LATINO PERSPECTIVE--Zillow which is the leading real estate and rental marketplace dedicated to empowering consumers with data, inspiration and knowledge around the place they call home, and connecting them with the best local professionals who can help has published a report that concludes that minorities in Los Angeles are more likely to have negative equity loans. 

In LA’s predominantly Latino neighborhoods, 7 percent of all homeowners owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth — that’s compared to 4.3 percent of homeowners in predominantly white neighborhoods and 5.7 percent of all homeowners in L.A., according to the Zillow report. 

“Our previous research has shown that negative equity is more concentrated among less expensive homes, and now we know that it is also more prevalent in minority neighborhoods than in white communities, which are also trailing in the overall housing recovery,” Zillow chief economist Svenja Gudell said in a statement. “These gaps can and will have long-lasting implications for growth and equality.” 

That conclusion is important for Latino residents in Los Angeles. For Latinos one of the most, if not the most important issue facing the city of Los Angeles right now is housing and development. Latinos in particular need to pay close attention to this problem since they can be directly affected by what voters decide in regards to measure “S” and other measures. 

Housing in Los Angeles is increasingly becoming extremely expensive, and things will get worse before they get better. It just doesn’t make sense to live in this city when 50 percent or more of a family’s income goes to pay just for rent. What’s going to happen? Families will have to move out of the city and commute, this will not only increase traffic but the quality of life for all will be affected. This is not the way to grow. 

Our city leaders along with community leaders, developers, residents, and lenders need to work together and be smart about how to grow the city of Los Angeles, just look a the homelessness problem. We still have time to figure things out, let’s do it.

(Fred Mariscal writes Latino Perspective for CityWatch. He came to Los Angeles from Mexico City in 1992 to study at the University of Southern California and has been in LA ever since. He can be reached at fred.gwnc@gmail.com.)

-cw

@THE GUSS REPORT-It would be easier to write something positive about Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti if there wasn’t the gnawing feeling that virtually everything he says is torturously measured, in need of dissection and adding an asterisk or three.

For example, last week the San Diego Chargers announced they are leaving the team’s home of 56 years to come to LA … the County of Los Angeles, not the City of Los Angeles where Garcetti is Mayor.  

The Chargers wisely chose to play their next few seasons in the nearby City of Carson’s diminutive, but new and fun 30,000-seat StubHub Center and have the place filled to the brim with fans rather than in Garcetti’s half-empty, soon-to-be-vacant and soon-to-be 95-year old LA Memorial Coliseum while the Rams’ billion dollar stadium in the City of Inglewood is being built. 

So let’s back-up and dissect, shall we? 

The Chargers are moving between three cities not named Los Angeles. They are leaving San Diego, temporarily to Carson, and will eventually wind-up in Inglewood. They will only be in the City of Los Angeles if, and when, they play the soon-to-be-leaving Rams. 

But in Garcetti’s mind, he needs to make the public (i.e. voters) feel as though he accomplished something, and so put out a statement welcoming the Chargers “back to” LA: 

“….Today, we welcome an important part of (LA’s sports) history back with the Chargers returning to Los Angeles….The Chargers will make our NFL tradition even richer….” 

What NFL tradition? The City of Los Angeles does not have its own franchise anymore, and hasn’t in decades. What is this “will make” you speak of, Mayor Garcetti? 

The Chargers played in the City of Los Angeles for just one season, in 1960, when the Coliseum was only 37 years old. There was so little interest in them despite their having a winning season that on December 10, 1960 only 9,928 people attended the game in the nearly 100,000 seat Coliseum. Their highest attendance that season was 21,805. 

By “returning to” Los Angeles, Garcetti once again tries to blur the lines between the City which he does govern and the County which he does not.

The only City of Los Angeles Mayor to bring the Chargers here was C. Norris Poulson, who also lured the Dodgers to LA from Brooklyn. Garcetti misleads the public on the NFL because there is nothing that an ambitious politician loves more than those awkward stadium groundbreaking photos where he (or she) wears a pricey suit with a silver hard hat and holds a shovel. Politicians crave them because, they feel, the massive cost of the project to the taxpayers takes a backseat to being able to claim that they brought a sports team and thousands of jobs to the area. 

In each chapter of Garcetti’s career in City Hall he never got that photo so he issues statements and Tweets, all deceptively. 

(Note: there is an unintentionally humorous and ironic anecdote on Mayor Poulson’s Wikipedia page which reads “Poulson's victory in the Los Angeles mayoral race came after a contentious battle in which his opponent, incumbent Mayor Fletcher Bowron, claimed that the Los Angeles Times wanted to control city government and, by endorsing Poulson, would have a puppet in the mayor's office.)

Some things never change, but I digress. 

Garcetti’s NFL charade is nothing new. During his failed quest for the Rams to make the City of Los Angeles its permanent home, he discouraged other U.S. mayors from doing the same thing, telling ESPN, “Don't be so desperate for a sports franchise and don't put your city in debt for decades.” 

But that is precisely what Garcetti did during his 12 years on the LA City Council, six of which he spent as its president, and during his first term as Mayor. 

Last May, I wrote that City Hall squandered too much time groveling for a Super Bowl that it wouldn’t – and didn’t – get. 

And in June, I pointed out that Garcetti was still awkwardly and deceptively Tweeting that he succeeded in getting the 2021 Super Bowl when he didn’t. 

The only rich NFL tradition that Garcetti and the LA City Council have is their ill-advised begging for it, always coming up empty and never quite telling it like it is.

 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a contributor to CityWatch, KFI AM-640, Huffington Post and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

@THE GUSS REPORT-It’s so very “Rich” in both the proper noun and the adjective sort of way. Last week, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti appointed his adviser Rich Llewellyn as interim Chief Administrative Officer after Miguel Santana’s exit, a departure that is referred to in some corners of City Hall as another Garcetti mammal jumping off a sinking ship. 

It’s true that Llewellyn has held a number of Chief-of-Staff-ish positions in the City and has a background with the County government as well. That is valuable experience. But make no mistake; there is nothing about this appointment that will help unlock the gridlock, and rid us of waste and status quo. If anything, Llewellyn is the Super Glue that holds the deep dollar deceptions together.

Llewellyn has, at most junctures of his career, taken measures to suppress transparency that many of us CityWatch contributors and our brethren elsewhere work to crack open for you. 

In my own never-ending quest to shine a light on Garcetti’s deceptions, I had numerous occasions to make public records act requests of the Mayor’s office. 

The most shameful response ever written to me was by Llewellyn on April 27, 2016, and it takes the cake. 

In it, he explained the myriad reasons why I got virtually none of my requested records. One was an unwanted invasion of personal privacy, except that I did not request any private information. Another was that the documents are pre-decisional. I get that. You get that. There is no argument there. But Llewellyn’s third reason was perfectly telling about the corrupt nature of local politics. 

“….records for which the public interest served by withholding the records clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure, and may be withheld pursuant to Government Code 6255.” 

In other words, less disclosure is better than more, because the “public interest” is not, and never will be, defined. 

But as I showed in my articles throughout 2016, public interest in Garcetti World means his own personal and political interest, not ours and that of the city as a whole. 

The most telling comment about Garcetti appointing Llewellyn, who served as Chief Deputy and Chief of Staff respectively, to those paragons of virtue former City Attorney Rocky “Crash” Delgadillo and current Councilmember Paul Koretz, is this assurance from City Council President Herb Wesson: “We are pleased the Mayor is committed to a national search to fill the vacancy of Chief Administrative Officer.” 

Wesson was similarly committed to finding a replacement for Felipe Fuentes (who shockingly quit his City Council position in his first term) but decided that Fuentes’ district was better off with himself (Wesson) running it than it would be by immediately electing someone who actually lived there. 

Llewellyn is the ultimate insider where the game first and foremost involves kicking the can down the road and keeping elected officials employed in their jobs or getting them elected to the next ones. His career of knowing the insider stuff will serve the city’s 18-elected officials well, but will benefit few others. Well-paid insiders rarely do right by the people, and you shouldn’t expect this appointment to be any different.

 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a contributor to CityWatch, KFI AM-640, Huffington Post and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

 

CITYWATCH ‘FIRST PERSON’ COVERAGE BEGINS THURSDAY--More than 20 U.S. lawmakers have now said they will not attend Friday's inauguration ceremony, while Saturday's Women's March continues to gain steam. 


 

TNN Editor/Publisher Dianne Lawrence will provide ‘first person’ perspectives on Saturday’s Women’s March from Washington DC beginning Thursday in CityWatch.


 

Fusion is keeping a list of representatives who are skipping President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration—a list that grew overnight after Trump lashed out  at Rep. John Lewis in a series of tweets. 

"While I do not dispute that Trump won the Electoral College, I cannot normalize his behavior or the disparaging and un-American statements he has made," California Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) said in a statement on Saturday. "For me, the personal decision not to attend Inauguration is quite simple: Do I stand with Donald Trump, or do I stand with John Lewis? I am standing with John Lewis."

In a statement posted online Sunday morning, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) declared:

I was planning on attending the Inauguration on Friday out of respect for the office of president, while still making it back home on Saturday to attend the Women's March in Madison. However, after long consideration based on reading the classified document on Russian hacking and Trump's candidacy on Thursday, the handling of his conflicts of interest, and this weekend's offensive tweets about a national hero Rep. John Lewis, I am no longer attending the event. At minimum, it's time for Donald Trump to start acting like President Trump, not an immature, undignified reality star with questionable friends and a Twitter addiction. I hope for better, but will not hold my breath.

Speaking to Politico, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, suggested there might be similar announcements in the works. 

"You can guarantee this will cause people to organize with even greater intensity," he said of Trump's attacks on Lewis. "This will make it even more likely that additional members skip the inauguration."

Many of those who are ditching Friday's festivities have explicitly stated that they do plan to participate in the Women's March on Washington happening the following day—or in a solidarity event taking place closer to home.

The march's organizers this week released a four-page platform (pdf) described as "the definition of intersectional feminism" and "an unapologetically radical, progressive vision for justice in America." In keeping with the march's broad agenda, the document does not mention Trump, but honors "the legions of revolutionary leaders who paved the way for us to march," including Ella Baker, Berta Cáceres, Rachel Carson, Shirley Chisholm, Winona LaDuke, Audre Lorde, Gloria Steinem, and Harriet Tubman. 

"Our liberation is bound by each other's," its authors write, outlining demands including:

  • accountability and justice for police brutality and ending racial profiling and targeting of communities of color;
  • dismantling the gender and racial inequities within the criminal justice system;
  • reproductive freedom;
  • LGBTQIA rights;
  • workforce opportunities that reduce discrimination against women and mothers;
  • rights, dignity, and fair treatment for all unpaid and paid caregivers;
  • a living minimum wage;
  • restoring and protecting voting rights; 
  • ending mass deportation, family detention, violations of due process, and violence against queer and trans migrants; and
  • clean water, clean air, and access to and enjoyment of public lands.

"We believe Gender Justice is Racial Justice is Economic Justice," the document reads. "We must create a society in which women, in particular women—in particular Black women, Native women, poor women, immigrant women, Muslim women, and queer and trans women—are free and able to care for and nurture their families, however they are formed, in safe and healthy environments free from structural impediments."

There's a good chance the Women's March will outdraw Trump's inauguration—despite the president-elect's Saturday night claim that his celebration "is turning out to be even bigger than expected." 

The Washington Post reported Thursday that "far more parking permits are being sought for buses for the Women's March on Washington the day after inauguration than for the inauguration itself," according to D. C. city council member Charles Allen.

Meanwhile, pink yarn is reportedly flying off the shelves as knitters fashion pink "pussy hats" for Saturday's demonstration, and Broadway star Jennifer Holliday said this weekend that she would not, in fact, perform at an inaugural event Thursday after outcry from fans. 

(Deirdre Fulton writes for Common Dreams … where this report originated. Watch for CityWatch ‘first person’ coverage beginning Thursday.)

-cw

EXPOSED--Last week, we reported on Councilmember Cedillo’s possible violation of LA Municipal Code section 49.5.5b in his quest to keep his CD 1 seat. Cedillo doesn’t appear to be changing course, according to activist Marc Caswell, who first shared this info with CityWatch. 

One of the attendees at Cedillo’s kickoff event on Saturday emailed Caswell with additional ethics violations. Photos from the event show taxpayer funded newsletters at the check-in table – next to campaign materials, a definite no-no. (See photo above) 

He also reported at least two CD1 staff members at the event were sporting City Seals, a second no-no. (See photo below left.) 

Both activities would be in violation of the Los Angeles Governmental Ethics Ordinance (LAMC 49.5.5) for misuse of city position and resources. 

Three formal complaints have been filed detailing that at the January 14 ‘Gil Cedillo for City Council’ campaign event held at 1139 W. 6th Street, Council Office staff members Fredy Ceja and Conrado Terrazas both wore Team Cedillo windbreaker jackets, prominently displaying the official City Seal of the City of Los Angeles. 

In addition, the complaint cites Misuse of City resources through the “use of two Council Office-funded newsletters, (“1Voice/1Voz Summer 2016 and Winter 2016) distributed by City Staff at the sign-in table for the campaign event and placed beside a prominently displayed “Gil Cedillo, Democrat for City Council District 1’ banner, manned by Council Office staff members Alfonso Palacios, Suzano Muro, Moniquea Roberson, and Kimberly Salazar. 

The complainant continued: four stacks of Council Office-prepared newsletters bearing the City Council District 1 field office address of 5577 Figueroa Street were displayed and distributed adjacent to the sign-in sheets, along with “Gil Cedillo for Los Angeles 2017” buttons and stickers. The newsletters, according to the attendee, indicated that they were “published by The Office of Los Angeles City Council District 1. 

“It is unclear,” he said, “how Gilbert Cedillo’s campaign was provided with this large quantity of taxpayer-funded newsletter materials for use as a campaign advertisement at the event.” 

These reports raise serious ethics questions about the candidate. Is Cedillo … a long time Los Angeles politico … unfamiliar with the law? Does he think no one is paying attention? Or, with today’s soft corruption climate at City Hall, does Cedillo presume no one cares?

The search for answers goes on. Stay tuned.

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.)

-cw

ELECTION 2017-I heard the director of the Downtown LA BID (Business Improvement District) say to Doug McIntrye on his KABC radio show that, "the sky's the limit, regarding downtown Los Angeles real estate development." McIntyre noted how New York City has a lot of endless skyscrapers, and downtown LA is where all the skyscrapers should be, adding that the city has a lot more room to grow. 

I am usually in lock-step with McIntyre on LA municipal issues, so listening to him agree that, "the sky's the limit" on the LA skyscraper issue, made me wonder if I am being too extreme in my belief that LA is “skyscrapered” out. I'm not sure we should be The Eagles of LA real estate developers, taking it to the limit, one more time. Just because we, as a society (or municipality) can do something, doesn't mean we should. Technology and the ability to achieve and accomplish more does not mean we should just do it. 

You can walk up to an all-you-can-eat buffet and eat as much dessert as you want. Keep piling it on your plate, then go back for more and more and more. The manager won't tell you to stop, because it's all-you-can-eat. And, you're an adult now, so your parents can't tell you to stop either. You can do whatever you want to do. So what if you don't want any veggies or meat? You may only want the pudding. But in case you haven't heard, here in LA, you shouldn’t have any pudding until you finish your meat. Unfortunately, though, LA City Hall doesn’t understand this: it’s all pudding (giant, upscale luxury projects) and no meat (affordable housing for homeless and middle-class.) 

How does that apply to LA development? It's not, "the sky's the limit," it’s “the infrastructure's the limit." All this pudding has LA's infrastructure clogged up like a bad artery. Because City Council keeps going back for more and more skyscrapers we’re having problems with EMS/Fire response times. And we can't recruit enough cops for the streets. The local exit ramps don't get any wider. And the streets don't get any wider either. Water is scarce and getting more expensive. Can't jam any more parking spaces onto the same city street, just because someone paid off city officials to stick up another twenty-story, mixed use project in that area. (See Caruso's project for Koretz's district.) And, though not a City Hall issue, it’s hard enough to manage the LAUSD administration and its students. 

The city can no longer enforce itself. These developers know they can get away with more than has been permitted and no one is gonna stop them. In Venice, someone built a McMansion house out into the sidewalk. In other words, the home cut off sidewalk access. Whoops! House already built...too late. 

So, the lesson of LA City development is a lot like the lesson of life itself. It’s all about moderation, which takes discipline and that is not what’s being used at LA City Hall. Though it wasn't my intent as I started this piece, looks like it just became a "Yes on Measure S" article. So, let’s roll with it, like Steve Winwood (with some additional considerations) and vote "Yes on Measure S." 

Mayor Garcetti and LA City Council want to protect non-documented immigrants from deportation, but what about their eviction onto the streets that a skyscraper city will cause? Getting pretty competitive for sidewalk space to put up any more encampments. 

And, the evictions don't affect just immigrants. American citizens will be forced from their homes by foreign (Chinese) developers building a mega city for us lucky Angelinos! It's called “Chinafication” or “Garcettification” or "The Sky's the Limit.” 

Shanghai has geological conditions that are sub-standard to LA and yet they have some of the tallest buildings in the world. Not too difficult for us to achieve that too when our current mayor has basically thrown out building height regulations saying they were a "stupid rule.” Remember Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti's press conference, held on the flat roof of the city's 32-story AT&T Center, where he announced the law's demise, describing it as "one more stupid rule in Los Angeles?" 

On March 7, the people get to pass a smart law that Garcetti is certain to find stupid. He may think he's smarter than the rest of us, but a city's success is measured, in large part, by the amount of homeless on the street. Garcetti himself has declared a homeless emergency for Los Angeles. He’s had more say, sway and influence than anyone -- first as council president, then as mayor. So, don’t be (Shangai) suprised if Garcetti is against Measure S, and takes the China developer money. LA is one big “all you can eat” luxury condo buffet. Take another huge bite. 

Sixty-story high rises on average? No problem since "6" is a lucky number to Chinese developers! (Eighty stories is probably too high, but sixty is cool to heavenly sky proponents.) 

We could build out DTLA to accommodate a 10-12 million person population. And maybe it is a very good idea to build out DTLA as a skyscraper mega-city. The land is cheap and City Hall is easy. 

Only downside is the fate of the less fortunate: those earning less than $200,000 per year will have to move on and move out of their own neighborhoods. And you'll have to leave for work two days before you have to be there, due to traffic gridlock. 

Once the mega luxury skyscrapers go up, everything becomes more expensive. Mom and Pop mini-marts and cheap eateries are replaced with upscale, expensive counterparts. Five dollar burritos are replaced by $17 sandwiches at fancy sandwich places. Just apply that concept to everything else. If you used to own a store, now you can work for a big national chain as a clerk or maybe even a manager. 

It’s a simple choice for the voter: vote for the status quo and re-elect all City Hall incumbents. Then get half the value of your property through eminent domain, and be forced to move to Riverside. Or…vote them all out and vote Yes on Measure S.

 

(David (Zuma Dogg) Saltsburg is a candidate for Los Angeles mayor. He has been a community activist in Los Angles for more than 10 years successfully taking on City Hall on numerous occasions. Learn more here.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

LA DREAMIN’-LAX is certainly not associated with magical moments. But it was the usual LAX experience of driving through traffic mayhem to pick up a nephew, and inadvertently parking in the taxi zone (LAX needs better signage,) where the magic happened.  

I picked him up on the north side of the airport road loop, fought my way out of the traffic bottleneck in front of the Bradley International Terminal, and turned the corner onto the southern part of the loop.  

I was now traveling east, and in front of me were the LAX Lighted Pylons in a deep blue. Poking between two pylons, just under the crown, was a white, bright moon, a few days past full. It was magical. I felt like I was witnessing an ancient ritual, tied into times when the passing of the moon, the sun, the planets and the seasons had a greater resonance to life.  

The pylons are placed in a circle on both sides of Sepulveda and Century Boulevards, straddling the intersection. Evenly spaced and uniform in height, they give an aura of an ancient, mysterious ruin, placed there in the unknown past. Of course these pylons are not mysterious; they are one of the great public arts works by the City of Los Angeles, erected for the 2000 Democratic Convention held in LA, and updated in 2016.  

During the day, the glass pylons are mute, somewhat interesting in their silent, shiny glass. It is in the evening when the lights inside transform them into mysterious, magical forms. The colors change by algorithm, sometimes in tandem, other times individually.  

The rising moon, aglow in white against the dark sky and punctuated by the dark blue pylons, stopped Time. This was a modern event involving electric lights, special glass, electricity, highlighting the ancient spectacle of a rising moon. But the sights and feelings were of an ancient ritualized time-travel through modern life. 

Sadly, my gawking admiration was extremely short-lived because I was driving in the chaos of LAX traffic. My mythical experience was brutally cut short by the need to drive safely. 

The pylons also extend out in the median, moving down Century Boulevard from LAX to the San Diego Freeway, their height shortened in succession as you go eastward. 

These pylons are unique to Los Angeles, and could become a trademark for the Los Angeles region. As much as I enjoy seeing them when I go to LAX, and from neighboring Westchester, they should be spread throughout the city where they can be seen and experienced in a more human, leisurely way. 

Another transportation hub, Union Station, would benefit from the pylons, highlighting its rebirth as a transit center with increasing ridership of subway and light rail riders along with Metrolink and Amtrak passengers. 

The pylons could be placed in the Music Center Plaza which sorely needs updating. They could circle to the Lipschitz statue, and run along Grand Avenue as it transforms into a cultural corridor. 

The pylons would work perfectly in the parking lot desert of Dodger Stadium. They would do marvels in Exposition Park. They would add some artistic sensibility to LA Live.  

They could also be explosively vibrant, welcoming audiences to the Hollywood Bowl.  

The pylons represent Los Angeles, but need to spread from the chaos of LAX to places where one can just stop, stand, or sit to watch the moon pass between lighted columns as it rises in the darkened sky. 

 

(Matthew Hetz is a Los Angeles native. He is a transit rider and advocate, a composer, music instructor, and member and president and executive director of the Culver City Symphony Orchestra) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GOVERNOR’S RACE, ALREADY--This post is the first in an occasional series based on interviews with the 2018 candidates for Governor of California.

In one of the first in-depth interviews about his 2018 campaign, Antonio Villaraigosa told Calbuzz that the next governor must focus heavily on creating economic opportunities in areas of inland California that have not rebounded along with prosperous coastal cities.

“I think the folks in San Francisco and Los Angeles care about the people in San Bernardino and Fresno. I care about them,” the 63-year-old Democratic former mayor of Los Angeles and speaker of the Assembly, told Calbuzz.  “I think the best way to move forward is to move forward together. If we’re going to govern this state with a goal of restoring the luster to the California dream, we’ve got to restore it for more people.”

Speaking to and for the more conservative Central Valley and Inland Empire, where Villaraigosa in recent months has been active and visible, might not, by itself, be a winning strategy for a Democrat in a general election. However, it could prove a formidable game plan in an open primary, where the goal is to make it into the statewide top-two runoff.

Having collected more than $2 million in campaign funds since announcing his candidacy in November ((name brand contributors include Michael Eisner, Ryan Seacrest, Reed Hastings, Eli and Edythe Broad, Molly Munger, Fabian Nunez, Stewart Resnick and Monica Lozano, to name a few), Villaraigosa appears to be confronting the key question about his strategic plausibility as a candidate in what will likely be a crowded field.

“I believe strongly that the next governor has got to focus on the parts of the state that aren’t reveling in the rebound,” Villaraigosa said. When asked how this message would work for people in cities along the coast, Villaraigosa had both an idealistic and practical response: “You speak to peoples’ better angels but also to the notion of what we need to be successful” as a state that grows when prosperity is more widely shared.

First Latino since 1875? Villaraigosa is, thus far, the only Latino in the 2018 race to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown – a contest that to date includes poll leader Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Treasurer John Chiang and former Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin. Other potential candidates whose names have been floated include San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer (a Republican elected to non-partisan office), businessman environmentalist Tom Steyer, former Controller Steve Westly,  Secretary of State Alex Padilla, not to mention Silicon Valley zillionaire and the Trump quisling Peter Thiel.  

During statehood, California has not had a governor of Mexican ancestry since the brief term of Romauldo Pacheco in 1875 – and he was a Lieutenant Governor who filled out the term Gov. Newton Booth who had been elected to the U.S. Senate. No truth to the rumor Calbuzz covered that race.

While he would be the first Latino elected governor, however, Villaraigosa contends he will not make his heritage a central argument of his campaign.

“I realize everyone’s watching and as a first you have a unique responsibility to do a good job,” he said. “I want to be a governor for all of California,” he added. “I’m not focused so much on breaking that glass ceiling. I never have – not when I was speaker, not when I was mayor. I wanted to focus on governing.”

BE governor or govern? Your Calbuzzers, who’ve posed this question to gubernatorial wannabes for decades, asked Tony V. if he wants to be governor or if he wants to govern and, if the latter, specifically, what he wants to do. His reply:

I’m not looking for a job. I’m not looking for power or fame or privilege. I want to do something with the job. I’ve been majority whip, majority leader and speaker of the Assembly … My 20 years in political life has been about wanting to do big things … [When running for mayor] I told people, dream with me and I tried to do big things around education, transportation, infrastructure, jobs, the environment, public safety. And that’s what I want to do as governor. I want to govern. I want to take on the big challenges that this state faces.

He said he recognizes the enormity of the challenge. “My buddies make fun of me – in fact some of them have actually questioned my sanity,” he said. “You gotta take risks and you gotta be willing to fall on your face.”

He declined to say why he’s better for the job than his competitors.

They’re all good people and I don’t have any negatives to say about anybody, particularly so early in the race. I would just say this: I think what I bring to the table is that I’m a leader and a risk taker … I don’t want to compare myself to the others. But I’m willing to speak truth to power and take on the tough issues and I’ve had a knack for bringing people with me.

Yes and no, actually.

As our friend, the indispensable Seema Mehta wrote in the LA Times when Villaraigosa was considering running for Barbara Boxer’s Senate seat: “Though Villaraigosa began his career in labor, he made enemies in that camp while he was mayor, notably by questioning the power of teachers unions. They are a critical group in a Democratic primary with the resources to shape the race — and to go all in to block his effort.”

California resistance. We asked Villaraigosa about the unprecedented dominant issue facing California: what the state must do in the face of the Trump Regime and GOP control of Congress.

I don’t want to spend my time screaming at Washington, DC. We need to double down on what we do well…expanding our economy, improving our business climate, creating jobs … [especially] in parts of the state that are not benefitting from that job growth and that economic success … not just lead the nation and world in setting climate change goals but double down on creating green jobs that provide a double bottom line for improving our business climate and improving our climate …

[California also should] use the courts where we are being threatened in a way that violates our constitution or our state prerogatives and use every tool at our disposal to challenge where we have to. But I think the best way to fight them is to double down on our success, to deepen it and to broaden it, to focus on what has worked for California …

We have to double down on what we do well, make the economy work for more people, lift more people into the middle class, train more of our folks for the jobs in the new economy, create more jobs in the places where the California rebound is non-existent or barely existent.

That’s a lot of doubling down on doubling down.

On more specific issues, Villaraigosa was clear on some and squishy on others.

High Speed Rail:

There are 16 countries that either have high-speed rail or will build it. We have to get into the 21st Century. There’s no question that there are various technologies available but ultimately the notion that we wouldn’t make an investment in high-speed rail is not a notion that I’m willing to accept, not in California. So I support high-speed rail.

However, he added, we need to “value-engineer” it and “leverage it” by, for example, making investments in housing and job creation near train stations in Fresno and other parts of the Central Valley.

Gov. Brown’s twin tunnels water project:

Before I’d be supportive of that project I think we need to do a lot more to recycle, capture water runoff, clean up our underground aquifers, store water, look at the two dams that were promised in 1999… an all-of-the-above strategy that doesn’t require that kind of investment first – then the tunnels are an option.

Keeping MediCal under Trump:

The last time I looked there’s only one governor and it’s Gov. Brown … [Villaraigosa notes he wouldn’t take office until Jan 2019] … The state will have made some decisions long before that. I’m well aware that what we’re looking at right now, Jerry is facing somewhere between a 20 to 40 billion dollar cut. I think most people think it will be, at a minimum, the elimination of MediCal. So we’ve got our work cut out for us.

Our goal has to be to provide care for them, understanding that we’ve got to pay for it…And that $20 billion hole on top of the $1.8 billion (projected deficit) that he announced – we’ve got our work cut out for us. I certainly support the notion that that’s what our goal has to be…That’s why these policies [Trump’s] are such a threat because we have expanded health care to a greater degree than any state in the country.

We’re not sure a guy who wants to be the next governor can just stand aside and hope such a massive problem, with tragic human consequences, will be cleaned up before he takes office. (Devil’s advocate here, but maybe he should advance a strategy that could make him stand out when he’s actually in a multi-candidate campaign for governor. But, hey, if we were smart we would have become political consultants making 15 percent on every multi-million dollar campaign TV buy).

We also asked Villaraigosa to boil his campaign down to a simple bumper-sticker theme. He said he hadn’t thought about that although maybe it would be “Giving Voice to Every Californian.” Pretty big bumper strip or really small type.

He might do well to just accept the Calbuzz moniker we gave him years ago, based on his birth name,  Antonio “Tony” Ramón Villar, Jr., as in Voz Para Mi: Tony V. 

(Jerry Roberts is a California journalist who writes, blogs and hosts a TV talk show about politics, policy and media. Phil Trounstine is the former political editor of the San Jose Mercury News, former communications director for California Gov. Gray Davis and was the founder and director of the Survey and Policy Research Institute at San Jose State University. This piece appeared originally in CalBuzz.)

-cw

DEEGAN ON LA-Which hangover are you trying to shake: the overindulgence of New Year’s Eve or the game changer National Election in November? Want a triple-header head-splitter? In just three weeks you can start voting by mail for or against the momentous issue of “uncontrolled” development, whether or not you like the Mayor, and the chance to sweep some political newcomers into City Council offices. Unfortunately, turnout cannot be expected to be as high as the stakes. Voter fatigue has lots to do with that. 

The centerpiece of the balloting will be Measure S, aka the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, that would enact a moratorium on “spot zoning” variances as one of its main provisions, if enough voters say “yes.” 

Voter turnout is one of the two pressures that will be driving the outcome of the election. The other is the opportunity to Vote by Mail that starts on February 6. Up to one-third of the city’s voters take advantage of early voting, so it’s urgent that candidates get their message out hard and fast, now, to win over the minds of these leading edge voters. These days, voters make up their minds and cast their ballots up to thirty days ahead of the actual election. How candidates and supporters react to both of influential factors could provide them with an advantage. 

Primary elections historically attract a very low turnout. On the heels of our intense recent election, who really has the interest or stamina for this primary? This is a situation that will benefit aggressive campaigners for the odd-numbered council district seats that are up for grabs. The number of “yes” votes needed to elect someone, or to pass or defeat Measure S, may be exceptionally low, thanks to the shrunken base of who actually votes compared to the number of all registered voters. 

The winning ground game could be twofold: 

  • Knowing how voters feel about Measure S, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, and aligning campaign pledges and promises to meet those pro or con expectations. There are massive campaigns running both for and against the measure. Development is the hottest issue on the March ballot. 
  • Capitalizing on early Vote-By-Mail (VBM) that starts on February 6. The traditional get out the vote (GOTV) models cannot be counted on in our new post-truth world, where emotion overrules fact and news can be fake; mailboxes stuffed with flyers can no longer be certain to work. Development partisans are so passionate and emotional on both sides of the issue that getting them to vote early by mail could jump start a campaign. 

Some say that there are a lot of good things about Measure S, like the expedited timelines for upgrading community and general plans, and the requirement that the city, not the developers, be the client for EIR’s. In addition, the measure calls for the elimination of spot zoning and a “moratorium” for up to two years on construction that increases development density and it prohibits project-specific amendments to the city's General Plan, thereby restricting the size and number of development projects. 

Opponents of Measure S, led by the voice of labor leader Rusty Hicks, say, In November, an overwhelming majority of Angeleno voters passed Prop. JJJ to create affordable housing and good jobs for LA's middle class. Just four months later, LA's working families are facing an unprecedented rollback on progress. Trump and his supporters are trying to dismantle the progress we’ve made, from healthcare to the EPA. Trump’s vision of America doesn’t stand a chance in LA. Don’t let them roll back our progress. Measure S, which will be on the March ballot, is the height of selfishness. A cynical ploy to stop virtually all housing construction in LA, including housing for the homeless.” Hicks adds that the measure is a “pile of S.” 

The LA City Council races (for odd-numbered districts) have some young political newcomers with decades of potential public service ahead of them. They’re worth listening to by anyone who cares how the next generation will grapple with the legacy their predecessors leave behind. Right now, it’s not an enviable dowry, with budget and pension problems, rampant development, and increasing allegations of corruption and back-room dealing at City Hall. A credible showing at the polls by any of them will help put politicos on notice that times are changing. 

But first, everyone must vote, and that’s the bigger challenge right now -- activating voters. The clock is ticking: vote by mail starts February 6, and could be the wild card. About one-quarter to one-third of voters now vote early, so making the sale immediately has more importance than ever.

 

(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at timdeegan2015@gmail.com.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--Neighbors had been complaining for years.  “My dog kept picking up the chicken bones their customers threw on our lawns.”  “They would start at 1 pm and keep going till 1 am.”   The 2918 S. Rimpau residence responsible for the community distress was owned by Vincent Bowens and called Dilly’s Kitchen (photo below left). He served Jamaican food which won great online reviews and had a strong following that grew as hipsters discovered it.  Dilly’s was even registered with the city.  Only one problem.  It was a commercial enterprise in a residential zone.   It was illegal.  Bowens who had a large kitchen facility in his backyard, claimed he only ran a catering business but the customers coming and going all day and the online reviews spoke differently.  

Then it happened. In the early hours of a recent Saturday morning there was a shoot out that left 4 people dead and 12 injured.   One of the men killed, Robert Davis, also known as Rodigan, was a reputed Jamaican gang leader from Kingston.  Two Jamaican men Mowayne McKay, 33 and Diego Reid 25 were booked shortly after and released when prosecutors realized they needed more evidence to file charges.  Their attention soon turned to a Jamaican national named Marlon Jones who was immediately put on the FBI's Most Wanted list, the 510th person since the list's creation in 1950.  On Dec. 3rd it was reported that they had taken a man into custody believed to be the suspect.  

Prior repeated complaints to the police and Building and Safety about the nuisance yielded no results for the neighbors.  It took these murders to finally shut down Dilly's.  Mr. Bowens is headed back to Jamaica.  

In another part of mid-city, several neighbors express distress over another weekly party house with its loud discussions that turn into loud arguments as the booze flows and the evening wears on.  Because it isn’t illegal to have a party it is very difficult to prove that money is exchanging hands for either entry, liquor, food or all of the above. Vice needs to be called in, and undercover detectives have to get involved.   

But there may be relief for neighbors who have to endure these noisy, relentless, and disrespectful to the community, illegal party houses.  Apparently it has been a huge problem in Councilmember Ryu’s District 4 which includes part of the Hollywood Hills where houses are sometimes bought for the express purpose of being rented out for parties.  So early in November Councilmember Ryu introduced legislation which was passed unanimously by City Council. It instructed the City Attorney, in consultation with the Los Angeles Police Department  to draft an ordinance regulating  party houses.   

From Ryu’s Motion 

“Unfortunately, our current enforcement tools (LAMC 41.57, 41.58, 12.27.1, 112.01(b), and 116.01) are not strong enough. Enforcement by LAPD of the City’s noise ordinance does not provide the police enough tools to discourage the next offense. Additional tools in our building codes are almost impossible to enforce as there is little to no building inspector availability on a Friday or Saturday night when most parties occur. Over the years, the City has attempted to grapple with this problem. Motions have been introduced (CFs 02-2476, 06-1231,07-0184, 12-1824) on multiple occasions over the past fifteen years to deal with this problem, to no avail.” 

His ordinance instructs the City Attorney to draft a motion that will return to City Hall for approval. It includes the following:  

- Adds additional activities typically found at an unruly party as a ‘nuisance per se’ that LAPD can identify as being associated with a “Party House”; 

- Provides for escalating fines for successive violations to both the party host and, crucially, the property owner; 

- Requires posting a public notice of violation on the property, that will serve to notify the neighborhood that the property is under a violation period of a set number of days where addition unruly parties will lead to higher fines or even criminal charges for excessive numbers of violations; 

- Includes liens on properties for property owners who fail to pay fines; 

- Includes additional fines for commercial events or parties held at a residential unit; 

- Includes a prohibition on any home-sharing or short-term rental activity during a posted notice of violation period. 

Looks like the party's over. 

 

(Dianne V. Lawrence is editor/publisher of The Neighborhood News, a community magazine in Mid-City and is Editor-at-Large for CityWatch Neighborhood Politics.)

AMENDMENTS WILL REDUCE HOME SIZE LIMITS--Despite citywide ordinances to stop mansionization, Angelenos from Venice to Boyle Heights have seen their neighborhoods blighted by spec-built McMansions that loom over their neighbors and violate the character of established neighborhoods. Remedies have been in the works for nearly three years, since Councilmember Paul Koretz initiated amendments to the ineffectual ordinances.

This coming Wednesday, January 18, the matter will finally enter the home stretch with a hearing by the City Council’s PLUM (Planning & Land Use Management) Committee. The amendments will reduce size limits for homes in single-family zones throughout the City of Los Angeles and provide the framework for a slew of related zoning measures.

What had been a routine, slow-moving process gained drama and speed last month. After a surprise vote by the PLUM Committee to weaken the amendments on November 29, Council President Wesson took things in hand. Barely a week later, the Council voted unanimously to reverse the PLUM decision.

Now the amendments are coming back to PLUM for what should be the last hearing before a full Council vote. Councilmember Koretz, who played a key role in getting the amendments back on track, is pressing for one more fix: to count front-facing attached garages as floor space.  

The treatment of attached garages figured prominently Koretz’s original Council Motion and has been a rallying cry among homeowners and residents since Day One. They contend that the exclusion of attached garages from floor space adds 400 square feet of bloat, eliminates the buffer a driveway provides, and rewards a design feature that disrupts the look and feel of many LA neighborhoods.

At the City Planning Commission hearing last July, Commission President David Ambroz underscored the logic of counting attached garages when he commented, “Square footage is square footage.”

In advance of the hearing on Wednesday, supporters of reform are expected to again take aim at this 400 square foot “freebie” with messages drawn from the campaign website.  They are also expected to turn out in force at the hearing.

Wednesday’s specially-scheduled PLUM session should be lively. The agenda also includes the hotly-contested development that Rick Caruso wants to build on La Cienega Boulevard, which would be much bigger than city code allows. As our elected officials grapple with the fallout from the “Sea Breeze” development scandal and brace for an initiative on the March ballot to stop spot zoning (Measure S), the votes taken on Wednesday will offer this year’s first glimpse of things to come.  

  • ACTION INFO (How you can help by calling or speaking)

Phone script

“The amendments to the citywide mansionization ordinances are finally is good shape, but one key issue still needs work: We must count attached garages as floor space.”

Here are phone numbers for the PLUM Committee members:

José Huizar (Committee chair) – 213-473-7014

Gil Cedillo – 213-473-7001

Mitchell Englander – 213-473-7012

Marqueece Harris-Dawson – 213-473-7008

Curren Price – 213-473-7009

Speaker’s notes

Last month the City Council reinstated sensible floor-area ratios for single-family homes, and the amendments to the citywide mansionization ordinances are finally in good shape.   But one core issue still needs work: We must count front-facing garages as floor space.

They disrupt the look and feel of neighborhoods, eliminate the buffer provided by a driveway, and add a whopping 400 square feet of bloat to a house.

Allow front-facing attached garages, but count every square inch as part of the floor space of the house.

Half-baked compromises ruined the mansionization ordinances the first time. We cannot make the same mistake again.  

(Shelley Wagers is a homeowner, community activist, an expert on Los Angeles’ mansionization crisis and an occasional contributor to CityWatch.

-cw

EDUCATION POLITICS--On March 7, 2017 we will have a primary election for three of the seven seats on the LAUSD Board. If no one candidate for a given seat receives a majority of votes in the primary, that will be followed on May 16 by a run-off in the general election.

In going over the new and incumbent candidates’ statements, one cannot help but be struck by the fact that none of these candidates has put forth a detailed, substantive platform to address LAUSD’s endemic problems that have been the cause of long-time failure, causing it to be on the verge of both financial and academic bankruptcy. 

The notion of "supporting a strong quality public education for all" is right up there with motherhood and apple pie, but none of the candidates -- be they new or incumbent – has addressed how to fix this school system in which students continue to be socially promoted without mastering prior grade-level standards. This has pretty much made it impossible to create a "strong quality public education." 

But how do you "strengthen core subjects and electives programs" in a district with a 50% chronic truancy rate? This fact is completely antithetical to the recent disingenuous assertion of LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King who touted a "100% graduation rate," a claim that has gone unchallenged by the present LAUSD Board of Directors and the mainstream media. 

It sounds nice to talk about increasing school electives, but the reality is that virtually all industrial arts programs have been closed down throughout the District. The classes could give students an employable skill or one with which they could earn enough money to pay for a post K-12 education. This has happened as both the LAUSD administration and the Board refuse to recognize that the total capacity of all colleges and universities in the United States is at only 30% of high school graduates. So what is everybody else supposed to do to stay out of jail? 

I wish one of these candidates would tell me how you "reduce class size, stabilize classrooms, support all staff and establish appropriate discipline strategies," when the LAUSD administration and the Board have spent their energy targeting senior teachers at the top of the salary scale using false charges in order to hire cheaper fresh-out-of-college "teachers" on emergency credentials. 

This has created a critical shortage of experienced teachers. Add to this the continued huge number of students moving from LAUSD to charter schools and you wind up with the remaining LAUSD classrooms filled with 40 or more students, creating over-crowding in a misguided attempt to stem the hemorrhaging of money. 

And of course, since LAUSD gets paid by Average Daily Attendance (ADA) -- measured exclusively by how many warm butts are in seats, rather than an objective measurement of academic achievement -- LAUSD allows chaos to reign in the classroom in order to receive more money from the state and federal governments. 

Administrators are loathe to suspend students ($$$) who are then left free to disrupt classes on a regular basis to the detriment of all other students and teachers; it’s nearly impossible to teach or learn in this administratively tolerated bedlam. Could that be why enrollment in teacher credentialing programs is down to an historic low? 

If any candidate for LAUSD Board is truly interested in positing a three-dimensional, detailed platform to address corporate and administrative corruption and to turn around what used to be a great school district, I would be happy to endorse them. Any takers? Look at it this way: given the extreme levels of student, parent, teacher, and voter apathy, it will not take a whole lot of votes to get you elected.

 

(Leonard Isenberg is a Los Angeles observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He was a second generation teacher at LAUSD and blogs at perdaily.com. Leonard can be reached at Lenny@perdaily.com) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

CORRUPTION WATCH-Poor Steven Mnuchin. People do not see the fiscal nightmare facing the Secretary of the Treasury designate, Los Angeles’ own Steven Mnuchin. The nation lived through the Crash of 2008 and well into 2009 with little Timmy Geithner. Now, in 2017, few people realize that the current upswing in the business cycle -- with the Dow-Jones approaching 20,000 -- signals an incipient financial crash. 

