THIS IS WHAT I KNOW--Few film buffs can forget Howard Beale’s rant in Network (1976.) – “Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad! You’ve got to say, I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
Thirty years later, Beale’s speech seems to be a mantra of activist groups throughout LA. The latest is a lawsuit filed on Wednesday by the Refinery Safety Network against the South Coast Air Quality Management District. The suit, filed in Superior Court, names ExxonMobil Oil Corp. as a respondent-real party in interest.
The nonprofit charges that the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance emits 50 tons of hydrogen cyanide in Los Angeles each year -- and the SCAQMD must take the reins to stop the emissions. The territory SCAQMD regulates is among the most polluted in all of the U.S., including all of Orange County, urban Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties.
Earlier this month, the SCAQMD Hearing Board, a co-defendant in the suit, issued an abatement order that permits ExxonMobil to operate a fluid catalytic cracking unit at the Torrance refinery without air pollution control devices, violating multiple district rules, the state health and safety code, and the California Environmental Quality Act, according the network.
According to Refinery Safety, the abatement order would allow excess emissions of hydrogen cyanide, “an extremely toxic pollutant used in the gas chambers of Nazi Germany.”
Built in 1929, the 750-acre refinery employs 650 workers and 550 contractors, processing 155,000 barrels of crude oil each day, producing 1.8 billion gallons of gasoline annually – but not without some cost.
“The abatement order allows the violation of 11 district rules, one district administrative condition, and California Health & Safety Code section 41701, allowing excess emissions of nitrogen oxides, particulate matter of less than 10 microns in diameter, and carbon monoxide,” charges the 13-page complaint.
Cara Petrat, a Refinery Safety Network member, submitted a notice of health risks to the board prepared by non-party Mothers of the South Bay but the board refused to address the concerns through the Environmental Quality Act review.
In 2015, an explosion in the refinery’s electrostatic precipitator, which controls air pollution, deposited catalyst ash miles from the refinery and injured two workers. ExxonMobil has since restarted the refinery operations.
According to the lawsuit, “During the restart of the refinery, ExxonMobil has gotten clearance for SCAQMD not to run the CO (carbon monoxide) boiler, a pollution device that can limit emissions of HCN (hydrogen cyanide) to the extent that the FCCU’s (fluid catalytic cracking unit’s) regenerator generates HCN.”
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is investigating the explosion. The lawsuit states, “That investigation has disclosed that because of the explosion, an 80,000 pound piece of debris landed on temporary scaffolding, which was around a pressurized tank called a ‘settler tank,’ containing tens of thousands of pounds of modified hydrofluoric acid, an extremely toxic substance, which if released, could lead to injury and deaths of hundreds of thousands of community members around the refinery.”
Vanessa Sutherland, the Chemical Safety Board Chair, explains, "After [hydrofluoric] acid vaporizes it condenses into small droplets that form a dense low-lying cloud that will travel along the ground for several miles and can cause severe damage to the respiratory system, skin, and bones of those who are exposed, potentially resulting in death.”
PBF Energy, not a party in the suit, is looking to purchase the refinery from ExxonMobil under conditions that the refinery be repaired before the close of the deal.
Agencies such as the SCAQMD, as well as ExxonMobil, must be held accountable, even if it means civilian activist groups must place legal or legislative pressure to ensure safety of the community at large. ExxonMobil has been subject to multiple suits over the past decades for its handling of refineries throughout the country.
(Beth Cone Kramer is a successful Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
LA WATCHDOG--On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will discuss a $200 to $300 million parcel tax to fund the repair, operation, and creation of parks throughout the County. If approved by two-thirds of the voters in November, this money will essentially replace the two parcel taxes (one of which has already expired in 2015) that provided the County with approximately $80 million a year. The second parcel tax will expire in June of 2019.
This new parcel tax will be not be “flat tax” where a levy of $34 on each of the County’s 2.4 million taxable parcels would replace the 2015 revenue stream of $80 million.
Rather, the County is proposing a tax based on the square footage of the structural improvements on a property, similar to the County’s Trauma Tax that was approved by 73% of the voters in November of 2002. In this case, the County is considering a levy of between 3 and 5 cents per square foot. Based on about 6.4 billion square feet, this tax, if approved, will produce annual revenue next year in the range of $200 to $300 million, a hefty threefold increase from the current level of $80 million.
This rate of 3 to 5 cents per square foot may also be increased by an amount equal to the rise in the Consumer Price Index, which, along with the county’s organic growth, is estimated to produce revenue of between $15 and $25 billion over the next 35 years, the life of the new tax.
According to the recently completed Needs Assessment Report, the County estimated that it required $21.5 billion, of which over two-thirds will be used to pay for the deferred maintenance of our neglected parks and facilities.
But before placing this measure on the ballot, we need a better understanding of how the Los Angeles County Regional Park and Open Space District, the recipient of these new revenues, will work with the Department of Parks and Recreation, a $190 million a year operation with 1,600 employees.
And we also need a better understanding of why our more than 3,000 parks need over $14 billion in deferred maintenance.
We will need to strengthen the oversight of the Regional Park and Open Space District and the Department of Parks and Recreation so that the Citizens Oversight Advisory Board is independent of the Board of Supervisors and has the resources to conduct an objective, critical, and constructive review and analysis of the operations, finances, and management of these two entities.
We will also need some time to review and analyze the mind numbing details of the 7,300 word ballot measure, especially how the money is allocated and how Nonprofit Organizations and Public Agencies fit into the equation.
The County will put on a full court press to pass this increased tax, including the 19 points mentioned in the ballot measure that tug at our heart strings.
But the odds of this ballot measure receiving two-thirds of the votes needed for approval are not high, especially given that Proposition P, the Safe Neighborhood Parks Tax, was not approved by the voters in November of 2014, receiving only 63% of the vote. This $23 parcel tax on 2.4 million properties would have raised only $54 million, a far cry from the proposed $200 to $300 million levy.
The odds of this ballot measure passing are diminished by the fact that voters realize that this new tax is just the tip of the iceberg as the impact of the taxes being proposed or considered by the County and the City will slam Angelenos for more than $1.8 billion. This is the equivalent to a 37% increase in our property taxes or a three cent bump in our sales tax to over 12%.
These City and County taxes include those associated with our Department of Water and Power, Metro, Stormwater, Streets and Sidewalks, the Homeless Initiatives, and Parks. They do not include any new State taxes, including the extension of Governor Brown’s “temporary” Proposition 30 tax hikes or the cost of the $9 billion school construction bond. Nor does it include any pension related taxes to fund our seriously underfunded pension plans at both the City and County level.
Before proceeding with any ballot measure to increase our taxes, the City and the County need to come clean and detail their proposed plans to raise our taxes (rather than picking us off one by one) and how they intend to make sure our tax dollars are being used efficiently.
If not, do not bother asking us to approve any new taxes. It will be a waste of money.
The following is the ballot language
Los Angeles County Safe Neighborhood Parks, Healthy Communities, and Local Water Resources Measure
To renew expiring, dedicated, local funding for neighborhood/city parks, recreational areas, rivers/beaches; protect local water resources; including rivers/creeks; reduce gang activity; ensure safe play areas; shall an annual ___¢ tax per square foot of improvements be levied on developed property in Los Angeles County, generating $__________ annually, for 35 years; exempting low‐ income seniors; requiring citizen oversight, independent audits, and local control?
(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.)
PERSPECTIVE-When State Senator Bob Hertzberg announced his tax proposal, SB8, in late 2014, he made no secret of using it as a tool to raise taxes by a net $10 billion – that is, per year.
The senator tried to pass it off as “tax modernization.”
He even gave the bill a deceivingly benign name: the Upward Mobility Act. Loosely translated, that means the Up Your Wallet Robbery initiative. I would have been at least conciliatory towards it had he been straightforward and called it a tax increase, rather than obfuscating its purpose. Hertzberg has generally been a straight-shooter in his career, so this slight of hand attempt was out of character, making it all the more disappointing.
A year later, it effectively died. It received no traction in Sacramento. Governor Brown shrugged it off; the Senate Governance and Finance Committee, which Hertzberg chairs, did not deem it worthy to progress. It officially died January of this year.
He said he would reintroduce it.
He did in February – SB1445.
