secret Service.”

“I was just saying to your friend here that it must be a real experience having a second White House to contend with.”

“Yeah, you could call it that,” he replied, sounding vaguely annoyed. Joe brushed aside my further attempts at small talk in favor of his own ideas about where our conversation should go. 

“You got some ID on you?” he asked. 

“I do,” I replied, offering nothing more than a long silence.

“Can I see it?”

“Do you need to?”

“If you don’t mind,” he said politely. Since I didn’t, I handed him my driver’s license and a business card. Looking at the former, with a photo of a younger man with a much thicker head of hair, Joe asked his most important question yet: “What did you do to your hair?”

“Ah yes,” I replied with a sigh, rubbing my hand over my thinned-out locks. “It’s actually what my hair did to me.” 

He gestured to his own follically challenged head and said, “I remember those days.”

Trump Tower’s Public Private Parts

Joe asked if there was anything he could do for me, so I wasn’t bashful. I told him that I wanted to know what his job was like -- what it takes to protect President-elect Donald Trump and his soon-to-be second White House. “You do different things. Long hours.  Nothing out of the ordinary. Probably the same as you,” he said. I told him I really doubted that and kept up my reverse interrogation. “Other than talking to me, what did you do today?” I asked. 

“I dunno,” he responded. “Look around. Security. We’re Secret Service.” It was, he assured me, a boring job. 

“Come on,” I said. “There’s got to be a lot of challenges to securing a place like this. You’ve got open public spaces just like this one.”

There are, in fact, more than 500 privately owned public spaces, or POPS, similar to this landscaped terrace, all over the city.  By adding the gardens, atrium, and other amenities way back when, Trump was able to add about 20 extra floors to this building, a deal worth at least $500 million today, according to the New York Times.  And in the post-election era, Trump Tower now boasts a new, one-of-a-kind amenity.  The skies above it have been declared “national defense airspace” by the Federal Aviation Administration.  “The United States government may use deadly force against the airborne aircraft, if it is determined that the aircraft poses an imminent security threat,” the agency warned in a recent notice to pilots. 

Back on the fifth floor, a metal plaque mounted on an exterior wall lays out the stipulations of the POPs agreement, namely that this “public garden” is to have nine large trees, four small trees, 148 seats, including 84 moveable chairs, and 21 tables.  None of the trees looked particularly large.  By my count the terrace was also missing three tables -- a type available online starting at $42.99 -- and about 20 chairs, though some were stacked out of view and, of course, just two were needed at the moment since Mr. Tactical Gear remained standing, a short distance away, the whole time.

This tiny secluded park seemed a world away from the circus below, the snarl of barricades outside the building, the tourists taking selfies with the big brassy “Trump Tower” sign in the background, and the heavily armed counterterror cops standing guard near the revolving door entrance.

I remarked on this massive NYPD presence on the streets. “It’s their city,” Joe replied and quickly changed topics, asking, “So business is good?”

“No, business is not too good. I should have picked a different profession,” I responded and asked if the Secret Service was hiring. Joe told me they were and explained what they looked for in an agent: a clean record, college degree, “law experience.” It made me reflect upon the not-so-clean record of that agency in the Obama years, a period during which its agents were repeatedly cited for gaffes, as when a fence-jumper made it all the way to the East Room of the White House, and outrageous behavior, including a prostitution scandal involving agents preparing the way for a presidential visit to Colombia. 

“What did you do before the Secret Service?” I inquired. Joe told me that he’d been a cop. At that point, he gave his black-clad compatriot the high sign and the younger man left the garden. 

“See, I’m no threat,” I assured him. Joe nodded and said he now understood the allure of the tiny park. Sensing that he was eager to end the interrogation I had turned on its head, I began peppering him with another round of questions. 

Instead of answering, he said, “Yeah, so anyway, Nick, I’ll leave you here,” and then offered me a piece of parting advice -- perhaps one that no Secret Service agent protecting a past president-elect has ever had occasion to utter, perhaps one that suggests he’s on the same wavelength as the incoming commander-in-chief, a man with a penchant for ogling women (to say nothing of bragging about sexually assaulting them). “You should come downstairs,” Joe advised, his eyes widening, a large grin spreading across his face as his voice grew animated for the first time. “There was a lady in a bikini with a painted body!”

Joe walked off and, just like that, I was alone again, listening to the dull hum of the HVAC, seated in the dying light of the late afternoon.  A short time later, on my way out of the park, I passed the Secret Service agent in tactical gear. “I think you’re the one that found the most entertainment out here all day,” he said, clearly trying to make sense of why anyone would spend his time sitting in an empty park, scribbling in a notebook. I mentioned something about sketching out the scene, but more than that, I was attempting to soak in the atmosphere, capture a feeling, grapple with the uncertain future taking shape on the chaotic avenue below and high above our heads in Manhattan’s very own gilt White House.  I was seeking a preview, you might say, of Donald Trump’s America.    

Descending the switchback escalators, I found myself gazing at the lobby where a scrum of reporters stood waiting for golden elevator doors to open, potentially disgorging a Trump family member or some other person hoping to serve at the pleasure of the next president. Behind me water cascaded several stories down a pink marble wall, an overblown monument to a bygone age of excess.  Ahead of me, glass cases filled with Trump/Pence 2016 T-shirts, colognes with the monikers “Empire” and “Success,” the iconic red “Make America Great Again” one-size-fits-all baseball cap, stuffed animals, and other tchotchkes stood next to an overflowing gilded garbage can.  Heading for the door, I thought about all of this and Joe and his commando-chic colleague and Trump’s deserted private-public park, and the army of cops, the metal barricades, and the circus that awaited me on the street.  I felt I’d truly been given some hint of the future, a whisper of what awaits. I also felt certain I’d be returning to Trump Tower -- and soon.

(Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch, … where this piece was first posted … a fellow at the Nation Institute, and a contributing writer for the Intercept. His book Tomorrow's Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa recently received an American Book Award. His latest book is Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead: War and Survival in South Sudan. His website is NickTurse.com.) 

-cw

STANDING ROCK STAND-OFF-(Editor’s Note: This is a update on Jennifer Caldwell’s earlier CityWatch article, “Thanksgiving 2016: The Worst in Seven Generation”.)In a remote, windswept corner of North Dakota, a seven-month standoff continues without an end in sight. Thirty miles south of Bismarck, where eroded buttes rise from grassland and corn fields, the Oceti Sakowin camp appears along the winding girth of the Missouri River. Here, a story of protection, protest and cultural conflict unfolds against the desolate prairie. 

At issue is the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL); an “energy transfer” project that would pipe approximately 470,000 barrels of oil per day from the Bakken Oil Fields through South Dakota and Iowa, to refining facilities in Illinois. The pipeline is a 1,172 mile, 30-inch artery that is touted by its progenitor, Energy Transfer Partners, as necessary to transport light sweet crude in a “more direct, cost-effective, safer and responsible manner.” 

At the juncture of the Missouri River and Fort Yates, along the northeastern edge of the Lakota Sioux Standing Rock Reservation, the project slowly churns its way toward a hotly disputed patch of land. Several hundred yards north of the camp, a lone bridge has come to define the front line of this conflict. On one side, the West Dakota SWAT Team stands watch over the DAPL’s border. On the other, two young Lakota men are charged with maintaining order among the camp’s curious and defiant. In between rest the carcasses of burned-out trucks, which several tribal “water protectors” torched in response to the past few days of skirmishes that had culminated in a volley of tear gas and rubber-bullets. A concrete barrier topped with barbed wire and decorated with vulgar graffiti exemplifies the air of tension. 

