LA WATCHDOG--In August of 2015, the City of Los Angeles announced what turned out to be a budget busting contract with the Coalition of City Unions that represents the City’s 20,000 civilian workers.  According to Mayor Eric Garcetti, this agreement “prioritizes service delivery and strengthens our long term fiscal health.” 

To the contrary, this back room deal contributed to the City’s never ending Structural Deficit (where personnel costs increase faster than revenues) and blew a gaping hole in the 2020 budget, turning a projected surplus of $68 million into $101 million deficit. 

But that’s not all, folks. 

The City also committed to a “goal” of hiring 5,000 civilian employees by June 30, 2018.  But in a December report prepared by the City’s Personnel Department that outlined the Targeted Local Hire Program, not one mention was made about the cost of this program or the impact on the City’s budget. Yet the City is looking at an $85 million deficit next year, but that was before the City Administrative Officer informed us on January 6 that this year’s breakeven budget is a pipedream as the shortfall may be as high as $245 million thanks to lower revenues and higher than budgeted litigation costs. 

While some of the new employees will replace higher cost retiring workers, the hit to the City’s budget has been rumored to be in the range of $250 million when considering the fully loaded costs of salaries, Cadillac healthcare plans, and very generous pensions. 

The Targeted Local Hire Program appears to be more of a social welfare program as it is focused on hiring and retaining of local Angelenos from underserved communities.  Under the proposed system, over 80% of the positions would be allocated to the applicants from the designated underserved communities.    

But what about all the other Angelenos who have stayed out of trouble and done what was expected of them.  Don’t they deserve a fair shot at these high paying, guaranteed for life City jobs that have very generous benefits that far exceed those in the private sector?  And don’t the odds favor them doing a better job? 

This is not the time to be expanding the City’s workforce.  The City is looking at a river of red ink of almost $300 million over the next four years, and that was before the realization that this year’s unexpected deficit may be as high as $245 million.  The depleted Reserve Fund is under severe pressure to fund this shortfall.  And more than likely, the economy is going to be hitting some headwinds that will put additional pressure on the budget.  And as we know, it will be hard to lay off employees that are represented by the campaign funding leaders of the City’s self-serving public unions who consider us their ATM.  

Rather than hiring and training 5,000 new workers and adding to the City’s permanent overhead, why not hire independent third parties to complete specific tasks such as repairing our streets and sidewalks, trimming our trees, and maintaining our parks?  

Before proceeding with the Targeted Local Hire Program, Councilmember Paul Koretz, the Chair of the Personnel Committee and one of the main promoters of this less than transparent program, should conduct public hearings and outreach so that we have a better understanding of this very expensive initiative and its impact on the City’s already precarious finances. 

At the same time, Koretz, City Council President Herb Wesson, and Mayor Eric Garcetti would be wise to follow the advice of the Los Angeles Times to “commission and independent analysis of the impacts” of the program and “allow plenty of time for the public [and the Neighborhood Councils] to ask questions.” 

A year ago, Koretz wrote, “The City of Los Angeles has a mission to provide the highest quality public service to the residents of the City in the most efficient and cost effective manner.” 

Koretz must honor this pledge.  

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Strategic Workforce Development Taskforce / Personnel Department / Letter of Agreement / Hiring Civilian Employees Council File 16-0109

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

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LA WATCHDOG--Despite General Fund revenues being up by over $1 billion since Eric Garcetti became our Mayor, the City Administrative Officer indicated in a January 6 memo that the “combined potential deficit [for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017] currently stands at $245 million.” 

You have to be kidding.  A billion bucks and these jokers cannot balance the budget. 

The budget is being hammered by higher than anticipated expenditures and lower than expected revenues.  But there are not many real operational solutions since the Mayor, the Personnel Committee headed by Paul Koretz, and the City Council are not even willing to considering laying off or furloughing unionized employees who represent the bulk of City budget expenditures.   

Spending is anticipated to be $70 to $80 million over amounts approved by the City Council and Mayor Garcetti in June.  The primary culprit is legal settlements and verdicts against the City that are more than double the budgeted $67 million. But this budgeted amount was significantly less than the amount recommended by the City Administrative Officer (rumored to be $120 million) last April when Garcetti presented his budget to the City Council. 

The revenue shortfall (including those at risk) is projected to be $165 million, consisting of lower than expected reimbursements from the proprietary and special departments, lower taxes on DWP Ratepayers as Power System revenues are below projections, and lower collection of property and sales taxes. 

