MY TURN-For decades Los Angeles has had a reputation for being a series of bedroom communities with no City Center. Sidewalks wrapped up at 9 pm and if you wanted a late snack or a cocktail, the places to go were few and far between. That began to change once Staples built its downtown complex. But now we hear complaints about too much congestion, too many dogs and too many cars.
Los Angeles is taking the next steps toward becoming one of the world's great Cities. We run on international commerce and technology, as well as entertainment. But like any growth spurt, (check with your teenagers,) it hurts...and can cause problems...and worst (or best) of all, it produces change – sometimes thought of as a dreaded of human occurrence!
Yes, tourism has reached a new high but we can't be a city for just tourists -- Las Vegas learned that bitter lesson. So how do we balance all these technological and physical advances while holding on to our unique ambience as a city? Short answer: We don't! Although “gentrification” has become a dirty word, we must incorporate the changing face of Los Angeles into our planning.
I certainly do not hold myself up as an expert in land use, real estate design or development. And I can’t provide magical answers to what seems to be a "mishmash" of City planning. But I have a lot of questions.
Various articles and opinions pieces in CityWatch and other local newspapers and websites, as well as conversations I’ve had with members of city commissions and agencies, have provided little practical consensus. The Planning Commission has a new Manager; the Department of Transportation is busy adding to the metro lines; General Services can't keep track of the real estate owned by the City; and the mayor wants to build 100,000 new housing units. The end result seems to be that no one is happy; there are so many “anti” groups that it’s hard to determine what any group is for.
The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, which may be headed toward the November 8 ballot, professes to be for something – but that “something” is more of a negative. People backing the NII want to stop all new development requiring zone variances for a period of two years. RE-Code LA is the five-year plan this is, (surprise, surprise) already behind schedule. It’s a plan to try and get our city codes in some kind of order; to define what is needed whether building a single family home or a twenty-story office complex. And the requirements all vary depending on the area.
Many LA City plans have conflicting codes and are often more than fifteen years old. It would make sense if each department involved in infrastructure and real estate would appoint a representative to each of the various official planning groups. This would ensure that all involved would have the same information. But maybe that is too much to hope for….
So back to NIMBY... the anachronistic term for "Not in My Back Yard." My colleague Dick Platkin, an expert on city planning or the lack thereof, thinks "NIMBYism is an epithet used by real estate speculators to disparage local residents who oppose their projects."
I was invited by Karen Zimmerman from the Sunland Tujunga Neighborhood Council and the force behind the "Savethegolfcourse.org.” The golf course in question is the Verdugo Hills Golf Club on Tujunga Canyon Blvd, a privately owned public golf course which has been part of the community for years.
The current owner is considering building over 200 homes in a gated-community with all the amenities. According to Sunland Tujunga homeowners, aside from losing a beautiful green area, losing the golf course would make the already terrible traffic on Tujunga Canyon Boulevard much worse. I noticed large banners around the neighborhood saying, "This Traffic Sucks." They are wondering how the Department of Transportation could justify issuing permits without major changes.
One of the homeowners, Theresa Weinzirl, who has lived on Tujunga Canyon Blvd all of her life, invited me to view the traffic as she tried to get out of her driveway. The game of "chicken” is alive and well. Residents are concerned that the current infrastructure will not support the additional density. Even with an increase in the number of accidents, they can't even get a stoplight or stop sign in this dangerous area.
I felt like a tourist going through the Northeast Valley with its miles and miles of rolling hills, trees, wildlife. It is like being in another world. Housing run the economic gamut from apartments to small original bungalows to spacious single family homes. The problem is that, even with all the lawsuits and injunctions against projects in Hollywood, it’s hard to get that kind of attention in the rural part of the valley.
Another builder wants a permit to build 250 homes in the Tujunga Wash, which becomes flooded and filled with mud and debris every time it rains. In addition, there is also only one way in and out – a situation that is very dangerous. There has been and continues to be a homeless encampment in the wash that some of the NCs are working to clean up on weekends. This hardly sounds like the best place for so many new homes.
Meanwhile, Lake View Terrace is seeking more business development. Now that the Cube Museum is open and Hansen Dam has water, they feel their community could provide great family activities for valley residents. But the problem is lack of eating facilities, too many liquor stores, no banks and no US Post Office. Residents in the area must leave the neighborhood to purchase basic items.
On top of all of this, the High Speed Rail Line has tentative plans to go through Shadow Hills and the City of San Fernando. David De Pinto, President of the Shadow Hills Home Owners Association, has helped form a growing opposition group called SAFE Coalition and has a well-run grassroots campaign underway. It might be moot if HSR decides to finish the Central Valley to San Francisco route first instead of connecting now to Burbank – chances are few of us will be here when they get finished with that!
So, now what? The best compromise, is always something in which each side is satisfied and neither side is ecstatic. I think it behooves the groups that are fighting all these changes to take a realistic approach to the situation and come up with plans A, B and C. They need to include a wish of things – whether it be a community room, a park, or an athletic field -- that will make the community more livable. In exchange, they will have to agree to something on the developers’ wish lists.
Let's face it. Even with all of growth and congestion that exists in LA, we still have acres of greenbelts, hills and mountains. We desperately need housing that middle and lower income people can afford. We need more facilities for veterans and more reasonable housing choices for seniors. But most of all, we need a plan that must have input from all relevant people involved. It should be vetted with an eye to insuring against future droughts, earthquakes, fires and other gifts from Mother Nature.
And in the end, we can't fight progress. Do you recall the fight against freeways? Does anyone remember incinerators? Where can you buy a buggy whip?
We’ve all seen the deadlock that occurs when parties fail to compromise -- what happens when, for instance, bond issues fail to improve schools and infrastructure. We’ve seen what happens when people don’t listen to each other.
So above all, we must be practical, making sure that everyone benefits from our joint decisions -- the business community, our politicians, and most importantly, the people of Los Angeles.
When it comes to planning for our City and finding the best possible outcome, we should all join forces. I say, “Let’s make a deal."
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.
MUSING WITH MIRISCH--The recent LA Times article which highlighted a ridership slump at Metro has occasioned much hand-wringing, kneejerk blowback and rationalization among self-styled transit hipsters. The article points out how, despite ongoing expenditures of billions of dollars, Metro continues to struggle to get people to use public transportation. While it’s fairly easy to understand where the hand-wringing is coming from, if anything, the article indicates that we in LA County should collectively be cautious before approving another “transit tax” – something that is being proposed by Metro for this November’s ballot.
For Metro and the transit advocates, many of whom themselves nosh on the taxpayer bounty provided by Measure R (with more noshing to come with the potential successor this November,) it’s all about the money. Focus groups, lobbyists, political advisors are all aimed at answering the question: How can we get the voters of LA County to approve a new tax? “Promise bones” are being thrown in all directions of the county to try to secure endorsements of local politicians in an effort to make sure the future tax measure doesn’t suffer the fate of Measure J, which failed to pass despite massive Transit Establishment support and virtually no funded opposition.
It’s the wrong question for Metro to be asking.
The critical question is not how we can get a new tax passed. The question is: How can we best improve mass transit within the County? And if we are going to pass another tax, how can we get the best value for our taxpayer dollars? And are we currently getting the best value for the billions Metro spends each year? And shouldn’t we ensure we are getting the best value-for-money before committing more funding to Metro? Finally, shouldn’t we ensure that the Metro Board proportionally and equitably represents all the residents of the County before the taxpayers of the entire County commit more money to the agency? (In a blatant rejection of the principle “one person, one vote,” the 6 million non-LA residents of the County are currently underrepresented by some 60% on the Metro Board).
Much of the blowback to the Times article has been from anti-car activist types and their suggestions to increase Metro ridership have, not surprisingly, been punitive actions towards motorists: increase the cost of gas, increase the cost of parking, make parking more difficult by reducing building code parking requirements, end investment in road infrastructure, etc. In a headline in Metro’s “The Source,” Metro’s in-house publicist Steve Hymon questions a contention made in the LA Times article: “Is it really the dream of every bus rider to have a car?”
Indeed, the question is somewhat ironic in view of Metro’s own at times almost monomaniacal focus on building rail lines at the expense of bus service. As the Times article points out: “Although buses account for about 75% of Metro's ridership, rail operations and construction receive more money than buses do from Measure R, the county's most recent half-cent sales tax to fund transportation projects.”
A number of transit hipsters have tried to discredit the Times article by pointing out that some of Metro’s expenditures haven’t borne fruit because construction is currently in progress and new lines haven’t opened yet; they have tried to relativize the situation by comparing ridership declines with even steeper dips in other jurisdictions. (However, none of them points out that the County’s population has increased by some 2 million from the height of ridership in 1985.) But no matter how you play with the figures, it’s hard to gainsay what I consider to be the crux of the Times article:
"There's been lots of focus by transit agencies on shiny new things, sometimes at the expense of bus routes which serve the primary constituencies of transit agencies: low-wage workers," said Brian Taylor, the director of UCLA's Institute of Transportation Studies. "Lots of resources are being put into a few high-profile lines that often carry a smaller number of riders compared to bus routes."
In light of this, it’s difficult to reasonably support a new tax (or a tax extension) without some major rethinking, reframing and a healthy dose of common sense, despite the sexiness of “shiny new things.”
Metro’s new CEO, Phil Washington, has said of Metro’s construction efforts: “We’re not building for today. We’re building for 100 years down the road.”
Washington’s long-term thinking is to be applauded, especially when the other Washington – and all other levels of government below it down to the local – generally think in vistas which don’t go beyond the next election cycle. But there is also clearly a challenge with spending billions of dollars now for “100 years down the road.” It means we need to make sure that any infrastructure we are building now will not be obsolete; it means we need to build with technological and demographic adaptability in mind.
In the “Is it really the dream of every bus rider to have a car?” article, Steve Hymon writes: “I like my car (which I often park at a Gold Line Station).” The implication is that a mix of transit options which includes cars can best serve the County’s residents. Hymon drives his car to the Gold Line, then takes public transit. However, this mix would be made more difficult by the anti-car hipsters who want to use punitive measures to force people to use public transit. Neither does Metro itself actually encourage or enable this mix on a consistent basis. The much touted Purple Line, for example, will offer no park-and-ride options, boxing out potential riders like Steve Hymon who would like to leave their cars at transit stations.