The stand-off has given way to violence and threats of violence, here and well beyond the borders of the Standing Rock Reservation. While law enforcement and the water protectors engage in a guarded choreography, fear strikes in the vulnerable hamlets that dot the plains. Across the prairie, the pipeline dispute has resurrected age-old enmity between the native peoples and those they perceive to have permanently occupied the territory of native birthright. 

Normally, by mid-November the ground here would be frozen with knee-deep drifts of Midwest snow. Today, however, the temperature will rise into the mid-60s with almost balmy comfort. 

“This is what I call the upside of global warming,” jokes Ken Many Wounds. “Or, perhaps Great Spirit is looking out for us.” A member of the Standing Rock Lakota Sioux, Ken is an organizer and the camp’s communications director. His authority is confirmed by the company he keeps with the core leaders of the action. Ken is an imposing figure. He has rugged features and strides with a cowboy’s gait as his long wiry ponytail flows from beneath a baseball cap. Ken bristles at the term “protesters” and admonishes that those opposing the DAPL are “water protectors.” 

Versed in the complex history of Sioux land disputes, Ken explains the intricacies of treaties, land grabs and the exceptions within exceptions that have chipped away at the territory of the Sioux Nation for over 150 years. “Where we stand is Sioux land, according to the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851,” he says, adding that the subsequent Sioux Treaty of 1868, which the Sioux allege to have never been properly ratified, illegally redefined the borders of Sioux territory. At best, the state of ownership and land rights is nothing short of confused. 

Indians and non-Indians mill around nearby, executing various tasks in the maintenance of the protest camp’s daily life. The aroma of wood fires and beef stewing in cast iron kettles fills the air. The setting sun casts a shadowy skyline of tents, tepees and converted buses, all gathered to push back at the slow, oncoming creep of the pipeline. The camp ebbs and flows in population, retaining about 6,000 inhabitants, and pushing hundreds of yards to the swampy tributaries flowing into the Missouri. 

In the distance, a drilling pad pushes closer to the river with the ultimate goal of tunneling beneath it. In the process, the excavation will cut through burial grounds. Distrust of the project has intensified over allegations that non-Indian archaeologists from the North Dakota State Historic Preservation Office have been exclusively charged with identifying native graves. Equally, there is concern as to what will occur should the pipeline breach below the Missouri’s pristine waters. 

On these two issues, there is an odd chorus of consensus bridging what is otherwise a de facto apartheid in this small corner of the world. On and off the reservation, the welfare of the Missouri River provokes ready conversation. 

“We don’t want that pipeline coming through here,” explains a woman named Terrie in Mandan, a town of roughly 20,000 inhabitants just west of Bismarck and 30 miles north of the standing Rock Reservation. Her youthful face softens as her distrust of me thaws. “If that pipeline ruptures, it will be the end of the Missouri. That’s going to affect millions of people down-river.” 

But, just as quickly as Terrie is to condemn the pipeline, her teenage daughter shows me photos of vandalism in the nearby veteran’s graveyard. The agitated teen exclaims, “Look! Look at this. These pipeline protesters went and put a Tonka truck in the veteran’s graveyard with a sign that says ‘Let’s start drilling here’!” 

Terrie is angry. “Leave our veterans alone,” she says. “Why would you desecrate their graves? They have nothing to do with this.” 

It’s hard not to be taken in by the women’s congenial earthiness. On the other hand, the irony of their sensitivity to a distasteful prank, and the simultaneous indifference to the impact on Native American burial grounds, is inescapable. Here, the contempt for Native Americans is palpable and ubiquitous. “They get handouts and they are taken care of by the government,” Terrie adds. “They don’t have to work for any of it.” 

As much as there is division between races, there is also dissent within. Earlier in the day, a group from Standing Rock led a march to Mandan’s municipal offices. Working on a theme of forgiveness, love and peace, the group prayed for a cleansing of what they claim are the hatred and offenses of both sides of the conflict that occurred in the preceding weeks. Those actions led to the arrest and detention of Lakota Sioux who continued to languish in the Morton County Correctional Center in Mandan. 

The march was in stark contrast to the more extreme “direct action” principles undertaken by elements within the camp. In silence, the demonstrators encircled the jail and courthouse and pleaded for the release of their brethren. It was a display of the diverse beliefs and tactics emerging from the reservation; the hawks and the doves form a division so easily overlooked on the erroneous assumption of a monolithic Lakota Sioux culture and a unified stance in the face of adversity. 

On my way back to Standing Rock, I stop at Rusty’s Saloon in St. Anthony, a village half way between Mandan and the reservation. It is a clean and orderly establishment constructed as a lodge, and decorated with “taxidermied” wildlife. The place is awash in camos and blaze orange as hunters gather for lunch. I take a seat alongside a regular who eyes me with suspicion. Lori, the barmaid, senses my apprehension and relaxes the atmosphere with some easy talk. I oblige and the conversation soon deepens. 

Before long, she voices concern about threats to local farmers, the killing of livestock and a plethora of fires and vandalism alleged to have been perpetrated by Indians. According to Lori, the acts are the product of a native reawakening of land rights and a history of intrusion. “Our children had to have an armed escort to school because of the threats over this pipeline,” Lori adds. “People here are just plain scared.” 

These and other conversations reveal that, while there is agreement as to issues between those on and off the reservation, opinions are very much in cadence with peer allegiances and along the cultural divide. 

The dialogue of race is different here. In contrast to the low rumble of urban settings, race-based hatred in rural North Dakota is immediately explosive. The conversations with non-Indians are rife with animus toward Indians and outsiders. Likewise, the indigenous population, on and off the reservation, offers little more warmth. There is a noticeable lack of eye contact with non-Indians and the almost obligatory dirty looks cast at the “was’ichu,” (the somewhat derogatory Lakota word for “white” and non-Indian). The culture is understandably steeped in historic distrust. 

Back at the camp, three young people bide their time waiting for a march to the front lines. Today, the Standing Rock Youth Council will take an offering to those manning the SWAT vehicles. The Youth Council is a contingent of the reservation’s younger generation that is guided by the mantra of “removing the invisible barriers that prevent our native youth from succeeding.” They are steadfast in support of the water protection action. Today, they will push to the front lines in peaceful offering to the men bearing arms and armor just beyond the barbed wire. 

I am confronted by the stoicism of two visiting tribal members from Michigan, and of Maria, a young woman affiliated with several North Dakota tribes. “This is not a conflict zone,” Maria explains. “It’s not a war zone. We don’t want it to be seen that way.” 

Maria is correct. While tear gas and rubber bullets have been unleashed in the course of the DAPL conflict, the people of Standing Rock show no interest in having their actions seen as being at war with the outside world. This erroneous characterization, spawned by the mainstream media, has drawn an array of characters to Standing Rock — Indian and non-Indian, each seeking to make the action their own. I find myself having to fight my way through throngs of posers and protesters to get to the core Native American water protectors who are truly sincere in their actions. 

Likewise, within the Indian community, as in any community, I discover a great variance of identity and adherence to the mores of Indian culture. Maria points to her companion, “Me Shet Nagle,” a visiting member of the Blackfeet Nation, and chides, “He doesn’t even know what his name means! For all he knows, he could be named after a sock!” 