Poor Steven Mnuchin. Trump labors under the notion that the “latest, best and greatest” economic theory is Mercantilism, which is actually from 1550. He thinks forcing manufacturing to be done within the U.S. and raising tariffs will improve our economy. But Trump’s protectionist policies cannot cure unemployment. (General Theory, Ch 23 ¶ 3) And introducing inflation into the new car market will not help the middle or lower classes. To the extent that Trump increases the cost of new cars by insisting they be manufactured here, he will retard the car manufacturing economy. We assume that Mnuchin knows this and should know how to head off these problems caused by Mercantilism. 

Poor Steven Mnuchin. Due to the gross economic incompetence of the Obama Administration, he will have to re-wind history and first undertake measures that Obama-Geithner failed to take, such as: 

1) Replace Dodd-Frank with a beefed up reinstatement of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act. “Beefed up” means closing the loopholes that the GOP courts had cut into Glass-Steagall.   

2) Outlaw Credit Default Swaps (CDSs) which are weapons of mass economic destruction. CDSs are criminal evasions of insurance laws. 

3) Insure all residential mortgages and require all LLCs and LLPs that own residential real estate to disclose their real party in interest. This form of mortgage insurance is based on the income of the actual human beings who are liable for the mortgages, and thus, their identities have to be known. The side benefit of such disclosure is that it kicks the money laundering of drug kingpins and foreign oligarchs out of the residential real estate market. The government has a duty to make certain that the value of residential real estate is based on its value as living space and not on other illicit motives. 

4) Reinstate the portions of the 1936 Commodities Exchange Act which limited the participation of Wall Street speculators like Mnuchin’s Goldman Sachs from the commodities market. The purpose of investment houses is to find investment capital for businesses and not to make money in commodities where it has no underlying stake in that commodity. 

5) Stop the Corruptionism in the housing industry which is leading to the Federalization of Local Debt

Los Angeles Corruptionism and the Federalization of Local Debt 

Poor Steven Mnuchin: While the Secretary designate no doubt knows about this looming disaster, no one in Congress has a clue. As a result, during his confirmation hearing set for Thursday January 19, 2017, he will not be grilled about this on-going problem which has led to horrendous inflation in the housing market. How can he ward off what no one else knows is coming? 

What Is the Federalization of Local Debt? 

Corrupt local governments like the LA City Council and our Mayor Eric Garcetti are seizing control of the “stimulus” mechanism of Keynesian economics. Allowing a local government to rack up so much debt that it can never pay its bills is like giving a nursery school toddler a bunch of matches and a can of gasoline, and then asking, “Gee what went wrong?” Yet, this is exactly what the Obama Administration has done nationwide. 

Unless the Trump Administration takes the matches and gasoline away from Eric Garcetti and the mayors of other major American cities, these cities will pile up so much debt trying to stimulate their local economies that the federal government will have no choice but to provide massive municipal bailouts. The Trump Administration will then lose control of the national economy. 

No Administration Can Allow Local Governments to Abuse the Keynesian Stimulus Protocol 

Poor Steven Mnuchin: His own home city of Los Angeles is intentionally running its debt up so high that it cannot possibly pay it, ensuring that the federal government will have no choice but to bail us out. The Villaraigosa and Garcetti Administrations have brought economic disaster on LA. Their plan to stimulate the local economy was and is based on a fool’s understanding of Keynesian stimulus, that just spending billions will do the trick. And the Garcetti Administration apparently believes it can escape bankruptcy because LA is “too big to fail.” 

How Corruptionism at LA City Hall Is Destroying Our Economy 

The City of Los Angeles has already destroyed the proper relationship between the marginal efficiency of capital (MEC) and interest rates for the housing market. Because the housing market is so large, its fall-out has harmed the entire LA economy, prompting the middle class to abandon the City. 

From a macro-economics point of view, the government, when making investments in private projects, has to assess factors that businessmen may ignore. When investing in a private project like Hollywood-Highland or the Grand Avenue Project, LA must take into account other costs which will be required of it if the Project is built -- basically the cost of additional infrastructure. Explicitly, a city needs to consider not only the interest it has to pay on loans to the Project but also the cost of infrastructure that will service the project in order to calculate the profit the City must receive from that project. (Since the City does not operate on a Cash Basis, it has to pay interest on all funds given or loaned to a private project.) 

For a city, the amount of its incremental tax revenue on a project is its profit. Thus, the City which invests in a real estate project like the CIM Midtown Project in City Council President Wesson’s CD 10 has to make sure the additional taxes flowing into the public treasury from the City’s investment will exceed not only the interest rate the City pays for money it borrows to “lend” to CIM Group, but that the project’s tax revenue will more than pay for all the necessary infrastructure upgrades including roads, water, power, police, fire and paramedics. (One also has to consider “retroactive gifts” where the City co-signs for a developer’s loan on which the developer will then default.) 

Unless a City can guarantee its investment in a project will generate more in taxes than the interest rate and more than the costs of infrastructure, the investment will have a negative Profit. (Donald Trump would certainly tweet out “Loser.”) Because of the vast corruption in the Los Angeles City Council, the city usually gives sales taxes and often gives the incremental property taxes to developers. When their LLCs or LLPs go bankrupt, the loans made by or guaranteed by the City are repaid to Wall Street from the City coffers. This is how Los Angeles is building its way into bankruptcy. 

How De Facto Negative Interest Rates in the Housing Market Harm the Entire Economy 

Projects with a de facto negative interest rate attract private investment capital to bad projects. This misdirection of private capital then harms the rest of the economy by depriving more productive ventures of the capital they need. 

Un-repaid Loans Increase the City’s Losses 

The harm of a de facto negative rate of interest is magnified when the City does not require repayment of the loaned funds. Such a situation is fraught with corruption as the developer will then be induced to “over pay” for product and pocket the difference between the “book price” it alleges it is paying for goods such as steel and the lower actual price. A lender that demands repayment will scrutinize suspect purchases, but when the City forgives loans or pays off Wall Street loans for a developer, no one asks any questions. 

One variant of this type of this skimming is developer’s purchasing lower quality steel for projects while the books show the purchase of a higher quality. When the steel is manufactured far away from the construction site, let’s say Chinese steel is purchased for high rises in earthquake prone downtown Los Angeles, there is no way to ensure quality control. 

As an aside, the Mercantilist contingent of the Trump Administration should be concerned when the Chinese government, acting through CORE, invests $200 million in the Grand Avenue Project; the City is obligated, behind the scenes, to purchase Chinese steel. As a result, American steel producers are closed out and the money ends up back in the pockets of the Chinese government. Economically speaking it is similar to Los Angeles’ building its new skyscrapers in Beijing. 

CRAs and EIFDs Guarantee the City will Slide to Bankruptcy 

When the City uses entities like the now-defunct Community Redevelopment Agency or a misleadingly named Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District (EIFD), all the profits (incremental taxes) go to them, reducing the City’s profit to zero. Zero rate of return for the City is a huge gift to the developer since the CRA or EIFD then give the City’s profit back to the developers. Even if a project is a terrible failure by traditional measures, it will pay some taxes (the city’s profit) but all that money comes back to the developers. 

Because even financially disastrous projects can make money for the developer, money flows towards these projects. It is similar to Wall Street executives’ manufacturing defective bundles of mortgages and then buying credit default swaps [CDSs] on them. Although the investment vehicle will crash, the executives will realize huge personal paydays. When they repeat this corrupt scam a sufficient number of times, the firms issuing the CDSs go bankrupt or the government pays trillions of dollars to bail them out. Likewise, a city that has CRAs or EIFDs and invests in foolish projects like Hollywood-Highland or Grand Avenue, will run out of cash to pay its debts. 

The Keynesian Duty to Protect the Price Structure or Why Los Angeles Has Run-away Inflation in its Housing Market 

Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek and John Maynard Keynes accepted as axiomatic the need for the government to protect the Price System. In the housing market, the cost of homes has to represent their value as living space. Residences cannot continue to be vehicles for financial speculation and corruptionism, as has occurred in Los Angeles. 

After Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed AB 2531 in 2010, which was Garcetti’s attempt to bring Kelo eminent domain to the entire city of Los Angeles, and after Governor Brown staved off bankruptcy by abolishing the corrupt Community Redevelopment Agencies in 2012, the City of Los Angeles under the leadership of then-City Council President and now Mayor Eric Garcetti went hog wild into Spot Zoning. Despite the warning by Planning Director Gail Goldberg in 2006 not to let developers dictate the zoning they wanted for their projects, Garcetti’s policy has been to up-zone any property the developers want, subject apparently to a hefty contribution to his Mayor’s Fund. Developer Leung paid $60,000; developer Caruso paid $125,000.   

From the macro-economic perspective, the extortion-bribery aspect of the Los Angeles housing market fuels the destruction of the Price System for housing based upon the its value as living space. The value of housing now reflects its speculative value. By allowing any property to be up-zoned upon the payment of the appropriate sums of money to the mayor and city council, the middle class has been priced out of the single family housing market and they are moving away from Los Angeles. 

This irreversible brain drain of the Gen Xers and Family Millennials impacts all other segments of the Los Angeles economy. People “osmosisize” themselves away from areas of high cost and low opportunity toward areas of low cost and high opportunity. 

This dynamic explains why developers are lining up to build in Los Angeles, while the real demand for housing is declining. With a de facto negative rate of interest where developers make money even if a project is a financial failure, building mega office towers and hotels based on this type of corruption makes them fantastically wealthy. (The demand for housing for Los Angeles’ poor is up because Garcetti has been destroying rent-controlled properties in order to manufacture additional homelessness so the public will approve billion dollar bonds for his developer friends.) 

Poor Steven Mnuchin: The State of California and the City of Los Angeles have already reached the insolvency point. Last week Governor Brown announced a $1.6 billion deficit and the City of Los Angeles lacks the funds to pay all the judgments from its liability lawsuits. Within a short period of time, Mnuchin will be forced to bail out the City of Los Angeles. When Federalization of Local Debt rescues Los Angeles, how can the Trump Administration deny it to NYC, Chicago or Cincinnati?

 

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney. He can be reached at: Rickleeabrams@Gmail.com. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

LA … WHO ARE WE?--The brilliant new film musical La La Land is being celebrated as a love letter to Los Angeles. But the darker heart of the movie lies in a brief and devastating critique of Southern California, delivered by the jazz pianist played by Ryan Gosling.

“That’s LA,” he tells his lover, an aspiring actress played by Emma Stone. “They worship everything and they value nothing.”

There has been no better recent summary of the California struggle—with the very notable exception of the 2015 novel, The Sellout, whose author Paul Beatty recently became the first American to win the prestigious Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

La La Land and The Sellout seem very different. On the surface, the film, an Oscar favorite, might appear to be a glossy escapist romance about white artists who hang out in Griffith Park. The novel is a taboo-trashing racial satire about an African-American urban farmer of watermelons and artisanal weed who reintroduces segregation to his neglected South LA neighborhood, ostensibly in hopes of putting it on the map. (His real agenda is even more deliciously subversive).

But the film and the novel are two of the most thought-provoking and entertaining documents of today’s California. And both are about the same big problem: that for all our celebration of successful game changers in this state, we offer precious little space or support to those who dare to upset our blissful status quo.

The film and the book also make the same provocative argument about how to break through the Golden State’s stacked deck: Don’t be afraid to do things that are totally nuts.

To make an impact here, you must embrace, and express, your inner madman. Both works specifically champion a self-sacrificing craziness, a willingness to surrender yourself and the people you love to focus on making your mark. Here, hitsville and heartbreak are two sides of the same heavy coin.

La La Land makes a straightforward case for crazy. Gosling’s musician is the film’s romantic hero, because of his uncompromising commitment to restoring traditional jazz even though he can’t pay his bills because the rest of the world is abandoning the form. Stone’s frustrated actress only inches closer to the red carpet when she devotes herself, against conventional wisdom, to producing her one-woman play in a theater she can’t afford to rent.

And in the audition scene in which she finally breaks through, she embraces the virtues of craziness in song: “A bit of madness is key to give us new colors to see. Who knows where it will lead us?”

Both the film and the book wrestle with the conflict between loyalty to one’s dreams and selling out—and in the process point out just how hard it is here to tell the difference between the two.

Beatty’s novel similarly suggests that, to smash through the California looking-glass world, the sanest course may be to go right over the edge. The farmer refuses to accept the city of LA’s erasure of his minority neighborhood (it’s called Dickens, in one of Beatty’s winking allusions to artists who embraced thorny social themes). And so the farmer fights this fire of systemic discrimination by violating dozens of laws and cultural norms. Most outlandishly, he takes a slave, who helps him segregate the local school, hospital, bus line, and businesses to the advantage of racial minorities. (He puts up signs reading “Colored Only” and “No Whites Allowed” all over Dickens).

Beatty’s satire is so rich and layered—no one is left unskewered, from white supremacists to our first black president—that it’s futile to attempt to convey it in a short column. But I will mention two of the most provocative parts of the politically incorrect plot—how long it takes for anyone outside the community to notice the farmer’s segregation edicts, and how, through the farmer’s loopy and unconstitutional acts, seeds of tolerance and kindness (lower crime, higher test scores, more polite behavior) take root.

“The racism takes them back,” the farmer explains. “Makes them humble. Makes them realize how far we’ve come and, more important, how far we have to go.” And it is only through embracing racism that the farmer makes his impact—and a point. As a judge in the novel remarks, “In attempting to restore his community through reintroducing precepts, namely segregation and slavery, that, given his cultural history, have come to define his community despite the supposed unconstitutionality and nonexistence of these concepts, he’s pointed out a fundamental flaw in how we as Americans claim we see equality.”

The Sellout and La La Land keep the reader and viewer enjoyably engaged and off-guard because they leaven their tough messages with comedy (the movie takes on screenwriting and the Prius, while the novel imagines “the Untouchables” in its caste system as starting with Clipper fans and traffic cops). And both works, for all their high ambition, fall back on some wondrous magical realism as an escape hatch from the difficult tonal and political juggling acts they perform. The La La lovers literally float into the stars through the ceiling of the Griffith Park Observatory, while The Sellout Metro bus becomes a rolling party that ends with the vehicle being driven into the Malibu surf.

The Sellout feels especially current because it breaks political ground, even becoming the first artwork to satirize our state’s fastest-rising representative, Attorney General-turned U.S. Senator-turned-presidential wannabe Kamala Harris. Once the farmer is finally arrested, an unnamed black-and-Asian-American California attorney general shows up in Prada shoes to prosecute him for violations of major civil rights laws, the 13th and 14th amendments, and six of the Ten Commandments.

Both the film and the book wrestle with the conflict between loyalty to one’s dreams and selling out—and in the process point out just how hard it has become to tell the difference between the two. And both get at a painful paradox. We know we must hold onto real people and real things, to be truly human. But in LA, we learn we must loosen our grip on reality to get noticed, and get ahead. It’s not just lonely at the top; it’s lonely on the whole journey up the California mountain.

In this way, both masterpieces ultimately raise the question of whether making your mark here is worth the cost. It may be that the real winners in this California are those who don’t bother to play the game and navigate the hurdles to ambition—and instead plop themselves down in unfancy places where they can enjoy warm weather and their loved ones in blessed obscurity.

No character in the book or the movie is happier in Beatty’s satirized world than the farmer’s slave, an aging actor named Hominy from the 1950’s TV show Little Rascals who refuses all efforts to free him. Trying to be a star in LA is so confounding that he prefers the simplicity of servitude.

“I’m a slave. That’s who I am,” he insists to the farmer. “It’s the role I was born to play.”

After all, if you’re going to live in a place that values nothing, then why fight so hard to be something?

(Joe Mathews is Connecting California Columnist and Editor at Zócalo Public Square … where this column first appeared. Mathews is a Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010).)

-cw

CORRUPTION WATCH-Hamlet anguished over “To be or Not to Be,” but in November, 2016 Californians quickly answered the question of “To Kill or Not to Kill” with a rousing “Kill ‘Em.” Then Californians slapped on an addendum – “Kill ‘Em Faster.” 

Prop 66 also gives a lot of power to the trial court judge who has presided over a legal case to thwart an effective review of the conviction. Due to legal challenges, the California Supreme Court put Proposition 66 on hold and Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and Justice Ming Chin had to recuse themselves from hearing the case since they are two of the defendants. The Los Angeles Times has discussed the procedural aspects of this case.

We Cannot Entrust Our Lives to the California Courts 

California’s judiciary is an ethical swamp. As briefly discussed in a prior CityWatch article, California’s court system is a disgrace to the notion of justice. 

People who are used to living within a polluted environment come to accept the status quo without question. In the 1950s many people inhaled the exhaust of buses, feeling good about the sign of progress, oblivious to the dangers of lead poisoning and other toxins. Many people fought against cleaning the air and still argue in favor of smog and against a clean environment. When assessing the State of California’s judicial ecology, take a look at the air quality in Beijing during one of China’s smog alerts. 

This China analogy provides a rough idea of the polluted nature of California’s judicial climate. In November 2016, Californians voted against cleaning their judicial system of one of its worse carcinogens by retaining the death penalty. Then they went a step further to ensure that innocent people are put to death. This language may sound strong to many, but they do not know the rot which has eaten away the moral fiber of our judicial system. 

Given the number of people nationwide on death row who have already been found innocent, California could have about 30 innocent people awaiting execution. Prop 66 would reduce the chance of ascertaining who is innocent before they are executed. Prop 66 gives new meaning to the phrase, “Speed Kills.” 

The Courts Have Brought Us Some of California’s Most Memorable Murders 

Fifty-four people died in the aftermath of the exoneration of the police officers in the Rodney King trial held in Simi Valley. Angelenos do not know, however, how the California State court maneuvered the acquittal of those police officers (two of whom were subsequently convicted of federal civil rights violations in the federal court room of Judge John G. Davies.) 

Back in 1992, the Law and Order judiciary feared that if the police officers involved in the 1991 beating of Rodney King were tried in the downtown criminal courts building, that a Los Angeles jury would convict them. The feeling was the same if the trial were to have been held at the Van Nuys Criminal Courthouse, which served the area where Rodney King was beaten. 

Thus, a bogus claim was made that the LAPD Officers could not get a fair trial and the case had to be moved. The California appellate court came up with two alternatives: Oakland which they knew would be labeled too expensive by the District Attorney’s Office, and Simi Valley, a nearby bedroom community for police officers. Gerrymandering the location of the trial made an acquittal a foregone conclusion and thus the court laid the ground work for the deaths of fifty-four innocent people. Had the California courts allowed the prosecutions to proceed in a fair manner, the State court outcome would most likely have mirrored the officers’ later convictions in federal court where two of the officers were found guilty and served prison time. 

The Rodney King case was not the first time the California judiciary has been implicated in outrageous injustices. Anyone who has spent time in courtrooms gains a sense of when something hinky is going on. The situation was worse with the LA criminal courts since many of the judges were former prosecutors who worked closely with the District Attorney’s Office to obtain convictions. 

In 1988, a furor arose over the Los Angeles DA’s use of jail house informants due to their persistent committing of perjury, later upheld in an appeal.  

For our purposes, the most significant fact is that many judges are former prosecutors. The judges knew that lying jailhouse informants were being used. Before they were judges, they had worked in the DA’s office where the use of lying jailhouse informants was routine. 

In the Mid-1990s We Were Explicitly Told that Innocent People Were Being Set up 

After pleading no contest to a perjury charge in 1996, Detective Mark Fuhrman of OJ Trial fame, asserted that “all true cops lie, cheat and set people up.” But no one wanted to hear the truth, especially from a disgraced cop whom they incorrectly blamed for the loss in the OJ trial. (Fuhrman’s perjury conviction was later expunged.) 

Before the end of the 1990s, we learned about the scandals at the Ramparts Division with the LAPD being placed on parole under the supervision of the United State Department of Justice, effective June 15, 2001. Once again, criminal court judges are very often former prosecutors who work very closely with the police. As we saw with the use of lying jail house informants, as former assistant district attorneys the judges had to be well aware of the illicit procedures by the district attorney and the police. The Rampart Scandal could not have existed without the support of the judges who allowed the unconstitutional abuses to grow to such proportions that the LAPD ended up having its own “Parole Officer” from 2001 until 2013. 

While the LAPD emerged from the Consent Decree in 2013 as a transformed institution, the public never learned about the role the judges played in the use of jail house informants and condoning the abuses which resulted in the Consent Decree. Since there is no accountability for miscreant judges, the misconduct continues. 

Prosecutors who use perjury did not die in the 1980s or in the 1990s or even in the 2000s. In January 2015, the 9th Circuit of local federal court complained about a prosecutor who took the witness stand and committed perjury. Even after his lying ways had been uncovered, the judiciary did nothing. Let’s be clear – not only did the prosecutor get an informant to testify, the prosecutor himself then took the stand to support the informant’s veracity. To aggravate matters, other courts had decided that the prosecutors had obtained the conviction in Baca's trial by the use of false evidence, but these other judges upheld the conviction. 

“The 9th Circuit (the federal court) keeps seeing this misconduct over and over again,” commented Gerald Uelmen of the Santa Clara University School of Law. Nor, has the judicial misconduct ceased. Currently, the FBI is investigating the Orange County Sheriff Department’s long-term misuse of jail house informants. On Thursday, December 15, 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the FBI’s investigation of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department use of jail house informants. 

The investigation will focus on allegations that the OCDA and OCSD “systematically used jailhouse informants to elicit incriminating statements from specific inmates,” inmates who had been charged and were already represented by attorneys. The investigation will also examine if county prosecutors violated defendants’ rights to a fair trial by “failing to disclose promises of leniency that would have substantially undermined the credibility of the informants’ trial testimony.” 

Since a high percentage of judges come from the district attorney’s office, they are well aware of these unconstitutional practices. Without the cooperation and supervision of the judges, these decades of serious constitutional abuses would not exist. We have to remember that we are not talking about short cuts to “catch the bad guys,” but rather, are plagued with intentional schemes to convict the innocent. 

California’s Judges Preside over a System with an Epidemic of Misconduct 

The three federal judges in the Baca Case did not limit their criticism to objecting to this one prosecutor’s behavior in that case, but they went on to charge that the California judicial system has “an epidemic of misconduct” and they laid the blame at the feet of the California State court judges who turn a blind eye. 

These three federal judges’ observation on the lack of ethics in the California judiciary brings us full circle to Proposition 66. One thing which Proposition 66 does is return Habeas Corpus hearings to the original trial judge. Habeas Corpus is Latin for You May Have the Body. A person requests a court to free a person from jail, and if the court grants the request, it gives a Habeas Corpus order, which says, “You may have the body.” 

Proposition 66 wants this vital decision to be made by the judge who has the highest likelihood of helping to railroad an innocent person to the death chamber. Before Proposition 66, the Habeas Corpus hearings were held before other judges who had no vested interest in denying this particular request. The last person on earth who should preside over a Habeas Corpus hearing is the judge who just orchestrated the conviction. 

This aspect of Proposition 66 doubles down on the corrupt nature of the California judiciary, and it is not surprising that it contains this provision gutting Habeas Corpus hearings. 

Assuming California has the same percentage of innocent people sitting on death row as other states, then about 30 innocent people are likely to die if Proposition 66 is found constitutional. For judges, who have helped railroad innocent people by looking the other way at prosecutorial misconduct, anything that reduces the chances that their complicity in wrongful convictions can be revealed is a good thing. As the saying goes, “dead men tell no tales.” They see Proposition 66 as a way to prevent their epidemic of misconduct from being exposed. 

What Will Become of Proposition 66's Requirement that We Kill People Faster? 

Rejecting Proposition 66 will not rectify the decades of judicial misconduct in the California judiciary. Rejecting Proposition 66 will, however, temporarily slow down California’s slide into an ethical morass.

 

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney. He can be reached at: Rickleeabrams@Gmail.com. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-We could surely address growing social and economic inequality in Los Angeles if each call to update the Community Plans was matched with a nice raise for all those who live and work in the City of Angels. 

But, please don’t hold your breath, because there are tremendous barriers to effectively updating the Community Plans. When the job is finally completed, the curses of time, a rudimentary planning process, and City Hall’s pay-to-play political culture will have rendered the final product useless. This hopeful City Hall magical elixir is just a will-o-the-wisp

Furthermore, there is every indication that if and when the Community Plans are eventually updated, the Updates will be used to placate developers, not a concerned public rooting for a well-planned city. And, if Measure S, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, wins on March 7, the timetable to update the Community Plans will dramatically speed-up. Like the botched and annulled Hollywood Plan, each future Update will be quickly appended with extensive up-zoning and up-planning ordinances to circumvent Measure S’s ban on spot-zoning and spot-planning. 

Private Greed, not Public Need 

As described in a recent Los Angeles Times editorial, City Hall’s slimy pay-to-play land use decision-making process has become “soft corruption.” But, this corruption is much more than a problem of public perception. It also means that land use decisions – especially for mega-projects – are disconnected from the legally mandated planning process. This is because LA’s money-infused pay-to-play culture annually spawns hundreds of parcel level zone-changes, height district changes, and General Plan amendments. Called spot-zoning, the result is that many Los Angeles neighborhoods are already dotted with parcels that exceed legally adopted zoning, height districts, and General Plan designations. 

Furthermore, if and when the City Council eventually adopts updated Community Plans, continued spot-zoning will render every Community Plan irrelevant. Each Plan’s land use maps and implementing zoning ordinances will become a shelf document because deep-pocketed developers will continue to overturn adopted plans and zoning at whim. When their bean counters tell them, for example, they can make considerably more money through a high-rise luxury apartment tower than a low-rise retail store, contributions will flow, followed by zoning applications and eventually by building permits. 

In this world unrestrained market forces, not official plans and zones, remain LA’s de facto planning process. The City’s legally adopted General Plan, including its Community Plans and their implementing zones, will stay on the books, but as minor speed-bumps on the yellow brick road to private enrichment. 

Like today, pay-to-play will continue to squeeze certainty and predictability out of the planning process. 

Technical barriers to effective Community Plan Updates 

In addition to these formidable political barriers to effective Community Plan updates, there are three technical barriers begging for solutions. 

  • Community Plans should be updated every five years, not on a 20 or 25 year cycle. The current Update process, called the New Community Plans, began over a decade ago, when Gail Goldberg was the Director of City Planning. Beginning with her administration, the City Planning Department has only updated several Community Plans, and its latest estimate is 7 to 10 years to complete the job. Long before then, however, the entire updating process should start all over again. 
  • The Community Plans -- the General Plan’s Land Use Element -- apply the Updated General Plan’s many citywide elements (chapters) to local communities. But, City Planning is updating the Community Plans on a separate timeline. They will complete most of these local plans without the benefit of updated citywide General Plan data and policies. Cities with such a fragmented, cart-before-the-horse approach, therefore, rely on dumb luck that their local Community Plans properly knit together and cohesively guide the entire city. 
  • There is no accurate and timely data of the buildout potential of Los Angeles’s existing zoning. City Planning computed such buildout calculations 25 years ago, but since then City Hall has implemented SB 1818, the Density Bonus ordinance. It allows up to two more stories of residential development on all commercial lots. This means that LA’s long, one and two story commercial corridors could now be rebuilt with four or even five story mixed-use or totally residential apartment structures. 

What is already visible on the Miracle Mile could repeat itself on all other commercial thoroughfares, such as Pico or Washington. While this zoning potential certainly varies among Community Plan areas, an effective planning process needs to carefully consider this data, especially in light of forecast demographic trends. Even if City Hall relies on SCAG’s habitually inflated population numbers, there is every indication that LA has far more land zoned for apartments than would be required by all conceivable General Plan growth scenarios. 

My conclusion 

For the Community Plans to be a magic elixir, the City of Los Angeles must overcome two barriers. First, City Hall’s soft-corruption has to go. If it remains, it totally undermines any planning process. Second, the technical planning process needs to be accelerated, properly sequence, and based on reliable data for the city’s zoning build-out potential. 

This is certainly a tall order, but it is necessary.

 

(Dick Platkin is a former LA City Planner who reports on local planning issues for City Watch. He welcomes comments and corrections at rhplatkin@gmail.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW--City Council incumbent Gilbert Cedillo has set sail on his campaign to retain his District 1 City Council seat. LA’s primary election is March 7. His ship may be off to a rocky start, however. Activist Marc Caswell asks if Cedillo is using his office resources to send campaign emails, which may be in violation of LA Municipal Code section 49.5.5b? 

No City official or employee of an agency shall engage in campaign-related activities such as fundraising, the development of electronic or written materials, or research, for a campaign for any elective office of ballot measure during the hours for which he or she is receiving pay to engage in City business or using City facilities, equipment, supplies or other City resources

While we don’t know if Cedillo has been campaigning during office hours, LA’s Marc Caswell believes Cedillo has used city resources to send campaign emails. Caswell, who lives on the border between CD13 and CD1 says he subscribes to the email newsletters for both districts’ council members in order to stay up to date on community news and information. 

“I find it odd that I started receiving campaign emails from only Mr. Cedillo when I know I never signed up for them, “ he explains. “I think it’s wholly inappropriate that an elected official would take his taxpayer-funded newsletters (database) and use that for campaign emails. And this offense is ever more egregious since Mr. Cedillo didn’t even bother to change his City Hall office address for his campaign emails.” 

Caswell says he filed an ethics complaint because “elected officials should not abuse the taxpayer by spending our money on their re-election campaign. Not only is this a clear violation of City Ethics laws but it shows Mr. Cedillo’s clear lack of respect for the voters and residents of Los Angeles.” 

This isn’t the first time Caswell has filed an ethics complaint against Councilmember Cedillo. Back in November, Caswell says he sent a complaint about a violation of another law related to emails that was reviewed by the Ethics Commission. He is still awaiting a response. 

“Normally, I’m not this nit-picky -- but he keeps violating email ethic laws over and over!” says Caswell.
Stay tuned. If Caswell is right, Cedillo’s campaign journey may run into some campaign turbulence before he reaches that doc by the primary election bay.

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.)

-cw

EASTSIDER-After the recent defeat of Proposition 53, a Howard Jarvis backed initiative aimed squarely at Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnel project (aka WaterFix), matters are moving forward with the project. 

The CEQA challenges are now finished, and the resulting a 100,000 page document (I kid you not) is on the Governor’s desk. As General Manager of the Metropolitan Water District, Jeffrey Knightlinger quipped at our DWP meeting that the stack of paper is about 40 feet high, roughly the same as the diameter of the Delta tunnels (irony intended). 

For reasons that I do not purport to understand, the (Chicago) LA Times is still opposing the tunnels, clear proof that the owners of the Times do not reside in Southern California. 

The reality, however, is that we in Southern California really need to protect access to the water flowing from the Northern California mountains through the Sacramento River and the Delta, into the California Aqueduct to the Metropolitan Water District. In the likely event of continued drought this water is critical for us and for our children as global warming increases mountain temperatures. 

As a third generation Californian, I am painfully aware of the North/South political split in our State that has existed forever. Folks like my late grandfather up in Orville wanted to literally divide the state into two, and I have some friends in Sonoma County who still believe it would be a cool idea. But just like we have to live with Northern California and its politicians because of their water, they have to live with our need for that water in order to fuel the State’s economy. Not to mention that the entire state needs to do something with the water supply. Northern Californians don’t like floods and busted levees. 

Truth is, Southern California is a desert, and there are only a couple of sources for water to feed the roughly 50% of the State of California’s population that resides within the six counties of Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino. Those six counties (actually only portions of Ventura, Riverside and San Diego) constitute the membership of the Metropolitan Water District, or Metro, as it is often called.

For all the political talk about the Delta Tunnel, most Angelenos have no idea where our water actually comes from, or how the DWP fits in with the Metropolitan Water District. What’s even stranger is my friends in Northern California seem willing to ignore the fact that Brown’s WaterFix will help them too. The levee system and the Delta are a mess up there, and Brown’s proposal will help them fix their problems as well as help Southern California. 

About That Water 

If you look at the big picture, the Metropolitan Water District generates over 50% of Southern California’s water. Metro’s sources for this water consist of the California Aqueduct and the Colorado River Aqueduct. The balance comes from local sources and the DWP’s Owens Valley Aqueduct. 

Because of multi-state agreements, Metro’s share of the Colorado River is a percentage of what flows through the river. Based on these agreements, this has usually translated into about 50% of a baseline amount. On the other hand, as drought becomes more persistent in the Western states, those amounts will probably go down over time. 

The good news about the Colorado River water is that Metro has a huge storage capacity, and in fact maintains a permanent six months’ supply in storage just in case of an emergency. So from an availability factor, it is great that we will always have access to the allotment from the Colorado River. 

The situation from the California Aqueduct is another matter. Water entering the system from the mountains and rivers in Northern California is capable of producing a huge amount of water per year, but the amount and flow of that water supply is intermittent. In other words, what’s in the system depends on how much rain and how much snow we get, as well as when those events take place. The system itself doesn’t have a lot of permanent storage built into it. 

The astonishing good news to me, and hats off to the water folks, is that while our population has increased from about 13 million people in 1985 to some 19 million people in 2015, our water demand has been essentially flat. Proof that all of those efficiency measures have worked. 

The Environmental Factor 

One of the biggest factors in how much water we can get from the Delta, and for that matter, the Owens valley, are generically referred to as environmental issues. These types of concerns led to the passage of CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) back in 1970, designed to make state and local governments identify and mitigate the environmental impacts of their decisions. 

Most people I know have no clue what CEQA means beyond the name, and it’s difficult to get an objective explanation, so if you want to know more, there’s a good starting point here. 

In addition to providing a legitimate curb on government destroying the environment, CEQA has also made a bunch of lawyers rich and created entire new political and governmental bureaucracies -- thus the some ten years and 100,000 pages of CEQA documents on Governor Brown’s Delta tunnel project. 

Like any huge capital project, WaterFix is going to be paid for by ratepayers in their monthly bills. Small price for ensuring a reliable water supply, and in retrospect it’s a darn good thing that we built the Colorado River Aqueduct and the California Aqueduct. So, if it isn’t really about the money, then what is it? 

I think that using the magic word “environment,” we have created an entire environmental business model that has little to do with rational anything. 

At this point, there are a number of non-profit organizations whose livelihoods consist in fundraising and litigation over the environment. There are also a number of class-action attorneys specializing in this area. Further, there are agencies like California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and a host of others, whose staffing and existence are dependent on staying in the limelight come budget time. 

Two examples. First, I don’t know why the folks up north keep whining about the delta smelt. This isn’t about smelt. Heck, right now I am told there’s a hatchery that produces smelt each year that can’t be released into the water supply because the regulatory agencies won’t let anyone do it. C’mon. 

Second, the DWP and the Owens Valley. The issue of LA stealing their water a century ago is over. These days the issue is a small group of politicians controlling a water district up there that they use to blackmail money out of LA ratepayers. They have evolved from screaming about the water grab to ‘dust mitigation’ and have made a bundle. 

My point is that how much water we get in Southern California is more than just a political issue. There is a huge amount of water from Northern California that simply goes out into the ocean or floods because it can’t be captured or managed. Just ask the folks in Truckee or Sonoma County after this week’s massive rainfall. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a system that can helps manage these huge fluctuations in water? Enter Brown’s plan. 

In terms of planning ahead, you may have seen on TV how they measure the snowpack in the Sierras using the depth of the pack, which gives an indication as to the existence and/or severity of a drought. 

The reason that the snowpack is critical is that the snow is a great way to store water, which can run off later into the system. Now, factor in climate change, or if you don’t like the idea of climate change, just call it drought. When temperatures in the Sierras get much above 30 degrees, we don’t get snow. We get rain, and rain doesn’t get stored. 

The Takeaway 

Let’s put the pieces together. The three big water sources for Angelenos are the Owens Valley (DWP), the Colorado River Aqueduct, and the California Aqueduct (MWD), plus a variable amount of local water through our water basins and recycling. 

Over time, it is clear that the amount of available water from the Colorado River and the Owens Valley will decrease, not increase. Guess what that leaves? That’s right, the California Aqueduct, which produces a large but extremely intermittent flow of water. Thus, the Delta tunnel project. 

The project will help the environment (the 100,000 pages of CEQA documents), and the project will provide more water storage as well. Maybe that could have helped avoid this week’s flooding up north. 

Absent something like the Delta tunnel project, it is not likely that the amount of water available to pump from the California Aqueduct will increase anytime soon. And while MWD contracts for up to two million acre/ft. per year, with regulatory/environmental requirements, the actual amount received is more like 50% of that figure -- which could go down. 

While a $15 to $17 billion plus bill to build the tunnels sounds like a lot of money, consider the B Plan: not having enough water to support us. Remember, without the Owens Valley Aqueduct (politically correct name, the Los Angeles Aqueduct), there wouldn’t be much of a Los Angeles. 

And I would remind folks that big capital projects take a lot of time to complete. Just look at our freeways and CalTrans attempts to fix/build them when bad stuff happens. I think a few bucks a month for ratepayers represents a sound investment. Heck, maybe someday we can even water what used to be our lawns.

 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

LA WATCHDOG--On Friday, the Ad Hoc on the Summer Olympics Committee will meet to review the City’s and Los Angeles 2024 Exploratory Committee’s (“LA24”) bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics.  And without doubt, this seven member committee chaired by City Council President Herb Wesson will approve moving forward with submitting the well-conceived bid to the International Olympic Committee (“IOC”) on Friday, February 3. 

After all, almost 90% of Angelenos support hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics. 

But there is the issue of the City’s exposure to losses as our cash starved City will be required to indemnify the IOC and the United States Olympic Committee against any losses.  

Based on the updated projections prepared by LA24 that have been reviewed in detail by KPMG and Miguel Santana, our trusted City Administrative Officer, the $5.3 billion Olympic budget has a Contingency Reserve of almost $500 million, representing over 10% of the $4.8 billion in expenditures.  And this is after other contingency reserves built into the development of individual venues. 

The updated budget is a vast improvement from the 2015 Budget as the Contingency Reserve increased to $491 million from $161 million.  

The new budget ditched the building of a de novo Olympic Village on the site of Union Pacific’s Piggyback Yard.  Instead, LA24 has made arrangements to use UCLA and USC dormitories, resulting in savings of an estimated $1 billion.  

There are also considerable savings that LA24 is able to achieve by using existing venues, ranging from the Coliseum, the Rose Bowl, Staples, StubHub, Pauley Pavilion, Galen Center, and numerous other locations throughout Southern California.  

The management has also fine-tuned its projections by developing a detailed, bottoms up financial model and benchmarked its “conservative” assumptions and results against the London 2012 Olympics and other mega events. 

The City and LA have developed a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) that protects the City’s coffers.  Importantly, it calls for a $250 million Contingency Reserve to be funded prior to the beginning of the Games.  

The MOU also requires LA24 to obtain insurance policies to cover natural disasters, terrorism, and event cancellation as well as coverage for “reduced ticket sales and other revenue sources should the events become less appealing.” 

As a side note, the State will reinsure the City’s exposure by agreeing to absorb $250 million of losses, but only after the City has taken a hit of $250 million. 

The City will also be reimbursed for its incremental out-of-pocket costs for providing “enhanced municipal services” such as police, fire, sanitation, traffic, and parking control. 

The MOU also allows the City to oversee the operations and finances of the Olympics by allocating one-sixth of positions on the Board of Directors and its committees to the City and by requiring LA24 to provide the City with timely financial information and other information. 

However, the City’s requirement that LA24 comply with all applicable City laws and ordinances may result in significant cost increases because of its prevailing wage and work rule requirements, especially if it involves city-specific venues.    

Hosting the Olympic Games will also increase economic output by around $11 billion, provide numerous full time jobs, and produce additional tax revenue according to a report prepared by Beacon Economics.  On the other hand, the State’s Legislative Analyst stated that “some short-term economic gains in 2024 and in the years before the Games are likely.  Lasting economic gains, however, appear unlikely.” 

LA has an advantage over Paris and Budapest because we are “Games Ready.” This allows us to use our existing world class infrastructure to meet the goals of the Olympic 2020 Agenda which emphasize environmental sustainability and minimizing financial risk.   

The IOC will announce its decision on September 13 in Lima.  

And assuming we win the bid, as well should, then the hard work will begin as preparing for this mega event with so many moving parts over the next seven years will be a monumental task requiring excellent management. 

But the City’s biggest risk is our own Elected Elite who do not have the common sense to leave well enough alone and let management do its job. Oversight is OK, but no day to day meddling, no interfering with operations, and no asking for favors or preferential treatment.  

We also need to wary of mission creep where City Hall decides to accelerate numerous infrastructure projects that have the potential for cost overruns and delays that interfere with the success and finances of the Olympics.   

LA24 has done a very good job of developing a plan that protects the City from financial loss.  But LA24 and Angelenos must also protect the City’s coffers from our Elected Elite. 

 

(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.)-cw

California’s lieutenant governor has warned that the state can use an environmental lawsuit to block President-elect Donald Trump’s efforts to build a border wall. 

The state could sue under the California Environmental Quality Act or its federal equivalent to stop the wall, a proposal that Gavin Newsom called “laughable” in an interview on the Golden State podcast. 

“There’s something called CEQA in California -- there’s NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] at the federal level,” said Newson, who’s running for governor in 2018. “There’s indigenous lands and autonomies as it relates to governance on those lands. There are all kinds of obstructions as it relates to just getting zoning approval and getting building permits. All those things could be made very, very challenging for the administration.” 

That’s “just simply never going to happen,” Newsom said of the wall. “It’s logistically impossible. It’s a laughable proposal that somehow Mexico’s going to pay for it. It’s just not going to happen.” 

Both environmental laws were passed to protect the environment, and both have been successfully used to block building projects.  

The environmental effects of border barriers are becoming increasingly clear in several European nations. The increase in the use border fences in the ongoing refugee crisis overseas is impeding the flow of wildlife between countries, with damaging consequences, according to recent research. 

“These fences represent a major threat to wildlife because they can cause mortality, obstruct access to seasonally important resources, and reduce effective population size,” concluded a 2016 study published in PLOS Biology. 

Researchers noted in California’s case that “conserving biodiversity on an increasingly crowded planet will always involve a combination of applying ecological knowledge and skillful politics.” 

How ready is California to fight Trump’s policies on the border and elsewhere? Very, said Newsom. “There’s no indication that he’s changed. That means we have to be prepared for the worst.” If Trump goes through with many of his plans, there’s “going to be a lot of confrontation.” 

Newsom doesn’t seem concerned about alienating the next administration and isn’t cowed by Trump’s threat to cut funding to California because it’s a sanctuary state. “The United States of America needs California more, with all due respect, than California needs it from an economic perspective,” said Newsom. “California is the economic engine of the country.”  

The podcast is part of a series of stories and interviews created in tandem with San Francisco magazine on “The Resistance to Donald Trump.” 

Anticipating battles with the Trump administration, California has placed former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on retainer for help with legal responses.

