EASTSIDER-Recently, the LA Times did an excellent investigative series about OxyContin use in LA, choreographed by the drug’s manufacturer, Purdue Pharma.
The stories of people hooked on this stuff, and the collateral damage done to their loved ones is well presented by the Times, so I won’t even go there. Suffice it to say that their headline, “You Want a Description of Hell?” seems spot on.
More pertinent to this article is the second part of the story, Here, with devastating detail, the Times proved beyond a reasonable doubt what the drug maker knew as it supplied hundreds of thousands of OxyContin pills to a sleazy front in MacArthur Park.
So what do we have here other than a corrupt company pushing pills to the unsuspecting, without having to pay a price? Even if you are lucky enough not to have a loved one or relative with a drug problem, let’s consider the costs -- the costs to us, the taxpayers of Los Angeles -- as contrasted to the profits of big pharma and the even larger profits reaped by the big banks who launder the drug money.
Our Costs--In most cities, public safety represents between 60 and 70 percent of the general fund budget and Los Angeles is no exception to the rule. That’s a lot of taxpayer money. And the more money spent on finding and apprehending drug related offenders, the less money is available for the community’s other safety concerns. We all know there exists a lot of unfunded need for public safety services.
The LA City budget barely touches the surface of those costs such as paying for the criminal justice system required to handle all judicial matters as well as the costs of incarceration, rehabilitation, medical treatment and so forth.
An enormous amount of money for that must come out of taxpayers’ pockets. And that doesn’t even begin to touch the human pain and suffering so eloquently described by the LA Times.
We tend to shy away from a cost/benefit analysis of drug addiction and its associated expenses. But drugs and public safety are closely intertwined issues in our City, and the combination is hideously expensive, both in terms of the devastation to people and the budget-breaking costs to law enforcement -- and us.
When dope dealers get busted, they go to jail. If addicts get caught, they also often go to jail for the crimes they committed to pay for the drugs and/or they clog up our health care system as their bodies deteriorate and they start to die dirty.
Purdue Pharma’s response to the Times article was to defend their product, OxyContin.
They did not respond to the fact that they knew about the Lake Medical Clinic and the incredible amount of “product” that they were selling -- yet did nothing other than cover up. And back to costs, it took an entire team of federal, state and local law enforcement to build and prosecute the case.
Their Profits--Clearly, we lose, big time. So who wins? How about the drug companies like Purdue Pharma and big financial services institutions like HSBC? In the case of Purdue Pharma, the money trail is pretty clear. They have made about $31 billion dollars selling OxyContin.
It is also clear that Purdue Pharma decided to expand their market by targeting those with “chronic non-cancer pain,” which includes a broad swath of society. In such expanding markets, the economic winners are not only big pharma but the professional class of marketing executives, database developers, marketing collateral designers, sales forces, and middle managers. Not to mention attorneys.
It would seem, in fact, that if you are a white-collar crook, be it with a corporation like Purdue Pharma or a huge financial services institution like HSBC (an international banking corporation with its headquarters in London,) you can get away with serious crime and not pay a dime.
I mention HSBC specifically, because there is clear evidence that they engaged in massive money laundering, both for foreign states such as Iran and Sudan, as well as good old fashion laundering of drug money for the drug cartels. For proof, as well as a link to the 288 page staff report, see “Too Big to Jail: Internal Treasury Documents Reveal Why Justice Department Did Not Prosecute HSBC.”
There is no doubt that Attorney General Eric Holder intervened in the proposed Indictment of HSBC over these very issues. Result? No indictment. And this was not a one-off, by the way. In her confirmation hearings, our current Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, suggested that there was not enough evidence to prosecute HSBC, even though she oversaw the case and was aware of the staff recommendations.
The Takeaway--Something is clearly wrong with our system of justice. And you and I are clearly paying for it in more ways than one. If the feds would start doing their job for a change, by prosecuting huge crooked drug companies and financial services institutions, then maybe the word would trickle down. I don’t know how direct a correlation there is, but it seems to me that vigorous prosecution of so-called “white-collar” crime would mean less profit for the corporate crooks and less crime for you and me in Los Angeles.
Hey, one can hope.
(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
DEEGAN ON LA-Breaking News-Audible gasps, in the Department of City Planning hearing room Wednesday, greeted the surprising news from Vila Carlotta developer CGI Properties that it was withdrawing its application to turn the historic Franklin Avenue apartment house into a hotel.
“This is what’s achievable when you have representatives in office that are responsive. David Ryu (CD4) was engaged, and he kept his word” exclaimed Sylvie Shain, the last evicted tenant of the Villa Carlotta to move out—-just a few weeks ago.
Shain, the leading figure in the long fight against converting the historic structure, with its star-drenched history of tenants and “bohemians”, was nearly speechless when reached by CityWatch on-set at her production job following the unexpected announcement by the developer.
Sarah Dessault, chief-of-staff for Councilmember David Ryu (CD4) provided this statement to CityWatch: “Councilmember Ryu's goal is to create and preserve great neighborhoods and protecting Villa Carlotta and its rich history is an important part of that effort. (Photo left: Councilman David Ryu with CES executive director Larry Gross.)
“We are grateful to CGI for their decision to withdraw their application for a zone change. They listened to us and to the community and are working to restore this cultural monument.
“Working closely with Larry Gross and the Coalition for Economic Survival and the tenants throughout this process has invigorated the Councilmember's work to protect tenants rights and prevent displacement.”
The Hollywood United Neighborhood Council was also against the hotel conversion, and made that known last week. They stressed, in their board decision, that affordable housing should be prioritized over hotel conversions.
Unknown is what’s next for the building, that will continue to undergo renovations by the developer, or whether Shain, and all the other tenants that were evicted through use of the Ellis Act, would be given the right to return which is conditionally embedded in that state law.
The Wallace Neff designed Villa Carlotta was built in 1926, in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, is a standout piece of architecture in the neighborhood known as Franklin Village. Tenants for the first fifty years of operation read like a who's who of the movie and music worlds.
For now, one Hollywood dream has come true, and a Councilmember that ran on a pledge to listen to the community has delivered on his promise, which is good, all around.
(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
PLANET WATCH--As wildfire rages in California, flooding affects millions in India and China, and eggs are fried on sidewalks in Iraq, scientists say global climate catastrophe is surpassing predictions.
Southern California's years-long drought has resulted in one of the "most extreme" wildfires the region has ever seen.
"What concerns me most is that we didn't anticipate these temperature jumps," David Carlson, director of the World Meteorological Organization's (WMO) climate research program, told Thompson Reuters Foundation late Monday. "We predicted moderate warmth for 2016, but nothing like the temperature rises we've seen."
"Massive temperature hikes, but also extreme events like floodings, have become the new normal," Carlson added. "The ice melt rates recorded in the first half of 2016, for example—we don't usually see those until later in the year."
Indeed, extreme weather events are currently wreaking havoc around the world.
In Southern California, firefighters are battling one of the "most extreme" fires the region has ever seen. The so-called sand fire had consumed 38,346 acres as of Wednesday morning and forced the evacuations of 10,000 homes, and one person has died.
Meteorologist Eric Holthaus reported on the unusual fire last Friday in Pacific Standard:
The fire, which started as a small brush fire along the side of Highway 14 near Santa Clarita, California, on Friday, quickly spread out of control under weather conditions that were nearly ideal for explosive growth. The fire doubled in size overnight on Friday, and then doubled again during the day on Saturday.
"The fire behavior was some of the most extreme I've seen in the Los Angeles area in my career," says Stuart Palley, a wildfire photographer based in Southern California. "The fire was running all over the place. … It was incredible to see." There were multiple reports of flames 50 to 100 feet high on Saturday, which is unusual for fires in the region.
Time-lapse footage filmed on July 23 showed the fire's tall flames and rapid growth.
"Since late 2011," Holthaus explained, "Los Angeles County has missed out on about three years' worth of rain. Simply put: Extreme weather and climate conditions have helped produce this fire's extreme behavior."
The fire is an omen of things to come, according to Holthaus: "Even if rainfall amounts don't change in the future, drought and wildfire severity likely will because warmer temperatures are more efficient at evaporating what little moisture does fall. That, according to scientists, means California's risk of a mega-drought -- spanning decades or more -- is, or will be soon, the highest it's been in millennia."
As University of California professor Anthony LeRoy Westerling wrote Tuesday in the Guardian: "A changing climate is transforming our landscape, and fire is one of the tools it uses. Expect to see more of it, in more places, as temperatures rise."
Meanwhile, in India's northeast, Reuters reported Tuesday that over 1.2 million people "have been hit by floods which have submerged hundreds of villages, inundated large swathes of farmland and damaged roads, bridges and telecommunications services, local authorities said on Tuesday."
Reuters added that nearly 90,000 people are currently being housed in 220 relief camps.
"Incessant monsoon rains in the tea and oil-rich state of Assam have forced the burgeoning Brahmaputra river and its tributaries to burst their banks -- affecting more than half of the region's 32 districts," the wire service reported.
Local officials also told the media that "more than 60 percent of region's famed Kaziranga National Park, home to two-thirds of the world's endangered one-horned rhinoceroses, is also under water, leaving the animals more vulnerable to poaching."
An unusually heavy monsoon season has also devastated communities in northern China, AFP reported Monday, with nearly 300 dead or missing and hundreds of thousands displaced after catastrophic flooding hit the region.
And in Iraq, temperatures last week reached such unprecedented heights that a chef literally fried an egg on the sidewalk. The TODAY show tweeted footage of the incident:
Stateside, the heat dome continues to inflict scorching summer temperatures across the country. In one Arizona locale, for example, meteorologists are predicting a scorching high temperature on Wednesday of 114° Fahrenheit. One Arizona resident posted a video Tuesday desperately asking people to pray for the state as it faces more hot weather. "It is still six billion degrees," the resident lamented. "Lord, we need you."
Yet there appears to be little relief in sight: for the first time ever, USA Today reported Tuesday, the U.S. federal government's climate prediction center is forecasting hotter-than-normal temperatures for the next three months for "every square inch" of the country.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
(Nika Knight is a writer at Common Dreams … where this piece was first posted.) Photo: Nick Ut/AP. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
SKID ROW … ‘FIRST PERSON’ REPORT- In what can only be described as a “massive shake-up”, Skid Row Housing Trust has just taken major steps that change the core if it’s existence.
SRHT last week fired ALL of their nighttime desk clerks and replaced them with armed security guards. This week, they notified ALL of their tenants that they are now working with the Los Angeles Police Department to rid their buildings of drug dealers.
PLANNING POLITICS--Nice to know I'm not the only one who's aghast at how the City's efforts to improve affordable housing is making things worse, not better. Let's keep it simple, please: we need senior affordable housing, student affordable housing, and workforce affordable housing.
Everything else is just overdevelopment, and a warped interpretation of how the City and State wanted to ensure a middle class could afford to live in California.
My recent sarcastic CityWatch article about how developers could use, and should use, the usual talking points in justifying overdevelopment and unsustainable urban projects is something we all see just too darned often.
And then WE get called crazy, or zealots, or NIMBY's, or racist, or what have you...which is the perfect way to get reasonable people to shut up and be shut down.