Me Shet Nagle meets Maria’s playful contempt with a sheepish grin. I jokingly assure that they will be portrayed in the most stereotypical manner possible. They get the humor. We all get it; the revelation of the Native American as a diverse culture with all of the beauty, humor, internal conflict and struggle for identity as any other. 

Tension builds as the time to march draws near. Dozens of water protectors assemble across the bridge from the barricade. Members of the SWAT team can be seen readying themselves in the distance. The bridge is disputed territory. Leaders from the Youth Council cradle a sacred pipe and carry an offering of the life-giving water that is threatened by the DAPL. In silence, dozens march on toward the front line. 

Within yards of the barricade, the council motions for all marchers to be seated. People pray. Some look woefully onward, expecting plumes of tear gas. Cameras click away over the crowd. Among this throng, a young woman carries an infant wrapped in a thick wool blanket. The group is completely vulnerable. I glance over the edge of the bridge and quickly calculate a two-story drop to the freezing water of unknown depth. If things went as they have before, pandemonium could break out with any incoming projectiles. 

The leaders of the Youth Council disappear behind the burned-out trucks. A number of heavily armored police and military appear from behind the barricade to take stock of the crowd. They peer from behind dark goggles beneath Kevlar helmets, adorned in heavy flak vests, with weapons slung at the ready. 

The moments linger. 

Finally, the Youth Council members emerge. They slowly walk to the crowd and command that everyone rise and move forward. In unified mass movement, the marchers close another 10 yards toward the barricade and the tension heightens. The council leaders sternly motion directions and, again, everyone is seated. The marchers are entirely under the Youth Council’s control. 

“We offered them water,” one leader reports as he raise a mason jar. “They would not drink from it!” A murmur spreads across the crowd. “However,” the leader continues, “they prayed with us.” His words are slow and punctuated with the tension of the moment. “We prayed together and, while they would not drink the water, the men did accept our water and rubbed it about their uniforms in a showing of respect and solidarity.” 

After a long pause, a Lakota woman seated before me raises a rattle in the air and shakes it with a cry of approval. One by one, hands rise and a cheer of praise breaks the quiet. The armed troops’ act of personal solidarity and sensitivity was all they asked for. In modest triumph, the marchers make their way back across the bridge in humble silence and with a renewed hope. 

In the distance, the machines churn on. 

Recently, North Dakota law enforcement authorities, reacting to what they labeled a riot, turned a water cannon on hundreds of protesters and Indian “water protectors” opposed to the construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline (DAPL). Tony Zinnanti’s story describes life on and around the Standing Rock Reservation in the days leading up to the assault on the protest encampment.

 

(Tony Zinnanti is a lawyer, freelance journalist and photographer from Los Angeles. His legal work has included defense of activists John Quigley and Ted Hayes, and representation of members of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. This piece first appeared in Capital and Main. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GUEST WORDS--I came out as bisexual to more than 43,300 people last year in a Daily Bruin column. But my parents weren’t among them. 

It may be 2016, but it can still be risky for someone to publicly identify as LGBTQ, undocumented or as part of any other marginalized group. And the holidays may be especially difficult for closeted individuals. Even someone who is out to her siblings, but not her parents or the other adults in her life, like me, can struggle.

My internal monologue is always running at family gatherings. I am constantly eyeing everyone in suspicion and worrying that someone might expose my identity. And it doesn’t help that the holidays are painted as a time when families lovingly gather in peace and harmony.

Despite coming out to the UCLA community and receiving support on campus, it is difficult to translate that same support at home. UCLA is a progressive bubble. It is not reflective of the rest of the world, and certainly not reflective of my family.

But it’s precisely this difference in thought we students have to embrace and face. Simply dismissing the other side inflames tensions. And what better time to reach out than the holidays? This is the one time of the year when you are with family and everyone is taking a break from the daily responsibilities of school and work.

This month’s events have brought to the forefront issues of racism, sexism and homophobia that have been quietly simmering. They inflame the hurt of being rejected or only partly tolerated rather than fully accepted by my family. But while we are able to create our own online echo chambers free of triggering ideas from the other side, unfriending your racist and homophobic uncle on Facebook is not likely to keep him away from the Thanksgiving dinner table back home.

Since the first time my tongue slipped and called UCLA “home,” I realized the stark contrast between the definition of the word and the place it represents. Home is a feeling of comfort and acceptance, whereas being home may not elicit those same emotions.

I, like many first-generation students of color, grew up in a pivotal position for an immigrant family. My parents grew up on small ranches in Mexico. They raised cattle and chickens and grew corn to make bread and tortillas. Their life was simplified to homemaking and cleaning for the women, and yard and paid labor work for the men until they each met a partner to have their own children with. This lifestyle they grew up with did not leave much room for experimenting alternative lifestyles, let alone deviating from the patriarchal and heteronormative culture.

My parents never studied past sixth grade. They never went to a university to learn about the things they do not know and they did not have the opportunity to socialize with the diverse set of individuals that colleges bring together. But with the growing visibility of the LGBTQ community, they engage the only way they can: making homophobic jokes – sometimes in front of me.

But this difference in viewpoints is natural. I have met many diverse people, heard from a wide array of speakers and read books that my parents have not. I, like every other Bruin, have been exposed to these differences in thought and have had the had the chance to analyze both sides of the ideological spectrum in a classroom setting. But my parents – and many other students’ – aren’t currently participating in these kinds of discussions, so it’s expected we diverge in opinion.

UCLA is a world all its own, but very few will call it home forever. As students of the country’s most applied-to university, we are put on a pedestal as examples of progressive citizens. And despite how diverse a picture UCLA paints on its brochures, the real test begins the moment you leave campus. The college bubble will eventually give way to the real world full of differing opinions – good and bad – and we need to confront and accept these differences if we are to pay homage to our education.

Whether you’re liberal or conservative, you’ll meet other people with different opinions from yours. And when you graduate, you will continue to be tested on what you have learned at one of the top public universities in the world.

For me, not confronting ideological disagreement with family members would cause them to reject me and my identity. And it’s no surprise that in return, I would reject them, despite my familial ties and everything I learned at UCLA about being a leader. You cannot reject your family during the holidays because of different viewpoints because your family ties and environment are likely to bring you together.

Confrontation does not burn bridges, avoiding it does.

Moral and social progress is not linear or inevitable. It is difficult and daunting. You cannot, and should not, reject those with whom you disagree.

So open up, listen and agree to disagree. ‘Tis the season for family and love, after all.

(Jasmine Aquino posts at The Daily Bruin … where this perspective was first published.)

-cw

ALPERN AT LARGE--If ever there was a justification for the mortality of a man, it would be the frightening example of Fidel Castro.  Two other examples would be Josef Stalin and Mao Tze-Tung.

(Photo above: President Kennedy silhouetted in his office during the Cuban Missile Crisis.) 

There are those who would lionize Fidel, his revolutionary export of Che Guevara and the bloodletting Guevara caused and their fight for the "people", and their revolutionary zeal against the excesses of capitalism...but while they lived most of their lives in luxury, millions suffered, were tortured, were starved, were unfairly imprisoned and were slain as a result of their "enlightened" cause. 