 

(Mary Papenfuss is a Trend reporter at the Huffington Post where this piece was originally posted.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

CORRUPTION WATCH—Candidate for LA Mayor, Mitchell Schwartz, is turning up the heat on the so-called soft corruption at City Hall issue exposed recently by the LA Times. Schwartz is calling on US Attorney for LA, Eileen M. Decker to open a criminal investigation into payments that real estate developers have been making to Mayor Eric Garcetti and to some Los Angeles Councilmembers. 

After Mr. Schwartz (photo above) recounted the revelations concerning the Sea Breeze project by developer Leung where thousands of dollars were given to campaigns and causes of Mayor Garcetti and numerous LA City Councilmembers, he noted that this problem is not new. Back in 2006, then in-coming Planning Director Gail Goldberg had warned Eric Garcetti, who was then councilmember for CD 13 at the time, not to allow developers to get the zoning they desire. Ms. Goldberg’s exact words in 2006 were, "In every city in this country, the zone on the land establishes the value of the land. In Los Angeles, that's not true. The value of the land is not based on what the zone says ... It's based on what [the] developer believes he can change the zone to. This is disastrous for the city. 

Candidate Schwartz pointed out that the US Attorney has the power to interview City Hall insiders about the ways in which developers have been getting the zone changes which they want. The big wigs can all lie to reporters, but the City Hall insiders including former field deputies as well as department heads have to cooperate with a federal investigation. We all remember what happened to Martha Stewart when she wasn’t forthright during a federal investigation. 

With the plethora of city council wannabees, only Mayoral candidate Mitchell Schwartz has thus far taken this bold step. Schwartz punctuated his announcement thusly: “If the developer and politicians were committing crimes, they must be held accountable.”

 

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney. He can be reached at: Rickleeabrams@Gmail.com. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.)

-cw

LATINO PERSPECTIVE-I was originally interested to learn about Measure S, formerly known as the “Neighborhood Integrity Initiative,” since there are many reasons to criticize planning and development in Los Angeles. I believe we can do a better job of creating a city where homeowners and renters, working and middle class people can live side by side and can get around. We need a city in which people who grow up here can afford to stay here in a growing economy that is welcoming to immigrants. 

But after reviewing a report by my local paper, the Larchmont Chronicle, on the arguments made in support of the initiative at a community forum at Third St. School, it became clear that this measure would have many negative effects on Los Angeles, and even more so on immigrants and the Latino community. Far from helping us achieve a welcoming city, it would have the opposite effect by making LA more expensive and crowded. It’s worse than cutting off your nose to spite your face. It’s more like cutting off your leg to fix your stomach ache. 

As a Hancock Park resident who ran for City Council in 2015, I understand some of the frustration. Our community plans are out of date, making development appear haphazard. Los Angeles has the potential to grow in a way that protects our traditional neighborhoods by placing urban amenities near transit, but we need stronger leadership to get there. 

As was clear from the account published in December’s Chronicle, the backers of Measure S are all frustration and no leadership. Their vision is purely negative and they are eager to criticize everything and build nothing. They imagine we can turn back the clock, but their plans would hurt renters, first-time homebuyers, and anyone who hasn’t put down solid roots. In today’s Los Angeles, where vacancy rates hover around 3 percent, their proposed building moratorium is a recipe to raise rents. It would hurt families and push many into homelessness. 

Measure S problems 

That’s not to say that we should do nothing. Here are three of the main problems that Measure S proposes to fix — and the reasons why the problems would be left worse under the initiative: 

  1. Campaign finance. Measure S’s backers criticize developer contributions to political campaigns, but their measure is silent about who may donate. We should have an honest conversation about how to get money out of politics. 
  1. Housing affordability. More than 270,000 Los Angeles households are “severely rent-burdened,” meaning they pay more than 50 percent of their income in rent. Measure S’s backers criticize luxury housing, but there is not one word in the initiative that regulates housing prices, nor does it leverage funds to build affordable housing. Further, the best tools to build the housing we need to make Los Angeles affordable would be lost in a building moratorium.
  1. Out-of-date plans. Measure S’s backers say that the desire for new development would “force” the city to update its plans. How? Plan updates typically take up to 10 years in Los Angeles, and the measure provides no new money to update them. Fortunately, there is movement in City Hall to fix this, including new money in the Mayor’s budget to hire planners to expedite the process. 

We know Measure S won’t do what its backers promise. So what will it do? 

It will prevent us from housing the homeless. Measure S says it has an exemption for “100% affordable housing,” but that exemption does not extend to projects that require General Plan Amendments. The City of Los Angeles published a list of sites that could be used to develop affordable housing, like the housing we all just voted for with Prop HHH. Of ten proposed sites, Measure S bans building on nine of them. 

It will shut down needed development. Even if we could build 100% affordable housing, why should that be our only option? This rules out needed housing developments that include affordable units next to market-rate apartments. It’s easier to protect neighborhoods like Hancock Park if you can build denser, more urban buildings in other parts of the city — and by current estimates, Los Angeles needs to add 500,000 new units of housing to make our city affordable for working people. 

It will hurt our economic recovery. Beacon Economics calculated that two years of Measure S would suck $3.8 billion out of our local economy, destroying not only thousands of construction jobs but also all the employment they support. It will lower our city tax base by over $70 million each year — enough to hire 1,000 police officers or firefighters. 

It could last for 10 years. They say it’s a two-year moratorium — but it will prevent development for as long as it takes to update our community plans; it offers no new funding to do that; and it offers many opportunities to file lawsuits to slow down the process. In ten years, job losses could top 120,000. 

It will protect no one and preserve nothing. The best way to protect our single-family home neighborhoods is to build new housing next to transit. We can have a city that welcomes newcomers and makes room for the young without “turning into Manhattan.” We shouldn’t pretend to be Manhattan, but we shouldn’t pretend to be Kansas City or Fresno either. 

At the end of the day, Measure S lacks vision, is motivated by anger and frustration at the present and an aesthetic preference for the suburbs. Most Angelenos want a city that will grow in a way that is humane and welcoming. We should reject this measure, continue to make our voices heard, and look towards the future if we want to create a true 21st-century Los Angeles.

 

(Fred Mariscal writes Latino Perspective for CityWatch. He came to Los Angeles from Mexico City in 1992 to study at the University of Southern California and has been in LA ever since. He can be reached at fred.gwnc@gmail.com.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

VOICES--Thank you for your service to us the citizens of LA. 

I am a long time resident and Landlord (one rental unit as I live in the upper) who has annually, without fail, registered my one rental unit and paid the fee which for me is $67.83.  In reading and filling out the papers for the 2017 HCIDLA, I was shocked and disillusioned to find out that The City Council and the Mayor has come up with a requirement that Landlords must not only pay a fee for each unit but they must fill out Form RR 17 U Annual Rent Registry Form which you should be familiar with as you may have voted for it.   

The form requires Landlords to reveal private information that should only be between the Landlord and the tenant. Now this information will be put on the internet for anyone to put in an address and get the amount of rent, utilities by the way Water was not on the form and I do pay for the water and garbage fees. The form also asks about parking included in the rent collected. 

This is an invasion of privacy between the landlord and the tenant. The form wants the year the tenant began tenancy.  No ONE should be able to know these things!!!!!!! A Rental Agreement is a private contract between the Landlord and the tenant-----no one else should be privy to this information.  This will pit neighbor against neighbor. 

What about my rights? The tenant knows what he is paying.  No one else should. 

The issue of Short Term Rentals in this community has caused so much turmoil that people are no longer speaking to each other as a result.  I can not imagine imagine what looms ahead if this ill thought out requirement is allowed to continue.  DO NOT put this out for public perusal and ultimately causing untold problems in all communitiesin LA. 

Shame on the City for Blindsiding the good Landlords without contacting us with letters explaining the whys and wherefores of this requirement.  IT is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. 

I filled out the form as I want the legal right to collect rent and provide housing in LA. 

I am against it and want this discontinued now. 

Shame on you all for not listening to the Apartment Owners Association during the period that this was being discussed.  I guess that none of you on council own rental property.  Think about how you would feel if your private financial agreements were posted on the internet? 

Please let me know what is the reasoning for this invasion of my … and my tenants … privacy?

 

(Carol Kapp is a duplex owner living in Playa del Rey.)

 

WAR CORRESPONDENT--When I signed up for this gig, I didn’t realize I might end up as a war correspondent. But when I talk to people these days, it feels like something bad is about to happen -- and they want it to happen. 

Everyone expects Democrats and Republicans in Congress to go at each other hammer and tongs. This is the new normal in which compromise is viewed as surrender and only complete annihilation of your opponent is an acceptable outcome. It’s the same story in state capitols across the country. 

Bipartisanship has been dead since the beginning of Bill Clinton’s term in 1993. In the last quarter century, one party has been driven relentlessly into a hard position that the other side is not just wrong, but evil. To a good extent, this is due to the Republicans’ many supporters who see government as not just interfering with their right to worship, but actively working to force them to act against their beliefs. 

Building on this base, others whose motivation is racial and ethnic prejudice or maybe just a feeling that nobody is on their side has led to a constant strengthening of the wall between Americans.

On the other side are those who have a hard time comprehending why anyone would refute science or encourage government to turn a blind eye to prejudice. Their world is fact-based and logical and spirituality is an individual and not collective practice. 

Simply put, one side views non-conformity as the greatest virtue and the other as the greatest sin.

And now the battle lines are drawn not just in Washington and state houses, but in courthouses and city halls and coffee shops and taverns and every street corner in America. 

In the last few weeks, I’ve seen more and more evidence that Democrats and others who don’t share Donald Trump’s (or Paul Ryan’s) world view aren’t interested in even talking about trying to work with Republicans. They’re ready for war. 

We’re not talking about conservatives and liberals or left and right anymore. The United States has reached the point where its population is now divided simply into “us” and “them.” 

I’ve been struck by the number of folks who have told me about visiting relatives over the holidays and carefully avoiding any mention of politics. It’s not just the potential for bad feelings, but the danger of an actual rift in the family. (I wonder if that’s what it was like discussing slavery with your Southern relations before the Civil War.) 

This is where I should offer soothing phrases about the need to step back from the brink and engage in dialogue. After all, we share the same ideals and pledge allegiance to the same flag. We believe in the American dream and all that other stuff they taught us in school. 

Except it’s mostly nonsense and anybody who’s read a little history knows it.

But, the part about equality is real. That stuff about “all men are created equal” and “equal justice under law” and “liberty and justice for all” is the one constant thread that runs through American history. Slowly and inexorably, society’s institutions of government have displaced the sanction of prejudice and intolerance. 

Ultimately, that’s what this war will be about. 

Is America going to turn its back on our history of looking to the future, welcoming the new and different, understanding that progress comes with a price? Or will “them” -- or are they “us” -- prevail?

In the coming years, you’ll be hearing a lot more about this battle for the soul of America. It will consume vast amounts of space in publications, online, and via the airwaves. Many will think of themselves as warriors fighting for freedom and liberty or God and country. Some will sit back and enjoy the fight. I suspect most Americans will consider themselves innocent bystanders. 

Meanwhile, I have a war to cover.

 

(Doug Epperhart is a publisher, a long-time neighborhood council activist and former Board of Neighborhood Commissioners commissioner. He is a contributor to CityWatch and can be reached at: Epperhart@cox.net) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

PLANNING FOR THE PEOPLE-Not long ago I published a piece on the need to stop the LA City Planning Politburo because City Planning has long ago stopped becoming a force for rules and bylaws and started becoming a "build-build-build" shill. 

Similarly, I just published a piece on promoting both the Wilshire Subway and reconsidering a long-overdue Metro Rail/Metrolink connection in the City of Norwalk. 

And no, the two pieces are not in contradiction, or mutually exclusive. 

In general, those who fight for more transportation options are not interested in overbuilding the begeezus out of our city, county or state. They want mobility and options and an overall increase in environmental/economic improvement, happiness and quality of life for those of us who pay for New Starts projects. 

Yet we have too many vultures (often quite politically-connected) who figure out all sorts of creepy, sneaky ways to turn transportation advocates into "useful idiots" and justify all sorts of overdevelopment that no one in their right mind would want. 

After all, if we're trying to catch up in our congestion and mobility issues, why would we want to overdevelop and worsen our traffic problem? Or even just worsen our quality of life? 

A little bit of development is a nice compromise that makes a cute, sweet new (maybe affordable to most, maybe not, depending on the locale and development) neighborhood of homes or apartments. 

A whole lot of development where we build to the moon (THE MOON, DAMMIT, THE MOON!) just infuriates and insults the intelligence of all of us -- including the taxpayers who fund new transportation projects and get their rights taken away from them in return. 

So would anyone in their right mind want the arts district of Bergamot Station to be shut down just to create a monster development next to the Expo Line in Santa Monica? Maybe a "chill pill" … or three … is needed for the Santa Monica Council and Planning to create a very small housing project with commercial to make a real nice trip generator for that city...and tell the drooling developers and density-warriors to take their body parts elsewhere. 

Similarly, while I think the Norwalk Green Line Extension to connect LAX and LA County to the rest of Southern California region is a darned great project, I am very sensitive to the concerns of the Norwalk City Council and to Norwalk residents, and we should all take heed to those well-placed concerns. 

After visiting Norwalk last night, and hanging out with fellow Friends of the Green Line veteran Daniel Walker, we learned from the SCAG officials (who, happily are done with a quixotic MagLev campaign and are now spending their taxpayer-funded efforts on relevant issues) that the locals have lots of negative feelings and fears about this project. 

One look at the map shows that city to be right smack-dab in the middle of the I-5, I-105, I-605, and SR-91 freeways, and between the soon to be LAX-connected Green Line and Metrolink. Norwalk really is a "gateway city.” The freeway access to the eastern terminus of the Green Line is reportedly substandard, and access to the Metrolink station is a problem. 

So if we want to help Norwalk and enhance ridership/access/quality to the Green Line and Metrolink, we need to create a freeway/road fix that prevents cut-through residential neighborhood traffic to the current and future stations, establish a transit-oriented residential/commercial development near Firestone/Imperial that fits into that region, and a station that is near the county governmental hub at Imperial/Norwalk that makes sense. 

It's likely that part or all of this would have to be a subway, as considered before in the 1990s when this was last studied, and there's already about $1 billion funded for this "county light rail connector project.” And more will be needed to allow Norwalk to be enhanced, and not destroyed, by this project. 

So what does this have to do with Los Angeles and Measure S? I am guessing that Norwalk, unlike Los Angeles, isn't going to let any pro-transit sentiments allow creepy, sneaky developers (and their Planning and other density warriors) overdevelop Norwalk in the name of "transit oriented development" or "affordable housing" or "urban infill.” 

Los Angeles, like Norwalk, needs homes and neighborhoods, not projects or spot-zoning. Los Angeles, like Norwalk, needs to obey its laws and not be bought out by developer money -- and it sure as HELL shouldn't need the Sea Breeze scandal and Measure S to finally, finally say no to developer campaign contributions.. 

Let's revisit Measure S: 

  • Developers will have to have to pay for their traffic and environmental impact reports to be done by independent experts, and not by their own hired guns. EIR's have to mean something, and they have to be credible. 
  • Backroom deals between billionaire developers and City Councilmembers will be made illegal, and City Council rules and laws will be adhered to and enforced. 
  • Developers will have to prove to impacted communities that their new megaprojects can absorb the new development with respect to traffic and other environmental impacts.  
  • Despite claims by mega-developers that they want to create affordable housing, the opposite has been the result of these at-market and oversized, over-tall projects (which often have over 50% vacancy) that ultimately leave fewer, and not more, truly affordable housing for Angelenos.  
  • The City Council will have to (finally) update the City’s legally-required Community and General Plans that balance growth and environmental impacts. 

You know ... follow and obey the laws! 

We need a Transportation Infrastructure for the 21st Century -- and we made big progress towards that with Measures R in 2008 and M in 2016. 

We also need a Planning Infrastructure for the 21st Century -- let's make progress in that direction as well with Measure S in 2017.

 

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties.  He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  alpern@marvista.org. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

THE PEOPLE SPEAK--On March 7, Los Angeles residents get one last chance to assert their fundamental right to shape what our city becomes before our wonderful city of towns and villages is paved over by glass box mega-developments, the terrible traffic they cause, and the glut of empty $3,500 apartments nobody wants, now marching across LA. 

Measure S, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, is the fix to this broken and rigged system at City Hall. 

A “yes” on Measure S puts planning back in the planning department, dismantling the current system of backroom real estate dealing by City Council members -- 15 individuals who are utterly unqualified to engage in private and inappropriate "spot zoning" deals with some of the world's richest and slickest developers. 

As the Los Angeles Times has repeatedly reported in recent months, elected leaders at City Hall are accepting huge amounts of cash, gifts and wining and dining from wealthy developers. Then, those same City Hall elected leaders are handing these same developers special exemptions from our protective zoning rules. 

Winning an exemption from LA's height zoning rules, for example, can mean an instant, unearned, $20 million profit to a developer who suddenly is allowed by a councilmember to build 20 stories instead of 4 stories. 

A single exemption from the General Plan -- those are granted by City Councilmembers to let a developer use the land for something that's entirely inappropriate and not allowed by the city's own laws -- can mean an instant, unearned $40 million or larger profit for that developer. 

That's what happened when City Hall agreed to let a rich developer squeeze the Sea Breeze luxury housing project between a couple of noisy warehouses, a Houston-style approach to planning. Which is to say, no planning at all. 

City Hall's gross misbehavior is at the heart of this system of free money, big money -- and corrupt money. Our City Council is selling its votes. They do so at the expense of all of us. 

Measure S strikes directly at the heart of this dysfunctional, New Jersey-style mess. So our opposition, the defenders of this status quo are up in arms, New Jersey-style. 

Funded largely by the Chamber and three billionaires -- the Lowy global mall kings of Australia, the multi-national skyscraper-building Kahn family of Miami, and the Lowes global resort kings in LA -- powerful lobbyists are running a cynical campaign designed to trick Los Angeles residents into voting against their own self-interest on March 7. 

The billionaire mega-developers and their cronies know that they can’t beat us using the truth. So they’re saying, doing and spending whatever it takes to win -- at all costs. 

Let's conduct some myth-busting here, with the understanding that the lies issued by opponents of Measure S are going to get much more extreme and out of this world. 

According to their fantastical accounts, Measure S, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, would “stop the building of everything -- from affordable housing, to hospitals, schools, and parks.” We at Measure S even apparently view “new toilets” as over-development. 

We also have a secret "housing ban" tucked somewhere in our back pocket. A Westside City Councilman and a Valley City Councilman are telling their constituents that we, ahem, "ban all development." (We got calls from people who were upset about being spoon-fed these obvious whoppers while meeting with the councilmembers.) 

A Hollywood Councilman has been running around saying we will stop projects already underway (another ahem), and the mayor is flirting with trying to claim that LA's entire economy is teetering atop a coterie of rich land developers who must be allowed to break the zoning rules. 

The Chamber of Commerce president, emboldened by this fake news from on high, illegally lied about Measure S in official ballot literature (Measure S is going to ruin the economy), as did a well-known economist who was paid to do so by the three billionaires. Both the Chamber president and the economist had to retract their lies, just last week. 

As I wrote in the Los Angeles Daily News back in August, "Sadly, our measure also bans rainbows, outlaws donuts, and deports the tooth fairy." 

What's going on here? What's going on is that voters are about to force City Hall to do its job and play by the rules. 

And that will leave a lot of instant wealth for some of the world's richest developers sitting on the table, and crimp the fundraising ability of some of California's most cash-needy politicians. 

The truth is that in Los Angeles, 95% of developers play by the rules. The truth is that 95% of developers do NOT give money to the City Council, mayor and other officials. The truth is that 95% of developers do NOT engage in these greedy bidding wars that have driven our land values sky high, in turn driving our rents into the stratosphere. 

The truth is that only about 5% of developers active in Los Angeles drive the actions of elected officials at Los Angeles City Hall, just as they own and drive nice cars. 

The truth is, 95% of development will continue to flourish under Measure S, because Measure S is about working out the rules in a transparent setting with strong input from residents, then following those rules. And 95% of developers actually honor our local zoning. 

The truth is that affordable housing will flourish under Measure S, because Measure S exempts from most of the city's zoning rules those developers who will build 100% affordable housing -- an exception that we ourselves carved out, due to the great need. 

The truth is that Measure S does NOT halt any project underway, for any reason, even if it's one of the hideous glass boxes that is helping Los Angeles each day look more and more like Charlotte, NC. 

Instead, think of Measure S as "the gift of time for our City Council and mayor." 

Suddenly, instead of spending hundreds of hours cutting backroom, closed-door deals to let developers get around the zoning rules, our city leaders can spend those recaptured hours doing right by the residents and taxpayers. What at treat that will be. 

The City Council and mayor can spend this recaptured time figuring out how to end the wanton destruction of 1,000 units of affordable rent-stabilized apartments by developers every single year. So far, 22,000 irreplaceable, sound, older low-rent units have vanished since 2000. 

Suddenly, on March 7, our elected leaders will have loads of new free time to actually create a plan for spending the badly needed bond money we voters approved in November to build homeless housing with support services. 

(At a city hearing a few weeks ago, a city official let slip that, ahem, they are already toying with requiring that only 50% of the housing financed by we taxpayers provide the full shelter and services City Hall promised in the bond measure.) 

Suddenly, instead of spending hundreds of hours being lobbied and wined and dined by developers seeking ways around our rules, the City Council and mayor can spend it addressing our exploding water mains, our cracking sewer mains, our bodacious potholes and our long-promised parks. 

Our opponents know they can’t win on March 7 on the merits. They know that voters want affordable housing and reasonably priced housing, not the City Council's luxury rental housing glut with its 15% to 20% vacancy rates. Our opponents know voters want less gridlock, not worse traffic backing up as far as three miles from absurdly oversized projects. 

And most frightening to our misbehaving status quo, they know we’re onto them. Voters have realized that City Hall is rigged, thanks in no small part to recent coverage by the Los Angeles Times, and also thanks to our own stories by award-winning journalist Patrick Range McDonald at VoteYESonS.org. 

As I wrote in the Daily News, "Voters aren’t going to stand by as the character, culture, and connectivity of our city gets washed away in a sea of unwanted and unaffordable luxury housing mega-developments."

 

(Jill Stewart, a former journalist, is campaign director for the Coalition to Preserve LA, sponsor of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

ELECTION 2017--My name is David (Zuma Dogg) Saltsburg. I'm running for mayor of Los Angeles and I will be using all the mayoral campaign platforms allowed me to raise awareness of and to urge CityWatchLA readers to vote for … and get out the vote for … "Yes On S!"

My mayoral campaign is already a success because I get to write this article for CityWatch … whom I consider to be the front line of LA watchdog activism. I began my own LA watchdog(g) activism ten years ago and there are not nearly as many platforms for city activists as there were when I started.

I'm probably not going to say anything that CityWatch readers don't already know (many of you, who tell me what I know, know more than I do) but I'm a public figure and decided to get on the ballot. The people of LA need a voice a City Hall now more than ever. We need to be a CityWatch Army between now and March 7.

So, first of all, please do all you can to raise awareness that there is, indeed, a citywide election this March 7th. People are "electioned-out" and I'm fearful that if someone sees an election campaign sign they assume it's from the election we just had. So, with this local, under-the-radar election just letting people know the date of the election is a priority.

Secondly, I of course want you to vote for me and tell everyone else to vote for me because I believe I'm LA's only hope to keep this ship from sinking into something we no longer recognize. (Check out my video. See if you agree with me.)  

Next, get out the #YesOnS vote. Tell everyone you know, "Yes on Measure S” … because even if LA skyscraper developer Eric Garcetti is re-elected, Measure S will prevent him from selling-out LA to China developers for a Shanghai Surprise on the city and its residents.

The skyscraper issue is central to many other issues people are outraged about:

Traffic gridlock getting worse. Skyscrapers cause more traffic jams. When they are being constructed and then when 1000 more people are living on street that isn't any wider and multiply this over a decade of Eric Garcetti's, "Smart Growth."

Garcetti actually said that the goal is to make traffic so bad, that people jump out of their cars and take mass transit. But these people moving into million dollar (plus) condos drive cars and are not going to hop out to take the bus or rail. We all know this.

The city has to STOP doing things to make traffic worse. Garcetti justifies that everyone is gonna take the bus, so he can sell out LA to China developers for Skyscraper City. New York and China were built around mass transit. Los Angeles was not and is not a city that lends itself to mass transit and I'm not gonna waste precious column space explaining why anymore because you know.

Skyscrapers also have driven up housing costs and the overall expense to live in LA and it has caused an increase in homelessness. And, when I say "increase" I mean we have a triple alarm emergency on the streets (sidewalks, actually) of Los Angeles -- and Garcetti and City Hall CONTINUE to ignore building affordable housing and are still all about skyscrapers.

If you flew in from another world and evaluated city hall you would think they are a skyscraper development firm. Do they do ANYTHING else? Sorry, Garshady; EVERYTHING needs to STOP and we need to address the homeless issue.

Even if you aren't caring or compassionate about homeless people, as a city we can't have encampments on sidewalks, all over. Does Garcetti think the Olympics are going to come here?

It is going to take new and innovative approaches in ways the city is not used to and has never done before. HHH isn't going to be a drip in the bucket in actual number of people off the streets; compared to how many we have (and more are coming). I met a company at a neighborhood council meeting that takes portable shipping containers and converts them into home units. I am IN LOVE with these units; and you can see a video, about them on my website).

All the density of skyscrapers taxes LA's infrastructure, way too much. Water is a limited (and increasingly expensive) resource. They say we don't have enough emergency response/police on the street as it is … and they keep on adding more skyscrapers that allow more people to jam into the area.

I am not of the belief that people are coming here, anyway so we have to keep building more and more and more and more luxury housing to accommodate. The community decides what kind of city they want and we don't want China or Manhattan. It won't work in LA because of geographic layout alone. I wasn't a science wiz but remember "Law of Diffusion." So, stop building skyscrapers and people will have to live their lives in other communities.

Can't have a bunch of millionaires zipping around LA in Maserati's while we the people have to walk in the streets because the sidewalks are filled with tent encampments. STOP THE MADNESS! Vote Yes on S. And Yes on Zuma Dogg!

 

(David (Zuma Dogg) Saltsburg is a candidate for Los Angeles mayor. He has been a community activist in Los Angles for more than 10 years successfully taking on City Hall on numerous occasions. Learn more here.) 

-cw

TRUMP RESPONDS ‘STREEP OVERRATED’--Occasionally entertainment and politics intersect, often hitting a false note. You never want your screenplay to be, as they say in Hollywood, “on the nose.” You have to step sideways away from ordinary news and address some dimension of the human condition to make art.

But in moments of national crisis, stars feel a need to speak out. Nick Gass [[http://www.politico.com/story/2015/02/the-oscars-most-politically-charged-moments-115392 ]]   has reviewed some of the major such incidents at the Academy Awards. Jane Fonda used her moment on the stage at the Academy Awards in the 1970s to denounce the Vietnam War. Marlon Brando declined to appear and had a Native American activist accept for him, making a statement about Indian rights.

Robin Corey tells the story of how in 1978 Vanessa Redgrave was picketed by the Jewish Defense League because of her support for Palestinian rights, and when she won her category anyway, she said, “I think you should be very proud that in the last few weeks you’ve stood firm and you have refused to be intimidated by the threats of a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums whose behavior is an insult to the stature of Jews all over the world and to their great and heroic record of struggle against fascism and oppression.”

Michael Moore denounced the Iraq War.

So we now have another such moment, as Meryl Streep tearfully addressed the stars assembled at the Golden Globes about her anxieties and distress at the advent of the Trump era in the United States. 

She pointed out, as Hugh Laurie already had, that those assembled at the Golden Globes award ceremony (put on by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association) were Hollywood, foreigners, and the press, the very sort of people who have been vilified for the past 18 months by Donald J. Trump. (Laurie had wondered if last night’s ceremony would be the last, as all the foreigners were kicked out of the country).

(Donald Trump responds instantly: Calls Streep ‘overrated Hillary flunky’) 

She pointed out the diversity of the origins of the actors in the room, saying that Amy Adams, Natalie Portman, Ruth Negga, Ryan Gosling and Dev Patel were born abroad: “Where are their birth certificates?” she asked.

The essence of the acting art, she affirmed, is to get inside a character who is foreign to us and make us feel what they feel. “And there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that, breathtaking, passionate work.”

She was making two points against the xenophobia, the irrational hatred of foreigners, at the center of the Trump campaign and at the center of his Neonazi fringe, such as the Breitbart thugs. One is that key American industries, including the entertainment industry, often attain their excellence through openness to talent from abroad.

The second is a far more subtle and powerful point, which is that no human experience is really foreign to us as human beings if only we can find the tools to understand it, emotionally and intellectually. She was standing up for her craft, acting, as xenophilic, as involving a love of the foreign, insofar as the falling away of strangeness is the goal of great acting.

Her most powerful intervention, however, referred to Donald J. Trump’s mocking of New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, who is challenged by a congenital joint condition.

By the way, the mocking was provoked by Kovaleski’s having stood up to Trump over his false and monstrous claim that large crowds of Muslim-Americans celebrated the September 11 attacks in New Jersey. She called Trump’s antics a “performance” but lamented that it was in “real life.” She thus drew attention to the similarity of the political speech, which spins a narrative and often involves some mugging for the camera or even doing impressions of people, to the actor’s performance. Her complaint is that when Trump bully Kovaleski in public, he gave permission to all Americans to be mean to the weak, to become a nation of goons.

CNN: "Trump mocks reporter with disability": 

Streep is in tears because a Fascist is about to take the helm of our country. And her apprehension over how the tone set by the White House could coarsen the fabric of everyday life is well-placed. Her call on the press to confront these tendencies may be a bit forlorn. The television media, at least, appear to view Trump as a cash cow because he attracts eyeballs, which allows them to earn more from advertising.

But I think the situation is even more dire than just a president who encourages bullying by example. I think there is a danger that Neo-Nazis and Klansmen and other such gangs may start beating up Jews, and Muslims and Latinos and African-Americans. I think there is a danger that Attorney General Jeff Sessions will encourage this racialized violence, and that local police will be encouraged to wink at it. I fear a tear in the fabric of the rule of law. Fascism doesn’t begin with a big military machine, it begins with gangs of brutes.

Ms. Streep left us with the most wonderful advice, relayed from the late Carrie Fisher: “the dear departed Princess Leia, said to me once, take your broken heart, make it into art.”

Art yes. But also resistance.

(Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan and an occasional contributor to CityWatch. He has written extensively on modern Islamic movements in Egypt, the Persian Gulf and South Asia. This post originally ran on Juan Cole’s website.)

-cw

DEEGAN ON LA-Is METRO mocking us? The regional public transportation giant that moves tens of thousands of people across Los Angeles every day, says that the recent voter approval of Prop M, and the billions of annual tax dollars it will bring to them forever (there is no sunset for this special tax) is not enough. They say Prop M is just for construction and not operations. We need more money from some other source to help keep fares down, they plead. Otherwise, it seems, transit riders may be asked to help make up the difference through fare increases. 

Coming out of their December board meeting, Metro directors want us to believe they must have what they call a Property Naming-Corporate Sponsorship Policy” and the sales from it to help pay their operating expenses. 

This presents an interesting dichotomy: wealthy corporate interests splashing their names all over transit “products” in a pay-to-play scheme on one end, targeting mostly Latino and Black riders on the other end. Metro’s latest Biannual Onboard Survey” indicates Latinos make up around half of all bus and train riders, with Blacks making up about one quarter. So, 75% of all riders fit a specific ethnic profile that is attractive for advertisers and corporate sponsors. These leading racial groups, as well as other transit riders, may be asked to pay higher fares if other sources of revenue like corporate sponsorships are not available. 

For Metro, a public agency stewarding a public resource, to activate the sponsorship program could trigger a slippery slope leading to the crass commercialization of an otherwise very good public transit system. Leveraging corporate branding by condescending to minority riders, telling them that it will save them a rate hike, is bad policy and bad public relations. 

Here are the naming rights Metro says are up for grabs in the categories of Facilities, Transit Services, Programs, and Events:

  • rail or bus stations
  • parking lots and parking structures
  • maintenance buildings and structures
  • the Metro headquarters building in downtown Los Angeles
  • light and heavy rail lines
  • bus service lines and routes
  • transit way service lines and routes
  • established Metro-operated efforts/initiatives for the benefit of customers and communities
  • seasonal, annual or one-time events led and initiated by Metro 

Apple paid the Chicago Transit Authority almost $4 million several years ago to refurbish the Clybourn Red Line station that, coincidentally, happened to be the location of the new Apple store. In fact, the new plaza for the subway platform connects directly with the Apple store, giving riders the opportunity to exit the train and enter the store within just a few feet. While Apple hoped for the stop to be renamed the “Apple Red Line” stop the city demurred, offering instead the right of first refusal if they ever decide to sell naming rights to stations, which so far, they have not. No other major city, admits Metro, has gone even as far as the platform deal between Chicago and Apple. 

Los Angeles, a leader in so many ways, does not need to take the lead in this form of commercialization by giving corporations naming rights to our transit system 

Hopefully Metro will learn from the public beating and disastrous lesson suffered by the Department of Recreation and Parks last summer, when they authorized a hip hop clothing manufacturer to receive naming and logo placement rights to a basketball court that the hip-hoppers would build in Runyon Canyon Park. Like Metro, Rec and Parks is seeking additional revenue through corporate sponsorships, but is now taking a much harder look at the consequences. They cancelled the b-ball sponsorship deal after a huge public and political outcry. 

Metro directors may want to take some time to reflect on David Foster Wallace’s brilliant and sometimes satirical novel Infinite Jest” about a dystopian near-future in which each calendar year is sold off to corporate sponsorships, including the “Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar,” the “Year of the Whisper-Quiet Maytag Dishmaster,” and the “Year of the Whopper.” 

Let’s hope that 2017 doesn’t become the “Year of the Jumbo Mistake by Metro.” 

(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at timdeegan2015@gmail.com.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GUEST COMMENTARY--On December 19, Mayor Garcetti, accompanied by City Attorney Mike Feuer, announced that $5 million of Los Angeles taxpayers' money will be used to pay defense costs for undocumented immigrants facing deportation. Experts immediately challenged this gift of public funds, because deportation is a civil matter. They also claim it is discriminatory because it applies to only one group of individuals.  

Garcetti's chest-pounding response to Donald Trump's threat to enforce federal immigration law may have been staged during the holiday shopping frenzy and religious observances due to an ulterior motive. It distracted watchdogs' and the major media’s attention from announcements of the final versions of hiring mandates for both the City and private businesses – something that should alarm every Los Angeles resident, business owner, taxpayer, consumer and investor. 

On December 14, former Councilmember Jackie Goldberg, head of the Workforce Restoration Working Group, gave a progress report to Paul Koretz' Personnel and Animal Welfare committee on the Mayor's Executive Directive to hire 5,000 new City employees, which is launching in January 2017. The primary goal is to assure that those traditionally turned away due to criminal records or other issues have an increased opportunity to be hired.  

To accomplish this, Garcetti ordered all City Department heads to ensure that no applicant for "non-executive positions that do not involve public safety" is asked to disclose criminal convictions until after a conditional offer of employment has been made. It also admonished that credit history cannot be considered for non-executive positions "where the only basis for using the report is that a position is managerial." 

Garcetti described this Targeted Local Hire Program as, "an unprecedented opportunity to rethink the way we deliver services to meet the 21st Century demands of our residents.”

It is definitely unprecedented. It ignores that all City employees are at some level involved in "public safety." LA's historic tough background checks were to assure that personal and/or confidential information provided to the City is not improperly used or disclosed by employees. Another concern is that, even if not assigned to jobs deemed unsuitable due to criminal history, City badges can provide employees entry to private property and access to families and children.

Goldberg listed, in order, those who will soon be targeted for hire as City workers: (1) the homeless; (2) formerly incarcerated, including those on parole or probation; (3) "former" gang members; and (4) troubled and "disconnected"/fostered youth. These individuals will be recruited to replace the 46% of current City employees eligible for retirement within two years. 

Veterans are No. 5 on the list, followed by transgender individuals, the disabled, and the elderly. The application will not ask about criminal background, drug use, or credit history. The only requirements are to speak English well enough to be trained and have a legal right to work in the U.S., Goldberg said.  

These employees will earn $15 per hour, plus full benefits, as office trainees or in field jobs and will be permanent after six months or be eligible for promotion. Goldberg used the Mayor's analogy of this providing a "pathway back." 

KFI listeners may recall that on Memorial Day last year, KFI talk-show hosts John and Ken relentlessly chided Garcetti for his statement equating jail time with military deployment and veterans' service. During his announcement of a $9 million partnership between the City and CalTrans to employ the formerly incarcerated, Garcetti urged, "When people have paid their debt to society...we should be not just thanking them for serving that time, but allowing them a pathway back in."

Although the Mayor later claimed this was an error, he had just exposed his intention to force hiring of individuals with criminal records. But, he did not reveal they would be given preference over veterans for City jobs. 

No explanation has been given as to why LA residents and youth who have not been incarcerated, not joined gangs or become homeless are not provided an equal opportunity for entry-level City employment. 

Even more disturbing, Garcetti's "pathway back in" does not stop there. His Fair Chance Initiative resulted in Ordinance No. 184652 - "to limit employers' consideration of the criminal history of applicants for employment." This very restrictive law was signed by the Mayor on December 7 and posted in City Hall beginning December 13 for ten days. It applies to all private businesses with ten or more employees, located in or doing business in Los Angeles, and becomes effective January 22, 2017. 

Here is a brief introduction to this very complex law: 

It applies to any individual, firm, corporation, partnership, organization, group or association that is located or doing business in the City employing ten or more employees, including owners, managers and supervisors. 

Applicants can't be asked about their criminal background, nor can employers conduct any “direct or indirect” (including internet) search or ask any question that, “seeks the disclosure of an applicant’s criminal history” until after a conditional job offer is made.  

There are a few narrow exceptions for those carrying firearms on the job or otherwise prohibited by law from holding the position.  

If employment is then denied, the employer must perform a “written assessment that effectively links the specific aspects of the Applicant’s Criminal History with risks inherent in the duties” of the job. The assessment must satisfy all factors set forth by the City. 

Non-selected Applicants can file a civil action against the Employer. 

Fines for violation of this ordinance include the questionable provision that an "administrative fine paid by an Employer for a violation of this article may be awarded by the City to the Applicant or Employee up to a maximum of $500 per violation." Has the City become a collection agency for individuals to receive funds garnered as city revenue? 

Ironically, SEC. 189.14. AUTHORITY, states "This article is adopted pursuant to the police powers vested in the City...and is intended to promote the general welfare." 

Even in the holiday bustle, most Angelenos heard the Mayor's well-publicized and broadcast pledge to defend immigrants facing deportation. Why was Garcetti less forthcoming about his new hiring mandates for the City and private businesses? He just sent out a campaign email itemizing reasons to support his re-election. Why was this not on his list?

 

(Phyllis M Daugherty is a former City of LA employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

SPECIAL TO CITYWATCH--The story of saving Parker Center is nearly as entangled as the history of the place itself. The former LAPD headquarters, designed by Welton Becket and Associates and built in 1955 in downtown LA’s Civic Center, has been threatened with demolition for years. 

Its fate has become mired in matters having less to do with preservation than politics. In and of itself, the political nature of this effort is not surprising. What does set Parker Center apart from other preservation advocacy issues is the lack of a real plan -- by the City and for the City -- other than to get rid of Parker Center. 

Can Parker Center be saved and be re-purposed for a new use? Yes, the Los Angeles Conservancy strongly believes that it can and should be, but will it? Given the current direction set by the City administration, it looks more likely that Parker Center will be demolished and for all the wrong reasons. Here’s why. 

Plans Designed to Fail 

When the Los Angeles police headquarters moved from Parker Center to its new facility in 2009, the preservation community knew that the historic building’s future was very much in question. Yet no clear plan emerged until 2012, when the City, through its Bureau of Engineering (BOE), first released an initial study looking at ways to house upwards of 5,500 City staff near City Hall. The City’s stated need for over a million new square feet of office space is based on a now-dated study calling for 200 square feet per employee. 

While preservation and reuse were considered, the environmental review process leaned heavily toward what has become the City’s preferred project: to demolish Parker Center and build a new 450-foot high-rise tower on the site. 

Plan 1: Too Small 

Besides leaving Parker Center as is -- which wouldn’t come close to meeting the City’s stated project objectives -- the only reuse alternative called for keeping most of Parker Center intact and building a new addition and short tower at the rear. Yet this alternative was essentially designed to fail. 

For no apparent reason, the new addition was capped at eleven stories, falling far short of the City’s stated project goal to provide at least a million square feet of office space. 

Clearly, this alternative couldn’t meet a basic goal defined by the City. We asked the City, “Why not plan a taller addition that provides more square footage, and why was this the only preservation alternative provided?” We asked these questions repeatedly for the next three years as the process continued to play out. We are still waiting for a response from the City. 

Plan 2: Too Expensive 

In May 2015, City Councilmember José Huizar instructed the BOE to study another preservation alternative that would more likely deliver what the City wanted: a 750,000-square-foot building. Now joined in the preservation effort by the City’s Cultural Heritage Commission, we were pleased and looked forward to working with the BOE to develop a “win-win” alternative to demolition. 

Instead, the BOE quietly developed a new alternative on its own, with no involvement by the preservation community or architects experienced in preservation. Without any advance notice, the BOE took its analysis to the City’s Municipal Facilities Committee in August 2016, which voted to recommend the initial plan to demolish Parker Center. 

The committee rejected the new preservation alternative as being too expensive. The City claims that this alternative will cost nearly $107 million more than the City’s preferred project (all-new construction.) 

This significant cost differential is surprising, as we know from experience that adaptive reuse often costs much less than all-new construction. We asked to see the detailed analysis to understand how the City arrived at this figure. Apparently there is no such analysis -- nothing substantive has been provided to date. 

With no substantiation from the City, we asked experts in private development and adaptive reuse to take a look at the alternative to examine what little details they could. 

We believe that the cost estimates in the new alternative are heavily inflated -- described by some as the City “putting their thumb on the scale.” The City makes several assumptions that indefensibly disadvantage preservation, and some just don’t make sense. 

For instance, the alternative places a fifteen-story building atop eight stories of above-grade parking, which no private developer would do. It also makes the preservation option nearly 65,000 square feet larger, requiring more parking spaces for the same number of people and further driving up rehabilitation costs. 

The City also assumes that the contractor’s fee and general conditions require $14.2 million more for preservation than for all-new construction. There is no basis for this assumption. These types of cost premiums appear throughout the plan’s summary, adding up until the number is so big that no one would ever choose it over a much less expensive option. 

UPDATE [January 7, 2017]: Based on a convening on January 6 by the Conservancy of a panel of preservation experts (comprising highly experienced developers, architects, cost estimator, and seismic engineer), we strongly believe the reuse of Parker Center can actually result in a savings of nearly $50 million, and possibly far more. This directly contradicts claims made by the City stating preservation will cost $107 million more than all-new construction. See this fact sheet for details.