This time, Hertzberg made no fanfare, perhaps learning a lesson from the bad publicity he created with SB8. For that matter, the bill contains only intent language at this time. It appears he is playing it close to his chest.
Does he still want to raise $10B?
As I stated in an earlier article on the subject, Hertzberg needs to share how the bill would impact each segment of the state’s taxpayers.
He did not in 2015, although he must have had an idea. One does not arrive at a figure as large as $10B without having at least penciled it out in some detail.
Let’s see what he does this year.
(Paul Hatfield is a CPA and serves as President of the Valley Village Homeowners Association. He blogs at Village to Village and contributes to CityWatch. The views presented are those of Mr. Hatfield and his alone and do not represent the opinions of Valley Village Homeowners Association or CityWatch. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.) Photo: LA Daily News. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
ANIMAL POLITICS--Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus is a Latin phrase most familiar in legal circles meaning if a witness lies about one thing, you may assume that he lies about everything.
Today’s witness: Mayor Eric Garcetti.
In my quest to get to the bottom of doctored and misleading animal shelter statistics, Garcetti’s top legal advisor Rich Llewellyn last week denied me access to public documents “because the public interest served by withholding the records clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure.”
When Llewellyn writes “the public interest” he most likely means Garcetti’s interest, and that of his peers, like City Council president Herb Wesson and City Controller Ron Galperin.
Last week, a press release from LA Animal Services promoted the bold-faced lie that “LA Animal Services hits historic live save rate, coming close to No-Kill benchmark” and suggested that LA is about to become the country’s largest no kill city.
Let’s break it down.
First of all, there is no No-Kill city in the United States. City Hall wants you to believe that LA is the biggest of something that does not actually exist.
The release came from Sara Ebrahimi with an @lacity.org email address extension on the city’s electronic letterhead. But according to her LinkedIn page, Ms. Ebrahimi is a public relations employee of the Best Friends organization. Is she an employee of the city or, if not, why would a vendor’s employee have a city email address? Is that the standard used for employees of other city vendors like attorneys who handle the city’s outsourced legal work?
A bigger question is whether Best Friends has access to city statistics and internal documentation that Garcetti’s office is denying to give to me? Is it because their interpretation of them advances his political aspirations and mine exposes the killing of thousands of shelter animals who he says were never killed, and thousands of animals who he said were adopted when they were, in fact, sitting in cages in government owned buildings?
The release claims that killing 10% of a shelter’s population is No Kill. But since LA Animal Services took in 49,694 animals in its last year, by its own flawed understanding of death, it killed nearly 5,000 animals – for starters. Nathan Winograd, a well-known figure on the subject, recently explained what no kill actually means in the Huffington Post. (Mr. Winograd did not respond to a request for an interview for this article.)
LAAS also did not explain thousands of other animals that should be counted in its kill rate, but are not.
If you turn in your pet, a stray, or a litter of feral kittens to LA Animal Services, they can and have found reasons to consider them “unadoptable,” killed and therefore not counted in kill stats. If the dog has sniffles or a fixable injury, it might be killed as unadoptable and not counted. Same if it is a pit bull or other bully breed regardless of its disposition. A litter of perfectly healthy neonatal kittens can and has been considered unadoptable because they might not survive without her. Their deaths, if you can imagine killing a box of perfectly healthy tiny kittens, do not count in Garcetti’s statistics. And if a dog or cat is black, they can and have been considered less desirable, therefore less adoptable, killed, and not counted.
LAAS also didn’t mention the impact of its policies that prevent animals it is supposed to help, but does not.
Anyone bringing an animal into LAAS, whether or not the person is the owner, is supposed to pay – per its policy – a $25 drop-off fee, per animal. Too many people are either disinclined or cannot afford to pay that fee, let alone $250 if it’s a box of ten tiny, abandoned kittens. Instead, they are sometimes abandoned elsewhere, including right outside the shelter door. Councilmember Paul Koretz, who chairs the committee overseeing LAAS, knows about this but has done nothing to change such misleading factors.
LAAS also doesn’t go out to help stray animals anymore, either. The reason is illustrated in what LAAS GM Brenda Barnette has repeatedly said on the record. “If we are successful at rounding up all the strays, it will place more crowding pressure on our shelters, rescuers and everyone else working to increase the live save rate.”
In other words, Garcetti’s, Wesson’s and Galperin’s statistics are treated with greater reverence than the communities and animals LAAS is there to serve.
That may explain why Garcetti and other city officials are averse to coughing up the documents to which I am entitled in their entirety and without redaction but allow Best Friends to access and spin on their behalf.
And make no mistake, I will get those documents and share them with the public, compared and contrasted to what the politicians have said, and how Best Friends, which raked in $259,474,991 over the past five years, may have a financial motive to advance that false narrative.
Until then, I offer this to Garcetti, Wesson and Galperin: let’s all stand with a few members of the media in a shelter “bump room” as the next batch to be killed dies, and you can explain how they are not actually dead, and why they are not in your kill statistics. Deal?
In order to reduce the number of animals a city kills, fewer must be born. Plain and simple, LA needs but lacks wisely written, effectively and consistently enforced spay/neuter laws, humane education and free mass spay/neuter for all, including neighboring cities, without excuses or exceptions.
LA can call itself no kill, low kill or approaching it all day long. That doesn’t make it the truth. It does not tell the whole story.
(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a writer who lives in Los Angeles and blogs on humane issues at http://ericgarcetti.blogspot.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
URBAN PERSPECTIVE--Los Angeles civil rights leaders on Sunday called LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s pledge to conduct random email audits of LA County Sheriff’s employees and deputies emails a good first step toward insuring against racially biased policing. The step comes in the wake of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable’s call for both a full email audit of all LA County Sheriff Deputies and employees emails and the resignation of L.A. County Sheriff Department Chief of Staff Tom Angel.
But Angel’s resignation and a “random” email audit is not enough. Sheriff’s officials must spell out specific timetables for the audits, what employees will be audited, and what the results of the audits are. The goal must be transparency and accountability of a sensitive public agency.
The Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable will monitor the LA County Sheriff’s Department pace and progress of the email audit. They will call for a timely review and disclosure of the results of the audit to help identify employees who demean and disparage minorities and Muslims. These are public employees who work in a highly sensitive public agency that has a highly sensitive interaction with minority communities in LA County.
Racist emails undermine public confidence in law enforcement and heighten suspicion that law enforcement officers engage in racially biased policing. Other police departments including San Francisco and Ferguson, Missouri have conducted similar audits after discovering racist emails by deputies. The offenders were suspended or fired.
A full email audit is absolutely essential to ensure that employees do not bring their racial biases into policing in LA County. It will also send the message that there is zero tolerance in the LA County Sheriff’s Department for racially biased attitudes on the part of sheriff’s deputies and that any demeaning of minorities and Muslims will be severely punished.
(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is President of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable and an occasional contributor to CityWatch. For more Hutchinson insight.)
THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-In my last column, I wrote about the increasing grassroots activism to address quality of life issues, which include a Wild West approach to development where developers fund environmental reviews and politicians greenlight variances and spotty spot zoning to get around the general plan.
While the Coalition to Preserve LA collects signatures to place the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative on the March 2017 ballot, other groups are filing lawsuits to slow down the rash of development in the meantime.
As developers and investors work to get in their “last slicks” before a possible turnaround, many see the fast track approval of mega-developments as propelled by what they see to be an obsequious city council and administration.
Save Valley Village, in an unprecedented move, has filed a suit against all 15 city councilmembers for their “unlawful voting pact.” A spokesperson for the group says, “For the City Council to avoid CRIMINAL charges, each councilmember will have to make his own decisions and no longer succumb to the illegal voting pact.”
Let’s take a look at Penal Code 86, which criminalizes vote trading agreements. The code grew from the State Constitution requirement that all municipal elections be non-partisan. Removing political parties from the equation would remove corruption from local politics. Wrong. Without parties in play, individual councilmembers had to find some other means to have their measures adopted by the entire city council or at or at least 8 of 15 votes. Enter vote trading.
In 2006, the State Legislature amended Penal Code 86 to consider any type of voting agreement to be a form of criminal bribery. Councilmembers can’t legally agree to give or withhold his or her vote in return that another councilmember will give or withhold a vote on this or any other matter.