The recent CityWatch article about the Casden Sepulveda development was a true flash to the past of what set me (and other Expo Line supporters) off about where this City is going.
Cities and neighborhoods will always have to figure out variances and compromises for the greater good, but it is NOT the state law (SB1818) on affordable housing that is the problem...it's how the City of Los Angeles interpreted it that is the problem.
In particular, while I find our current Mayor Eric Garcetti to be more affable and responsive than his Sacramento-based, smashmouth-politics predecessor, his "overdevelopment and neighborhood destruction with a smile" usually has the same result of his predecessor.
And the good will that Antonio Villaraigosa lost after getting Measure R passed (because of his predisposition to enabling overdevelopment) is pretty much getting lost by Mayor Garcetti before his own transportation initiative (Measure R-2, as it's often called) because of the "sons of Casden", such as that which is being planned "by right" at 12444 Venice Blvd.
The tallest and least affordable and most neighborhood destructive project for miles around is being promoted as "by-right" by an inscrupulous smashmouth developer who refuses to work with the public to come up with a compromise that would create TRUE affordable housing, and have a project that's appropriate for the neighborhood.
Better to come up with a shorter, market-value condo development with lots of extra parking to serve the local commercial corridor of adjacent Downtown Mar Vista--at least THAT would be more honest than promising local artists the ability to live in $2000+/month "affordable housing".
Meanwhile, Boyle Heights ain't the only neighborhood that's losing affordability. The whole darned City is becoming unaffordable for the middle class!
Meanwhile (again), the Build Better LA Ballot Initiative on this November's ballot is being opposed by business (such as the LA Chamber of Commerce and Valley Industry and Commerce Association) and LA Tenants Union alike!
So maybe the City of LA won't be surprised if BOTH Measure R-2 AND the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative pass, but Build Better LA does NOT.
Want to REALLY enhance affordable housing, transit-oriented development, pedestrian-friendly streets, sustainable development and urban infill, and a better quality of life for all Angelenos?
1) Acknowledge that Downtown/City Hall and the "Planning Politburo" are being dominated by zealots who enable the uber-rich and connected, and smash the law-abiding remnants of the middle class.
2) Acknowledge that Neighborhood Councils, local Chambers of Commerce and tenants organization will do wonders in guiding local efforts for affordable housing that are cheap, quick to build, and get the job done.
3) Acknowledge that universities can and should direct affordable student housing efforts.
4) Acknowledge that local businesses can and should direct affordable workforce housing efforts.
5) Acknowledge that legitimate, non-compromised senior advocacy groups can and should direct affordable senior housing efforts.
6) Acknowledge that, with the exception of Downtown and certain key locations, virtually ALL affordable housing developments should be 2-4 stories tall...maximum!
7) Acknowledge that there are many neighborhoods south of the I-10 will be ripe for affordable housing and a new development of the middle class where it's been long overdue.
8) Acknowledge that, while mass transit is a venerable and laudable goal, PARKING can and will be needed for the unforeseeable future. If a project spills out parking to the adjacent neighbors because it doesn't provide enough parking spaces for its residents, then it NEVER should see the light of day.
9) Acknowledge that the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative is by far a better plan than Build Better L.A. because, as with Neighborhood Councils, it allows a democratic, grassroots approach to teaming up with the developers who choose to play by the rules rather than our socialistic, winner/loser approach that portends to help the little guy ... but only helps the rich and powerful.
...Because to do anything otherwise is just ... unaffordable, and morally bankrupt.
(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at email@example.com. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)
CORRUPTION WATCH-After a decade and half of corruption, the City of Los Angeles continues to decline. The relationship between corruption and urban decay is one of the oldest stories in western civilization, and yet, it is also the most current.
Corruption Leads to Destruction--Genesis and rabbinic tradition instruct us that injustice, abuse of the poor, and corrupt leaders destroy society. Sodom was ruled by four judges: Liar, Habitual Liar, Deceiver, and Perverter of the Law. Through a variety of ploys, the rulers of Sodom stole the wealth of others especially of the poor and strangers who had no friends to protect them.
It has been reported that Sodom’s rulers destroyed the homes of the poor and then charged the people of Sodom billions of dollars to build homes for the poor, except they built luxury homes for the wealthy while the poor languished in the streets of Sodom. Oh, no…wait. That wasn’t Sodom. That’s Los Angeles under the reign of Garcetti.
Just as the rulers of Sodom were smug in their complacency believing that no one would disturb them in their wealth, the city councilmembers and mayor are confident that no one will hold them accountable. Certainly not the district attorney who sees nothing wrong with the massive vote trading scheme which has dominated the City Council since Garcetti became City Council President in 2006.
One of the worse cruelties of the Garcetti Administration has been the intentional and systematic destruction of the homes of the poor. Surely, the destruction of over 20,000 rent-controlled apartments -- throwing the elderly, the disabled and poor into the streets -- is a measure which would make the rulers green with envy.
As CityWatch recently reported, one of Garcetti’s planning commissioners revealed the purpose behind destroying the homes of the poor: to make the Metro system more profitable.
Why does Garcetti want an expanded the Metro system? It has nothing to do with improving transportation but rather with getting people to tax themselves another $120 billion which will be given to the campaign supporters of Garcetti and the elected officials in Los Angeles.
Destroying the homes of the poor swells the ranks of the homeless so that the same politicos who have destroyed poor people’s homes can pretend to come to their rescue. Here’s Garcetti’s plan in a nutshell: Destroy a poor person’s home, give a million dollars to a billionaire.
The Absolute Right of Councilmembers to Steal--Los Angeles City Councilmembers have this absolute right to steal because they’ve made their Faustian deal with each other: “I will never vote against a project in your district, if you never vote against a project in my district.” In 2006, Penal Code § 86 criminalized vote trading by councilmembers as a form of bribery. The votes of other councilmembers may not be purchased by cash or by another councilmember’s vote.
This unlawful vote trading pact has been a form of “Mutual Bribery,” by which the City Councilmembers approve each and every construction project UNANIMOUSLY -- over 99.9% of the time. What does the City Attorney say about Mutual Bribery?
“ . . . City Council’s unanimously agree[ing] 99% of the time . . . Does not give rise to a reasonable inference that a Councilmember ‘gives, or offers or promises to give, any official vote in consideration that ...another member of the legislative body ...shall give this vote either upon the same or another question.’ (Penal Code, § 86.)” Thus, sayeth the City Attorney.
Really? Ten thousand consecutive unanimous votes in a 15-member city council does not give rise to an “inference” of vote trading?
If you went to Vegas and the House won 10,000 times in a row, would you pretend that it was just the luck of the draw? If a casino’s tables won every hand for just one day, does anyone think that the Nevada Gaming Commission would allow that casino to operate the next day?
Yet, the District Attorney has allowed these types of astronomical odds to rule LA City Council for ten years while accepting the absurd explanation that the unanimous votes are just the luck of the draw.
As the judges of Sodom learned and the rulers of Los Angeles are discovering, some laws come with built-in penalties. Retribution for corruption tends to be slow, but it is devastating. People move away from Los Angeles, making the city poorer and poorer day by day.
Before Garcetti was first elected to the LA City Council in 2001, Los Angeles was one of the nation’s premier cities. In less than a decade, Garcetti destroyed his own council district in Hollywood so much so that, between 2000 and 2010, Hollywood’s population dropped by 12,596 people.
Los Angeles’ Brain Drain --Furthermore, recent data shows that Los Angeles as a whole has suffered greatly due to the corruption in Garcetti’s City Hall. The most important segment of a city’s work force is its “professional and business services section.” This portion of the population is crucial not only for the wealth it adds to the city; it’s also the bell weather of a city’s future.
As noted by Joel Kotkin and Michael Shires in their July 22, 2016 article in NewGeography.com, “In many ways, the business and professional service sector may be the best indicator of future U.S. economic growth.”
As the name implies, “professional and business services” are dependent upon a strong economy with a growing business section. A city that does not attract the “professional and business services” sector is a city in decline.
Los Angeles has fallen to Number 60 among U.S. cities for attracting the “professional and business services” sector of the work force. These workers are the stable middle and upper-middle class. They are the classes that can afford to pay taxes; they also have enough education and jobs skills to move to a less toxic municipal environment.
It is no mystery why a pathologically corrupt City Hall drives away businesses and the city’s more productive people.
“Los Angeles is barely treading water while the rest of the world is moving forward. We risk falling further behind in adapting to the realities of the 21st century and becoming a City in decline. § For too many years we have failed to cultivate and build on our human and economic strengths, while evading the hard choices concerning local government and municipal finance presented by this new century.” -- December 2013, 2020 Commission, “A Time for Truth.”
When the rulers expropriate a city’s wealth for themselves and their cronies, the streets are not repaired, the sidewalks are not fixed and water mains constantly burst. Los Angeles has fewer parks than any large city and its traffic congestion has become the worst not only in America but also in all of Europe. Businesses look at the long-term when deciding whether to stay or leave Los Angeles. Increasingly, businesses are finding that they should get out while they can.
Businesses Move Away from Corruption--Likewise, when businesses consider where to re-locate, they look at the long-term. When they look at Los Angeles, they see a city which has shot itself in the foot when it comes to obtaining federal money. Is anyone surprised that after Garcetti stole the Promise Zone money from South Central and gave it to his developer buddies in Hollywood, that the Obama Administration skipped Los Angeles when giving out its transportation grants? San Gabriel Valley Tribune, 07/11/1, Southern California Gets a Big, Fat $0 from Feds for Freight, Road Improvements.
Businesses look at Los Angeles and see our possible future: (1) Continued decaying infrastructure as more and more money is drained from the city treasury and diverted to developers; (2) huge tax increases that will be needed to pay to rehabilitate our infrastructure.
Businesses see that the City is incurring billions upon billions of dollars in debt that they, the business leaders, will have to repay. The only people who can avoid paying their share are the developers who form LLCs and LLPs in order to receive their influx of cash from the City and then BK their “collapsible” LLCs and LLPs. No rational businessman willingly remains in such a morass of corruption.
We Angelenos need to ponder the fact that LA has fall to #60 in attracting the “professional and business services” sector of the work force. Can you even name 60 other U.S. cities? That’s how far down the list Los Angeles has fallen. If our City was on American Ninja Warrior, we wouldn’t even advance to the next round.
“Power corrupts and corruption destroys.” – GOD, Genesis 18 (more or less.)
(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney. He can be reached at: Rickleeabrams@Gmail.com. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
AT LENGTH--It’s an old but tested technique of argumentation. When you can’t win on the facts or logic, call your opponent bad names. Donald Trump and his political surrogates have lost the argument on Hillary Clinton’s email. Now they’ve gone back to the “Crooked Hillary” schoolyard taunt. This is a tactic about as sophisticated as a couple of schoolboys tossing back and forth “yo’ mama” jokes. But it is not without historical precedent.
The classic example was back in 1950 when Richard Nixon ran for the Senate against Helen Gahagan Douglas -- a campaign that echoed his win over New Deal liberal Jerry Voorhis for a House of Representatives seat by calling Voorhis a “Commie.” In the Senate race, the Nixon campaign manual included a “pink sheet” comparing Douglas’ voting record to that of the Communist Party. Nixon won the California senate seat and an indelible sobriquet that would follow him for his entire life – “Tricky Dick.”