As I wrote last April in The Los Angeles Business Journal, in which I proposed a municipal automated shuttle system for Beverly Hills, driverless vehicle technology offers an exciting solution to first/last mile challenges; getting to and from transit stations (“the first/last mile”) can be a substantial obstacle to potential commuters’ use of public transportation. In addition to hyperlocal transit applications, driverless vehicle technology can be a substantial part of the overall public transit equation, much bigger, in fact, than Metro is currently acknowledging.
And that, quite frankly, seems to be a major part of the problem with Metro’s tax-and-spend strategy. It’s difficult to be forward-thinking with such an embrace of yesterday’s technology. Because as it currently stands, the next Measure R largely focuses on and plans to spend billions and billions on traditional rail lines and other “shiny new things.”
Not every bus rider may dream of having a car, but it’s pretty safe to say that almost every transit rider wants to get from Point A to Point B in as efficient and time-saving manner as possible. D’uh. On demand point-to-point public transportation should be any transit agency’s ultimate goal, and while this will likely involve a cocktail of transportation forms, driverless mass transportation can and should play a major role in achieving solutions.
Driverless vehicle technology, both within the private and public transportation sector has the potential to take significant numbers of vehicles off the streets, as well as to use the streets more efficiently. The irony of the potential of driverless vehicle technology within the public transportation sector should not be lost upon transit advocates who are more concerned with getting people from Point A to Point B than shiny new things and an anti-car bias: the road infrastructure we have developed in LA, much to the dismay of the anti-car crowd, could very well unwittingly prove to be the best “Point A to Point B” infrastructure investment we ever have made with the advent of automated vehicles and automated public transportation.
A significant investment in driverless vehicle technology, along with an eye towards other kinds of developing technological solutions, perhaps including advanced models of Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) should be a major focus of any future tax measure or additional transportation expenditures.
What is being proposed now is mainly just a form of “same old, same old,” some of which indeed may be necessary, but certainly not to the exclusion of new, developing and future technologies with a 100 year forward-looking vista in mind. In other words, Metro is looking more to cobble together political support to get a new tax passed, rather than providing a forward-thinking vision to solve the actual transportation problems we face in LA County every day. Right now it seems like a case of matter over mind and money over vision, and that’s something we can and must change.
When the Purple Line was approved, the notion of a municipal automated shuttle system would pretty much have been in the realm of “Beam me up, Scotty.” Now, the technology will be ready for prime-time before the LaCienega/Wilshire station opens.
In short, a revolutionary end to Metro’s ridership slump is within our grasp, but Metro will have to change its current endgame. Metro should be less concerned with answering the question, “How can we get voters to approve a new tax?” and more concerned with answering the question: “How can we get people from point A to point B in as efficient, cost-effective and convenient a way as possible?” If Metro can use technology to figure out good answers to this question, ridership will naturally and organically increase and traffic will decrease. Rather than simply looking backwards to transportation models of the past hundred years, practical and political solutions should follow a well thought out, forward-looking vision which looks to fully integrate new and developing technologies. This is the clear and logical answer to Metro’s ridership slump.
The Metro Board now has a historic opportunity to fix Metro’s ridership slump by providing real leadership for the benefit of all the residents in LA County; not surprisingly, it involves more – much more – than simply trying to get us all to pass another transportation tax.
(John Mirisch is the Vice Mayor of Beverly Hills; as Mayor, he created the Sunshine Task Force to increase transparency, ethics and public participation in local government.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
GUEST WORDS-Just after the first of the year, the County released its draft set of homeless initiatives and, next week, the Board of Supervisors is expected to approve and adopt the recommendations.
The County Homeless Initiative, a comprehensive plan comprised of 47 recommendations, represents the largest, most coordinated effort ever undertaken in LA to attack the root causes of homelessness and move thousands of individuals and families from the streets to dignity and stability. The County has the funding in this year’s budget to begin to move all 47 strategies forward. Twelve elements of the plan, those believed to have the most immediate and achievable impact, are slated to be implemented before June 30 of this year.
Of course there will always be some doubters. Lately, I have read news accounts opining that this latest initiative is no more likely to succeed than previous plans. I say, "Not true, for several reasons."
First of all, we have made a new level of financial commitment ($150 million in funds), we have a strong political will, and we are seeing unprecedented cooperation between the County, the City of LA, other cities in the County, and service providers. It is a cross-cutting and innovative approach to homelessness.
The strategies in the plan are built around four critical areas:
- prevention and frontline intervention so that people don’t become homeless in the first place
- outreach and housing navigation so that, once homeless, people are not forced to go from office to office to receive the services and support they need
- housing and services for those who need on-going support, and
- expanded employment and income opportunities.
There are many significant and distinctive elements to the County plan. First, the plan considers realistic ways to reduce the pipelines into homelessness. Many men and women who become homeless have engaged LA County social services before they ever lost their homes. They may be coming out of jail, foster care, or hospitals; others may be the victims of domestic violence. In this plan, we have focused on how we discharge individuals from those systems so that they can be stabilized before they become homeless.
Second, although the most visible percentage of our homeless population are those on the streets who are often mentally ill, they represent only about 20 percent of our total homeless population. In actuality, most homeless people can be quickly re-housed. The County initiative emphasizes rapid re-housing, a policy innovation with a proven track record in curtailing homelessness. Many people slip into homelessness as a result of an employment or medical crisis, but, if they can be rapidly re-housed, their lives can be stabilized and they can begin to meet monthly rent payments again. Importantly, the County will partner with local cities to implement this strategy in the hope that we can end people's homelessness in the same communities where they first fall out of their homes.
The County initiative also aims to reduce the many barriers that stand between homeless individuals and families and the services that could help them. This is why those developing the Initiative engaged virtually every County department in the design. I hear people refer to the so-called “service resistant” homeless population, but so many barriers stand between people experiencing homelessness and the help they need, that to call people “service resistant” simply isn’t fair. People experiencing homelessness often don’t feel safe in shelters. Homeless men and women cannot bring their animals to a shelter. Shelters don’t provide places to store people’s belongings so people are at risk of losing the few things they own. And people experiencing homelessness may be reluctant to take the time to stand in line for services that could help them if it means sacrificing a day’s income on the streets.
The solution to homelessness is not more shelter beds, it's housing and a variety of services. Homelessness is a complex problem, and solving it will require a complex solution. That’s why every one of the 47 strategies outlined in the County plan is important. Our goal is “functional zero” homelessness. This year we will attempt to meet that “functional zero” goal for veterans, that is, we will work to have sufficient permanent and temporary housing so that as veterans become homeless they can be housed right away. The goal of the County’s historic initiative is to bring that to every Angeleno.
Ten years ago, LA embarked on an effort to end homelessness, but, this year, the circumstances surrounding the new initiative are substantially different than a decade ago. This time, we have the engagement and support of lead nonprofits, philanthropy, business, the city and an unprecedented commitment and will in the County. There is consensus and alignment across these important sectors and that is why I am optimistic about the success of this far-reaching initiative in solving one of the most challenging moral issues facing Los Angeles.
(Sheila Kuehl is LA County Supervisor for the 3rd District. The Supervisor is an occasional contributor to CityWatch.)
LA WATCHDOG--The City of Los Angeles is embarking on an ambitious, $470 million plan to modernize and expand the Convention Center so that it can compete with other first tier, West Coast cities such as San Francisco, San Diego, and Anaheim in attracting large scale conventions. This undertaking is expected to be completed by 2020 and is designed to promote tourism, one of the main drivers of our economy, and to stimulate the private development of hotels, restaurants, residences, and office and retail space in the South Park neighborhood and the rest of DTLA.
This expansion will increase the Convention Center offering to almost 1.25 million square feet, up 43% from the current level of 870,000 square feet. At the same time, the new and improved Convention Center campus is designed to be an integral part of the community, linking seamlessly with the neighborhood, LA Live, and Staples.
The City will also encourage the development of several thousand new hotel rooms in DTLA to accommodate highly desired, big spending, out of town conventioneers who will not only stimulate our economy, but will also contribute generously to the City’s coffers through the 14% Transit Occupancy Tax on their hotel bill.
This also includes a privately financed, upscale Convention Headquarters Hotel of at least 1,000 rooms that will be strategically located on City owned property, most likely near Staples and LA Live on the north end of the campus.
The City intends to finance this $470 million expansion with debt, which, when combined with existing Convention Center debt of almost $300 million, will total a staggering $770 million. This debt will be serviced by the Convention Center’s 25% share of the Transit Occupancy Tax which is expected to yield the Convention Center $54 million this fiscal year. By 2020, this tax is projected to increase by over 20% to $261.8 million, resulting in $65 million to service Convention Center debt.
However, our cash strapped City does not have the financial flexibility to finance this expansion and other immediate worthwhile projects, including the $1 billion to replace its aging and neglected equipment (including police cars, fire engines, and ambulances) without blowing a gaping hole in its Debt Management Policy which limits debt service for Non-Voted Indebtedness to less than 6% of General Fund revenues. This violation would send the wrong message to the investment community, resulting in a downgrading of the City’s credit rating and higher interest rates.
The City Administrative Officer has recommended that the City enter into a Public Private Partnership (a “P3”) where the City would select a turnkey development partner to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the expansion of the Convention Center and the development of the surrounding real estate. Under this recommended alternative, the 44 year old West Hall would be demolished and rebuilt (not retrofitted as currently envisioned). The partner would also develop 9 to 14 acres of the 54 acre campus by creating “an integrated mixed-use real estate development” that would help to offset the costs of associated with the Convention Center, a loss leader that cannot even begin to pay the interest on $770 million of debt. Needless to say, any development plans need to be consistent with the Community Plan.
A P3 also protects the City from any cost overruns associated with the expansion of the Convention Center and the construction of the Headquarters Hotel and isolates it from any operating losses. The partner is also responsible for maintaining the campus in excellent condition, a task that the City has demonstrated that it is incapable of doing on a sustained basis.
While the terms of the P3 need to be worked out, including any “availability service payments” by the City to service the debt, the net result will result in more cash for our City’s deficit prone budget by creating a more vibrant Convention Center, more out of town visitors resulting in higher increased Transit Occupancy Tax revenue, and lower contributions to the Convention Center.