Missed Opportunity for Civic Center Master Plan 

When City Councilmember José Huizar made his motion in 2015 to study a new preservation alternative, he also directed the City to undertake a plan for the Civic Center. The Conservancy and others had urged the City to develop a cohesive vision for the Civic Center before deciding the fate of Parker Center. 

A master plan for the Civic Center is a great opportunity to provide a thoughtful framework for meeting the City and private sector’s needs for years to come. For instance, even if Parker Center were replaced, the City has stated a desire for even more space for City staff. There may be more efficient and thoughtful ways to add this square footage throughout the Civic Center, without relying solely on the Parker Center site to provide more than half of the space the City says it needs. 

Most master plans are large-scale, visionary, and based on extensive public input. By contrast, this has been a quiet and quick process involving a limited group of community stakeholders. The community advisory committee (CAC) contains representatives of nearby business improvement districts, including in part Little Tokyo and the Historic Core. The City declined requests by the Conservancy and the Cultural Heritage Commission to participate on the CAC. 

Despite the fact that Parker Center’s fate has yet to be decided, the Civic Center master plan process assumed that the building is gone. The absence of Parker Center is a foregone conclusion and a central premise of the master plan -- despite the plan having a stated objective to “balance past and present” as part of a legacy goal for the Civic Center. 

This deeply disappointing approach puts the cart before the horse, rather than studying all options from the beginning. It also presumes that the City Council will vote for Parker Center’s destruction before they even consider the master plan. 

In many ways, this is not a true master plan for the entire Civic Center. It addresses only the core of the Civic Center, primarily the city-owned properties. The plan focuses mainly on three blocks consisting of the Los Angeles Mall, City Hall East and South, and the block containing the 911 Call Center, Metro Detention, and Parker Center. From what we have been able to assess, the plan proposes a series of high-rise towers, as a companion to the one envisioned at the Parker Center site. 

We anticipate a final plan for the Civic Center to be released in January 2017. We also anticipate members of the CAC to support the plan, in part because of how the new development will be limited and what it can offer as a buffer. 

For some, particularly members of the Little Tokyo community who are most directly affected, Parker Center is essentially a pawn in a game of chess. Agreeing to support the demolition of Parker Center can help ensure that no new development spills over into Little Tokyo in the future. The “master plan” would also provide more than a thousand new parking spaces for the area. 

Reluctance by members of the Little Tokyo community to preserve Parker Center is understandable, given the neighborhood’s negative association with the building. Parker Center came into being through urban renewal and the destruction of two of the most vibrant blocks in the community. 

In 2014, the Little Tokyo Historical Society joined the Conservancy in urging the City to support a preservation alternative, in part to tell the story of what happened to their community. At the time, members of the society expressed a desire to own their past, rather than wiping it away through yet another demolition. Yet in recent months, as part of the Civic Center master plan process, the Historical Society has changed its position and now supports Parker Center’s demolition. 

We Can Do Better by Working Together 

The likely demolition of this highly significant building will happen not for valid reasons, and certainly not from a lack of trying by the Conservancy, the Cultural Heritage Commission, and many others. It will happen as the result of a misguided, flawed, and opaque government process designed in many ways to ensure the destruction of Parker Center.

In a one-two punch, the replacement project will likely go before the City’s Entertainment and Facilities Committee on Tuesday, January 10, 2017. We expect the committee to recommend the project, and for the full City Council to cast its final vote very soon thereafter—perhaps within days.

Meanwhile, the Historic-Cultural Monument nomination for Parker Center is still pending, waiting to be scheduled before the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee. The Cultural Heritage Commission (CHC) re-submitted the nomination in September 2016, after a procedural error by the City essentially voided the initial nomination submitted by the CHC in 2014. Yet the proposed project calling for the building’s demolition will likely be approved before its designation as a landmark. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. There is a better option for everyone than what’s now on the table. By working together, we can find a solution for Parker Center. Let’s engage and bring in the preservation expertise to begin addressing the various challenges and opportunities for this project, from rehabilitation and costs to community connectivity as part of a larger Civic Center vision. 

How You Can Help

Please call and request a meeting with Councilmember José Huizar, Council President Herb Wesson, and Mayor Eric Garcetti and strongly urge their support for Parker Center and its preservation through an adaptive reuse project. Parker Center is located within Councilmember Huizar’s district and his position especially matters as other councilmembers are likely to support his stance. 

City Councilmember Jose Huizar
Phone: (213) 473-7014
Email: councilmember.huizar@lacity.org
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/huizar.jose/
Chief of Staff Paul Habib, Paul.Habib@lacity.org 

City Council President Herb Wesson
Phone: (213) 473-7010
Email: councilmember.wesson@lacity.org 
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HerbWessonJr/
Chief of Staff Deron Williams, deron.williams@lacity.org 

Mayor Eric Garcetti
Phone: (213) 978-0600
Email: mayor.garcetti@lacity.org
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/garcetti

 

(Adrian Scott Fine is director of advocacy for the Los Angeles Conservancy.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

ALPERN TALKS TRANSIT--There is no reason to choose between more options for mobility and commuting. Improved roads, freeways, rail systems, bus routes, etc. need not be created at the expense of the others--it's like choosing food versus water.  Similarly, it's pointless and immature to choose between transportation infrastructure and planning infrastructure--without one, the other falls apart. 

Similarly, local versus regional versus federal help for our roads and freeways and rail systems need not be independent of the other.  Those who want more high-speed rail and yet give the cold shoulder (or even a more pejorative expression) to highway construction/upgrades are not part of the answer, they're part of the problem--and, of course, vice versa. 

On the Eastside of LA County, and in the Southeast Cities of LA County, that region benefits from both an I-5 widening and I-605 upgrade as well as with new Metro Rail lines planned to link into the current Gold and Green lines. 

And it sure wouldn't hurt to have a double-barreled approach to the South Bay Cities of L.A. County, in that a new Major Investment Study to extend and expedite the South Bay Green Line to Torrance, San Pedro and the Long Beach Blue Line is as timely as any potential freeway enhancements to the I-405 South Bay curve. 

And if some of us who foam at the mouth at any discussion of new freeways would just "take a chill pill", here's another reasonable question: would a freeway to connect LAX to the I-10 freeway via the La Cienega corridor, or an upgrade/expansion of the Downtown I-10, be any less desired by commuters than a direct LAX-Downtown train without the Crenshaw and Expo Line detour? 

So let's talk about regional rail efforts that might APPEAR local, but yet enjoy regional planning and consensus, and (no thanks to Sacramento) are getting regional and federal support. 

Regional Rail Example #1: The Wilshire Subway 

One of the best nominees of the outgoing presidential administration is one Anthony Foxx, the U.S. Transportation Secretary (photo above) who was unanimously nominated by the Senate and who is an advocate for both automobile and transit funding, and is a powerful advocate for both public and private funding for New Starts in transportation. 

Secretary Foxx was present for a ceremonial signing of $1.6 billion in federal funding to extend the Metro Purple Line (a.k.a. "the Wilshire Subway") to Century City.  This Wilshire Subway/Purple Line is used by commuters all over the county and Southern California region to access their jobs, and is already undergoing extension to La Cienega. 

The La Cienega extension is phase one of the Purple Line westward push to the 405 freeway, and the Century City extension is phase two. Measure R, the half-cent sales tax approved by LA County voters in 2008, is already dedicating $747 million for this second phase. 

The whopping $1.6 billion for the second phase allows all sorts of projects (including the third phase of the Wilshire Subway/Purple Line to the West LA Veterans Center) to be moved up the planning ladder at Metro as money becomes available for these other projects as a result of the federal grant. 

And although Sacramento has been dedicating by far too much money away from this locally-preferred project, the Purple Line continues to draw bipartisan support both from Washington and throughout LA County.  Let's hope that another grant is forthcoming for the third phase of the Purple Line. 

Regional Rail Example #2 

There are three main gaps of the Green Line--the first light rail line that didn't have a direct connection to Downtown, and which helps connect the peripheral regions of LA County to each other--to LAX, to the South Bay Cities, and to Norwalk. 

In that order, the attention, focus, and priority of both planners and budget directors at Metro exists to correct these "Green Gaps".  Of note is that--when the old Friends of the Green Line project did their outreach fifteen years ago--the local consensus was also in that same order. 

First, LAX.  Second, the South Bay Cities to Redondo Beach and Torrance.  And third, gone but not forgotten, is Norwalk.   

There is a major Metrolink train station at Norwalk that serves commuters from Orange and Riverside counties, and years ago an eastern Green Line extension was planned to connect this 2.8 mile gap between Metro Rail and Metrolink. 

It's no secret that when major connections and destinations are reached via train (or even bus) transit routes, ridership explodes incrementally.  That happened when the Red Line Subway connected to Universal City and North Hollywood, and when the Expo Line connected to the Westside. 

So it's long overdue that this "Green Gap" connecting LA, Orange and Riverside counties be revisited.  The locals in Norwalk and Santa Fe Springs did not show us a lot of love at all fifteen years, ago, but at least the interest has returned in a new generation of mobility-minded experts. 

And it's not just the locals who are interested.  Mayor Garcetti, Metro, and the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) are also taking note that this critical connection be ignored no longer. 

As predicted by Friends of the Green Line, the connection of the Green Line to LAX would suddenly turn NIMBY's into YIMBY's for Green Line expansion.  Both LAX workers and commuters would love to park or be dropped off a long way from LAX to access that destination, or even to access the entirety of the expanding Metro Rail network. 

Who would pay for this project, which could easily reach up to $600 million or more if it were placed underground or were elevated?   

Arguably, despite its entire location in LA County, the project was proposed for Orange and Riverside County funding in the past, and the same should hold true in the future.  L.A. County cannot reasonably fund and build all of its projects that benefit non-LA County residents and commuters.

But at least the overdue project is being re-explored...and this time, hopefully pursued by a multicounty agency that will be unstoppable in its attempts to plan, fund, and build it.  The next community open house (and the last for now) is at 12239 Sproul Street in Norwalk this Wednesday, January 11th from 6-8 pm. 

And for those of you who want our freeways and planning/zoning upgraded for the 21st Century as well as a rail upgrade...don't stop fighting and demanding for those as well. 

Because transportation of all modes and locations has never been a "mutually exclusive" sort of issue.  That's only for the short-sighted and petty, and we've no time nor patience for that in traffic-clogged Southern California.

 

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties.  He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  alpern@marvista.org. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)

-cw

@THE GUSS REPORT-On Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council will unanimously approve an extension of its contract with Best Friends Animal Society to continue occupying the animal shelter the city built, but could not afford to operate, in the northeast portion of the Valley, also known as the Mission Shelter. 

This deal was rigged literally from its 2011 inception, primarily benefitting the city’s politicians and the uber-wealthy Best Friends, at the expense of the taxpayers, animals and clarity on what – exactly – happened to scores of them who were passed through to Best Friends without the same accountability required of all other rescue groups. 

How wealthy is Best Friends? According to its most recent tax return, in the five-year period ending in 2015, it took in $313,676,006 in total support -- tens of millions of dollars more than when it came to LA in 2011. That is not Best Friends’ worth; it is just its income, while it grovels for money in advertisements. 

The taxpayers of Los Angeles do not collect rent from Best Friends for occupying the Mission shelter, or adoption fees, or dog licensing revenue, or fees that other, genuinely poor, rescue organizations pay to bail shelter animals. The taxpayers also provide Best Friends with free utilities, maintenance and security at the shelter. In 2011, and to this day, the city did its best to prevent a competitive bid from other well-established rescue groups for that tenancy. 

In a controversial, marathon-length City Council meeting on August 16, 2011, other LA-area rescue groups said they were blindsided when they learned that LA Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette said she sent out a (still unverified) RFP to more than 1,500 humane organizations to bid on occupying the Mission shelter, but that only Best Friends submitted a proposal. 

Teri Austin, who runs the well-respected animal charity Amanda Foundation, claimed (at the 05:15:38 mark of the video) that neither she nor any of the other leading, local humane groups ever received the RFP. Despite her plea, and those from other groups, the City gave the contract to Best Friends without investigating the claims of a rigged RFP process or Best Friends’ relationship with Barnette’s daughter, Mary Alice Davis. 

At the core of this rip-off is Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz, who embodies corrupt government bloat as the lawmaker who forever promises aid to suffering animals, but who always misses the mark like he did with LA’s porous, irrelevant spay/neuter law, licensing and cruelty laws, like his elephant bull hook ban that was so inept, the circus stopped exploiting elephants long before it ever kicked in. 

“I will call for an audit of LAAS and (Paul) Koretz will second it…to give him cover,” is what LA City Council president Herb Wesson said when he called me on July 3, 2014 after I collected thousands of signatures for an audit that would largely (but not solely) focus on the city’s dubious dealings with Best Friends. 

What Wesson meant by “giving Koretz cover” is very inside baseball. But it runs the gamut on fraudulent Garcetti claims like how LA Animal Services used Best Friends to falsify thousands of pet adoptions as I exposed in this CityWatch article from last October. 

The city’s relationship with Best Friends amounts to this: an unaccountable black hole where the city sends thousands of animals, counts them as “adoptions,” while all other groups taking in shelter animals are listed as “transfers.” The city does not require Best Friends to explain exactly where those animals went as all other rescues must. Note: Best Friends ships many of those animals to high-kill shelters in other states. By using this black hole as an illusion for helping homeless animals, LA politicians, including Mayor Eric Garcetti, falsely claim that “adoptions are up, kills are down,” when in fact they have no idea what became of the animals. And City Hall is about to, again, handsomely reward Best Friends for shielding the truth. 

The bogus “audit” that LA City Controller Ron Galperin eventually conducted was supposed to be based on a 72-page report requested by Wesson from me, following our lengthy January 3, 2014 meeting in his City Hall office. “Show me where the bodies are buried and we’ll audit it,” Wesson told me. But instead of using the report as a blueprint for exposing corruption, Galperin, Wesson, Koretz – and Mayor Garcetti – used it like a film negative; as a list of things they did not audit. 

And even with this rigged game, Best Friends has continued to cheat the city by using the Mission Shelter for activities that are strictly prohibited in its agreement with the city…..and with Koretz’ blessing. 

For example, the Mission shelter may only be used by Best Friends as an outlet for adoptions of animals that must first come from the city’s other shelters. Best Friends is explicitly prohibited from using it for animal intake, and the rule is there for a reason: to ensure that city property is used to help city animals. It is a secret known throughout the humane community that if you find an animal in another community, you can dump it with Best Friends, no questions asked. This is why the rule is there. 

In this 2013 email and accompanying impound record for a neonatal kitten improperly taken in by Best Friends, you can see the communication between a Best Friends employee and an LA Animal Services supervisor generating false impound numbers, a practice done thousands of times over. This activity was known to Koretz and the other city officials, including Galperin, who refused to audit it. The impound sheet shows the empty page in the city’s animal inventory system for one of those kittens. If the kitten had, as required, been processed through a city shelter, this page would have a photo, intake notes, a microchip number, inoculation and veterinary information, and the date when the kitten left the shelter. 

It is blank because the kitten never came in through the shelter….as required. 

It isn’t that Best Friends was ignoble in doing this. It is that they and City Hall were dishonest with the public, and it resulted in the deaths of scores of city animals whose turn it was to be taken by Best Friends, but weren’t because they were deemed “less desirable,” which means they require more love and veterinary care than a kitten to get adopted. And it costs money, even when Best Friends sits on a mountain of gold. 

At the final 2016 meeting of Koretz’ Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee, Koretz said that these two documents were “not credible” and that he “had not seen them before.” 

But which is it, Mr. Koretz? If you had not seen them before, how do you know they’re not credible? 

In fact, Koretz is lying in both instances because these two documents are on pages 21 and 22 in the 72-page report requested by Wesson from me in 2014 and provided to him, Galperin, Wesson and Garcetti at that time.

For two and a half years, Koretz actively ignored this and a wealth of other Best Friends-related corrupt practices and now recommends that Best Friends gets its contract renewed with the city on Wednesday. 

In the spring, Koretz will ask the voters of Council District 5 for another term in office. Before the primary, I will publish the 72-page report in its entirety in an interview with Jesse Creed, Koretz’ opponent, who is a public interest attorney, and an LAUSD product who graduated Princeton summa cum laude before graduating at the top of his Columbia Law School class. 

Creed has been endorsed in the CD 5 race by former City Controller Laura Chick. 

Koretz, Mayor Garcetti, Best Friends and LA Animal Services have refused to respond to direct questions regarding this matter.

 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a contributor to CityWatch, KFI AM-640, Huffington Post and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.)Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-As those of you who regularly read CityWatch know, the LA City Council seems to engage in “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” vote-trading, as CityWatch’s Richard Lee Abrams wrote here back in July. “No councilmember will vote “no” on any project in his or her district. As a result, any project which a councilmember places on the City Council agenda unanimously passes. They’ve got a 99.9 percent unanimous passage rate,” which is statistically impossible. The passage rate isn’t just a majority vote but requires that every single councilmember present must vote “yes” every single time, no matter how many laws a project would break. 

Despite coverage by media outlets including the LA Times, the Council continues to do business as usual, citing that members are immune to Penal Code § 86 because the mental processes of councilmembers “confidential and privileged.” The result? Runaway projects, spending, and a Council that serves the needs of developers far more than it serves constituents. 

Caney Arnold has thrown his hat in the City Council race in District 15 to turn this around. Arnold, who has a background in Air Force acquisition and program management, is fed up with what he’s witnessed in the Council. Grassroots democracy, government transparency and accountability are the cornerstones of his campaign. I sat down with Arnold to discuss why he decided to run and the details of his platform. 

Arnold says, “The main thing that got me excited in politics again was Bernie, a progressive candidate to get behind. At the same time, I went to (Councilmember) Joe Buscaino’s town hall on homelessness. I was trying to advocate for a mom and her two kid but there was so much red tape. The paperwork was daunting.” He also noticed that Buscaino was moving homeless people out of encampments in San Pedro. (In September, CityWatch reported on the Council Homeless Strategy Committee’s authorization of $615,000 for the leasing and construction of storage facilities for the homeless in San Pedro, without prior notice being given to the Harbor Area’s neighborhood councils.) 

“The focus on moving people from place to place doesn’t help anybody, [it’s] just costing the city more money on police, sanitation, mental health workers. People are already in the system or on a waitlist for help. This is just a newspaper or photo op,” he added. “The system is inefficient. The method should be to secure housing first to help get people off the streets. Taking them out of the environment would take care of them and reduce nuisance on the street. It’s a win win for all and what is used in many other cities.” 

The frustration Arnold met as a volunteer addressing the homeless crisis in San Pedro and surrounding areas led him to run for Neighborhood Council. Once he was on the Neighborhood Council, he says he started to receive CityWatch and became aware of other issues that concerned him, such as campaign finance. 

“I started to look at campaign contributions on ethics websites and was amazed. A little after that, I had seen an article in the LA Times on an investigation involving the Sea Breeze apartments in Harbor Gateway,” he adds. (The LA Times reported over 100 donors directly or indirectly connected with a developer had contributed over $600,000 to politicians while the $72 million Sea Breeze apartment complex was up for approval.) 

“On one side, I was excited about this weakness but on the other side, I was discouraged. Every councilperson seemed to be in the same situation. It wasn’t like Joe was different from anyone else,” Arnold says of his decision to run. “We spent 84 hours, gathering 839 signatures, door to door, at shopping malls to get on the ballot. We don’t have $300,000 like Joe does but I have an appointment to talk to the city councilperson in West Hollywood. I’ve talked with loads of people in Watts.” 

“This is grassroots. Someone like me can decide to get off the couch. All it takes is someone with energy and motivation to get out there and do it. There are lots of excuses why things cannot get done. I thought someone needs to run. I looked in the mirror and saw that I was that somebody so I ran,” says Arnold.

In my next column, Caney Arnold and I discuss his ideas to solve specific problems and issues in the city.

 

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GUEST WORDS-For over a month, I have been fighting to help more than 120 seniors, living in the Westwood Horizons (photo below) building in Westwood, from being evicted. I’ve met a number of them. Some are holocaust survivors. Some are veterans. They range in age from 70 years old to 100 years old. Many of them have lived in the building for decades. Serving eviction notices to our most vulnerable community members just before the holidays was outrageous. Since learning of the evictions on December 2, I have fought to do whatever I can to stop the process. 

Watermark took over the building in October 2016, and issued eviction notices a little over a month later. 

Under state law, the Ellis Act permits owners of apartment buildings to evict their tenants if they intend to take their building off the rental market. However, they must give proper notice and pay relocation fees pursuant to the City's rent control law of around $18,000 per resident. Furthermore, any senior facing an Ellis eviction can apply for a one-year extension, which the landlord must grant, if they’ve lived there for at least a year. After my involvement began, Watermark agreed to grant residents the one-year extension without having to apply, a positive step forward. 

In order to stop these evictions, I took a number of steps. First, I sent a letter to the General Manager of the Planning Department calling for a hearing regarding Watermark Retirement Communities’ proposal to renovate the facility and to change its use from residential to commercial. I also launched a pressure campaign on Facebook listing the names of each of the executives behind this unfortunate decision as well as phone numbers, email addresses, and mailing addresses, calling on outraged community members to demand they halt the evictions. 

Also, I was able to convince the City Council to immediately vote and adopt a motion I introduced asking the City Attorney's Office to look at seeking an injunction to stop the evictions, or ways to make Watermark apply for new permits to remodel based on their plan do a considerable renovation which would lead to the mass evictions of the senior residents. 

I’ve subsequently met with the City Attorney’s office, which has responded energetically to my concerns. I’ve also had conversations with attorneys representing some of the residents who are convinced that they would have a reasonable chance of winning in court over the question of whether or not Watermark is illegitimately using the Ellis Act to evict their residents. 

I also heard from residents that the company was going to lay off their employees in a few months, leaving them without necessary and vital resources such as a functioning kitchen for prepared meals. It turned out that they had never actually given layoff notices to their employees as was rumored.

Before the New Year, I received a letter from Watermark President and CEO David Barnes indicating that our demands are slowly being met. They promised to retain every employee needed to continue providing services for as long as the residents continue to live at the facility, even offering a retention bonus to the employees. With this action, Watermark took another step in the right direction. 

They have also agreed that every senior resident who leaves the facility will be able to return when it is completed and for the same rent they currently pay. 

Although we are making forward progress, our work is not yet done. The huge issue remaining is that Watermark has argued that they must renovate the building for life-safety reasons, and that it can’t be done without removing all the tenants during that period. Watermark appears to have a point that this over 50-year-old building needs renovation for safety purposes. I have a meeting scheduled this week with Watermark’s management, architects and engineers, experts from the City’s Department of Building and Safety, and possibly additional specialists brought in by the residents’ attorneys, in order to determine whether renovating this building can be accomplished without having to remove the residents. Other owners of similarly situated buildings have done it, and I strongly believe Watermark can too. 

I hope to work out an agreement with them that will allow the tenants to stay while still accomplishing the necessary repairs to the building. That would be the only way to protect their safety while keeping their lives intact.This whole episode is emblematic of the challenge LA, and society in general, faces as our elderly population grows. The shortage of affordable housing is dire enough for people of working age, but to subject our seniors to threats of eviction is almost criminal. The Westwood Horizons crisis should be a lesson to all of us on that score.

 

(Paul Koretz is councilmember for Los Angeles’ 5th Council District. He is running for reelection in the Los Angeles primary this March.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

CORRUPTION WATCH-Finally, someone is opposing Eric Garcetti in his bid for re-election as mayor of Los Angeles in March 2017. It is Mitchell Schwartz with his new side kick, The Developers’ Pig, Erika G.

Erika G first appeared with candidate Mitchell Schwartz on January 4, 2017 in front of the Department of Water and Power building in downtown Los Angeles. I found Ms. G, however, to be so fascinating that I decided to interview her for this CityWatch edition. 

First, I need to report that Ms. G clarifies that she is the former Developer’s Pig, but she is her own gal now. Her job was to help developers’ scarf up as many billions of tax dollars as possible. Ms. G explained, “Even a pig has to have some self-respect.” Adding that she thought her lipstick was just the proper shade of red, Ms. G complained that the Garcetti-DWP Bill of Rights was a lot of hog wash, and “I know hog wash when I see it.” She continued to explain that Los Angeles has become such a cesspool of corruptionism that she cannot stand it. “Development does not have to mean corruptionism,” she explained.

Ms. G continued that after wallowing in the developers’ muck all these years, she desired to take a bath so she trotted off to the DWP. “But at those prices, who can afford water?” she lamented. Ms. G related that the City Hall skims cash off the top of the DWP’s take from its customers. If the DWP hadn’t been paying tribute to the crooks at City Hall all these years, it could have afforded to fix the pipes beneath our streets without raising rates.” She added, “Every time you look at your DWP bill, you should realize that a considerable portion is being skimmed by City Hall. “Garcetti didn’t put that into his DWP Bill of Rights,” she snorted. 

Ms. G said that as the Developers’ Pig, she learned a lot of the inside dirt which she’ll be sharing with voters in the upcoming weeks. “Where’s the missing $424 million from the Hollywood-Highland Project? Hiding with Judge Crater?”   

Ms. G said the public wants answers to questions like, “Just what did Developer Leung buy with his $60,000 to Garcetti’s charity?” 

Why did Garcetti give $17 million to CIM Group for their illegal project at 5929 Sunset Boulevard? 

How do extortion and bribes interact with development projects in Los Angeles? 

Asked what she could do to fix corruptionism in Los Angeles, Ms. G pointed out that the new mayor has great power. “Yes, Virginia, there is a U.S. cavalry to ride to the rescue,” Ms. G shared with us. “It’s called the FBI.” 

Without going into detail, Ms. G said that we can see for ourselves that a new mayor will have great power. The new mayor will have access to all the city’s files including all the communications with the developers and their agents. The FBI has criminal jurisdiction over such corruption and Mitchell Schwartz, as the new mayor, can share all the information with the Feds. “I’m very good at finding dirt,” said Ms. G.   

When queried about that the Schwartz Administration would be like, Ms. G cryptically replied with the Mel Brooks’ line, “May the Schwartz be with you.”

 

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney. He can be reached at: Rickleeabrams@Gmail.com. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Better to drive a stake through the heart of civic debate in Los Angeles than bleed it dry with more fundraising-obsessed election coverage.  

What’s so bad about a shoe-string candidacy? What’s so bad about an underdog facing impossible odds?    

War-chests of campaign funds are impressive, but it’s not clear how they benefit the public. After all, it’s not to give the public a clear, unbiased view of their options that campaign funds are deployed. 

If a member of the public is buying a car, he or she deserves an opportunity to inspect all the available models, have them lined up, so he or she can see them side by side, kick the tires, look under the hood.  

But the public is denied that opportunity in the context of elections when newspapers disqualify candidates who don’t make fundraising a priority.  

Even if those candidates are unlikely to get elected, maybe some of their ideas will inform the debate. Readers might find them interesting. It’s not easy to collect 500 signatures. 

As for viability, a single debate can change the dynamics of an election, throwing into disarray plans for a game-ending primary. A single article can start a wave of interest, rallying fund-raising sources and tactical support. 

Isn’t it more interesting--and more likely to build an audience--for the press to mix it up, foment the debate rather than smother it, make incumbents get in the ring and fight for a second-term?
The press should be merciless on incumbents who refuse to debate. Such refusal should be the unpardonable sin of politics. No elected officials are above the public. If we ask them to show up for a couple of hours for a debate, they better well do so—quickly and with a smile.   

If the press reports on a candidate’s fund-raising, it should be one factor among others. Media outlets that receive public funding—KCRW to cite just one example—should be required to give 2 minutes of airtime per candidate. The Elections division of the city should host debates, with candidates sitting in the seats used by Councilmembers during meetings. Cameras are pre-set in that chamber, so it shouldn’t be expensive. 

Besides, it's money well spent. 

 

(Eric Preven and Joshua Preven are public advocates for better transparency in local government. Eric is a Studio City based writer-producer and a candidate for Los Angeles mayor. Joshua is a teacher.)

-cw

NEW GEOGRAPY--In 1949 the historian Carey McWilliams defined California as the “the Great Exception” -- a place so different from the rest of America as to seem almost a separate country. In the ensuing half-century, the Golden State became not so much exceptional but predictive of the rest of the nation: California’s approaches to public education, the environment, politics, community-building and lifestyle often became national standards, and even normative.

Today California is returning to its outlier roots, defying many of the political trends that define most of the country. Rather than adjust to changing conditions, the state seems determined to go it alone as a bastion of progressivism. Some Californians, going farther out on a limb, have proposed separating from the rest of the country entirely; a ballot measure on that proposition has been proposed for 2018. [[ http://www.presstelegram.com/government-and-politics/20161224/is-california-splitting-away-group-believes-california-should-form-its-own-nation ]]

This shift to outpost of modern-day progressivism has been developing for years but was markedly evident in November. As the rest of America trended to the right, electing Republicans at the congressional and local levels in impressive numbers, California has moved farther left, accounting for virtually all of the net popular vote margin for Hillary Clinton. Today the GOP is all but non-existent in the most populated parts of the state, and the legislature has a supermajority of Democrats in both houses. In many cases, including last year’s Senate race, no Republicans even got on the November ballot.

Homage to Ecotopia

The election of Donald Trump has expanded the widening gap. The two biggest points of contention going forward are likely to be climate change, which has come to dominate California’s policy agenda, and immigration, a critical issue to the rising Latino political class, Silicon Valley and the state’s entrenched progressive activists.

Most of the big cities -- Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento -- have proclaimed themselves “sanctuary cities,” and the state legislative leadership is now preparing a measure that would create “a wall of justice” against Trump’s agenda. If federal agents begin swooping down on any of the state’s estimated 2 million undocumented immigrants, incoming Attorney General (and former congressman) Xavier Becerra has made it among his first priorities to  “resist” any deportation orders, including paying legal fees.    

Equally contentious will be a concerted attempt to block Trump’s overturning of President Obama’s   climate change agenda.   In recent years Gov. Jerry Brown has gone full “Moonbeam,” imposing ever more stringent environmental policies on state businesses and residents. The most recent legislation signed by Brown would boost California’s carbon reductions far beyond those agreed to by the U.S. in the Paris accord (which Trump has said he will withdraw from). All of this is being done along with a virtual banning of nuclear power, which, as the Breakthrough Institute’s Michael Shellenberger notes, remains the largest and most proven source of clean energy.

California’s draconian climate policies have been oft-cited by Obama and environmentalists as a role model for not only America but the world. However, they will not be widely emulated in the rest of the country during the next four years. Instead, California may be opting for a kind of virtual secession, following the narrative portrayed in Ernest Callenbach’s 1975 novel, “Ecotopia,” where Northern California secedes from the union to create a more ecologically perfect state.

Ironically, the state’s policies, which place strong controls on development, road construction, and energy production and usage, are somewhat symbolic; by dint largely of its mild climate, the state is already far more energy efficient than the rest of the country.  But to achieve its ambitious new goals,  most serious observers suggest, the state would lose at least 100,000 jobs and further boost energy prices -- which  disproportionately affect the poorer residents who predominate in the state’s beleaguered, and less temperate, interior.

The impact of these policies would be far-reaching. They have already reduced outside investment in manufacturing to minuscule levels and could cost California households an average of $3,000 annually. Such economic realities no longer influence many California policymakers but they could prove a boon  to other   states, notably Texas, Arizona and Nevada, which make a sport of hunting down California employers.   

A ‘Light Unto the Nations’?

Even with these problems, no other part of the country comes close to being as deeply progressive as California.  Illinois, President Obama’s home state, is a model for nothing so much as larceny and corruption. New York, the traditional bailiwick of the progressive over-class, is similarly too corrupt and also too tied to, and dependent upon, Wall Street. In addition, both of these states are losing population, while California, although slowing down and experiencing out-migration by residents to other states, continues to grow, the product of children born to those who arrived over the past three decades.

California’s recent economic success seemingly makes it a compelling “alt-America.” After a severe decline in the Great Recession, the economy  has roared back, and since 2010 has outpaced the national average.  But if you go back to 2000, metro areas such as Austin, Dallas, Houston, Orlando, Salt Lake City and Phoenix -- all in lower-tax, regulation-light states -- have expanded their employment by twice or more than that in  Los Angeles.

Indeed, a closer examination shows that the California “boom” is really about one region, the tech-rich San Francisco Bay Area, with roughly half the state’s job growth recorded there since 2007 even though the region accounts for barely a fifth of the state’s population. Outside the Bay Area, the vast majority of employment gains have been in low-paying retail, hospitality and medical fields. And even in Silicon Valley itself, a large portion of the population, notably Latinos, are downwardly mobile given the loss of manufacturing jobs.

According to the most recent Social Science Research Council report, the state overall suffers the greatest levels of income inequality in the nation; the Public Policy Institute places the gap well over 10 percent higher than the national average. And though California may be home to some of the wealthiest communities in the nation, accounting for 15 of the 20 wealthiest, its poverty rate, adjusted for cost, is also the highest in the nation. Indeed, a recent United Way study found that half of all California Latinos, and some 40 percent of African-Americans, have incomes below the cost of necessities (the “Real Cost Measure”). Among non-citizens, 60 percent of households have incomes below the Real Cost Measure, a figure that stretches to 80 percent below among Latinos.

In sharp contrast to the 1960s California governed by Jerry Brown’s great father, Pat, upward mobility is not particularly promising for the state’s majority Latino [[ http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2011/04/non-white-youth-population-growing-in-california-and-nation-report-finds.html   ]]   next generation. Not only are housing prices out of reach for all but a few, but the state’s public education system [[ https://wallethub.com/edu/states-with-the-best-schools/5335/ ]]   ranks 40th in the nation, behind New York, Texas and South Carolina.  If California remains the technological leader, it is also becoming the harbinger of something else -- a kind of feudal society divided by a rich elite and a larger poverty class, while the middle class either struggles or leaves town.

Will America Turn to the California Model?

The new California model depends largely on one thing: the profits of the very rich. Nearly 70 percent of the state budget comes from income tax, half of which is paid by the 1 percent wealthiest residents (the top 10 percent of earners accounted for nearly 80 percent). This makes the state a model of fiscal instability. As long as the Silicon Valley oligarchs and the real estate speculators do well, California can tap their wealth to pay its massive pension debt, and expand the welfare state inexorably for its increasingly redundant working-class population.  

It’s highly dubious this model would work for the rest of the country. Due largely to its concentration of venture capital, roughly half the nation’s total, Silicon Valley may be able to continue to dominate whatever is the “next big thing,” at least in the early stages. Even parts of the tech community, such as Uber, Lyft and Apple, have announced major expansions outside of the state, in some cases directly due to regulatory restraints in California. Layoffs, meanwhile, are rising in the Valley as companies merge or move to other places. Google, Facebook and others, of course, will remain, keeping the big money in California, but the jobs could be drifting away.   

Under any circumstances, the rest of the country -- with the exception of a few markets such as Manhattan and downtown Chicago -- could not absorb the costs for housing or the taxes California imposes on its residents and businesses. Part of the reason stems from the fact that California is indeed different; its climate, topography, cultural life cannot be easily duplicated in Kansas City, Dallas or anywhere else. People will pay for the privilege of living in California, particularly along the coast. Would they do so to live in Minneapolis or Charlotte?

Nor, unlike during much of the postwar era, can it be said that California represents the demographic future.  The state -- even the Bay Area -- generally loses people to other states, particularly those in middle age, according to an analysis of IRS numbers.  Brown apologists suggest it’s only the poor and uneducated who are leaving, but it also turns out that California is losing affluent people just as rapidly, with the largest net loss occurring among those making between $100,000 and 200,000.  

Perhaps more revealing, the number of children is declining, particularly in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas. Children made up a third of California’s population in 1970, but USC demographer Dowell Myers projects that by 2030 they will compose just a fifth.

Nor is help on the way. Although boomtown San Francisco has maintained its share of millennials, most large California cities have not. And the number of people in their mid-thirties -- prime child-bearing years -- appears to be declining rapidly, notably in the Bay Area.   Coastal California is becoming the golden land for affluent baby boomers rather than young hipsters. Surfing dudes will increasingly be those with gray ponytails.

Instead of a role model for the future, the Golden State seems likely to become a cross between Hawaii and Tijuana, a land for the aging rich and their servants. It still remains a perfect social model for a progressive political regime, but perhaps not one the rest of the country would likely wish to, or afford, to adopt.

(Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com… where this analysis was first posted. He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. He lives in Orange County, CA.)

-cw

EASTSIDER-I was reading an old special Issue of CityWatch (from July 2004, no less,) and guess what I found? The entire issue was devoted to affordable housing. Of course, back then, the issue was framed in the context of a proposed ordinance for Inclusionary Zoning. David Lowell described the matter of affordable housing as follows: 

“Leading the City’s solution list is a controversial concept called inclusionary zoning, which, to simplify, requires developers who are building new apartments, condos and homes to include some affordable housing units, generally in return for certain incentive benefits like a break on density requirements or expedited permit processing.” 

Sound familiar? Here’s the fascinating part: The City Council Motion for the Ordinance was made by none other than Ed Reyes (thank god, now termed out,) and our very own Mayor Eric Garcetti, then councilmember for the 13th District. That’s right, our clever, smooth talkin’ Mayor has been riding this train since 2004. 

In fact, he and his buddy Jose Huizar (who replaced Ed Reyes on the PLUM Committee,) have both been milking this issue for bucks and power ever since -- even as they get a billion dollar bond measure through for their developer pals to build housing for the homeless. Because the truth of the matter is that for all of their work on the Inclusionary Zoning and other planning changes, there is less affordable housing than before, more people have lost their rent-controlled housing than before, and the housing that is billed as “affordable” is not in fact affordable. 

This is separate from a companion issue of the Council carefully looking the other way as many people in rent-controlled housing were inspected, rejected, ejected and just plain dumped on the street, so that politicians’ developer buddies could build, build, build. 

I have painful, personal memories of all of these shenanigans. Reyes and Garcetti decided to lock up land in Northeast LA through a series of “Interim Control Ordinances,” “Community Design Overlays,” and other indecipherable bureaucratic gobbledygook which really meant that no one was going to build anything unless and until they had the personal blessing of Reyes and Garcetti. And of course those blessings came with height variances, setback variances, glossing over density requirements, last minute plan changes, and even quick build expedites – all, generally, in the name of providing a few affordable housing units. Sometimes, even the PLUM Committee and the Planning Commission looked vaguely embarrassed as they toed the party line over any and all protests. 

In late July of 2016, CityWatch contributor Dick Platkin wrote a very telling article, “Getting Developers to Build Affordable Housing...Like Getting Blood From a Stone.” 

There were two important points in his piece. First, regarding any increase in affordable housing, he noted that “...as hinted at in the value capture report, LA’s amalgam of existing housing programs barely produces any net gain in affordable housing. This is because many market housing projects have extensively eliminated existing affordable housing through relentless demolitions and evictions.” 

The actual Value Capture Report can be found here. 

As Mr. Platkin notes in a “you can’t get there from here” moment: “...the Council and its value capture ordinance cannot avoid the essence of their conundrum: the need of developers to maximize profits from their real estate investments. The greater the City’s affordable housing requirement, the lower the resulting private investment and number of affordable units.” 

There you have it. The math of the reality that there isn’t much affordable housing in the City of Los Angeles. There wasn’t in 2004, there wasn’t in 2006, and there sure isn’t in 2017. As I noted in an earlier CW article, the City Council and the Mayor have been avoiding this truth as far back as 2006 when they tried to pass a big bucks affordable housing (Measure H.) 

The Takeaway 

It seems pretty clear to everyone from the LA Times to the Neighborhood Councils that developers own our Mayor and the City Council -- the PLUM Committee, the Planning Commission, and the Planning Department are all no more than an afterthought to the relentless destruction of our neighborhoods and our City itself. Where the communities have been able to generate the funds to challenge these developments in court, the City has lost most of the cases. But who has the resources to sue our own government all of the time? 

With virtually no opposition to re-electing the Mayor and the City Attorney, not to mention most of the City Council incumbants on the ballot in March, it is highly unlikely that anything will change, absent some outside force. 

Fortunately, such a force will be on the ballot in March -- Measure S, the Coalition to Preserve LA backed initiative, headed by Jill Stewart. 

I urge everyone to go to their website, read the summary of the initiative, the FAQs, and think for yourselves. If you live in or near a community which has had any of these outrageous projects foisted on you or your friends, if you read CityWatch, if you are in a Neighborhood Council, if you can’t afford rent -- in short, everyone outside of City Hall -- please take the time. You can bet that literally millions of developer and lobbyist dollars will be flooding in to stop this measure. 

For me two key provisions of Measure S tell it all. First, there is a two year moratorium on “spot zoning,” the favorite method of the City Council to throw out all of the planning rules for well-heeled developers. It would actually impact something like 5% of development projects. Second, and just as important, it would require the City Council to create a real General Plan and updated Community Plans, to reflect our City of 2017, not the LA of the 80s -- the last time the City paid any attention to the law. 

Hold Neighborhood Council meetings to discuss the measure. Get people involved. Remember, this is not a herculean task. Something like 10% or less of registered voters actually vote in these municipal elections. It therefore doesn’t take a huge shift in numbers to actually make a difference. 

If there is any lesson to be garnered from our recent Presidential election, it is that a relatively small difference in voter turnout, at the margins, can produce a huge change. 

So I say, go for it!

 

(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.

NEW GEOGRAPHY-- Across the country, white voters placed Donald Trump in office by a margin of 21 points over Clinton. Their backing helped the GOP gain control of a vast swath of local offices nationwide. But in California, racial politics are pushing our general politics the other direction, way to the left.

Some of this reflects California’s fast track toward a “minority-majority” state. Along with a few other states — Hawaii, Texas and New Mexico — California is there now, with minorities accounting for 62 percent of the population, compared to 43 percent in 1990. The shift in the electorate has been slower but still powerful. In 1994, registered Democrats held a 12 percentage-point margin over Republicans. By 2016, the margin had widened to 19 points.

The racial shift does much to explain why Trump lost some largely affluent suburban areas like Orange County, where 53 percent the population is Latino or Asian, up from 45 percent in 2000. Perhaps most emblematic of potential GOP problems was Trump’s — and the GOP’s — loss in Irvine, a prosperous Orange County municipality that is roughly 40 percent Asian.

California’s unique racial politics

Ideology plays a critical role in California’s emerging politics of race. Hispanic and Asian voters outside California — for example, in Texas — have tended to vote less heavily for Democrats. In 2014, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott won 44 percent of Texas Latinos. Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott garnered 38 percent of the Latino vote in his successful re-election campaign. In contrast, that same year, Neel Kashkari, Jerry Brown’s Republican opponent, won only 27 percent of the Latino vote in California. Only 17 percent of California Asians voted for Trump, nearly 40 percent lower than the national rate (27 percent).