So with the understanding that Millennials, much to the horror of their parents, often graduate high school (and college) with an understanding of U.S. History that stops at the American Civil War, I have and will continue to throw out occasional quizzes of the 20th Century and of history/civics-related issues.  Because the 20th Century ... and all of its painful lessons ... DID happen. 

THE ALPERN 20TH CENTURY QUIZ—HOW MUCH DO YOU KNOW/REMEMBER?

(Correct answers at bottom of this column) 

1) Fidel Castro allowed which nation to place nuclear missiles on its territory, and the Cuban Missile Crisis was responded to by which President in what was arguably the closest thing to World War III that ever occurred during the Cold War: 

  1. a) North Korea/Ronald Reagan
  2. b) China/Richard Nixon
  3. c) The Soviet Union/John F. Kennedy
  4. d) The Soviet Union/Dwight Eisenhower 

2) Fidel Castro vigorously opposed what he referred to as American Imperialism, and sent Cuban soldiers to unsuccessfully fight wars or to establish Marxist governments that were subsequently either overthrown or defeated by his opponents EXCEPT: 

  1. a) Israel (during the Yom Kippur War)
  2. b) Nicaragua (during the Nicaraguan Civil War)
  3. c) Venezuela (during the Venezuelan Civil War)
  4. d) Granada (subsequently overthrown by U.S. Forces) 

3) Fidel Castro, after almost succumbing to a gastrointestinal ailment (possibly diverticulitis with bleeding) in 2008, handed over the reigns of power in Cuba to: 

  1. a) Hugo Chavez
  2. b) Che Guevara
  3. c) Raul Castro
  4. d) Evo Morales 

4) The unsuccessful U.S.-backed attempt to militarily overthrow Fidel Castro in 1961 was called, and was supported by which U.S. President: 

  1. a) The Bay of Pigs/John F. Kennedy
  2. b) The Crimson Tide/Richard Nixon
  3. c) The Freedom Flotila/Jimmy Carter
  4. d) The War of Liberation/Harry Truman 

5) Prison work camps known as "Military Units to Aid Production" were created by Fidel Castro's younger brother Raul, and those sent there without trial for torture and threatened execution included: 

  1. a) Businessmen and those believed to be U.S. spies
  2. b) Individuals believed to be connected to former-elected Cuban President and later dictator Batista
  3. c) Counter-revolutionaries and criminals
  4. d) Homosexuals, men believed to be homosexuals or effeminate, and Jehovah's Witnesses 

6) The late communist dictator Mao Tse-Tung is credited with the deaths of approximately how many Chinese through execution, war, forced or war-associated starvation, or imprisonment? 

  1. a) 10,000
  2. b) 10 million
  3. c) 35 million
  4. d) 65 million 

7) Which of the following socialist/communist nations allowed/allows freedom of religion? 

  1. a) The former Soviet Union
  2. b) Maoist China
  3. c) Cuba
  4. d) North Korea
  5. e) None of the Above 

8) The late communist dictator Josef Stalin is credited with the deaths of approximately how many Russians and other Soviets through execution, war, forced or war-associated starvation, or imprisonment? 

  1. a) 100,000
  2. b) 10-20 million
  3. c) 35-45 million
  4. d) 55-65 million 

9) The English translation of the former Nazi Party of Germany before and during World War II is: 

  1. a) Nationalistic Zionist Party
  2. b) National Zeig Hail Party
  3. c) National Socialist Party
  4. d) Non-Associated Socialist Party 

10) Che Guevara, who is believed to have personally or indirectly killed thousands of men, women and children both in Cuba and in nations throughout Latin America and Africa, was executed in which nation? 

  1. a) The United States
  2. b) Cuba
  3. c) Bolivia
  4. d) Grenada 

It's likely that many, like Florida Senator Marco Rubio (Republican, of Cuban descent) are noting that Fidel Castro is finally meeting his maker, and are wondering if his soul now suffers the same fate as his soon-to-be-cremated body (after the week or more of "mandatory mourning" of course). 

It's also likely that New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez (Democrat, of Cuban descent) isn't the only one wondering if Raul Castro will be any better than his older brother, now that he is control, with respect to human rights, civil liberties, and democracy in Cuba. 

But one thing is truly likely:  if anyone wants to throw around the idea, or wear a Che or Fidel t-shirt, espousing the wonderful "revolution" of Cuban socialism in front of a person of Cuban descent whose family fled Cuba, and braved death and overcame persecution in order to do it, then that person should expect a verbal rebuke of the harshest sort, or maybe even a punch in the nose. 

And that person will have richly deserved and earned that rebuke or punch in the nose. 

Because the Twentieth Century, and all of its horrific disasters (most especially Socialism) DID happen.

 

QUIZ ANSWERS 

1) c

2) c

3) c

4) a

5) d

6) d

7) e

8) d

9) c

10) c

 

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties.  He is also 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  alpern@marvista.org. 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 Dr. Alpern.)

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MEDIA WATCH--On Monday, some of the biggest names in TV news trooped into Trump Tower for an off-the-record meeting with the president-elect.

It was an all-star cast. Not just on-air stars like Lester Holt, Wolf Blitzer and George Stephanopoulos, but their bosses were also summoned before the Potentate of Fifth Avenue.

The meeting was a huge success — for Donald Trump.

SKID ROW-After the recent election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States, a tremendous “display of pride” has been seen all across America by Trump supporters, who mostly identify with White America. 

It’s 2016 now and I can’t help but wonder, where was all this bravado and widespread arrogance from White America in 2008 when the United States of America almost completely collapsed financially? 

For Trump and his supporters to stick their collective chest out now is laughable seeing how the country has already been stabilized by outgoing President Barack Obama. Sure, anybody can take the reins as Commander-in-Chief...now that all the heavy-lifting has been done! 

Remember 2008, just before the election, when war and foreclosures were the two biggest concerns in all of America? Remember all the debates about a stimulus package and who should receive portions of it? Remember all the jokes about “W” possibly being the all-time stupidest President in the history of America?   

Right. I do, too. 

In Skid Row during that time, we had to differentiate between the “traditional homeless residents” and the sudden increase of “non-traditional homeless residents” who flocked into our community, already known as “The Homeless Capital of America.” 

At the same time, countless homes on seemingly every block in every neighborhood across America had “for sale” signs in their front yards. Then we all learned what a sub-prime loan was. People were genuinely frightened. They stood in long lines for hours to pull all their money out of the banks -- to the point where “W” had to give a presidential speech urging Americans to leave their cash in the banks and trust the leadership of the Federal Government. 

This was the moment in time for White America to step forward and collectively elect its most trustworthy choice for President: someone (male or female) who would, first, stabilize the country from total financial meltdown and second, rebuild America literally from the ground up: financially, by fixing the banks, and economically, by creating new jobs and industries, putting restrictions on previous de-regulation, and re-purposing the funding that goes toward multiple wars in multiple countries. This would have been that perfect moment in time for a Presidential campaign slogan of “Make America Great Again.” 

To use that eight years later, after America has already been stabilized is so asinine. The Dow Jones consistently hovering above 18,000 points means only one thing: the Great Recession is completely over. 

Jobs are constantly being created in a multitude of industries, unemployment numbers are at their lowest in decades and the real estate and home-buying markets have stabilized as well. 

So, in order to “Make America Great Again,” after we’ve completely come out of the Great Recession, seems highly redundant, virtually impossible and arguably improbable. 