However, Penal Code 86 doesn’t appear to have halted or even slowed down the unlawful vote trading pact that is the key to developer power at City Hall. Campaign contributions from developers and their attorney fill the coffers of councilmembers at the city and state level. State politicians are not held to the same financial caps as city politicians so the impact on the state level may be even greater.
What’s the end result? Land-use entitlement approvals for specific plan amendments, zone changes, bonuses, and variances all require public hearings and protocol. Save Valley Village charges that the land use entitlements are being approved without this protocol, as shown by evidence submitted into the case record that proves noncompliance.
To top things off, Mayor Eric Garcetti is supporting Assembly Bill 2356 authored by Assembly Member Jimmy Gomez. Kathryn Phillips, director at the Sierra Club of California, wrote an April 18 column in CityWatch disclosing the mayor’s involvement. AB 2356 would change the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to allow for infill planning to circumvent disclosure of environmental impact of proposed development projects.
Mayor Garcetti has also received some heat for his role in the “I’ll Scratch Your Back, You’ll Scratch Mine” voting agreements that have become commonplace. Back in December 2010, then Council President Garcetti boasted of a 99.35% record for unanimous votes in the Council. A unanimous track record has a flipside to that perceived efficiency, placing a whole lot of power in the hands of a few. Save Valley Village points to Los Angeles Councilmember Krekorian (photo above), who is the subject of the group’s recall effort.
Critics say Krekorian, who represents North Hollywood, Valley Village, and Studio City, has favored commercial interests above community requests. Save Valley Village accuses the councilmember of approving zone changes, opposing efforts to designate local buildings as historic monuments, and failing to respond to concerns about dangerous demolitions.
The catalyst for the effort to collect recall petition signatures is the destruction of the Hermitage Avenue home of a 17-year old Norma Jean Dougherty, better known as Marilyn Monroe. In June, the property was razed just days before a Cultural Heritage Commission hearing on the case. Critics say Krekorian failed to support the landmark request, along with his failure to act in another preservation case involving Henry’s Tacos in North Hollywood, both of which critics point to as an example of “I’ll Scratch Your Back, You’ll Scratch My Back” voting agreements. The city council voted unanimously to approve the demolition of Monroe’s former home to pave way for a condo project.
Per the Save Valley Village website, the unincorporated association is “working towards enforcing laws and legislation to protect us from developer-initiated zone changes and City Hall-motivated over-densification that erode the character of our neighborhoods and the quality of our lives by forcing massive developments into already established, healthy and sustainable communities and neighborhoods.”
The association addresses a “disturbing loss of landmarks, homes, and cultural character. Projects go forward, notwithstanding violations of California Government Codes, Environmental/CEQA laws and local ordinances.” The increased density and growth of McMansions are threatening the Valley Village way of life, resulting in the loss of decades-old trees, historic homesteads, open spaces, and affordable housing, as demonstrated by the 300 percent rise in Ellis Act evictions from 2013 to 2014.
Elected officials, whether at the local, state, or federal level, have a responsibility to represent the needs and concerns of their constituents, not only those interests with the deepest pockets.
Grassroots groups like Save Valley Village are doing what they can to keep the fox from the hen house, to protect the interests of the rest of us and to save the integrity of each neighborhood in our city.
(Beth Cone Kramer is a successful Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
PEOPLE’S VOICE--When it comes to policy making for planning and land use in LA, politicians and top city bureaucrats don’t want you to know what secret moves they’re orchestrating behind the scenes to help their deep-pocketed developer pals. It was true in 2008, and it’s just as true in 2016. Startlingly so.
That’s what one quickly realizes when reading the excellent 2008 LA Weekly feature story, “Bitter Homes & Gardens: City Hall’s ‘Density Hawks’ Are Changing LA’s DNA.” It’s essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how development works in Los Angeles, and it’s another installation of “The Bulldozer Files,” in which we highlight important press coverage of LA’s ongoing land-use wars.
Just like today, the LA Weekly found in 2008 that City Hall pols and bureaucrats were approving variances and zoning changes at eye-popping rates that few people knew about. Those approvals were helping developers, who are major campaign contributors in LA, become even richer. The paper noted: “The constant overriding of zoning protections has indeed been relentless — a binge of ‘zoning variances’ and ‘zone changes’ granted by longtime Zoning Administrator Michael LoGrande, a little-known official who is the rear admiral of a pro-density flotilla inside City Hall that long predates [Mayor Antonio] Villaraigosa’s administration.”
The variances and zone changes — quite simply, permissions to skirt existing rules — are granted on a case-by-case basis, and LoGrande hands them out like candy. LoGrande did not return numerous phone calls from the LA Weekly. Four biweekly Planning Department reports, randomly selected by the Weekly from March, June, September and December 2007, show that requests to increase housing density or square footage rolled in at about 260 annually, slowing only as the mortgage crisis hit. Retired Zoning Administrator Jon Perica explains that while the sought-after density increases are subjected to design, environmental and compatibility review, “the Planning Department historically approves about 90 percent.”
For anyone paying attention, and very few people are, LoGrande’s decisions — buttressed by the rulings of seven area planning commissions populated with Villaraigosa’s appointees — are why some corners of the city are taller and more congested than 10 years ago, even neighborhoods whose legally binding zoning plans were supposed to achieve the opposite.
What’s worse, politicians and bureaucrats regularly pushed forward land-use policies that dramatically altered neighborhoods with little public debate or transparency. One of the few elected officials that spoke out about such secret governing was longtime LA County supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
The LA Weekly wrote: “In fact, Angelenos don’t have a clue what’s been happening, or what’s coming. In the 32 months since Villaraigosa was elected, for example, the Los Angeles Times and the Daily News have written only four stories about a plan to allow apartments without parking in order to squeeze in more units. The phrase “SB 1818” has appeared in just 14 articles. The mayor’s czar of zoning variances, Michael LoGrande, is virtually unknown — mentioned just six times in Los Angeles print media in the past two years. And the “superpublic” hearings cited by Blumenfeld were attended almost exclusively by lobbyists, a few activists and the occasional curious neighbor.
“’There should be a debate!’ Yaroslavsky wheezes, a victim of allergies, dabbing his nose with a handkerchief.
“The proponents of the density hawks, including the director of the Planning Department, and the real estate industry, and the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce — they had the audacity to say that they negotiated the plan [with homeowners]. Not true, there wasn’t one neighborhood group that knew about it!”
Today, any frontline community activist will tell you that such skullduggery still happens at LA City Hall, where politicians and developers continue to manipulate LA’s rigged and broken development-approval system for their own self interests.
After years of chicanery, it’s either naive or insane or both to think that crew will suddenly reform itself.
It’s why we need a community-based, citywide solution such as the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. The measure will finally start the process of truly changing the unfair development-approval system by giving citizens more substantive tools to protect their neighborhoods from overdevelopment and the numerous quality of life impacts that come with it. Such as traffic gridlock, the destruction of neighborhood character and the displacement of longtime residents — many of whom are working-class families and senior citizens — through gentrification.
The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, for example, stops the practice of developers writing their own environmental impact reports — an obvious and troubling conflict of interest. An EIR studies how a new project, such as a 27-story skyscraper proposed in the middle of a low-slung, working-class neighborhood in Koreatown, affects an existing community.
It’s no wonder that developers and local politicians are worried sick that our community-based movement and citywide ballot measure will actually succeed. We’ll change the old way of doing business that brings them millions in profits and campaign contributions.
So read more of the Weekly article. You’ll know why our fight is so important.
And please join the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative movement by clicking to our Act page right now, and follow and cheer our efforts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can also send us an email at email@example.com.
Together, we can create the change that LA needs!
(Patrick Range McDonald writes for 2PreserveLA.org.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
EASTSIDER-Recently someone suggested I take a look at an LA Times article entitled, “California doesn’t have enough affordable housing, and lawmakers aren’t doing much about it.”
It got me thinking. I honestly don’t know what “affordable housing” means anymore in Los Angeles. To the City Council, it seems to mean giving away public land and/or tax breaks and/or wholesale variances so that big developers can build more hundred-unit monstrosities by providing a handful of un-affordable “affordable housing” units.
My first up close and personal experience with housing projects, which I guess is what the euphemism partly stands for these days, was Jordan Downs (photo above). In the late 60’s, I was a social worker in Watts assigned to the General Relief Intake program, (probably called something different today ever since President Clinton “eliminated welfare as we know it”), and obviously a number of the home calls I made were to the Jordan Downs housing project.
