Grid List

READ EM AND WEEP--These two bulletins from the City News Service are real and edited only for space. 

October 14, 2016, City News Service 

Four City Council members will begin a weeklong trip to Europe Saturday for a Cisco Systems-led tour of two cities where private citizens and governments have connected the internet into various household objects and day-to-day functions. 

Executives with the telecom hardware giant will show council members Bob Blumenfield, Gil Cedillo (photo above), Curren Price and Mitch Englander around Hamburg, Germany, and Copenhagen, Denmark, said company lobbyist Arnie Berghoff. 

The “smart and connected cities” tour will include a stop at Hamburg’s inland port, which has been fully automated, he said. In both cities the council members will meet with elected and other government officials, he said. 

Berghoff said Cisco will not be paying for the council members’ trip-related expenses. 

October 18, 2016, City News Service 

Los Angeles City Council meetings for the rest of the week have been canceled because not enough members will be in town to attend them. 

Five council members are out of town, leaving just nine City Council members to attend meetings, which is not enough for the required quorum. 

Council members Bob Blumenfield, Gil Cedillo, Mitchell Englander and Curren Price are in Europe this week taking part in a Cisco Systems-led tour of Hamburg, Germany, and Copenhagen, Denmark.  

There are a total of 15 City Council seats, but one has been vacant ever since former Seventh District councilman Felipe Fuentes stepped down last month to go work for a Sacramento lobbying firm. 

Some City Council committee hearings will still go on, depending if a quorum can be reached. 

These two bulletins from the City News Service are real and have only been edited for length and the insertion of links to related campaign finance and lobbyist activity posted at the Ethics Commission website.  

There are many who think the councilmember’s travel costs might be better spent on a ‘Priority-Setting 101’ workshop for our city leaders.

(Eric Preven is a CityWatch contributor and a Studio City based writer-producer and public advocate for better transparency in local government. He was a candidate in the 2015 election for Los Angeles City Council, 2nd District. Joshua Preven is a CityWatch contributor and teacher who lives in Los Angeles.)



RISEMBERG FOR THE RECORD--“Duty Now for the Future” was the title of a Devo album from way back in ’79, and of course it was redolent of the cynicism and pure snark that pervaded much of New Wave. 

But we can look at the phrase a little differently today, now that Bernie Sanders has shown us that the “Audacity of Hope” Obama spoke of can really make things better…if we raise the level of audacity. 

Sanders really did fail to gain the nomination; there was no fix. He says so himself. But he got close. Just as Trump’s swell of race-driven nationalism (and when have we seen that before?) exposed the morass of fascism that underlies much of the US mindscape, so Sanders’s progressive populism showed us that our diverse polity has stronger urges towards compassion than towards hate.

Hillary Clinton, however much, and for whatever reasons, you may dislike her, will keep us from going backwards eighty years and to another country. Meanwhile, we can work on the future—a future in which the human scale supersedes the economy of scale.

This future is beginning to blossom in the most unlikely of places: Germany—a country with a history of militarism , fascism, and corporate domination, but one now the world leader in modern environmentalism. A country which is likely to pass a law banning all new internal-combustion vehicles by 2030, and one which recently ran a full day almost entirely on renewable electricity. Clean energy is real and routine in Germany. 

It’ snot coincidental that the Green Party holds significant power in Germany. And they got there by running candidates for councils and mayor’s office in towns large and small for decades.

Doing the groundwork, in other words.

Here’s where you come in. Because “third party” candidates will get nowhere nationally till they get somewhere locally. And you’ve got one running for City Council right here in your own front yard. (You may have encountered him literally in your own front yard in recent weeks!)

Joe Bray-Ali, owner of the Flying Pigeon bike shop, former white-hat developer, once an aide to an Assembly member, and now candidate for City Council, is running in District 1, which he’s called home for over a decade.

A true progressive, champion of local businesses and neighborhood empowerment, safe streets and transportation diversity advocate, and probably the one soul who knows the LA Municipal Code better than anyone else.

You want a future that belongs to neither the pinstripes nor the brownshirts? Bray-Ali is your man. But he won’t get into the council chambers unless you vote for him.

Look at his campaign website, and you’ll see why you want him to win. 

So get ready to vote for the next four years in November…and for the next forty in March, when the city votes for local offices.

And sling Joe a bit of cash if you can. Or better yet, volunteer, hit the streets, and change the world.

One council seat at a time.


EXPOSING THE LOOPHOLES, BACK DOORS, TRAP DOORS AND CROSSED FINGERS--In nearly every election in California, there's a ballot measure that uses the tricks of phrasing I have long dubbed “And Other Uses” to obtain riches for people who don't deserve them and haven't earned them. 

When I was the news editor, and then managing editor, of LA Weekly for nine years, my favorite story that dug into the loopholes and scams lurking on our California ballots was “Reading the Fine Print: How to spot the Loopholes, Legal Doozies and Loose Phrasing in California's Ballot Initiatives.” 

In the article, I explain how millions of dollars from the voter-approved “Housing and Emergency Shelter Trust Fund Act of 2006” got diverted away from the desperate and the poor, by Los Angeles elected leaders, into spending on glitzy sidewalk upgrades and other fixes to the posh Figueroa Corridor leading to Staples Center. 

How on Earth did billionaire Phil Anschutz's fantastically profitable Staples Center, which former City Councilman Joel Wachs fought long and hard (and sucessfully) to deny public subsidies, end up benefitting from a crucial bond measure meant to help battered women and the homeless? 

“And Other Uses.” 

Every year, there's a ballot measure jammed with loopholes, back doors, trap doors and crossed fingers that can be mined later for somebody else's profit. Typically, the news media do not call out these loopholes. Journalists are busy, they don't notice, they don't get to page 38 in a ballot measure's endless jargon. Whatever. 

This November 8, Measure JJJ is the whopper of the season, at least in Los Angeles County. A disaster. A canard. I could go on. 

Let's call JJJ what it is: a Jargon-Jammed Joke. It pulls an inexcusable trick on voters by promising something LA needs, “affordable housing.” 

I know a lot about Measure JJJ because it wasn't primarily written to build affordable housing — it was written by City Hall's most connected insiders, to hurt the ballot measure for which I am now the campaign director, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, which will appear on the ballot in March of 2017. 

We at the Coalition to Preserve LA, backers of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, got calls about JJJ's underlying purpose back in February. At that time it was dubbed “Build Better LA.” We knew it was coming. And we knew its final language was approved by the most connected people in town. We knew it wasn't primarily about “affordable housing.” 

The crafters of JJJ were out to kill our City Hall reform effort — we want to reform the backroom wheeling and dealing at City Hall, a broken and rigged system in which the richest developers in the nation are being allowed to ignore local zoning rules, destroy our neighborhoods, gridlock our streets, and displace thousands of longtime L.A. residents. All in service to erecting luxury housing towers, luxury housing megadevelopments and other luxury glass boxes. 

But the City Hall insiders who wrote JJJ failed to stop us. And now their tainted measure is on the November ballot, not an “affordable housing” measure, but a literary miracle of ways to reword and massage the long-proven “And Other Uses” loopholes and trap doors to achieve something other than “affordable housing.” 

The Coalition to Preserve LA has published our position paper against JJJ on our website,

Below, then, are the 5 Fatal Loopholes that void every promise made by Measure JJJ about “affordable housing” and “local-hire” jobs. 

1) The “We don't think this developer is making enough profit” loophole

Under JJJ, developers can ignore your community's zoning to build hundreds of huge, and thus more profitable, luxury towers that aren't allowed under the rules — as long as they promise to add some affordable housing. This promise is false. The City Council can declare the developer is not making “a reasonable return on investment” and then undo the affordable housing promise. (JJJ Section 5, A, g) 

2) The “Forget about building affordable housing — just pay City Hall a 'fee'” loophole

Under JJJ, no affordable units have to be built inside these new towers at all, as long as the developer pays an “in lieu” fee after refusing to build affordable housing units. This in-lieu amount is unknown to voters, it will be announced after the electionby the developer-cozy City Council. (JJJ Section 5, A, b3.) 

3) The “Forget the affordable housing, forget the fee, just pay a 'surcharge'” loophole

Under JJJ, developers can refuse to pay even the modest in-lieu fee, and opt for a Deferral Surcharge — a price to be set later by the City! This Deferral fee amount, unknown to voters, does not have to be spent on affordable housing. The City Council can divert this cash to pay city employees for running L.A.'s rent-stabilization program — jobs the City must already pay for, by law. (JJJ Section 5, A, c2) 

4) The “L.A.'s Affordable Housing Trust Fund is a piggy bank” loophole

Under JJJ, the city's Affordable Housing Trust Fund does not have to be spent on affordable housing. The fund can go to whatever the politicians decide. City Hall's ability to raid our housing construction funds is set out in JJJ as “such other housing activities as that term shall be defined.” (JJJ Section 5, B, c) 

5) The “We say we'll create local jobs, but not a single local hire is required” loophole

Under JJJ, contractors need only “make a good-faith effort” to hire residents of L.A. or people living within 5 miles of a proposed luxury skyscraper or a proposed massive luxury complex, a toothless and meaningless standard that will never be met. (JJJ Section 5, A, g). 

Please enthusiastically vote No on JJJ on November 8. It wasn't meant to fix a problem. It was meant for other uses.


(Jill Stewart, a former journalist,  is campaign director for the Coalition to Preserve LA, sponsor of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.


PLAYTIME AT CALPERS (Part 2)-- Back in the day, CalPERS had a national reputation as the best run, most socially conscious pension fund in the US. However, things began to change by 2000, as returns diminished and “pay to play” allegations began to surface. 