These differences, ironically, have become more evident as California has become relatively less attractive to immigrants. Since the 1980s and 1990s, as California’s economy has become increasingly deindustrialized, the immigration “flood” has slowed, particularly among Hispanics. By the 2010s, other cities — notably Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston — were emerging as bigger magnets for newcomers.

These areas, with lower costs, generally work better for less-skilled immigrants. Latinos in Texas, particularly, do better than their counterparts in California — as measured by homeownership, marriage rates and incomes — and also tend to vote more conservatively.

Part of this reflects different political attitudes among minority leaders in the two states. “We’re not going to do it with welfare, we’re not going to do it with income maintenance, we’re not going to do it remaining contentious and divided,” notes Democrat Henry Cisneros, San Antonio’s first Hispanic mayor and later U.S. secretary of housing and urban development. “We’re going to do it if we come around a single theme: jobs.”

In contrast, California’s racial politics focuses more on serving an increasingly “stranded population” of poor people with limited opportunities for advancement. Indeed, a stunning United Way study found that half of all Latinos, and some 40 percent of African Americans, have incomes below the cost of necessities (the “Real Cost Measure”). Among non-citizens, 60 percent of households have incomes below the Real Cost Measure, a figure that deteriorates to 80 percent among Latinos.

Building a sanctuary for poverty

Zealous boosters of “diversity,” California progressives also embrace policies — in fields like energy, housing and workplace regulation — that place strong barriers to upward mobility. They have undermined what’s left of the industrial economy, and also opposed the production of new single-family houses. Jason Furman, the chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, has shown that the single-family house, on average, contributes 2.5 times as much to the gross domestic product as a multi-family unit.

Instead, today’s new-style progressives — who are primarily concerned with wealth redistribution, racial redress and climate change — have done little to address the ramifications of an increasingly deindustrialized economy that has cut into blue-collar opportunities. Rather than pushing growth, they have placed their emphasis on ever-increasing subsidies for the poor, including those working in expanding low-wage service industries.

To break this pattern, we need a different set of policies, whether they come from moderate, pro-business Democrats or what is left of the California Republican Party. The primary need is to replace welfarism with a strong, pro-growth agenda. This, critically, would include the expansion of single-family housing, something the American Interest’s Walter Russell Mead suggests could spark a new economic expansion. Since 2000, more than 95 percent of the minority growth in the 52 largest metropolitan areas has been in suburban and exurban areas.

If President-elect Trump succeeds in promoting policies that unlock growth, in part, by sweeping away the worst anti-economic growth regulations, it could create a new wave of opportunity for minority Americans. It would be a tragedy of historic proportions if California, long the object of so many immigrants’ dreams, ends up choosing dependency over opportunity.

(Joel Kotkin is the R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University in Orange and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism (www.opportunityurbanism.org). Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, a St. Louis-based public policy firm, and was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission. This article was posted most recently at New Geography.) 

-cw

RANTZ AND RAVEZ--The year 2017 has begun and we are all searching for ways to begin this year with a positive attitude and hopefully an improved quality of life for ourselves and our families as we sit down and read the logic and common cense by that veteran of the Los Angeles streets and political insider that can illustrate and bring to your attention the issues that impact you, your families and your overall quality of life. That is me ladies and gentlemen. The man-of-the-streets and of the Los Angeles political world. Waste in government spending, excessive taxation, massive traffic congestion, out of control homeless population, broken political promises and so many other issues currently face us from Sacramento to Los Angeles City Hall and all parts between. 

Let me begin with some of the new taxes that will be taking more dollars from your pockets and thrown into that deep hole known as the Federal, State, County and Local Governments. When you hear that government is there to help you, remember that while you are paying dearly into their elusive accounts, the money seldom appears to improve your quality of life. Take for example the traffic on the 101, 10 and 405 Freeways. From the San Fernando Valley to Downtown Los Angeles and to the Westside approaching the Los Angeles International Airport. It is a gridlock traffic situation 7 days a week. The frustration and billions of dollars spent on the local freeways has done little to move traffic faster than the pace of a Mollusk. I will save you the time to check and see what a Mollusk is. It is kind of like government. Very slow and hides when it perceives danger. It is a Snail. 

Where are those new sidewalks City Hall promised for your neighborhood a few of years ago? The same place many other City Hall promises have ended up. Lost in the committees and departments and various other hiding places where your tax dollars are stashed away and used for various programs and pet projects. Take for example the million dollars the city is providing to defend Undocumented Criminal Aliens facing deportation. While we all know that not all people in this country or city are criminals committing crimes, it is not the city’s responsibility to defend those committing crimes that happen to be in this country illegally. Those are your tax dollars that our elected officials want to use to fight the Federal Immigration Service. Your tax dollars are for city services and not for pet project ideas of a very liberal city government.  

As of January 1 we all get to pay a little more for everything we buy in Los Angeles. The sales tax has increased ½ cent for the Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan. I am sure most of us will be dead by the time anything is done to the 405 gridlock to LAX. Then there is the 1.2 BILLION dollar Homeless tax that will appear on your future property tax bill. The city wants to use the funds to provide supportive housing for the homeless in Los Angeles. Locations will be situated throughout Los Angeles communities. Some in the valley and others spread throughout the city. 

There is the 3.5 billion dollar Community College bond measure that was passed in November. This fund will be used in the Community College District for educational purposes. There is the County of L.A. 1.5 cents levied annually per square foot of improved property in Los Angeles County to fund Safe, Clean Neighborhood Parks, Open Space, Beaches, River Protection, and Water Conservation Measures. All of the increased taxes and fees were all by the voters during the November Election.  

It would be good for the City Controller to look into where the projects are and where the money is located. Preparing Controller Reports on senseless projects is simply wasting money and doing nothing to improve local government or truly addressing those issues that would or could improve services in the City of Los Angeles. The only time the LA City Controller got any publicity was when he went after the DWP Union Leader on a Training Fund that was set up for city employees. The expensive and lengthy investigation did not reveal anything that resulted in any enforcement action against the DWP Union or their leaders. In the end, the Controller put his head back into the sand and has continued to do little to shake up any City of LA Departments or managers.      

+++++++

The LAPD and the MTA are working on a possible contract for police services … pushing the LA County Sheriff out the door! 

While millions of dollars are appealing to LA’s City leaders, the lack of current LAPD personnel to enforce the laws and patrol the streets of Los Angeles to reduce the growing crime trends remains a major problem for the LAPD. With only 9897 sworn officers short of the 10,000 in the police department budget, it will be hard pressed to take on the responsibility of patrolling the various transit lines throughout the City of LA. 

The LAPD has eliminated certain services it delivered to citizens in the past due to lack of personnel. In examining the preliminary year - end LAPD Crime Stats, we find the following information: Violent crime in LA has increased for the third year in a row. A 10% increase in violent crime over 2015 and a 38% increase since 2014. That means more murder victims, robbery victims and the other major crimes in the city. While there are many reasons for the crime increase the situation is not expected to improve in 2017. 

With this in mind, how can the LAPD handle the public transit lines along with the streets and neighborhoods of Los Angeles without additional personnel? Police recruitment is down in L.A. and throughout the country and not improving. The Anti-Police LAPD Police Commission has done nothing to demonstrate any type of support or encouragement for the LAPD Personnel that are not motivated or encouraged to do what they do best “Protect and Serve” the people of Los Angeles.  

Policing the bus and rail system is a daunting task at best. Being an infrequent rider on the public transit system Orange Line and Red/ Blue Lines in and around Los Angeles, I can tell you that there are many violations that are not being enforced by the Los Angele County Sheriff’s Department due to the lack of Sheriff Personnel riding the transit lines. While I will on occasion see a Deputy checking the riders for payment to ride the Metro Lines, I can count on one finger how many times I have seen a Deputy on a city bus or train in the past two years. 

With most of the LAPD field personnel are working 12 hour shifts 3 days a week, I am sure some officers will work overtime for extra pay to support their families. How much can an officer do without rest considering court and other police activities? Without additional personnel, it will be hard pressed to protect the passengers riding the Metro lines in this region.

+++++++

I Thank Mr. O’Henry for his kind comments about my articles. I happened to see Mr. O’Henry while dining at Uncle Bernie’s restaurant on Ventura Blvd. Uncle Bernie’s, not my Uncle, is a great place to dine for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Try it and I am sure you will enjoy the experience. 

If you have a situation you would like me to review, drop me an email at Zman8910@aol.com

-cw

COMMERCIALIZING OUR PARKS-A controversial set of new rules quietly given final approval over the recent holiday -- allowing national parks in the United States to expand corporate sponsorships and commercial contracts with private companies -- is being called a "disgrace" by those who say the move is a betrayal of what the nation's parks should be. 

Despite outcry from citizens, documented in public testimony and hundreds of thousands petition signatures, the director of the National Park Service Jonathan B. Jarvis announced on December 28 that he had signed an order-- officially titled Order #21 on Donations and Philanthropic Partnerships -- which, among other changes, ends an outright ban on commercial advertising and lifts restrictions on naming rights in parks. 

"It is disgraceful that the parks service plans to sell our national parks to the highest bidder despite overwhelming public opposition to increased commercialism in our national parks," said Kristen Strader, campaign coordinator for Public Citizen, which organized against the proposed reforms. She cited more than 215,000 petition signers and hundreds of individuals who submitted official objections to the NPS. 

In his statement last week, Jarvis argued that public concerns over the changes were overblown. "Whether or not people and organizations fully understood the proposed changes," Jarvis said, "it was clear that people place great value on national parks and are insistent that they be protected as they belong to all of us." 

While he acknowledged the changes would allow "opportunities for limited donor recognition in parks," he pushed back against criticism by saying, "no one is going to commercialize national parks and park superintendents still won’t be allowed to solicit donations. We have federal law to back us up on that." 

While Strader gave the NPS some credit for removing a particularly noxious provision from the draft policy that would have allowed corporate logos to be placed on exhibits and waysides, she disagreed the new rules would not seriously change the look and feel of the parks. 

"Now that this policy has been finalized," Strader warned, "park visitors soon could be greeted with various forms of advertisements, like a sign reading 'brought to you by McDonald’s' within a new visitor’s center at Yosemite, or 'Budweiser' in script on a park bench at Acadia." 

Such a reality, she said, should worry anyone who cherishes the national park system. 

"In a society where we are constantly inundated with advertisements everywhere we go, national parks offered a unique and beautiful escape," Strader said. "Even in schools, students endure a constant barrage of billboards, social media advertising and marketing. Until now, national parks have remained relatively commercial-free, which is why they were such a valuable respite."

This order, she concluded, is "a dangerous shift toward opening our parks up to an unprecedented amount of commercial influence."

 

(Jon Queally is staff writer at CommonDreams.org where this report was first posted.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

CORRUPTION WATCH-According to the “Osmosis Theory of LA’s Decline,” populations tend to move from areas of high costs and low opportunity (HC-LO) to areas of low costs and high opportunity (LC-HO.) Darwin’s survival of the fittest has a say here too. The smarter the person, the more likely he or she will move away from Los Angeles. In other words, the more talented middle class is “osmosisizing” itself away from “high cost-low opportunity” Los Angeles to “low cost-high opportunity” areas like Texas, the South, Nashville and Arizona. (Photo above: uncollected trash in Koreatown, Los Angles.) 

There are other factors in LA’s plight. Because babies cannot move out on their own, newborns are not renting apartments and buying houses. The elderly often own their own homes and have their costs covered. Thus, the new births and the “not-dying” of the Boomers do not mean LA is seeing an increased demand for housing. 

The crucial element of population mathematics is that Los Angeles is driving out the most vital segment of its population, that is, the family age middle class. As they leave the City, we lose our future. (We have previously discussed in CityWatch on December 29, 2016, why LA has a lower demand for housing while housing prices rise.) 

Two Productive Segments of LA’s Middle Class 

Los Angeles’ middle class of child rearing age spans two “generations.” There are Family Millennials, born between 1981 and 1998. Their peak birth year was twenty-five years ago. Thus, there are fewer younger Millennials each year and an increasing number of the older Millennials are becoming Family Millennials, age 25 and above. 

Los Angeles’ other middle class “generation” is its Generation Xers, who are between the ages of 35 to 49 years old. Los Angeles already is deficient in its number of Gen Xers. While Garcetti and others were raving about the young Millennials living on groups of two and three in lofts in DTLA, they covered up the fact that the Gen Xers were leaving the City. 

Many in this group, who were between 27 and 41 years old when the Crash of 2008 hit, have mostly decided to leave dense urban areas. Although this generation is smaller than the Baby Boomers above them and the Millennials below them, Gen Xers are vital for any urban area for the next two decades. They are wealthier and more entrepreneurial than Family Millennials and their prior departure is one of the reasons Los Angeles has lost more employers than any other urban area over the prior decade. 

People with the entrepreneurial spirt are precisely the type that leaves the high cost-low opportunity of Los Angeles for the low cost-high opportunity areas in Texas. In fact, Austin (the capital of Texas,) was the grand winner in attracting Gen X entrepreneurials. Since 2000, Austin’s Gen Xers have increase by 44.9% despite the fact that the size of this population segment has declined 6.6% nationally and Los Angeles is doing even worse than the national average. 

As Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox wrote in NewGeography.com in December 2016, “This makes sense as this is the age when home ownership is most critical and people are looking for the maximum income relative to costs. Being in your late 30s to 50 does not mean you have lost the ability to dream, but it does make addressing reality far more imperative than when in your 20s.” 

Thus, a significant number of Gen Xers have left Los Angeles and the age group just below them, Family Millennials, is doing likewise. Both generations leave for basically the same reason -- LA is high cost with low opportunity. People want their children to do better than they are doing. Thus, families move to the low cost-high opportunity areas. 

Losing both GenXers and Family Millennials is Financially Devastating to Los Angeles 

According to Val Srinivas and Urval Goradia, writing in “The Future of Wealth in the United States Mapping Trends in Generational Wealth,” for the Deloitte University Press in November 2015, “…Generation X will experience the highest increase in share of national wealth through the forecast period, growing from under 14 percent of total net wealth in 2015 to nearly 31 percent by 2030. In contrast, “The Millennial generation will experience the fastest growth rate of net wealth. However, the generation’s share of national household wealth will remain below 20 percent.” 

By 2030, the Gen Xers and Family Millennials will control about 50% of the nation’s wealth. Any urban area that loses the middle class from both these generations will lack the financial wherewithal to sustain itself. The middle class has proven it will not raise its families in cramped high rises in Hollywood or DTLA or at Gehry’s Folly at 8160 Sunset. The on-going destruction of Valley Village’s residential areas is particularly ominous for the viability of the entire Valley. 

Los Angeles’ Absurd Solution is to Spend Billions on Construction 

Politicos have fallen in love with the disastrous notion that Los Angeles should make construction of extremely dense Transit Oriented Districts [TODs] and Infill projects its main business. This idea is a perversion of the Keynesian principle that during a recession, spending money helps a society to recover. If the government cannot find something worthwhile to construct, then, Keynes said, it can pay people to dig holes and fill them up again. The money paid to the workers will be spent in the stores, that will then make it possible to hire more employees and buy more products from suppliers. 

This principle is sound, but Keynes never encouraged spending money on harmful projects. (If there were a bona fide housing shortage, residential construction would satisfy Keynes’s requirements, but our Crash of 2008 was caused by spending billions of dollars to build into a glut – which is exactly what Los Angeles is doing.) 

As mentioned in a prior article, destroying rent-controlled housing in order to build luxury housing is atrocious macro-economic policy and harms society. Furthermore, the subsidy of unwanted luxury housing harms the Price System by misleading people into thinking that financing more high rises is a wise use of investment capital. Again, this dynamic plus massive fraud resulted in the Crash of 2008. 

It seems that both California’s Governor and LA City leaders think that deficit spending on construction should be Los Angeles’ prime business. While the spending of billions of dollars will have a short term stimulus, the long term impact will be devastating. 

The Crucial Exodus Time is Nigh 

When people expect prices to rise, people buy before the increase. The Family Millennials and Generation Xers are beginning to realize that home prices in Austin, Texas, outside Nashville and Atlanta, etc. are rising. Now is the time for them to jettison LA and buy where costs are still low and opportunity is high. As Gen Xers and Family Millennials see that home prices in other areas of the nation are beginning to increase, their departure rate from LA will accelerate. The few Gen Zers who are still here will soon realize that they need to unload their properties in LA before the next crash as well as buy elsewhere before those housing prices significantly increase. 

The temporary inflation in R-1 prices will benefit the Gen Xers who did not move away prior to the Crash of 2008. As they move to higher management levels, they can afford better homes. They realize that selling their R-1 homes in Valley Village is their last chance to get their money out of their Valley homes. The financial pressure to escape from LA is irresistible. 

A Gen Xer can sell an LA home for $1 million and buy a larger home in Texas for only $450,000. The housing cost differential between Los Angeles and Texas and Nashville and Atlanta, etc. is go great, that the equity in an LA home may allow a Gen X family to buy a better home for all cash. At the very least, the family will have a whopping down payment with a very small mortgage. For Gen Xers, opportunity is knocking twice. 

The Impact of Measure S 

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative is officially on the March 2017 ballot as Measure S. If it passes, it will halt the most dramatic threat to LA’s future, i.e., the mega projects, which are at the root of the extortion and bribery running LA City Hall. 

Even if Measure S passes, however, Infill developers will continue to bid up the prices of residences way beyond their value as mere living space. If all single homes were re-zoned R-1, no matter what higher zoning surrounded them, families could afford to look for a home in LA. Such a down zoning would prevent the Infill developers from bidding up home prices and a family could feel secure that its residential neighborhood would be safe from developers for decades. The opposite will continue to be the situation for LA. Residential prices will temporarily escalate as Infill developers bid up the purchase prices.   

Science Will Prevail 

Despite misinformation from City Hall and its apologists like Christopher Thornberg of Beacon Economics and Joel Singer of California Association of Realtors on Channel 4's Conan Nolan’s show, the osmosis-like movement of talented middle class from Los Angeles to the suburbs in Arizona, Texas and the rest of the Sun Belt will prevail. Has there ever been a time in history when people voluntarily moved away from low cost-high opportunity areas to high cost-low opportunity areas?

 

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney. He can be reached at: Rickleeabrams@Gmail.com. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GELFAND’S WORLD--Over the past few days, several of my friends have asked me to support them in their attempt to create a reform movement in the California Democratic Party. This isn't the first such attempt by any means, but the current confluence of bad news on the national level and grass roots rebellion on the local level makes this attempt a bit more likely to succeed. My comment is that their reform platform should go even farther. 

The Blue Revolution, as it calls itself, proposes structural changes in the way the Democratic Party rules itself. Most of what it suggests is valid, but of little interest to the rest of us. But they do get to one topic that is important -- restructuring the way that members of the Democratic National Committee are selected. I would like to suggest a reason why this is important. The DNC plays a critical role in the way presidential primary elections are scheduled. The current DNC has been an utter failure in dealing with the chronic problem of giving great power to Iowa and New Hampshire, two states which fail to represent the United States as a whole or, for that matter, speak for liberal values. 

Our local rebels want to change the way that California's DNC representatives are chosen. More power to them. But let's take it farther. A real reform proposal would be to demand that the DNC change the order of primaries to give the rest of the country a chance. As long as we're at it, how about making California the first or second state in the 2020 primaries? 

We will know that a newly restructured DNC is for real when New Hampshire is kicked out of its first place position in the presidential primaries, and not until then. If our California DNC delegation can't make some noise about this long-overdue change, then what good are they? 

Moving primaries around is a start, but it's still just a small piece of what ails us. I would like to offer a proposal that is both thoroughly radical and yet profoundly conservative. You might say it is self-sacrificial yet ambitious. 

The background: 

Back in the old days, Democrats got money and support from unions and from a few individual donors. The big business interests didn't feel a lot of kinship with Democrats, and gave their money mostly to Republicans. Democrats found themselves outspent, but managed to hold control of the congress for most of a half century. Unfortunately, the Democrats who controlled the U.S. Congress got a little greedy. They figured that business interests had to deal with them anyway because they held the power, so they might as well take money from business. 

It was the perfect example of a short term success that becomes a long term problem. Let's consider one example of how this worked out. We'll do so by asking the following question -- does anyone trust the U.S. congress to represent the interests of the American public when it comes to prescription drug pricing? The answer is pretty obvious isn't it? We're not going to find a lot of people who would say, "I believe that the congress will do what's right for us when it comes to that issue." Notice that Republicans and Democrats are equally damaged (in the moral sense) by their acceptance of pharmaceutical money. 

The Democrats have a real problem when they are not in the majority, because they don't have a simply stated ideology to fall back on. Republicans have it easy. All they have to do is recite, "Less government, lower taxes, a stronger military." Simplistic thinking combined with simplistic rhetoric does have its audience. In a nation that has been watching itself decline as an economic power since the oil embargo of the 1970s, the Democrats don't have a real strong slogan of their own to counter with. 

So how about if the Blue Revolution and those of us who think of ourselves as Reform Democrats create our own litmus test. We will support candidates who refuse to take money from the drug companies, from the casinos, from oil companies and computer chip manufacturers, from Facebook and Google, Walmart and Microsoft. We will support a party that represents workers. We're not necessarily hostile to business -- we'll work with business in terms of legitimate needs -- but we need to understand who we are first. 

We can start here in California. Since this is a CityWatch column, let's also apply the rule to Los Angeles City Council elections. Anybody who takes money from the developers doesn't get my vote. 

I understand that it's easy to poo-poo these suggestions as being impossible to achieve. Allow me to suggest that the internet age has changed things quite a bit. I suspect that plenty of people would donate a few dollars to candidates who pledge to follow the new rule by refusing corporate money. It will require candidates who are willing to join in a new political culture. The opportunity exists for a newly reformed Democratic Party to flourish. But it has to be a party that understands that modern voters will see through insincerity. 

Addendum 

In my previous column, I argued that those of us who are so appalled by the Trump election should not forget our anger. One commenter argued, not unreasonably, that we shouldn't match the hatred we saw applied against Obama with hatred of our own. Fair enough, but let's clarify. I would argue that it is legitimate to be angry about the victory of racism, misogyny, and bullying. This isn't hatred so much as it is justifiable outrage. This does not mean that we should lose our self-control, but that we should stay motivated. 

Someone named Phil Shailer said it much better than me. This reaction to Trump voters has been making the rounds and is likely to go viral because it speaks for so many of us.

 

Finally, let me thank Bill Roberson, Shannon Ross, and Carrie Scoville for making me aware of the Blue Revolution.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for City Watch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net)

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-Several weeks ago in Can the Cheap Perfume of "Approve with Conditions" Mask the Stink of Bad Planning?  I explained how the real purpose of lengthy “conditions of approval” for large, controversial real estate projects like 333 S. LaCienega is to neutralize community opposition. These endless promises are intended to defuse challenges to mega-projects, like the one pictured above in a shorter form than proposed. These promises, transformed into “conditions of approval,” are nearly worthless, but often succeed in persuading neighborhood critics to drop their opposition to bad projects. (Photo above: La Cienega and Third Street intersection.) 

This sordid process thrives in Los Angeles because decision makers routinely approve controversial projects once they receive campaign contributions and once community opposition has been sidelined by developer promises. In these situations, the decision makers never bother to ask such obvious planning-related questions as: 

  • Does the project conform to the very plans and zones that the City Planning Commission and the City Council legally enacted after an extensive preparation and adoption process? 
  • Does the design of the proposed project match the character and scale of surrounding residential areas, as required by the City Council-adopted Community Plans, as well as the design guidelines now included in the General Plan Framework Element? 
  • Do public infrastructure and public services have sufficient capacity – per Framework Policy 3.3  -- to meet future user demand stemming from the approved project? 
  • Will the project’s Environmental Impact Report conclusions be monitored and updated once the City Council adopts approval ordinances? 
  • Will project approvals be phased, ensuring that later phases are contingent on certified compliance with the original Conditions of Approval? 
  • Will a developer’s multiple promises to community groups and elected officials, such as job generation and transit ridership, be accurately and regularly monitored? 
  • Will there be real-world consequences, such as revocation of certificates of occupancy or partial demolition of structures, if promises are not kept? 

Because these obvious questions are never asked, the legislative actions, such as spot-zoning, blocked by Measure S, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, predictably lead to truly bad city planning. For example, the proposed luxury high rise at the former Loehman’s site – 333 S. LaCienega -- perfectly illustrates how these bad planning practices proliferate in Los Angeles, with cascading adverse consequences. Consider the following: 

  • Clash with character and scale of nearby areas: As should be obvious the rendering above, this project does not comply with the legally required General Plan findings that the structure be consistent with the scale and character of the neighborhood’s residential area. More specifically, the project will be 240 feet high and have a Floor Area Ratio/FAR (i.e., building mass) of 6.0 on a lot where height is restricted to 45 feet and building mass is limited to an FAR of 1.5. As for compatible character, the proposed tower has a nautical design, reminiscent of a cruise ship, while the surrounding residential buildings have Spanish Revival architecture. Admittedly, a cruise boat might come in handy when massive earthquakes and climate-change induced sea-level rises permanently flood the greater Fairfax area, but for now this nautical design is totally at odds with the area’s character. 
  • Traffic congestion: The project is located at one of the most congested intersections in Los Angeles. Called the Bermuda Triangle, the site is the convergence point of San Vicente Boulevard, Third Street, LaCienega Boulevard, Burton Way, and LeDoux. No combination of street signs, signal lights, and traffic officers has managed to keep this intersection clear during rush hours, and the construction of an auto-centric luxury tower at this location can only make a bad traffic situation worse. 
  • Unconvincing public necessity: Los Angeles City Charter, Section 558, clearly states that to qualify for General Plan Amendments and zone changes, a project must conform to public necessity, convenience, general welfare, and good zoning practice. In this case, the tenants will be extremely rich, paying an average rent of $12,000 per month for lavish apartments in a building with five star amenities, including on-call luxury cars and drivers. These are certainly wonderful features for the 1 percent who can afford them, but the Wilshire Community Plan area has no demonstrated shortage of parcels that can accommodate such luxury apartments. The use of spot-zoning and spot-planning to jack up a 45 foot height limit to 240 feet may meet a private need to maximize profit, but it does not meet any public need. There is no public necessity for a spot-General Plan Amendment and spot-Zone Change to build a luxury apartment tower where it is strictly illegal and unwarranted. 
  • Poor Zoning Practices eliminate certainty: The related City Charter finding of good zoning practice is also sharply at odds with this project. The City Council must take three separate actions to legalize this project: a spot-zone change, a spot-height district change, and a spot-General Plan Amendment. Not only is City Charter Section 555 clear that these legislative actions must apply to socially and geographically significant areas (i.e., not single parcels), but these poor planning practices totally eliminate certainty from the planning process. When individuals, families, or companies move into an area, they have clear expectations of what can be legally built near their homes and businesses. But, spot-zoning completely removes this certainty. Cities like Los Angeles then become the Wild West. Spot-zoning through a City Council vote to permit a 240 foot high rise tower where 45 feet is the law eliminates all predictability from the planning process. The zones and plan designations that people assumed about their neighborhood when they moved in can vanish at the snap of a deep-pocketed developer’s fingers. 
  • Affordable housing hype: The project claims that it needs a major economic incentive, much greater building mass, to accommodate large luxury apartments, through LA’s Density Bonus Ordinance. More specifically, the developer intends to replace 13 of 145 luxury apartments with low-income units to build a much larger building. Yet the developer has owned this building site for many years and has virtually no land acquisition costs. In this case, LA’s genuine need for more affordable housing has become a thin cover story for the construction of 130 luxury rental apartments where less than half of that figure is legally permitted. 
  • Misuse of on and off-site improvements: The project’s conditions of approval, as voted by the City Planning Commission and the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee, include adjacent street trees, bicycle infrastructure, and a quasi-public fountain. Yet in nearby Los Angeles and Beverly Hills neighborhoods, there are many existing pedestrian-oriented projects and corridors. Some have been built and operated as basic municipal services, not as extensions of mega-projects. Others are linked to by-right buildings that conform to plans and zones, and that do not need City Council spot-zoning rescue ordinances to usher in public improvements. 
  • Bad Precedents: To justify height and mass far above legal limits, the project invokes other nearby buildings that exceed 45 feet. Yet, most of these over-height buildings also required spot-zoning approval from elected officials to be built. For example, one of these projects, across the street, at 8500 Burton Way, is a prototype for this project and owned by the same developer. Yet, when it was permitted, its neighbors were told it would not become a precedent for more ad hoc zone changes and general plan amendments. Nevertheless, the genie is out of the bottle. If the City Council eventually approves 333 S. LaCienega, it is only a question of time until nearby property owners make parallel requests. They will quickly realize that similar zone changes and General Plan amendments can green light more lavish and lucrative high-rise apartment towers on their properties. 

The take away from this case study is that a few poor planning practices eventually open up the flood gates for more bad decisions. Their cumulative impact is municipal demise, but good planning practices can move a city in the opposite direction. Los Angeles can still become the progressive, highly livable city that most of residents and visitors truly desire. It might even eventually become the global city that its City Hall boosters magically believe can be achieved through real estate speculation.

 

(Dick Platkin is a former Los Angeles City Planner and also a Board Member of the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association. He welcomes comments and corrections at rhplatkin@gmail.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

SUSTAINING THE CITY-Try to ignore the federal election results for a moment, if you can. There is a lot of fear, dread and loathing about City overdevelopment, worsening traffic (as a result of overdevelopment), and worsening environmental issues (also a result of overdevelopment). In short, we have the foxes guarding the henhouse and a Planning Politburo that appears hell-bent towards shredding all law and livability in the City of the Angels. 

Corrupt City Councilmembers and Mayors? Nothing new. Oversized influence of mega-developers at City Hall? Nothing new. But what appears to be a growing trend is that, even when a City Councilmember is doing the right thing, LA City Planning ignores the will of the citizenry and their elected leader, transforming a neighborhood into an environmental and quality-of-life-nightmare. 

ENTER MEASURE S:  This spring's elections (March 7, 2017-- closer than you might think) will feature a measure that -- no matter what the agenda-driven professional liars and self-serving creepies say -- does the following: 

  • Developers will have to have to pay for their traffic and environmental impact reports to be done by independent experts, and not by their own hired guns. EIR's have to mean something, and they have to be credible.
  • Backroom deals between billionaire developers and City Councilmembers will be made illegal, and City Council rules and laws will be adhered to and enforced. 
  • Developers will have to prove to impacted communities that their new megaprojects can absorb the new development with respect to traffic and other environmental impacts. 
  • Despite claims by mega-developers that they want to create affordable housing, the opposite has been the result of these at-market and oversized, over-tall projects (which often have over 50% vacancy) that ultimately leave fewer, and not more, truly affordable housing for Angelenos. 
  • The City Council will have to (finally) update the City’s legally-required Community and General Plans that balance growth and environmental impacts. 

You know...follow and obey the laws!

After years of being told that we were decades (not years, but decades) behind in our Planning for the regions and totality of our City, it's time we had the ability to catch up in our Planning infrastructure the way we just did with our Transportation infrastructure. 

The City spends gobs of time and resources on lots of priorities, but the basics of planning for a big city that makes scientific and environmental sense? Nope! 

But no longer. 

If the Planning Department can tell the Mar Vista Community Council, its residents and its Councilmember (Mike Bonin of CD11) to go pound sand when a developer (Pamela Day and her Crimson Holdings cronies) consistently lie, obfuscate, and disempower the neighborhoods of Mar Vista...what can we do? 

If the Planning Department ignores the pleas of the Mar Vista Community Council, the CD11 office and planners, and the local residents (who have always been for affordable housing) when they plead for a 3-5 story project but get an 80+-foot tall, 7-8 story project that is the tallest development for miles, and with entirely insufficient parking and infrastructure so that the developer can win the lotto...what can we do? 

And what can you do when this keeps going on in your neighborhood -- black, white, Latino, Asian, mixed, poor, wealthy, etc.? What can you do when the Planning Department gives us the cold shoulder and ignores our legal rights, recommendations and pleas? 

Vote Measure S into law -- we have to STOP the LA City Planning Politburo. We have to STOP the unsustainable, environmentally-destructive madness. We must have a civilized, sustainable city that has rules that are followed. 

STOP the tone-deaf, agenda-driven, wild-eyed, build-build-build group-thinkers at LA City Planning. 

Vote YES on Measure S!

 

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties.  He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  alpern@marvista.org. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

EDUCATION VUE-In a sign that California is quickly emerging as the nation’s progressive conscience-in-exile, a new Los Angeles education-reform group has launched an ambitious initiative that it claims could close historic student achievement gaps in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). 

Members of Reclaim Our Schools LA (ROS-LA), a coalition of educators, labor unions and social justice organizations, told a December media event attended by about one hundred parents, students and supporters (photo above) in the library of South LA’s Dorsey High School, that the key to substantive school reform is to transform LAUSD into a “community school district.”

Community schools, which have roots in the progressive movement of the early 20th century but have been undergoing a recent revival, look beyond academics to the entrenched, poverty-related social, emotional and health barriers that keep kids in high-needs districts from succeeding in school. The approach redresses those needs by partnering with families, local government and community-based organizations to provide “wraparound services” — health clinics, mental health counselors, after-school programs or parent support services — on school grounds. 

“We believe schools should be safe havens for students and families,” said coalition member Angelica Salas. “Our coalition is committed to making sure that every student can benefit from an education, independent of what school or what ZIP code they live in.” Her group also used the event to unveil a detailed argument for community schooling in a paper called “A Vision to Support Every Student.”  

In addition to Salas, who is the executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, nine coalition speakers were present, including union president Alex Caputo-Pearl of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), and Max Arias, executive director of Service Employees International Union Local 99. 

The coalition was short on the details of what an actual community school might look like, saying each would be tailored to specific community needs. But the group noted that LAUSD, whose student population is 80 percent low-income, already boasts a number of successful pilot community schools, including San Fernando High School Community School in the economically depressed North San Fernando Valley, and James A. Garfield Senior High School in East LA, whose on-campus “Wellness Center offers physical exams, family planning and mental health services. 

Though the movement has been mostly overlooked by the media in their coverage of the 25-year education wars that have pitted the “school choice” privatization movement against traditional neighborhood public schools, it has produced impressive gains in math and reading proficiency, along with increases in graduation and college-admission rates, with the kind of disruptive, high-needs students that the corporate charter school model tends to exclude. Those successes gained community schooling a toehold in the Obama administration’s 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act, which included language supportive of the approach. 

“Unlike other models of reform that we see today,” said coalition member John Rogers, an education professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, “[community schooling] is a model of reform that is inclusive; that doesn’t exclude English learners; that doesn’t exclude foster [care students]; that doesn’t exclude students with special needs. It says everybody is part of our community.” 

According to ROS-LA’s Patricia Castellanos, who is also deputy director of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), Oakland Unified and Cincinnati Public Schools have already declared themselves community school districts, with Austin, Texas possibly to follow. 

But as the nation’s second-largest school district, LAUSD would considerably raise the profile of community schooling with what Castellanos termed a “new path” to reform, with the potential to impact national education policy. 

That prospect, coalition members repeatedly emphasized, has taken on new urgency in the months since last spring, when ROS-LA began organizing. Donald Trump has alarmed public education advocates with both his campaign proposal for a $20 billion school voucher program and his nomination of anti-public schools radical Betsy DeVos to head the Department of Education. 

“If there were ever a time to invest more in our public schools, it is now,” declared coalition member Tina Trujillo, associate professor at U.C. Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education. 

However, ROS-LA’s ambitions may not only collide with the incoming administration, but also run up against Republican vows to cut federal funding for health services, food assistance and cash assistance for low-income seniors and people with disabilities. 

California currently receives about $69.3 billion in federal support for health and human services, with $7.7 billion going to the state Department of Social Services for child welfare services, foster care and the CalWORKs welfare-to-work program — the kind of assistance to low-income and vulnerable Californians that is at the heart of community schooling’s wraparound services model. 

“We are very well aware that there are financial issues that need to be dealt with,” admitted UTLA’s Alex Caputo-Pearl. “California hovers between 40th and 50th among the states in per-pupil funding. It’s not acceptable. We’ve got to take that battle to the state level, and we will.” 

The exact price tag to transform LAUSD to community schooling remains unknown. Castellanos said that specific budget numbers will be part of ROS-LA’s planning and research for 2017, adding that national community school experts claim the model is less expensive to implement than it might seem, since it is based on leveraging existing community services and grants. 

In the meantime, the coalition will be laying the groundwork for political and economic support by lobbying LAUSD leaders and scheduling parent-student forums in early 2017 to ensure that ROS-LA’s priorities are reflected in the district’s Local Control and Accountability Plan. 

“Our goal is to have LAUSD designate itself as a community schools district and to allocate funds to roll out this model.” Castellanos said. “That will require conversations with the LAUSD board so that community schools are part of the school board’s budgeting process in the next year.”

 

(Bill Raden is a freelance Los Angeles writer. This article was first posted at Capital & Main. Photo by Bill Raden: Dorsey H.S. student Christabel Ukomado addresses Reclaim Our Schools gathering. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITCS--On September 28, LA City Councilmember Mike Bonin held a community meeting in the Westminster Avenue Elementary School auditorium to present his accomplishments and propose solutions to the problem of Homelessness in Venice. There was a slide show, fliers, city officers and non-profit organization organizers. There were a lot of attendees in the auditorium. A lot of cops were there too.

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA--Grab a glass of champagne. Then bend your mind around this New Year’s resolution for Californians: In 2017, let’s become more tolerant of political corruption.

Yes, bigotry against political skullduggery is just about the last socially acceptable prejudice in our state. And while the idea of tolerating dirty deal-making may sound perverse or strange, so are the ways we make decisions in California. We rarely consider how all of our rules curtailing the power and discretion of elected officials—rules approved in the name of preventing corruption—have made it so difficult to respond to large scale problems in our state that we no longer try.

Our state’s governance system has long been premised on the notion that our chosen representatives must be extremely naughty people. And so we’ve designed a highly complex government over the last century with the primary goal of preventing corruption, by limiting the power and discretion of elected and appointed officials to make dirty deals—or just about any other deals. That is the channel connecting our state’s rivers of regulations, oceans of laws, and tsunamis of formulas for budgets and taxes that defy human navigation.

All these obstacles have worked to a point: We’re a pretty clean state by American standards, with a relatively low rate of public corruption convictions. And the corruption cases you see here typically involve very small stakes for a big state—minor embezzlements, small-time cover-ups, and politicians who violate tricky campaign finance laws or (heaven forbid) live outside their districts.

The perverse result of our clean but hampered government is that we’ve opted to embrace large-scale, incapacitating societal wrongs, instead of accepting even the smallest rule-bending in the legislature or city hall (what other jurisdictions might still consider part of the cost of getting stuff done).

In California, among the richest places on earth, thousands of homeless people are on the streets, and we tolerate the highest poverty rate in the United States. We have done little to respond to a huge and expanding shortage of housing for working and middle-class people. Our roads, bridges and waterworks are in dangerous disrepair. Our health system makes it hard to get health care, our schools offer too little education, and our tax system, by bipartisan acknowledgment, doesn’t tax us efficiently or fairly.

In hamstringing our politicians, we’ve frustrated ourselves.

And yet, attacking such big problems is considered wildly unrealistic. There are too many rules and regulations standing in the way of large-scale action. And if we got rid of those rules, we fear we would be abetting corruption.

Which is why we so desperately need to adopt a new attitude toward corruption.

A famous observation of Samuel Huntington, one of the 20th century’s greatest political scientists, applies now in California.

“In terms of economic growth, the only thing worse than a society with a rigid, over centralized, dishonest bureaucracy is one with a rigid, over centralized, honest bureaucracy.”

“In terms of economic growth, the only thing worse than a society with a rigid, over centralized, dishonest bureaucracy is one with a rigid, over centralized, honest bureaucracy,” Huntington wrote. ““A society which is relatively uncorrupt … may find a certain amount of corruption a welcome lubricant easing the path to modernization.”

California needs lubrication—and a little more corruption that allows us to advance larger public goals.

California must expedite the building of affordable housing, homeless housing, housing near transit, and housing on lots already zoned for housing—even if it means paying off certain interests to prevent their opposition and handing out exemptions to planning requirements and zoning and environmental laws like party favors. The alternative is to let the scandalous housing shortage grow, while we cross all the regulatory t’s and let NIMBYs tie us in knots.

LA voters, for example, just approved money for homeless housing we need now—but it likely will take at least five years to have the housing in place if we follow the usual procedures. And it could be even worse if anti-growth activists, posing as warriors against corruption, succeed in passing a moratorium on certain developments on LA’s March ballot.

The poor state of California’s roads also cries out for some big corrupt deals, damn the environmental reviews. For years, the state has failed to address a $130-billion-plus backlog in state and local road repairs. A legislative report found that more than two-thirds of roads are in poor or mediocre condition, one of the worst records of any state in the country.

But California’s mix of limitations on infrastructure and taxes mean we’ll keep falling behind—as long as we play by the rules. Raising taxes to cover repairs requires a two-thirds vote of both houses of the state legislature and getting to two-thirds in cases like this requires buying votes with spending. But our abstemious governor hasn’t been willing to do the buying. He should resolve to be less righteous and more road-friendly in 2017. (And how fast can we get some contracts out the door and get construction crews on the highways?)

Roads and housing aren’t the only contexts where we prioritize following all the rules over meeting the needs of Californians. In education, state leaders make a fetish of meeting the very low requirement of the constitutional funding formula for schools—instead of finding ways, kosher or not, to lengthen our short school year (just 180 days) and offer students the math, science, arts and foreign language they need, but aren’t getting.

Our aqueducts and water mains so badly need updates and repairs that politicians should be raiding other government accounts to secure the necessary funds. But moving money around brings lawsuits and scrutiny. So no one dares resolve the problem, not even in a time of drought. Now is the moment to break rules and accelerate water infrastructure. Find ways to bully or buy off anyone who objects.

The stakes of our anti-corruption fixation may get higher in 2017. California finds itself in a confrontation with President-elect Donald Trump. Politicians are talking about how they are ready to fight Trump if he attacks California policies or threatens vulnerable people, like immigrants and Muslims.

Fighting may be necessary, but California and its governments are at a decided disadvantage in a battle with the richer and more powerful federal government. Dealmaking might be the better strategy, at least at first. On recent trips to Sacramento, lobbyists and other behind-the-scenes players argued to me that California should find some way to buy off Trump—either personally or in his presidential role—given the president-elect’s love of negotiations and his lack of interest in ethics or legal niceties. Of course, such creative dealmaking runs up against Californian rules and sensibilities.

That’s why the change we need is not legal—it’s cultural. We need to be more politically mature and realize that big progress in governance almost always involves actions that are not entirely forthright. Indeed, some of our country’s most effective officials—like the Daleys in Chicago, or even a California character like Willie Brown, the former Assembly speaker and San Francisco mayor—were effective precisely because they didn’t always color inside the lines.

So as we greet 2017, let’s raise a toast to dealmaking that brings real progress, even when it’s dirty.

(Joe Mathews is Connecting California Columnist and Editor at Zócalo Public Square … where this column first appeared. Mathews is a Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010).)