The one thing I’ll give to this place is that it really was affordable. People could actually live there and, heck, usually the roofs didn’t even leak. And there were a lot of really nice people living there. Also a number of really sad and desperate people. I may have flunked the PC course, but I don’t exactly know what anyone expected when too many of the youth there got a crappy education, had extensive police records, and, over all, little hope of getting a (legal) job.
What I really remember is that I was there on welfare too – it was just a different part of the same program. But since I was a white college educated Berkeley type, I was getting paid a heck of a lot more than the GR recipients I was trying to “help” navigate through the dense, complex paperwork needed to get a very few bucks and a lot of hassle. As I recall, what’s now DPSS was then called the Department of Charities. I kid you not. Brings to mind sad scenes out of a Charles Dickens novel.
At the same time, Jordan Downs was very much better than a lot of the alternatives people had for housing in my world. You had to have an address to even apply for welfare, and some of the addresses were pretty rough.
All this also reminded me of an article in the LA Times back in 2013 describing how the Jordan Downs Housing Project was going to be torn down. Comparing that article to the policy wonk LA Times piece about lawmakers and housing, who could resist? What a juxtaposition.
And by the way, what’s this stuff about Jordan Downs being the worst? I remember the Aliso Village projects in Northeast LA, over on 1st and Clarence. That place was no joke. Of course, in celebration of the millennium, the City tore down Aliso Village around 2000. As I recall, the “new” Pueblo del Sol which supplanted it, attracted a more upscale crowd; the inhabitants of Aliso Village got dumped harder than folks did during the Chavez Ravine giveaway to the O’Malley’s (of Dodger Stadium fame.)
My question is, what happens to the people who used to be able to survive in housing projects and other forms of actual affordable housing? Do they just go away? Do they die? Do they become homeless so that the City and the Mayor can then try to raise taxes to “help” them? I don’t know, and frankly I don’t see anyone writing about these realities.
Where are the low wage, often undocumented, folks going to go? You know, the ones that the rest of us in LA depend on to provide all the services people don’t want to do ourselves, and don’t want to pay even a minimum wage for? Where will my friends in Northeast LA go when they lose their work? Will they quietly slip away, not to be seen again? People don’t want to talk about this issue. It’s as if something bad will happen if we even try to have an honest discussion.
To put this in context, let’s look at the 2020 Commission. Remember that? The first part of its report, “A Time for Truth,” indicates that some forty percent of families in LA either make poverty wages or are unemployed. The poverty rate is defined as a very low $23,850 a year. If these folks pay $1500 a month for rent, then that would leave $5850 to pay for everything else for that year. Fat chance.
So, it seems to me that we don’t have any affordable housing anymore. The tiny slice we do have is in the process of being developed out of existence. To be crude about it, the “old” housing project model is being dumped, along with the folks who lived there. The “new” affordable housing model seems to consist of big new developments, with median rents close to $3000 a month along with a few “affordable” housing units in exchange for all the sleazy breaks that the lawmakers can give their developer lords and masters.
As a long time Californian, I find these changes really depressing. And I wonder what happens when folks renting these new expensive abodes lose a gig, split from their partner, or get sick. Maybe I’m wrong. Heck, I hope I’m wrong.
If anyone knows about any real affordable housing that’s happening in the City of Angels, let me know. It would be a lot more newsworthy than the Mayor’s new budget.
(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.
LA’S INCREDIBLE ZONING SOLUTIONS-A recent LA Times editorial, “LA’s broken planning system,” described how the City is now seeking support for its planning and zoning “reform package,” by proposing, once more, simply to update the City’s 35 community plans. Ostensibly, the promised updated plans will “head off” a proposed ballot initiative that would impose a moratorium on major construction projects.
This proposed “solution” overlooks the City’s fundamental credibility problem: an ever-widening gulf between what’s promised and what’s actually delivered. In a recent example, Los Angeles Neighbors in Action prevailed against the City when the Superior Court found that, based on repeated mistaken City Attorney advice, LA’s building officials have been routinely ignoring the City’s adopted zoning standards for development of second units (“granny flats”) in single family residential zones.
The City’s response? Not to follow its existing adopted standards designed to protect surrounding neighborhoods. Not to await the long-promised zoning reforms of its re:code LA study founded on extensive community input and customized for LA’s diverse neighborhoods. Rather, the City proposes to “fast track” a proposed repeal of its adopted standards (which strictly regulate a proposed second unit’s size, location and visibility from the street), while replacing them with a very weak “one size fits all” standard that ignores any consideration of the surrounding neighborhood. Without any prior community input and study, the proposal is now scheduled to be heard by the Planning Commission on May 12.
When a similar proposal was broached in 2009 under the tenure of former Planning Director Gail Goldberg, community meetings were swamped with homeowners wanting a voice in potentially major density changes to their neighborhoods.
Under state law, second units must be approved on a ministerial basis if they meet the locality’s adopted standards. No public hearings can be held, no conditions of approval may be imposed to mitigate adverse impacts on the surrounding neighborhood, and no second unit permit can be rejected, no matter how negative the ensuing traffic and infrastructure impacts.
These state law procedural requirements are bad enough, but, if a locality does not have its own adopted standards, it must ministerially approve any second unit application that meets the lenient state ”default” standard. The Legislature specifically designed the “default” standard to be so utterly weak that any rational city would prefer to adopt and enforce its own local standards, rather than follow that lenient state standard.
In light of the strong outpouring of citizen opposition to the Department’s 2009 effort, then Planning Director Gail Goldberg “pulled the plug” on the study and refused to send any repealing ordinance to the City Council. Most citizens assumed the issue had been put to bed at that point. But that was only the beginning.
In 2010, in response to the City Attorney’s mistaken legal advice, the Planning Department issued a behind-closed-doors administrative memo (ZA 120) ordering the Building and Safety Department (LADBS) to stop following the City’s adopted second units standards. Instead, ZA120 ordered LADBS to follow the weak state “default” standard for second units.
In 2014, Los Angeles Neighbors in Action brought its lawsuit demanding that the City set aside ZA120 and resume following its adopted local standards. After almost two years of litigation, the Superior Court recently ruled that, since 2010, based on the City Attorney’s mistaken legal advice, the City has unlawfully been ignoring its adopted protective standards on a routine basis -- about 40 percent of the second unit permits issued by LADBS since 2010 have violated those adopted standards -- and ordering the City to stop using ZA 120 (and the state “default” standard) as the criteria for second unit permits.
Perversely, however, as noted above, the City has recently proposed repealing its adopted second unit standards, and, in their place, implementing the very weak state “default” standard. The City has put this repeal proposal on a “fast track” as an urgency ordinance and noticed a Planning Commission public hearing for Thursday, May 12.
As the proposed second unit repeal ordinance comes to hearing, we must put LA’s planning establishment on notice that we will not tolerate the continuing broken planning system. The City’s repeal proposal is bad public policy:
- It would allow second units to be built anywhere in any single family residential zone with virtually no protective standards for the surrounding neighborhood, without any public hearings, and without any discretion for LA’s decision-makers to condition or reject inappropriate increased density.
- Contrary to the rhetoric behind the much-heralded re:code LA study (which is supposed to include customized zoning standards to take into account the diverse topography, density and character of LA’s neighborhoods), the City’s repeal proposal would replace the existing strict second unit standards with a weak “one size fits all” “default” standard.
- The proposed “default” standard is so lacking in protection for surrounding single family neighborhoods that Los Angeles, as a rational municipality, should not want to be required to implement its extremely weak provisions and should instead prefer continuing to enforce its own protective local second unit ordinances.
As the City begins formulating its defense against the upcoming ballot initiative, we need to signal to the City that this kind of bad planning proposal -- at wide variance from its promised good planning goals -- is completely unacceptable.
Please join me and many other citizens, homeowner groups and neighborhood councils in investigating and writing about the City’s proposed second unit ordinance repeal. Call or email your City Council representative (and any other Council members or Planning Commissioners you know) to ascertain their commitment to, or distance from, this repeal proposal. Inquire whether they believe that the City should retain its existing adopted second unit standards until such time as a better, customized second unit zoning reform proposal is recommended by the re:code LA study.
Plan to attend the May 12, 2016 Planning Commission public hearing at 8:30 AM at City Hall, Board of Public Works, Room 350, 200 N. Spring Street, LA 90012.