The expansion of the Convention Center in conjunction with a well-capitalized partner is a win-win for our financially challenged City. Don’t blow it.
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at: email@example.com)
EDUCATION POLITICS-The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has carried on a disingenuous and premeditated war for the last ten years against thousands of expensive high seniority teachers. This has occurred while their union, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), has done nothing to defend them -- something they are obligated to do and have the power to do under the LAUSD-UTLA Collective Bargaining Agreement. And now, the self-dealing UTLA "Power Slate" leadership running the union has the chutzpah to ask for more dues, even as it continues to sell out its membership by colluding with LAUSD administration to attack senior teachers.
In 2006, then LAUSD head of Office of Risk Management and Insurance Services Director David Holmquist -- now Chief Legal Counsel for LAUSD -- laid out in the Health and Welfare Benefits: Retiree Health Actuarial Valuation Update and Retreat Preview Presentation to the Audit, Business and Technology Committee how senior teachers salary and benefits were pushing LAUSD into the red he subsequently decided to go after them. Over the next 10 years, Holmquist systematically targeted senior teachers while UTLA leadership hasn't lifted a finger to help them. This group accounts for 87% of all teachers who have been hit with false charges and prematurely forced out of their careers.
Instead of bringing one unified legal action in defense of these senior teachers (as UTLA has power to do under the LAUSD-UTLA Collective Bargaining Agreement) UTLA instead divided up the claims of these similarly targeted teachers. UTLA is paying their law firm, Trygstad, Schwab & Trygstad, to walk these teachers through the dismissal process, encouraging many to take early retirement and without advocating on their behalf as they had the power and legal obligation to do. (see below)
1.0 Grievance and Parties Defined: A grievance is defined as a claim that the District has violated an express term of this Agreement and that by reason of such violation the grievant's rights under this Agreement have been adversely affected. Grievances as defined may be filed by the affected employee or by UTLA on its own behalf or on behalf of an individual employee or
group of employees where the claims are similar. On filing a grievance on behalf of a group, UTLA need not specify the names of the employees, but must describe the group so that the District has notice of the nature and scope of the claim.
Instead of defending its rank and file, a union's primary function, UTLA leadership converted a substantial part of its strike fund into political contributions without notifying the membership or any of the committees. And then they pleaded poverty.
Since even before the administration of UTLA President Warren Fletcher, UTLA leadership has habitually lied, saying that it carried member defense insurance with a company that was actually no longer in business. They even campaigned for ratepayers to join the union by assuring them they would be covered by this insurance policy that never existed.
Initially, UTLA was self-insured when the number of LAUSD targeted teachers was small, but over the last 10 years with literally thousands of teachers being targeted for removal by LAUSD, UTLA has continued to do absolutely nothing to defend these predominantly senior teachers. Instead, they have allowed teachers to be systematically targeted and removed on false charges by LAUSD. This continues unabated to this day.
If a hike in dues was necessary to defend teachers, why did UTLA leadership wait 10 years until thousands of senior top salary teachers had been targeted and removed by LAUSD? All this did was empower LAUSD administration to go after even more senior teachers, cutting significantly the dues that could have been collected by UTLA.
Why was this allowed to happen? Simply stated, there has been no continuity of leadership advocating on behalf of teachers’ best interests. The union’s law firm, Trygstad, Schwab & Trygstad, has been allowed to run UTLA for 43 years without any written agreement between them and the union. Officers come and go, and like a mirror image of LAUSD leadership, UTLA's entrenched bureaucracy keeps selling out its members.
If the present proposal of 30% dues increase becomes policy, future increases could be instituted without rank-and-file voting. Without this agreement, were national affiliates to raise dues in the future, UTLA could still at that time conduct a vote of the entire membership so they could determine whether they wanted to have their dues raised or not. This provides leverage to ensure that their affiliates would have to provide sound rationale for any dues increase. It would also provide leverage to UTLA leadership, who could pressure affiliates into advocating a clear message to justify the need for a dues increase. However, if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association in May, as expected, defendant CTA will undoubtedly seek to raise dues on UTLA members later this year. One should never give up a right to vote - as UTLA is now asking its membership to do.
This current vote on raising UTLA dues includes an online option, but to date UTLA has not allow delegates to vote via online voting options (in violation of the online voting initiative,) since this would encourage greater rank and file participation and the likelihood that the raising of the dues proposal would not pass.
Furthermore, the decision to use an outside vendor to conduct the vote was done secretly by the Board of Directors, and the House of Representatives was never informed or allowed to weigh in on that decision. Traditionally, any election run by an outside vendor must also been overseen by the UTLA Elections Committee -- yet the Board of Directors unilaterally decided to exclude the Elections Committee.
For months, UTLA leaders have been claiming that it can't buy group legal insurance for housed teachers, because UTLA can't offer differing services to each affiliate. This claim, on its face, is false, since each affiliate already offers differing discounts on auto, travel, and other insurance services -- these services are not and have never been identical. UTLA has not responded to this criticism, which was pointed out months ago.
It has been well publicized that UTLA aspiring leadership met secretly with then Superintendent John Deasy at Drago Restaurant in the middle of the last big UTLA election. UTLA Power Slate leaders have claimed this meeting was to discuss problem principals, an explanation that, on its face, doesn't make sense. Why meet at Drago and not LAUSD or UTLA? And why was former President Fletcher intentionally not told about the meeting? It seems more likely the meeting was to agree to delay talk of a pay raise in exchange for allowing candidates time off to campaign during school hours. As a result, a pay raise was delayed for an extra year -- money directly taken out of teachers pockets as UTLA leadership colluded with management.
It is also worth mentioning that for years UTLA leaders were reimbursed by UTLA for money they paid into the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) -- in effect, allowing them to double dip and they did not report this on their taxes. UTLA leaders claim this policy is no longer in effect, but there is nothing in writing to support that assertion.
Adding more self-dealing to the fire, UTLA continues to claim that it fights the "charter privatizers." But right now former UTLA President John Perez and UTLA Staff Member Michael Bennett serve as the Board President and Vice President respectively of Montague Community Charter School. To date, UTLA has not disclosed their compensation levels and whether or not they are receiving any additional compensation from other outside entities such as the California Charter Schools Association. On a related note, both were former UTLA Officers who benefited from the STRS kickback. As Mr. Perez was a UTLA leader for over 10 years, he received over 10 years of this kickback.
In general, UTLA has continued to operate with an air of secrecy; it doesn't even disclose to members how they spend money. In fact, in 2015, at a UTLA House of Representatives meeting, one member asked, at the microphone, for more detailed budget and expense information -- more than the four page document provided to elected members of the House of Representatives.
At the time, UTLA Treasurer Arlene Inouye, a member of the Union Power Slate stated in response, at the microphone, "If we provide that to you, we might as well be giving that to the district." What is UTLA so afraid of? If they want a 30% dues increase, the, at a minimum, shouldn't they tell us right now how they have been spending – or not spending -- our dues money? If UTLA is responsible, why not celebrate that by operating transparently -- and asking LAUSD to follow UTLA's example. Instead, UTLA is silent about district waste and contracts, and is even under federal investigation into how they may have misappropriated money from the strike fund:
National affiliates have done a terrible job over the past twenty years advocating for public education, which is why we find working conditions to be what they are today. Their big solution is to organize a "walk in" in February, another do nothing photo op. In Detroit, on the other hand, rank and file teachers are organizing sick outs without the support of their union leadership. We need to start fighting affiliates cozying up to privatizers, union-paid holidays disguised as host conferences, bloated bureaucracies, spending millions on meals and travel, and now they want to give themselves even more money.
Under these circumstances, do you really want to give a blank check to UTLA and their national affiliates who have stood by for years allowing professional teachers to be savaged by LAUSD and districts like it around the country? I urge you to vote no.
(Leonard Isenberg is a Los Angeles observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He was a second generation teacher at LAUSD and blogs at perdaily.com. Leonard can be reached at Lenny@perdaily.com) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
TRANSIT TALK--In my circles, there has been a lot of discussion swirling around Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times article, “Billions spent, but fewer people are using public transportation in Southern California,” by Laura Nelson and Dan Weikel.
The Times’ authors cast a disparaging light on recent downturns in ridership: “Despite a $9-billion investment in new light rail and subway lines, Metro now has fewer boardings than it did three decades ago, when buses were the county’s only transit option.” The article further asserts a number of causes for declining ridership, including “a changing job market, falling gas prices, fare increases, declining immigration and the growing popularity of other transportation options, including bicycling and ride-hailing companies,” and also immigration patterns and new drivers licenses for the undocumented.
The internet has already responded to the Times:
- Steve Hymon at Metro’s The Source, responds citing national trends and touting transit’s promising future, though Hymon ultimately concludes that Metro can do better.
- KCRW’s Which Way L.A.? hosted a discussion with Loren Kaye, Denny Zane, and Brian Taylor. Taylor blames a lack of agreement on policy goals that results in a “distorted” system that favors cheap car travel.
- Railtown author Ethan Elkind notes that the Times graphic misleadingly emphasizes Metro’s 1985 peak ridership.
- Jarrett Walker criticizes the Times for identifying an “accelerating” trend out of what is actually “very noisy” but largely flat ridership data. Walker emphasizes that the current one-year decline in ridership is not a “trend” yet; labeling it one is presumptuous.
- Matt Tinoco at LAist echoes Elkind and Hymon and questions the role of changing demographics, including gentrification in L.A.’s core.
- Eric Jaffe at CityLab points to new research that disputes the article’s claim, made by transit critic James E Moore that, “It’s the dream of every bus rider to own a car.”
At yesterday’s Metro board meeting, CEO Phil Washington asserted that transit ridership is cyclical and that LA’s decline is in line with national trends. He also stated that he would be responding via a planned Times guest editorial.
There are a lot of keystrokes already stricken on this, but, nonetheless, I’d like to weigh in with some ideas and some questions, and to further hear from SBLA readers on what you think. Like the Times list, I don’t think that there is one smoking gun cause, but plenty of interacting and overlapping factors that influence ridership.
Overall Investment – Transit vs. Cars
My first thought upon reading the article was to blame declining ridership on a disparity of investment between transit infrastructure and car infrastructure. The U.S., California, and Los Angeles continue a long pattern of spending huge budgets to support driving, and not so much for transit. Governmental regulations, including parking requirements, also require massive private investment to serve cars, with little to no provisions for transit.