The CAO has proposed a number of nickel and dime solutions which, when taken as a whole, may help eliminate some of the budget deficit.  These include curtailing any new expenditures, limiting hiring, increasing revenues by collecting the hotel tax from short-term rental sites in addition to AirBnb, investigating the revenue potential of billboards on City property (subject to the approval of the City Council), and being reimbursed for services by major event venues. 

As expected, the CAO has proposed that the City proceed with a ten year Judgment Obligation Bond of up to $70 million. The proceeds from this offering would be used to replenish the Reserve Fund so that it would have the capacity to help close the budget deficit. 

But this financial strategy of using long term debt to finance operating losses highlights the financial follies that have been dumped on us by Garcetti, the Paul Krekorian Budget and Committee, the Personnel Committee chaired by Paul Koretz, and the Herb Wesson led City Council.  They have steadfastly refused to follow the many common sense recommendations of Miguel Santana, the City Administrative Officer who, unfortunately, is leaving to become the Chief Executive Officer of the troubled Los Angeles County Fair Association.    

The City will muddle through this financial mess by issuing Judgment Obligation Bonds, developing new sources of revenues, selected budget cuts, fewer hires, and/or raiding the Reserve Fund and maybe even the previous sacrosanct Budget Stabilization Fund.  But it will not be pretty, especially when we have to listen to all the excuses of the City Council and the Mayor.  

This financial fiasco demonstrates why the City Council and Garcetti need to place on the ballot a LIVE WTHIN ITS MEANS* charter amendment so that voters have the opportunity to either accept or reject budget reform. 

Finally, Garcetti and Personnel Chair Paul Koretz do not deserve to be re-elected in March because they have failed the citizens of Los Angeles by refusing to adopt realistic budget and personnel policies that will allow the City to balance its budget and provide basic services to all Angelenos. 

Time for a change.  Throw the bums out.  

*The “Live Within Its Means” charter amendment will require the City to develop and adhere to a Seven Year Financial Plan; to pass three year balanced budgets based on Generally Accepted Accounting Principles; to prohibit any labor contracts that result in future budget deficits; to benchmark the efficiency of its operations; to fully fund its pension plans within twenty years; to implement a twenty year plan to repair and maintain our streets, sidewalks, and the rest of our infrastructure; and to establish a fully funded independent Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee the City’s finances and operations.

 

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

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LA WATCHDOG--At its December 6 meeting, the politically appointed Board of Commissioners of our Department of Water and Power approved the transfer of $264 million of Ratepayer money from DWP’s Power System to the City coffers without any discussion, once again demonstrating their disregard for the Ratepayers and our hard earned cash.  But this is standard operating procedure as witnessed by the Board’s recent blessing of the above market $41 million lease for the City owned Figueroa Plaza and the uneconomic $12 million Rooftop Solar Program. 

The Commissioners also knew that the $264 million 8% Transfer Fee is the subject of a class action lawsuit that alleges that this fee is really a tax as it exceeds the cost of providing electrical service to the Ratepayers.  This violates the California constitution because the tax has not been approved by the City’s voters. 

But the Board does not bear the sole responsibility for its failure to stand up for the best interests of the Ratepayers.  Behind the scenes is Mayor Eric Garcetti, calling the shots, pulling the strings, and directing the Commissioners to approve actions that help satisfy City Hall’s addiction to our cash. 

But this $264 million transfer tax is $27 million less than budgeted $291 million, which, when combined with the projected budget deficit of $82 million for this year, will result in red ink of $110 million. And this does not include the projected $35 million shortfall in property tax revenues. 

To fund this deficit, the City is considering issuing a $70 million Judgment Obligation Bond and/or levying a special assessment on the Department of Water and Power.  

The City is desperate to settle the class action lawsuit in a way that will preserve all or most of the Transfer Tax without giving us the opportunity to vote on this tax.  Rumors from well-placed sources indicate that the City is close to settling the class action litigation where the City will cap the transfer at $250 million a year without giving the voters the opportunity to approve or reject this tax. 

This, however, will not be without a fight as taxpayers will protest any settlement that does not require a vote. 

The purpose of this pushback is not to break the City, but to reform the City’s budget process.  

As an incentive for voters to support the $250 million Transfer Tax (the equivalent of a half cent increase in our sales tax or a 5% bump in our property taxes), the City should also place a LIVE WITHIN ITS MEANS* charter amendment on the ballot.  Each measure would require voter approval of the other ballot measure. 