(Carlyle Hall is an environmental and land use lawyer in Los Angeles who founded the Center for Law in the Public Interest and litigated the well-known AB 283 litigation, in which the Superior Court ordered the City to rezone about one third of the properties within its territorial boundaries (an area the size of Chicago) to bring them into consistency with its 35 community plans. He alsol co-founded LA Neighbors in Action, which has recently been litigating with the City over its second dwelling unit policies and practices.) Photo credit: Beverly Press. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
A WIN FOR TRANSPARENCY-The truth about the behind-the-scenes battle over the Archer School for Girls’ building project may soon be revealed now that the City of LA has lost its fight to keep secret the contents of 146 emails written by or to city officials, including Councilman Mike Bonin, during the heat of this controversy.
The winner in this fight for greater government transparency is the Sunset Coalition, a non-profit public advocacy group organized to oppose the controversial $100 million Archer campus expansion project. The project was approved in August 2015 by the City Council.
“The city and Archer wrongly withheld these emails in violation of the law,” said Brentwood resident Zofia Wright. Wright and her husband, David, are leaders of the Sunset Coalition.
“The judge’s ruling is a major victory for transparency and open government,” added Wendy-Sue Rosen, president of the Brentwood Residents Coalition. “Now we will be able to see what the City has been trying to hide from the public.”
The fight over the emails is one chapter in the Coalition’s larger legal fight to overturn the City Council’s decision to allow the Archer expansion project to go forward.
In its lawsuit, the Coalition has alleged Archer’s massive expansion project will overwhelm Brentwood with its illegally large structures, jeopardize the health of its own students with toxic fumes and swamp already-paralyzed Westside streets, including Sunset Boulevard, with “tens of thousands” of additional vehicle trips.
The LA Superior Court lawsuit argues that the campus expansion project – involving nearly a quarter million square feet of construction and tens of thousands of construction-related truck trips – will “significantly burden not only the nearby residential community, but also the entire west side of Los Angeles.”
According to recent city records, Archer spent $985,016 to hire the law firm of Latham & Watkins and Sugerman Communications to lobby City Hall officials and influence their decision-making.
Initially, the city vigorously opposed full public disclosure of the contents of 173 emails sought by the Sunset Coalition and its plaintiff-partners, the Brentwood Residents Coalition, the Brentwood Hills Homeowners Assn. and the Wrights. The 173 emails were among thousands of City Hall documents initially delivered to Archer’s opponents in November.
During their inspection of these documents, the opponents found these 173 emails that were heavily redacted or otherwise obscured without a valid reason. The coalition filed a motion to gain full disclosure of their contents.
Superior Court Judge Robert H. O’Brien agreed there was a problem and ruled that 146 of the 173 documents contained information that should be fully released without being censored.
O’Brien noted that “many [of the emails] reflect public commitments, efforts for compromise, evaluation of community interests, balancing interests, and frustration and venting regarding efforts at compromise apparently overseen by the councilman’s office….Also many reflect internal on-going negotiations.”
O’Brien observed that some of the email comments were so frank and revealing that it is clear the authors “never meant [them] for general circulation.”
“This ruling could have a major impact on the way the city does business in the future,” predicted Coalition attorney Doug Carstens, a partner in the the law firm of Chatten-Brown & Carstens. “Public employees, including elected officials, must realize that their emails can be open to the public. After all, these officials work for the public, not the other way around.”
Proposition 59, passed by voters in 2004, unequivocally established the public’s right of access to the writings of public officials. Proposition 59 amended the state Constitution to provide: “The people have the right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people's business, and therefore, the meetings of public bodies and the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny.”
“The public's right to access records of public agencies is enshrined in our state Constitution,” said Carstens. “Despite this, the City sought to keep documents from being disclosed. That attempt has been resoundingly rejected by the Court.”
Carstens and Coalition members plan to soon begin a comprehensive review of the controversial emails.
The coalition’s review of the mountain of documents released earlier by the city has already produced surprises.
For example, early on in the Archer controversy, Bonin appeared to be an ally of the many Brentwood neighbors deeply concerned about the project’s impact on the community and on Sunset Boulevard traffic. But in the spring of 2015, only weeks before Archer’s project was scheduled for a council vote, project critics were blindsided by Bonin when he abruptly and publicly endorsed the school’s plan.
Now, however, after reviewing the trove of documents and emails that were previously released, the Coalition has learned that Bonin in 2014 had already reached a private deal to support Archer’s plan even though he continued to falsely represent himself as an ally of concerned critics until the spring of 2015.
“We had to sue,” said Zofia Wright. “It is the only way we can obtain the protections for the community that our elected leaders failed to provide in the first place.”
(John Schwada is a former investigative reporter for Fox 11 in Los Angeles, the LA Times and the late Herald Examiner and is the Communications Director for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. He is a contributor to CityWatch. His consulting firm is MediaFix Associates.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
WHO WANTED ACA TO FAIL?-One can't help but wonder if those who did, do, and still defend the "Affordable Care Act" believe that its opponents truly wanted it to fail, or if its opponents hated the principles of health care access and affordability. But the same question can be laid at the feet of those who opposed the Iraq Conflict--did they want that effort to fail, and did they oppose democracy in the Middle East ... or as with the ACA, was it doomed to fail all on its own?
Arguably, this was NOT anything that should have been called "Obamacare" because the President knew very little of what was in it (kind of like former President G.W. Bush and Iraq--he didn't know what the substance and the problems of the Iraq challenge was, and had to keep patching it as he went along).
To paraphrase House Minority Speaker Nancy Pelosi, we now know what's in it because it's passed, and as the bill gets higher and higher--with a surge in costs going up next year just as the President leaves office--there is also a surge of Americans who disapprove of the law, according to U.S. News and World Report.
Which merely proves the point that this law--written by the same health plans who in part (but only in part...see below) got us into this mess--can only be supported either by those who are not affected, or by those who hate Republicans and other opponents of the President more than they love and care for the well-being of their fellow Americans.
The ACA passing Supreme Court muster based on this law being the single biggest tax hike on the middle class in recent memory, despite it being billed as anything but a tax hike? Don't care.
The ACA requiring childless adults to pay for comprehensive plans that include pediatric psychiatry? Don't care.
Requests from ACA insurers throughout the nation asking for premium hikes that average from 9.4% to 37.1% in 2017? Don't care.
Tens of millions of Americans ripped away from their health plans and their doctors, despite being promised that such a nightmare would never happen? Don't care.
California fighting for adult illegal immigrants to get ACA coverage after granting it to their children for free, despite promises that such an effort would neeeeeeeever happen, because illegal immigrants should pay for their own families' expenses? Don't care.
And it's funny--actually pretty sad, but funny in a grim sort of way--that the ACA plans and the patients with health care through their employment (and with traditional plans that were allowed to be grandfathered into the ACAD) remain the most profitable and the most affordable (and most appreciated by patients).
Which meant that either a Bush or an Obama Administration that focused on JOBS--not crappy, lousy, part-time jobs without benefits that "officially" and artificially placed Americans off the unemployment rolls--but real JOBS with benefits could have obviated the need for most of the ACA, particularly since the push to eliminate pre-existing conditions was already a bipartisan effort.
So it's NOT just the health plans, but a lack of focus on full-time, family-friendly, quality of life-enhancing JOBS WITH BENEFITS that made health care access and affordable so elusive.
And the anemic U.S. Economy, which is expanding at 0.5%--the lowest and slowest pace in two years, could that at all be aggravated by the ACA hobbling businesses from hiring with traditional benefit plans, and expanding because profits are being slammed as we enter a global slowdown?
I know, I know. You don't care. You just don't care.
Because dammitall, we're going to stay the course with the ACA--just like we did in Iraq--and a surge of sorts will do us all a lot of good.
And it was great to take a swing at "The Man", and all those screaming Republicans, wasn't it?
But one question, after you got to take that giant swing: why is the taste in your mouth not one of true victory, but the taste of your own blood?
(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 firstname.lastname@example.org. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)-cw
EDTITOR’S PICK--People around the world are increasingly identifying as global citizens, according to a new BBC poll that shines a light on changing attitudes about immigration, inequality, and different economic realities.