The Backdrop-Indictments--Ultimately it emerged that Fred Buenrosto, CEO of CalPERS, and former Board Member Alfred Villalobos had started playing footsie with each other by engaging in falsifying documents and corruption and bribery, as was finally charged in a series of indictments. These schemes started around 2005 and continued until they were caught. Matters clearly came to a head when, as the schemes unraveled, Mr. Buenrosto suddenly decided to “retire” in 2008. 

When the heat ratcheted up and it was clear that an illegal conspiracy was in the offing, CalPERS, in the best tradition of large institutions, hired a white shoe corporate law firm (Steptoe & Johnson) to whitewash the mess. And this they did -- putting as happy a face on it as money can buy. Reading their final Report, it is obvious their job was to make everyone still employed look good, and then to come up with “go forward” recommendations. None of that finger-pointing stuff for them. Not bad for $11 million in fees. 

The CalPERS Staff--Key to this or any other story involving billions and billions of dollars of public money, is the staff. After all, the Board can only effectuate their will through their staff, and it is therefore the staff that is at the heart of the issues facing CalPERS. 

Marcie Frost - CEO (as of October 3, 2016)--Marcie Frost is a veteran public pension manager from the State of Washington. She served as the Executive Director of the Washington State Department of Retirement Systems (DRS) prior to being selected as the successor to Ann Stausboll. 

At this point, it would not be fair to say anything more, since she has only been on board for a brief time. In fact, when I clicked on her photo under “Executive Officers” on the CalPERS website last week, I got a 404 error message of “page not found.” 

So let’s see what she’s inherited.

Ann Stausboll – CEO--Ann Stausboll (photo above) served as CEO from the demise of Fred Buenstroso in 2008 until August of this year. The LA Times hailed her as the change agent to overcome “steep losses” with the fund, even as they glossed over the criminal scandal of Buenstroso and company. 

Stausboll, however, was no newcomer to either CalPERS or government. She had previously worked for CalPERS in the 1990s, when the General Counsel was Richard Koppes, later with the big time politically connected law firm, Jones Day. And when Phil Angeledes became State Treasurer, Stausboll left CalPERS to become a Deputy Treasurer and General Counsel from 1999 to 2004. 

In 2004, Stausboll returned to CalPERS as their Chief Operating Investment Officer, and twice during that period was the CIO. 

Bill Lockyer, who was Treasurer in 2008 and sat on the CalPERS Board, was quoted as saying that “the Board liked her because she is a team player.” 

As we shall see, this becomes important because she has appointed virtually all of the current Executive Team to their positions during her tenure; she has also created the current Executive Officer structure. 

Ted Eliopoulos, Chief Investment Officer--Stausboll appointed Ted Eliopoulos as CIO in 2014. He started out as an attorney with Latham & Watkins, another of the California power elite law firms whose progeny populate California government. Not coincidentally, he too worked for California Treasurer Angeledes, and became Chief Deputy Treasurer from 2002-2006. And oh, by the way, he was the designated representative for the Treasurer on the CalPERS Board during this time.

In 2007, when Stausboll was back at CalPERS, Eliopoulos came on board as Senior Investment Officer for the Real Estate Division. Under her tutelage he moved from SIO for Real Estate to SIO, and then to SIO for all of the Real Assets Investments. 

Douglas Hoffner - Deputy Executive Officer, Operations & Technology--Ann Stausboll appointed Mr. Hoffner to this position in mid-2012. Douglas started out in politics for then Assembly member Fred Aguiar (R-San Bernardino). He also became the Executive Director of   & Associates, handling two trade associations (California Building Officials, and the Roofing Contractors Association. 

He then worked for 2 years as ‘Assistant Director of Legislation’ for the CA Department of General Services, and moved up to a Deputy Cabinet Secretary under the Schwarzenneger Administration. From there he moved over to the CA Labor and Workforce Development Agency, where he was tapped by Stausboll. 

Obviously a politically connected Republican type, Ann Stausboll had him named Interim CEO of CalPERS after she announced her retirement effective August 2016. 

Matthew G. Jacobs - General Counsel--Mr. Jacobs came to CalPERS via the big time global corporate sector, namely DLA Piper, LLC. They play with the care and feeding of large corporations; they claim, “we also advise governments and public sector bodies.” The scant information that is readily available would seem to indicate that his area of expertise was in federal litigation. 

Cheryl Eason - Chief Financial Officer--Cheryl Eason became the first CFO for CalPERS in 2012. Prior to that, she worked for the Manitoba Lotteries Corporation, and then the British Columbia Pension Corporation. The newly created position was designed to provide oversight of budgeting, accounting, risk compliance, pension contract management and prefunding. 

In March of this year, CalPERS announced the creation of a new position reporting to Ms. Eason. Marlene Timberlake D’Adamo is now the new Chief Compliance Officer, a position advertised as strengthening the “Pension Fund’s transparency, accountability and ethics.” She comes from PNC Bank in Philadelphia where she worked in Portfolio and Risk Management. 

Donna Lum - Deputy Executive Officer, Customer Services and Support--A longtime employee, Donna Lum started as the IT person for the CA Department of Education Department of Toxic Substances Control. In 1999, she came to CalPERS and served as Chief of the Benefit Services Division before being promoted to Deputy Executive Officer for Customer Services and Support, the division that handles administration of retirement and health account benefits and the associated customer services. 

Doug P. McKeever - Deputy Executive Officer, Benefit Programs Policy and Planning--Mr. McKeever came to CalPERS from the Department of Corrections and Mental Health, where he was Director of Juvenile Programs & Director of Mental Health. He is lead for dealing with the health benefits function of CalPERS, such as contracting out health plans, long-term care, retirement planning and research. This function involves some 1.4 million people and more than $8 billion per year. 

Brad W. Pacheco - Deputy Executive Officer, Communications and Stakeholder Relations--Originally coming from the CA Association of HMO’s as its Communications Director, Mr. Pacheco joined CalPERS in 1995. Essentially the PR person, he was promoted to the newly created position of DEO, Communications and Stakeholder Relations in 2015. 

As such, he is responsible for the CalPERS websites, social media, video, media relations and employee communications -- not to mention that he now deals with public record act requests, not a success story for CalPERS in the past. 

The Takeaway--Clearly, after being promoted to CEO in 2008, Ann Stausboll created a whole new structure for her executive team and personally populated it with her picks. This is important for a couple of reasons. First, most of the key management players on the Board Administrative side were simply not around at the time of the corruption scandals involving Messrs. Buenrosto and Villalobos. Also, Eliopoulos, Hoffner, and Jacobs all had heavy political and corporate backgrounds. 

Second, having personally created the structure and filling it with her choices, there was little likelihood that any of her staff would say anything to the Board that was not previously vetted by her.

So here’s the question: Why did Ms. Stausboll suddenly announce her retirement in August of this year at age 59?


(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.

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-Deregulation, the elimination of governmental review of private investments, many of them speculative, has benefited a small percentage of high stakes investors, while inflicting tremendous social costs on the rest of the population. In fact, the dramatic increase in inequality in the United States over the past three decades closely tracks the many types of deregulation implemented by the Federal government and local municipalities. While the resulting economic hardship became painfully obviously in the Great Depression of 2007-8, when unemployment, bankruptcies, and foreclosures soared, the sordid history of deregulation is much worse.

A quick Google search for “failures of deregulation” reveals thousands of articles, including the airline industry, stock market, banking, telecommunications, electric power generation and distribution, and agriculture. But, most of these discussions overlook deregulation at the municipal level, which is a national policy easily observable in American cities, such as Los Angeles. 

Last week in my CityWatch column I blasted the White House Affordable Housing Tool Kit for offering nothing more than old, recycled calls for municipal deregulation. If followed, its impact and probably its intent would be a lifeline to real estate speculators who extensively donate to Democrats in local and state elections. I also linked the local deregulation that the White House extolls to the long history of ineffective, market-based, affordable housing programs, including LA’s, around since the 1980s. In nearly 30 years they have not produced any net gains in affordable housing, just increased levels of overcrowding and homelessness.  

During those three decades political cronies, from Mayors Bradley to Garcetti, have reaped many financial benefits from municipal deregulation, but that is about it. In fact, I would not be surprised to learn that the many Los Angeles Times articles alleging totally fictitious benefits of zoning and planning deregulation – usually the construction of affordable housing – are linked to these same cronies. Like the Gipper, these articles whistle the same old song of deregulation despite a flood of data that it is only a boon for market housing, especially luxury housing. 

More specifically, how does deregulation actually take place in Los Angeles? 

Spot-zoning: The most common form of local deregulation is the extensive up-zoning and up-planning of private parcels through the legislative actions in the sights of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. The City’s elected officials bend over backwards to adopt spot-zoning changes and General Plan Amendments that green light larger real estate developments for individual parcels. These special laws then allow property owners to dodge future public notices, hearings, debates, appeals, CEQA, as well as additional property taxes on the increased value of their land. Such a deal! 

Re-code LA: The most grandiose effort to deregulate zoning is re:code LA.  When completed, it will redefine local zoning for most of Los Angeles by establishing a greater latitude of permitted uses. This approach is called form-based zoning, and it is a citywide approach to eliminate the need for real estate speculators to apply for zone changes or variances to build structures that are not currently allowed by-right. Like spot-zoning, this massive, citywide rezoning program allows property owners to avoid future discretionary actions, environmental reviews, and increases in property taxes. 