Name calling and slander are the most common tactics the losing side uses to distract an audience from real issues. We’ve seen that to be true at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and we’ve seen that to be true in the recently concluded neighborhood council races. It even continues on Facebook today.
I recently reposted a Facebook post from a Bernie Sanders delegate for the 44th Congressional District, Carrie Scoville. The post was on the terms “groupthink” and “norms” in a discussion on organizational theory.
Groupthink: “Remaining loyal to the group by sticking with the policies to which the group has already committed itself, even when those policies are obviously working out badly and have unintended consequences that disturb the conscience of each member . . . Groupthink involves non-deliberative suppression of critical thoughts as a result of internalization of the group’s norms . . .”
Renowned research psychologist, Irving L. Janis defined the term “Groupthink” as being the desperate drive for consensus at any cost.
I thought this was a good topic to discuss amongst our community in light of battles over homelessness, coyote sightings and those claiming to be “saving San Pedro.”
Coastal Neighborhood Council member Gayle Fleury was one of the first to greet the discussion topic with suspicion.
“What is this in relation to?” she typed. “It sounds:
- Ultra-left-liberal bias.
- A leap to judgment.
- An intentional swipe at people who were just seated on the council.
- A blind eye to the way Central was run the past year.
What is your intention? Is it positive? Do you want GOOD things for Central? Or are you just driven by anger that you were not elected?”
To which I responded:
“Gayle, you inevitably will take the above academic discussion and twist it anyway that you can, but let me make one thing clear -- in both Central and Coastal neighborhood council districts, Sen. Bernie Sanders won a majority of the votes. In fact, he eventually won over Hillary in the entire LA County. (I was incorrect on this point in my response. Sanders lost Los Angeles County by more than 140,000 votes.)
“So if anything that I write sounds at all like any of his political positions, then I would say that they are rather mainstream considering that the second highest votes went to Clinton, another ultra left liberal by your standards. This, in San Pedro, makes up something over two-thirds of the voters!
That through some mistake of neighborhood council elections [or distraction by the electorate] the people who mostly ally themselves with Trump have gotten elected to the majorities of two of these councils should not be overlooked by those paying attention to something more relevant than coyotes or panhandlers.
“And as far as my leadership at the Central NC over the past 2 years, it was done with a high degree of ethics, command of the rules and compassion for those who needed help the most. That is more than can be said about the current leadership, which violated more laws, by-laws and broke more rules in just two meetings than I did in two years.”
By the way, Gayle is not the only one who has continued to cast aspersions against me and others on social media even after the elections were over. As if to consolidate their “desperate drive for consensus,” even as they have called for community voices to come forward with concerns coated with the promise that they will listen.
My suggestion to everyone with a gripe about the way the City of Los Angeles treats San Pedro is to show up and start complaining. They might even listen. But will they commit to getting the city to act and respect its citizens?
As for my intentions -- they’ve been the same for more than 35 years -- it is to empower the people of this community with information, engage them in a public civic debate of the issues that affect them the most and to hold those who are in power accountable for the consequences of their actions.
Or put another way, the role of journalism should be “to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.” I do ascribe to that motto more than a little.
However, what I will say to all of my critics both near and far is that once you start in on the juvenile name calling, you have already lost the debate, even if you win the election. I only wish this weren’t true in our national elections. For what I actually fear most is that the good people of this country will remain silent, like many have in San Pedro, while belligerent bullies like Donald Trump mouth off with racist, sexist and homophobic name-calling to silence their opposition.
(James Preston Allen is the Publisher of Random Lengths News, the Los Angeles Harbor Area's only independent newspaper. He is also a guest columnist for the California Courts Monitor and is the author of "Silence Is Not Democracy - Don't listen to that man with the white cap - he might say something that you agree with!" He was elected to the presidency of the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council in 2014 and has been engaged in the civic affairs of CD 15 for more than 35 years. More of Allen…and other views and news at: randomlengthsnews.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
GELFAND’S WORLD--Things have calmed down a bit, but for nearly two weeks, a film production company parked rows of trucks along our San Pedro streets, took over a swathe of the local park, and for lack of a better term, generally annoyed the local residents. One of my neighbors described how a mobile bathroom truck emptied its tanks into the sewer at the crack of dawn, creating an overpowering stench that filled her house.
Others talked about the loss of street parking. What we were experiencing in microcosm was the experiences of people all over town. It's the result of political decisions creating a system that is in part justified by economic necessity, but it's a system that could be much improved. Unfortunately, our elected officials are terrified of even raising the question. (Photo above: Scene from movie classic Chinatown shot in Point Fermin Park.)
The scene: Point Fermin Park in San Pedro. This has been a popular filming location for years. Last week and the week before the movie Deported was being shot here. Deported is an independent production which is described as a romantic comedy involving a young American man and his Canadian girlfriend. I guess the writers were trying to develop a story of cultural and ethnic diversity.
Deported took over the area, as hundreds of other productions have taken over other parts of town. It wasn't as bad as a previous film shoot that had a helicopter flying right overhead emitting loud simulated gunfire, an experience that frightened quite a few local residents. In both cases, many residents did not receive advance warning.
It doesn't have to be this way. It's not hard to see that the entertainment industry could be more accommodating to local residents, but it obviously hasn't been forced to do so. The bottom line, which I'll discuss below, is that it is going to be up to us civilians to negotiate a better system if a better system can be had. We shouldn't expect the political class to get themselves involved.
Why must Angelenos put up with the strains of location filming? There are a couple of reasons. One is airplanes. The other is Joel Wachs. The airplanes are a problem because we don't manufacture them around here, at least not on the scale that we did during WWII and in the postwar years. As Los Angeles lost its role as a major site for the development and construction of passenger aircraft, it also lost a lot of high paying jobs. Some other industry needs to fill that economic role, even if it's only in part.
The city relies on film and television production to employ people at reasonable salaries. The city (like a lot of other states and countries) is willing to give up on some potential tax revenue in order to keep the industry going locally. This is straightforward macroeconomics. Well paid workers spend money on houses, clothing, food, cars, and everything else, and the city takes a cut in the form of sales taxes. The rest of us benefit through the prosperity of the local economy.
Elected officials have been worrying about runaway production for decades. It's a strange term, runaway production, because it implies a sort of entitlement enjoyed by Los Angeles. We don't complain about runaway oil drilling, or runaway agriculture, even though we once were competitive in both. But we want to stay competitive in entertainment. That's where Joel Wachs and John Ferraro come into the story. You can read about it in newspaper clippings from the mid-1970s. Previous to that time, location filming was mostly illegal in much of the city. Ferraro and Wachs got the City Council to approve changes in the law that made possible what we now are experiencing.
The regulatory system has gone through various phases. As of right now, the city and county (and several other adjacent cities) have an agreement with a nonprofit corporation called FilmLA [http://www.filmla.com/] to oversee the permit process for location filming. FilmLA is supposed to be a one-stop-shop. For the filmmaker, this is a huge improvement over a previous system which often involved getting separate permits from each of multiple districts and agencies.
Here's an example of how things used to be. Back before the single agency permitting process came into being, a friend of mine was tasked with getting a location near the harbor breakwater for a location shot. As he explained, he eventually dealt with eleven different agencies and authorities in order to achieve the proper paperwork for this one shoot. He mentioned the city, the county, the port, the Coastguard, the fire department, the port police, and so on. Each one had to sign off on the application.
FilmLA was created to cut through this kind of red tape. It is generally successful in helping film and television to get permitting in a rapid and fairly inexpensive way. But FilmLA is also supposed to be sensitive to the greater public interest. FilmLA claims that things have improved over the past few years, largely due to better communication among the public, the film companies, and FilmLA. For the residents of the Point Fermin area, this claim rang a little hollow, but apparently there are areas in the San Fernando Valley that used to be under siege by location shoots, and now have some little relief from the onslaught.
FilmLA will come out and talk to your neighborhood council about your local issues. Last week, my neighborhood council met with Guy Langman, a Community Outreach Liaison for FilmLA. He listened patiently as my neighbors complained about the Deported takeover of the streets and the park. He explained that FilmLA tries to limit the negative effects of location film shoots, and is trying to work with people around the city. Langman even suggested that I put his work email in this column so that you can contact him to set up your own neighborhood council discussion. Here it is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Since there was so much discussion about Deported, I wandered down to the site of the filming to find somebody to talk to. I spoke to one young staffer who explained patiently how he had done his best to limit any difficulties brought on the local community. There is one lesson that jumped out at me during this discussion. In planning their location shoot, Deported tried to get use of a large publicly owned parking lot that is right across the street from the park. As the young man described, they were denied permission to park their trucks in the parking lot because there were competing events over the July 4th weekend and the succeeding weekend. So they took over a large part of the last block on Gaffey Street, thereby denying use of that block to the locals and to coastal visitors.
This suggests a failure of the system. Point Fermin Park (as so many other parks) has a busy calendar of events. FilmLA and other city agencies should be able to coordinate their efforts. There is no reason that the Department of Recreation and Parks couldn't work with FilmLA to deal with scheduling issues. Deported should have been told that it could either reschedule to a different time or scale down its intrusion.
There are a lot of additional issues that should be discussed at another time, such as the rights of local residents to object to a location shoot happening at all. For now, we might consider the way to achieve some improvement in the current system. As I mentioned above, I don't think we can expect much help from our elected City Council. For one thing, they want to keep the industry in town. But it's also obvious that the political players are terrified of lifting a finger to help the belabored public. The industry has too much clout.
For this reason, the best chance we have is to try to have some quiet, polite chats with the entertainment industry about how to get along better. This might be a useful thing for neighborhood councils to try. I think that it might be possible for local residents and businesses to help the industry, while getting help from the industry in turn.
Here's one possibility that I've mentioned before. The downtown San Pedro area has been a popular site for location work, but due to one unfortunate incident a few years ago, there are special rules for filming in this area. I think the rules are needlessly limiting. We could develop a less restrictive set of rules and, in exchange, work out ways for the local economy to get a boost from local filming. We might sit down over coffee and simply ask them what they want, and they can ask what they might be able to do to help us a little.
A huge story that is starting to build--Major news organizations have been putting together data and connecting the dots.
The picture that emerges is still a bit tentative, but it is nevertheless damning regarding Donald Trump's judgment and even possibly his loyalties. The story involves Trump's deep economic connections to Russian money which is in turn connectable to Putin.
Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo provided a summary of news articles that are solid and unimpeachable. Kevin Drum has further summarized. These facts and inferences could be the answer to a question that many of us asked after Trump's speech at the Republican National Convention. Why is Trump attacking NATO, and suggesting that he might not respond militarily to a Russian invasion of our easternmost NATO allies? Imagine what Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan would have said if a Democrat had ever made such a suggestion.
The implication of the stories linked above is that Trump is beholden to Putin and to Russian money interests, and that he is doing their bidding. The linked articles reference Trump's campaign manager Paul Manafort and the fact that the Trump campaign only threw its weight around regarding one element of the Republican platform, the issue of whether the U.S. should support Ukraine against Russian meddling in its eastern region.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at email@example.com)
DEEGAN ON LA-Another round of controversy has appeared on the horizon to coincide with the reopening of Runyon Canyon Park. Closed for repairs the past few months, the park officially reopens on the morning of August 2, Councilmember David Ryu (CD4) has announced.