Among all 18 countries where public opinion research firm, GlobeScan conducted the survey, 51 percent of people see themselves more as global citizens than national citizens. It is the first time since tracking began in 2001 that a global majority identifies this way, and is up from a low point of about 42 percent in 2002.
The trend is particularly strong in developing countries, the poll found, "including Nigeria (73%, up 13 points), China (71%, up 14 points), Peru (70%, up 27 points), and India (67%, up 13 points)."
Overall, 56 percent of people in emerging economies saw themselves as global citizens rather than national citizens.
"The poll's finding that growing majorities of people in emerging economies identify as global citizens will challenge many people's (and organizations') ideas of what the future might look like," said GlobeScan chairman Doug Miller.
In more industrialized nations, the numbers skew a bit lower. The BBC's Naomi Grimley writes:
In Germany, for example, only 30% of respondents see themselves as global citizens.
According to Lionel Bellier from GlobeScan, this is the lowest proportion seen in Germany since the poll began 15 years ago.
"It has to be seen in the context of a very charged environment, politically and emotionally, following Angela Merkel's policy to open the doors to a million refugees last year."
The poll suggests a degree of soul-searching in Germany about how open its doors should be in the future.
Not all wealthy nations were opposed to newcomers. In Spain, 84 percent of respondents said they supported taking in Syrian refugees, while 77 percent of Canadians said the same. A small majority of Americans—55 percent—were also in favor of accepting those fleeing the ongoing civil war.
As Grimley points out, the concept of "global citizenship" can be hard to define, which makes it difficult to determine answers about identity.
"For some, it might be about the projection of economic clout across the world," she writes. "To others, it might mean an altruistic impulse to tackle the world's problems in a spirit of togetherness—whether that is climate change or inequality in the developing world."
GlobeScan interviewed 20,000 people in 18 countries between December 2015 and April 2016.
(Nadia Prupis writes for Common Dreams … where this piece was first posted.) –cw
EDITOR’S PICK-Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. Once upon a time, I considered longing for a long-lost past a relatively innocuous exercise. I don’t really go for the iconic schmaltz of Norman Rockwell paintings, but I never thought that idealizing days of yore could be a dangerous activity.
But that was before Donald J. Trump launched a presidential campaign on the promise of making America great again.
On the surface, the real estate mogul’s pledge of renewing national greatness doesn’t seem so bad. After all, like any politician, he seems to be simply appealing to national pride and ambition. Couldn’t that just get our collective competitive juices flowing and produce more gross national excellence?
Well, no, actually.
Making a comeback or triumphing over one’s hardships requires more than nostalgia. Sometimes it requires the ability to visualize—literally—what a better future would look like. In a brilliant 2014 essay on beauty and justice, Harvard art historian Sarah Lewis explores the power of images to propel people forward. She cites the example of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who decided to seek his freedom from slavery after spending too many Sundays feeling taunted by the gentle, unhindered movement of the sailboats on Chesapeake Bay.
Douglass would later argue that those most capable of inspiring change—poets, prophets, and reformers—are those who can conjure images that capture the contrast between what is and what could be. “They see what ought to be by the reflection of what is,“ he said, “and endeavor to remove the contradiction.”
By contrast, the image of the future Donald Trump is offering is not a reflection of what is, but rather of what may or may not have been. He hearkens back to a past in which Americans—or at least some of them—enjoyed unchallenged economic and cultural dominance. While it isn’t particularly clear what era he’s nostalgic for, “Making America Great Again” is less about achieving a shiny new vision as it is about restoring a gauzy old one. He is propelling us backwards.
“Making America Great Again” is less about achieving a shiny new vision as it is about restoring a gauzy old one.
The late Russian-born novelist and playwright Svetlana Boym made a distinction between two types of nostalgia, reflective and restorative. While the former tends to be wistful and dreamy (think of Reagan’s “Morning in America” imagery), the latter, which lies at the core of many modern national and religious revival movements, is deadly serious.
Restorative nostalgia has two essential plot lines, the first being the return to a hallowed past and the second being the conspiracies that explain why that past was lost. As such, these nostalgic movements come to be more about the search for scapegoats than they are about recapturing any sort of tradition. They’re particularly attractive to groups who feel victimized by change in the modern world.
Of course, Trump’s politics of nostalgia certainly has its cast of villains, including Mexicans, Muslims, China, and Japan. His rhetoric of restoration is clearly more focused on dealing with enemies—both within and outside our borders—than it is on inspiring or building the intrinsic capacity of the people whose greatness he says he hopes to reclaim.
Such aggrieved nostalgia may feel novel in a U.S. presidential race, particularly given the collective pride in our unwavering focus on the future. Yet it is all too common around the world. It underlies Islamist movements’ anger towards the West, Vladimir Putin’s project to restore Russia to its rightful place in the world, and the more virulent strains of Chinese nationalism. In places like the Balkans, a victimized sense of nostalgia is practically a birthright. Hence one of the paradoxes of the Trump phenomenon is that in seeking to “Make America Great Again” by invoking a litany of wrongs committed against us, he sure is making America more like the rest of the world.
The most extreme form of restorative nationalist nostalgia could be seen in Adolf Hitler’s Germany. While anti-Semitism had existed for centuries, Hitler employed what UCLA historian Saul Friedländer has called “redemptive anti-Semitism,” a national salvation myth that held that Germany’s prominence could only be regained through the removal of Jews. Since Hitler blamed Jews not only for Germany’s defeat in World War I but for the subsequent collapse of the monarchy, he argued that their expulsion—which later led to genocide—was necessary to make Germany great again.
I’m not implying that Trump intends to commit mass murder. But the rhetorical mechanism he employs is essentially the same. Far from being a quaint stroll down memory lane, the politics of nostalgia is a recipe for resentment, and potentially, revenge. It’s also a perfect way to blame others for your lot in life.
THE JUDGE AND THE VETERAN—(Just when you think ‘good people’ all lived at another time and another place, along comes Judge Olivera … providing hope and a feel good story amongst the torrent of news angst we endure every day. That’s why we’re publishing this story. For the hope it provides.)
Here's how it's done: A North Carolina judge - and veteran - who sentenced a three-tour, PTSD-afflicted veteran to 24 hours in jail for a DUI offense, and noted how the offender trembled at sentencing, served the time with him.
Judge Lou Olivera, 45, a Gulf War veteran who presides over an innovative Cumberland County veterans' court, had sentenced Joseph Serna to a 24-hour jail stint after Serna admitted he'd lied about an urinalysis test.
A married father of seven and Special Forces Green Beret sergeant who served three tours in Afghanistan, Serna has appeared multiple times in Olivera's court as he struggles with sobriety.
When Serna showed up for his jail time, he was met by the judge explaining, "We're going to turn ourselves in."
They spent the night in a single cell - Olivera gave him the bed and slept on mats on the floor - talking about their families and military service, Serna's three tours in Afghanistan, the friends he lost and the injuries he suffered, "our dreams for us and our families, and the road to take us there."
A moved Serna said of the judge, "He stepped in there for me. I will never let him down again."
As for Olivera, he cited a story he'd read: "It talked about a soldier with PTSD in a hole. A family member, a therapist and a friend all throw down a rope to help the veteran suffering. Finally, a fellow veteran climbs into the hole with him. The soldier suffering with PTSD asks, ‘Why are you down here?’ The fellow veteran replied, ‘I am here to climb out with you.’”
(Abby Zimet writes for Common Dreams … where this perspective was first posted.)
NEW GEOGRAPHY-For the better part of a century, Southern California has been seen as the land of surfers, hipsters and youthful innovators. Yet the land of sun and sea is becoming, like its East Coast counterpart Florida, increasingly geriatric.
This, of course, is a global and national phenomenon. From 2015-25, the number of senior-headed U.S. households, according to the Joint Center on Housing Studies at Harvard University, will grow by 10.7 million, compared with 2.5 million households headed by people ages 35-44.
After some delay, this aging process is accelerating in California. Large-scale immigration, which supplied a younger population for decades, is slowing markedly. Once considerably younger than the country, the state appears to be heading toward the national median age. Since 2000, the senior population in Southern California has grown by 24 percent compared with 18 percent nationally. Unless immigration or domestic migration pick up soon, this aging trend should accelerate.