Collectively, we pay people to drive, and so people drive a lot. I am skeptical that even Measure R’s significant transit investments will move LA County toward a greater transit share because Measure R also provides billions of dollars for highway and road expansion.
Yonah Freemark touches on these disparities in his study showing that light rail investment did not increase transit mode share. Freemark concludes: “But spending on new lines is not enough. Increases in transit use are only possible when the low costs of driving and parking are addressed, and when government and private partners work together to develop more densely near transit stations. None of the cities that built new light rail lines in the 1980s understood this reality sufficiently. Each region also built free highways during the period … These conflicting policies had as much to do with light rail’s mediocre outcomes as the trains themselves — if not more.”
Compared to steep bus ridership declines in neighboring Orange County, Metro’s success in keeping ridership declines minimal can be seen as a success story. Metro was able to stave off more severe service cuts and greater fare increases due to Measure R. This brings to mind the futility in the Red Queen’s statement to Alice in Wonderland: “Now here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” Metro is expanding rail transit (and highways) as fast as it can, but its bus service remains largely unchanged, and therefore declines as public subsidies prioritize other modes.
Too Soon To Judge Measure R
The Times article does review earlier events, but the article names and critiques Measure R (2008) and a future R2.1 which is expected to go before voters in November, 2016. It is possible to be critical of Metro’s priorities, but probably not Measure R itself. At least not yet. There is a long lag time for massive capital projects, so the rail that Measure R is building is just not done yet. The first Measure R-funded rail line will open in March, and the second opens in May.
Metro has been operating under earlier sales tax measures – Prop C (1990) and Prop A (1980). There is a longer-term case to be made that when Metro focuses on rail building (since the mid-1980s) that other modes suffer, more on this below.
Buses Matter – Fares and Service
The unacknowledged elephant in the room is Metro bus service. The Times notes correctly that 75 percent of Metro’s ridership is on the bus. Overall transit ridership has been largely flat since Metro began building rail in the 1980s, despite three successful property tax measures. The Bus Riders Union and others have shown that huge capital projects tend to divert Metro resources away from their core bus service.
The Times acknowledges this in this quote from Brian Taylor, the director of UCLA’s Institute of Transportation Studies: “There’s been lots of focus by transit agencies on shiny new things, sometimes at the expense of bus routes which serve the primary constituencies of transit agencies: low-wage workers….lots of resources are being put into a few high-profile lines that often carry a smaller number of riders compared to bus routes.”
Since at least 2008, when Measure R passed, the push to expand Metro rail has meant that bus service has been flat, slightly declining through twice-yearly “service adjustments” and declining slightly in proportion to population growth. Especially since 2008, Metro’s top priority has been an accelerated rail construction schedule. This has, as I say, sucked the air out of the room. Bus service has declined slightly since 2008 (with no new rail mileage yet), resulting in a corresponding slight decline in ridership.
If Metro is not going to expand its bus service (I wish it would, but that will take political will), then it will need to run bus service as efficiently and effectively as possible. Public transit expert Jarrett Walker stresses the importance of running a frequent service network, which will “serve more people without more money.” This is exactly what Metro is planning to do this June, with its Strategic Bus Network Plan. There are a lot of details still to be finalized, but that should be a small positive step forward for bus ridership.
Another huge bus ridership factor is fares. Metro’s peak ridership periods correspond to periods of low fares. The last year of declines is in part attributable to September 2014 fare increases.
If Metro’s goal is solely to expand ridership (and it isn’t) then Metro needs to go back to basics and pay as much attention to its core bus service as it does to its “shiny new” rail service. It is not possible to lower fares and greatly increase service, but if the agency is prudent fiscally, it can and should incrementally grow its bus service, keep fares as low as possible, and reap increased ridership.
Metro’s budget analysis showed very little correlation with gas prices. Other analyses finds a greater correlation. With gas prices currently in unusually strong decline, this previously weak factor is likely helping pull ridership downward, too.
The Future of Metro Ridership
Metro ridership is in decline due to a host of factors. Some of these are outside Metro’s control, including gas prices and national transportation funding. Some of these are controlled by Metro, including fares and service.
The leadership needs to come from the top, Metro’s board of directors, and its CEO. Phil Washington makes a very promising statement in the Times article, telling the reporters, Metro’s goal is to convert 20% to 25% of the county’s population into regular transit riders.
Unfortunately, according to Census data (specifically, American Community Survey data), LA County transit commute share hovers just above 7 percent. Metro should be setting mode share goals (what percent of transit riders do we want?), reporting on them, and tailoring investments to realize goals. This is difficult to change abruptly, with lots of road funding embedded in Measure R, but the agency does have discretionary funds, and can shape the next sales tax measure with Washington’s stated goal in mind.
(Joe Linton is the editor of StreetsblogLA. He founded the LA River Ride, co-founded the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, worked in key early leadership roles at CicLAvia and C.I.C.L.E., served on the board of directors of Friends of the LA River, Southern California Streets Initiative, and LA Eco-Village.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
EAST LOS ANGELES--Salesian High School, an all male Catholic school in Boyle Heights, and also the Ruth Webb Pre Physician Assistance Society in the City of Alhambra both held sock drives for donation to Homeless Health Care Los Angeles (HHCLA) for the homeless in the region of SEW: Silverlake, Echo Park, Westlake, Pico-Union, Chinatown, and Korea Town.
During the month of October 2015, both junior and varsity teams engaged “on a quest to collect and donate as many pairs of new socks to benefit the homeless communities,” read their outreach poster.
Thus, parent Cynthia De La Cruz coordinated a sock drive with the football teams for the homeless in collaboration with (HHCLA).
“Our 85-member football team wanted to reach out to the homeless in an effective manner seeing that homelessness is a big issue facing our city,” said Ms. De La Cruz.
Parent stated that her son David De La Cruz was a key figure in initiating the effort. David “Googled” homeless agencies in the area and “HHCLA came about.” Upon the coach’s approval, “they ran with it. The boys and their parents went to family, friends, and neighbors and asked for new sock donations,” said De La Cruz.
“The response was overwhelming! We collected over 550 pairs of socks,” she said. The socks were presented to HHCLA at the last Varsity Football home game. “It’s always nice to give back to the communities,” said Ms. De La Cruz.
SEW Lead Street Outreach Specialist of Americorps Hope for the Homeless Xavier Puente said that socks help to create a direct service to the homeless community because they help reduce the risk of contracting a severe (foot) disease. “Socks provide comfort during these winter cold nights as well as provide a means of engagement to a population that has been reticent of receiving help,” Puente said.
Puente added that though socks might appear as a minuscule donation “in resolving the concerns of homelessness within the County of Los Angeles, it's a great step forward in helping to engage an extremely marginalized community to services.”
This effort “will eventually lead to helping someone manage their challenges and connect them to a housing opportunity,” he said.
Photo of sock drive collection by Ruth Webb Pre-PA society
The second organization that held a sock drive for the homeless was the Ruth Webb Pre Physician Assistance Society in the City of Alhambra.
This cohort comprised of undergraduate and graduate students meet monthly to work on community based projects and provide access to health related projects within the community. Group’s objective in this case was to help HHCLA to engage clients and help alleviate homelessness within the community. They collected 540 pairs of socks for HHCLA during the last months of 2015.
Leslie Howard coordinator of the program said that he was very proud of the group, “they’re very dedicated to service.”
Homeless Health Care Los Angeles, SEW Regional CES, Coordinator Monica Quezada said that Street Outreach Staff uses socks and hygiene kits specifically towards outreach efforts.
“We go to the LA River bed for example, to engage and to built a rapport with the homeless. We introduce ourselves and tell them we’d like to help them get off the streets. This is more than just giving a gift,” said Ms. Quezada. “I see homeless with foot blisters and dirty socks. My staff gives them hygiene kits and in them we put socks.”
“Socks go a long way for us; they help built trust,” she said.
Quezada stated that even after when the formerly homeless individuals are permanently housed, a few have returned and asked if I remember the time when I gave them a pair of socks. “Of course,” I say.
“This is the kind of relationship and trust that we create around socks,” she said.
(Connie Acosta is a member of the Echo Park Neighborhood Council and a former secretary of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition (LANCC)).
GOVERNMENT FOR THE PEOPLE--Those of us who happened to have been scouring the cluttered bulletin board in the corridor near the John Ferraro Chambers at City Hall this week, may have been surprised to come across, wedged behind a FilmLA permit, a document entitled, “Notice Of Intention To Amend The Conflict of Interests Code of The City of Los Angeles Ethics Commission.”
ENERGY POLITICS--News came earlier this week that the horrific natural gas leak spewing methane at Porter Ranch, just outside Los Angeles, will be capped and contained by the end of February. Of course, it’s a promise that has come far too late.
TRANSPORTATION POLITICS--While any reasonable person will acknowledge the need for transportation/infrastructure (T/I) funding, too many of us are acting blind, deaf and dumb (especially the "dumb" part) about our hideous state/federal funding reality: by treating T/I funding as an afterthought, we've forced and ignored the reality of high gas prices as a necessary means of funding something that should be part of the general fund.
SUBSIDIZING WALL STREET-Reversing climate change and addressing income inequality are the twin challenges of our time. Solving them both means a safer, more stable future for generations to come.
If we don’t stop and reverse climate change, our environment and our economy could collapse. If we don’t address the growing gap between rich and poor, our political structures and our economy will continue to fray, robbing us of both the funds and the political will to address climate change.
These challenges are irreversibly linked — and we can’t solve one without solving them both.
That’s why progressives, labor leaders and everyone who cares about addressing these twin threats should oppose the California Public Utilities Commission’s recently proposed decision to require poor utility customers to subsidize richer customers and the new Wall Street-funded quasi-utilities serving these wealthy customers.
The CPUC’s decision is on a technical issue called Net Energy Metering: the system that provides subsidies for the installation of residential solar systems by forcing utilities to buy surplus energy generated on rooftops at an artificially high price. For a long time it made sense to provide these very generous subsidies — we all benefit from a robust solar industry. Some of us closest to the economics of solar thought it made more sense to subsidize larger solar installations, which are up to three times more cost-effective than residential solar systems. But broad adoption of solar and renewable power is a goal we must all support.