Once again, some in the community have the Friends of Runyon Canyon fundraising support group in their sights. Like the prior controversy over a basketball court in the park, they have been amplifying their voice through social media, public comment at neighborhood council and Board of Recreation and Parks Commission meetings, and online petitions to make their point that they “do not trust”, as they say, the Friends of Runyon Canyon. They want the Memorandum of Understanding that created the private-public partnership with the Department of Recreation and Parks, terminated.
The other side of the argument is value based. The fundraising efforts by Friends of Runyon Canyon, says the organization’s president, Don Andres, “included $100,000 in 2015 of which about 1/3 has been spent on new benches, trash containers, bike racks, dog waste dispensers and thousands of bags, clean-up signage, kiosk and message board renovations, as well as a Runyon demographic study and hiring MLA & Associates (park experts) to evaluate the park.”
Andres added, “over $500,000 in 2016 to support the Trust for Public Land (TPL)-led effort to acquire land for more open green space, extend a wildlife corridor, and preserve a Runyon Canyon hiking trail.” He also mentioned that “the Foundation’s ongoing efforts in working with the City Staff have resulted in real park improvements by DWP and RAP during the closure including a totally resurfaced Fire Road and erosion control measures, upper Runyon trail maintenance, piping for a storm water reclamation future project, new fire hydrants, and four drinking fountains to be deployed.”
The Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council board voted unanimously on Wednesday, July 20, to approve the following motion: “The HHWNC hereby resolves that it recommends that the Department of Recreation and Parks terminate the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which it entered into with Friends of Runyon Canyon, dated April 15, 2015.” Community activists are calling this a victory, even though Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council President Anastasia Mann told the packed auditorium that this was not the final answer.
What, then, is next? Councilmember David Ryu (CD4) may need to intervene as he did to successfully bring all parties together to resolve the basketball court dispute. His spokesperson said to CityWatch:
“The Councilmember believes that the MOU should not be terminated at this time….it sets a bad precedent for other potential private-public partnerships throughout the city, and would impact an important program of philanthropy that the Department of Recreation and Parks depends on. However, there is room to clarify some vague elements of the Friends of Runyon Canyon MOU, including community outreach and responsibilities.
“The Councilmember would like to bring all sides together, to build consensus, in a respectful way. Any actions in the park come from the city, not Friends of Runyon Canyon, which is a fundraising arm to help the department, when needed. A review of the department’s donor recognition policy also needs clarification. It’s a big problem that needs to be reviewed, specifically the size and placement of corporate logos …there needs to be a line in the sand. That review may take a City Council discussion and action.
“We would also like to include a review of the Runyon Canyon Master Plan from the 80’s. Lots of people are supportive of reviewing that plan.”
It’s not only the Memorandum of Understanding that concerns some in the community. An online group is objecting to Manuel Valencia’s application to build a 9,500 square foot residence at 3003 Runyon Canyon Road, the site of a Lloyd Wright house bordered on all four sides by the canyon. The Wright house has been a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument since 1992, which protects it from demolition. The new residence would need to be located elsewhere on the almost five acre property.
Opponents allege that Valencia is a major “funder” of Friends of Runyon Canyon, that their board voted not to oppose the building of the new house in the middle of Runyon Canyon.
However, Friends of Runyon Canyon President Don Andres disputes those allegations, confirming that Valencia “donated $1,000 because he loves the park, his home (the subject property) is surrounded by the park and was supportive of the Foundation’s efforts to protect and preserve the park.” He added, “Several meetings were held, with the Mulholland Drive Design Board, the Hillside Federation, and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, and each meeting was attended by Foundation individuals as community representatives opposing the proposed project.” Andres stressed that “there were no conversations with Mr. Valencia regarding his property, and there was no favor given to Mr. Valencia for his donation per IRS regulations.”
What is it about this park and the community and the support group that has created such tension? Why is it that David Ryu must act as a referee? What’s blocking the dialog between the community on one side -- including activists on social media, neighbors of the park and the neighborhood councils -- and the support group on the other side?
Ryu is right to urge that everyone should come together respectfully to reach consensus. It the early stages, many months ago, a field deputy might have been able to help resolve the situation. Instead, the disagreement morphed into a monster and continues to haunt all sides like a tar baby. At some point, the lens has to pull back and widen out the bigger picture; we must take into consideration how the park can serve everyone and what is best for the park itself. A global audience of park users must be able to benefit as much as the community and support group.
A harsh spotlight on Friends of Runyon Canyon has caused others to weigh in. Notably, Citizens Preserving Runyon (CPR) that describes its mission like this:
“We at CPR are dedicated to preserving Runyon Canyon as a wilderness area for community hiking and off-leash exercise for our dogs. We remain steadfast in our ongoing fight to stop developers (whether corporate or "non-profit") from commercializing our beloved canyon. We oppose the City granting administrative authority to outside groups who do not answer to the people. We want the City to meet its obligations to maintain this beautiful park. In essence, we support keeping Runyon Canyon a natural wilderness area.”
So how will this end? That will rest with David Ryu and the LA Department of Recreation and Parks who are also looking at how to manage the traffic at the park entrance. Some have suggested white-gloved traffic officers during peak times, which, although welcome, may not be feasible. Catherine Landers, David Ryu’s Hollywood deputy, offered one practical suggestion at the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council board meeting: try to arrange for a dedicated drop off and pick up spot for visitors that use Uber to go to the park. Hopefully many more ideas will come from the group gathering that appears to be the next step.
In 1975, the music group War had a hit song called, “Why Can’t We All Be Friends?” It may be time to pull out the old vinyl and make that the Runyon Canyon Park anthem!
(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
THIS IS WHAT I KNOW--Valley Village has been a hotbed of proposed developments and activists who are focused on maintaining the character and affordable housing component of their neighborhood. Yet, it seems at every turn, the city council and development cronies are popping up to put obstacles in front of the activists and concerned neighbors.
Back in May, I wrote about the Hermitage/Weddington project proposed by Urban-Blox. A 1940s apartment complex on Hermitage would be replaced with the neighborhood’s first and only four-story 43 unit apartment buildings with an unknown number of parking spaces. The project had been granted a density bonus and would have environmental impact, as well as eliminating existing rent control, according to Save Valley Village. Families who have been residing in the remaining buildings have been served with over eight eviction notices, according to the Save Valley Village website.
On Weddington, a 1950s single family dwelling is in danger of being demolished by Urban-Blox, which per Save Valley Village, plans to replace existing homes on Weddington Street to make way for a new project that would bring more traffic, eliminate open space and rent control. Per Save Valley Village, Urban-Blox has “become known for purchasing existing rent-control buildings, evicting occupants, demolishing buildings, and selling.”
The group has been attending South Valley planning commission meetings to address the Urban-Blox proposed project. A spokesperson for Save Valley Village shared with me, “Prior to the (July 14) hearing, we were so jerked around about how many copies we needed to submit, the deadline, not receiving notices. There are five commissioners, yet one office asked for 12 copies of the supplemental documents. A couple hundred dollars later, we bring those in and they ask where the 13th copy was! We could have brought 20 copies in and they would have asked for 21.”
The representative of Save Valley Village adds, “The most disturbing part is how the documentation just sits there. We make sure to print our appeals and evidence in colored paper. This tells us if they are looking at it or reading it at the hearing, which they are not.” The representative notes that one commissioner “managed to take down a sandwich, a yogurt, and a bag of potato chips during the hearing. Clearly, this was more important than hearing the testimony of the residents and neighbors, all of whom had taken time off work.”
Planner Dan O’Donnell, the representative notes, “has been recommending the Commission deny appeals since 2003,” deflecting information that shows noncompliance. Commissioner Rebecca Beatty addressed that the proposals dealt with “people’s lives,” while Commissioner Mathers voted to uphold the appeals.
Both Mathers and Beatty “were not happy with the fact that the proposed project has eight inches between buildings, as well as proof that the applicants had lied several places on their application. The commissioners weren’t happy with removing rent-control housing. Mather’s had said that “price staggers the imagination” when they disclosed a sale price of over $600,000, off by $150,000 or so from their previous application and last public hearing.”
The Save Valley Village website notes that Karo Torossian from Council Member Krekorian’s office attended the July 14 public hearing, “never letting his developer friends down with nothing but full support for their 28 small lot subdivision project that demolishes a chunk of Valley Village’s culture and history.” Save Valley Village has been collecting signatures for a petition to recall Council Member Krekorian.
Save Valley Village and other grassroots groups throughout the city will continue their fight to maintain the integrity of their neighborhoods. With hope, council members and commissioners who seem to place roadblocks before concerned citizens will be replaced with those who listen.
(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.)
CALBUZZ--Convening in Philadelphia this week, Hillary Clinton’s Democratic Party must counter Donald Trump’s fear and loathing GOP convention by offering a practical and promising economic message targeted at beleaguered and persuadable middle class voters in the Midwest, especially western Pennsylvania and Ohio.
It won’t hurt to aim a few reassuring words at the Medicare and Social Security generation in Florida, either.
As a tactical matter, Clinton, her moderate vice presidential pick, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, and other allies would be smart to calm down the hot-headed lefty backers of the vanquished Sen. Bernie Sanders. They are newly aroused by the Wikileaks disclosure of Democratic National Committee emails confirming their bitter allegations that soon-to-be-ex chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz secretly influenced the nomination process on Hillary’s behalf.
The Sanders portsiders aren’t all that thrilled about Kaine either, particularly given his DLC style and previous support for the TPP trade agreement, which he flip-flopped on last week; a few are wary of his Jerry Brown-like stand on abortion rights — publicly pro-choice but personally opposed, and his “mixed choice” record as Virginia governor — although NARAL now says he’s 100% with them on the issue.
The verdant threat: A danger for Clinton is that small but significant numbers of inflamed Bernie-bots, despite the Sanders endorsement of the nominee, might switch and fight on behalf of Green Party nominee Jill Stein; she plans to crash the party in Philly to lead protests on behalf of what she calls the “economic justice” of her party’s progressive “Green New Deal.” Said Stein in a worth-checking-out interview by NPR:
And we are here especially for the Bernie Sanders movement that does not want to go back into that dark night, into the Hillary Clinton campaign, that for so many people represents the opposite of what Bernie was building and what they were building.
Although Stein now is little more than an annoying asterisk in national polls, winning even a few percentage points in key states — a possibility given the number of Sanders voters who still reject Bernie’s lead and say they’re not ready to vote for Clinton — could damage Hillary in the same way Ralph Nader screwed Democratic Al Gore in the 2000 election.
That worked out well.
The Donald’s long shot: Trump’s only hope of overcoming Clinton’s natural Electoral College dominance is to cash in on the economic frustrations and resentments of independent and up-for-grabs white working class voters in the Midwest.
So Clinton needs to fiercely fend off Trump’s industrial state strategy by offering believable solutions for un-and-underemployment, lagging wages and fury at smug Beltway elites and the 1 percent.