All that should be done now is to continue building on the stabilization of America. In other words, there’s really nothing newsworthy to be shouting about at the top of one’s lungs! 

Yet White America is getting its collective gloat on as if something has been accomplished. Please keep in mind that after eight years of an African-American President, the pendulum was bound to swing back to White. In fact, both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates were White. 

So if White America has been in control of this country since its inception, and for eight years out of well over 500 years, a Black man helped America stabilize itself, exactly who is White America taking this country back from? Unfortunately, all the worthless and empty rhetoric is at the expense of other races and types of people who have all helped contribute to the current stabilization of America. 

This “we gotta take our country back” mindset is troubling to me. As someone who has voluntarily chosen to live in Skid Row for the last 10 years and who sees homelessness and extreme mental illness on a daily basis from a firsthand perspective, I am allowed to make realistic comparisons to the “loud and obnoxious” people within White America who have sparked KKK parades, racially-based protests, fistfights and so much more. 

I can’t help but see similarities between this behavior and the variety of mental illnesses, lack of common sense and/or use of basic logic that I see every day in Skid Row. It’s almost like saying we should “Make Skid Row Great Again.” Both these slogans equally defy common sense and logic. 

And to those who pause at this analogy, I ask, “When was America great to begin with?” During the cowboys’ battles with Native Americans? During slavery? During World Wars I or II, the Vietnam War or the Korean War? The Iraq or Afghanistan wars? Civil Rights or Women’s Rights eras? When, did you say? Exactly. 

Whatever moment in time one chooses to identify America as “great” would coincide with a moment in time when White America was either racist or discriminated against others. I single out White America because that is the group which claims to “run this country.” 

If making America “great again” includes any of the above notions, while tens of thousands of men, women and children have already taken to the streets in protest marches, then I struggle not to laugh at the simplicity of White America’s “rank and file.” At the same time, I am in awe of the true number of racists there are within White America. I seems that countless numbers wish bodily harm, incarceration and even death to people who look just like me, a Black man, even though they don’t even know me and apparently don’t even care to. 

That’s also funny because I look like the American President who brought America back from the brink of total collapse in 2008. President Obama is a smart, handsome and classy Black man who never disrespected women, Mexicans, Muslims, disabled people or anyone else for that matter. Currently, Obama’s approval numbers are well above 50% and this includes the approval of countless White Americans. 

So which is it, White America? Recent history says you hate me, but you need me; you know this, but you don’t want to admit any of this, all at the same time -- symptoms of collective mental illness. 

My suggestion to White America is to look in the mirror and decide among yourselves -- can White America truly “make America great again” without any Black or Brown people? 

If the answer is no, then why are you making a mockery of yourselves in front of the rest of the world?

Surely, the rest of the world doesn’t see this as anything “great,” either.

 

(General Jeff is a homelessness activist and leader in Downtown Los Angeles. Jeff’s views are his own.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

LA WATCHDOG--Our Enlightened Elite who occupy Los Angeles City Hall tell us that pension reform is not necessary.  After all, the recent actuarial report for the Fire and Police Pension Plan indicated that its $19 billion retirement plan was 94% funded as of June 30, 2016.  

But as we all know, figures never lie, but liars figure, especially when it involves the finances of the City of Los Angeles. 

The City will say that a pension plan that has assets equal to 80% of its future pension obligations is in good shape.  Baloney!  Pension plans should aim to be 100% funded, especially in down markets.  And in today’s bull market, where the Dow Jones Industrial Average is hitting record highs, the pension plan should be 120% funded so that it can withstand another bear market. 

Even at the 94% funded ratio, the unfunded pension liability for the retirement plan is pushing $1.2 billion, not exactly chump change when compared to the projected payroll of $1.4 billion for the 12,800 active cops and firefighters. 

But there is more bad news that is buried in the opaque actuarial reports that, when pieced together and analyzed, reveals that the overall Fire and Police Pension Plan is over $6 billion in the red and that only 75% of its future obligations are funded.  

The Fire and Police Pension Plans are also responsible for Other Postemployment Benefits (“OPEB”) which covers medical benefits for retirees.  But the $3 billion of OPEB obligations are less than 50% funded, resulting in an additional $1.6 billion in unfunded liabilities. 

The City is also cooking the books by “smoothing” the actual gains and losses in its investment portfolio over a seven year period.  This little trick is covering up a $600 million hit to its investment portfolio. 

Finally, if the newly calculated liability (that includes adjustments for OPEB and smoothing) of $3.4 billion (85% funded) is adjusted to reflect the more realistic investment rate assumption of 6.5% (as recommended by Warren Buffett), the unfunded pension liability soars to $6.25 billion and the funded ratio plummets to 75%.  

When combined with the $9 billion liability of the Los Angeles Employees’ Retirement System, the City’s total unfunded pension liability exceeds $15 billion.  And this liability is expected to double over the next ten years based on realistic rates of return that are in the range of 6% to 6.5%.  

But what are Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Council President Herb Wesson, Budget and Finance Chair Paul Krekorian, and Personnel Chair Paul Koretz doing to address the single most important financial issue facing the City? 

Nothing! Absolutely nothing other than put their heads in a potato sack and hope that a robust stock market will make the $15 billion problem go away.  

They have ignored the recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission to form a Committee on Retirement Security to review and analyze the City’s two pension plans and develop proposals to “achieve equilibrium on retirement costs by 2020.” 

Krekorian and Koretz made the bone headed suggestion to raise the investment rate assumption to 8% so that the City would be able to lower its annual required pension contributions to the underfunded pension plans, allowing more money for union raises.  

Wesson has not even created a Council File for the pension and budget recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission. 

But the real culprit is Garcetti who has refused to address the pension mess that will eventually become a crisis.  He has not asked his political appointees on the two pension boards to initiate a study of the pension plans and the City’s ever increasing contributions that now devour 20% of the City’s General Fund budget.  He has refused to contest the State’s Supreme Court “California Rule” which does not allow the City to reform the pension plans by lowering future, yet to be earned benefits.  

Rather than look out for the best interests of the City and all Angelenos, he continues to kiss the rings of the campaign funding union leaders who are vital to his political ambitions. 

The City’s lack of openness and transparency and its unwillingness to address its ever growing, unsustainable $15 billion pension liability can only be categorized as a major league cover up that should be front and center in the upcoming March election.  

Where’s Eric?

 

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate.  Jack is affiliated with Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com.  He can be reached at:  lajack@gmail.com.)

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LA WATCHDOG--The County of Los Angeles has prided itself on being better managed than the City of Los Angeles.   

In 2007, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the Eric Garcetti led City Council approved a five year labor contract that granted the City’s civilian employees a 25% raise.  While this contract was based on wishful thinking from the beginning, it turned into an unmitigated mess when the recession smacked the City’s unrealistic revenue projections, resulting in huge budget deficits.  To balance its budget, the City reduced services, furloughed workers, dumped over 1,600 employees (and their unfunded pension liabilities) on our Department of Water and Power, laid off almost 500 employees, and implemented the $600 million Early Retirement Incentive Program for 2,400 senior employees. 

The County, on the other hand, did not grant any meaningful raises during this period, and, as a result, did not have to cut services or furlough or layoff its employees in order to balance its budget. 

The Supervisors also believe that the County’s pension plan, the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association, is in better shape than the City’s two pension plans, the Los Angeles City Employees Retirement System and the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pension Plans.