But what is happening now is that Wall Street has figured out how to game the system. And what usually happens when Wall Street financiers and speculators get involved is happening now in solar — the rich are being subsidized by the poor.
Net Energy Metering allows wealthier solar customers to sell the power they produce back to power providers at retail rates. Solar customers might think they are “off the grid,” but their lights still go on at night or when the sun isn’t shining because they are using the electric grid as a giant free battery.
But they don’t pay for it, others do. And “others” are renters and homeowners without the funds to install solar.
Solar customers are by every measure wealthier and whiter than traditional power customers. That’s because it’s expensive to install rooftop solar (between $12,000 and $40,000, even with the generous tax credits), and because you generally have to own your home in order to install the panels. What’s more, the panels are typically leased to the homeowner by a company like SolarCity. Those companies then bundle the leases and sell them to investors (sound familiar?), and it is not the customer but the investors who receive both the tax credit and the benefit of the Net Energy Metering subsidy associated with the panel.
Traditional power customers also include CARE customers — low-income families who earn less than 200 percent of the poverty level — who are particularly impacted by this decision. There are nearly 1.5 million CARE families across California, taking home an average of $40,180 a year — and they receive a 30-35 percent discount on their electric and natural gas bills. By comparison, there are only 200,000 solar customers, and they earn more than double that amount — about $92,210 each year.
The CPUC’s proposed ruling would force CARE customers to pick up the tab for the high cost of Net Metering, eating into the discount those families need. That would very plainly divert money intended for low-income customers to Wall Street and wealthier Californians. That’s not right, and the proposed decision has been roundly criticized by ratepayer advocates and others across the state.
California is moving towards a green energy future, and that’s a positive thing. But we need to be cognizant of how we get there. Forcing low-income people to subsidize Wall Street will only exacerbate the growing income inequality that is gnawing at our communities.
We need to fight climate change. We need to fight income inequality. We don’t need a subsidy for the wealthiest and Wall Street that makes income inequality in our state worse.
(Tom Dalzell is the business manager and financial secretary of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245. This piece was posted earlier at Huffington Post and Capital and Main. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
JUST SAYIN’--In her speech at the end of the Iowa Caucus, Hillary Clinton said, "I am a progressive who gets things done for people. I am honored to stand in the long line of American reformers who make up our minds that the status quo is not good enough, that standing still is not an option."
That same night Sanders, who rarely uses the word "I" in his speeches, proclaimed, "It is just too late for establishment politics and establishment economics. The American people are saying 'no' to a rigged economy. They no longer want to see an economy in which the average American works longer hours for lower wages, while almost all new income and wealth is going to the top 1%."
While disappointed by the disingenuous Chelsea Clinton proxy attack that claimed a Sanders presidency would dismantle the Affordable Care Act, I've moved quickly past the distractions and histrionics of the political hardball being played against Clinton, as well as Sanders, to draw some conclusions at this stage of the Democratic Presidential Primary.
Small steps to the left by Clinton on key issues like the Trans Pacific Partnership seemingly in response to Sanders' long held positions on this and other issues, is not enough. I am not willing to settle for promises of incremental progress that largely maintain the status quo while the working poor and middle class are locked in the iron grip of economic and environmental inequality, typically carried out by legislators whose campaigns are largely funded by Wall Street.
Bernie Sanders is running a campaign funded with $75 million coming from small donors; people who are donating $27 on average, under the banner of revolution. This provides a distinct contrast to every other competitive presidential candidate, all of whom are receiving millions of dollars from some combination of super PACs, Corporate America and America's richest 1%.
Income is not equal in the United States, but our voices should and can be a powerful force as the people of Iowa proved in showing that this revolution is real. Not because Sanders is promising that he will do this alone, but because he is calling upon the providence of the American people to stand up for what benefits our country as a whole:
"No president, not Bernie Sanders, not anybody else, will be able to bring about the changes that the working families and the middle class of this country, that our children, that the seniors, our seniors deserve.” Sanders continued, “No one president can do it because the powers that be, Wall Street with their endless supply of money, corporate America, the large campaign donors are so powerful that no president can do what has to be done alone. And that is why -- and that is why what Iowa has begun tonight is a political revolution."
This is not a commitment by Sanders to seek incremental progress. It is a promise to fight for fairness as the sword and shield of the American people in the war against inequality.
As Americans, revolution is in our blood going back to our Country's origins. Today we are witnessing a political revolution of the people, by the people and for the people versus establishment money and politics.
I stand with the Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders.
(Jason Gardea-Stinnett is the Former Executive Vice President AFSCME District Council 36.) Photo: CNN. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
EDITOR’S PICK--Chris Matthews had an interview with Hillary Rodham Clinton on the MSNBC channel of the electric teevee machine Tuesday afternoon that was flatly astounding. This is especially true if you remember Matthews' sorry history with the Clinton family, especially concerning HRC, against whom he was so hostile in 2008 that kindly Doc Maddow called him out on it on the air. Now, though, apparently, Matthews sees HRC as the only thing keeping the Battleship Potemkin from sailing up his driveway.
“I'm going to say this bluntly,” he said. “The only person standing between a confirmed socialist who is calling for political revolution in this country winning the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party, which has always been more moderate than that, is you. So, when you saw that rally last night, the young people all around Senator Sanders, when he yelled "revolution" out there, and they all applauded like mad, do you think that's going to help in the general election or is it what we used to call in the Sixties an NDC candidacy—"November Doesn't Count"—we just want to win the party, we don't care about the general. You seem to be focused on the general. How do you beat a person who comes along in the primaries who says, ‘I'm going to give you everything you want: free tuition, more Social Security benefits, no increase in your taxes, free health-care from birth, all of it government-paid.’ How do you compete with a revolution? A revolution of promises, really.”
Say what you will about HRC, but she knows a cue when she hears one. She threw out some compliments to her own youthful adherents, which is a decent thing to do, and then she got down to serious business.
“I do think we have an obligation to keep people focused on what's at stake,” said Clinton. “We can't let the Republicans rip away the progress we have made. We can't let them go back to trickle-down economics, repeal the Affordable Care Act. We can't let them stack the Supreme Court for another generation. We've got to get back to the middle. We've got to get back to the big center and solving problems. That's how we make progress in America. I'm proud to be in a line of Democratic presidents who just got in there and fought it out…I know how hard it is, and I totally appreciate how exciting it can be to be involved in a campaign that really just puts out these great big ideas. But I want folks to just stop and think, no matter what age you are, OK, we agree on getting the economy going. We agree on raising income. We agree on combatting climate change. We agree on universal health-care. Who has the track record? Who's got things done? Who can actually produce the results you want for you and your family, and for our country?”
But Matthews wasn't finished. Condescension, it appears, is not just a river in Egypt.
“Look, the history of the Democratic party -- your party, not Bernie Sanders,” said Matthews. “He's not a Democrat—your party has produced the New Deal, the progressive income tax came from the Democrats, Social Security, the greatest anti-poverty program, came from Roosevelt, health-care and civil rights, and all these good things, and in every case, you had to battle Republicans against it to the last person. It's always been a tough fight. You need 60 votes in the Senate, and you need 218 in the House. And if you don't have them nothing gets done. Can the Bernie people be taught—not him, he can't be taught—can the kids behind him be told that this is how it works in our system? You can call for a revolution but it ain't gonna happen. There isn't going to be a revolution. There's gonna be an election and an inauguration and then there's going to be a Congress sitting next to you that you have to deal with. Revolution sounds like a pass. You don't have to have logic any more. We're going to have a revolution and pay for anything.”
Non sequitur. Your facts are uncoordinated.
First of all, what Sanders is calling for is a democratically determined change in how we govern ourselves. He's not f-cking Robespierre. The tumbrels are all in your head, dude. Among other things, Sanders is advocating for the restoration of a financial-reform system that was a pure product of the New Deal and that prevailed for 60-odd years. That's his "revolution." Just chill. Once again, though, HRC hit all her marks.
“Our system is set up to make it difficult,” she continued. “Checks and balances. Separation of powers. Our Founders knew, if we were going to survive as the great democracy that they were creating, we had to have a system that kept the passions at bay. (ED. NOTE: And then most of them divided up into political parties and spent the early 1800's slandering the hell out of each other. We continue.) We had to have people who were willing to roll up their sleeves and compromise. We couldn't have ideologues who were just hurling their rhetoric back and forth. We had to actually produce results….
“That hasn't changed since George Washington,” said Clinton. “We have to produce results now because a democracy is a fragile organism. People have to believe they have a stake in it, that their voices count, but then they gotta see results from their investment in our democracy. Our democracy has to work better. Our politics have to work better. That's what I know how to do, and that's what I want to get done.”
This doesn't have to be the way it goes. HRC is perfectly within her rights to campaign against Sanders on the ground that he is not electable or that his proposals are fanciful. But this is edging dangerously close to marginalizing him and his campaign as somehow extremist and/or vaguely un-American. For example, Matthews really went to town after the interview was over, talking pragmatism and evincing a curious view of 20th century history. He lumped the New Deal and, most spectacularly, the Civil Rights Movement as examples of the kind of incremental centrist change that characterizes American political history.
This is something of my bollocks. Good god, the New Deal was so centrist that the plutocrats of the time tried to organize a goddamn military coup against it. And the reason that the Democrats became the party of the Civil Rights Movement is that thousands of people in the streets, and more than a few martyrs, forced a series of presidents to move, however deliberately, and forced the party to change an identity to which it had clung since Stephen A. Douglas was the party's nominee. This is not the way the Democratic campaign should be conducted. Bernie Sanders is running a campaign completely within what can reasonably be called the mainstream of his party and of our politics.
Discreet red-baiting and disingenuous scaremongering helps nobody.
(Charles P. Pierce is a writer-at-large for Esquire and his work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the LA Times Magazine, the Nation, the Atlantic, Sports Illustrated and The Chicago Tribune, among others. This piece was posted at Esquire.com and CommonDreams.org. Screenshot: MSNBC. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
EDUCATION POLITICS-The annual commemoration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King -- a national holiday that most employers except the government ignore – is marred by a glaring disconnect between the rhetorical “feel-good” civil rights dream of Dr. King and the stark underachieving reality of Black America. This is accentuated when juxtaposed with the incessant illegal behavior of local, state, and federal legal authorities who do little to address the injustice imposed on Black communities.