You know, people like Clinton.
Specifically, Philadelphia and its suburbs have become more Democratic in recent years but Pennsyltucky out west has become more Republican.
If she captures Pennsylvania and Ohio, where Trump was running even before his ghastly convention, and also wins Kaine’s Virginia and Florida – the would-be veep’s Spanish fluency won’t hurt, as demonstrated by the enthusiastic reception he won in Florida in his debut campaign appearance over the weekend — she’ll be on the verge of a landslide.
Whatever happens in the streets or back rooms, there is likely to be little genuine controversy inside the hall, with Sanders already on board, as second-place GOP finisher Sen. Ted Cruz decidedly was NOT for Trump.
It’s the economy, knuckleheads: Overall, Democrats need to present a message and persona that is compassionate but hardheaded, caring but tough, bold yet sensible – not smug, self-regarding, ultra-liberal and elite.
To date, Clinton’s economic message has been a combination of substantive, if incremental, programs like increased government infrastructure spending, tax reforms to punish companies that outsource jobs and insurance against college students being crippled by debt; she also can credibly argue that her decades of Washington experience and mastery of policy details position her to succeed in actually passing some of her agenda, or at least fighting congressional Republicans more effectively than President Obama. How much the latter sells in a year of pitchfork populism remains unclear.
Whether her wonky promises are enough – or if she unveils some more sweeping thematic approach – may determine whether she wins a landslide or Trump threatens a stunning upset.
Her damn emails: There’s little chance that Clinton can do anything in four days to overcome the baked-in public opinion — a result not only of the Clintons’ trademark guileful, parsing style, but also of decades of GOP propaganda — that she is dishonest, sneaky and untrustworthy.
More: her high-profile backers – including Obama and Big Dog qua wannabe First Husband Bill Clinton – need to scare the hell out of people about Trump’s whack job personality, Kim Il Jung authoritarianism and nationalist aggression – without overshadowing Hillary.
It also wouldn’t hurt for her to show a glimpse of personality behind all the eat-your-spinach-in-the-principal’s office earnestness.
Oh never mind.
(Jerry Roberts is a California journalist who writes, blogs and hosts a TV talk show about politics, policy and media. Former political editor, editorial page editor and managing editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, he serves as student adviser for the Daily Nexus newspaper at UC Santa Barbara. He is the author of “Never Let Them See You Cry,” a biography of Senator Dianne Feinstein.
Phil Trounstine is the former political editor of the San Jose Mercury News, former communications director for California Gov. Gray Davis and was the founder and director of the Survey and Policy Research Institute at San Jose State University where he created the Silicon Valley and California Consumer Confidence Indices. He is co-author of “Movers and Shakers: The Study of Community Power.” Together they publish the award-winning CalBuzz.)
DEATH PENALTY EXPOSED-Speaking in favor of Proposition 66, the ballot initiative that seeks to speed up executions in California to Texas-like levels of lethality, Los Angeles deputy district attorney Michele Hanisee told legislators during testimony before the Public Safety Committee in May: “The suggestion that civilized societies don’t support the death penalty is inaccurate. Many countries such as Japan (photo above), Thailand, Taiwan, and Singapore have the death penalty.”
Ms. Hanisee is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys. She is being sued for lying in a declaration she made under oath during a murder prosecution and, just recently, her claims of “absolute immunity” for that egregious conduct were rejected by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. While this alone clouds Hanisee’s credibility on the death penalty debate in California (whether the punishment should be ended forever or be “speeded up”), the countries whose justice systems Hanisee extols are even more troubling. Perhaps, in addition to remedial ethics courses on an attorney’s duty of candor to the court, Ms. Hanisee should also take a closer look at the countries she is suggesting Californians emulate with their vote on the death penalty this fall.
For example, in Japan, it has been documented that death sentences are “implemented with disregard for international law, including denying the right of prisoners to seek appeal.” The condemned are subject to “degrading and inhuman treatment” which includes “prolonged solitary confinement.” Japan even executed an 89-year-old man last year who spent 46 years on death row protesting his innocence – all the way to his long-awaited, abominable end.
In Thailand, Taiwan and Singapore, death sentences can be meted out for drug crimes alone. Furthermore, in Thailand, allegations of the torture of suspects charged with capital offenses have been substantiated by the Thai National Human Rights Commission. Taiwan, which is moving toward abolishing the death penalty, has a record of executing “psychologically or mentally impaired prisoners,” and failing to have “a clear and complete procedure for appeals for clemency.” Last fall, in an article for Slate called, “Singapore’s harsh death penalty: Inside the fight to save one man from the city-state’s death row,” Kirsten Han wrote about, “Singapore’s mandatory death penalty regime” where, under Singapore law, “anyone convicted of murder must be sentenced to death, with no chance for mitigating factors to be taken into account.”
(In Singapore, prisoners convicted of low-level property crimes can even be caned, a punishment Berkeley Law Professor Jerome H. Skolnick called “brutal,” describing how a “martial artist strikes the offenders” with “a half-inch rattan cane moistened to break the skin and inflict severe pain” often causing significant “loss of blood” and “shock.”)
Like Ms. Hanisee, Ms. Bethany Webb, who lost her sister in the 2011 mass shooting at a hair salon in Seal Beach, also got a chance to address the Public Safety Committee this past May. In her courageous testimony, Ms. Webb explained her support for Proposition 62 (which would, among other things, replace the death penalty in California with a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.) In voicing her opposition to the countervailing initiative, Proposition 66, Ms. Webb told lawmakers: “We could be more like Texas. We could start mass producing murder. Well, I’m sorry, California is better than Texas . . . We’re better than Texas.”
Ms. Webb is right. When it comes to respecting human rights, California is better than Texas, where the lust for speedy executions has led to the execution of a panoply of potentially innocent men. And, despite what Ms. Hanisee thinks, we are also better than Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, and Singapore. Or, at least, we will be – as soon as we vote for Proposition 62 and against Proposition 66 – ending capital punishment forever in California.
(Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. This column was first published by JURIST and is being reprinted with the author’s permission. email@example.com) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
EDITOR’S PICK--Does Hillary Clinton understand that the biggest divide in American politics is no longer between the right and the left, but between the anti-establishment and the establishment?
I worry she doesn’t – at least not yet.
A Democratic operative I’ve known since the Bill Clinton administration told me “now that she’s won the nomination, Hillary is moving to the middle. She’s going after moderate swing voters.”
Presumably that’s why she tapped Tim Kaine to be her vice president. Kaine is as vanilla middle as you can get.
"The most powerful force in American politics today is anti-establishment fury at a system rigged by big corporations, Wall Street, and the super-wealthy."
In fairness, Hillary is only doing what she knows best. Moving to the putative center is what Bill Clinton did after the Democrats lost the House and Senate in 1994 – signing legislation on welfare reform, crime, trade, and financial deregulation that enabled him to win reelection in 1996 and declare “the era of big government” over.
In those days a general election was like a competition between two hot-dog vendors on a boardwalk extending from right to left. Each had to move to the middle to maximize sales. (If one strayed too far left or right, the other would move beside him and take all sales on rest of the boardwalk.)
But this view is outdated. Nowadays, it’s the boardwalk versus the private jets on their way to the Hamptons.
The most powerful force in American politics today is anti-establishment fury at a system rigged by big corporations, Wall Street, and the super-wealthy.
This is a big reason why Donald Trump won the Republican nomination. It’s also why Bernie Sanders took 22 states in the Democratic primaries, including a majority of Democratic primary voters under age 45.
There are no longer “moderates.” There’s no longer a “center.” There’s authoritarian populism (Trump) or democratic populism (which had been Bernie’s “political revolution,” and is now up for grabs).
And then there’s the Republican establishment (now scattered to the winds), and the Democratic establishment.
If Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party don’t recognize this realignment, they’re in for a rude shock – as, I’m afraid, is the nation. Because Donald Trump does recognize it. His authoritarian (“I’ am your voice”) populism is premised on it.
“In five, ten years from now,” Trump says, “you’re going to have a worker’s party. A party of people that haven’t had a real wage increase in 18 years, that are angry.”
Speaking at a factory in Pennsylvania in June, he decried politicians and financiers who had betrayed Americans by “taking away from the people their means of making a living and supporting their families.”
Worries about free trade used to be confined to the political left. Now, according to the Pew Research Center, people who say free-trade deals are bad for America are more likely to lean Republican.
The problem isn’t trade itself. It’s a political-economic system that won’t cushion working people against trade’s downsides or share trade’s upsides. In other words, a system that’s rigged.
Most basically, the anti-establishment wants big money out of politics. This was the premise of Bernie Sanders’s campaign. It’s also been central to Donald (“I’m so rich I can’t be bought off”) Trump’s appeal, although he’s now trolling for big money.
A recent YouGov/Economist poll found that 80 percent of GOP primary voters who preferred Donald Trump as the nominee listed money in politics as an important issue, and a Bloomberg Politics poll shows a similar percentage of Republicans opposed to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision.
Getting big money out of politics is of growing importance to voters in both major parties. A June New York Times/CBS News poll showed that 84 percent of Democrats and 81 percent of Republicans want to fundamentally change or completely rebuild our campaign finance system.
Last January, a DeMoines Register poll of likely Iowa caucus-goers found 91 percent of Republicans and 94 percent of Democrats unsatisfied or “mad as hell” about money in politics.
Hillary Clinton doesn’t need to move toward the “middle.” In fact, such a move could hurt her if it’s perceived to be compromising the stances she took in the primaries in order to be more acceptable to Democratic movers and shakers.
She needs to move instead toward the anti-establishment – forcefully committing herself to getting big money out of politics, and making the system work for the many rather than a privileged few.
She must make clear Donald Trump’s authoritarian populism is a dangerous gambit, and the best way to end crony capitalism and make America work for the many is to strengthen American democracy.
(Robert Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley and the author of Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future, now in bookstores. This post originally appeared at RobertReich.org.)
EDITOR’S PICK--As terrorism struck again in Nice and Germany and… Donald Trump outlined his policy against Islamic State: as president, he will seek a full declaration of war from Congress, the first such formal invocation since Pearl Harbor.
Trump was short on specifics but very clear he would take the strategies of the post-9/11 era into a presidency. Clinton, for her part, intends on “intensifying the current air campaign [and] stepping up support for local forces on the ground.” Their French counterpart, President Francois Hollande, declared “We will continue striking those who attack us on our own soil.”
The problem is that none of that will work. While perhaps necessary at times, military force is far from sufficient in defeating Islamic terrorism.
Post-Germany, Post-Nice, post-Brussels, post-Turkey, post-Paris… it is clear the last 15 years of the war on terror in general, and the last two against Islamic State in particular, have not worked. No society can defend itself fully when any truck can be turned into a weapon. No amount of curating social media will prevent disenfranchised people from becoming radicalized. Ramadi fell, Fallujah fell, Mosul will likely fall, and Nice still happened.
“The effect that’s going to happen now is like stepping on a ball of mercury,” stated one American intelligence analyst. “You step on a ball of mercury, all the pieces break up and spread around the world.”
A new way of thinking is needed.