-cw

@TheGussReport – Predicting LA’s fortunes requires a decent read on our city and county officials. Dialogue with them and listen closely because what they say matters; their evasion matters more; and their evasion while speaking matters most. (Photo art above: LA’s new skyline?)

“The winds of change blow from the west” is the trite refrain they often invoke when justifying many an ill-conceived idea. Bullet-train, anyone? But in a year with Trumpian-force winds, LA (and San Francisco and Sacramento for that matter) is going to be tested big-time, especially when its desperate need for federal dollars is weighed against its pledge to remain a sanctuary city. And since LA is unaccustomed to being tested by outside forces, there are plenty of balls for it to drop.

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-2016 is nearly over, and that means that 2017 offers immense opportunities for CityWatch writers and readers, including yours truly, to answer important questions. These are some of the stories that I am following and hope to examine in more detail. I look forward to similar research and articles from other CityWatch writers. 

CITY HALL QUESTIONS 

How extensive is corruption at Los Angeles’s City Hall? 

The LA Times Sea Breeze story of $600,000 in campaign donations to get land use decisions reversed is undoubtedly the tip of the iceberg. And David Zahnizer’s front-page story on Rick Caruso’s luxury tower at the former Loehman’s site is just as important. While the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative/Measure S staff has broken smaller stories of corruption, there are undoubtedly many bigger stories waiting for careful investigation and publication. The more the better because even if Measure S does not pass in March 2017, this type of investigative reporting will play a major role in ensuring that Los Angeles is well planned. The alternative, an unplanned city, in which real estate speculators determine long-term land use patterns, is a road to municipal ruin. 

What is the residential build-out potential of Los Angeles, based on existing zoning? 

The corporate funded density hawks repeatedly argue that LA has virtually no land left for housing construction, yet the most recent City Planning reports on this exact question – from the early 1990s – concluded the exact opposite. Furthermore, we also need to know how much future housing construction and population growth can be supported by available public infrastructure and public services. 

What is really behind the “no money” excuse for the many projects and public services that elected officials and some of their advocates ignore? 

There is no shortage of low-priority budget categories that qualify for this sorry alibi: urban street trees, careful plan check and code enforcement, updated General Plan elements, sidewalk and street repairs, ADA curb cuts, street cleaning, street lights, recreation program, library hours, climate change mitigation and adaptation, bicycle infrastructure, mass transit station amenities, and much more. For these and many more projects, local government’s constant refrain is, “There is just no money,” yet big-ticket items, like the 55 percent of the City budget that funds the LAPD, go unchallenged. 

What role does local government play in increasing wealth and income inequality? 

Most fingers point to the Federal government because it largely controls tax rates, tax loopholes, minimum wage, and the safety net, such as Social Security and Medicaid. But, City Hall also plays a significant, but overlooked role. For example, every time the zone and/or General Plan designation for a piece or property densifies through spot-zoning, the site becomes considerably more valuable. Yet, this windfall is not taxed in California because most commercial property is never totally sold. Instead portions of the ownership change, allowing the property title to remain fixed and unassessed because of Proposition 13. 

Is METRO advancing mass transit for mobility or to bolster real estate speculation? 

Some scholars, like Allen Whitt, long ago argued that the fundamental purpose of urban mass transit, include MetroRail in Los Angeles, is to resuscitate real estate in older parts of town, such as Wilshire Boulevard and Hollywood. Now, several decades later we are witnessing the expansion of mass transit, but with little consideration for mobility. 

In Los Angeles, the MetroRail interface with other transportation modes is missing: buses, cars, pedestrians, and bicyclists. METRO has dropped the ball on this aspect of transit, while City Planning has largely limited its role to up-zoning the private parcels near existing and proposed transit stations. As a result, transit-adjacent public areas have unfunded guidelines, while individual parcels are stoked for an influx of private investment. 

ENVIROMENTAL QUESTIONS 

How is climate change related to economic activity? 

The popular press presents the climate change “debate” as climate scientists on one side and climate change deniers on the other side. This supposed debate is then reduced to one bid question: do humans cause climate change or is it a natural fluctuation? But this this simplistic approach sees the forest and misses the trees. This is because it doesn’t examine the diverse carbon footprints of our planet’s eight billion humans. It equates the carbon footprint of those living in squalor on $2 or less per day with executives of fossil fuel companies, living in energy-intensive estates, driving big cars, and flying on highly polluting planes. 

Will driverless electric cars reduce our carbon footprint? 

Companies such as Tesla and Google tout their driverless and electric cars as a miracle cure for congestion and Green House Gases. But this is a dubious claim for several reasons. First, better cars perpetuate the entire built environment based on cars: the entire car manufacturing process, roads, parking lots, and car-oriented buildings, especially big box retail and shopping centers. 

Second, better cars mean each car uses less energy, but the automobile companies still expand overall production. For example, Toyota does not use the profits from the Prius to make a better bicycle, but to branch out to the Prius C and Prius V. Instead of one Prius model there are now three, as well as other Toyota models with hybrid engines, such as the Camry. As a result overall energy consumption is still expanding. 

A FINAL WORD FOR THE NEW YEAR 

CityWatch readers, in 2017 please share your information about these and other important and overlooked stories. We may have meager resources, but crowd-sourcing our knowledge can and will be the antidote to the neglect of the mainstream, corporate media.

 

(Dick Platkin reports on local planning issues in Los Angeles for CityWatch. Please send any questions, comments, or corrections to rhplatkin@gmail.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

LA GOVERNMENT WATCH-Over this past year, our contributions to CityWatch have focused on a disturbing pattern that has shown how elements of our Los Angeles City government have been working against the public interest for years. Here’s a re-cap of what needs to change as we move into 2017: 

  1. No sole source contracts or private sales of surplus property under any condition. No exceptions. No contracts let without Requests for Proposal (RFPs). Apart from being required by law, they are the life blood of good government, because they secure the best value for the public, while also ensuring that every member of that public gets a clean shot at winning contracts. The same is true of public auctions of surplus property. 
  1. No closed sessions of the City Council -- for any reason -- not even those permitted by the Brown Act (i.e. litigation, real estate negotiations and so on.) 
  1. No attorney-client privilege for Officers of the City (except in their capacities as private citizens.) Again, all litigation -- regardless of the dollar amount -- should be conducted in open session. This would help prevent the kind of prolonged litigation that has recently cost the City over $250 million. 
  1. No contracting with secretive LLCs. If you want to do business with Los Angeles, you have to take your mask off. It is preposterous how many entities there are with whom the City currently does business without knowing the most basic of facts about them, including the precise identity of the owner. 
  1. No enforcement role for the Ethics Commission. Campaign finance laws etc. should be enforced by the DA. The Enforcement Division of the Ethics Commission routinely violates the Constitutional rights of members of the public. The part of the Ethics Commission that maintains the database of donations etc. should be kept intact. 
  1. No absolute power for the City Council President in making committee assignments. Such power gives the President too much leverage over the rest of the Council and results in a stifling of debate (because everyone has to tow the line or suffer retaliation.) 
  1. No use of parking fines in the General Fund. Such fines, not to exceed $35, should go to a fund used exclusively for infrastructure projects. 
  1. No back-room lawsuit settlements. These are used as a way to kick-back money to the plaintiff. Settlements need to be dealt with in open session. 
  1. No further violations of Rule 93 -- violations which have resulted in the public’s cameras in City Hall that are being operated by public employees -- at the direction of Herb Wesson – so that the members of the public are videotaped from a face-obscuring distance. 
  1. No commencing of City Council meetings with the settling of liens against members of the public who suffer humiliation and unspeakably huge monetary penalties.


(Eric Preven and Joshua Preven are public advocates for better transparency in local government. Eric is a Studio City based writer-producer. Joshua is a teacher.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

THE WEALTH FORMULA, PART TWO- In a recent CityWatch article, I explained why the City of Los Angeles has escalating housing costs and, at the same time, is experiencing a net exodus of people leaving rather than moving to LA. It took years of corruption and malfeasance, but the City has managed to make Los Angeles the nation’s least desirable urban area. 

The Destruction of Wealth is Not Wise 

Just as the government has laws against people stealing other people’s property, the government has a duty not to encourage the destruction of businesses which are generating wealth. Rent-controlled properties are long-term wealth creators. Los Angeles’ Rent Stabilization Ordinance was relatively effective in allowing landlords to make a profit and provide housing the poor could afford. (I shall not discuss the criminal REAP program. I hope someone does a CityWatch article from the landlord’s perspective.) 

From the macro-economic standpoint, when an honest business is generating wealth, it should not be destroyed. Tearing down rent-controlled units destroys wealth. Not only is the landlord harmed, but the tenant is harmed, and those who end up homeless become a financial burden on everyone. Macro-Economics does not care if the developer believes he can make more money from his new fancy units. Society does not look at only how much “gelt” he pockets, but it must subtract all the wealth lost by the destruction of the rent-controlled units and all the extra costs which society will incur. 

From a macro-economic standpoint, the destruction of over 22,000 rent-controlled units has caused irreparable harm from which the City will not recover. 

In a city operating on the economic philosophy of corruptionism, the city government is unable to institute wise macro-economic safeguards. As a result, we have an economic system that destroys affordable housing, while only 37% of the need is being built and while replacing it with luxury apartments that represent a 12% glut. (11-17-2015 HCIDLA report) The City then gives our tax dollars to the developer because he says his profit is too small. ($17.4 Million to CIM Group for 5929 Sunset Blvd.) Thus, we have a corrupt city government that destroys the homes of poor people, stealing “wealth generators” from small landlords; and then the City gives tax money to the developers who happen to be funding the Mayor’s and councilmembers’ campaigns. 

Where Los Angeles Does Have Housing Shortage 

There is an actual shortage of detached single family homes. One factor is that prior to the 2008 Crash, banks unloaded foreclosed homes as fast as possible onto the market. But after the Crash of 2008, many banks decided to rent homes. This decision reduced the number of homes for sale without reducing the number of available homes in which to live. Withholding homes from the sales market drove up prices without any increase in demand. 

How the City Increases the Price of R-1 Homes

The City’s housing policies, especially in-fills, allow developers to buy and tear down the single family home to construct multiple rental units on the property. As a result, a family who wants to purchase a home for living space often faces a developer who will pay far more than the living space value

Because developers can get councilmembers to change the zoning to satisfy their whims, they are confident that wherever they buy, they can build multiple units. In order for many families to purchase a home in Los Angeles, they have to out-bid developers. 

As a result, detached home prices have been “bid up,” thereby reducing the supply of homes for families. A proper government would protect the Price System of detached homes by not allowing any spot zoning or granny flats. A competent city would not permit Small Lot Subdivisions. 

A City Which Decimates its Middle Class is a Failed City 

As a result of making it hard to construct and allowing the destruction of detached homes, the City has driven out Family Millennials, i.e., the new Middle Class. It did not take a genius to foresee that when the younger Millennials wanted to settle down, they would abandon the Dorm Room style of life and do what Americans have done for generations: find a detached home with a yard and decent schools. Intentionally depriving Millennials of the homes they would come to desire has left them no realistic alternative but to move away from Los Angeles. When the most productive sector of the population abandons a city, it becomes an economic basket case. 

The City’s Subsidizing Mega Projects Drives out the Middle Class 

Because Wall Street does not want to be left holding the bag when the next crash comes, it is balking at financing a lot of mega projects. Wall Street has seen that fraud does not deceive the laws of economics. For example, for years the City fooled Wall Street into lending for improvident mixed-use projects by giving the developers an extra revenue stream to repay the Wall Street loans. The City would let the developer keep the sales taxes from the retail stores in the mixed-use projects. CIM Group’s Midtown Project in City Council President Wesson’s district, for example, allegedly gets 100% of sale taxes and business license fees. 

When she was City Controller (July 2001 to April 2009), Laura Chick warned of this folly, pointing out that 50% of the CRA mixed-use projects’ retail space was vacant, but the City ignored her. Without tenants, there was no extra revenue stream for the builders to repay the Wall Street loans. Perhaps, the most colossal disaster was the Hollywood-Highland Project which cost $625 million to construct but was sold a few years later for only $201 million. Projects do not sell for 1/3 their construction costs because they are making money for the developer. Remember, the wealth formula: you have to sell or rent for more than the cost to produce. 

Since then, the City has been giving its developer buddies billions of dollars in financial aid. The private Grand Avenue Project is getting about $197 million. All the projects in Hollywood will end up being subsidized. The City has subsidized Korean Airlines and China. Yes, freakin’ China – the world leader in over-development. When the government subsidizes developers who build crap that no one wants, the government destroys the Price System. 

The Anticipatory Destruction of Wealth 

While some people look at Gehry’s Folly at 8160 Sunset Boulevard and say “ooh and aah,” others see the Anticipatory Destruction of Wealth. The role of the government is to understand this aspect of macro-economics. When hundreds of millions of dollars are invested in bad projects based on falsified data, all those hundreds of millions of dollars are diverted away from productive investments. That means we lose wealth by diverting money from where it should go. All the wealth that wise investments would have created never comes into existence. 

While some recognize this anticipatory destruction of wealth, no one person knows where the funds should have been invested. That is why the nation needs to restrict investment firms to doing one thing – raising capital for productive investments. Investment firms, which can stay in business only by making wise investments in enterprise, are absolutely essential for the nation to prosper.

Prior to the repeal of Glass-Steagall, investment houses were limited to doing the research necessary to know where to invest the capital they raised. Of course, the people who provided the funds for the investments held each investment firm liable for mistakes. After the investment firms no longer had to make a profit by raising capital and investing it for other people, they found that financial manipulation was more profitable for the executives -- even if it crashed the world economy. The vital function of Wall Street’s raising capital for wise investments cannot resume until a beefed up Glass-Steagall is re-instituted and credit default are outlawed and Wall Street’s role in the commodities market is seriously restricted. 

The City’s War on the Middle Class is not Wise 

Garcetti has made no secret of his war on the single family home and against the automobile in his mania to turn Hollywood and now the rest of Los Angeles into a west coast Manhattan. The City would have been far wiser to pass an emergency re-zoning measure 10 to 15 year ago, in which all single-family homes, no matter where they were located, would have a presumptive R-1 status. 

Simultaneously, there should have been a moratorium on any increase in office density in The Basin. That would have stabilized residential housing in the Basin, while allowing offices on the periphery. Traffic patterns would have been reversed, somewhat, thereby allowing for more population without more traffic. Without anyone at City Hall who understood or cared about macro-economics, we have suffered through at least 15 years of economic falderal and corruptionism. 

Que sera sera 

At this point, one is supposed to provide the prescription for recovery. But there is none for Los Angeles. Alea jacta est, the Rubicon was crossed years ago, and we have gone far beyond the point of no return. Here is Los Angeles’ most likely future: there will be a massive dump of billions of dollars of construction dollars into Los Angeles for mega-projects and fixed-rail transit. These improvident expenditures will further erode the quality of life and leave Los Angeles bankrupt, at which time the City will seek a federal bailout.

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney. He can be reached at: Rickleeabrams@Gmail.com. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

BUTCHER ON LA-Within two weeks of moving into our new apartment in La Crescenta, I learned of two substantive, meaningful opportunities to participate locally: a community meeting explaining the new districts for elections of local school board members and notice of a meeting of the Crescenta Valley Town Council where the main topic discussion was construction on the 210 freeway. 

Got a doggie park recommendation for what turns out to be the best dog groomer in the San Fernando Valley (at the corner of Wheatland and Sunland), pulled into the parking lot and found myself parking in front of the Foothill Trails District Neighborhood Council storefront. 

Then we received this notice announcing the City of Los Angeles’ gifting of delicious, free mulch and soil amendment. 

And just as I was feeling most darkened by the shortness of the days after the Election, I read this from esteemed labor activist attorney, our friend Emma Leheny, who now with the National Education Association, America’s largest labor union, sharing a comprehensive organizing resource for local action

Anti-immigrant statements by Trump and his supporters have caused anxiety among school children throughout the country. Bullying and harassment in schools have been fueled by Trump’s slurs. Educators have been supporting our schools and students – with guidance, inclusive curricula, and anti-bullying resources.  But given Trump’s stated plan to rescind all Obama executive actions, school sites may soon see ICE agents attempting to enter campus. ICE issued a memorandum in 2011 stating schools were off-limits for immigration enforcement, except in exigent circumstances. We can expect that memo to be repudiated, or at a minimum, ignored in the next administration. So our students and educators are looking for answers: what can keep our schools safe for all of our students? 

NEA has developed this template resolution and policy for use by any school board. It recognizes the constitutional rights of undocumented students to access a free, public K-12 education, as set forth by the Supreme Court in Plyler v. Doe. It puts in place steps for district administration to follow if approached by ICE. It re-iterates the support and respect a school community holds for all of its students and families. Several large school districts have already taken steps in this direction – Los Angeles, for example, enacted and re-affirmed a resolution opposing immigration enforcement at school. 

The Tenth Amendment also creates a bulwark against feared efforts by the new administration to overreach by attempting to coerce local and state compliance with an anti-immigrant agenda. This proposed NEA language educates local administrators about what protection they can offer students, even in the face of ICE intimidation. 

They go low, we go local. 

From Noah Zatz’s spot-on piece, The Principle and Politics of Sanctuary:  

What to do? It is easy to feel paralyzed and powerless in the face of President-elect Trump’s announced intention to rain terror on immigrants and people of color with mass deportations, Muslim registration, racial profiling, and so much more. Start somewhere. For me, that has meant staring where I live, by attending my first local school board meeting. I’ve joined with other parents to make my small city’s schools into sanctuaries from federal immigration enforcement and other intrusions. It’s also meant starting where I work, joining with faculty, staff, and students to push similar policies at the university level. 

Sanctuary offers a simple moral idea that draws on rich and righteous histories. It connects us to the Underground Railroad for escaped slaves, the protection offered to Anne Frank and Schindler’s List, and the 1980s religious movement to welcome Central American refugees from Cold War conflicts. 

They go low, we go local. Whenever the social justice arms of our religious communities show up – be it the Catholic Worker or the human rights committee of a reform synagogue -- in South Gate or Selma, the light of God and the goodness of people ultimately bend the arc of justice towards peace -- but we’ve gotta work it. 

There’s an amazing group of organizers gathering on Facebook at “Our Future. The Organizers’ Roundtable.” Sign up now to join the greatest organizers in the country. Find your local page! 

Find a local organization working to protect the environment. For instance, I’ve been inspired by the successful local organizing in my new neck of the woods by Glendale’s VOICE (Volunteers Organized in Conserving the Environment).  

As 48 US mayors say in their November 22 letter to the President-elect

On November 8, American voters approved more than $200 billion in local measures, funded by their own local tax dollars, to improve quality of life and reduce carbon pollution. Seventy percent of voters in Los Angeles County, the car capital of the world, approved a $120 billion, multi-decade commitment to public transit. Seattle voters approved transit investments totaling $54 billion; Austin voters approved a record-setting $720 million mobility bond; Boston voters approved investment in affordable housing, parks, historic preservation and more. 

As President, you will have the power to expand and accelerate these local initiatives which the people resoundingly supported. We call upon you and the federal government you will lead to help cities leverage funds for the hundreds of billions of dollars in transit, energy, infrastructure and real estate development necessary to upgrade our infrastructure for the 21st century. We ask that you lead us in expanding the renewable energy sources we need to achieve energy security, address climate change and spark a new manufacturing, energy and construction boom in America. 

We ask that you help provide American businesses the certainty to invest through continued tax credits for electric vehicles, solar power, renewables and other clean technologies. And we ask that you shift to embrace the Paris Climate Agreement and make U.S. cities your partner in doing so. 

While we are prepared to forge ahead even in the absence of federal support, we know that if we stand united on this issue, we can make change that will resonate for generations. We have no choice and no room to doubt our resolve. The time for bold leadership and action is now. 

Sign up for the simple local app Nextdoor and connect with happenings in your community. 

Find your local Patch for local news! 

Order your local newspaper for home delivery -- or BUY an electronic subscription if you don’t need the feel of newsprint on your fingers. 

It’s all local and it’s all personal – I’ll sign up for a Muslim registry. I’ll tell the woman at the DIY store that she’s being rude when she says too loudly that she doesn’t understand a word the cashier is saying because she speaks with a different accent. I’ve got an entire clip of safety pins to wear! 

I ordered home delivery of the LA Times now that we’re back in town! 

A worthwhile read from the Nieman Reports, All Journalism is Local:  

A possible future for journalism is more in the mold of grassroots organizing, where the newsroom becomes a sort of 21st century VFW hall, the hub of local activity. The current buzz is around audience acquisition through social media. What about audience acquisition through local physical presence, opening up potential trickles of revenue from events and other local activities? 

The danger of social media “audience acquisition” is that it repeats the mistakes of cable television, rendering us captive to celebrity, national news stories, and clickbait. Newsrooms as “civic reactors,” the beating heart of our communities, offers greater promise -- not to mention the skills of grassroots organizing are cousins to traditional news-gathering skills, rather than the alien skills of marketing and public relations. 

“Res publica” means, literally, the “real” people. It is up to us to make sure it is not the kind of “real” in reality television, but the kind of “real” you find at PTA meetings and traffic hearings.

I’m inspired to help organize a bit locally. I accepted a little freelance reporting job with the Crescenta Valley Weekly News, a vibrant, privately-owned local weekly newspaper. Enjoy my first byline: Holiday Happiness Found on Oak Circle Drive

They go low … we go local!

 

(Julie Butcher writes for CityWatch, is a retired union leader and is now enjoying her new La Crescenta home and her first grandchild. She can be reached at juliejbutcher@gmail.com or on her new blog ‘The Butcher Shop - No Bones about It.’) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

CAL WATCHDOG-The campaign to place California secession on the ballot next election year entered uncertain waters as news broke that its mastermind lives and works in a city in the center of Russia.  

“I immigrated to California, and I consider myself to be a Californian,” Louis Marinelli told The California Report from his Yekaterinburg apartment, KQED reported. “I wanted to handle some personal issues in my family, regarding immigration. My wife is from Russia. I’m here handling various personal issues. But at the same time, we have some political goals we can achieve while I’m here.” 

From founding to funding. 

Marinelli’s deep Russian ties, past and present, attracted attention as he took his current stay in the country as an opportunity to start work on a so-called “embassy of California” in Moscow. That undertaking, as Bloomberg noted, has the aid of “a vehemently anti-American group supported by the Kremlin” — the Anti-Globalist Movement of Russia — which Marinelli said supports California’s right to self-determination. “Talking to the Russian tabloid Life, Alexander Ionov, the president of the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia, said that the embassy would serve as a hub to boost tourism and foster cultural and economic exchanges between the Golden State and Russia,” Heat Street reported.  

“We may disagree on several issues, but if we have common ground on one issue, why shouldn’t we have a dialogue?” Marinelli asked Bloomberg. But he has already begun to hit against the limits of that rhetoric.  

“Marinelli’s Russian connection has created a schism, if not quite the Great Schism, in the breakaway movement with members of the California National Party, a group that is formally affiliated with Yes California but has publicly disavowed Marinelli as a Russian marionette. Silicon Valley investor and Hyperloop co-founder Shervin Pishevar briefly became another standard-bearer of ‘Calexit,’ as it come to be known, threatening Marinelli’s virtual monopoly on the cause, but backed off, saying he didn’t really support secession.” 

The Trump factor. 

But crisis management was not the only reason Yes California accelerated its timetable to land their initiative on the California ballot in 2018. (According to the prospective measure’s language, voting yes “would trigger a special election the following March in which residents would decide if ‘California should become a free, sovereign and independent country,'” as the San Jose Mercury News observed.) Donald Trump’s election provoked a degree of dismay among some California Democrats intense enough to suggest a secessionist movement could take advantage while passions remained relatively hot. 

“It wasn’t until Trump’s victory last month that mainstream U.S. outlets -- including the Sacramento Bee, the LA Times and NPR -- covered the group more seriously,” KQED noted. “The story got new legs because several influential tech figures took to Twitter to voice their desire for California to leave the union after Trump’s election. Among them was Shervin Pishevar, an investor and co-founder of Hyperloop One, a startup promoting a futuristic new transportation technology.” 

Although no elected officials have promoted the breakaway effort, tempers have flared around the idea that a Trump presidency would try to stymie state Democrats, seen by many party members nationwide as a progressive vanguard on social and environmental issues. 

In a recent San Francisco speech before the American Geophysical Union, for instance, Gov. Jerry Brown vowed to press ahead with the state’s current climate policy regardless of what happens in Washington. “If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite,” he said, according to the IBTimes. “We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the lawyers and we’re ready to fight.” 

Rough going. 

Despite the flurry of attention from Russia, Marinelli’s personal political reach in California was likely to remain limited. To date, his track record has been spotty. He “filed a handful of statewide ballot measures related to secession in 2015 and none qualified for the November ballot,” the Sacramento Bee recalled.  “He also waged an unsuccessful campaign to represent state Assembly District 80, but didn’t advance beyond the June primary.”

 

(James Poulos blogs for CalWatchdog.com where this perspective was originally posted.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

EXPOSES NEIGHBORHOOD COUNCIL INFLUENCE—(Editor’s note: We decided to re-post this possible pay-for-play eye-opener for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a CityWatch kind of story and we wanted to make sure you didn’t miss it. We think that the flow of big dollars from developers to elected officials voting on their projects is a serious ethics violation and should be a violation of the law. And finally, we think the attention paid by Mr. Caruso to the Mid City Community Council was at the least interesting if not extraordinary. Neighborhood councils celebrate the 15th anniversary of certification of LA’s council this month. NCs have come a long way.)

Real estate developer Rick Caruso has been a reliable benefactor at Los Angeles City Hall, giving donations big and small to the city’s politicians and their pet causes.

Caruso, known for the Grove and other shopping destinations, has donated to all but one of the city’s 17 elected officials. His charitable foundation provided $125,000 to a nonprofit set up by Mayor Eric Garcetti. And his companies recently gave $200,000 to the campaign for Measure M, the sales tax hike Garcetti championed in last month’s election.

Add in money from his employees and his family members, and Caruso-affiliated donors have provided more than $476,000 to the city’s elected officials and their initiatives over the past five years, according to contribution reports.

Now, Caruso wants Garcetti and the council to approve a 20-story residential tower on La Cienega Boulevard, on a site where new buildings are currently limited to a height of 45 feet. Opponents of the project view Caruso’s donations with alarm, saying the steady stream of contributions has undermined their confidence in the city’s planning process.

“I'm sorry, but that’s a lot of money,” said Keith Nakata, a foe of the project who lives roughly five blocks from the site. “That is obviously something that the community cannot compete against.” (Read the rest.)   

-cw

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-In previous CityWatch articles I have spelled out the many long-term and harmful consequences of bad planning. Yet, in Los Angeles truly bad city planning just keeps rolling along, in particular, repeated cases of City Hall decision-makers overriding legally adopted Community Plans and local zoning through speculator-friendly spot-zoning and spot-planning enabled by campaign contributions. 

While we wait for evidence that this bothers the decision makers, it clearly bothers the engaged public. In fact, this is why Los Angeles has had so many planning-related voter initiatives, lawsuits, and Sacramento legislative directives over the past half century. Furthermore, this push back against bad planning and the Big Real Estate interests behind it will continue as long as “legal corruption” is rooted out. 

To cite but one example, Los Angeles voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition U in 1986 to limit the size of commercial buildings. Now, 30 years later, in March 2017, they can bring Proposition U into the 21st Century through Proposition S, also called the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. As frequently discussed at CityWatch, Proposition S will stop most spot-zoning and spot-planning, while also jumpstarting the update of LA’s General Plan, including the 35 Community Plans. 

An excellent example of spot-zoning and spot-planning in the cross hairs of Proposition S is close to where I live. It is the Caruso Affiliated project at 333 S. LaCienega, the site of former Loehman’s discount clothing store. Located at the “Bermuda Triangle” intersection of San Vicente Boulevard, Third Street, Burton Way, and LaCienega, it is one block south of the Beverly Center and one block west of the Cedar-Sinai Hospital. Now under appeal to the City Council, the City Planning Commission has already awarded this project six separate zoning and planning approvals.  If sustained, these bennies would permit the construction of a 240 foot high rise luxury apartment tower on a parcel whose current height limit is 45 feet. While height is certainly a problem with this project, it also has other serious problems that I highlight later in this article. 

But, first let’s examine how this malodorous project bulldozed its way through a City Council office, a neighborhood council, the Department of City Planning, and the City Planning Commission. Part of the answer is heavy lobbying, as described in another CityWatch article, “How Big Real Estate Manufactures Consent.”  But, a second part of their formula is masking the bad planning that pervades this and similar projects with the cheap perfume of “conditions of approval.” In this case, there are nearly 40 pages of approval conditions all neatly folded into this project’s two determinations.  

This is standard practice since nearly every case that the Department of City Planning handles, including those that the City Council later approves through lot specific ordinances, is weighted down by pages of conditions. Having written some of these determinations and read far more, I now believe that their real purpose of these many promises is to gain the support of community groups who do not like specific projects.   

Flaws in Conditions of Approval: There are, however, eight serious flaws in this Big Real Estate tactic, even though it often succeeds in convincing local planning light weights to begrudgingly support a project. 

1)  The conditions cost the developers very little. They are a tiny fraction of the budget for a major project, and I suspect some conditions also qualify as tax credits or deductions, including those that were added as promises to community groups. 

2)  Most of the conditions mitigate a project’s construction and operational impacts. They are, therefore, not true community benefits. Instead their ostensible role is to buy off opponents to controversial projects. 

3)  A project’s developer and his/her tenants also benefit from conditions to offer on and off-site improvements, such as tree planting.  The improvements spruce up projects, and therefore make them more appealing to potential tenants. 

4)  Some conditioned improvements, such as quasi-public fountains, can be used to offset L.A.’s one percent Public Arts fee.  

5)  Off-site improvements promised through conditions are minimal. They do not address the real infrastructure deficits in most of Los Angeles, including but hardly limited to sub-standard street trees, crumbling sidewalks, missing ADA curb cuts, dangerous pot-holes, thirsty grass in yards and parks, decrepit alleys, dangerous overhead wires, unsightly supergraphics and billboards, lax code enforcement, old and failing water mains, missing bicycle infrastructure, slow internet, and unreliable electric power. 

6) The only conditions that City Planning actually monitors are contained in alcohol permits (CUB’s). As for more powerful discretionary actions adopted through City Council ordinances -- such as Zone Changes and General Plan Amendments -- City Planning has no monitoring staff or procedures. 

7)  The Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety (LADBS) also does not have any proactive procedures for enforcing these hundreds of conditions for hundreds of cases.  Like all code violations, it is up to local communities to submit complaints that approval conditions have not been complied with. But, as many Angelinos have slowly learned, these complaints are frequently ignored. In fact, this is why experienced residents resort to City Council interventions in order to get LADBS to finally move on code violations. 

8) Once a building is permitted and completed, there are no consequences for unmet conditions, such on and off-site improvements. In Los Angeles, buildings are not partially or wholly demolished when they fail to meet the building code, zoning code, or compliance with the conditions imposed on all discretionary zoning and planning actions. 

Considering these eight gaping loopholes, my conclusion is that the real purpose of conditions of approval is to assuage community opponents by offering mitigation to their complaints about major projects. It is to get them to approve an otherwise bad project when measured against legally adopted General Plan elements, Height Districts, and zones. 

In my next City Watch column, I will address explain why projects like 333 S. LaCienega are truly awful city planning. For now suffice it to say the following: 

  • It sets an ominous precedent for future General Plan Amendments, Zone Changes, and Height District Changes.  If this project is successful, similar requests to build other new high-rise luxury projects in this area will methodically appear. 
  • It does not comply with the legally required findings that the project be consistent with the scale and character of the neighborhood. As for scale, the projects will be 240 feet high and have a Floor Area Ratio (i.e., mass) of 6.0 on a lot where the height is restricted to 45 feet and the mass of a building is limited to an FAR of 1.5. As for compatible character, the proposed tower has a nautical architectural style, similar to a cruise ship, while most of the surrounding residential buildings have Spanish Revival design features. 
  • It does not comply with the City Charter Section 555, which is clear that the City Council can adopt legislative actions, such as General Plan Amendments, “… provided that the part or area involved has significant social, economic or physical identity.” A parcel that is bequeathed spot-zoning because it allows a more lucrative project hardly has a distinctive and significant identify. 
  • It has not demonstrated that there is such a shortage of lots zone for luxury apartments in the Wilshire Community Plan area that the City Council should require adopted zone changes to meet this need. 
  • It purports to be a transit oriented project, but the nearest mass transit station – at Wilshire and LaCienega-- will be more than a half-mile from the tower, and the transit station will not open up until 2023. Furthermore, the proposed project has 24/7 on-call, chauffer driven luxury car service for all tenants, making it high unlikely that these high flyers will walk a half-mile to hop on the Purple Line subway to travel 
  • It is located at one of the most congested intersections in Los Angeles. Called the Bermuda Triangle, the site is the convergence point of San Vicente Boulevard, Third Street, LaCienega Boulevard, and Burton Way. No combination of street signs, signal lights, and traffic officers have ever managed to keep this intersection clear. 
  • It claims it needs large amounts of additional height and mass economic incentives to add new pedestrian oriented features, even though this part of Los Angeles and Beverly Hills has many pedestrian-oriented projects and corridors, with buildings that conform to plans and zones. 

 

(Dick Platkin is a veteran city planner. He reports on local planning issues for CityWatch, and he welcomes comments and questions at rhplatkin@gmail.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

NOW AND FUTURE DRUG POLICY-As 2016 comes to a tumultuous end, we look back on the year in drugs and drug policy. It’s definitely a mixed bag, with some major victories for drug reform, especially marijuana legalization, but also some major challenges, especially around heroin and prescription opioids, and the threat of things taking a turn for the worse next year.

Here are the six biggest stories from the year on drugs: 

  1. Marijuana legalization wins big. 

Pot legalization initiatives won in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada, losing only in Arizona. These weren’t the first states to do so -- Colorado and Washington led the way in 2012, with Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C., following in 2014 -- but in one fell swoop, states with a combined population of nearly 50 million people just freed the weed. Add in the earlier states, and we’re now talking about around 67 million people, or more than one-fifth of the national population. 

The question is, where does marijuana win next? We won’t see state legalization initiatives until 2018 (and the conventional wisdom is to wait for the higher-turnout 2020 presidential election year), and most of the low-hanging fruit in terms of initiative states has been harvested, but activists in Michigan came this close to qualifying for the ballot this year and are raring to go again. In the meantime, there are the state legislatures. When AlterNet looked into the crystal ball a few weeks ago, the best bets looked like Connecticut, Maryland, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Vermont. 

  1. Medical marijuana wins big. 

Medical marijuana is even more popular than legal weed, and it went four-for-four at the ballot box in November, adding Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota to the list of full-blown medical marijuana states. That makes 28 states -- more than half the country -- that allow medical marijuana, along with another dozen or so red states that have passed limited CBD-only medical marijuana laws as a sop to public opinion. 

It’s worth noting that Montana is a special case. Voters there approved medical marijuana in 2004, only to see a Republican-dominated state legislature gut the program in 2011. The initiative approved by voters this year reinstates that program, and shuttered dispensaries are now set to reopen. 

The increasing acceptance of medical marijuana is going to make it that much harder for the DEA or the Trump administration to balk at reclassifying marijuana away from Schedule I, which is supposedly reserved for dangerous substances with no medical uses. It may also, along with the growing number of legal pot states, provide the necessary impetus to changing federal banking laws to allow pot businesses to behave like normal businesses. 

  1. Republicans take control in Washington. 

The Trump victory last month and looming Republican control of both houses of Congress has profound drug policy implications, for everything from legal marijuana to funding for needle exchange programs to sentencing policy to the border and foreign policy and beyond. Early Trump cabinet picks, such as Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) to lead the Justice Department, are ominous for progressive drug reform, but as with many other policy spheres, what Trump will actually do is a big unknown. It’s probably safe to say that any harm reduction programs requiring federal funding or approval are in danger, that any further sentencing reforms are unlikely and that any federal spending for mental health and substance abuse treatment will face an uphill battle. But the cops will probably get more money. 

The really big question mark is around pot policy. Trump has signaled he’s okay with letting the states experiment, but Sessions is one of the most retrograde drug warriors in Washington. Time will tell, but in the meantime, the marijuana industry is on tenterhooks and respect for the will of voters in pot legal states and even medical marijuana states is an open question. 

  1. The opioid epidemic continues. 

Just as the year comes to an end, the CDC announced that opioid overdose deaths last year had topped 33,000, and with 12,000 heroin overdoses, junk had overtaken gunplay as a leading cause of death. 

The crisis has provoked numerous responses, at both the state and the federal levels, some good, and some not. Just this month, Congress approved a billion dollars in opioid treatment and prevention programs. The overdose epidemic has also prompted the loosening of access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone and prodded ongoing efforts to embrace more harm reduction approaches, such as supervised injection sites. 

On the other hand, prosecutors in states across the country have taken to charging those who sell opioids (prescription or otherwise) to people who die of overdose with murder, more intrusive and privacy-invading prescription monitoring programs have been established, and the tightening of the screws on opioid prescriptions is leaving some chronic pain sufferers in the lurch and leading others to seek out opioids on the black market. 

  1. Obama commutes more than 1,000 drug war sentences. 

In a bid to undo some of the most egregious excesses of the drug war, President Obama has now cut the sentences of and freed more than 1,000 people sentenced under the harsh laws of the 1980s, particularly the racially biased crack cocaine laws, who have already served more time than they would have if sentenced under current laws passed during the Obama administration. He has commuted more sentences in a single year than any president in history and more sentences than the last 11 presidents combined. 

The commutations come under a program announced by former Attorney General Eric Holder, who encouraged drug war prisoners to apply for them. The bad news is that the clock is going to run out before Obama has a chance to deal with thousands of pending applications backlogged in the Office of the Pardons Attorney. The good news is that he still has six weeks to issue more commutations and free more drug war prisoners. 

  1. DEA gets a wakeup call when it tries to ban kratom. 

Derived from a Southeast Asian tree, kratom has become popular as an unregulated alternative to opioids for relaxation and pain relief, as well as withdrawal from opioids. It has very low overdose potential compared to other opioids and has become a go-to drug for hundreds of thousands or even millions of people. 

Perturbed by its rising popularity, the DEA moved in late summer to use its emergency scheduling powers to ban kratom, but was hit with an unprecedented buzzsaw of opposition from kratom users, scientists, researchers, and even Republican senators like Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who authored and encouraged his colleagues to sign a letter to the DEA asking the agency to postpone its planned scheduling. 

The DEA backed off -- but didn’t back down -- in October, announcing it was shelving its ban plan for now and instead opening a period of public comment. That period ended December 1, but before it did, the agency was inundated with submissions from people opposing the ban. Now, the DEA will factor in that input, as well as formal input from the Food and Drug Administration before making its decision. 

The battle around kratom isn’t over, and the DEA could still ban it in the end, but the whole episode demonstrates how much the ground has shifted under the agency. DEA doesn’t just get its way anymore.

 

(Phillip Smith writes for AlterNet. This piece was posted most recently at TruthDig.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

THE REAL COST OF AMERICAN ED--"We could have hundreds of thousands of American seniors living in poverty due to garnished Social Security benefits if this trend continues," said Sen. Claire McCaskill of Montana. The federal government is garnishing Social Security checks to recoup unpaid student debt, leaving thousands of retired or disabled Americans below the poverty line and setting the stage for an even bigger problem, according to a new report. 

The data from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), compiled at the behest of Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), showed that people over the age of 50 are the fastest-growing group with student debt, outpacing younger generations -- and compared to younger borrowers, older Americans have "considerably higher rates of default on federal student loans." This leaves them open to having up to 15 percent of their benefit payment withheld, in what's called an "offset."  

In 2015, the GAO reported (pdf), the Department of Education collected about $171 million in defaulted student loan debt through Social Security offsets from 114,000 people, the majority of that from borrowers aged 50 or older and receiving disability benefits. About 38,000 were above age 64, and more than three-quarters of older borrowers took out the loans to cover their own education, rather than to pay for their children's schooling. The typical monthly offset was slightly more than $140. And more than 70 percent of the money collected through offsets went toward interest and fees, as opposed to the loan balance. 

"This report demonstrates just how draconian these Social Security offsets are and how there seems to be a failure at all sorts of levels of this policy," Persis Yu, the director of the Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project at the Boston-based National Consumer Law Center, told MarketWatch

Meanwhile, the report states: "Older borrowers who remain in offset may increasingly experience financial hardship. Such is the case for a growing number of older borrowers whose Social Security benefits have fallen below the poverty guideline because the offset threshold is not adjusted for increases in costs of living." 

Indeed, the program -- which itself may be under threat from a Trump administration -- already hands out insufficient benefits, with the GAO noting that "a growing number of these older borrowers already received Social Security benefits below the poverty guideline before offsets further reduced their income." 

As shown in the chart below, this impacts tens of thousands of borrowers: 

In its report on the "disturbing" trend, the Washington Post noted

Some people have been granted financial hardship exemptions, while others have successfully applied for permanent disability discharge of their loans through the Education Department. But researchers at the GAO are critical of the agency's byzantine application process that puts borrowers at risk of falling back into garnishment. If people do not submit annual documentation to verify their income, their loans can be reinstated and the cuts can resume. 

In turn, Warren decried the tactics described in the report as "predatory and counterproductive."

"The hard-earned Social Security checks that are the sole source of income for millions of seniors should not be siphoned off to pay interest and fees on student loan debt," she said in a statement. "It's no wonder many Americans don't think Washington works for them: our government is shoving tens of thousands of seniors and people with disabilities into poverty through garnishment every year -- and charging them $15 every month for the privilege -- just so that the Department of Education can collect a little bit more interest and keep boosting the government's student loan profits." 

What's more, with Americans 65 and older seeing their total student loan debt grow by 385 percent since 2005, McCaskill warned that these numbers are merely "the tip of the iceberg of what may be to come." 

"We could have hundreds of thousands of American seniors living in poverty due to garnished Social Security benefits if this trend continues," she said, "and we shouldn't allow that to happen." 

Social Security Works and Student Debt Crisis, two non-profits working on different aspects of the burgeoning crisis laid out in the GAO's report, last year pledged to "always fight in solidarity with each other."

 

(Deidre Fulton writes for Common Dreams  … where this piece was first posted.) (Photo credit: Kate Gardiner/flickr/cc). Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA--California is trapped—caught in the dangerous space between two menacingly authoritarian regimes that want to fight each other.

One regime is headquartered in Beijing, and the other is about to take power in Washington D.C. But when viewed from the Golden State, it’s striking how much they have in common.

Both are fervently nationalist, full of military men, and so bellicose they are spooking neighbors and allies. Both, while nodding to public opinion, express open contempt for human rights and undermine faith in elections and the free press. Both promote hatred of minorities (anti-Tibetan and anti-Uighur stances in China; anti-Mexican and anti-Muslim stances in the U.S.).

And both regimes are captained by swaggering men (President Xi Jinping in China; President-elect Donald Trump in U.S.) who tend to their own cults of personality and pose as corruption fighters while using their power to enrich their own families.