Some injustices are a result of civil negligence, resulting from an unintentional act or omission when there is a duty to act. Worse, however, is criminal negligence that results when there is a clear and unambiguous illegal action such as what happened in Flint, Michigan with the city's water supply. This happened because of a reckless disregard of an easily ascertainable truth, namely, when the city connected the Flint municipal water supply to the known polluted Flint River, something that amounts to assault, battery, and probably worse criminal acts. Until those responsible for this see the inside of a prison cell, these actions to save money will continue unabated, no matter how many people of color have their lives destroyed in the process.
It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about the execution-style killing of a non-threatening criminal subject caught on police video in Chicago (and covered up for over a year by public officials including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, who was more concerned with his re-election than seeing that justice was done,) or Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s appointment of Emergency Manager Kevyn D. Orr, who, while charged with saving Flint, a city in fiscal despair, wound up poisoning it with a polluted water source not fit for human consumption. These cases and myriad of others like it will never result in long prison terms for such criminal behavior.
What adds insult to injury is that the American ruling class is never held accountable for its crimes. An additional affront is the fact that our corporate-dominated government will have to pick up the cost of this ever increasing criminal behavior – behavior that those guilty of these crimes should be forced to pay for both monetarily and criminally.
Building a Belmont High School on an irremediable toxic waste dump is soon forgotten as long as innocent predominantly Latino children are the ones who go to school on the site. And O'Melveny and Myers are not held accountable for their conflict of interest in representing both LAUSD and the developer of this public works project designed to screw the public. Yes, fundamental to all of these public scandals are the conflicts of interest – cases where the career and financial well-being of a few powerful people is systematically placed over the needs of the public. The only fiduciary duty these government leaders seem to have is to themselves, their corporate cronies – and never the public. But has it always been this way?
And of course, the granddaddy of these kinds of illegal and dangerous schemes, in terms of their sheer magnitude, remains the credit default swaps and sub-prime scams. The corporate criminalsin those cases not only got the government to bail them out; they got them to pay their bonuses.
(Leonard Isenberg is a Los Angeles observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He was a second generation teacher at LAUSD and blogs at perdaily.com. Leonard can be reached at Lenny@perdaily.com) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
EDITOR’S PICK-Is Barack Obama a transformational president? That was his ambition: to be more, as he put it, like Ronald Reagan than Bill Clinton, to launch a new era, not simply tack to the prevailing winds of the old.
Not surprisingly, in his final year in office, the issue is contested. Liberals like New York Times op-ed columnist Paul Krugman hail Obama as “one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history.” Conservatives scorn his administration as a “socialist” interlude in a conservative time. On the left, many like professor Cornel West are disappointed, seeing Obama as a “counterfeit” progressive who failed to seize a historic opportunity for progressive change.
What makes a president transformational? The first African-American president is inherently historic. Obama’s cheerleaders tick off his big accomplishments, as well: health care reform; the 2009 fiscal stimulus that helped save the economy; more than 14 million jobs created in a record stretch of 70 months of growth; progressive tax reforms; progress on climate change; the nuclear deal with Iran; the move to normalize relations with Cuba, and more.
Skeptics note that his era may be called the “Long Depression” rather than the “Great Recession.” They say the Obama administration brought us worsening inequality; stagnant incomes; bigger banks; greater big-money corruption of U.S. politics and governance; decaying public infrastructure; accelerating catastrophic climate change; and the United States mired in endless wars, facing off against Russia and China and draining its coffers trying to police the world.
The presidents widely celebrated as transformational — William McKinley, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Reagan — all got big things done. But no president — even Roosevelt with his four terms — can be expected to realize a complete reform agenda. Real reforms are necessary but not sufficient to be a transformational president: He has to change the course of the nation.
That requires not only new policies but also framing and winning the ideological argument. It requires not only winning the presidency, but also helping to forge an enduring majority coalition that can sustain the era.
Obama is the first Democratic president to be elected and re-elected with a majority of the popular vote since Roosevelt. He both personifies and has helped to forge a new and growing majority coalition for progressive reform. Pollster Stan Greenberg has dubbed this coalition of millennials, people of color and single women the “rising American electorate.” Political analyst Bill Schneider calls it the “new America.”
In Greenberg’s book, “America Ascendant: A Revolutionary Nation’s Path to Addressing Its Deepest Problems and Leading the 21st Century,” he estimates that the rising American electorate will constitute 54 percent of the electorate in 2016 (63 percent if you include “seculars,” those with no religious practice.) And the two-thirds of those that show up at the polls will likely vote for the Democratic presidential nominee.
Yet the scope, durability and thrust of this coalition are still uncertain. Under Obama, the Democrats have lost control of the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives. Republicans have gained 913 state-legislative seats since 2010, control 30 state-legislative chambers and rule virtually unchallenged in states across the South, Great Plains and Rocky Mountains.
The turnout of the new America coalition plummeted in the midterm elections. It remains to be seen whether the next Democratic presidential nominee can bring them to the polls as successfully as Obama did. No progressive reform era can flourish if the White House is an isolated island amid a sea of reaction.
A transformational president has to infuse his majority coalition with a clear direction. By framing the ideological argument, he or she must help Americans understand how they got in the fix they are in and what must be done to get them out of it. The measure of ideological victory isn’t simply that Democratic officeholders, activists and voters understand and enlist, but also that the opposing party finds it must adjust to the new arguments to survive.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower could succeed Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman — but only by embracing Social Security and the New Deal economic reforms. Clinton succeeded Reagan and George H.W. Bush — but felt it necessary to declare the era of big government over. Clinton joined Congress in deregulating finance and corporations and repealing welfare as it was practiced. He ushered in an era of mass incarceration by launching a tough “war on crime.”
Obama’s record in the ideological debate is mixed. On his watch, the “wedge issues” that once strongly favored Republicans — gay marriage, crime, guns and even abortion — began to favor Democrats. When the White House glowed rainbow to celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court’s acceptance of gay marriage, it symbolized a Democratic Party confident that its social liberalism is on the march.
Still, gay activists, Black Lives Matter and Latino organizers would argue that Obama has been a laggard, rather than a leader, on their concerns. But there is no question that his victory symbolized and accelerated the changes, and he has responded when movements opened up the political space.
On economic policy, both Obama celebrators and detractors argue that he has extended the power of the state more than any president since Lyndon B. Johnson and his Great Society. Obama’s list is indeed impressive: an unprecedented economic stimulus; rescue of the auto industry; use of executive authority to address climate change; banking re-regulation, and 17 million more Americans with health care insurance because of the Affordable Care Act. He raised tax rates on the wealthy by largely letting the top-end George W. Bush tax cuts expire.
But at the beginning of his administration, in the middle of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, Obama was essentially AWOL in the ideological debate. He consciously chose not to “litigate the past.” He did not grasp the moment to educate the public on how the United States got into such a mess; he didn’t explain the economic fundamentals and the need for a bold reform agenda.
Obama’s signature appeal, he believed, was being above partisan divides. Promising to “change the culture of Washington,” he insisted that he could bring the country together to find common ground. His economic stimulus, however, was weakened dramatically when he accepted Republican tax cuts in a vain effort to win bipartisan support.
He undercut his argument for more public investment to get the U.S. economy out of the crisis by arguing, only a few months after his stimulus bill passed, that government must “tighten its belt.” He assembled the risible Simpson-Bowles commission to focus national attention on deficit reduction.
Later, Obama nearly signed a wrong-headed “grand bargain” with Republicans that would have cut Social Security and Medicare in the cause of deficit reduction. He was saved, however, by Republican aversion to any form of tax hike. Conservatives’ austerity policies continued to erode public investment in areas vital to America’s future. And public opinion grew ever more skeptical of government’s competence.
Obama’s Wall Street and fiscal reforms were similarly compromised. Dodd-Frank left banking more concentrated than ever, and no major banker went to jail for what the FBI called the “epidemic of fraud” that contributed to the housing bust. He continued ruinous corporate-defined free-trade policies.
His healthcare reform, declared radical by the GOP, was modeled on a Heritage Foundation proposal adopted by Mitt Romney when he was Massachusetts governor. Obama refused to take on the drug companies over their exorbitant pricing, and he would not support a public healthcare option that might have put real checks on insurance-company abuses.
Though Obama spoke out against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates to corporate money in U.S. elections, he spent little political capital trying to curb money in politics. In fact, his decision to forego public financing in his 2008 presidential campaign essentially marked the end of that reform effort.
Obama’s first-term floundering fueled a revolt on his political left. Occupy Wall Street spread across the nation with its indictment of the 1 percent, which put inequality at the center of the U.S. public debate. The Elizabeth Warren-Bernie Sanders progressive/liberal wing of the Democratic Party exposed how the rich “rigged the rules,” spotlighted the Obama administration’s revolving door to Wall Street and demanded tougher reform. The Congressional Progressive Caucus laid out a budget that combined bold — and long overdue — public investments with progressive tax reforms.
In the run-up to his 2012 re-election campaign, Obama embraced some of these themes, particularly income inequality. Now, as any hope of bipartisan cooperation has faded, he has been bolder at using his executive authority and more willing to use his “bully pulpit” in the cause of reform. But the task of interpreting the moment, explaining it and winning the public debate remains unfinished.
His failure of vision is even more apparent in foreign policy. Obama won the 2008 Democratic nomination due, to a significant degree, to public dismay about the war in Iraq, which Hillary Clinton, his opponent, had voted for. He clearly hoped to extricate the United States from the wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan and bring the inflated war on terror into perspective.
Yet he again chose not to litigate the past. He failed to offer a different vision and global strategy. His troop surge in Afghanistan turned out to be a trap. He reluctantly intervened in Libya and Syria. Though he withdrew troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, he expanded the use of drones. He allowed neo-conservatives to drag him into raising tensions with Russia, even while beginning to confront the Chinese in the South China Sea.
U.S. Special Forces were active in more than 100 countries in 2015. If anything, Obama has expanded, rather than limited, the national-security claims of executive prerogative and extended surveillance and secrecy. The nuclear agreement with Iran and the easing of relations with Cuba hint at a different course. But one swallow does not make the spring.