The west must be willing to understand Islamic terror beyond scary search engine terms and decide if we wish to tackle the problem at its core, or simply choose to live with a new normal where incidents like Nice will just happen. Here is what might be considered. It will be hard, and will be unpopular.
— Admit the current strategy has not worked. Agree, in the U.S. and abroad, that something new is needed. Statements such as those from Trump and Clinton block anything beyond more of the same.
— Understand that the roots of Islamic terror rest in part in the Sunni-Shia divide, which the west helped fuel in arming jihadists in Afghanistan in the 1980s and whose fuse the west lit in 2003 when it invaded once-stable Iraq. A significant amount of terror takes place insider the Muslim world, and sectarianism is a steady fuel for recruitment.
At the same time, both sides of the divide recruit well off of horror stories of CIA torture, the continued existence of Guantanamo, the fits of Islamophobia played out in western refugee policy, French and American militarization of Islamic Africa, and a core belief that the actual goal of the western powers is not to “defeat Islamic State,” but to create a permanent state of war against Muslims while garrisoning the Middle East (it used to be more about taking Arab oil, but the point is the same.) More war, more troops, and more draconian security measures are just gas on those fires.
— Another driver of Islamic terror is the unhappiness of many Muslim youth with the autocratic, secular governments in most of their Arab nations. The west must pull back its support for such governments and lessen its fear of non-secular governments. What Washington sees, for example as expedient, realpolitik decisions to support the repressive Saudi government, Bahrain where the United States turns a blind eye to human rights in return for an important naval base, or allowing the Arab Spring to be crushed in Egypt as a military coup unseated the only democratically elected president in the nation’s history, have not worked well in even the medium term. Same for supporting the corrupt government in Baghdad.
The west must find rapprochement with Muslim leadership (Iran, with a robust participatory component inside a fundamentalist theocracy, is an interesting example.) Much of radical jihadism is less about destroying the west than it is about changing the Middle East; even 9/11, the worst of the terror attacks, had as its extended purpose pulling the United States into Afghanistan in hopes of triggering a broader Muslim uprising across the region.
— Immigration out of the Middle East is toothpaste out of the tube. It can’t be snaked back in by tough policies against refugees or stopping Muslims from entering the United States. Western nations must assimilate their Islamic immigrants.
Islamophobia, law enforcement discriminatory targeting of Muslims, hot-headed rhetoric and the rise of right wing governments pleasing citizens enamored anxious to trade their freedom for security, fuel the anger and sense of displacement of so-called lone wolves, and send them to the solutions offered by groups such as Islamic State. It is not about cleaning up Twitter. It is about chipping away at the mindset that makes those 140 character messages so attractive.
This is, in the end, a long war of ideas. Success must include difficult decisions to acknowledge the tides of history moving across the Middle East. Because you can’t stop the next truck. You do have a chance at making it so a man won’t choose to get behind the wheel.
(Peter Van Buren spent a year in Iraq as a State Department Foreign Service Officer serving as Team Leader for two Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). Now in Washington, he writes about Iraq and the Middle East at his blog, We Meant Well. His new book is We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People [The American Empire Project, Metropolitan Books] This piece was posted originally at WeMeantWell.com and most recently at Common Dreams.)
ELECTION PENDULUM--Americans love to argue about the rules of picking major party presidential nominees. But no matter the method, these contests are essentially the same: They pit party elites against the voters.
There is a clear pattern, a back and forth, that my co-authors and I identified in researching for our book, The Party Decides. While rule changes may give the upper hand to voters for a few presidential cycles, elites will always try to find ways to stage this voting process in their favor.
At this summer’s conventions, both parties are reconsidering the rules of the presidential selection process, after Donald Trump’s divisive triumph on the Republican side and Bernie Sanders’ strong Democratic challenge raised questions about the fairness of procedures. But no matter what reforms to the selection process that parties may pursue, the back-and-forth struggle between elites and the voters will likely continue.
Today, the nominating process is itself the product of reforms that didn’t alter this dynamic. Presidential elections now consist of both primaries—where residents simply cast their ballots in the area designated to them based off their address—and caucuses—where voters gather openly to decide which candidate to support.
This mix of primaries and caucuses is relatively new to American politics.
In the early decades of the Republic, members of Congress got together to decide presidential nominations. The rest of the nation was totally frozen out of the process. In the early 19th century, reforms designed to make the process more representative led to national party conventions. These gatherings enabled leaders from across the country to take part in the momentous decision of nominating a potential president. The convention system lasted for more than a century until there was a reform movement put in place to increase participation even further.
The modern presidential nominating process wasn’t born until 1968. The Democratic Party—like the rest of the country—was deeply and sharply divided over the war in Vietnam, when party leaders meeting at the convention in Chicago decided to select the sitting vice president, Hubert Humphrey, to take on Richard Nixon in November. There was rioting in the streets and shouting in the convention hall. The problem was not just that Humphrey was intimately associated with the Johnson administration’s hawkish military policies in Southeast Asia. What drew the ire of many was that Humphrey had failed to compete in any of the primaries and caucuses that nominating season. He was plucked from the wings and foisted upon the party in a very undemocratic fashion.
In 1968, this type of political movement could occur because primaries and caucuses were not binding. In the aftermath of that bitter convention, Democrats created the McGovern-Fraser Commission to democratize the nominating process. They decided that, starting in 1972, candidates who won the most votes in each contest would receive the most delegates from that state, conferring significantly more importance on the primaries and caucuses. Additionally, the candidate who amassed a majority of delegates—2,383 for Democrats and 1,237 for Republicans—would automatically become the party’s nominee. While McGovern-Fraser was a Democratic Party committee, Republicans followed suit and the two parties had in place extremely similar procedures by 1976.
… if your preferred candidate is ultimately victorious, the complaints tend to be muted. But supporters of the losing candidates are often quite vocal in their disparagement of the system—and 2016 was no different …
The goal was to wrest the power to nominate away from the party bosses and give it to the people—and that is exactly what the McGovern-Fraser reforms succeeded in doing. Candidates for president were now essentially required to submit themselves to the voters in order to be crowned their party’s nominee. Democratic Party elites, seeing things slipping away, in 1982 convened the Hunt Commission to reform the process yet again. This time they sought to regain some of their influence by mandating that 20 percent of the delegates would not be bound by voter preferences and therefore would be able to choose whomever they wanted to support come convention time. These superdelegates only exist on one side of the party divide however, as the Republicans did not choose to emulate the Democrats this time.
One irony of this back and forth is that America’s presidential nominating process is among the most open and democratic in the world. Most other political parties worldwide do not have any sort of primaries, and many that do limit rank-and-file participation in a variety of ways. Also, some parties screen candidates and, without elite support, one cannot even run for the nomination.
But still, the litany of complaints about our system is long: The primary process goes on forever. It is too expensive for non-elite candidates. Iowa and New Hampshire, two relatively unrepresentative states that lead off the proceedings, have disproportionate influence on the final outcome. The votes of many citizens essentially don’t count because in most instances the contest has been wrapped up before their states’ scheduled primaries and caucuses.
Of course, if your preferred candidate is ultimately victorious, the complaints tend to be muted. But supporters of the losing candidates are often quite vocal in their disparagement of the system—and 2016 was no different in this regard.
If you look at the Democratic race, it was clearly a case of the party deciding for Hillary Clinton before the voting began. Clinton quickly locked in virtually all of the elite endorsements, making her the strongest frontrunner the modern system has ever witnessed. Clinton also benefited from the overwhelming support of those infamous superdelegates. And finally, the Democratic National Committee initially scheduled a relatively small number of debates and broadcasted most of them on Saturday nights, minimizing the potential damage to a Clinton campaign that had huge systematic advantages.
Despite running under a legal and ethical cloud for most of her campaign, and facing a powerful insurgency led by a surprisingly charismatic challenger, Clinton prevailed in the end and became the first woman ever to be nominated by a major political party for president.
On the Republican side, the lead-up to the primaries and caucuses as well as the ultimate outcome could not have been more different. Party elites clearly would not or could not decide on a preferred candidate during the invisible primary period, splitting their support among several broadly acceptable aspirants including Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich. This opened the door for Donald Trump to capitalize on a populist anger simmering among the Republican primary electorate. Trump won his party’s nomination without any elite support going into the primaries and caucuses and prevailed despite most party elites preferring anybody but him.
One can already see countervailing pressures on the two major parties resulting from the drama of 2016. Sanders supporters are calling to abolish superdelegates and change states’ primary processes to make them more accessible. And Republican leaders will seek to gain a firmer grip on their nominating process to avoid the debacle that has been Donald Trump’s unlikely candidacy. In fact, we saw this play out earlier this week as anti-Trump forces in Cleveland tried to force various procedural roll call votes as a way of, if not stopping Trump, embarrassing him and his supporters.
No matter the reforms, the struggle between elites and voters will go on.
(Dr. Martin Cohen is an associate professor of political science at James Madison University. He is co-author of the “The Party Decides: Party Nominations Before and After Reform” and author of the forthcoming “Moral Victories,” which will be published by the University of Pennsylvania Press.
Primary Editor: Jessica Suerth. Secondary Editor: Callie Enlow. This piece was posted originally at zocalopublicsquare.org. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
TRUTHDIG--Post-Bernie Sanders progressives should focus unrelenting attention on the racism infecting American society, illustrated by the killings of black men by police and the deaths of officers at the hands of armed African-Americans.
I consider this issue and income inequality the greatest problems facing America. Unfortunately, the Bernie Revolution is frittering away its energy by embracing too many good causes, rather than concentrating on these.
But before I discuss that, I’ve been digging into what Sanders’ followers are thinking of doing after the election this fall, and they’ve got interesting things to say.
“I think the [Bernie] movement is as strong today as it ever has been,” filmmaker Montgomery Markland told me. He’s planning to campaign and raise money for the state and local candidates Sanders hopes to mobilize after the Democratic National Convention next week.
Larry Cohen, former president of the Communication Workers of America, mirrored the pride and disappointment many followers are feeling after Sanders’ recent endorsement of Hillary Clinton. He wrote about it in In These Times:
“While the platform is likely the most progressive ever, with enormous thanks to Bernie and his supporters, it will likely stop short of satisfying the tens of thousands who campaigned for him and the 12 million who voted for him. There is no proposal to end fracking; Medicare for all was voted down; and the platform does not support an end to new Israeli settlements in Gaza or the West Bank.”
I received a long and thoughtful response from Carson Malbrough, a young African-American man who is a junior at Occidental College in Los Angeles and a leader in Students for Sanders. We exchanged emails when I was writing about Sanders volunteers.
“We [younger voters] are the future of this country, and what we saw in Bernie Sanders’ candidacy was unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, yet it was everything we could want,” Malbrough wrote.
“He advocated for economic justice, racial justice, environmental justice, drastic changes to higher education, etc., in ways we didn’t know were possible because most politicians don’t have the conviction to do it. … You’ll see many Sanders supporters joining or creating new issue-oriented organizations, educating and registering more of our peers to come out and vote, peacefully protesting for justice and even running for office with the same progressive platform Sanders called for. … I don’t believe any other candidate could have catalyzed this many people like this, especially considering how new most of us are to politics.”
I asked if he was disillusioned by his candidate’s endorsement of Clinton.