Most frighteningly for Californians, both regimes seem to see advantage in escalating conflict with the other. Both leaders have encouraged hatred of the other’s citizens (Xi has embraced ultranationalists who compare American treatment of the Chinese to Hitler’s treatment of the Jews, while Trump has called China a “deceitful culture”). The incoming American administration is threatening to raise tariffs and label China a currency manipulator, actions that would likely start a trade war. The Chinese administration is provoking confrontations in the South China Sea while the new American strongman embraces Taiwan—actions that could start a real war.

All this leaves California with the enormous challenge of navigating U.S.-China tensions in a way that protects our people, our economy, and our values. And that will require tricky diplomacy that doesn’t take sides, for we need to maintain relations with both regimes. After all, we live under the laws of the United States, but are irretrievably linked to China, a vital partner in the trade, culture, technology and education sectors that distinguish California in the world.

A sustained conflict between China and the U.S. could produce all kinds of new restrictions on the flow of money and people, with devastating results for California. Our public universities rely both on federal funds from D.C. and top-dollar, out-of-state tuition fees from Chinese students to subsidize the education of Californians. So any Trump restrictions on foreign visitors—or retaliatory Chinese limits on overseas study and travel—could blow up the University of California’s business model. It also would damage the University of Southern California, the city of L.A.’s largest private sector employer, which heavily recruits Chinese students.

Our state’s signature industries—Silicon Valley and Hollywood—depend on consumers who live under both regimes. And our most promising ventures—from virtual reality and artificial intelligence technologies to major developments (like the San Francisco Shipyards in Hunter’s Point, to just name one)—rely on our ability to bring together manufacturers, investors and technologists from China and the U.S. In a trade war, both regimes could decimate innovation and development with restrictions on foreign investments.

And with both regimes so quick to escalate nationalist rhetoric, it’s quite possible that both Chinese nationals and Chinese Americans in California could become targets of bigotry and hate crimes. Our housing market relies on Chinese buyers, who spend an estimated $9 billion a year on homes here. A backlash against Chinese investors buying homes (and using them only part of the year) could produce discrimination and hurt our housing market, which in turn would damage the already underfunded public schools our taxes support.

How then can California handle such a conflict?

First, by protecting our people (especially Californians of Chinese ancestry) and our institutional connections to China with the same fervor the California government is rallying to protect our undocumented immigrants against Trump’s threats of mass deportations. This California diplomacy will be especially hard given the hyper-sensitivity of the autocrats in Beijing and D.C. to the slightest of slights; just as Trump lashes out at Saturday Night Live parodies, Xi and his loyalists see the Kung Fu Panda films as American warfare against them.

A sustained conflict between China and the U.S. could produce all kinds of new restrictions on the flow of money and people, with devastating results for California.

And, second, by reminding both regimes—in friendly but firm ways—that we are opposed to conflict because the U.S. and China need each other more than they appear willing to acknowledge.

Californians who doubt this would do well to consult John Pomfret’s masterful new book, The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom: America and China, 1776 to the Present. Pomfret, an American journalist long posted in China, employs telling details (the tea thrown into Boston Harbor was from Xiamen; an 1860s California attorney general campaigned against Chinese prostitutes while importing his own) to show how profoundly the two countries have shaped one other’s development, and just how vital their relationship has become to the world.

“The two nations have feuded fiercely and frequently, yet, irresistibly and inevitably, they are drawn back to one another,” he writes. “The result is two powers locked in an entangling embrace that neither can quit.”

California’s role in this difficult period should be to tell the story of its own deep ties to China, while serving as a model for a productive relationship, argues Matt Sheehan, author of the forthcoming book Chinafornia: Working with Chinese Investors, Immigrants and Ideas on U.S. Soil.

Sheehan, who also publishes the weekly Chinafornia Newsletter and provides communications consulting for Chinese and U.S. companies, says now is an important time for California officials and businesses to seek out areas of productive cooperation with Chinese counterparts, especially in areas like manufacturing and fighting climate change.

“I think of California as a living laboratory for a more practical, productive version of U.S.-China relations,” he says.

But not all collaborations with China would be helpful. Our technologies companies shouldn’t be aiding the U.S. surveillance state or assisting the Chinese government in suppressing human rights, as Facebook is reportedly doing by developing a newsfeed that would empower censors.

We also shouldn’t play to anti-Chinese prejudice, like some California unions have done in opposing trade agreements and advancing union organizing. One noxious—if ridiculous—example is a current push by the hotel workers’ union to block the sale of the Westin Hotel in Long Beach (where the union has an organizing campaign) to Chinese interests on grounds that it’s so close to that city’s port that Chinese ownership would threaten national security.

One possible model for California’s strategy going forward might be Anson Burlingame, whom President Lincoln dispatched to Beijing to represent the U.S. during the Civil War. Burlingame’s approach, as described by Pomfret, was to commiserate with the Chinese (we have our terrible rebellion with the South, you with the Taipings) as a basis for collaboration. His work ultimately produced the Burlingame Treaty, which banned discrimination against Chinese workers in America, welcomed Chinese students to U.S. educational institutions, and opened the way for Chinese immigrants to become American citizens.

Today, Burlingame’s accomplishments are mostly forgotten, but his name belongs to a highly desirable suburb in the San Francisco Bay Area, a region boasting one of America’s most prosperous populations of Chinese Americans.

(Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square … where this column first appeared. Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010).)

-cw

WEALTH FORUMLA, PART ONE-The City of Los Angeles has intentionally destroyed the housing market and the result is devastating the entire city. Here we have a prime example of a City government that has so screwed up the Price System for housing that builders are constructing for a market segment in which there is a glut while ignoring the segment that has a shortage.

Developers have been misled into constructing high-end luxury apartments when the demand for that type of housing is falling. Since the City has a net exodus of Middle Class people over people who come here, more housing is available even if no one builds anything. The slight rise in LA’s population is due to the birth rate being higher than the number of people who move away or die. But newborns do not demand more houses and elderly Baby Boomers already have homes. Since people are not “taking their houses with them,” our housing supply is increasing. 

Housing costs, however, continue to escalate causing more people to move away, especially Family Millennials who should be the Number One segment of the population to stay here and demand more housing. 

Frauds in the Los Angeles Housing Market. 

With Family Millennials leaving in droves, why aren’t housing prices falling instead of constantly rising? What are the frauds that falsely deceive Angelenos into thinking there is a huge demand for housing, when in fact the demand is falling? 

For a short while, it was the securitization of residential rental income, but it appears that this scam was too much like the fraud that caused the Crash of 2008; financial institutions backed out of this folly. 

Although we know the City has been destroying rent-controlled units -- and this fact alone would cause an increase in homelessness, placing upward pressure on rents -- it does not explain the huge increase in the market segment that is over built: higher end apartments. 

While younger Millennials still in the Dorm Room Phase of life have been doubling and tripling up in order to rent over-priced apartments, there has still been a 12% glut of these units, per the City’s own data. Yet, rents have continued to increase between 2013 and 2016. The false reporting of alleged vacancy rates has misled people into believing that there is a housing shortage when there has been none. (In order to accurately report rents, they should have been adjusted “per person.” When three single people chip in to pay for a $2,000 apartment, the rent per person is actually lower than when one person pays $800 per apartment. Thus, on a per person basis, rents can be falling while the “per apartment” rents are increasing.) 

Belief is Stronger than Fact. 

Belief in a housing shortage is another reason for prices to increase year after year while demand decreases. People pay what they believe is the market rate. As in the 2000s, developers have continued to build under the misconception that there has been a housing shortage. 

Rental prices are generally provided by real estate companies motivated to keep rents high. Thus, their rental reports are usually based on what they advertise and not on the actual rents collected. Those who saw “The Big Short” will remember how no one was taking the time to go and actually look at all these new homes. When one guy did, he discovered that they were vacant and some people were buying three, four or five homes in the belief they could be flipped in an eternal up-market. Just as Wall Street made people believe there was a huge demand for homes, landlords have issued statistics that make people believe there is a shortage of apartments due to huge demand. 

The City of Los Angeles is heavy into this fraud. It keeps lying about the fantastic increases in Hollywood’s population. In April 2016, LA issued a report that the Hollywood population had jumped to 206,000 people and cited the Southern Association of Governments (SCAG) as its source. SCAG had no data about Hollywood population. 

Then, in October 2016, the City released an even more mythical figure: Hollywood’s population was 210,511 people at the end of 2015. Wow, that’s a lot of people, but people who had any memory knew that in April 2016 the City had said the population was only 206,000 people. Did the City lose 5,511 people in the first few months of 2016? Of course, since the City’s data is composed of Lies and Myths, no one should expect any of it to make any sense. 

There is nothing new Under the Sun. 

We have seen this phenomenon previously, prior to the Crash of 2008, when housing prices were rapidly increasing faster than the population was growing. Under the classic laws of Supply and Demand, a downturn in Demand generates reduced Supply as builders realize that the prices for which they can sell new homes will soon be substantially less than the cost to produce them. Yet, the housing market boomed in the face of falling demand – just as we see today. 

The boom-bust phases of the business cycle were an immutable fact until John Bernard Keynes wrote his General Theory in 1936. But after fools like Bill Clinton, the U.S. Congress and lastly Obama’s little Timmy Geithner exiled Keynes, we have reverted to the boom-bust phases. 

When the government fails to protect the Price System from fraud, no one knows what anything is worth. After Congress’ and Bill Clinton’s repeal of Glass-Steagall and the legalization of Credit Default Swaps, massive fraud destroyed the Price System for homes. It turned out that demand for houses had been exhausted until we raised the productivity of more Americans. Rather than shift investment so that the middle and lower classes could become wealthier, Wall Street rigged the system so that people falsely believed there was this huge demand for residential housing. 

The residential housing market was similar to a Ponzi scheme in that the fraud required more and more putative home buyers in order to keep the scam afloat. In time, Ponzi-type schemes always end up demanding more buyers than there are people in the universe. 

The Formulas for Wealth. 

One need not know that PV = Rn / (1 + r)n and Ck = Rn / (1 + MEC)n are what I call the Wealth Formulas, (but most economists say “marginal efficiency of capital.”) Despite their formidable look, they simply mean that in order for a business to produce wealth, a business must sell its products for more than it costs to produce them. 

There is one vital addition -- time. Investments generate wealth over time. Thus, an important principle is not to destroy your business while it is still generating wealth. 

Since money is the abstraction by which we figure out what different things are worth, money is the great common denominator of everything a business uses to generate wealth. In other words, if a business person wants to provide for his family, he has to make certain that whatever he makes and sells costs the buyer more than it cost him or her to produce it. This is obvious, and I hope readers are saying, “Duh!” 

The Government’s Duty, LA’s Failure. 

While businessmen use these concepts daily, most people do not realize the government’s fundamental duty to make certain the formulas actually work. While defending the nation from aggression may be the government’s most important foreign function, protecting the economy is its most vital domestic duty. 

The government must make certain that the Price System accurately translates the value of different services and things into dollars. Without a way for a business person to know the value of an employee’s labor, the value of the building he or she rents for his or her business, or the value of the equipment he or she purchases so that his or her employees have the tools to manufacture the product, there is no way for the business person to calculate how much “wealth” his product will generate.  

When no one knows the value of goods and services, then no one wants to loan a business person any money, and he or she does not want to borrow any money lest he or she be unable to repay it. 

A failure of the Price System means poverty. A correctly functioning Price system means wealth. Thus, the role of all governments is to protect the Price System so that people make sound business decisions. 

The City of Los Angeles, however, is guilty of gross dereliction of duty in this regard. 

Conclusion of the ‘Wealth Formulas’ Part I. 

No one can faithfully serve two masters. The government’s proper role is to provide for the common welfare, not to be beholden to one segment of society. For too long, the City of Los Angeles has been owned by real estate developers. Thus, the City has no process to provide for the quality of life of Angelenos. 

The Planning Department has no section on macro-economics. No one knows Adam Smith from Adam West or John Maynard Keynes for a Keys Drug Store. As a result, housing prices are chaotic and we have thousands of units which no one wants, all while suffering a shortage of the type of housing people actually need. The lack of rent-control has swollen the homeless population, while the war against the single-family home has raised prices so high that we have driven away the emerging Middle Class. The situation is beyond critical and there is no reason to forecast any improvement.

 

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney. He can be reached at: Rickleeabrams@Gmail.com. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

AND A PARTRIDGE IN A PALM TREE--I'm a typical American Jew--my tribe came up with most of the Christmas carols we love so much (we also came up with Superman and Batman ... so there!), and I just LOVE Christmas.  I love the lights, I love the spirit of giving and family togetherness, and I love the slowing down to just breathe a little.  I also appreciate the Christian spirituality, which really isn't so far removed from the rest of us. 

But as a father and husband, a transportation/planning advocate, and a pro-family advocate (and that includes kids!), I've got my own "wish list" for the twelve days of Christmas.  I could have gone for a Hannukah/Chanukah/Hanukkah (choose your favorite spelling) wish list, but that would only be eight days ... and what fun would that be when I could have twelve wishes instead: 

TWELVE parks for the City of Los Angeles--and I don't mean pocket parks, but rather BIG open spaces that is the size of about 1-2 blocks.  I'm spoiled by Mar Vista and Palms Parks, and I want a new one for each sector of the City, with a mega-big Downtown Central Park for the two districts serving most of the Downtown area (we could make this 13 for each district, right?) 

ELEVEN days of a rescheduled LAUSD school year that allows for a school year starting closer to Labor Day (NOT mid-August, you knuckleheads!), and/or allowing for a balanced school year with a two week (or perhaps 10-day) break in the spring combined with a smaller winter break.  The LAUSD Board promised a fix to all this, and then they lied to us by reneging on that promise. 

TEN Community Plans a year updated as is consistent with the Bylaws of the City of Los Angeles, to preserve single-family neighborhoods, place height limitations and direct moderate densification along our major commercial corridors to properly allow for an increased population.  No excuses! 

NINE redeveloped industrial zones to create jobs for Angelenos and other Southern Californians. Industrial isn't always ugly, and even if some folks believe it is, then the jobs those zones create will mitigate for that "ugliness". Not everyone is a lawyer who will work at home--people need middle-class, sustainable, and stable careers involved with manufacturing. 

EIGHT new transit lines to serve the Westside, the Eastside, the South Bay, the San Fernando Valley, the San Gabriel Valley, the Southeast Cities, the Harbor/San Pedro region, and Downtown regions. 

SEVEN more required years of work before any City, County, or State public worker can retire with full benefits--unless these workers have either saved more, given up vacation time, are physically unable to work or be retrained for other jobs demanding less physical labor.  Maybe we all "deserve" to retire in our mid-50's, but we can't afford to pay for pensions as we're doing now. 

SIX percent as the assumed earnings that public sector pension funds should presume before demanding that the taxpaying base be charged for the extra costs of pensions.  We're going broke, folks, and this isn't a game--unless city/county bankruptcies, and insufficient state funds to meet our budgetary requirements is something we all want to see more of. 

FIVE percent switching from our K-12 budget to our state college budget, in that our bloated, horrifically and tyrannically self-serving public education unions would have to live within their means while allowing taxpayers contributing to our UC and Cal State colleges a chance to affordably pay for their children to get a college education. 

FOUR new smart bus stations (not just benches or stops) each month for our most frequently-used bus connections to establish a roof/shelter, appropriate seating (or not) that doesn't encourage homeless encampments, advertisements for local neighborhood councils, LED announcements for when the next bus is coming, and with plug-in features for cellphones.  Bus riders deserve respect. 

THREE stories as the goal for our City (with the exception of Downtown and a few major commercial corridors) to focus on as the limit for housing projects to achieve affordable and desirable housing for our growing population.  Unless we're talking luxury high-rises, anything over three stories isn't a home...it's a crud-hole.  STOP it, overdevelopers and enabling politicians! 

TWO new county supervisors, and with a redistricting that allows for more appropriate representation for the geographies of our very large L.A. County...and knock it off, you racist cretins, if redistricting is something desired by ethnicity and not geography.  Our county and city is race-obsessed (a New Racism, if ever there was one) enough as it is. 

ONE new wonderful Neighborhood Integrity Initiative to pass in the spring to put the brakes on overdevelopment and require a legal and sustainable and environmentally-friendly development process in the City of the Angels. 

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Holidays and New Year to All!

 

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties.  He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  alpern@marvista.org. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)

-cw

IMMIGRATION POLITICS-Two weekends ago, in the working class city of Lynwood in southern Los Angeles County, hundreds of anxious immigrant rights activists packed into the banquet hall of a Mexican restaurant to discuss the next four to eight years under President Trump. Nanette Barragán, the district’s newly elected Congresswoman, proclaimed her intention to fight Trump tooth and nail on the harshest elements of his famously hardline immigration agenda, including his proposed border wall. However, Barragán continued, should President Trump and Republicans in Congress propose a bill that would “afford the protections we need,” she would consider it. In particular, she referenced a recently proposed bipartisan bill that would extend by another three years a temporary reprieve from deportation that the Obama administration granted in 2012 to immigrants who arrived in the United States as children. 

“I know the danger,” she told the crowd, describing relatives in Texas who had enrolled in the program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. “It’s very personal to me.” 

This subpopulation of immigrants, known as “Dreamers,” occupies a special status in the moral outlook of many politicians and of much of the public when it comes to immigration enforcement and reform. Even among Republican politicians who see unauthorized immigration as a criminal act, there are those who regard the Dreamers, unlike their parents, as essentially blameless. The Dreamers have long offered one of the only slivers of potential compromise and agreement in Congress in what is arguably the most polarizing political issue in the country. 

Obama and congressional Democrats have reached for this bipartisan brass ring repeatedly, introducing the Dreamers’ namesake bill, the Development, Relief, and Education for Minors (DREAM) Act, which would legalize the Dreamers’ status, four times over Obama’s two terms. In characteristic fashion, however, the president always counterbalanced his embrace of the Dreamers with an enormous concession to his hardliner adversaries: the erection and implementation of the most aggressive deportation regime the country has ever seen. 

The impact of this bargain on undocumented immigrants has been almost exclusively negative. The DREAM Act has yet to pass Congress; Obama’s support for it, and for immigration reform generally, remains theoretical. The millions of deportations his administration has overseen, on the other hand, are anything but that. 

If the privileging of certain classes of immigrants over others has served the undocumented population poorly under Obama, it’s likely to get much worse under President Trump. With the president-elect just a few weeks away from assuming office, California’s Democratic lawmakers have been pushing a slate of bills at the state, county and city levels to insert a layer of protection between federal law enforcement and the state’s undocumented immigrants. One of those bills is designed to move the debate over immigrant rights away from what its proponents characterize as a false dichotomy between those who deserve protections and those who do not, by extending guaranteed legal counsel -- non-citizens are not currently entitled to an attorney by right -- to every person in a deportation proceeding, regardless of their background. 

“If we create a system where we’re providing representation for some categories of people because we consider them ‘deserving,'” Emi MacLean, (photo left) an attorney with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network told me, “we’re just reinforcing this really hateful, fear-mongering rhetoric of the incoming Trump administration.” MacLean’s group is pushing the measure at the city and county level in Los Angeles. In the face of the full frontal attack that immigrants expect will follow Trump’s inauguration, MacLean believes that the proper strategy is to lock arms and allow no one to be thrown under the bus. 

Obama’s line on deportations, outlined in a 2014 speech, is that his administration targets “felons, not families.” Rhetorically, it’s a distinction with obvious appeal: Who in the world likes felons and doesn’t like families? But procedurally, immigrant advocates say, it has been used as an excuse to deny due process to a broad cross-section of people who do not conform to what Democrats have long held up as the types of immigrants that deserve priority protection, such as college-bound Dreamers, undocumented parents of U.S. citizens who have lived here for decades, or undocumented immigrants who have served in the military. 

In practice, the “felons” label is boundlessly elastic. It can mean summary deportation for an immigrant with a drug charge from more than two decades ago for which he has already served time. It can cover a grandmother accused of being a gang member by a single police officer on the basis of essentially no evidence whatsoever. It can include an old DUI or marijuana charge, or a citation for street vending without a license. Or based on no criminal history at all, or on a criminal record whose only offense is illegal entry or re-entry, which as a basis for priority deportation creates a circular argument. According to a recent study by the Marshall Project, those last two categories made up 60 percent of the 300,000 deportations that have been carried out since Obama first made his “felons, not families” speech. 

Obama’s good immigrant vs. bad immigrant language, MacLean believes, helped usher in Trump’s vilification of all undocumented immigrants. During the presidential debates, she pointed out, Trump noted that his proposed policies merely followed practices put in place by Obama. “Obama’s rhetoric of ‘we’re going to deport felons, not families’ created the mentality and the reality that we’re living today,” she told me, “where our president-elect, in his initial speech announcing his candidacy, talked about Mexicans coming into the United States as ‘rapists’ and ‘criminals.’” 

Trump has already proclaimed that there are between two and three million immigrants with criminal records who he will instruct Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to deport immediately upon taking office. By comparison, Obama has deported about that number of immigrants -- 2.5 million -- over the course of eight years. That was more deportations than any other president in history, and more than all of the presidents of the 20th century combined.  

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa believes that Trump’s figure is a red herring that indicates just how broad a net he plans to cast over the undocumented population. After addressing the Lynwood meeting, while walking from storefront to storefront, chatting in Spanish with their patrons about his gubernatorial campaign, Villaraigosa told me there is “no evidence” that there are two to three million undocumented immigrants in the United States with criminal records. The real number, he claimed, is closer to 800,000. Trump’s invocation of the larger number, he told me, indicates to him that the president-elect plans to go “far, far beyond” merely focusing on immigrants who pose a legitimate public safety threat. 

One immigration attorney told me that two to three million seemed to her to be a reasonable estimate of the number of immigrants already “in the system” -- through arrests and convictions, but also through DACA enrollments and asylum requests and old removal orders that were ignored or never made it to their recipients in the first place -- who the government can track down and deport without much trouble. If you’re an undocumented immigrant or an asylee and you’ve ever been fingerprinted for any reason, she explained, the federal government has your biometric data and probably a paper trail to your residence. There’s no “hiding in the shadows” under such circumstances. Trump’s two to three million priority deportation cases, then, may have nothing to do with criminal status; they’re just ICE’s low-hanging fruit. As under Obama, the “criminal” label is just an excuse to expedite deportations with a minimum of judicial oversight. 

The distinction between “felons” and “families” has already been stretched to the point of legal farce under the Obama administration. If undocumented immigrants are to have any protection from deportation under Trump, many immigrant rights advocates are convinced, it is incumbent upon Democratic-controlled states like California to undermine what has become a tool for summary deportation by purging contrasts between “deserving” and “undeserving” immigrants from their own laws and policies. 

Yesterday morning, in the administration building named after her father, Janice Hahn settled into her seat, alongside her colleagues on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, to hear more than 100 members of the public speak in favor of, or in opposition to, a measure Hahn helped write. The measure, co-written with Supervisor Hilda Solis, Obama’s former Labor Secretary, would pitch county money into a $10 million legal defense fund, jointly financed by the county, the city and private donors, to provide attorneys to immigrants in deportation proceedings. 

Similar funds are being considered in San Francisco and New York City, and a smaller fund has already been put into place in Chicago. In Sacramento, a bill is moving through the California legislature that would create a legal fund at the state level. 

Stripped of power in Washington D.C., Democrats have embraced these rear-guard actions in an effort to defend their communities, proactively or desperately, depending on your point of view, against the expected deportation onslaught from the Trump administration. In California, the bill before the state, which is entitled “Due Process for All,” makes no distinction between immigrants’ criminal histories in determining who is eligible to make use of the fund -- a victory for immigrant rights advocates who aspire to let the divisive “felons, not families” rhetoric fade into oblivion. 

At the Board of Supervisors meeting, the city attorney, a Los Angeles school district board member and a spokeswoman for Mayor Eric Garcetti voiced their enthusiastic support for Hahn and Solis’ measure. It passed by a 4 to 1 vote. 

The language determining the allocation of the funds, however, has yet to be written. If it mimics the state version, California will be on its way to codifying into its laws a unanimous commitment to extending a universal right to due process to all undocumented immigrants, regardless of past arrests, convictions or allegations by the police. It would send a strong message of solidarity at a moment when division could prove catastrophic to millions of the state’s residents. 

If it instead adopts the language of the Obama administration, allocating the right to legal counsel only to certain groups of immigrants deemed more worthy of protection than others, that solidarity could unravel. Immigrants have seen what the results of that division have been under a Democratic administration. Under President Trump, they can only imagine.

 

(Leighton Woodhouse is a Los Angeles journalist, filmmaker and graphic designer whose work has appeared in the New Republic, the Intercept, Gawker, VICE News, the Nation, Salon and the Awl. His latest feature documentary is Trumpland. This piece was originally posted at Capital& Main.)  Photos by Leighton Woodhouse.

Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

PRESERVATION POLITICS-Well, now that you’ve read about the Lytton Savings building at Crescent Heights and Sunset -- and its placement on the City’s “historical register” -- maybe you’d be surprised to find that there’s another “1960s Lytton Savings” worthy of saving. It’s an orphan of a building in Van Nuys at 6569 Van Nuys Blvd. and it has an equal but different story to tell. 

A tale of two buildings, a tale of two different cities: a trendy Los Angeles versus its distant relative, the San Fernando Valley. It’s a tale of community disinterest, proof that even the professionals will “sell out” buildings in the suburbs over a building on Sunset Blvd. It’s a tale revealing that “preservation is a dirty word north of Mulholland Drive.” 

Photos of both the Crescent Heights “Lytton Savings” and the Van Nuys “Lytton Savings” show a great similarity, a love of modern architecture by Bart Lytton, one of those l960s savings and loan tycoons who pyramided the building of the suburbs into a chain of S&Ls. He had a stylebook but he wasn’t building those Home Savings structures that look like mausoleums (I’m surprised no one ever put their ashes into a safe deposit box at Home.) Lytton, a benefactor of the County Museum of Art, used clean modern lines and had a “stylebook” for his banks, but over past 50 years, they’ve disappeared. Maybe you can find one more but, to my knowledge, only the “honored” Crescent Heights and the “soon to be trashed” Van Nuys buildings remain. 

As a member of the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council, I grew up in Van Nuys admiring the Lytton Savings building. There were only two well designed buildings in Van Nuys: the Paul Revere Williams Bank of America, and next door, the Lytton Savings building with its 40 foot high atrium, skylights, a floating staircase and the loan department suspended on a balcony under the atrium. Yes, like the friends of the Crescent Heights bank, I had my $12 there 50 years ago; I’ve also had a love affair with the building ever since. 

But as a Van Nuys Neighborhood Council member, I’ve never seen the Crescent Heights Lytton Savings and that’s where a bureaucratic story begins. 

When I tried to discuss nominating the Van Nuys Lytton building for “landmark status,” I found that, like the Crescent Heights building, it is subject to demolition -- immediately. 

PROPOSITION M seems to be bringing a land rush to tired Van Nuys Blvd. where most storefronts date from the l920s. Talk about a light rail on Van Nuys Blvd means that everything is in play. And because the Lytton building had parking, four stories with 200 units can be built there. There’s such a land rush now with 400 units at the corner of Kittridge and Van Nuys -- that very same corner. 

As a member of the Van Nuys NC Plum Committee, I tried to talk up the building, but was “blackballed” from the committee. “Thank you for your interest in preservation. (You’re now off the committee.”) 

The fine art of the building isn’t worthy of discussion, but there is talk about the struggling Salvadoran market, La Tapatulcheca (photo above), now occupying it, and that the illegal vendors the market encourages bring the “wrong look” to Van Nuys. Instead, there are wild hopes of gentrification and a “SPROUTS” that will never sprout here. If you think that’s funny, you should feel what I felt when I pursued the matter. The “Lytton Savings” in Van Nuys is on the City of Los Angeles’ “SURVEY LA” list -- an architectural study project of all the City’s buildings of architectural value, including “orphans” like this one that are worthy of “saving.” 

So, ask the City Attorney, “Doesn’t the Neighborhood Council have to at least get a presentation about why the building is on the Survey LA list?” No answer. 

Ask Ken Bernstein, City Historical Preservation Officer, “Won’t you defend your SURVEY LA list of buildings of interest or concern?” No answer.   

Ask LA Conservancy for their help and you hardly get encouragement because the Crescent Heights “fight” seems more interesting. Perhaps “saving two of a kind” is just so difficult to explain that they won’t even “come over the hill” to defend my advocacy -- or SURVEY LA -- or even tell me about their Crescent Heights battle. 

I wish the Crescent Heights people well. I think their building is worthy of preservation, as I do the Van Nuys building. It’s the rare situation where “preserving two of a kind” over one of a kind makes sense. I’d welcome synergy between the groups. 

But the success (such as it is) in Crescent Heights troubles me. I’ve been given a view of City politics suggesting that there is a different threshold for honest discussion of preservation in the City. One cynically sees some sense that the Crescent Heights battle is as much about those Hollywood-Beverly Hills types riding down Sunset Blvd. in a top down convertible, either celebrating the Gehry building to come or the Lytton Savings to be “saved.” 

But if you try, as I did, to get the City’s million dollar “SURVEY LA” discussion of the building inserted into the Van Nuys NC record, you’ll find that you can’t. The City acts as if their own “SURVEY LA” guidance is a “secret” -- a bureaucratic secret for their own convenience. It’s their secret and they’ll decide when and if they want to use it. 

And as for discussion in the Valley on preservation issues -- those who built out the Valley with single family homes in the l950s will build out the Valley now with four story apartments. (Even my single family home sanctuary is being surrounded by those 4 story apartments.) When you can’t get your neighborhood council to respect you enough to make the preservation presentation, you’re not in a good place.

 

(John Hendry is a neighborhood council activist who lives in the San Fernando Valley.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

VOX POP--LA City Hall’s shady, underhanded ways have become a serious hot-button issue in the city’s March 2017 elections — and now City Council District 5 candidate Jesse Creed has jumped into the fray.

“As reported by the LA Times, ” Creed wrote in an email to supporters, “special interest lobbyists were at the center of a corrupt and illegal campaign finance scheme, collecting over $600,000 in illegal contributions for City Hall politicians. Do you think the politicians care about the people when the lobbyists are the financiers of their campaigns? Please. The people get hosed.”

Since early 2016, the Coalition to Preserve LA, the grassroots movement sponsoring the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, now known as Measure S, has been leading the charge against City Hall’s unfair, dishonest methods, which favor greedy developers over ordinary Angelenos.

With the City Council and mayoral elections coming up in March, numerous candidates running against City Hall incumbents are now sounding alarm that it’s time for much-needed change. Jesse Creed (photo left) is one of them. 

Creed is running against Council District 5 member Paul Koretz, who serves Hollywood, Bel Air, Fairfax, Century City and Westwood, among other neighborhoods. In a recent email to supporters, the challenger wrote:

Lobbyists are responsible for a culture of special interest dependency and corruption in City Hall, resulting in politicians who ignore the needs of the people. Meanwhile, problems like our broken streets and sidewalks, illegal dumping, and flagrant violations of building codes go unfixed.

We owe it to the people of LA to break this culture of special interest dependency. The people of LA help fund our city elections with a matching funds system that gives candidates up to $100,000 in taxpayer funds. We owe it to the taxpayers of LA to run an ethical campaign.

Coalition to Preserve LA has noted for months that developers spend millions on politically connected lobbyists, who then woo City Hall politicians and bureaucrats for special spot-zoning favors that negatively impact the rest of us through ruined neighborhoods, gridlock traffic and displacement of longtime residents.

It’s why community leaders across LA are asking Angelenos to vote “Yes on S” in March. 

For his own campaign in Council District 5, Creed vowed to not take developer or lobbyist money.

Join the Coalition to Preserve L.A. by clicking here right now to donate any amount you wish, and follow and cheer our efforts on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. For more information, you can also send us an email at neighborhoodintegrity@gmail.com.

DEEGAN ON LA-Frank Gehry has two options -- some may say a Hobson’s choice – now that the LA City Council has unanimously approved Historic-Cultural Monument status for Kurt Meyer’s Lytton Savings Bank building located on the property Gehry wants to transform into a complex of skyscrapers at the western gateway to the Sunset Strip. 

He can drop his objections and work his 8150 Sunset project around the Lytton Savings Bank building, or he can help developers Townscape Partners move it offsite to a new location. It’s not as if he doesn’t already have enough problems at 8150 Sunset: this project is faced with three, possibly four, pending lawsuits. He’s also contending with a vocal community that doesn’t really want the project there in the first place. 

Anything can happen. We are suddenly experiencing a through-the-looking glass political environment coupled with lots of aggressive political activism when it comes to the lava-hot issue of land use and development. Many Los Angeles communities, HOA’s, Neighborhood Councils, and NIMBYs are pushing back hard against development and these local uprisings have been one of the big political stories of 2016. Next March, in the Mayoral and City Council elections, candidates will have to face many voters who are sick and tired of unregulated over-development. They may just be inclined to support a show-stopper like the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative that would recast how zoning variances are handled -- if it is voted into reality on the March ballot. 

Getting Historic-Cultural Monument status for Lytton has been a risky but so far successful process showcasing which politicos have been brave and which have not. A couple of guys (Steven Luftman and Keith Nakata, both neighborhood council board members and land use committee members) identified the Lytton Savings Bank as something worth saving and launched a campaign for Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) status for it. The road ruptured when City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management committee (PLUM) placed approval of Gehry’s 8150 Sunset project on their agenda for consideration and then approved it, before knowing the HCM status for Lytton – the consideration for which was scheduled several weeks later. Not only was it feckless of PLUM to avoid first making a decision about Lytton, but it was also a backwards procedure. What to do about Lytton should have appropriately and logically been decided before deliberating about the 8150 Sunset project. 

Not satisfied with being chickens just once, the same PLUM committee -- Chair Jose Huizar, Curren Price, Gil Cedillo, Mitch Englander and Marqueece Harris-Dawson -- when they eventually heard the case for HCM status decided to forward it to the full City Council without any recommendation. Twice, they abandoned their responsibility to weigh in on a significant land use issue that eventually benefitted a developer. 

Bravely, Councilmember David Ryu (CD4), who brokered an agreement over the 8150 project, stepped in and publicly voiced his support of Lytton’s HCM status. This helped push it through. Whatever it was that happened behind the scenes, led to the result, a few days ago, of the council unanimously approving Historic-Cultural Monument status for the Lytton Savings Bank building. 

All councilmembers, including the five PLUM members that twice dodged the issue, voted for it in the go-along-get-along City Council culture. In this case, they appear to have gone along with Ryu. 

What the supporters of Lytton have gained may be a Pyrrhic victory: the HCM vote may slightly delay demolition, but it does not guarantee that the building will survive. At least, not at its present site. 

In an October 27 letter to the City Council, Frank Gehry addressed the Lytton Savings Bank building issue, telling the politicos that he had tried different massing options without finding one that would preserve the Lytton bank. He concluded, I really do not believe that I can design a successful project while keeping the bank on the site.” More prosaically, he admitted to the PLUM committee that his construction crane needs to sit on the existing footprint of the Lytton building so, he says, the Lytton building cannot coexist with his project

If he sticks to the claim that the Lytton Bank building is in his way -- although there are two alternative findings in the Environmental Impact Report concerning Lytton that challenge that assertion -- the only other option for saving it is to move the building to a new location. But finding a sponsor and a piece of land may be very difficult. Two valuable resources, cash and location, would need to materialize and, so far, there is no one, including Gehry, who publicly advocates and is willing to pay for moving Lytton to another site. 

The effort to save Lytton has produced many wins, including the willingness to challenge a world famous architect, pushing the politicos, exposing the double-cowardice of PLUM members Jose Huizar, Curren Price, Gil Cedillo, Mitch Englander and Maurice Harris-Dawson, and creating a cohesive community around this critical neighborhood issue. 

The only possible loser is the zig-zag-roofed Lytton Savings Bank –and maybe -- a couple of city councilmembers on the decaying PLUM committee (Gil Cedillo-CD1 and Curren Price-CD9) who are up for re-election in March 2017. They could be ripe for replacement by anti-out-of-control-development voters in the City of LA.

 

(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at timdeegan2015@gmail.com.) Photo credit: Los Angeles Magazine. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

CORRUPTION WATCH-When it comes to government corruption, extortion and bribery are two sides of the same coin. It is often hard to distinguish between the two. A military contractor may approach a Congressman and offer to get his kid into a prestigious private school and arrange for the tuition to be “handled.” In Los Angeles, for example, it costs between $11,000 and $32,000 a year to send one child to private school. When the person who pays the money initiates the deal, we call it bribery

On the other hand, the Congressman may tell the military supplier, “You know that X-71B which you manufacture? My committee doesn’t think that it is essential and we will be holding hearings in a few months to cut it from the appropriations package.” The Congressman’s kid is then admitted, with tuition pre-paid to the RichieLoo School for Privileged Brats, and miraculously, the cutting of X-71B never appears on the Committee’s agenda. We call this extortion or “grow up, this is how things operate.” 

Extortion Comes to Los Angeles 

City government also has oodles of opportunity for extortion, but until recently Los Angeles’ comprehensive Mutual Bribery operation kept the system relatively clear of extortion. It was a beautiful system in its efficiency and the way it allotted “developer corruption” throughout the City. 

Each councilmember could make any deal he wanted with a developer without any regard for the law, guaranteeing unanimous approval of the project. LA City Council’s Mutual Bribery system is so well known now that it is no longer news. 

How Extortion was Held to a Minimum 

What no one had noticed was the degree to which it limited extortion. With a City Council of fifteen, it would be financially ruinous if a developer had to enter into deals with a majority of the city councilmembers. Thus, each developer has only had to deal with the councilmember representing the district in which he wanted to build his project. We will leave aside the fact that this system has resulted in massive over-development that has turned Los Angeles into the least desirable urban area in the nation. 

Why Los Angeles Is Facing Run-Away Extortion 

Recently, the City of Los Angeles has embarked on an era of massive extortion. A number of factors have contributed to this and it will infect LA in the coming years. 

  1. As noted above, extortion and bribery are two sides of the same coin. Thus, adding extortion to Los Angeles’ modus operandi is an extension of its general criminal nature. 
  1. Part of the Mutual Bribery pact was: “You stay out of my district and I will stay out of your district.” There are many places during the administrative process where other councilmembers could throw up road blocks to a project outside their district, but they refrained from such interference. For example, if a councilmember became angry, he could use his influence to have a home declared historic, which would throw a monkey wrench into a project. When Councilmember Krekorian and Ken Bernstein at the city planning department decided that Marilyn Monroe’s home was not historic, it would be troublesome if another councilmember agitated to have the home declared historic. 
  1. The Sea Breeze Project showed that Mayor Garcetti was dealing himself into the Mutual Bribery scam even though he was no longer a member of City Council. Garcetti wanted and got $60,000 so that the Sea Breeze Project could proceed. 

What was worse, councilmembers far outside Council District 15 where the project was located were getting significant pay offs. 

As the LA Times article noted, “In several cases, elected officials received the money as they were poised to make key decisions about the development, known as Sea Breeze.” 

In addition to the $203,500 to then CD 15 Councilmember Janice Hahn and $94,600 to subsequent CD 15 Councilmember Joe Buscaino (you gotta love the flexible morality ex-cops like Dennis Zine and Buscaino,) hundreds of thousands of dollars went to councilmembers far flung from South Bay’s CD 15. 

Councilmember Englander got $65,800 and his district CD 12 is located in the northwest corner of the San Fernando Valley and newcomer Councilmember Nury Martinez got $7,700. She too represents the Valley. 

Interestingly, Councilmember Huizar who represents DTLA got $30,400. Gee, I wonder why? The LA Times noted, “More than $30,000 went to Councilman Jose Huizar, who heads the powerful council committee that reversed the Planning Commission’s decision and approved Leung’s project.

At least $65,800 went to Councilman Mitch Englander, who sits on that committee with Huizar.” 

Remember, one famous ploy of extortion is a threat which then disappears. The Planning Commission had thrown up a road block to the Sea Breeze Project, but then Huizar’s PLUM Committee removed that road block. I am certain it was all in the interest of justice and the $30,400 had nothing to do with the obstacle’s disappearance. 

  1. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Richard Fruin says that city corruptionism is okay. This decision is no surprise as Judge Fruin announced a long time ago that the City is above the law and he would do nothing to interfere with the system of Mutual Bribery. Echoing Woodrow Wilson’s call to make the “world safe for democracy,” on December 13, 2016, Judge Fruin made Los Angeles safe for corruptionism. The unintended consequences are already evident. 

When the courts sanction massive eternal bribery, the courts have to turn a blind eye to extortion. There is no way the court can dissent to the massive extortion which the LA Times laid bare in its October 30, 2016 article without infringing on the City Council’s right to operate on the basis of Mutual Bribery. 

How would the court word its opinion? “It is okay to accept bribes, but it is not acceptable to solicit bribes (extortion).” Of course, developers would point out that extortion is essential. How else will they know whom to bribe and when to bribe them? 

  1. Thanks to Judge Fruin all councilmembers may now create obstacles which will be expensive for the developers to overcome As the December 13, 2016 issue of WeHoVille wrote, “In a unanimous decision this morning, the Los Angeles City Council approved designating the 56-year-old Lytton Savings building at 8150 Sunset Blvd. as a historic cultural monument (HCM).  The designation bestows certain protections against demolition on the mid-century modern building, but does not guarantee its survival.”  

OMG – classic extortion! A huge problem, which may be made to disappear. On the other hand, is Councilmember Ryu’s striking back at Garcetti’s interference in his district similar to his interference in CD 15 with the Sea Breeze Project? Councilmember Ryu was elected on his claim that he would listen to his constituents about development. This hideous project is the one massive Hollywood project which falls outside Mayor Garcetti’s CD 13. (We know Garcetti still runs CD 13 and Mitchie is his stooge.) 

We won’t belabor the behind the scenes machinations and pressures on Councilmember Ryu, but the most powerful community group, Fix The City, Inc., has sued over 8160 Sunset. It is clear that Councilmember Ryu’s constituents hated this nightmare, yet he could not stop it. 

So which do we have? Are all the councilmembers dealing themselves into the extortion game at the same time Judge Fruin has given his judicial stamp of approval to corruptionism, or is the City Council retaliating against Garcetti for messing with their rights to be lord and masters of their own council districts? After all, that is the promise holding the Mutual Bribery pact together: “I get to be absolute ruler of my council district.” Maybe it is a little of both. 

Judge Fruin would have been wise to heed Lord Acton who said in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” By placing the City Council above the reach of the law, anything goes. The knowledge that the courts will never interfere with the City Council’s corrupt ways imbues the councilmembers with massive power to do whatever they want – including de-generating into vicious internecine warfare over the billions of dollars to be divvied up under Measures JJJ, HHH and M.

 

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney. He can be reached at: Rickleeabrams@Gmail.com. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA--Barbara Boxer was never a particularly effective senator. Just name a signature legislative achievement or a victory for California in her 24 years representing the state.

So her exit was fitting.