Community Plan Updates: The long-stalled program to update LA’s General Plan by attaching extensive zoning and planning amendments to Community Plans is now resuming, with a focus on the downtown. These complex amendments run on for many pages and substantially increase the by-right population density and building intensity for hundreds of private parcels. Once adopted as an appendix to Community Plans, they not only allow a greater range of uses and building sizes, but also exempt countless parcels from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by eliminating the need for future discretionary actions. 

CEQA “Reform:” Another broad brush form of deregulation is efforts to weaken the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), such as annual proposals from the Governor and State Legislature to streamline environmental reviews and appeals. In his latest “reform” initiative, Governor Jerry Brown proposed a statewide ban on additional zoning reviews for residential projects that conform to local zoning. 

EIR Exemptions: Complimenting these statewide efforts to erode CEQA are local efforts, most notably Statements of Overriding Considerations. These are City Council legislative actions that grant building permits to mega-projects even though their Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs) document serious environmental impacts. A stroke of the pen and a majority vote whisk away these adverse environmental impacts with lofty – but unverified -- promises of future jobs and transit ridership. 

Zoning and Development Streamlining:  Year-after-year, like CEQA reform, development streamlining has remained a key priority at City Hall. The actual streamlining, though, only proceeds in small increments, such as the creation of an Expediting Unit in the Department of City Planning. It is here that the City’s zoning specialists advise applicants who have paid extra case processing fees on the best way to quickly get their pet developments through the project review process. 

Restricted case notifications: Ideally, all discretionary actions should mail hearing notices to every resident and property owner within a 500 foot radius of a project. In practice, though, many projects only send notices to adjacent properties. This truncated noticing process reduces participation in hearings and appeals for Specific Plans and Historical Preservation Overlay Zones with review boards, Community Design Overlay Districts, and SB 1818/Density Bonus projects. 

SB 1818/ Density Bonus is a nearly bullet-proof quasi-zone variance process for many residential projects. Any developer of apartment buildings can apply for on-menu “incentives” to eliminate zoning requirements in exchange for the inclusion of a small percentage of affordable units. Even though this legislation is considered a discretionary action, there are no mandatory findings, no effective right of appeal, and no field inspections. Unlike most other discretionary actions, these cases also do not require posted or mailed notices. If immediate neighbors do not happen to catch a project’s environmental notice in the Thursday Los Angeles Times, the first time they would learn of a nearby SB 1818 density bonus project is when they receive a written determination in the mail. Considering that nearly all such determinations grant additional height that adversely impacts neighbors, this amounts to a gag order on critical comments. 

Reactive code enforcement: In Los Angeles, bootlegged structures, such as illegal signs and garage conversions, are widespread. Since LA’s Department of Building and Safety (LADBS) does not proactively cite code violators when City staff observes infractions, the default is reactive code enforcement. The public submits the locations of code violations to LADBS, and the violators are then occasionally issued citations. But, there are rarely consequences, such as prosecution or city-ordered demolitions, when the contractors fail to comply. The result is that LA is filled with illegal buildings and signs. In effect, the City’s failure to enforce its own land use and building laws results in extensive deregulation. 

Easy discretionary actions. The approvals that the Department of City Planning grants to projects that violate zoning and planning laws are called discretionary actions. They are almost always “approved with conditions,” such as restrictions on hours of operation. But, there is no reliable authority at City Hall to enforce these extensive conditions, which means they are really sops intended to assuage project critics. 

General Plan negligence. In California every city must have an up-to-date and comprehensive General Plan that is regularly monitored. In LA most of the General Plan’s elements are out-of-date, and the City has deliberately refused to monitor the General Plan’s components since the late 1990s. While City Planning is beginning to update LA’s General Plan, other than housing data, the General Plan’s monitoring program has so far been ignored. 

The cumulative effect of these many forms of local deregulation is to make real estate speculation the default city planning process in Los Angeles. Carefully planned and monitored growth of public and private areas has been replaced by unplanned growth resulting from multiple investors’ disconnected, short-term efforts to maximize financial return on individual parcels. While these investors do well, the public pays a tremendous price. It takes the form of strapped public services, slow fire and paramedic responses, crumbling infrastructure, unsafe buildings, traffic congestion, sound and air pollution, and esthetically grim corridors and centers. 

(Dick Platkin is a former Los Angeles City Planner who reports on local planning issues for CityWatch. Please submit any comments or corrections to Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

SPECIAL REPORT--Public support for the legalization of recreational marijuana in the U.S. is at a historic high—so to speak—of 60 percent, according to a new Gallup poll just released. 

The results come just as a growing number of states vote to legalize recreational marijuana, with another five states casting ballots on the issue this November. Local surveys indicate the efforts are likely to pass in Arizona, California, Maine, and Massachusetts. Nevada, the final state considering legalization, seems more conflicted. (Voters will also decide on medical marijuana questions in Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota.)

A Pew Research Center poll released last week found similar results

Gallup first asked the question in 1969 and found that public support for legalization stood at 12 percent. It increased slightly to 28 percent during the mid-'70s, but fell back down during the "Just Say No" anti-drug era of the '80s and wavered around 25 percent in the '90s. But it has climbed steadily since 2000, paving the way for an increasing number of states to legalize recreational marijuana, and in 2013 reached a majority for the first time.

The survey also found that young adults overwhelmingly back legalization, with 77 percent of people aged 18-34 expressing their support. But older generations increasingly favor it too, with support at 45 percent among people aged 55 and older.

Politically, the group that favors legalization the most is Independents, who poll at 70 percent support, up from 47 percent in 2003 and 2005. The next is Democrats, at 67 percent, up from 38 percent during that same time period. Republican support has more than doubled, polling now at 42 percent versus 20 percent in 2003 and 2005.

The pollsters said the numbers were particularly important with regards to California's legalization effort. The bottom line, Gallup says, is that California is a political trendsetter in the U.S.—so if it passes there, many other states will likely follow.

"As more states legalize marijuana, the question of whether the drug should be legal may become when it will be legal," Gallup's managing editor Art Swift explained in a write-up of the poll results.

In this election alone, "[t]he percentage of Americans living in states where pot use is legal could rise from the current 5 percent to as much as 25 percent if all of these ballot measures pass," he wrote.

(Nadia Prupis writes for Common Dreams … where this report was first posted.)


GOD BLESS OUR INDIRECT DEMOCRACY--Suppose we ask all Americans to vote on whether anyone whose first name starts with the letter “A” should pay an extra tax, giving everyone else a tax break. The appalling measure would probably pass. 

From the perspective of us A-listers (sorry, couldn’t resist), that would amount to a classic case of the kind of “tyranny of the majority” our Founding Fathers were so eager to avoid, illustrating why certain filters, or brakes, on direct democracy are desirable. The idea was that people shouldn’t legislate themselves, but instead leave that up to their representatives. 

And even if the people’s representatives get carried away, our political system has other checks and balances to insulate it from too much democracy: Congress itself is split into two bodies; unelected judges protect the Constitution from lawmakers; our nation’s monetary policy is set by an “independent” (undemocratic, that is) Federal Reserve Board. We’ve also developed a stable of technocratic agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Communications Commission to govern areas of American life at a dotted-line remove from the democratic process.

All these checks on democracy, together, constitute the genius of American democracy. We pride ourselves on our freedom to do as we damned please, but at the same time we’ve locked away all the chocolate and given the key to a friend, and warned him not to listen to us if we call to ask for it urgently late some night. Of course we then complain about how the system doesn’t work, about how we can’t binge on chocolate whenever we want. 

Such complaints are the fuel of the term “populism.” The word wasn’t current in the era of the Founders, and it remains vaguely defined in ours, but it’s precisely what our republic’s designers were intent on protecting against: The danger that over-indulging majority passions could overwhelm and subvert the system at any given moment. 

This is the election year of mad-as-hell-and-not-going-to-take-it-anymore populism (to cite the Howard Beale character from the classic Network movie), with Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump railing against how bankers, Washington, the Federal Reserve, foreigners, and conspiring elites are holding back “the people.” Those are familiar rants, yet, there is something novel about the threat posed by today’s populism: The real threat nowadays is a potential tyranny of an agitated minority, more so than a potential tyranny of the majority. 

The two dangers are easy to confuse because agitated minorities can look very much like a majority now that they can mobilize via once unimaginable communications technology and dominate wall-to-wall cable TV news coverage. Who knows how far William Jennings Bryan or Eugene V. Debs would have gotten with a Twitter following, a YouTube channel, and the ability to call into CNN? 

Let’s tweak our imagined tax referendum to illustrate what a tyranny of the minority looks like. Suppose that instead of asking Americans whether people whose first name starts with an A should pay more taxes, we ask them to vote on whether A-listers should be exempted from ever again having to pay any taxes. 

This measure, if uncoupled from any other balloting in a low-turnout vote, might conceivably pass. Why? Because we A-listers would turn out to vote in droves, and most everyone else would have little incentive to vote, or to speak out against the measure. 

The real threat nowadays is a potential tyranny of an agitated minority, more so than a potential tyranny of the majority. 

It’s an extreme hypothetical, but too much of American political life has become vulnerable to hijacking by intensely motivated and agitated minorities. It’s why teachers unions can control school board elections, why the gun lobby can punch above its weight in Washington, and why we haven’t fixed our broken immigration system. 

The danger of not appreciating the threat posed by an extremely motivated minority, as opposed to an untrammeled majority, is that our society is enabling the former threat with its overzealous vigilance against the latter. So, for instance, while a bicameral Congress and the separation of powers that allots the executive a veto and the courts judicial review are good brakes on majority rule, the Senate’s filibuster rules and the so-called “Hastert Rule” observed by House Republicans go too far in empowering agitating minorities. 