“I am far from disillusioned at this point,” he said. “I was disappointed at how the primary ended, but despite that, I still hold my head high. The anger and passion we all felt will not go away, and that’s because this is bigger than just Bernie Sanders. Our system that is corrupted by money and power is something we didn’t know could be changed. We never expected to see our voices amplified on a national level. We never expected for all of the issues and values we care about to be vouched for so passionately.
“To be honest, many of us never expected to even care about politics. But now that we’ve witnessed our potential, there’s no turning back. We will turn this anger into action in order to make our country better moving forward. Even when all the cards are stacked against us, we will lead, and we will achieve the unthinkable.”
As for himself, “I personally plan on casting my first vote for Jill Stein, and the reasons why are simple. My predecessors marched and died for my right to vote, and I value that right. I value it so much that I refuse to waste it on the two major parties’ nominees because I don’t align with them on a moral level. I do not align as Democrat or Republican, so this fall I will be voting with my conscience.”
All these folks have good ideas, and they believe in them. That’s why the Sanders movement was great to cover. It was something I myself hadn’t experienced for some time—politics with a purpose.
But the crisis over racism calls for something bolder and more single-minded than the laundry list of good ideas being tossed about by the Bernie Revolution. It demands support of Black Lives Matter and its police reform agenda.
There are good reasons for this, such as the special racism directed toward African-Americans since slavery, particularly by police and the rest of the so-called criminal justice system. Then there are the numbers. As The Guardian reported in its project titled “The Counted,” on American deaths, of the 598 people killed by police this year, 147 were black, 94 Hispanic, 13 Native American and 297 white, which figures, since whites are 77 percent of the population. African-Americans, being only 13 percent of the population, died in disproportionate numbers. So did Latinos, with 18 percent of the population, but not in the numbers inflicted on black people.
Moving the country closer to open racial conflict is the fact that eight police officers—five in Dallas, three in Baton Rouge, La.—have been shot and killed by African-Americans recently. One of the Baton Rouge police officers, Montrell Jackson, was African-American. He had been on duty in the tense city during the days of protest that followed the killing of an African-American by white Baton Rouge officers, a period of time also marked by rumors of a foiled murder plot against police.
Jackson’s presence reflected a little-noticed aspect of urban policing: Police departments, particularly urban ones, tend to be racially mixed. For example, the Los Angeles Police Department is 40 percent Latino, 38 percent white, 12 percent African-American and 7 percent Asian, statistics that are generally similar to those of other urban police departments.
While on duty during the protests, Jackson posted a powerful message on Facebook. “I’ve experienced so much in my short life and the past 3 days have tested me to the core,” he wrote. “I swear to God I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me. In uniform I get nasty hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat.” He also wrote, “Please don’t let hate infect your heart. This city MUST and WILL get better. I’m working in these streets so any protesters, officers, friends, family, or whoever, if you see me and need a hug or want to say a prayer I got you.”
He got a bullet, instead.
If Baton Rouge police had not killed a black man, there probably would have been no protests, and Jackson and the others, protecting peaceful demonstrators, would not have died.
Black Lives Matter is working to elevate the situation to the top of the national agenda.
Many people, liberals among them, will argue that all lives matter. That’s true, except that all deaths are not treated the same. Nor are all confrontations with police. Studies, and just as important, decades—even centuries—of anecdotes offer irrefutable proof that when stopped by police, African-Americans get a harder time and face a greater chance of being killed.
Black Lives Matter is being smeared at the Republican National Convention, which has given the GOP presidential nomination to Donald Trump. From the beginning, the party has framed the convention as a law-and-order event. As violence has increased in recent weeks, Trump took on the mantle of the law-and-order candidate. And the Republicans’ special target is Black Lives Matter.
Trump’s inflammatory campaign is designed to weaken liberals, just as Republican law-and-order campaigns did in the 1960s and 1970s. The well-intentioned Bernie Revolution will be eclipsed by race hatred.
It’s time for progressives, for all the people who rallied behind Sanders, to take a stand against this. Black lives do matter.
LA WATCHDOG--On June 23, the politicians on the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Board voted to place on the November ballot the “Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan” which, if approved by two-thirds of the voters, will increase our sales tax by a half cent to 9½%, one of the highest rates in the country.
The Supervisors also decided to make this a permanent increase, eliminating the 40 year time horizon that was an integral part of the previous proposal in March.
This ballot measure will also make permanent the Measure R half cent tax increase that County voters approved in 2008, eliminating the 2039 sunset provision. Interestingly, in 2012, the County’s voters did not approve extending this tax for another 30 years until 2069.
If this measure is approved, it will increase Metro’s tax revenue over the next 40 years by $120 billion to an estimated $300 billion. These funds will be used to subsidize Metro’s money losing operations, fund its pensions, and finance its very ambitious, debt fueled capital expenditure program that will burden future generations of Angelenos.
But this appears to be just the beginning of our Enlighten Elite’s efforts to raise our taxes to astronomical levels.
In all likelihood, once Janice Hahn (who never met a tax or rate increase she did not like) is elected to the Board, the Supervisors will approve placing on the ballot a quarter of cent increase in the sales tax to fund the County’s homeless initiatives.
Of course, our Elected Elite will tell us that this new homeless tax will be offset by the expiration on December 31, 2016 of the quarter of a cent sales tax under the terms of Proposition 30 that was approved by 55% of California voters in November 2012.
Our City is also on the sales tax bandwagon.
In 2013, the Herb Wesson led City Council placed on the ballot Proposition A, a permanent half cent increase in our sales tax to finance City services. Despite City Hall’s well-financed campaign and threats by Mayor Villaraigosa and Police Chief Charlie Beck to lay off cops, 55% of the voters rejected this tax increase.
Interestingly, mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti opposed Proposition A because he said that Angelenos were already paying their fair share and could not afford another hit to their wallets. Yet now, as Mayor and a member of the Metro Board, Eric is an enthusiastic backer of this new tax that will cost County taxpayers an estimated $850 million next year.
In 2014, the City considered placing on the November ballot another half cent bump in the sales tax to finance the $4.5 billion plan to repair and maintain our lunar cratered streets. But the Save Our Streets – LA proposal never made it to the ballot because City Hall realized that skeptical voters would have trashed this measure, especially after they were made privy to Controller Ron Galperin’s critical audit of the Department of Street Services.
Garcetti and the Herb Wesson led City Council are cooking up numerous schemes to raise taxes so they can throw money at problems rather than figuring out how they can make the City operations more efficient.
We are hearing chatter about the City’s infrastructure needs, ranging from streets and sidewalks to stormwater and urban runoff. There are discussions about budget busting increases in the size of the City’s work force by hiring 5,000 new civilian employees. And the City and the County need to address their unsustainable pension plans that have a combined unfunded pension liability of at least $70 billion (almost $10,000 for every Angeleno).
With all of these “needs,” a 10% sales tax might be considered a bargain by our elected officials.
Before we consider approving the Metro’s half cent increase in our sales tax, the City $1.2 billion bond issue for the homeless, and the County $100 million parcel tax for its parks, we must demand that the City and the County develop a long range operational and financial plan that outlines the total burden they want us to bear. The City should also implement the recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission to implement multiyear budgeting, to establish an Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee the City’s fragile finances, and to form a Commission on Retirement Security to develop information and solutions to our unsustainable pensions.
Until then, these ballot measures deserve a NO vote.
And this Note: These City and County tax proposals are in addition to the State ballot measures involving the issuance of $9 billion in school construction bonds, an additional $1 billion tax on cigarettes, and the 12 year extension of Proposition 30’s “temporary” multibillion dollar “soak the rich” income tax.
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
LA WATCHDOG--Why haven’t Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council President Herb Wesson followed up on the recommendation by the LA 2020 Commission to “establish a Commission on Retirement Security to review the City’s retirement obligations in order to promote an accurate understanding of the facts” and make “concrete recommendations on how to achieve equilibrium on retirement costs by 2020?”
Why? Because these two ambitious politicians fear alienating the campaign funding leaders of the City’s unions who do not want a public discussion of the facts surrounding the City’s ever increasing annual contributions to the City’s two massively underfunded pension plans that are forcing the City to scale back on basic services.
Over the last ten years, the City’s contribution to its two pension plans (Los Angeles City Employees Retirement System and the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pension System) has tripled to $1.1 billion, up from $350 million in 2005. As a result, pension contributions now chew up 20% of the City’s $5.6 billion budget, up from less than 10% in 2005.
This $750 million increase in pension contributions has forced the City to cut back on basic services such as public safety and the repair and maintenance of our streets, sidewalks, and parks. The City has even resorted to placing an ill-conceived $1.2 billion bond measure on the November ballot to fund supportive housing for the homeless.
Unfortunately, it is only going to get worse as the City, its pension plans, and their fiscally irresponsible, Garcetti appointed Commissioners are banking on an overly optimistic rate of return of 7½% on the combined investment portfolio of $33 billion.
But the stock and bond markets are not cooperating as demonstrated by this year’s less than 1% return on CalPERS (California Public Employees’ Retirement System) $300 billion investment portfolio.
If the City’s pension funds earned this meager 1% as compared to the targeted 7½%, it would result in an investment shortfall of an estimated $2.7 billion, an amount equal to about half of the City’s annual budget. This “loss” will increase the unfunded pension liability as of June 30, 2016 to almost $11 billion, representing a funded ratio of an unhealthy 74%.
However, if the investment rate assumption was a more reasonable 6½% as recommended by knowledgeable investors such as Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett, the unfunded pension liability would jump to over $16 billion, representing a dangerously low funded ratio of 66% and almost three times the City’s annual budget.
Over the next five years, the City’s two pension plans will rack up an additional shortfall of over $5 billion if the rate of return on their investment portfolios is 6½%, a much more likely outcome than the targeted return of 7½%.
But rather than recognizing this combined shortfall of $7.9 billion over the next five years, the City has cooked up a scheme to amortize these losses over a 20 year period, reducing the hit to the City’s budget.
Even with this scheme, the City’s pension contribution is expected to increase by more than 50% over the next five years to $1.7 billion, representing 27% of the City’s projected General Fund budget.
Garcetti and Wesson, along with Budget Committee Chair Paul Krekorian and Personnel Chair Paul Koretz, will tell us they made significant reforms to LAFPP in 2011 and LACERS in 2013 and 2015. But these cosmetic amendments are nickels and dimes and did not address the overly optimistic investment rate assumption of 7½% and the unsustainable post-retirement medical benefits.
This pension time bomb is a weapon of mass financial destruction where we will burden the next generation of Angelenos with tens of billions of unsustainable debt. This will destroy their standard of living and their environment.
It is time for Garcetti, Wesson, and the members of the City Council to get off their fat asses, put on their big boy pants, and begin to address this problem by establishing an independent, well-funded Committee for Retirement Security.
Only then will we be able to begin the hard task of developing a solution where the City and its future will not be devoured by the pension monster.
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at: email@example.com.)
LA WATCHDOG--On Tuesday, July 5, the County Board of Supervisors voted to place on the November ballot a $95 million parcel tax to benefit the County’s parks.