No one president, even after two terms, can consolidate a new era. Obama’s successor will significantly affect history’s judgment of his presidency. If a Republican is elected president with a Republican-controlled Congress, Obama may well be seen as having lost the argument for reform. If a Democrat is elected, it will be left to him or her to interpret the moment for Americans, and to engage them in a bold reform agenda.
That Clinton has found it necessary to compete with Sanders by putting forth more activist and populist positions consolidates the thrust of the party. If a Democrat is elected president and successfully drives more reform, Obama will properly be judged as setting the stage for it. But if he or she is unsuccessful because of an obstructionist Congress, timid vision, economic woes or foreign calamities, Obama’s successor could end up discrediting progressive reform before it had the opportunity to fully take hold.
Zhou Enlai was once asked what he thought about the French Revolution. He reportedly replied, “Too soon to tell.”
Will Obama be considered a transformational president? Far too soon to tell.
(Robert L. Borosage is the founder and president of the Institute for America’s Future and co-director of its sister organization, the Campaign for America’s Future. This piece was originally posted at …first appeared in Our Future.) Photo: Official White House by Pete Souza (President Obama is seen from the Rose Garden walking through the Oval Office.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
LA WATCHDOG--On Friday, Councilmember Felipe Fuentes “introduced a motion calling for a 2016 ballot measure to reform and restructure” our Department of Water and Power.
LA WATCHDOG--On Tuesday, the Board of Water and Power Commissioners approved a five year, 21% increase in our power rates that were appropriately deemed “just and reasonable” by the Ratepayers Advocate. This represents a bump of 4% a year, considerably lower than the 8% that was tossed around a year ago.
But there was no discussion about how DWP Ratepayers would be hit with $150 million in new taxes as a result of the $770 million increase in revenues over the next five years. Overall, the City’s haul from the Ratepayers is projected to increase to over $800 million, up from the current level of around $650 million.
There are two taxes on power system revenues, the City Utility Tax and the 8% Transfer Fee.
The City Utility Tax is equal to 10% of residential revenues and 12½% of commercial revenues with a blended rate of about 11½%. Based on projected revenues of $4.22 billion for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020, this tax will generate around $485 million for our friends that occupy City Hall.
The 8% Transfer Fee is equal to 8% of the prior year’s revenue and according to DWP’s projections, it is scheduled to increase to $327 million in 2020, up from $266 million last year.
But this fee is the subject of a class action lawsuit (Eck v. City of Los Angeles) that alleges that this “fee” is a violation of Proposition 26 (The Supermajority Vote to Pass New Taxes and Fees Act), a ballot measure that was passed by voters of California in November of 2010 that prohibits the collection of “disguised taxes” in the form of fees or rates.
This issue was addressed in public comment at the Tuesday Board meeting by Walter McNeill, a Redding based attorney who successfully sued the City of Redding and its municipally owned utility in a similar case. But that was the end of the discussion because the City (and not the Department of Water and Power) is opposing the class action lawsuit.
But unlike the class action lawsuit involving the Telephone Users Tax (Ardon v. City of Los Angeles) where the City hoodwinked Superior Court Judge Amy Hogue and escaped a billion dollar liability owed to Angelenos for an estimated $25 million plus a very generous $18 million in legal fees, this litigation is higher profile and more clear cut as it concerns easily identifiable payments from DWP to the City and does not directly involve DWP’s 1.4 million Ratepayers.
If the City were to lose this case, and there is a high likelihood that it will, the revenue stream from the 8% Transfer Tax would come to a screeching halt, blowing an even larger hole in the City’s already unbalanced budget. Over the next four years, the City’s cumulative deficit will exceed $400 million as a result of the new labor contract with its 20,000 civilian workers.
The City would also be liable for over $1.5 billion for past transfers. This would cost the City $150 million a year to service the Judgement Obligation Bond that would be floated to pay this liability.
Rather than play Russian Roulette with the City’s finances, where there are at least four bullets in the six shooter, the City needs to reach a negotiated settlement with the plaintiffs, the Ratepayers, and the City’s voters that requires the City to reimburse DWP and its Ratepayers, that places a new tax on the ballot to help the City balance its budget and repair its infrastructure, that truly reforms the governance of the DWP, and that requires the City to Live Within its Means.
Otherwise, the City, true to form, will continue to “kick the can down the road” until the spaghetti and meatballs really hit the fan.
(Note: On Friday, Councilmember Felipe Fuentes will introduce a motion to the City Council that will have recommendations on how to reform the governance of our Department of Water and Power. But any reform must include significant input and buy in from the Ratepayers who do not trust the Herb Wesson led City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti who view Ratepayers as their dedicated ATM. See “DWP Reform: Set for Yet Another Burial.”)
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Vol 14 Issue 7
Pub: Jan 22, 2016
LA WATCHDOG--At its December 10 meeting, the Garcetti appointed City Planning Commission unanimously approved the “up zoning” of the Palladium Residences (photo: proposed) to allow the development of two thirty story towers that will house 731 luxury rental apartments. The doubling of this project’s density will result in additional profits of at least $50 million for Crescent Heights, the Miami based developer.
This mixed use development will also include a mere 24,000 square feet of retail space and restaurants and also includes improvements to the 63,000 square foot Palladium, the 1940 Art Deco venue located in the heart of Hollywood, one block east of Sunset and Vine.
The supporters of this $500 million project claim that it will help alleviate the City’s housing crisis. But the rents in these luxury apartments are not affordable unless you are making north of $100,000 a year. This is double the City’s median household income of less than $50,000 a year.
Nor are these apartments family friendly unless there is a household income in excess of $200,000 a year.
The developer and its bought and paid for supporters in City Hall are touting that 5% of the apartments are being reserved for working class Angelenos who make no more than 120% of the median income. But that will result in a modest decrease in revenues of less than 2%, or $600,000 a year, a small price to pay for at least $50 million in additional profits.
To put the 5% set aside in perspective, New York City is demanding that 25% of the units in an up zoned building be reserved for affordable housing.
The Planning Commission was also impressed that this “elegant density” project was in an area served by the Metro Red Line and numerous bus routes. But most of the residents in these two luxury high rises will not be schlepping to work on the subway or bus, but rather tooling to their offices in high powered BMWs.
This will lead to increased gridlock at Sunset and Vine and Hollywood and Vine, two of the most dangerous intersections for pedestrians in the City. And this does not include the impact of Millennium Hollywood and many of the other projects in the surrounding area that will add thousands of new residents and cars to the already stressed street and freeway infrastructure.
Real estate speculators and developers and their cronies argue that this “up zoned” project is good for the economy. While that can be argued, the need for high end apartments is questionable as the City’s Housing and Community Investment Department reported that there is a 12% vacancy rate for apartments built in the last ten years. Furthermore, there are many other development opportunities in Hollywood and throughout the City that will not destroy our neighborhoods, be less stressful on the infrastructure and public safety, and most importantly, provide affordable housing to thousands of hard working Angelenos.
The Palladium Residences is just another poster child in a long list of developments where City Hall has sold out to campaign funding real estate speculators and developers who could care less about ordinary Angelenos.
So it is not surprising that former Mayor Richard Riordan has endorsed the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative that would eliminate “spot zoning” of mega projects if it is approved by the voters in November.
While a recent poll indicated that 72% of the voters approved of the Initiative, Riordan’s game changing endorsement has put City Hall and Mayor Eric Garcetti on the defensive. As Riordan said, Garcetti “isn’t doing anything for the poor but helping the rich get richer -- through these zoning deals on land development.”
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at: email@example.com)
Vol 14 Issue 5
Pub: Jan 15, 2016
LA WATCHDOG--In April of 2014, the LA 2020 Commission recommended that our City establish the Los Angeles Utility Rate Commission to oversee the operations our Department of Water and Power, set policy, appoint the General Manager, and set utility rates.
But City Council President Herb Wesson buried this constructive measure in the bowels of City Hall, never to be discussed again, including by Mayor Eric Garcetti who promised us that he would reform DWP.
In December of 2015, the charter mandated Industrial, Economic, and Administrative Survey recommended reforming the governance of DWP to limit the political interference by City Hall in its operations, management, and finances. But Navigant, the consulting firm that was retained by the Controller, the Mayor, and the Herb Wesson led City Council, did not outline any specific reforms other than to form a “committee to examine governance reforms for the LADWP, with the explicit task of reporting on its findings and recommending a measure for the 2017 ballot.”
Unfortunately, this Governance Committee will consist of City Hall insiders, including “representatives from the Mayor’s office, City Council Energy & Environment Committee, CAO, CLA, Controller, City Attorney, Office of Public Accountability, Board of Water and Power Commissioners, the general manager of LADWP, and a representative from labor.”
But who is representing the Ratepayers, the “working slobs” who are paying the bills and being fleeced for over $1 billion a year by City Hall and its cronies?
While the Governance Committee that consists of City Hall insiders will claim to be working in the best interests of the Ratepayers, rest assured that our Elected Elite will try to game the new system of governance to their advantage at our expense, especially when it comes to using us as an ATM.
However, Ratepayers need to be an integral part of this process if the findings of the Governance Committee are to have any credibility with Angelenos who do not trust the Department and the hot air know-it-alls at City Hall. Furthermore, the Governance Committee needs to conduct its business in an open and transparent manner and not behind closed doors as is so often the case at City Hall, especially when it comes to issues involving our wallets.
Any recommendation by the Governance Committee must also include a requirement that the Department provide Ratepayers with timely information that is consistent with investor owned utilities such as Southern California Edison. This would include not only financial information and operating statistics, but a comprehensive letter written to Ratepayers discussing the Department’s operations and financials.
Ratepayers must also insist on transparency on all discussions between City Hall and the Department. This would require that all conversations and meetings be documented in writing and agreed to by both parties, subject to the penalty of perjury, and be made available to the public on the web within 48 hours. These “ex parte” rules would also apply to any conversations between City Hall and the IBEW, the Department’s domineering union.
The Governance Committee needs to allow the DWP to establish its own Personnel Department and rules, freeing it from the City and its overly restrictive civil service regulations that do not give this 9,000 person organization with almost $5 billion in annual revenues the necessary flexibility to operate in an efficient manner.