On the surface, this appears to be the case.  

As of June 30, 2016, preliminary estimates (using the overly optimistic investment rate assumption of 7.5%) indicate that the County’s $58 billion plan is 83% funded with a shortfall of $10 billion.  On the other hand, the City’s $43 billion of future obligations are only 77% funded, resulting in an unfunded liability of $10 billion.  

At the same time, the County pension plan has 94,000 active members, 2½ times the 37,000 active members under the City’s much more generous plans.  

However, when the County’s $31 billion of unfunded liability for Other Post-Employment Benefits (primarily retiree medical benefits) (“OPEB”) are considered, the County’s unfunded liability soars to over $40 billion, resulting in a funded ratio of a very unhealthy 55%.  This is significantly lower than the City’s 77% funded ratio which includes its OPEB obligations. 

Over the years, the County has failed to set aside any real money to fund its OPEB obligations, resulting in a funded ratio of less than 2%.  On the other hand, the City, to its credit, has been making its annual required contributions since the late 1980’s, resulting in unfunded OPEB liability of “only” $2.1 billion and a funded ratio north of 60%. 

[Note: Few governments have funded any of their Other Post-Employment Benefits, including the State of California which has an unfunded OPEB liability of a whopping $71 billion.] 

If the Supervisors were to properly fund its Other Post-Employment Benefits, the annual required contribution will be in excess of $2.1 billion.  But by ignoring this very real, snowballing obligation, the Supervisors are using these false “savings” to fund the County’s bloated bureaucracy, increases in salaries and employee benefits, additional social services, and to meet the demands of the campaign funding leaders of the County’s public unions. 

When the unfunded pension liability is adjusted to reflect a more realistic investment rate assumption, the County has a $50 billion liability that has the potential to crowd out essential services. 

But will the Supervisors address this $50 billion mess where the facts, issues, and recommendations for financial sustainability are discussed in an open and transparent manner?  Or will they follow the example of Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Herb Wesson led City Council who have ignored the excellent recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission and who continue to kick the $16 billion can down our lunar cratered streets? 

[Note: For each of the 4 million Angelenos, the total pension liability is $9,000, $5,000 for the County and $4,000 for the City. This does not include LAUSD or the State.]

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate.  Jack is affiliated with Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com.  He can be reached at:  lajack@gmail.com.)

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LA WATCHDOG--According to the opaque actuarial report for the Los Angeles City Employees’ Retirement System (“LACERS”), 2016 was a good year.  The return on its investment portfolio was 7%, the unfunded pension liability of $5.5 billion was $200 million lower than the previous year, the funded ratio “improved” to 72.6% from 70.7%, and the City’s 2017-18 Annual Required Contribution (“ARC”) to LACERS may be lower than this year’s payment.  

But a more realistic analysis reveals that the City is “cooking the books,” relying on a set of false assumptions and policies that cover up the severity of the pension crisis.  

In the real world, the return on investment was breakeven, the unfunded pension liability increased to almost $9 billion, the funded ratio decreased to a unhealthy 61%, and the ARC is understated by at least $300 million. 

There are two policies adopted by the City that allows it to pull the wool over our eyes: “smoothing” where gains and losses compared to the targeted rate of return of 7.5% are amortized over a seven year period and two, the reliance on an overly optimistic investment rate assumption of 7.5%. 

Smoothing was designed to even out the City’s pension contributions so they would not bounce around in an unpredictable manner based on the ups and downs of the stock market.  But this has resulted in an understatement of the unfunded pension liability of $750 million as the cooked up actuarial value of its assets exceeds their market value by the same $750 million. 

Smoothing also resulted in LACERS showing a 7% return on its investments.  But in the real world, the ROI was breakeven (+0.05%) for the year, which, when compared to the targeted rate of return of 7.5%, resulted in an increase in the unfunded liability of almost $800 million, not a $200 million decrease as advertised by the actuaries. 

The major culprit is the reliance on an overly optimistic investment rate assumption of 7.5%.  Professional investors such as Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway state that 6.5% is a more realistic rate of return, and even that rate may be optimistic. 

If the investment rate assumption of 6.5% is used, LACERS’ unfunded liability based on market values will soar to almost $9 billion and the funding ratio will plummet to 61%.  This is a far cry from the advertised $5.5 billion shortfall and a funded ratio of 72.6%. 

The use of the more realistic investment rate assumption of 6.5% will also cause the Annual Required Contribution to increase by over $300 million, putting an even bigger dent in the City’s budget. 

And this does not include the higher Annual Required Contribution for the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pension Plans that cover 26,000 active and retired firefighters and cops. 

Together, the combined unfunded pension liability will soar to over $15 billion.   

Despite this looming crisis, Mayor Eric Garcetti is unwilling to address real pension reform for fear of antagonizing the campaign financing leadership of the City’s public unions.  Rather, he continues to support this shell game, this Ponzi scheme, burying his head in the sand, pretending there is no crisis, hoping beyond hope that the stock market will bail the City out, even though it will dump tens of billions of unfunded pension liabilities on the next two generations of Angelenos.  

Rather than continuing down this path that will result in massive increases in our taxes, Mayor Garcetti needs to stop “waffling.”  He should implement the recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission and the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates to establish a “Commission for Retirement Security” to review the City's retirement obligations in order to promote an accurate understanding of the facts (transparency) and to develop concrete recommendations on how to achieve an equilibrium by 2020. 

Without real pension reform, the next two generations of Angelenos will be short changed as escalating pension contributions will crowd out basic services while, at the same time, they will be paying more taxes to fund the past financial follies of the overly ambitious Eric Garcetti. 

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate.  Jack is affiliated with Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com.  He can be reached at:  lajack@gmail.com.)

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LA WATCHDOG--Pay-to-play is alive and well in Los Angeles as our Elected Elite continue to sell us out for cash campaign contributions, the ultimate aphrodisiac for Mayor Eric Garcetti and the members of the City Council. 

In an excellent piece of investigative reporting, David Zahniser and Emily Alpert Reyes detailed how a sleazy real estate speculator / developer illegally funneled more than $600,000 through a network of questionable donors to selected members of the City Council and Mayor Garcetti.  These contributions were part of a full court press to override the findings and recommendations of the City Planning Department and the City Planning Commission in the spring of 2014 that denied zoning changes and variances for Sea Breeze, a $72 million development of a 352 unit apartment building on land intended for industrial use in the Harbor Gateway area of the City. 

[See A $72-million apartment project. Top politicians. Unlikely donors.  Who wrote the checks to elected officials weighing approval? ] 

But the $600,000 in campaign contributions was an excellent investment as the Planning and Land Use Management Committee of the City Council (“PLUM”), the City Council, and Mayor Garcetti approved the controversial zoning changes in early 2015, resulting in an estimated windfall profit well in excess of $10 million for the ethically challenged speculator. 

Assisting with these zoning changes and variances benefited former Council Member Janice Hahn to the tune of $203,500 in campaign contributions.  After she departed for Congress in late 2011, Joe Buscaino, the new Council Member for Harbor Gateway, “earned” $94,700 by ushering the developer’s appeal through the Planning and Land Use Management Committee.  And as we all know, professional courtesy dictates that the local Council Member rules supreme in his district, no matter how bad the rotten Harbor fish stink. 