Unlike a traditional parcel tax of $40 on each of the County’s 2.4 million parcels, this new parcel tax will be based on the square footage of improved property in the county (6.4 billion square feet) times 1.5 cents per square foot, an amount that may be adjusted upward based on the Western Urban Consumer Price Index. Over the next 35 years, this tax will raise almost $6 billion based on reasonable assumptions for inflation and growth as compared to $4 billion under the traditional parcel tax.
This new levy will replace two parcel taxes totaling $81 million that were approved by the voters in 1992 and 1996, one of which expired in 2015 ($52 million) while the second parcel tax ($29 million) will expire in 2019.
In drafting the final, 8,700 word ballot measure, the Supervisors listened to the public (and their polls) and lowered the proposed tax to $95 million from the $200 to $300 million level that was discussed in its May 3 meeting.
While this proposed increase (including the cost of living adjustment) is reasonable, especially given inflation since 1992, getting the approval of two-thirds of the voters will be a tough sell.
The Supervisors may snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by approving Sheila Kuehl’s motion to make this parcel tax a permanent tax, eliminating the 35 year sunset provision.
In 2013, 55% of voters in the City of Los Angeles rejected Proposition A, in part because many Angelenos were turned off by the permanent nature of the half cent increase in our sales tax to a whopping 9 ½ %. This may also apply to the permanent half cent increase in our sales tax that is being proposed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (“Metro”) for the November ballot.
Another contentious issue is the allocation of the tax revenues. The Valley and the other parts of the County believe that they are not getting their fair share as the Supervisors are favoring the districts represented by Hilda Solis and Mark Ridley-Thomas based on the Needs Assessment Report that called for revenues to be spent disproportionately in underparked areas of the County.
There are other issues that are of concern, including the lack of independent oversight, the lack of a maintenance plan for the County’s existing parks, shifting the burden to the owners of commercial real estate, and the potential for the new Board of Supervisors to burden the next generation with mountains of debt secured by this new parcel tax.
But the real kiss of death may be “voter fatigue” where the overwhelmed and mad as hell voters reject all of ballot measures trying to pick our pockets.
At the State level, we are being asked to approve $9 billion in general obligation bonds to finance K-12 and Community College facilities (Proposition 51), a $1 billion cigarette tax (Proposition 56), and the 12 year extension of the Governor Brown’s “temporary” income tax surcharge that is expected to yield $5 to $11 billion a year (Proposition 55, also known as the Pension Tax as these revenues will eventually fund the massive pension liabilities of CalPERS and CalSTRS).
The County is also proposing a $130 million marijuana tax to finance its homeless efforts.
Metro is proposing to nick us for an additional $850 million a year by permanently increasing our sales tax by a half cent, resulting in a sales tax of mind boggling 9 ½ %. This, along with the other related taxes, will result in tax revenue of $3.5 billion a year for Metro.
Finally, our City has placed on the ballot a measure to allow the City to issue up to $1.2 billion in bonds to fund, along with private real estate developers and other government entities, an estimated $3 to $4 billion of supportive housing.
And this assault on our wallets does not include the $150 million tax increase associated with the recent $1 billion increase in our DWP water and power rates, a street tax that was pushed by the Los Angeles City Council in 2014, or any taxes to fund the County’s $20 billion stormwater plan.
Maybe it is time for us to send our Elected Elites (and their cronies) in Sacramento, the County, and the City a loud and clear message that we are sick and tired of being their ATM by voting NO on all of these ballot measures.
Safe, Clean Neighborhood Parks, Open Space, Beaches, Rivers Protection, and Water Conservation Measure
To replace expiring local funding for safe, clean neighborhood/ city/ county parks; increase safe playgrounds, reduce gang activity; keep neighborhood recreation/ senior centers, drinking water safe; protect beaches, rivers, water resources, remaining natural areas/ open space; shall 1.5 cents be levied annually per square foot of improved property in Los Angeles County, with bond authority, requiring citizen oversight, independent audits, and funds used locally?
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
LA WATCHDOG--“Need now means wanting someone else's money. Greed means wanting to keep your own. Compassion is when a politician arranges the transfer.”
Once again it is silly season in Los Angeles as our Enlightened Elite will be blowing smoke in our face, urging us to approve the proposed offering of up to $1.2 billion bonds over the next ten years. These funds, along with billions from real estate developers and other governmental entities, will finance the construction of an estimated 10,000 units of supportive housing for LA’s homeless population.
But this well intentioned measure that will be on the November ballot does not deserve our support.
For openers, the City does not have the necessary management expertise, organizational capabilities, or experienced personnel to manage such a complex program. This is because social services are the responsibility of the County which has dropped the ball in caring for the homeless population that numbers around 45,000 persons (less than 0.5% of the County’s population).
Furthermore, the City does not have a well thought out plan to implement this ambitious multi-billion dollar endeavor. How does the City propose to work with real estate developers and other government entities to raise billions needed to complete the build out of 10,000 housing units? How does the City intend to work with County and the State, each of whom have their own ideas about how to address the homeless issue? How does the City propose to pay for the necessary services that the homeless require since the City is prohibited by law from financing these day to day expenses with bond money? And how will the City develop a team of qualified individuals to implement this program in an efficient manner?
There is also inadequate oversight of this multi-billion dollar build out that involves numerous real estate developers, many of whom already have close relationships with our elected officials. The City is proposing to establish by ordinance a Citizens Oversight Committee where its seven members will be appointed by the Mayor and City Council. But will this Committee be independent of the Mayor and the City Council? And will it have the necessary expertise, resources, and authority to monitor and control the effectiveness of this program?
In developing this $1.2 billion bond measure, the City Council failed to solicit input from the Neighborhood Councils and the public, unlike the process involving the reform of Department of Water and Power that will be on the November ballot and DWP’s $1 billion rate increase. Rather, it is a top down process, where the all-knowing City Hall apparatchiks dictate policy to the City’s proletariats.
The City proposes to service the $1.2 billion of bonds by imposing a new tax on our property. But this tax, which starts off at $6 million a year and peaks at $100 million in 2028, is not necessary because the debt service (principal and interest) may be financed by a small percentage of the projected increase in the City’s General Fund revenues.
Over the next 30 years, the average annual debt service is $60 million and equals 3.5% of the increase in the City’s tax revenues.
This leads to the question that if the Mayor and City Council believe that the homeless issue is so important, why not make it a budget priority? This contrasts with the City authorizing a $200 million giveaway for the Grand Avenue Hotel or approving a $125 million a year wage and benefit increase for the City’s civilian unions.
The City has also refused to address its Structural Deficit, its annual budget, and its finances. The Mayor and City Council have ignored the recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission to establish an Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee the City’s finances, to develop a multiyear budget, and to form a Commission on Retirement Security to review the City’s seriously underfunded pension plans. It has also not developed a plan to repair and maintain our lunar cratered streets or to benchmark the efficiency of the City’s operations.
Simply stated, Mayor Garcetti and the Herb Wesson led City Council do not want our City to Live Within Its Means.
The proposed $1.2 billion bond proposal is just another attempt by our Elected Elite to throw money at a problem based on the premise that we, the voters, should trust them to spend our hard earned dough efficiently.
But with no organization and management, no plan, no oversight, no outreach, no respect for our wallets, and no budget reform, the measure to authorize $1.2 billion in bonds to fund the City’s homeless initiative deserves a NO vote in November.
The following is the proposed ballot language.
HOMELESSNESS REDUCTION AND PREVENTION, HOUSING, AND FACILITIES BOND.
To provide safe, clean affordable housing for the homeless and for those in danger of becoming homeless, such as battered women and their children, veterans, seniors, foster youth, and the disabled; and provide facilities to increase access to mental health care, drug and alcohol treatment, and other services; shall the City of Los Angeles issue $1,200,000,000 in general obligation bonds, with citizen oversight and annual financial audits?
LA WATCHDOG--At its meeting last Tuesday, the politically appointed Board of Commissioners of our Department of Water and Power postponed its consideration of DWP’s proposed ten year, $63 million lease of 124,350 square feet of office space in Figueroa Plaza, a City owned office complex, because a CityWatch article suggested that the Department may be overpaying by $20 million.
This overpayment is part of the City’s scheme to stick the Department and its Ratepayers with almost $15 million of tenant improvements, an expense normally the responsibility of the landlord, in this case the City of Los Angeles.
The City is also attempting to extract an additional $5 million through higher than market rents.
However, it appears that DWP is being slammed for an additional $20 million as market professionals and several DWP employees have indicated that the Department needs only half the contracted space to house the 550 employees who are scheduled to occupy Figueroa Plaza. This would require DWP to adopt space planning techniques similar to those used in the private sector.
Of course, if DWP had adopted proper space planning techniques for its 1.6 million square foot headquarters building, then this ten year, $63 million lease would not be necessary. But past attempts by DWP to modernize its historic 50 year old headquarters building were shot down by the previous mayor and the Garcetti led City Council.
By the way, the concept of proper space planning also applies to the City and its more than 32,000 employees. And just imagine how the tens of millions in annual savings could be used to repair and maintain our lunar cratered streets or house the homeless, alleviating the need for an increase in our taxes.
This ten year, $63 million lease for 124,250 square feet of City owned office space was the creation of the Municipal Facilities Committee and its members, the City Administrative Officer, the Chief Legislative Analyst, and Mayor Eric Garcetti, as it was looking to off load the expense of this office space that was vacated by the Lewis Brisbois law firm as a result of the DaVinci Fire on December 8, 2014.
In November of 2015, the City was prepared to move the Housing and Community Investment Department (“HCID”) and its 600 employees into this office space. It intended to finance the tenant improvements and relocation from the leased Garland Building by issuing debt and recouping any debt, operating, and maintenance expenses by hitting up HCID’s special funds.
But the HCID relocation plan was scrapped when Garcetti’s office realized that it would be easier to dump the surplus office space and the cost of the tenant improvements onto DWP and its Ratepayers, “saving” the City and its General Fund $63 million over the next ten years. This was despite pushback from DWP’s management.
The terms of this unfavorable lease need to be reviewed and analyzed by an independent third party in conjunction with the Ratepayers Advocate. Any opinions and findings, along with all backup material, must be shared in a timely manner with the Ratepayers and the public before the lease is discussed by the politically appointed Board of Commissioners.
This deal also serves as a call to reform the relationship between DWP and the City. This would require an ordinance that requires that any transaction between the Department and the City be subject to a thorough analysis by the City, the Department, and the Ratepayers Advocate. This analysis would also be shared with the Ratepayers and the public.
Of course, this uneconomic deal that further soils the reputation of our Elected Elite raises the question of how many other stinkers have been approved by the Mayor, the City Council, and the politically appointed Board of Commissioners that are not in the best interest of the Ratepayers.
LA WATCHDOG--At its meeting on Tuesday, the Garcetti appointed Board of Commissioners of our Department of Water and Power will consider the adoption of a ten year, $63 million lease for 124,350 square feet of office space in Figueroa Plaza, a City owned office complex located at 201-221 North Figueroa Street in DTLA.
This 25 year old property, purchased by the City in 2007 for $219 million, consists of two 16 story towers comprising 615,000 of office space and is located north of the Central Business District and about a quarter of a mile west of DWP’s headquarters on North Hope Street.