While we would all like to “save” $250 million a year, this is a fair price to pay for real budget reform, especially given that our fiscally irresponsible Mayor has been unwilling to confront the City’s Structural Deficit that continues to produce rivers of red ink, lunar cratered streets, and massive unfunded pension liabilities that will eventually overwhelm the City’s budget.  

Here’s to Real Reform and a Happy, Healthy, and Wet 2017.    

 

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*The “Live Within Its Means” charter amendment will require the City to develop and adhere to a Seven Year Financial Plan; to pass three year balanced budgets based on Generally Accepted Accounting Principles; to prohibit any labor contracts that result in future budget deficits; to benchmark the efficiency of its operations; to fully fund its pension plans within 20 years; to implement a 20 year plan to repair and maintain our streets, sidewalks, and the rest of our infrastructure; and to establish a fully funded independent Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee the City’s finances and operations.

 

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

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LA WATCHDOG--The Department of Water and Power’s pension plan and its plan to cover Other Post-Employment Benefits (“OPEB”) have unfunded liabilities of almost $4.8 billion, an obligation that the Ratepayers will be required to fund.  

The Department of Water and Power pension plan is only 84% funded as assets of $10.3 billion are about $2 billion short of its future obligations of $12.3 billion. 

At the same time, the OPEB obligations are only 75% funded as assets of $1.75 billion are about $600 million less that its future obligations of $2.3 billion. 

Combined, DWP retirement obligations are only 83% funded, representing an unfunded liability of $2.5 billion. 

That’s the good news. 

When DWP finishes cooking the books and marks the assets to their true market value and assumes a more realistic investment rate assumption of 6.25%, the unfunded liability soars to $4.8 billion, representing an unhealthy funded ratio of 71%. 

DWP’s retirement plans are also very expensive to maintain. This year, the Department is expected to contribute $550 million to the two plans, an amount equal to over 12.5% of Department revenues and equal to almost 60% of its payroll.  The City, on the other hand, contributes less than 30% of civilian workers’ salaries to the Los Angeles City Employees’ Retirement System. 

During the last year, the unfunded liability increased by 50% ($1.6 billion) to $4.8 billion, in large part because the return on invested assets was less than 1% (0.82%), a considerable shortfall from the overly optimistic investment rate assumption of 7.5%.  At the same time, the annual contribution will increase to 60% of projected payroll, up from less than 50% the previous year. 

DWP, to its credit, has been making some progress. 

Several years ago, the Department contributed $600 million to fund a portion of its OPEB obligations, unlike the County and the State who have failed to fund any of this ever increasing liability.  As an aside, the City has been funding a portion of this obligation for almost 20 years.  

In the past year, it lowered its investment rate assumption to 7.25% even though it resulted in a higher unfunded liability and increased contributions. 

The Department and IBEW 18 also agreed to establish a new pension tier with lower benefits for employees who were hired after January 1, 2014.  This resulted in lower annual contributions as a percentage of the payroll. 

But even with these changes, DWP’s retirement plans are not sustainable as the investment returns on the stock and bond portfolios are expected to be in the range of 6% to 6.5%, lower than the targeted rate of return of 7.25%.  Furthermore, the investment rate assumption does not provide for the funding of the $4.8 billion unfunded liability which will continue to compound.  At the same time, annual benefits of this mature pension plan will exceed contributions by the Department and its employees. 

This shortfall will eventually be funded by the hard pressed Ratepayers who are already being smacked with a five year, $1 billion rate increase.  

Rather than speculate about the status of DWP’s retirement plans, the Board of Commissioners should require the Department, with the assistance of the Ratepayers Advocate and the Neighborhood Councils, to follow the recommendation of the LA 2020 Commission to establish an independent and transparent Commission on Retirement Security to review the DWP’s retirement obligations in order to promote am accurate understanding of the facts, to report on employment costs in various categories, and to develop concrete recommendations on how to achieve equilibrium on retirement costs by 2020. 

Is this too much to ask of the Garcetti appointed Commissioners?

 

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

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LA WATCHDOG--In 2013, Mayor Eric Garcetti told us that the revitalization of the 11 mile stretch of the Los Angeles River from Griffith Park to the Arts District was projected to cost $1.1 billion, of which the City’s share was $432 million.  

In 2015, the cost increased to $1.4 billion, but our share for the 11 mile revitalization ballooned to $1.2 billion as federal regulations limited the Army Corps of Engineers contribution to $200-$300 million.  While the City had no clue how it was going to come up with its share, the City Council authorized the City Administrative Officer to issue a letter to Army Corps of Engineers stating the City will have the financial capability to meet its cost sharing obligations.   