The Senate’s longtime filibuster rules were infamous in delaying the adoption of needed civil rights in the 20th century, long after a majority of Americans were ready to go along. This was a case of an aggrieved minority—white Southern Democrats—subverting the will of the majority to protect said minority. 

The Hastert Rule in the House is a more recent, and less formalized, tradition in the House of Representatives that has similarly served to block immigration reform favored by a majority of Americans, and by a majority of their representatives in Congress. The policy, enunciated by Dennis Hastert when he was the Republican Speaker of the House (long before he was revealed to be a child molester), and loosely followed by some predecessors and successors, is that proposed legislation should not be brought for a vote on the floor of the House unless it is supported by a majority of the party’s own caucus. 

As speaker in recent years, John Boehner set aside the rule at key times to allow for bipartisan votes to keep the government open when some far-right Republicans were threatening to close it down, and that’s one reason Mr. Boehner is no longer in office. But he did not allow the House to vote on a sensible immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in 2013, which would have legalized the status of the millions of undocumented workers in this country. The bill could have passed in the House with the support of Democrats and more moderate Republicans (as it did in the Senate), but the Hastert Rule stood in the way. 

The Founding Fathers intended for both chambers of the Congress, as well as the president and the judiciary, to all wrestle with thorny issues like immigration—balancing the will of the people with the Constitution. It’s a perversion of their design for one faction within the House to hijack the process, and allow for an agitated minority of anti-immigration nativists to become the arbiters of what constitutes a proposal worth voting on. 

Immigration and international trade feature prominently in this election cycle’s populist discourse, but it’s inaccurate to portray these issues, as the media often does, as pitting elites against “the people.” Opinion polls consistently show that a majority of Americans view trade in a positive light and favor immigration reform along the lines of what the Senate passed three years ago (as opposed to mass deportations and a wall). It’s easy to lose track of that reality, though, given the asymmetry of passion and interest between supporters and opponents of immigration and free trade. 

Richard Nixon’s odes to the concept of a “silent majority,” whose support he cherished, were often mocked by pundits in his day but it’s a concept worth revisiting. Today there is a silent majority that thinks it’d be insane to deport millions of hard-working, law-abiding immigrant workers. But, like many other insane ideas out there, this one isn’t going to keep most people from going about their daily business. It’s the supporters of the insanity who likely consider immigration THE ISSUE of our times, and can be found screaming at rallies and pestering their members of Congress, threatening to have them “primaried” if they work with Democrats on the issue. 

The dangers posed by agitated minorities are not merely an American phenomenon. They are wreaking greater havoc in other western democracies, like Colombia and Britain, that have ill-advisedly put big questions to a public vote in 2016. Elites in London and Bogotá were seeking additional legitimacy for their decisions to stay in the European Union and reach a final peace settlement with a vanquished narco-insurgency by engaging their silent majorities in the process. In the end, sizable impassioned minorities prevailed.

Trump’s populist campaign narrative of elites pitted against “the people” is off. Today’s politics is pitting elites and a silent (or quieter) majority against a loud, angry, mobilized faction of people susceptible to a populist pitch. The question on November 8 is whether the silent majority makes itself heard, or whether it will cede the electoral battleground to the more clamorous minority.


(Andrés Martinez is the executive editor of Zócalo Public Square. Primary Editor: Joe Mathews. Secondary Editor: Sara Catania. Photo by Brynn Anderson/Associated Press.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.)


GELFAND’S WORLD--This week, the nation's press and pundits are all aflutter about Donald Trump's response to a question that came up in Wednesday's third and final presidential debate. Trump refused to agree to accept the results of the November 8 election. His answer is being quoted by every commentator: "I will look at it at the time," but it might just as well have been, "I'll jump off that bridge when I come to it." My view is that the editorial writers are taking a rather pessimistic view of the American people in treating this one remark as the most newsworthy event of the evening. 

First of all, let's make the point that a Trump loss without a formal concession speech would not be the worst outcome ever for an American presidential election. Consider one previous election back in the 1860s, when the state of South Carolina attacked a federal fortification and seceded from the United States. They didn't even wait until Lincoln's inauguration. 

So when Trump loses, it hardly matters whether he makes a gracious concession speech, engages in fiery rhetoric, or says nothing at all. It's not going to lead to a civil war. The fiery rhetoric would actually be better for his reputation, because his failure to say anything would just mark him as a pouting loser. 

Perhaps I'm being a little naive here, but I took Trump's response to be an attempt at his Trumpian form of standup comedy. His follow up line, "I will keep you in suspense," made that point. What he may have been trying to say in effect was that we are all getting a little tired of the pomposity of debate moderators, so take this question and shove it. 

Of course turning the presidential election into one big joke is not what normal people expect, but it's in line with the entire Trump campaign. I suspect that the long-term interpretation of that response eventually will be that Trump came unprepared for this question -- unprepared in the deeper political sense -- just as he has been unprepared on so many other topics. 

This is my day to be optimistic about American democracy (fueled in part by the substantial repudiation of Trump's answer by so many well known conservatives). Assuming Hillary Clinton wins, which is becoming ever more likely, the majority of the American people will accept the result as legitimate. It's true that some will refuse to accept the result, but that would be the case whether Trump concedes or not. Most of us will tune in to the inauguration on January 20 and watch the peaceful transfer of power. Those who have some grasp of world history (and particularly European history) will be thankful. 

As to the debate itself, a few points are worth making. Let's start with the lesson of Richard Nixon and John Kennedy from their initial debate back in 1960. Historians love to tell us that people who heard the presidential debate on the radio either called it a draw or felt that Nixon won marginally. But television viewers got a favorable view of John Kennedy and an unflattering view of Nixon when picture was added to sound.  

Somehow, Donald Trump didn't get the memo. In contrast to Hillary Clinton's poise, he couldn't keep himself from twitching, frowning, smirking, and interrupting. He did a little better job of holding back on the interruptions during the first half hour or so, where he appeared to be scripted and rehearsed. His answers were plainly arguable from the intellectual standpoint, but he had his words in grammatical order and his attacks followed one another in some semblance of structure. 

In this, he seemed to have help from the moderator, who has paradoxically been praised for his performance in a lot of places. It's true that he asked real questions and largely stayed away from Bill Clinton's sex life, but his economic biases came through. Particularly when he brought up the national debt, his question, you might say, was questionable. One commentator on the Daily Kos website who writes under the pseudonym dcg2 summed up the moderator's approach deftly.  The moderator took it as a given that a mounting national debt is a bad thing, even though some serious economists point out that we don't, at this time, have an economic problem based on the debt. 

And yes, it's true that the questions thrown at the candidates were filtered through the conservative perspective, without raising real world worries such as climate change or the continuing loss of union power. This had two opposing effects, one negative and one positive. The negative effect was to force the more liberal candidate to recite a few conservative platitudes such as creating a deficit-free federal budget. The more positive side is that it allowed Hillary Clinton to present the liberal argument on topics such as Planned Parenthood, Roe vs. Wade, and social security, all without some obnoxious talk show host constantly interrupting her. There are not all that many opportunities for the liberal side to tell its story to conservative viewers, and Hillary made use of this one.

Speaking of interruptions, the Donald managed to hold himself in check for that first half hour or so. Perhaps he shouldn't have agreed to participate in 90 minute debates, because he obviously cannot maintain self control for more than a few moments. His style of interrupting with the word "wrong" escalated through the evening, leading to his most serious mistake of the evening, his interruption with the phrase, "Such a nasty woman." Perhaps Trump was trying to play to those who have been propagandized against the Clintons for decades, but the remark will reverberate against him for the remainder of the campaign. 

After the debate, I chatted with a few people to get their take. One view struck me as perspicacious: Trump comes across as somebody who is used to talking to underlings. In that context, he can interrupt, insult, and be dead wrong, and he doesn't expect to be corrected. In short, he expects to be treated as the boss. Some of this came out earlier in the campaign, when he complained about debate moderators such as Megyn Kelly. He expects subservience from most everyone, and goes ballistic when he doesn't get it. 

In the world of the corporate board meeting, the CEO presides not as an equal, but literally as the boss. There is a big contrast in candidate debates, where no candidate has the right to rule over the others. Trump understands this at some intellectual level, but his lifelong habits, now ingrained as instincts, keep pushing him towards the boss role. He appears unable to help himself, and keeps succumbing to his instincts by making irritating interruptions. 

Some of the deeper thinking pundits are beginning to understand that Hillary Clinton is not just the passive beneficiary of Trump's ineptitude. She, along with her otherwise invisible campaign staff, have played Trump like a violin, and he has cooperated in his own downfall. 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at


PUFFED UP POLITICS-In a few more weeks, on the heels of a final Presidential decision by voters, and after the punditry and handwringing recedes, we may get a breather from the spew that has shredded this election season’s political discourse. This is neither the first nor last battering that will be visited on democracy’s dented carapace, but rather another in a long series of assaults born of ignorance, profit-seeking, appeals to outrage and delight in cheap and cheesy titillation. 

Those who pitch their political wares from such a low view of the world are regrettable, but expected features of the human landscape. They often rise higher than their deserved station on the back of moxie, materialism, vanity, and cultural division. This election cycle we have experienced a species of this parasitic ilk that personifies incivility. We’ve borne witness to a kind of acting out that sunders civil discourse and rejects a shared sense of mutuality and reciprocity. Instead of a striving vision for a common future, we’ve received a “gonna-tell-it-like-is” tough-guy, sneering and dog-whistling to the very darkest beliefs and urges in those who see themselves as losing out to everyone else. 