The developer was not taking any chances as he also greased the palms of Jose Huizar, the Chair of PLUM, and the two other committee members, Mitch Englander and Gil Cedillo, with over $100,000 in contributions from a number of suspicious donors. 

And that was topped off by multiple contributions totaling $60,000 to an independent campaign committee that supported Garcetti. 

But this is well documented deal is not an isolated event as the pay-to-play game is taking place all over the City.  

There is the NoHo West development in North Hollywood; the development  the Martin Cadillac site on the congested Westside; the 27 story residential skyscraper in low rise Koreatown; the Cumulus monstrosity at the F rated intersection at La Cienega and Jefferson in South LA, the 1.6 million square foot Reef development in South Central, just south of DTLA; the Rocketdyne development in Warner Center section of Woodland Hills; and the Caruso luxury high rise apartment building near the already clogged intersections surrounding the Beverly Center. 

And no doubt, other congestion causing monstrosities will be sprouting up all around town, especially in those parts of our City that are undergoing rapid gentrification like Boyle Heights, Echo Park, and Highland Park.  

The corruption associated with the Sea Breeze development must be investigated by the City’s deliberately underfunded Ethics Department and Jackie Lacey, the County’s District Attorney, focusing not only on the sleazy developer and his partners in crime, but on all the beneficiaries of these illegal contributions. 

At the same time, the City Council needs to adopt a rule that requires the real time disclosure of all campaign contributions (and behests) by any party affiliated with a council related action, including lobbyists and lawyers.  This policy would also require our elected officials to sign off on these disclosures, with the requirement that they “know” their donors.  This new rule has been labeled the “Political Donation Impact Review” by a neighbor to a mega-project that will cause ungodly amounts of congestion on surface streets and the adjoining freeway.  

We also have the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative that has qualified for the March ballot.  This reform measure calls for the City to plan for the City’s future, a task that has been neglected because it interferes with the fund raising activities of the City Council.  The Initiative will require the City to update its General Plan and its 37 Community Plans.  It will eliminate “spot zoning” where the City Council, under the leadership of the local Councilmember, will be able to create massive value for the developer by “up zoning” a specific property.  It will also require the City to control the Environmental Impact Reviews, taking that responsibility away from the self-serving developers.  

As an enforcement mechanism, the Initiative places a 24 month moratorium on “up zoned” projects.  But contrary to the propaganda put out by its developer funded opponents, the Initiative does not place any restrictions on projects that are consistent with existing zoning regulations. 

Reform of the City’s planning process has been made more complicated by the approval by the voters of JJJ, the Affordable Housing and Labor Standards Act, that requires inclusionary zoning and the equivalent of a project labor agreement on residential projects seeking zoning changes for projects of more than 10 units.  However, with all the financial constraints imposed by JJJ and its numerous loopholes, the new law will lead to even greater corruption as it gives the City Council more power over residential developments. 

In the next four months prior to the March election, we will have a raucous debate involving  City Planning, the General Plan, the Community Plans, congestion, increased density, the allocation of the necessary resources to the Planning Department, and the absolute requirement for greater transparency into the impact of development on our local communities.  

This process will also provide us with insight to the rigged system where real estate developers and the City Council are in cahoots with each other in ways that work against our best interests and those of our residential communities. 

Sea Breeze is not an isolated deal.  It is just the tip of the iceberg. 

 

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate.  Jack is affiliated with Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com.  He can be reached at:  lajack@gmail.com.)

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LA WATCHDOG--We have 24 ballot measures to contend with on Tuesday, four of which involve the City; one each for Metro, the County, and the Los Angeles Community College District; and 17 for the State of California. 

When deciding how to vote on the following seven local ballot measures and six state measures that involve our wallets, we need to consider whether we trust our politicians with our hard earned money and whether our Elected Elite are working in our best interests or those of their campaign funding cronies, real estate developers, and union leaders.   

The City of Los Angeles is corrupt enterprise where pay-to-play is standard operating procedure.  On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times ran a front page expose detailing how $600,000 in illegal campaign contributions paved the way for the City Council and Mayor Garcetti to approve the $72 million Sea Breeze development in Harbor City despite being rejected by the City Planning Commission and the local Neighborhood Council. 

The City is fiscally irresponsible.  Over the last four years, revenues have increased by $1 billion and yet the City is projecting a budget deficit next year of $100 million.     

Despite rivers of red ink and $15 billion of unfunded pension liabilities, Garcetti and the Herb Wesson led City Council have refused to consider the excellent budget recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission. 

The City continues to use our Department of Water and Power as an ATM.  In October, the politically appointed Board of Commissioners (with one dissenting vote) approved an incestuous $41 million, 10 year lease for 4 floors of Figueroa Plaza, a poorly maintained, out of the way complex owned by the City.  Ratepayers are being taken for over $20 million.  

Taxpayers are under attack.  If all the State and local ballot measures are approved, Angelenos proportionate share is $1.6 billion.  This equates to $400 a person or $1,600 for a family of four.  $1.6 billion will increase our sales tax to 11.7% or require a 32% bump in our property taxes.  There is another $2 billion in the pipeline.  And this does not include funding for the hundreds of billions of unfunded pension liabilities.     

Ask yourself, do you trust Mayor Garcetti, the Herb Wesson led City Council, or the reconstituted Board of Supervisors to act in the best interests of its hard working residents?   

City Ballot Measures 

Measure HHH – NO - $1.2 Billion Homeless Bond 

This is a reward for bad behavior.  Mayor Garcetti and the City Council tell us that homelessness is a priority, but it is not a budget priority despite a $1 billion increase in General Fund revenues over the last four years.  Revenues are projected to increase another $600 million over the next four years.  The alternative to this measure is a general obligation bond paid for by the General Fund, not through an increase in our property taxes.     

Measure JJJ – HELL NO / Affordable Housing and Labor Standards 

This ballot measure was cooked up by the County Federation of Labor.  It calls for inclusionary housing, prevailing wages (a 100% premium to market wages), and the equivalent of a project labor agreement.  But the numbers do not work.  Affordable housing becomes more unaffordable as money is diverted to well-paid construction workers and their unions. 

RRR – YES – DWP Reform 

This is a step in the right direction.  Additional ordinances will be needed for DWP to establish its own Human Resources Department, free from the City’s Personnel Department and its overly restrictive work rules.  Management and the Board will have more flexibility provided they abide by the newly mandated strategic plan.  The only power grab is by the City’s civilian unions.   

SSS – NO – Airport Police Eligible for Fire and Police Pension Plans 

We need to have increased transparency and pension reform before there are any changes to the existing pension plans. This proposal is more expensive than the existing arrangement with LACERS (Los Angeles City Employees Retirement System).   

Metropolitan Transportation Authority 

Measure M – NO - Metro / Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan 

A 9½% sales tax is regressive.  It is one of the highest rates in the country. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has a record of cost overruns (billions) and multiyear delays. The inefficient MTA is unable to manage its current infusion of $2.6 billion in taxpayer money.  It does not deserve a 33% raise to $3.4 billion or another $75 billion over the next 40 years.  It is a “forever” tax with no independent oversight.  A $10 million campaign war chest supporting this new tax is being funded by crony capitalists looking to feast on our tax dollars.  Do you trust the 13 politicians on the MTA Board?  