In late 2016, the revitalization plan was expanded to include the first 32 miles of the 51 mile long Los Angeles River that flow through the City, beginning in Canoga Park and ending at the Vernon line.  But once again, the cost ballooned, this time to an estimated $7 billion. The cost per mile also increased to $219 million, up 72% from the $127 million per mile for the 11 mile revitalization plan. 

Importantly, EIFDs are not permitted to fund operating expenses such as ongoing maintenance and repairs, adding another level of expense to the river revitalization plan that has not been considered.   

Consistent with past practice, Garcetti has not developed a plan to finance this aspirational, multi-decade project.  However, one alternative that is being considered by the City Council and the Economic and Workforce Development Department (“EWDD”) is Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts (“EIFD”), a new financing vehicle authorized by the State in 2015 that allows local governments to fund capital projects by diverting “incremental” property tax revenues from the City to an EIFD to finance the payment of interest and principal on long term bonds. 

In many ways, EIFDs are intended to replace the controversial and often corrupt Community Redevelopment Agencies by limiting their taxing authority to ‘consenting” entities (in this case the City and County, but not LAUSD) and requiring a 55% vote of the EIFD voters to approve the issuance of bonds. 

The recent report prepared at the request of EWDD recommends establishing nine EIFDs along the 32 miles of the river that would be entitled to collect 75% of the incremental property taxes from properties within one mile of the River due to the City and County (52% of the total as any incremental tax revenues due LAUSD would not be included) that exceed the existing assessed value.   This amount would then be reduced by interest payments, interest reserves, and delinquency reserves.  And then another 20% would be set aside for affordable housing. 

Over the next 30 years, the report indicated (but only after massaging the massive amounts of data) that over $7.6 million in incremental tax revenues would be available to the nine river EIFDs.  But after financing costs (interest, interest coverage, and reserves) and the affordable housing set aside, only $1.5 billion (20%) is available for investment in river related projects.  This is an unacceptable proposition that is dependent on issuing massive amounts of debt.  

The report also indicates that the EIFDs will not increase taxes of the properties in the district. While true, it will divert the incremental property tax revenue from the City’s General Fund, resulting in less money for services for those who live in the remaining 88% of the City based on the assessed value of all City property. Again, this is not an acceptable proposition since the City’s voters do not have a say in the matter. 

There are also issues of transparency and accountability that need to be addressed as the EFIDs may have a life span of up to 45 years and may have the ability to increase fees and assessments without the approval of the voters in the districts or the City. 

What is not to like about a revitalized Los Angeles River?  But does the river revitalization plan take priority over repairing our lunar cratered streets, our parks, and our urban forest; public safety (LAPD and LAFD); affordable housing and the homeless; and the restoration of City services.  And should the City develop a pay as you go revitalization plan instead of issuing billions in new debt?   

Before proceeding with the $7 billion river revitalization plan and the establishment of EIFDs, the City needs to reach out to the entire City and its Neighborhood Councils to determine the City’s priorities and educate the public on the revitalization plan and the intricacies of the Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts.

 

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

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LA WATCHDOG--The City is looking at an $82 million year end deficit according the Second Financial Status Report prepared by the City Administrative Officer.  This gap does not include the possibility of lower revenues from the utility users’ tax, the sales tax, parking fines, and the 8% Transfer Tax from our Department of Water and Power.  

One of the major reasons for this shortfall is that payouts from the Liability Claims Account are expected to be “at least” $135.5 million, $67 million over $68.5 million in the City’s Adopted Budget that was blessed by the City Council in May. 

Included in these payouts is a jury verdict for an eye popping $23 million in a wrongful death suit against the deep pocketed City for its failure to repair a dangerous intersection in San Pedro. The City intends to finance this cash payout by raiding its Reserve Fund that can ill afford this hit. 

And on Tuesday, the City Council approved the payment of $8 million to settle lawsuits involving three men who were shot and killed by LAPD officers.  And once again, the Reserve Fund will end up footing the bill. 

According to City Hall sources, there are a number of other lawsuits involving the Police Department that could cost the City big bucks.  But rather than take the risk of being slammed by huge verdicts from runaway juries, the City, viewed as a deep pocket by the plaintiff ‘s bar, will elect to settle many of these cases for what appears to be outrageous amounts, but tiny compared to the potential exposure. 

The City is considering financing the $67 million of excess settlements by issuing up to $70 million of Judgment Obligation Bonds.  These bonds, which must be approved by the State and are payable over a maximum of ten years, would shore up the Reserve Fund’s liquidity, an important component in protecting the City’s high quality bond ratings. 