Highly visible figures, especially those inclined to preen in their own perceived exceptionalism, tacitly approve and effectively uncork ideas and actions in people who occupy the more impulsive margins of society. They stir the latent anger, rage and pent-up hatreds of society's discontents, too often at the peril of people who prefer to behave – and live alongside others who behave – in more civilized and tolerant ways.  

Community grows at the epicenters of tolerance and civility. Chaos threatens when those willing to pull the strings of a distorted public imagination grant their adherents permission to act in concert with base, even violent instincts, no matter the cost or collateral damage to others. There's nothing inherently wrong with alternative views, outright protest, angry demonstration, competing ideologies, and even nonviolent rebellion that challenges the status quo. We see these in all forms and permutations, often contained in the places where American civil society and nonprofit organizations offer a social safety valve to blow off steam and channel discontent productively. Problems arise, however, when putative leaders ignite righteous passions and then turn their backs on or disavow responsibility for the consequences of the rebellion they incite.  

Unbound, the “tell it like it is” mantra becomes “do as you please, it’s okay.” That’s when people end up getting wounded, further disaffected or abandoned. Surely a large part of the American electorate, called to take up electoral arms, will suffer political abandonment in the months and years ahead. Those who have chanted racist, sexist, anti-immigrant and other vicious incantations will resort to simmering and stewing, some feeling validated enough by their so-called democratic engagement to abuse and damage civility even more. Others will see loyalty and devotion rewarded by their crass commodification as the next audience for a low-brow television series or as customers for more worthless crap hocked their way. 

The degree of abuse visited on American democracy this election season has left civility punched in the face and momentarily knocked senseless on the street. We’re owed a refund, I believe, but it’s one we are never likely to collect because professed leaders obsessed with merely their own grasping, groping needs think not a jot about what happens next, nor do they care for the collective who.  

It is up to those who care about strengthening democracy to see demagoguery for what it is, to name it, to call it out and, in so doing, to sustain the vigilance and struggle that counters chaos and strives toward civil society. 


(Paul Vandeventer is President and CEO of Community Partners.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.)

VOICES FROM THE SQUARE--For most of 2016, American politics could best be described as caught in a populist moment. Populism has always come in two variations, and we’ve seen both this year. The most familiar form, ably represented in all its raw madness-of-crowds by Donald Trump, is based on resentment of immigrants and other non-majority identities (racial, ethnic, linguistic, and religious most prominently), and rancor directed at political elites for their perceived role in changing social norms. This is the populism familiar from historian Richard Hofstadter’s “status anxiety” explanation of late 19th Century populism, or, in more recent history, the presidential campaigns of George Wallace.

The other version of populism is built around policies that would support working and low-income families, often coupled with a sharp critique of economic elites—“the 99 percent” versus “the 1 percent.” This was the populism that Bernie Sanders rode during a surprisingly successful challenge to the anointed Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and that mobilized younger voters almost as powerfully as Barack Obama had eight years earlier.

It would be a mistake to treat these two populisms as flip sides of the same coin. The white cultural resentment generated by Trump—particularly because it represents a distinct minority defined by identity rather than ideology—is a profound challenge to the Republican Party and to mainstream conservatism, just as Wallace’s was to the Democratic Party in another era. The policy differences between populist Democrats like Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren and their mainstream counterparts such as Clinton and her running mate Tim Kaine, however, are subtle. Sanders’ proposals, for example, flowed easily enough into the party platform and the vision of its nominee Hillary Clinton.

Remaining policy differences between the two camps are relatively minor, such as those between “free college” and “debt-free college,” or between a restoration of the New Deal-era Glass-Steagall banking regulations repealed in 1998 and a proposed new regulatory regime. These are still differences of ideology, but modest ones; and the differences in identity between the Sanders and Clinton camps, other than on matters of age and style, are hard to find. Instead, the left’s version of populism can seem more like a fresh coat of paint, or a sharper argument for otherwise standard liberal policies.

Nonetheless, the distinction between left populism and mainstream progressive politics does diverge in one significant way: Sanders and Warren want to name names. Their narrative, like Trump’s, is one of “heroes and villains”—the villains being not immigrants, but the “millionaire and billionaire class” or big political donors. Warren, for example, has been relentlessly focused on personnel, more insistent on limiting the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street and going after the Obama administration acolytes of former Citigroup chairman and Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin (whom she blames for the tame treatment of executives during the financial crisis) than on any other particular policy.

In Hillary Clinton’s view of the world, though, there are few villains, and when they are named it is with legalistic care. (Trump himself is a villain, but carefully distinguished from other Republicans, even those who support him.) Politics, in this view, is a matter of problems, to be fixed, often by elites wielding dispassionate expertise.

So one of the central questions of our era has become: Does successful American politics need villains? Since the rise of the Tea Party in 2009, left populists have imagined that the politics of resentment that motivates the right can be coopted or converted to the left, redirected toward corporations, Wall Street, and the wealthy. While Trump attacks the “corruption” that leads to, in his view, bad trade deals, an ill-fated embrace of immigration and diversity, and American failure, left populists seem to be betting that an attack on “corruption” that names alternative targets betraying the American ideal—the Citizens United decision, middle-class wage stagnation, or the cost of college—will hook voters in the same way.

But there are major flaws in this thinking. The bonds of right populism are not so easily broken and reformed. The “heroes and villains” of Trump’s narrative (he is the only hero) are not forged by policy positions but by deep ties of cultural identity and affinity. Put more bluntly, white Trump and Tea Party supporters are not interested in a populism that involves an alliance with non-white, younger, culturally diverse voters. Meanwhile, the relentless attack on “corruption” from populists on both sides has led to the strange paradox that voters still view Hillary Clinton, merely a lifelong denizen of the existing political system, as more corrupt than the genuinely venal Trump, a master of tax scams, direct-marketing scams, and charity scams. Politics based on resentment and attacks on “corruption” have merely deepened mistrust of government, which is in itself a barrier to the policies that left populists favor.

Instead, perhaps what American politics really needs is a third kind of populism. Instead of the “them” populism of left and right, we should look to the tradition of “us” populism—one in which citizens work together, from local to national levels of government, to define and solve problems. A politics in which citizens are not just engaged as angry protestors calling on the system to change, but as part of the system itself.

America has had a populism like this before, as described in historian Lawrence Goodwyn’s portraits of the rise of late 19th century agrarian alliances, in Democratic Promise: The Populist Moment in America, and several other books. Where Hofstadter saw only resentment and status anxiety, Goodwyn saw millions of people who had been quiescent suddenly becoming engaged, participating fully through unions, farmers alliances, and new political movements to redesign the economic structures of a fast-growing country. He celebrated the cross-racial alliances forged in the South and the transformations of political consciousness experienced by individuals participating in this democratic renascence.

Our democracy would benefit from an investment in this kind of “us” populism, especially its ideas about refining existing institutions to strengthen citizen voices and public trust, and creating new mechanisms for public engagement and deliberation. This might include steps such as setting up participatory budgeting or seeing labor unions, community organizations, and similar associations as civil society institutions—rather than just economic claimants.

This new populism can’t simply be conjured into existence. It has to rise up from the lived experience of millions of individuals. But we have tools, including new technologies and new techniques of organizing, that can help. There are signs of a more meaningful and participatory democracy emerging in many American cities. Perhaps by the next presidential election, this budding “us” populism can compete with the populism of resentment that dominated in 2016.

(Mark Schmitt is the director of the Political Reform Program at New America. This piece originated at Zocalo Public Square.)



GELFAND’S WORLD--It would be a mistake to jail Dick Cheney just as it would be a mistake to jail Hillary Clinton 

The other night, Donald Trump said that if elected, he would throw Hillary Clinton in a dungeon. OK, I exaggerate a bit. He said that he would appoint a special prosecutor whose job it would be to send Hillary to jail. But actually, the two accounts are not all that different, since the desired outcome is essentially the same and the underlying attitude is essentially feudal. 

There are powerful historical and social reasons for opposing this approach to government and, curiously enough, they are exactly the same reasons why it would have been wrong for the Obama administration to try to prosecute George W. Bush or his vice president for war crimes. 

In stating this assertion, I oppose positions stated emphatically on the one hand by some American liberals and on the other hand by some American conservatives. The one group wanted Dick Cheney sent to prison, and the other group is now calling to have Hillary jailed. 

Those who fail to understand why both sides are wrong are failing to understand the fragility of democratic governance. 

Consider: We take for granted that there will be a presidential election every four years and that there will be a new president every four or eight years. This hope is actually one extreme on a continuum. It is optimistic in the sense that we have a national tradition -- presidential elections -- that has never been broken, but perhaps under the wrong circumstances could be. 

If we are to recognize that maintaining this tradition for over 220 years has at least partly been a lucky break for us, then there is a corollary: We should be careful about not taking democracy for granted, and we should be especially careful about doing what it takes to maintain the democratic tradition. 

There is of course an opposing, more pessimistic point of view: In one form, it is the claim that the current president intends to postpone or cancel the next election. I think I first heard people making that statement as far back as the Nixon administration, and the claim seems to get reborn with each new presidency. When you look at this claim carefully, it becomes apparent that it's opposite in one critical way from the throw her in jail trope. The throw her in jail view, although malicious, takes the continuation of our democracy for granted, while the assertion that the president plans to carry out a coup by cancelling elections assumes that our democracy is illusory. After all, if the president can crown himself king or declare himself dictator then it isn't much of a democracy. 

Historians tell us that we've had moments in our history when presidents took extraordinary powers. Lincoln negated the right of habeus corpus at one point in his presidency. Nixon in effect took the U.S. off the gold standard. George W Bush allowed the use of torture. Obama is accused (true or not) of violating the Constitution. 