At the same time, our analysis shows that some areas – notably along the Orange County coast – are rapidly becoming virtual retirement communities, with a diminishing number of children and young families. For those sitting in their houses in affluenza-afflicted enclaves of Southern California, this may seem good news: “aging in place” while their homes increase in value. But this trend is less a boon for younger people, particularly families, as well as for companies seeking to launch and expand here.
Aging in (a nice) place
Today, the most aged parts of the country remain largely either in Florida or in the old Rust Belt cities where young people have been decamping for generations. In contrast, Southern California’s grey tide has set in later, and is occurring most noticeably in specific areas.
The aging process is most marked in two kinds of areas. First, as geographer Ali Modarres has demonstrated, historically Latino sections of Los Angeles, such as East Los Angeles and the Pico-Union district, are aging rapidly. In LA now, immigrants are older than the rest of the population, as their offspring decamp elsewhere, and the oldest, and most dependent on the services unique to ethnic enclaves, remain behind.
Similarly immigrant-rich areas like Santa Ana, although still relatively young, are getting old more rapidly than the region as a whole. But the most dramatic aging is taking place in traditionally Asian immigrant communities, like Westminster and Garden Grove.
Westminster, the original Little Saigon, has seen its share of seniors grow from 11.0 percent to 17.8 percent from 2010-14, an astounding 60 percent increase and far above the state and national averages. The aging wave now sweeping East Asia now has a California counterpart.
The other major incoming gray tide is building along Orange County’s affluent coastal communities. A land renowned for fit bodies and surfer gals and dudes is getting pretty weather-beaten. There’s only so much plastic surgery can do.
Newport Beach and San Clemente are the leading edge of the oldster wave. More than 20 percent of Newport Beach residents and 18.6 percent of those in San Clemente are at least 65, a population share well above the county, regional, state and national norms. These towns are rapidly becoming what demographers refer to as “NORCs”: naturally occurring retirement communities.
Most Inland Empire communities remain relatively youthful. With an 11.8 percent share of seniors, the Riverside-San Bernardino area ranks considerably below Los Angeles, Orange County and the state. Although some areas, like Hemet, Apple Valley and Redlands, have double-digit shares of 65-and-overs, many of the Inland communities remain well under national averages for seniors, including Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside and Ontario. Overall, the Inland regions seem to be retaining a more youthful population.
Preserving, not creating wealth
The greying of California, particularly along the Southern California coast, could well shape the state’s future. Older populations tend to be more interested in preserving wealth than creating it; for them, high housing prices – particularly given Proposition 13 protections – serve as a hedge against old age.
In the short run, the economic impact may be muted, since much of the growth will take place among what may be described as “the young old,” who may be economically and socially active for at least another decade. Senior entrepreneurship rates have grown, while those for other age groups, notably millennials, have dropped.
On the other hand, the “young old” likely will be staying in their old homes for a protracted period of time. Whatever their political orientation, they actually benefit from the current regulatory regime, which keeps housing supply limited, all but guaranteeing rising property values, particularly for single-family homes and offices.
This may explain why so many prominent property owners express remarkably little concern about the future impact of the decreasing migration of younger, educated workers from other parts of the country. Seniors have made their beds in the nicest parts of California, and seem determined to stay there, even if their kids will never be able to live there. Apres moi, le deluge!
The rising prices, however, will impact basic services. As baby boomers, particularly those with nice pensions, continue to retire, they will reduce the number of experienced teachers, police and fire personnel. With much of Orange County and Los Angeles County housing now beyond the price range of most public servants, the strains will likely be greatest there. The same is true of similarly skilled private-sector workers.
Aging demographics, and out-of-sight housing prices, also are having an impact on corporate relocations and expansions. In the coastal locales, the affluent, predominately white but increasingly Asian populations can still fill the top positions at tech or business service firms, but it’s increasingly difficult to staff companies that require middle managers and skilled technicians.
Companies that need to staff up for these kind of jobs will increasingly need to head to lower-cost locales. In this sense the Toyota U.S. headquarters move in 2014 from Torrance to the Dallas suburbs, notes Southern Methodist University Dean Albert Neimi Jr., was motivated largely by a need for affordable middle-class housing and may be the precursor of the Southern California coast’s economic future.
These dynamics are also being felt in the technology industry, long concentrated along the state’s coastal counties. A recent report by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office refers to the difficulty that high-tech employers have in retaining and recruiting staff. LAO cited survey data from the Silicon Valley, which for years has been California’s economic “Golden Goose.” In a 2014 survey of more than 200 business executives and conducted by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, 72 percent of respondents cited “housing costs for employees” as the most important challenge facing Silicon Valley businesses.
The last great alternative for most young, middle-class families who wish to remain in California is moving to places like the Central Valley and the Inland Empire, where the senior population also tends to be smaller. Of all Southern California, the Inland Empire also has had the most marked millennial growth, far more than in Los Angeles. The Inland area has also seen the state’s most rapid rate of growth in ages 25-to-34 college-educated people.
Yet these places, while still family- and youth-friendly, will be hard-pressed to compete with similar regions, notably in Texas, Arizona and the Southeast. These areas may not enjoy California’s natural and cultural amenities, but also do not have to function under the draconian tax and regulatory regime imposed by Sacramento, which is supported implicitly by residents along the greying coast.
Unless the housing issue is addressed, we are doomed to become an older society that likely will be less innovative. High housing prices are making California, long an importer of talent, into a talent exporter.
Over the past 10 years, notes economist Bill Watkins, California has produced twice as many holders of four-year degrees as new jobs. If these young people are getting trained, often at least partially at taxpayer expense, the beneficiaries of their skills will be more affordable and, often, less senior-dominated places.
Nothing can alter this dynamic until there is some change in California’s planning regime. The state’s increasingly burdensome anti-growth message clouds the future of younger families who lack inherited wealth. Yet few in Sacramento seem concerned about how well California manages to retain young people, and avoids transitioning, particularly along the coasts, into a retirement community for the affluent.
If you want to see where that future leads, look at Japan, where high costs and low birth rates, after decades of remarkable success, have helped usher in 20 years of stagnation. California, fortunately, is not there yet, but it may be time to concern ourselves on how to avoid a similar fate.
(Joel Kotkin is R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University. He is executive editor of New Geography … where this piece originated and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. Wendell Cox was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission by Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley. He chaired the Service Coordination Committee and also served on the Rail Transit and Finance Review Committees. This piece was first posted most recently at newgeography.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
EDITOR’S PICK--Airbnb, star of the “sharing economy,” is “committed to strengthening the neighborhoods and cities we serve.” Uber is “passionate about the cities we call home.” Google wants “a better world, faster.” Facebook has its own “social good” team.
But as much as Silicon Valley powerhouses love to tout their efforts to give back to their communities and make the world a better place, they also love to hide their money in tax havens.
The Panama Papers scandal has shaken the world by exposing a secretive world of offshore shell companies, which can “facilitate bribery, arms deals, tax evasion, financial fraud and drug trafficking.” But the use of shell companies to avoid taxes is a tried-and-true method of corporate governance for many of America’s biggest companies.
A new report by Oxfam tallied the offshore money of 50 top public U.S. companies, and the winner was Silicon Valley’s own Apple, with $181 billion held offshore. The company would owe $59.2 billion in taxes if the profits weren’t held offshore, according to a report by Citizens for Tax Justice.
As for Airbnb, the first tenet of its “Community Compact” states: “We are committed to treating every city personally and helping ensure our community pays its fair share of hotel and tourist taxes.” But as Bloomberg reports, Airbnb manages its finances “via units in Ireland and tax havens like Jersey in the Channel Islands” that will allow it to avoid the grasp of the Internal Revenue Service.
Uber, meanwhile, uses a Netherlands entity headquartered in Bermuda to shield its non-U.S. income from U.S. taxes, according to Fortune.
Here’s Bloomberg’s David Kocieniewski:
“This is the challenge that Airbnb, like Uber and other companies in the so-called sharing economy, poses for the world’s treasuries. In the five years since these businesses began their spiraling growth, some cities and states around the globe have fought hard to make them play by the same rules as traditional hotels or taxis and collect various local taxes – often as not, they’ve lost.”
Google – as in “don’t be evil” or “do the right thing” – had mastered the strategy long before.
Bloomberg’s Jesse Drucker reported in 2010 that Google saved $3 billion in taxes with complicated income-shuffling arrangements known as the “Double Irish” and the “Dutch Sandwich.” The strategy sparked outrage, but never mind that – Google saved another $2.4 billion in 2014 with a Bermuda shell company.