At the same time, the bonds are paying for what is realistically considered an operating expense, allowing the City to continue to “kick the can down the road,” dumping yesterday’s obligation on tomorrow’s taxpayers. 

A classic example is the $16 million judgment for the 2007 May Day demonstrations that was financed with a 2010 Judgment Obligation Bond that will not be paid off until 2020, 13 years after this incident involving the LAPD and 295 demonstrators in and around MacArthur Park. 

Unfortunately, this low ball budgeting scam is not an isolated event.  Last year, the City budgeted $54 million for Liability Claims, but ended up forking over $110 million in settlements.  

In the future, the City needs to develop a realistic budget for it Liability Claims Account instead of relying on the Reserve Fund and Judgment Obligation Bonds.  

At the same time, the City should make the Police Department and every other City department “own” its liabilities rather than relying on the General Fund and the Reserve Fund.  This would force the Police Chief, the Fire Chief, and all department heads to focus on preventing potential liabilities.  

Finally, the City should use its political clout in Sacramento to implement tort reform as California is considered one of the country’s top “Judicial Hellholes.”  

But maybe we asking too much of Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Herb Wesson led City Council.  After all, they have our wallets to raid.  And they would not want to alienate the campaign funding lawyers who make an excellent living by suing our cash strapped City. 

 

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

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LA WATCHDOG--At the November 15 meeting of Board of Water and Power Commissioners, President Mel Levine, Vice President Bill Funderburk, and Jill Banks Barad voted to approve the $13 million Solar Rooftop Program despite the lack of any financial analysis.  But the absence of any definitive information is why Christina Noonan and Michael Fleming stood their ground and opposed this feel good, politically motivated project because there were too many unanswered questions and that it was obvious that this deal was a real stinker and was and is not in the best interest of the Ratepayers. 

Under this pilot program, our Department of Water and Power will finance, install, and maintain 1 megawatt (1,000 kilowatts) of new photovoltaic solar power on the rooftops of 400 single story, owner occupied homes in low income and underserved areas of the City.  In return, the homeowner will receive $30 a month ($360 a year) for the next 20 years pursuant to a one sided contract with the Department. 

Importantly, all the electricity produced by these rooftop solar systems will not be used by the homeowners, but will be pumped into the DWP grid and will help the Department met its renewable energy mandates of 33% by 2020 and 50% by 2030. 

But the economics of this deal stink. 

Over the next 20 years, DWP is expected to spend almost $13 million on this pilot project.  This includes $4 million for IBEW labor crews to install the photovoltaic systems over the next four years, $6 million for ongoing IBEW labor, and almost $3 million for customer lease payments.  Including the cost of borrowed money, the cost per kilowatt hour is almost 50 cents, 5 times more expensive than DWP’s purchased wholesale solar alternatives and over 3 times more expensive than the retail price of 16 cents we are charged on our ever increasing bimonthly bills. 

But it gets worse if you assume modest levels of overhead and insurance to repair damaged rooftops.  Then the price per kilowatt hour increases to 75 cents. 

But that’s not all folks!  If there are cost overruns, a common occurrence for DWP / IBEW built solar projects, the price soars to a mindboggling $1.00 per kilowatt hour.  This is more than 10 times the wholesale rate for solar power and more than 6 times the retail rate.  

And this does not include the illegal 8% Transfer Fee! 

The Board tried to justify this wildly uneconomic deal by relying on the new Equity Metrics Date Initiative claiming that the program was addressing the “solar access disparity” in the City.  But the supporting data that was prepared by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, a labor dominated organization, is unavailable and does not appear to take into consideration the sizeable investment that environmentally conscious homeowners in higher end neighborhoods have made in rooftop solar systems that have a very low return on investment.  

The Solar Rooftop Program is also a pet project of IBEW Union Bo$$ d’Arcy as 60% to 70% of the cost will be for IBEW labor.  And if for some strange reason this program manages to survive, the anticipated 40 megawatt project will cost Ratepayers over $700 million and be a cash cow for the IBEW.  

Mayor Eric Garcetti was also complicit in this Solar Rooftop Program as he approved this boondoggle pursuant to his Executive Directive No. 4 that was issued on June 24, 2014.  

With friends like Eric Garcetti and his three politically appointed Commissioners, Mel Levine, Bill Funderburk, and Jill Barad Banks, picking our pockets, who needs enemies? 

 

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

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