Many of these allegations are demonstrably true, and others are matters of opinion. So if it is possible for an American president to act like a dictator, then what sort of democracy do we actually have? 

One obvious answer is that no president gets to be a complete dictator. Presidents sometimes push the envelope, but none has so far managed to collect a crown and royal scepter. There is plenty of balance in our system of checks and balances. 

But the most important element of this presidential system of ours is that new presidents come in and old presidents go out. The ultimate solution to presidential overreach is to elect a different one. The solution to political party overreach is the same. Routine elections are the answer. 

It's how we get rid of dictatorial behavior on the part of our leadership. Presidents stay as long as their electoral terms last, and no longer. It's almost the definition of true democracy vs. faux democracy. Any country in which the leader can cancel the upcoming elections (or never has elections) is not a true democracy. 

I'd like to think that there is a reason for why we have been able to maintain our tradition of 8 years and out. Part of that reason is that our government involves the participation of multiple actors, from presidents to senators to congressmen, and they have one thing in common. They are all players in a political game with defined rules of winning (getting more votes) and losing (getting fewer votes). It's not just a game of taking power as in a feudal monarchy, but a game of winning power according to a particular type of conflict. 

You might therefore treat our electoral system as having certain features analogous to chivalry. There is a cultural system with its own norms. Rather than the loyalty of the knight to his duke, we have a certain level of loyalty to a system as a whole. You can call it fealty to Constitutional law, or you can just say that this is the way that things are done. In either case, there were a lot of Republicans who chose loyalty to the system over their loyalty to Richard Nixon during the Watergate crisis. We can see some of the same reaction from Republicans who are deserting Trump. 

Now let's imagine for a moment that when Obama ascended to the presidency, he didn't give George W Bush that well-photographed hand clasp, but instead acted to prosecute Bush and Cheney for war crimes. What message would this send? 

If you have any sense of history, you would immediately recognize that this would be a recipe for any future Republican president to find some reason to prosecute his predecessor. Allow me to remind you that a lot of Republicans carried decades-long grudges over the forced resignation of Richard Nixon. "He was hounded from office" was their claim. It took a while, but they finally got even (rightly or wrongly) through the impeachment of Bill Clinton. 

The effect of a current president taking legal action against a former president would create a dangerous incentive. Any current president would understand the risk inherent in becoming a former president. It could get him or her thrown in prison. One way of avoiding becoming a former president is to find some excuse for cancelling elections. 

In other words, our democratic system depends on a tradition, and we don't know whether that tradition is strong enough to stand up to presidents prosecuting their opponents. There's a reason that the authors of the Constitution limited removal of the president to a specific series of actions that require both houses of congress, and leave the sitting president out of the process other than as the person facing trial. The founders even required a supermajority in the Senate to complete the act of removing a president from office. Notice by the way that there have only been two impeachment trials in the history of our republic, and both failed to achieve a guilty verdict. 

Viewed in this way, Donald Trump's threat to jail Hillary Clinton is more feudal than modern. It is the idea that kings battle against other kings, with the winner taking all. America rejects that culture, replacing it with written rules that define how authority is gained, and how it is shared among competing arms of government. It's true that there have been occasional lapses, as when a member of congress beat another member in response to a difference of opinion over slavery, or when Alexander Hamilton died in a duel. But our culture does not exult Aaron Burr the way feudal culture exulted conquest and assassination. We make changes in executive power by electing new presidents, not by a process in which presidents imprison their opponents. 

While preparing this column, I came across a piece by Garrison Keillor.  It says some of what is said here (at least I'd like to think that) but in the unique Garrison Keillor style. It's worth a read, particularly where Keillor, referring to Trump's views, says, "The government is not a disaster; it is a culture of process and law and organization that is alien to him." 

One more brief story. A few years ago, I attended a scientific meeting in an eastern city. I shared a cab to the airport with a fellow scientist from one of the remaining dictatorships. He asked me a little about the American system, and as we passed various monuments, I tried to explain: "What made George Washington great was that he gave up power." There have been many military leaders, but not many national leaders have established a tradition of the peaceful transition of power. My fellow scientist looked a little surprised at this answer, as it was not something that his world included. 

The peaceful transition of power signified by the presidential inauguration is a continuing miracle in a world that has only slowly been adopting such traditions. It is this peaceful transition of power that Trump mocks in his threats to jail his opponent.


(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for City Watch. He can be reached at 


MY TURN-I literally have spent the last week trying to figure out why there is such fear and loathing expressed when it comes to Hillary Clinton. I have read so many outlandish "facts" from friends and neighbors on Facebook and other sites that baffle me beyond description. 

Some are people I have known for forty or more years. We carpooled together...our kids grew up together...we celebrated and commiserated together. How these honest, and in most cases, bright people could not only swallow but repeat these outlandish stories is beyond me. 

I have stayed away from writing about the Presidential election. I have never been a partisan voter, even though I identify more with the Democratic platform than with the Republican. I vote according to my considered preference, whether it comes to politicians or initiatives. 

When I discussed the content of this article with CityWatch publisher Ken Draper, it was supposed to be ready for last week. I wrote it, then let it sit for a day; then I decided I came off almost as strident and emotional as the people I was accusing. 

So I decided to start all over again. Believe it or not, this now represents a far more gentle approach. Now is a good time to reflect with so many "news" programs have lavished opinions and from all sides. Unfortunately, it was too early to start drinking so I doubled my usual caffeine intake. 

Many pundits trace the "Hate Hillary" phenomenon to 1992 when Governor Jerry Brown was running for President against Bill Clinton. Brown accused the former Governor of Arkansas of helping his wife’s law practice while he was in office -- an accusation that was never substantiated, like many of the Hillary tales. 

Hillary fired back via the press with a sentence that roiled traditionalists who were already fired up by the era’s culture wars: 

“I suppose I could have stayed home, baked cookies and had teas,” she said. Most of the media outlets neglected to report her complete quote that went on to say, “The work that I have done as a professional, a public advocate, has been aimed…to assure that women can make the choices, whether it’s full-time career, full-time motherhood or some combination.” 

Go back to the eighties and nineties. Women were going through their own evolutionary process. Gloria Steinem was accused of starting a gender war. Women had started to join the workforce but in mostly non-decision making positions. 

When Bill Clinton appointed Madelyn Albright as Secretary of State it was a huge achievement for women. I must admit, when I first heard Hillary talk about baking cookies I could relate to this because I felt the same way. My children will never have the memory of smelling freshly baked cookies emanating from their mother’s kitchen. To this day, I still burn the garlic bread. 

Intellectually, one can understand why men would have resented Hillary in those days. She was not the kind of role model they wanted their wives and daughters to emulate. And they were starting to resent the changes occurring to the traditional "Father Knows Best" male roles. Unfortunately, men in Trump's age group were the first to experience these vast social changes. 

Why do women hate her so much? I think it’s been partly due to jealousy; she’s always been doing important things perhaps while some have remained in traditional roles. However, over the years, she has served as a role model to more and more women, millions of whom have since discovered they have options too. 

We should differentiate between what is true and what is urban myth. I don't remember any hue and cry when Ronald Regan accepted a two week, two million dollar fee plus the usual travel/staff perks from Japan shortly after he left the Presidency. At that time, Japan was one of our main trade competitors. Of course, he was a man and was “worthy” of such an expense. A woman receiving $250,000 for a speech was unheard of.   

There was no investigation of the private RNC email server President George W. Bush used and where 55 million emails were "lost," even though they are supposed to be retained. There were no investigations of Condoleezza Rice when we had more than five terrorist attacks against U.S. embassies and military bases during her tenure. 

The fact is, Jason Chafitz, Utah Congressman and Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, turned down the request for extra money the State Department requested to beef up security at embassies and consulates in dangerous areas. This was before Benghazi. 

As a journalist, I have learned to check what are called "facts." Even the Investment Service Motley Fool, known as one of the most reliable Investment companies in the industry, recently included a list of the "Hillary Myths."  They certainly do not have anything to gain and I don't see them on the list of Hillary donors. 

Trump also blames Hillary for her husband of signing NAFTA, calling it the worst trade deal ever negotiated on the part of the United States. The initial beginnings for NAFTA were under President Reagan, who originally wanted a free trade agreement with Mexico. The famous Conservative think tank, Heritage Foundation, helped draft it and the first President Bush signed it. 

While NAFTA was being negotiated, there was a lot of talk about a future extension -- eventually having a “Common Market” for the Americas. It was thought then to be a smart move to compete with the European Union. 

One more thing that irritates me: Everyone refers to Trump as "Mr. Trump.” His surrogates, news reporters, employees and even his critics have given him this "Mr." title, which infers he is above everyone else. Hillary refers to him as "Donald," which I am sure, in his world, is a breach of etiquette. On the other hand, most of the time she is referred to by her first name. 

The tapes that have been released as of this writing have featured ten women who tell Trump groping stories. He and I are from the same vintage and I will bet almost every woman over fifty who was in business or in the work force has been subjected to verbal and physical sexual overtures. (I can recall almost every incident that I ever experienced.) We didn't say anything because, 1) we would lose our jobs 2) we would lose the client 3) or we would upset our husbands, who might have thought we encouraged this kind of behavior, or worse, would threaten violence against the perpetrator. 

I developed some pretty smart responses to those overtures to ensure that a man wouldn't feel resentful and would want to continue our business relationship. I also developed a pretty good right hook. That brings up another couple of points. 

The complaint that Hillary said she has a public position and a private position is not a cardinal sin. Anyone in business faces the same situation.  

Lastly, appointed Cabinet officials "serve at the pleasure of the President.” As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton’s responsibility was to carry out the wishes of President Obama, whether she agreed with him or not. Similarly, the job of Trump's surrogates is also to defend his behavior and policies, whether they agree with him or not. 