But while Panama faces a lot of flack, Drucker reminds us that the U.S. has something in common with the Central American nation: “Neither has agreed to new international standards to make it harder for tax evaders and money launderers to hide their money.” In fact, he reported, the U.S. is “becoming the go-to place to stash foreign wealth,” with shell companies in states such as Nevada, Wyoming and South Dakota.
So it’s not all about offshore. The New York Times found that Cupertino-based Apple avoided millions of dollars in taxes in California and other states by routing profits through Nevada, where the corporate tax rate is zero.
And the amazing thing is that, unlike the secrets revealed by the Panama Papers leak, all of these tech company shenanigans have been well documented for years and are easily findable on, well, Google.
(Will Evans is a reporter of Reveal News … where this piece was first posted.)
LA WATCHDOG--While the combined budgets for the City Council and the Mayor are projected to be $100 million next year, will Paul Krekorian, the Chair of the City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee, conduct an open and transparent discussion of the individual line items of each budget so that Angelenos will have a better understanding as to how and where their money is being spent?
For example, there has not been an open and transparent discussion about the Councilmembers’ discretionary funds that are reputed to haul in over $20 million a year, money that could be used to repair our streets or fund a portion of the City’s homeless initiative.
Sources of cash for these slush funds include the Street Furniture Fund (advertising revenues from bus shelters), Oil Pipeline Franchise Fees, the Real Property Trust Fund (50% of the sale of surplus property in a Council District), and AB 1290 Funds (tax increment funds associated with the dissolution of the corrupt Community Redevelopment Agency). There are also fees from Lopez Canyon Landfill, Sunshine Canyon Landfill, and the Central LA Recycling and Transfer Station that never see the light of day.
Where the discretionary cash goes is also not very transparent unless you are willing to hire a team of forensic accountants. Reportedly, Councilmembers use a portion of these slush funds to fund members of their bloated staffs.
There are discrepancies between the number of positions listed in the budget for the Mayor (94) and the City Council (108) and internal rosters, telephone directories, and web sites which indicate over 450 employees. Naturally, this gives rise to the question of how are all these staffers being paid and what is the source of the cash to fund the extra salaries, pensions, and benefits.
This headcount does not include numerous City employees who are on “loan” to the Mayor’s office to work on special projects and initiatives or the many employees throughout the City who are on call to answer the many time consuming inquiries from the offices of the Mayor and the Councilmembers.
The Mayor’s budget also includes a line item of $36 million for Non-Departmental Allocations that comprises two-thirds of his $54 million fully loaded budget. But there are no details about how and where this money will be spent in the over 1,700 pages covering the budget.
Nor is there any information about how last year’s $38 million of Non-Departmental Allocations was disbursed.
The City Council has also budgeted $6 million for Non-Departmental Allocations. While this represents only an eighth of its $47 million budget, again there is no information on where this cash is going.
Tellingly, the budgets for the City Council and the Mayor were the only departments that did not have the Supporting Data that outlines the distribution of 2016-17 total cost of their programs. This includes pensions and human resource benefits (equal 30% of total salaries for the combined departments) and other departmental expenses.
The unwillingness of the Budget and Finance Committee to demand transparency from the Mayor and its own City Council is justification as to why the City should implement the recommendation of the LA 2020 Commission to establish an independent Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee the finances of our cash strapped City, whose elected officials appear to be allergic to the sunshine demanded by skeptical Angelenos.
The Budget and Finance Committee should also consider another recommendation of the LA 2020 Commission by creating a Committee on Retirement Security to review and analyze the City’s two underfunded pension plans, especially in light of the projected $101 million deficit in 2020 caused by an increase of over $180 million in pension contributions, wiping out the $68 million surplus that was projected last year.
(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--Ever since Mayor Villaraigosa and the Eric Garcetti led City Council eviscerated the budget of our Department of Recreation and Parks in 2010 to help balance the City’s out of control budget, Rec & Parks has been on a mad dash for cash, willing to sell its soul for a few extra bucks, the hell with the neighboring communities.
Under the new “full cost recovery” program that targeted the Recreation and Parks budget, City Hall slammed the Department with $38 million in chargebacks, consisting primarily of costs for water and power ($16 million) and General Fund expenses ($17.5 million). This ding represented more than a quarter of the Department’s appropriation in the 2011 budget.
Despite the healthy increase in City revenues, this policy has only gotten worse as chargebacks for the upcoming year have ballooned to $60 million, representing more than a third of its General Fund revenue.
As a result, our parks are in disrepair and its programs gutted as the Department has eliminated more than a quarter of its worker bees.
While the commercialization of our parks is understandable, it has not been well received by Angelenos who believe our parks should be free of billboards, signage, and other forms of intrusive advertising and corporate sponsorship. And this opposition has only been fueled by the ham handed Department managers and Commissioners who have been less than transparent with the public, especially with those that live in close proximity to the parks.
A prime example is the near riot by Hollywood residents over a plan to commercialize Runyon Park by allowing Pink + Dolphin, a streetwear company, to place its controversial logo on a newly constructed basketball court in exchange for $250,000. This situation was further aggravated by Rec & Parks failure to engage the Hollywood community.
As a result of the furious backlash, Councilmember David Ryu called a halt to this deal, at least for the time being.
We are also seeing opposition to AngelFest, a new three day “family friendly music, food and cultural festival” that may be held in October in the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area. And while the Department will take in an estimated $1 million over the next three years that can be reinvested in the local parks, the Department failed to engage the environmental and conservation communities who are concerned about the adverse impact on the park and its wildlife.
The Department also stirred up a hornet’s nest when it bungled the proposal to have Live Nation and Anschutz Entertainment replace Nederlander as the operator of the Greek Theatre in Griffin Park. As a result, Rec & Parks will “self-manage” the venue, a scary thought given the City’s lack of management expertise and the need for the cash strapped City to invest $20 to $40 million to upgrade the aging venue.
We are also seeing controversies where the residents of Beachwood Canyon, Hollywood Land, Lake Hollywood Estates, and the Hollywood Dells are in open revolt against the Department because of the traffic and safety issues resulting from tourists flocking to see the Hollywood sign.
We also have issues involving Elysian Park and Councilman Gil Cedillo’s efforts to raid a $12.5 million fund set up by the Department of Water and Power to mitigate the impact of a covered reservoir.
Now is the time to reform our Department of Recreation and Parks.
The first step is to establish a better relationship with the public. This would include a Memorandum of Understanding with the Neighborhood Councils similar to the successful arrangement with the Department of Water and Power. This would also involve considerable outreach to the public, something the Department has not done with any consistency.
At the same time, the Department needs to develop a long range operational and financial plan that meets the goals of all Angelenos.
Once the Department gains the trust and confidence of the public, the City should place a measure on the ballot that would increase the charter mandated appropriation by $75 to $100 million over a four year period. At the same time, the Department would assume responsibility for all its direct and indirect expenses.
Importantly, this is not be a new tax, but would require the City to allocate scarce funds to the Department.
This is similar to Measure L, the March 2011 charter amendment that was approved by 63% of the voters that increased the mandated funding for the Library Department by over 70%.
The Department of Recreation and Parks has been the center of increasing controversy, in part because of its lack of funding and the failure of its management to develop an open and transparent relationship with the public.
But now is the time for the Department to develop and implement its good neighbor plan.
(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--On Thursday, Mayor Eric Garcetti delivered his State of the City address (photo above) to an enthusiastic City Hall centric audience at the headquarters of Norabachi Corporation, a growing Harbor City manufacturer of LED lighting for industrial and commercial applications. On Wednesday, April 20, he will present his proposed budget for the year beginning July 1, 2016.
LA WATCHDOG--City Council President Herb Wesson is hell bent to place on the November ballot a measure to reform and restructure our Department of Water and Power so that it will be a more “nimble and efficient” enterprise that will grant management the flexibility to meet the ever increasing operating, organizational, and financial challenges in our rapidly changing world.
LA WATCHDOG--“God gave us rain and you figured out how to tax it.”
The current Board of Supervisors of the County of Los Angeles is considering developing its own Stormwater Plan to capture rainwater, stormwater, and urban runoff in effort to curb pollution in the Santa Monica Bay and to develop new sources of water to recharge our groundwater supplies.