County of Los Angeles 

Measure A – NO – Parks Parcel Tax 

This is another “forever” tax where the money is directed to pet projects.  There is no plan to address deferred maintenance of $21 billion.  Oversight by political appointees is inadequate: reactive as opposed to proactive. Come back with a 25 year, well thought out plan that includes deferred maintenance and real independent oversight.   

Los Angeles Community College District 

Measure CC – NO - $3.3 Billion Facilities Bond 

CC was placed on the ballot without limited community input.  This poorly run district is overreaching.  $3.3 billion is too damn much for this enterprise with a record of squandering billions from previous bonds.  Cut the amount in half, develop controls to manage the District, create an independent oversight body with real power, conduct community outreach, and then place a measure on the ballot.  

State of California 

Proposition 51 – NO - $9 Billion School Facilities Bond 

An initiative cooked up by home builders, construction companies, realtors, unions, and their cronies.  Keep Sacramento out of the local school systems.  Governor Jerry Brown opposes Prop 51.  

Proposition 53 – YES – No Blank Checks 

No Blank Checks requires voter approval of State revenue bonds of more than $2 billion. It increases transparency and accountability. It may impact Jerry Brown’s two pet projects, the not so High Speed Railroad ($68 billion) and the controversial Twin Tunnels ($15 billion).  A no brainer.  

Proposition 54 – YES – Voters First, Not Special Interests 

The State Legislature cannot pass any bill unless it has been in print and published on the internet for at least 72 hours before the vote.  Prop 54 is a no brainer unless you are a backroom politician.  

Proposition 55 – NO – Soak the Rich Income Tax Surcharge 

Prop 55 extends the temporary income tax surcharge on higher incomes for another 12 years.  Yet State revenues are up $50 billion (over 40%) since the surcharge was approved by the voters in 2012.  The surcharge increases the reliance on the volatile stock market and the income tax, increasing the prospect of huge budget deficits when the market tanks.  This is compounded by Sacramento’s spending spree.  There are unintended consequences of having the highest income tax rate in the country.  The unions and other special interests funding this initiative to the tune of $57 million have produced many misleading, scare tactic ads.   

Proposition 56 – YES - Cigarette Tax 

An additional $2 a pack tax will deter smoking, save lives, and lower healthcare costs. The tobacco industry has spent over $70 million opposing this proposition.   

Proposition 61 – YES – Prescription Drug Pricing 

This proposition is the result of the Legislature’s failure to address the escalating cost of prescription drugs.  Big Pharma is spending over $100 million to defeat this measure. 

Conclusion 

Ballot measures HHH (the $1.2 billion homeless bond), Measure M (the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s “forever” permanent half cent increase in our already regressive sales tax), and Measure A (the County’s “forever” parcel tax for parks) were placed on the ballot by our elected politicians.  

By voting NO on these three measures, we can send a message to Mayor Garcetti, the Herb Wesson-led City Council, and the reconstituted County Board of Supervisors that we demand increased transparency and accountability, long range planning and multiyear budgeting, pension transparency and reform, and that the City, as well as the County, “Live Within Its Means.”  

And most importantly, they need to understand that we are not their ATM.

 

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate.  Jack is affiliated with Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com.  He can be reached at:  lajack@gmail.com.)

-cw

LA WATCHDOG--Crony capitalism and pay to play are alive and well in Los Angeles.   

In a well-researched front page story, Los Angeles Times reporters David Zahniser and Emily Alpert Reyes detailed how a sleazy real estate developer illegally funneled more than $600,000 to City politicians. As a result of this play to pay scheme, Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council “up zoned” Sea Breeze, his $72 million residential apartment building on industrially zoned land in the Harbor Gateway neighborhood that had been turned down by the Garcetti appointed City Planning Commission and the local neighborhood council. 

Of course, the offending politicians (including Janice Hahn, a candidate for County Supervisor, who received over $200,000) are quick to deny that their favorable vote was influenced by campaign contributions. But we all know that our smooth talking Elected Elite never met a campaign contribution they did not like, the same as it is with tax increases, DWP rate hikes, and budget busting labor contracts. 

But this is chump change compared to the $10 million campaign led by Mayor Garcetti to brow beat us into approving Measure M, a permanent half cent increase in our sales tax to a staggering 9½%, one of the highest rates in the country.  This tax is designed to raise an additional $850 million a year for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, increasing its annual haul from the County’s taxpayers by 33% to an astronomical $3.4 billion. 

But who is financing this $10 million campaign that is equivalent on a per capita basis to the tobacco industry’s efforts to defeat Proposition 56, the state ballot measure to increase the tax on cigarettes by $2.00 a pack.  And more importantly, what do they want in return? 

The underwriters of Yes on Measure M Committee (a Coalition of Mayor Eric Garcetti, concerned citizens, labor organizations, businesses, and non-profits) include a large cast of cronies who want to feast at our expense on MTA contracts. 

These vampires include unions (the Operating Engineers, the ILWU, IBEW Local 11, and the Carpenters & Joiners) who want high wages and numerous jobs; construction and engineering firms (Skanska, AECOM, and Parsons) who want big fat contracts; real estate developers (Westfield) and corporations (Fox, Disney, and NBCUniversal) who want special treatment from Garcetti, the City Council, and the County Board of Supervisors; and concerned citizens (Eli Broad, Jerry Perenchio, and Haim Saban) who have their own special agendas.  

We are going to be pounded with slick ads promoting Measure M, the Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan, promising improved mobility, less time in traffic, great middle class jobs, and the repair of our local streets.  But outlandish campaign promises are a dime a dozen, especially when it comes to politicians eyeing our hard earned cash. 

The MTA does not deserve a 33% increase in funding from the taxpayers.  It is an inefficient organization whose projects are billions over budget and years behind schedule.  Its operations are experiencing lower ridership.  And it does not have the management, the engineering staff, the project managers, or the systems to be able handle its existing funding ($2.6 billion) and projects, to say nothing of the pipedreams envisioned by Mayor Garcetti.    

The MTA is also a rogue organization that lacks adequate oversight as it Board of Directors consists of 13 politicians, including nine from the City and County, who have no clue how to manage or oversee a sprawling enterprise with 9,000 employees and an operating loss of $1 billion a year.  

The City also does not deserve an increase in Local Return funds that would accompany this new tax.  It already receives $200 million a year in Local Return funds from the three previously approved sales tax levies, but has failed to develop a plan to repair our streets, some of the worst in the nation.  Which leads to the question: where the hell has all this Local Return money gone?   

Our City has also failed to reform its finances, refusing to even consider the excellent budget recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission.  As a result, the fiscally irresponsible Garcetti now faces a $100 million deficit next year despite an increase in revenues of $1 billion over the last four years.   

Finally, if all of the tax increases on the November ballot were approved by the voters, Angelenos proportionate share will be $1.6 billion, or $400 for every resident.  Lumped together into a single tax, this increase will increase our sales tax to 11.7% or require a 30% bump in our property taxes.  

We cannot afford an increase in our sales tax to a breathtaking 9½% to say nothing about the other ballot measures for the City, County, Community College, and State.   

Measure M is just another example of Crony Capitalism, but this time on steroids as we are being asked to approve a forever tax that will raise $75 billion over the next 40 years.  It is time to tell Eric Garcetti and his cronies that we are not their ATM. 

Vote NO on Measure M. After all, it is your money. 

 

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate.  Jack is affiliated with Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com.  He can be reached at:  lajack@gmail.com.)-cw 

 

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