Those of you who have a supervisor or a "boss" do the same. 

I think we can all agree that this election is like no other in our lifetimes. The outcome has not been determined and, in spite of the Trump rhetoric, it is not a rigged system. What frightens many of us is the consequences of either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump being elected as the 45th President of the United States. It is going to be an interminable three weeks. 

My personal opinion is that Hillary Clinton is being subjected to a double standard and is definitely encountering gender bias. 

Before you resend an inflammatory email or tweet, check with the professional non-biased fact checkers. Do not add to the very tense and dangerous atmosphere we are encountering. All of the facts I have discussed have been substantiated and are available online. 

As always comments welcome.


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

LA WATCHDOG--Since California is not a battleground state, we have been spared from many of the inane ads for Hillary and The Donald.  But that is not to say we are off the hook as an estimated $400 to $500 million will be spent on the State’s 17 ballot measures by powerful special interests trying to convince us to reject or approve selected ballot measures. 

Of the 17 November ballot measures, three ballot measures are attracting a substantial portion of cash: Proposition 56 (Cigarette Tax), Proposition 61 (Prescription Drug Pricing), and Proposition 55 (the extension of the “temporary” Soak the Rich Income Tax Surcharge). 

Rather than succumb to barrage of ads, we should tell the big money special interests to take a hike, to buzz off, sending a loud and clear message that we are not for sale to the highest bidder, especially when they bombard us with many misleading advertisements. 

As such, both Proposition 56 (Cigarette Tax) and Proposition 61 (Prescription Dug Pricing) deserve a YES vote as Big Tobacco and Big Pharma have spent over $150 million into ads opposing these two ballot measures.  

On the other hand, Proposition 55 (Soak the Rich Income Tax Surcharge) deserves a NO vote as the California Teachers Association and the California Association of Hospitals have sunk over $55 million into this ballot measure that is betrayal of our trust and not in the best interest of the State and its economy. 

YES on 56, the Cigarette Tax 

If voters approve this initiative sponsored by the American Cancer Society, taxes on cigarettes will increase by $2.00 a pack.  This economic signal to the market will discourage people from either continuing or taking up this nasty habit that costs us billions in healthcare costs. 

The expected haul of $1.4 billion in the first year (which will decline over time as fewer butts are consumed) from this new tax will be allocated primarily to funding health care for low-income Californians. 

But Big Tobacco (primarily Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds) has “invested” over $66 million to defeat this measure, making numerous misleading claims that this tax will benefit special interests (the medical industry) and deprive schools of much needed money.  But these claims have been debunked by numerous credible sources, including our Los Angeles Times which endorses this proposition.

While many people oppose ballot box legislation, this initiative was the result of the failure of the Legislature to pass tax increases because our elected officials were bought off by generous campaign contributions (or threats) from the tobacco industry and their lobbyists.  

YES on Proposition 61, Prescription Drug Pricing 

Once again, our cowardly legislators have failed to represent their constituents as they have placed the profits of the pharmaceutical industry and their political careers and campaign war chests above our best interests.  

In this case, the Legislature’s failure to pass laws that would increase transparency into the rapidly increasing prices of prescription drugs has prompted an initiative led by the Aids Healthcare Foundation (“AHF”) that will prohibit the State of California from buying any prescription drug at a price greater than the lowest price paid by the Department of Veteran Affairs. 

While AHF has spent about $15 million placing this initiative on the ballot and purchasing airtime, this amount is dwarfed by the $87 million spent to date by pharmaceutical companies.  And the industry is expected to dump considerably more cash into its efforts to defeat this measure, with some expecting expenditures of at least $100 million. The Los Angeles Times, which opposes this measure, raised a number of valid points as to why we should vote NO.  But its solution to “fast rising drug prices” is a comprehensive, national solution that addresses competition, the speedy approval of new drugs, the role of federally funded research, and the development of new insurance models is not going to happen without prodding from the likes of AHF and the voters. 

By voting YES on 61, we will send a message to Sacramento and the international drug companies that they need to get their asses in gear and develop a comprehensive policy that is acceptable to the voters of California. Otherwise, nothing will change and we (and our wallets) will continue to be sitting ducks for Big Pharma.  

NO on Proposition 55, the Soak the Rich Income Tax Surcharge 

In 2012, 55% of California’s voters approved Proposition 30.  This measure authorized a “temporary” surcharge on higher income Californians to help plug the State’s budget deficit.  And now that the State’s revenues have increased by almost $50 billion to almost $170 billion, there is no need to extend the Soak the Rich Income Tax Surcharge beyond its 2018 expiration date.  

However, the California Teachers Association and the California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems are leading a $56 million campaign to extend this surcharge for another 12 years. They are also supported by a slew of elected officials, organizations that rely on the State’s cash, and public sector unions that are addicted to our cash and who have no problem betraying the promises that were made in 2012. 

While this surcharge will produce an estimated $7 billion a year, it also increases the State’s dependence on the income tax derived from wealthy Californians.  But this places the State’s finances in a very precarious position, especially when the stock market tanks, capital gains disappear, and incomes shrivel, resulting in significantly lower tax revenues and massive budget deficits like the State experienced during the Great Recession. 

This is why the Los Angeles Times opposes Proposition 55, calling for the Legislature to produce a more comprehensive overhaul of the State’s budget process. 


Rather than being bamboozled by Big Tobacco, Big Pharma, and the State’s public unions, we have the opportunity to see through their misleading ads and vote for what is in our best interests and not follow the lead of our Elected Elite who have their own personal agendas. 

Vote YES on 56, Vote YES on 61, and Vote Hell NO on 55. 

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

– cw

LA WATCHDOG--Of the 24 ballot measures on the November ballot, only four are specific to the City of Los Angeles. And of these four, only one deserves a YES vote (RRR - DWP Reform), two deserve a NO vote (HHH - the $1.2 billion homeless bond and SSS – Fire and Police Pension Plans), and one deserves a HELL NO vote (JJJ - Build Better LA). (See Ballot Summaries below.) 

When determining how to vote, the first and most important question is whether you trust the proponents of the ballot measure.  And in the case of the City of Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council have not earned our trust and confidence as they have not embraced the reform of our City’s finances.  They have ignored the excellent budget recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission, have refused to address the Structural Deficit where the increase in personnel expenditures (salaries, pensions, and medical benefits) exceed the growth in tax revenues, have passed on reforming the City’s two pension plans which are $15 billion in the hole, have failed to develop a plan to repair our streets and the rest of our failing infrastructure, and continue to bow to the wishes of real estate developers and billboard operators. 

NO on Proposition HHH, the $1.2 Billion Homeless Bond 

While our Enlightened Elite who occupy City Hall have told us that addressing homelessness is a priority, they have failed to make the average payment of $65 million a year a budget priority despite a $1 billion increase in City revenues over the last four years and another $600 million over the next four years.  Rather than continue with this $2 billion revenue grab over the next 30 years (including interest payments) through an increase in our property taxes, the City has the capacity to pay for the homeless bonds by eliminating their discretionary slush funds, reduce their bloated staffs, and discontinue the hundreds of millions in “giveaways” to international hotel operators and mall operators such as Westfield.  

The City has not developed a credible financial plan to fund the $2.8 billion gap between the $4 billion cost of 10,000 units of permanent supportive housing and the $1.2 billion in bond proceeds.  Nor has it addressed the over the top cost of $400,000 a unit.  Nor has it entered into a definitive agreement with the County which is considering a quarter cent increase in our sales tax ($350 million) to fund its service to the homeless. 

The concept of throwing cash at the homeless problem without a financial and operational plan does not pass muster, especially given the lack of meaningful oversight.  

For more information, see the CityWatch article, Los Angeles Must Resolve Its Homeless Crisis … This $1.2 Billion Taxpayer Ripoff is Not the Way to Do It.  

NO on Charter Amendment SSS, the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pension Plans 

If approved by a majority of the voters, Airport Police officers will be eligible to participate in the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pension Plans (“LAFPP”) instead of the less generous Los Angeles City Employees Retirement System (“LACERS”) plan.  But without real pension reform that addresses the billions of unfunded liabilities of both LACERS and LAFPP, this ballot measure does not deserve our support.   This scheme will also result in significantly higher pension contributions by the Airport and eventually its airline tenants.  

The Los Angeles Times urges a NO vote. Police Pension Measure SSS Raises Too Much Doubt to Support. 

HELL NO on Initiative Ordinance JJJ / Build Better LA Initiative 

The Build Better LA Initiative is a crude attempt by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor to take advantage of the affordable housing shortage in the City of Los Angeles.  It would require real estate developers who request a zoning change or variance to include units of affordable housing in the development and to agree to the equivalent of a Project Labor Agreement.  While there has not been any detailed analysis of the financial impact of this measure on housing costs, preliminary estimates indicate that it would drive up costs by 30% to 40%.  This added expense will result in a transfer of money intended for affordable housing into the pockets of construction workers and their unions. 

This misleading, self-serving ballot measure will make affordable housing more unaffordable.  

The Los Angeles Times urges a NO vote.  Measure JJJ Could Make LA’s Housing Crisis Even Worse.   

For additional information, see the CityWatch article, Build Better LA Initiative: Affordable Housing Made More Unaffordable  

YES on Charter Amendment RRR, DWP Reform 

The major problem with our Department of Water and Power is City Hall.  Unfortunately, this charter amendment does not address the issue of Ratepayers being used as an ATM by Mayor Garcetti and the City Council.  Nor are there any major changes in the governance of the Department.  But it does allow for more efficient procurement and contracting, increased oversight by the Ratepayers Advocate and a newly created Water & Power Analyst that reports directly to the Board of Commissioner, and a more transparent process of appointing a new General Manager. It also requires the Department and the Board of Commissioners to prepare a Four Year Strategic Plan beginning in 2020 for consideration by the City Council and the Mayor. 