The Governance Committee should support a more robust and independent Ratepayers Advocate that has the resources to analyze the operations and finances of the Department on a timely basis to make sure DWP is hitting its operating and financial metrics. The Ratepayers Advocate must also have the resources to improve its outreach to the Ratepayers and other DWP stakeholders, including those who occupy City Hall.
The Governance Committee should also consider direct Ratepayer participation. This would include allowing Ratepayers to vote on any rate increase that exceeds the rate of inflation and/or permitting the Ratepayers to elect the Board of Directors as is the case with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.
One of City Hall’s major goals would be to legitimize the 8% Transfer Fee from the Power System that is currently the subject of a viable class action lawsuit. This year, it is expected to be in the range of $275 million. But rather than agree to continue this less than transparent tax, Ratepayers should approve its gradual phase out over a ten year period.
Over the next five years, DWP is anticipating spending between $15 and $20 billion transforming the Department. This includes getting off coal, developing sources of local water, meeting numerous unfunded environmental mandates, and repairing and maintaining its aging water and power infrastructure.
The key to this successful transition is excellent management that is allowed to operate an efficient, well-funded, flexible organization without undue interference from City Hall.
We cannot afford to have the politically ambitious duo of Eric Garcetti and Herb Wesson bury the reform of our Department of Water and Power in the bowels of City Hall yet again.
Vol 14 Issue 4
Pub: Jan 12, 2016
LA WATCHDOG--According to a December 31 Facebook posting by Mayor Eric Garcetti, “2015 was a big year. We laughed together, cried together and worked together to make our city better. Just in time for the New Year, check out this short video we made to celebrate all that Los Angeles has accomplished over the last 12 months. Can't wait to see how we'll outdo ourselves in 2016!”
But rather than go through the 21 modest accomplishments (see below) presented in “Looking Back at the Past Year in LA,” we should review what was not highlighted in this professionally produced two minute video.
There was no substantive discussion about our Department of Water and Power and the massive $1.4 billion, 30% increase in our utility rates over the next five years.
There was no mention of reforming DWP’s chaotic governance despite Garcetti’s 2013 campaign pledge and the recommendations of both the LA 2020 Commission and the charter mandated Industrial, Economic, and Industrial Survey.
Nor was our cash strapped City’s budget a topic of conversation even though the City is expected to have a budget deficit of more than $400 million over the next four years.
Nor was the budget busting new labor contract for the City’s civilian workforce mentioned even though it will add over $125 million in annual costs and roll back pension reform. It will also make it more difficult for the City to outsource work (such as road repairs) to more efficient, better managed private contractors.
Nor was the $13.5 billion unfunded pension liability (71% funded) of the City’s two pension plans discussed or that pension contributions are devouring over 20% of the General Fund budget.
Nor was the state of our lunar cratered streets, our broken sidewalks, and the rest of our deteriorating infrastructure mentioned.
But rather than dwelling on 2015, we need a better understanding of what Garcetti is planning for 2016 and beyond. And this does not mean platitudes and aspirations, but definitive policies and goals so that we can render a judgment on his leadership when he is up for reelection in 2017.
Will Garcetti pursue the recommendation of the LA 2020 Commission to establish an Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee our City’s strained finances and its budget shenanigans?
Will Garcetti follow the blue ribbon Commission’s advice to form a Committee for Retirement Security to review the City’s retirement obligations and to make “concrete recommendations on how to achieve equilibrium on retirement costs by 2020?”
Will Garcetti lead the reform the governance of our Department of Water and Power as was recommended by both the LA 2020 Commission and the Industrial, Economic, and Administrative Survey?
Will Garcetti follow up on the LA 2020 Commission’s recommendation to update the City’s Community Plans “to enhance neighborhood input and establish a thoughtful growth strategy?”
Will Garcetti develop an operational and financial plan to repair and maintain our lunar cratered streets, our broken sidewalks, and the rest of our failing infrastructure?
There are many other issues that need to be addressed, including, but certainly not limited to, balancing the budget without raiding the Reserve Fund, fixing the City’s poorly managed and inefficient work force, updating its management information systems, and funding the Los Angeles River and the 2024 Summer Olympics.
Eric, Angelenos elected you to lead the City, not to kick the can down the road. And to judge your leadership, we need results and not a lot of political hot air. Otherwise, how can you expect us to vote for you when you are up for reelection in March of 2017 or when you run for higher office in 2018?
Looking Back at the Past Year in LA
1. Mayor Garcetti signs LA’s first-ever Sustainability City pLAn.
2. Angelenos work together to Save a Drop and conserve water.
3. Shadeballs help conserve and preserve water quality in our reservoirs.
4. CicLAvia turns 5.
5. LA commits to acquiring the largest Electric Vehicle Fleet in the country.
6. The US Army Corps of Engineers signs off on a plan to restore the Los Angeles River.
7. Los Angeles hosts first-ever US-China Climate Leaders Summit.
8. Mayor Garcetti represents Angelenos and Climate Mayors at UN Climate Conference in Paris.
9. Los Angeles becomes the host city for the 2015 Special Olympics World Games.
10. Los Angeles becomes the official US bid City to host the 2024 Summer Olympics.
11. Mayor Garcetti signs historic minimum wage increase into law.
12. An $8.5 billion modernization and a record number of passengers at LAX.
13. California new Film Tax generates an estimated $1.07 billion in economic activity.
14. LA makes new investments in smart infrastructure, including ultra-high speed internet, smart poles, and solar powered small benches and bus stops.
15. City and County leaders begin an unprecedented collaboration to combat homelessness in Los Angeles.
16. #HomesforHeroes helps house homeless veterans and their families.
17. Mayor Garcetti signs a groundbreaking seismic retrofit bill into law.
18. Los Angeles prepares for El Nino.
19. LA first responders adopt new tactics to reduce emergency response time.
20. Metro’s Silver Line Express expands to San Pedro.
21. Construction on the new Crenshaw line and expansion of Metro’s Gold and Expo lines will transform LA’s transportation network in the coming year.
Vol 14 Issue 2
Pub: Jan 5, 2016
LA WATCHDOG--On April 9, 2014, the LA 2020 Commission endorsed a series of actionable recommendations designed to “enhance transparency and accountability in City Hall, put the City on a path to fiscal stability, and renew job creation in Los Angeles.”
In January of 2015, City Council President Herb Wesson buried the Commission’s report, including the recommendations involving the our City’s finances, its pension plans, the governance of our Department of Water and Power, and the updating of the City’s Community Plans.
LA 2020 called for the creation of the Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee our cash strapped City’s finances. But Paul Krekorian, the chair of the Budget and Finance Committee, tells us that the city’s budget is balanced, despite the fact that there is no plan or money to repair our lunar cratered streets and that the City raided its rainy day Reserve Fund for $150 million despite record tax revenues.
The Commission also called for the establishment of a “Commission on Retirement Security” to “review the City’s retirement obligations in order to promote an accurate understanding of the facts” and to make “concrete recommendations on how to achieve equilibrium on retirement costs by 2020.” This is a reasonable suggestion as the City’s two pension plans are underfunded by $13.5 billion (assuming a more realistic investment rate assumption of 6½%), representing a funded ratio of only 71%.
The city is also underfunding its pension plans by at least $400 million a year by relying on the overly optimistic 7½% investment rate assumption, a rate that Paul Koretz, the chair of the Personnel Committee believes is too low since he is smarter than Warren Buffett who recommended a rate of 6½%.
This twelve member blue ribbon commission, including IBEW Union Bo$$ Brian d’Arcy, called for the establishment of an independent, professionally staffed Los Angeles Utility Rate Commission that would appoint the General Manager and set rates with the intent of limiting the interference in the operations and finances of DWP by City Hall. To the surprise of no one, Felipe Fuentes, the chair of the Energy and Environment Committee, ignored this reform as the City continues to use DWP and its Ratepayers as an ATM.
The LA 2020 Commission also called on the City to update its 35 Community Plans every five years. This would allow residents, businesses, investors, and City Hall to have a clearer understanding of the zoning rules and regulations so that they are not “subject to the whims of special interests, nimbyism, and individual elected officials.” However, reform has been rejected by Jose Huizar, the chair of the Planning and Land Use Management Committee, as the real estate speculators and developers, their lobbyists and lawyers, contractors, and their cronies has been a major source of campaign cash.
While Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Herb Wesson (photo right) led City Council will close out 2015 with high fives knowing that they snookered us for yet another year, 2016 has the potential to be very different.
The City’s finances are under pressure as this year’s budget is already $100 million in the red because of excessive legal settlements. Next year, the City will have to finance its new labor agreement with the City’s civilian workers that will end up costing us over $100 million beginning in 2017. Pension contributions will increase as the return on the pension plans’ investment portfolios are significantly below the overly optimistic investment rate assumption of 7½%.
DWP will be front and center because of the five year, 30%, $1.4 billion increase in our utility rates. And the pressure for reform has increased as the charter mandated Industrial, Economic, and Administrative - overseen by Controller Ron Galperin, Garcetti, and Wesson - has called for a change in the governance of the inefficient DWP because there are no clear lines of authority.
Wesson and Garcetti may tell us to buzz off once again. But the need for our votes in the November election will provide us mushrooms (in the dark covered with manure) with considerable leverage.
In November, we will have the opportunity to approve the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative that will require the City to do “real planning,” eliminating the right of the local councilmember to “up-zone” gridlocking developments that are inconsistent with our neighborhoods. This initiative will be opposed by our Elected Elite who are addicted to the campaign cash they receive from the real estate “gang.”
There will also be several ballot measures to increase our taxes, despite the fact that we are one of the highest taxed states in the country with one of the lowest growth rates. This includes a new half cent increase in our sales tax to finance transportation projects, of which 25% is returned to the City.
In March of 2013, 55% of the voters rejected a half cent increase in our sales tax as we did not trust City Hall which refused to reform its finances and Live Within Its Means. This was in spite of massive campaign contributions by the real estate community to Herb Wesson’s campaign slush fund in support of Proposition A.
In November, we will be able to send a clear message by voting NO on the proposed tax increases and YES on the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.
In 2015, Garcetti, Wesson, and the City Hall gang kicked the can down the road. In 2016, we can kick them in the can.
Vol 14 Issue 1
Pub: Jan 1, 2016