The major source of controversy is that this charter amendment begins the process that may lead to the Department establishing its own Human Resources Department for its 9,000 employees that is separate and distinct from the City’s Personnel Department and remove the Department from the City’s cumbersome civil service rules and regulations.  The City’s civilian unions are labeling this as a “power grab” because it would lessen their influence over the affairs of the Department and limit the transfer of City employees to better paying jobs at DWP.  But any major changes would require Council approval which would “undoubtedly prompt an epic political battle.” 

While this ballot measure is not the answer to our prayers, it is a step in the right direction. 

As a side note, City Council President deserves a pat on the back for ushering this ballot measure through the City Council.  And with his leadership, hopefully other meaningful changes will be implemented by the City Council. 

The Los Angeles Times in a very good editorial urges a YES vote.  




Ballot Summary / Question 


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? 


Shall the Charter be amended to: (1) enroll new Airport peace officers into Tier 6 of the Fire and Police Pensions System; (2) allow current Airport peace officers to transfer into Tier 6 from the City Employees’ Retirement System (LACERS) at their own expense; and (3) permit new Airport Police Chiefs to enroll in LACERS? 


Shall an ordinance: 1) requiring that certain residential development projects provide for affordable housing and comply with prevailing wage, local hiring and other labor standards; 2) requiring the City to assess the impacts of community plan changes on affordable housing and local jobs; 3) creating an affordable housing incentive program for developments near major transit stops; and 4) making other changes; be adopted? 


Shall the Charter be amended to: (1) add qualification requirements, stipends and removal protections for DWP Board; (2) expand Board to seven members; (3) require DWP prepare four-year Strategic Plans for Council and Mayoral approval; (4) modify DWP’s contracting, rate-setting and other authority; (5) permit future alternatives to existing civil service standards for DWP employees through collective bargaining; and (6) require monthly billing?



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

– cw

LA WATCHDOG--On Tuesday, the Board of Water and Power Commissioners voted 4 to 1 to approve an above market, 10 year, $41 million lease of four vacant floors of subpar office space at Figueroa Plaza, a 615,000 square foot, City owned office complex located north of the downtown Central Business District.  

LA WATCHDOG--On September 28, Mayor Eric Garcetti issued his Fiscal Year 2017-18 Budget Policy and Goals to all of the General Managers of All City Departments. The goals include closing a projected $85 million deficit for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2017, identifying over $40 million in new general funds to maintain the City’s current commitment to the homeless, and hiring 5,000 new employees by June 30, 2018 to restore services and replace retiring workers.   

This missive is focused on next year’s budget and does not address the long term reforms that are desperately needed to tackle the City’s Structural Deficit (where the growth in personnel costs exceeds the increase in revenues), the massive unfunded liabilities of its two unsustainable pension plans (estimated to be in the range of $15 billion based on a more realistic investment rate assumption), and the deferred maintenance on its infrastructure (estimated to be north of $10 billion). 

On October 4, the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates (“NCBAs”)* delivered the following recommendation to Mayor Garcetti and the City Council.


Early White Paper Recommendation

The Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates (the “NCBAs”) urge the City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti to implement the following recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission as part of its budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year: 

  • Create an independent “Office of Transparency and Accountability” to analyze and report on the City’s budget, evaluate new legislation, examine existing issues and service standards, and increase accountability. 
  • Adopt a “Truth in Budgeting” ordinance that requires the City to develop a three year budget and a three year baseline budget with the goal to understand the longer-term consequences of its policies and legislation. (Council File 14-1184-S2)  
  • Be honest about the cost of future promises by adopting a discount rate and pension earnings assumptions similar to those used by Warren Buffett.   
  • Establish a “Commission for Retirement Security” to review the City's retirement obligations in order to promote an accurate understanding of the facts. 

We request that the Budget and Finance Committee assign a Council File for each of the recommendations and agendize each of these items for its next meeting on October 17, 2016.  

The implementation of these recommendations will be the first step in addressing the City’s Structural Deficit, the massive unfunded liabilities of its two unsustainable pension plans, and the deferred maintenance on its infrastructure.  

The adoption of the recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission will result in increased transparency into the City’s complex operations and finances and begin the process of restoring Angelenos’ trust and confidence in City Hall and its elected officials.  

The NCBAs are making these recommendations prior to the 2017 Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates White Paper so that they will be an integral part of the upcoming fiscal year’s budget process.  

The NCBAs look forward to a timely response.



Stay tuned to see if Mayor Garcetti and the City Council are willing to implement meaningful reform or will it be business as usual, kicking the can down the road and dumping tens of billions in unfunded obligations on the next generation of Angelenos. 




*The Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates are the elected to represent the charter authorized Neighborhood Councils.  Their role is to explore, research, study, seek input, prepare and present the concerns and interests of the communities of the City of Los Angeles ("City") about the use of City funds, City revenue collection, City budget and budget allocations, efficiency of City government, City finances, City financial obligations and other such concerns and related to financial matters of the City to the Mayor and City Council.  

Join the discussion: 


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


LA WATCHDOG--Mayor Eric Garcetti and his budget team are putting a full court press on the Board of Water and Power Commissioners to approve an above market, 10 year, $41 million lease for four vacant floors of office space at Figueroa Plaza, a two tower, 615,000 square foot City owned complex located north of the Central Business District in DTLA.  (Photo above: Sculpture by Terry Allen. The bronze statue is located in Downtown L.A. at 7+FIG Plaza, on the corner of 7th and Figueroa Street, outside the corporate offices of Ernst Young) 

But this deal, like the previous 10 year, $63 million lease for six vacant floors that was proposed in June, does not pass the smell test because this above market lease is not in the best interests of the Department of Water and Power or its Ratepayers. 

Which leads us to the question of whether the five Commissioners, led by President Mel Levine and Vice President Bill Funderburk, will stand up for the interests of the Department and the Ratepayers or will they bow to the pressure from Mayor Garcetti and his budget team who are looking to balance the City’s budget on the backs of the Ratepayers? 

Figueroa Plaza is not considered a desirable location for law firms, investment banks, commercial banks, consulting firms, or other professional organizations that occupy Class A space because of its poor location north of the Central Business District.  In addition to being out of the way, this older building has a poor reputation for maintenance, services, and amenities.  This is not helped by rent roll dominated by government employees.  

Yet the City wants our Department of Water and Power to pay Central Business District Class A rents for this subprime space.  At the same time, the City wants DWP to pony up $9 million for tenant improvements, an expense that is usually born by the landlord, in this case, the City of Los Angeles.  

From the Mayor’s perspective, in the first year of the lease, the City will receive $3 million in rent and “save” $9 million in tenant improvements.  This $12 million swing will help the City close its projected $85 million budget deficit for the upcoming fiscal year.  

The Department maintains that it needs this additional space to accommodate 700 new employees.  But without a well thought out Space Utilization Plan for its 9,576 employees, an 8 to 10 year lease is inappropriate, especially given its above market cost.  

Any space plan would need to address the updating of DWP’s 50 year old historic headquarters building located across from the Music Center in downtown Los Angeles.  But this is problematic as IBEW Local 18, DWP’s domineering union, will assert jurisdiction over all the work at overtime rates, doubling the cost and the time to completion.  This will cost Ratepayers an additional $150 to $200 million.  

The question has also been raised whether the IBEW and Union Bo$$ d’Arcy would claim jurisdiction over the work at Figueroa Plaza.  

At its meeting on September 20, the Board of Commissioners discussed the proposed $41 million lease in closed session.  When the $63 million lease was on the agenda in June, the Board deferred the matter until a later time.  As a result, there has not been a public discussion or any outreach involving this controversial lease whose main beneficiary appears to be the City, not DWP or the Ratepayers. 

The Department has prepared a 229 page memo outlining this transaction. This includes a 161 page report that justifies the lease. But several experts, including potential tenants and their representatives, have discounted this report stating it was “made as indicated” and does not reflect the real rental market. 

Will the Commissioners conduct an open hearing on this above market lease?  Will the Commissioners demand that DWP prepare a Space Utilization Plan before entering into this above market lease?  Will this study include many different alternatives, including selling the DWP headquarters and moving to an area that would benefit from the economic development?  Will the Commissioners demand that the Department update its Personnel Plan to reflect the addition of 700 new employees?  

In other words, will the Commissioners act in the best interests of the Department and the Ratepayers and tell the Mayor and his budget team to buzz off?

(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 -- He can be reached at:

  • See also:

DWP Deserves ‘Free’ Rent at Fig Plaza

The Fig Plaza Stick Up: Ripping Off DWP Ratepayers for $40 Million

--Exposed! City Overcharging DWP Millions on Downtown Fig Plaza Rent



LA WATCHDOG--Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Herb Wesson led City Council are using the homeless issue to pick our pockets for almost $2 billion over the next 30 years in an effort to cover up their abject failure to make this unfortunate situation a priority in the City’s budget over the last four years. 

If Proposition HHH (Homeless Reduction and Prevention, Housing, and Facilities Bond) is approved by two-thirds of the voters, the City will issue $1.2 billion of bonds over the next ten years.  These funds, along with billions from politically wired real estate developers and other governmental entities, will finance the construction of 10,000 units of permanent supportive housing for LA’s homeless population at a cost as high as $4 billion.  

Cartoon Watch



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