She went out protesting the passage of what had been our own bill of water projects. And she went out blasting her own colleague, Dianne Feinstein, for crafting a practical compromise on water that was attached as a rider to that bill.

Feinstein effectively made a deal with Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the Bakersfield Republican who is #2 in the House. It wasn’t perfect, but it was an improvement. It states protections for species while allowing for more water deliveries South and more flexibility in managing water, with the goal of capturing water from storms.

Boxer, who was clearly not part of negotiations, opposed the bill and vowed to block it.

“This is a devastating maneuver,” Boxer said, as quoted by the Sacramento Bee. “This last-minute backroom deal is so wrong. It is shocking, and it will have devastating consequences if it makes it into law, which I can tell you I will do everything in my power to make sure that it never, ever makes it into law.”

As it turned out, there wasn’t much in her power. The bill went through and appears likely to be signed by the White House as of this writing. Feinstein patiently explained that “This bill isn’t perfect but I do believe it will help California,” Feinstein said, and noted that it was a better deal that she might have gotten once Trump takes office.

Feinstein took criticism from skeptical editorial pages. But she got the deal done. Boxer made a point, but not much else.

California desperately needs Kamala Harris to be more Feinstein than Boxer.

(Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010).

 

 

 

 

 

LESSONS FOR CHARTERS--In 2014, when teachers at Los Angeles’ Jefferson High School opened their own charter school, the Student Empowerment Academy, they hoped to bring the larger world into their classrooms. They wanted to show kids opportunities outside of their neighborhood, where academics often took a back seat to economic survival. Kids would learn science, math and social studies by solving real-world problems in teams, just as they would in the work-force, while teachers would have autonomy and genuine decision-making authority. 

But faculty members soon found themselves facing one real-world problem they hadn’t bargained on -- a tug of war for power with administrators and board members. Conflicts reached a boiling point in 2015, with staff leaving en masse – either fired, pushed out or stressed beyond their limits. 

The school also ran afoul of the Los Angeles Unified School District, which oversees the city’s charter schools, for financial mismanagement and other shortcomings. With enrollment dwindling, Jefferson announced that SEA would have to move to another facility for the 2017-18 academic year. If these obstacles weren’t enough, in its last year the fledgling charter school was led by a former professional football player with no teaching background and little administrative experience, and who, along with the academy’s board of directors, would throw the academy and students under the school bus once the going got tough. 

SEA’s story highlights the precarious nature of small independent charter schools, and brings to light the fact that charter boards of directors are largely independent and don’t always have to account to parents, teachers and communities for decisions that affect students. In the end, the academy’s board of directors concluded that SEA faced problems that were so intractable that the only solution was to shut it down, and last June, two weeks after classes ended for summer break, the directors voted for permanent closure. 

Teachers and parents were left reeling. Parents demanded to know what happened to the public funds that created the school, and where their kids would attend classes the next year. Teachers argued that more could have been done to save the school. 

Jefferson High sits in a South LA neighborhood where corner stores, modest homes and ramshackle apartments huddle cheek by jowl with small factories, all in the shadow of downtown’s skyline. Alumni include diplomat Ralph Bunche, the first African American Nobel laureate, choreographer Alvin Ailey, jazz saxophonist Dexter Gordon and singer Etta James. About a decade ago Jefferson became notorious for massive brawls that erupted on campus. Television news reports blamed racial tensions, but more-in-depth accounts noted that nearly 4,000 kids were crammed into a school built for a third that many. 

Six years ago in response, the school created small learning communities to break down the anonymity of the giant high school. One of those initiatives was the New Tech High School for Student Empowerment Academy, a sort of school within a school. When, in 2013, administrators announced staff cuts and larger class sizes, faculty member Linda Rahardjo was one of several teachers who designed the 300-student independent charter version of SEA to carry on the work they had begun. 

Rahardjo told Capital & Main the decision to go charter was an ultimately futile attempt to preserve what the faculty had originally built. The teachers who formed SEA were a closely-knit group who came to school early and stayed late to create a safe place where students could learn to study and think. “Being able to pass their classes became the in-thing,” she noted, adding that the students had begun to put brains above brawn, especially where disputes were involved. “They’d step back [from a fight] and say, ‘That’s not what we do here.’” It was a cultural shift at Jefferson. 

SEA’s troubles began in earnest with a perfect storm of problems that included its coming expulsion from the Jefferson High campus, declining enrollment and financial instability — all of which exacerbated tensions between the academy’s faculty and its board members. Matters weren’t helped by a financial scandal. 

Earlier this year LAUSD demanded an explanation after SEA paid an outside contractor more than $130,000 for services that should have been provided for free by the school district, and for supplies that district staff said would have been much cheaper if purchased from LAUSD. 

For instance, the contractor charged nearly $5,000 for toilet paper that district officials said LAUSD would have sold for less than $1,000. He allegedly inflated shipping and handling fees and billed $2,000 for taking notes at four board meetings. 

One of the SEA board’s most consequential choices, however, was to hire of one of its own to run the school as it was floundering at the end of the 2015 school year. The last principal had been let go amid student walk-outs and teacher dissatisfaction. Had there been other eyes on the process, and greater scrutiny of the next principal’s track record, the new man might not have landed the job. 

Marvin Smith is a former National Football League linebacker who played for the LA Rams in 1983 until, he said, he was sidelined by an injury. He has since resurfaced as an ordained minister, a radio talk-show host and an advocate for low-cholesterol diets.  Smith doesn’t appear to have a teaching or administrative credential. In his resume, he claims a master’s degree in business from Azusa Pacific University; however, a university spokeswoman said Smith enrolled in a program in organizational management and attended classes, but she could find no record of his graduation. 

More notably, Smith is a charter school devotee who said he intends to remain in the field his entire life. But so far, his educational ventures have been short-lived. 

He founded and directed the Doris Topsy-Elvord Academy, a small charter middle school in North Long Beach. But he closed the school three years ago because of some of the same financial and enrollment problems that would plague SEA. 

The SEA board has been remarkably charitable about Smith’s CV. 

“Sometimes you learn more by failing than succeeding,” said SEA board chair Tommy Newman, when asked about the closure of Smith’s Long Beach charter venture. He told Capital & Main that the board stood by the decision to hire Smith. 

Ref Rodriguez, an LAUSD school board member whose district includes Jefferson High School, called Smith a “wonderful person,” while admitting that he lacked understanding of teaching and learning. 

Others have not been so sanguine. 

“Not only did this guy not know instruction but he didn’t know how to manage a school,” Betty Forrester, a United Teachers Los Angeles vice-president told Capital & Main. “Top it off with a lack of transparency, communication and democracy. Those things make people wonder.” 

Smith explained to Capital & Main that he took the SEA post to bring unity and calm to the school, insinuating that, operating behind the scenes, disgruntled teachers had sparked the student protests that led to the ouster of his predecessor. It’s an opinion both Rahardjo and student leader Karen Espinoza reject. 

“The reason I stepped in is, I don’t like kids being manipulated by adults for adult agendas,” Smith said, without identifying those agendas. “We have to push for the kids.” After assuming control of SEA, Smith said he embarked on what he called a “team effort” to overhaul the school. 

On the contrary, Forrester said, Smith did not truly welcome teacher collaboration, which she argued would have given the school a better chance to succeed. 

“People didn’t know what was going on,” she said. “There were no clear answers. It was like, ‘Shut up, go into your classroom and do what we tell you.’” 

While the school struggled during its last months, Smith was already exploring new charter opportunities for himself in Ohio, with an apparent assist from one of SEA’s board members. Bryan Bentrott, a Newport Beach developer, who is a personal friend of Smith’s, wrote him a letter of support for the venture just six months before SEA closed. Bentrott, who also served as a board member for Smith’s failed Long Beach charter school, portrayed Smith as a charter superhero who had saved the academy from closure. 

“Last year Marvin singlehandedly rescued a charter school in Los Angeles,” Bentrott wrote. “Despite tremendous odds, Marvin stepped in and saved a school, which was on the verge of shutting down.”

In reality, SEA was in its death spiral. 

As teachers rallied to solve SEA’s problems, Smith may have already given up, perhaps having gotten wind of the coming closure. The school’s budget documents show that in May, he cashed out his paid time off, collecting over $11,000 a month before the shutdown vote. 

Smith may still be pursuing the chance to open a new charter school in Ohio. He wouldn’t answer questions about it. Such applications are difficult to track because many private and public agencies are authorized to approve charters in Ohio. 

While the teachers’ efforts to help save the academy didn’t bear fruit, José Cole-Gutiérrez, a director at LAUSD’s charter school division, said they weren’t necessarily wrong to try. Unless it had a fatal flaw, such as a serious threat to student safety, he said his office would have considered renewal if SEA showed improvement. 

It also turns out that the school’s financial picture might not have been as bleak as Tommy Newman and his board colleagues painted. A draft audit shows the school ending 2016 $175,000 in the black, although he contends that late legal bills might not have been factored into the bottom line.

Newman, an attorney who currently works as communications and public affairs director for a nonprofit housing developer, also cited an unpaid loan, high personnel costs and legal expenses associated with negotiations for a union contract as reasons the school could not continue. He also said the school faced risk because of the contractor affair, although Cole-Gutiérrez said no specific action on the overpayment is currently contemplated, adding that LAUSD has the authority to ask its inspector general to investigate or refer the matter to the district attorney. 

SEA’s closure meant kids would lose the close teacher-student relationships the school had cultivated, and either have to navigate a large high school or scramble for a spot elsewhere long after enrollment decisions had been made for the next year. 

“To me, the shame is that this was a teacher-led and teacher-initiated school,” said LAUSD board member Ref Rodriguez. “That we were not able to make it work pains me.” 

A couple of months before the closure vote, social studies teacher Kari Mans and art teacher Bill Neal had both joined with co-workers in a last-ditch effort to solve some of the school’s most vital issues, like finding space for the school to operate out of, or recruiting students. In an interview, Neal said he was still hopeful, even though he said his and the other teachers’ efforts had largely been ignored or rebuffed by Smith. 

“We were starting to get this sinking feeling,” he said. “All of this had already been decided. It was like a foreboding. This is going to be bad.” 

“It was heart-breaking,” Newman acknowledged. “It felt like failure. I’d invested a year and a half of my life in it.” 

However, he argued, the school couldn’t survive financially because of low enrollment and lack of funds. He contended that even if SEA made it through another year, the Los Angeles Unified School District would be unlikely to renew its charter because of poor oversight reports. Still, the latest report also highlighted strengths, such as the school’s $250,000 Walton Foundation grant and its substantial implementation of the innovative aspects of its charter. 

Teachers pointed to other assets: Graduation rates were relatively high, and many in the class of 2016 were bound for college. Mans, who had recently joined the faculty, told Capital & Main that the school’s project-based learning approach produced students who could think critically and solve problems. 

For all the dedication he described, Tommy Newman didn’t have to answer to anyone for his vote.

He and his four fellow board members were essentially in charge of a very tiny school district, with final responsibility for everything from finances to personnel to purchasing, albeit with oversight from the LAUSD. 

But unlike the LAUSD’s board members, SEA’s weren’t elected to their posts and when they decided to throw in the towel, they faced no consequences. They were not required to show they’d done everything possible to keep the school open. With the exception of the sole parent representative on the board, they didn’t live in the community and could return to their jobs or businesses after the closure without looking back. 

The LAUSD’s Cole-Gutiérrez said he takes closures seriously, but that a school’s board of directors holds ultimate decision-making power. 

“It’s contemplated in the Charter Schools Act that there is an exchange of autonomy for accountability,” Cole-Gutiérrez said, adding that shuttering schools is sometimes a necessary part of that. 

In addition to Newman and the lone parent, the board included a retired middle school principal, Bentrott and another attorney. The board might have been savvier than some, but Newman said he had no idea of the problems he’d face when he agreed to join. 

That’s not uncommon, said UTLA’s Betty Forrester, who got involved at SEA after teachers voted to join the union. Charter school board members are sometimes recruited simply because they raise their hands to volunteer, or so that a school can meet the basic requirement of having a board in place, she said. And even though they don’t have to answer to voters, their decisions carry huge weight for the children they serve. 

“Students only get one chance to be in ninth grade,” Forrester noted. 

For what it’s worth, parents and teachers could get some answers about the school’s financial viability when the school’s final audit is submitted later this week. 

They will be lucky if they do. The state Department of Education reports that many charters can’t afford to provide a final audit, or simply ignore the requirement after they close. Smith’s former charter, Doris Topsy-Elvord Academy, was one that did not bother submitting a final audit as required by law. 

Additionally, more than 100 shuttered schools have failed to return public funds they’ve been granted; collectively they owe the state upwards of $49 million.  

The question of whether the school itself could have made it, had the board not opted for closure, will likely remain unanswered, because board members have no further obligations to the community the school served. 

What is known, said Forrester, is that the students Marvin Smith vowed to fight for were the losers at the Student Empowerment Academy. 

“There were issues with academics, with supplies, and massive teacher turnover,” she said. “Stability is huge in education. They weren’t able to stabilize the school. They didn’t do right by the students.”

 

(Robin Urevich is a journalist and radio reporter whose work has appeared on NPR, Marketplace, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Las Vegas Sun. This piece first appeared in Capital & Main.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-Back in October, I wrote my CityWatch column about the presidential election as a referendum on feminism. For the first time in U.S. history, a woman was on the top of the ticket for a major party. Her rival was a man known over the years as much for his pronouncements about the female form during his appearances on Howard Stern as for his experience as a mogul and as a reality TV celebrity on The Apprentice. When a conversation between former Access Hollywood host Billy Bush and Trump went viral mid-election season, we knew the GOP candidate believed his fame entitled him to “grab” and kiss women without their consent. 

The following month, Donald J. Trump had pushed past the magic number of 270 electoral votes to become President-Elect. As results indicated a Trump victory (and the following day as I listened to Hillary Clinton’s concession speech), I reflected on my October column. Did the election results indicate that Americans no longer support feminism? 

As we follow news, whether via the NY Times, Washington Post, CNN or via Twitter, Politico or other online sites, Election 2016 appears to be more complicated, given our intelligence citing Russian hacks and possible interference even at the polls. Regardless of whether or not the absence of interference might have changed the election results, women remain a formidable force. 

Kamala Harris is headed to the Capitol to replace Barbara Boxer and closer to home, Janice Hahn and Kathryn Barger will join Sheila Kuehl, Hilda Solis and Mark Ridley-Thomas on the LA County Board of Supervisors. Women will form the majority in the country’s largest local government agency. The 15-member LA City Council, however will only have one woman. 

Next month on January 21, on the day following the Inauguration, tens of thousands will join the Women’s March on Washington with similar events across the U.S., including a Women’s March LA to be held downtown. 

According to the Women’s March on Washington site, the organization and participants “stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health and our families – recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country. 

“We support the advocacy and resistance movements that reflect our multiple and intersecting identities. We call on all defenders of human rights to join us. This march is the first step towards unifying our communities, grounded in new relationships, to create change from the grassroots level up. We will not rest until women have parity and equity at all levels of leadership in society. We work peacefully while recognizing there is no true peace without justice and equity for all.” 

The election has turned out to be a referendum but not in the sense I once suspected. The rallying of women throughout the country, as well as the men who support us, has shown that we remain a powerful force for change. 

For more information or to register: 

Women’s March on Washington  

Women’s March on LA  

Register for Women’s March on Washington – Los Angeles (by 12/24.)

 

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

@THE GUSS REPORT-There are grudging, trudging phases that politicians go through when dealing with guerilla journalists. Often, they provide a window into which direction the story will lead. 

The first phase is to ignore us. The second is when they realize we are onto a story and we have an outlet and an audience. That’s when they call us their friend or employ the pregnant pause and the faint praise, “I really admire your…..passion.” Third, when we nail a story that is picked up by the mainstream media, and we are credited for breaking the story, they go silent and cold as a nuclear winter. And fourth is the thaw when they realize that people beyond their reach are reaching out to us to share their stories. 

Before we launch into 2017, let’s take a quick look back at the 2016 you and I shared. 

In 2016, I contributed 39 articles to CityWatch, amplified by the occasional invitation to talk on KFI AM 640 where the Sunday Morning News humorously bestowed upon me the title, “Eric Garcetti’s Worst Nightmare.” In developing these stories, there were more than a few humorous encounters like when I prepared to exit an LA City Hall elevator and a certain chief of staff was on the other side of the opening doors; someone’s jaw dropped, and it wasn’t mine. Others included awkward overtures and a hearty, guffawing handshake from an elected official who never previously said as much as “hello” to me. 

In February, my article LA’s Hypocrisy on World Spay Day: ‘Backyard Breeders’ Get a Pass showed how city officials are all talk and no action when it comes to controlling the pet population that results in overcrowded pounds that kill thousands of healthy, happy and adoptable animals. In March, I wrote of billionaire hedge fund guru Bill Ackman costing many of his clients their life savings by investing against (i.e. “shorting”) the stock value of LA’s Herbalife while overdosing on investments in Valeant, a dubious Canadian pharmaceutical firm. Since then, Herbalife kept winning in court and in its stock price while Valeant lost half of its remaining value, reaching an all-time low last week. 

As spring approached, I wrote how Time Warner Cable would have little to offer us after the 2016 season in which iconic Dodgers announcer Vin Scully retired, having deprived subscribers of other services of enjoying his last few seasons. Now rebranded as Spectrum, it is the same tired service, at higher prices and virtually no portability while DirecTV launches its lower priced, bundling-not-necessary and completely portable DirecTV Now service. 

In April, I wrote in (Dis)-honorable Mentions at LA City Council how our lawmakers honored a local school whose alumni included what amounted to a rogue’s gallery of former LA Sheriff Lee Baca, former LA City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, former LAPD Chief Darryl Gates and former tennis champ Bobby Riggs. Later, in LA City Council Soapbox Evades its Own Sexual Misconduct Failures I told you the story of how city officials talked about helping sexual assault victims while standing alongside, and completely ignoring the costly sexual harassment settlements of, their colleague Councilmembers Mitch Englander and Jose Huizar. 

In May, I showed in ‘No Kill’: LA’s Big Lie how Mayor Eric Garcetti falsely claimed the city’s animal impounds are no longer killing animals because he simply redefined the meaning of death and adoption. A week later, I showed in Duped Councilman Rationalizes Mayor’s Animal Bamboozle how Councilmember Paul Koretz, LA’s biggest phony on humane issues, rationalizes the fraud to please his wife’s employer….Mayor Garcetti.

Also in May, my Ill-Prepared LA Grovels for a Super Bowl it Won’t Get told how the City of LA, which doesn’t have an NFL team or stadium, groveled for a Super Bowl that it would not, and ultimately did not, get.

In June, I wrote Garcetti Reappoints ‘Arrogant’, Delinquent Commissioner to show the mayor’s disconnect in reappointing Roger Wolfson, the “No-Show Commissioner” of LA Animal Services. He, along with fellow panelist Larry Gross, contributed articles to CityWatch this year, but ironically, none of them were about humane issues. And that’s just the way the Mayor wants it -- experts in areas other than the Commissions to which he appoints people. 

When we got to July, I wrote about a Deputy LA City Attorney named Hugo Rossitter who failed to disclose his outside legal businesses, let alone pay business taxes to the cities of LA and Beverly Hills, in LA Prosecutor, Fake Businesses … and, Why It Matters. 

In August, I launched a series of articles with Herb Wesson: King of the Foreclosure Dance on how the Los Angeles City Council president was continuously on the verge of losing his homes due to decades-long foreclosure troubles, while he sold the public on failed affordable housing and homelessness issues. Wesson later misled LA Times’ City Hall reporter David Zahniser on the origins of his problems, and what he was doing about them. (Photo above: Herb Wesson.)

As late summer turned to fall, I tracked down in Sherman Oaks Gives Tourists … and LA’s Curious … the Bird a wayward peacock named Percival, who was as colorful and overt in his Valley activities as Congresswoman-turned-County-Supervisor Janice Hahn’s campaign flunky John Shallman was in his anonymous online pursuits in Exposed: Hahn Operative Trolls CityWatch.

In the September through November corridor, I showed, starting with Garcetti Playing Dirty Pool? how the mayor removed a heroic LAFD whistleblower named John Vidovich from his post just a few months prior to his retirement for exposing fraudulent fire inspectors, and what role the overtime-gobbling firefighters’ union had to do with it. My big “get” of the year was when the LA Weekly and KCBS picked up on the story after I exposed the LA Times’ original story on Vidovich to be bogus and – perhaps – vindictive. 

As Trump v. Clinton came on the horizon, I took one more jab at the Mayor’s phony humane claims with How Eric Garcetti Falsified 8,807 Pet Adoptions and Worse. 

A day before the November 8 presidential election, I cautioned in Wall Street. Wednesday. Watch Out! that the stock market, were Trump to win, would experience dizzying turbulence. When it appeared Trump would in fact win, the Dow Jones pre-market price dropped almost 800 points, but has boomeranged to unprecedented heights ever since. So I was right about the turbulence, but so very wrong about its duration. 

After a foray into the hurt feelings of the election in Obama: ‘Go Out There and Win an Election’ and Vote Recount: The 3rd Stage of Grieving I attempted to bring some reasoning to Thanksgiving with Thanksgiving: Both Sides Now. 

And finally in December, I delved into dangers of tourists pursuing access to our world famous landmark in Runaround Ryu and Hollywood Sign Danger and how Garcetti, City Council, City Attorney Mike Feuer and City Controller Ron Galperin are in denial about much bigger problems that LA faces in 2017 in City Hall’s Latest Delusions on Terror, Fraud, Fire … and Everything Else. 

In 2017, the LA City Hall and LA County Supervisors’ bubbles may finally burst, and the leaders’ spines will be tested. My predictions and previews are coming next week.

 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a contributor to CityWatchLA, KFI AM-640 and Huffington Post. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

PERSPECTIVE-I had a firsthand look of the chaos bestowed on the population by the passage of Prop 47. As almost all of you know, the measure raised the threshold of a felony and led to the early release of many career criminals. 

A neighbor’s house was ransacked and robbed last night. The family was on an errand for a period of less than two hours, not a long time by most measures, but far more than enough time for criminals to do their deed. 

I talked with the LAPD officers who were investigating. When I mentioned there has been a steady increase of property crimes in the community since the passage of Prop 47, the officer piped right up, “We are seeing an influx of thieves from other states. They know the odds of going to jail are slim.” 

There have been steady reports posted to Nextdoor about burglaries in Valley Village. As president of the homeowners’ association, I am acutely aware of this growing problem, which effects many communities in Los Angeles. I have lived here since 1986 and have never before seen such a spike in crimes. 

Many of the crimes are brazen – carried out in broad daylight. Thieves have walked all the way up driveways to break into cars, not simply satisfied to target those parked on the street. That takes some cajones -- and desperation -- a combination that is dangerously explosive and could indicate a propensity for violence by the perpetrators. 

It is bad enough that thousands of professional burglars have flooded the streets after early release; we have also become a magnet for out-of-state talent, as the LAPD officer related. 

The people of California voted for Prop 47. It was supported by the top elected officials in the state. It even had the support of New Gingrich! 

It is time for the state’s voters to reverse this truly misguided policy. It will require a new ballot measure, and, in the short run, legislation mitigating the impact of 47. 

It is also time to build new prisons. Instead of selling bonds to construct an extraordinarily expensive high-speed train, let’s invest in state-of-the-art prisons which have the facilities for addressing and correcting the causes of recidivism. There will always be those who do not respond to intervention – they will ultimately require a lifetime of incarceration, so the capacity must be in place to deal with them as well. 

Opponents to this would claim we cannot incarcerate ourselves out of a growing, statewide crime wave. The converse for that argument is more grounded in reality – we cannot reduce crime by rapidly increasing the supply of criminals, as Prop 47 has done.

 

(Paul Hatfield is a CPA and serves as President of the Valley Village Homeowners Association. He blogs at Village to Village and contributes to CityWatch. The views presented are those of Mr. Hatfield and his alone and do not represent the opinions of Valley Village Homeowners Association or CityWatch. He can be reached at: phinnoho@aol.com.) Graphic: Jeff Durham/Bay Area News Group. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

LEANING RIGHT--Unlike my counterparts from the Left, I will neither underestimate nor under empathize with those who approach this Christmas and New Year with dread and fear.  There are quite a few reasons to fear a President-Elect Trump, but exploring the source and lessons from where that dread and fear are coming from show promise for our nation...and ourselves:

1) The Russians/Nazis/Racists are coming, and they're out to control and destroy our nation!
Well, well, well...I'd like to see them try.  A bunch of skinheads and Nazis want to start pushing around Latinos, African-Americans, Muslims, and Jews?  Wow.  Now THAT would lead to a butt-whooping if ever I saw one--with the skinheads and Nazis being on the receiving end of that little smackdown.

Furthermore, if the Breitbart bunch are dominated by racists, then they're some of the silliest racists I've ever heard of, because they're dominated by Jewish editors.  Sheriff Clarke, that bad-ass African-American sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin? Not exactly the kind of person I'd expect to tolerate any racist gibberish or crimes.

And the Russkies? Well, any hacking is a serious issue, but weren't we told for so long that the Clinton server and e-mails were no big deal?  So why is any server/e-mail exposure to foreign hacking...now...a big deal?  And are we being played by the President who once derided Mitt Romney that he was focused on the wrong decade?

No, I think that Ms. Clinton lost the presidential election of 2016 all by herself.

2) The Male Chauvinists are coming, and they're out to control and destroy our nation!
Well, well, well...I'd like to see them try.  Eliminate the education and buying power of half our nation, would they?

Considering how the new Trump Administration stands to be filled with many women (including some firmly against Trump over the past election cycle), and considering how the new "first lady" (Ivanka, not Melania, Trump) will push for affordable childcare for single mothers, it's not too likely that women will be shoved out of the workforce.

And virtually all abortions will be legal for a long, long, long time, because even if Roe vs. Wade ever were reversed we'd see 50 states with laws allowing legalized abortion through the second trimester within nanoseconds.  Of course, the question of why healthy babies with healthy mothers needed to have a third trimester abortion would finally be answered.

Although it might be nice to allow and demand that boys become good men, and to allow and demand that girls become good women.  And with the understanding that LGBTQ rights should be upheld, it might be nice to dispel the notion that male and female humans are wired the same, or that one gender is "better" than the other.

3) The Polluters are coming, and they're out to control and destroy our nation!
Well, well, well...I'd like to see them try.  I doubt that this nation is ready to shred its goals for clean water and fresh air, just to make a few greed-bags a few bucks.

Although the debate over what role the U.S. has in Global Warming, er Global Cooling, er, uh, Climate Change would be welcome.  Because while anyone visiting Glacier National Park knows that the glacier for which that park is named has virtually melted away, what we can or should do about it is up for considerable debate.

And as for making a few greed-bags a few bucks?  How about the Green Machine, where a few opportunists have allowed our local and regional utilities to thrash the middle class and their employers with high utility bills and excessive regulations that help a few connected folks get rich while the overall economy is hamstrung?

It's great that Big Oil has to account for its actions.  It's now long overdue for Big Green to do the same.  Perhaps population control and a healthy economy can stimulate environmental reform that REALLY works for EVERYONE.

4) The Christians are coming, and they're out to control and destroy our nation!

Well, well, well...I'd like to see them try.  But which Christians are we talking about?  The ones who accept and support Jews and the nation of Israel more than many American-born Jews do?

Which Christians are we talking about? The ones who enlisted in our nation's armed forces and fought to create and defend democracy and human rights of Muslims and others in Iraq, Afghanistan, and throughout the entire world?

Which Christians are we talking about? The ones who merely want to be left alone and celebrate their religion in peace, while encouraging the same for others?  The ones who believe in charity and kindness to others?  The ones who share followers of both black and white, both Asian and Arab, and both Catholic and Protestant backgrounds?

Well, I'm one Jew who doesn't tolerate any bigotry, or cruelty, or bullying, from anywhere or anyone...and I'm hardly alone.  I've had Christians pray for my eternal soul, and I'll take any help I can get. 

I'm solidly and blissfully aware of what Christmas means.  Yes, it's the pagan/solstice thing that places December 25th as the birth of Yeshua, also known as Jesus, and also known as the Christ. It's not known whether Jesus was born on December 25th, but that's a moot point--it's THAT Jesus was born that matters.

And THAT there is a God to be worshipped who understands the joys and misery of the human condition, because Christmas celebrates a God who lived and died as a human to show God's never-ending Covenant with Humanity.  No floods or rainbows...just a brief life and a painful, horrible death.

So Merry Christmas, everyone, and Happy Holidays to All.  Fear not for what hasn't come to pass, but be ready and confident if bad things do come to pass.

There's no "don't worry, be happy" to be bandied about, but it shouldn't be forgotten that there's room to accept both our personal and national successes AND failures.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.  Life will be filled with joys and battles to be experienced to the enrichment of us all.  And we will say that, yes, we did have the privilege of living in very, very interesting times!

 

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties.  He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  alpern@marvista.org. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)

-cw

 

 

 

 

 

 

URBAN PERSPECTIVE-On Wednesday, December 21st, the South Los Angeles Homeless TAY and Foster Care Collaborative (Collaborative), along with the Crenshaw Chamber of Commerce and other local partners, will honor the lives of homeless youth who have passed away and those experiencing loss during the holiday season with a prayer and candlelight vigil. 

December 21st is considered as one of the longest nights of the year. Likewise, the month of December is one of the most stressful periods for homeless youth suffering trauma due to a lack of stable housing and a strong support system. 

The Collaborative is gathering more than 100 community members to embrace love and compassion for youth experiencing homelessness, heighten awareness about homeless youth, and offer prayers, comfort, and new beginnings. 

To wrap up 2016, the Collaborative will share advances in the Homeless No More Community Plan to End Youth Homelessness and encourage ongoing commitments to end youth homelessness by 2020. 

“We are taking this opportunity to remember the resiliency of youth and our commitment to end youth homelessness in South Los Angeles,” said Rev. Kelvin Sauls, Chair of the South Los Angeles Homeless TAY and Foster Care Collaborative. “We believe our youth need our focused attention and are taking this evening to connect with them by showing that we care and that they matter to us.” 

With the approach of a colder winter in Los Angeles, the Collaborative also encourages people to join in their Covenant of Engagement, a promise to do something to end youth homelessness: 

  • Connect with local agencies in the Collaborative who have specific in-kind needs this holiday season 
  • View a list of partner organizations and contact them to volunteer or get more information on how youcan get involved. 
  • Offer platforms to dialogue about youth experiencing homelessness. 
  • Participate in the upcoming January 2017 Homeless Count 
  • Contribute financially to partner organizations to increase resources for homeless youth. 

“We are doing something very profound. We are letting our youth know that we are here to be of service and support. This village is committed to helping our youth achieve a better quality of life“, said Armen D. Ross, President of the Crenshaw Chamber of Commerce. 

The Collaborative’s Youth Remembrance Ceremony will be held on December 21st, from 6 pm, in Leimert Park and is held in conjunction with National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, an annual event commemorated in more than 150 cities and counties across the United States.

(The South Los Angeles Homeless TAY and Foster Care Collaborative is a coalition of business, government, nonprofits, and residents working to prevent and end homelessness for South Los Angeles’ Transition Age Youth. For more information, visit the organization’s website at www.southlatay.org.) 

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NEW GEOGRAPHY--The oligarchs’ ball at Trump Tower revealed one not-so-well-kept secret about the tech moguls: They are more like the new president than they are like you or me.

In what devolved into something of a love fest, Trump embraced the tech elite for their “incredible innovation” and pledged to help them achieve their goals—one of which, of course, is to become even richer. And for all their proud talk about “disruption,” they also know that they will have to accommodate, to some extent, our newly elected disrupter in chief for at least the next four years.

Few tech executives—Peter Thiel being the main exception—backed Trump’s White House bid. But now many who were adamantly against the real-estate mogul, such as Clinton fundraiser Elon Musk, who has built his company on subsidies from progressive politicians, have joined the president-elect’s Strategic and Policy Forum. Joining Musk will be Uber’s Travis Kalanick, who half-jokingly threatened to “move to China” if Trump was elected.

These are companies, of course, with experience making huge promises, and then changing those promises to match new circumstances. Uber, for instance, touted itself as a better deal than a cab for both riders and drivers before it prepared to tout a better deal for riders by replacing its own soon-to-be obsolete drivers with self-driving cars.

Silicon Valley and its leading mini-me, the Seattle area, did very well under Barack Obama, and expected the good times to continue under Hillary Clinton. Tech leaders were able to emerge as progressive icons even as they built vast fortunes, largely by adopting predictably politically correct issues such as gay rights and climate change, which doubled as a perfect opportunity to cash in on Obama’s renewable-energy subsidies. Increasingly tied to the ephemeral economy of software and media, they felt little impact from policies that might boost energy costs or force long environmental reviews for new projects.

No wonder Silicon Valley gave heavily to Obama and then Clinton. In 2016, Google was the No. 1 private-sector source of donations to Clinton, while Stanford was fifth. Overall the electronics and communications sector gave Democrats more than $100 million in 2016, twice what they offered the GOP. In terms of the presidential race, they handed $23 million to Hillary, compared to barely $1 million to Trump.

Yet, there is one issue on which the Valley has not been “left,” and that is, predictably, wealth. It may have liked Obama’s creased pants and intellectually poised manner, but it did not want to see the Democrats become, God forbid, a real populist party. That is one reason why virtually all the oligarchs favored Clinton over Sanders, who had little use for their precious “gig economy,” the H-1B high-tech indentured-servants program, or their vast and little-taxed wealth.

Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder with a net worth close to $70 billion, used his outlet, The Washington Post, to help bring down Bernie, before being unable, despite all efforts, to stop Trump. So now Bezos sits by Trump’s side, hoping perhaps that the president-elect’s threats to unleash antitrust actions against Amazon will be conveniently forgotten as an artful “deal” is struck.

For these and other reasons, there’s little doubt that the tech elite would have been better off under Clinton, who likely would have, like Obama, disdained antitrust actions and let them keep hiding untaxed fortunes offshore. Now, they will have to share the head table with the energy executives they’d hoped to replace with their own climate-change-oriented activities.

The tech oligarchs have long had a problem with what many would consider social justice. Although the tech economy itself has expanded in the current period, its overall impact on the economy has been less than stellar. For all of its revolutionary hype, it’s done little to create a wide range of employment gains or boost worker productivity.

To be sure, there have been large surges of employment in the Bay Area, Seattle, and a handful of other places. California alone has more billionaires than any country in the world except China, and nearly half of America’s richest counties.

But for much of the country, notably those areas that embraced Trump, the tech “disruption” has been anything but welcome news. This includes heavily Latino interior sections, home to many of America’s highest employment rates. Overall, the “booming” high-wage California economy celebrated by progressive ideologues like Robert Reich does not extend much beyond the Valley. In most of California, job gains have been concentrated in low-wage professions.

Despite its vast wealth, California has the highest cost-adjusted poverty rate in the country, with a huge percentage of the state’s Latinos and African Americans barely able to make ends meet. California metropolitan areas, including the largest, Los Angeles, account for six of the 15 metro areas with the worst living standards, according to a recent report from demographer Wendell Cox. Meanwhile, the middle and working class, particularly young families, continue to leave, with more people exiting the state for other ones than arriving to it from the, in 22 of the past 25 years.

Even in Silicon Valley itself the boom has done little for working-class people, or for Latinos and African Americans—who continue to be badly underrepresented at the top tech firms as many of those same firms aggressively promote diversity. A study out of the California Budget and Policy Center (PDF) concluded that with housing costs factored in, the poverty rate in Santa Clara County soars to 18 percent, covering nearly one in every five residents, and almost one-and-a half times the national poverty rate. Since 2007, amidst an enormous boon, adjusted incomes for Latinos and African Americans in the area actually dropped (PDF)

Much of this has to do with change in the Valley’s industrial structure, which has shifted from manufacturing to software and media. The result has been a kind of tech alt-dystopia, with massive levels of homelessness, and housing costs that are prohibitive to all but a small sliver of the local population.

With a president whose base is outside the Bay Area, and dependent on support in areas where jobs are the biggest issue, the tech moguls will need to find ways to fit into the new agenda. The old order of relentless globalization, offshoring, and keeping profits abroad may prove unsustainable under a Trump regime that has promised to reverse these trends. In some senses the Trump constituency is made up of people who are the target of Silicon Valley’s “war on stupid people.” Inside the Valley, such people are seen as an obstacle to progress, who should be shut up with income supports and subsidies.

So can Silicon Valley make peace with Donald Trump, the self-appointed tribune of the “poorly educated”? There are two key areas where there could be a meeting of minds. One is around regulation. One of the great ironies of the tech revolution is that the very places that are home to many techies—notably blue cities such as San Francisco, Austin, and New York—also tend to be the very places most concerned with the economic impacts of the industry.

Opposition to disruptive market makers in the so-called sharing economy like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb is greatest in these dense, heavily Democratic cities. What’s left of the private-sector union movement and much of the progressive intelligentsia is ambivalent if not downright hostile to the “gig” economy. Ultimately, resistance to regulations relating to this tsunami of part-time employment could be something that Trump’s big business advisers might share in common with the techies.

More important will be the issue of jobs. It may not work anymore for firms to lower tech wages by offshoring jobs or importing lots of foreign workers under the H-1B visa program, since Trump has denounced it. IBM’s Ginni Rometty, who had been busily replacing U.S. workers with ones in India, Brazil, and Costa Rica, has now agreed to create 25,000 domestic jobs. Other tech companies—including Apple—have also been making noises shifting employment to the United States from other countries. Trump may well feel what “worked” with Carrier can now be expanded to the most dynamic part of the U.S. economy.

If the tech industry adjusts to the new reality, they may find the Trump regime, however crude, to be more to their liking than they might expect. Companies like Google may never again have the influence they had under Obama, but many techies may be able to adjust. As long as the new president “deals” them in, the techies may be able to stop worrying about Trump and begin to embrace, if not love, him.

(Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com. … where this piece was most recently posted. He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, will be published in April by Agate. This piece first appeared at The Daily Beast and was published most recently by New Geography.) 

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VOICES--Whenever there is a discussion of overly generous public sector pension plans, the first thing you hear is "yes, but they don't get Social Security.”

They don't get Social Security for a very basic reason: they haven't paid into it. When that statement is made, the tone suggests that the public sector person believes getting Social Security is somehow comparable to, or better than, their public sector pension. It most certainly is not! It is much worse. And just thinking this way demonstrates how ill informed many of these folks are. 

Let's look at what a recipient of Social Security receives: 

First of all, you can't retire and collect any Social Security benefits before the early retirement age of sixty-two.
Then, the maximum amount you can get from Social Security in 2016, if you retire early at 62, is $2,102 a month, or $25,224 a year. If you retired in 2016 at full retirement age of 66, the maximum benefit is $2,639 a month, or $31,668 a year. This is the maximum. No one can make more than this retiring at 62 or 66 years of age. This is what someone who has earned the Social Security maximum pay for their entire career can draw out of it.

Note that the retirement age is older than for public sector workers. Note that the amount anyone can receive is lower than public sector workers earning less for their entire careers receive through their pension.

Here's another very significant difference. A public sector worker who retires at 50 to 60 years old can collect pension benefits from the first employer, and take a new job from another employer without jeopardizing benefits from the first job. Not so with Social Security. If you start collecting Social Security at 62 and take another job, you can only earn $15,720 before your Social Security Benefit is reduced. They reduce it by $1 for every $2 you earn over the $15,720 limit. Once you reach full retirement age of 66 years old you can again work without reducing Social Security benefits.

Public sector Defined Benefit pension plans are clearly better than Social Security -- in retirement age, benefit amount, and program flexibility. Any time you hear "we don't even get Social Security,” take it on. There is not a person alive who wouldn't take a public sector pension in place of Social Security.

 

(Jef Kurfess is a Cal graduate and lives in Westlake Village.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GELFAND’S WORLD--It's easy to become despondent about the right wing war against science. It's been exposed in books and in countless blog posts. There is a lot of truth to the existence -- and danger -- of the unrestrained attacks on scientific practice. The world is descending into global warming and its effects are not entirely predictable, yet there are those who continue to deny. In addition, there are those who oppose the proper teaching of modern biology due to its foundational theory of evolution. That's the downside, but as the infamous year 2016 heads to a finish, it's worth considering the bright side of things. Science is continuing, and an enormous amount of progress is being made. 

We might begin the discussion by considering a seminal event, the 1836 creation of a library of medical texts that served the office of the U.S. Army Surgeon General. It grew and was moved around over the next century or so, most notably in 1866, to the same Ford's Theater where Lincoln had been assassinated. People were opposed to the idea of the theater being reopened for plays, so the government took the building and placed its collection of medical books there. The Library, eventually known as the National Library of Medicine (NLM), came to its new location in Bethesda, Maryland in 1962. Incidentally, one of those involved in the creation of the new library was Senator John F. Kennedy, who got to see its opening after he became the president. 

Within a few decades, the growth of computer technology and then the rapid expansion of the internet allowed for an equally rapid expansion of scientific communication. In the 1970s, the Library created Medline, an online search tool that was available to a few medical libraries. In 1986, the Library, demonstrating that it did not lack for a sense of humor, released a computer program called Grateful Med. It allowed anybody with a desktop computer and a dialup modem (remember those?) to go online and search for articles of interest. At the beginning, you had to write to the NLM in Bethesda and ask for the program disks, which came to you by mail (remember mail?). The program worked in the pre-Windows environment, and users had to pay to use the system. By the 1990s, it was possible for anyone, at any place in the world that had a telephone line, to look up the latest findings in most any scientific field. 

By the late 1990s, online searches of the scientific literature were available as a free service. The online system is called Pubmed, and the jargon, "do a Pubmed search" is familiar to pretty much all life science researchers. 

It's hard to explain how great was the effect of Pubmed on the ability to do science in a knowledgeable and intelligent way. The best I can do is to remind people of a certain age what life was like before we had Google searches or what playing music was about prior to iTunes and the smartphone. The before and the after were whole different worlds. 

The expansion and widespread acceptance of the internet as a part of our lives resulted in the migration of scientific journals to the online realm. There are still a lot of journals that put out print editions, but most have some sort of online presence. One result of digital efficiency is that new results go online quickly. The NLM picks up the information on new publications within the week and puts them in its Pubmed database. 

This isn't just theory, but actual result. We had a paper accepted in final form by an international journal on December 9. When we bothered to check it on Pubmed a week later, it was already listed on the search engine. 

Because knowledge is available at the click of a button, it's possible to design experiments more quickly. What used to take two weeks -- trying to look things up in the brick and mortar library -- is now a task that can be accomplished in five minutes on your laptop keyboard. And when you've done the search, you can download abstracts or even print out entire research papers on your desktop printer. 

The result of these informational advances is to make science itself more efficient and more effective. 

The other big change is that automated laboratory systems for sequencing DNA and finding RNA allow for the accumulation of the kind of data that are opening the view into how living systems work, right down at the submicroscopic level. There is enormous complexity in currently available biological data, but it can be dealt with and, to a certain extent understood, even at the level of a laptop computer running Excel. 

So where am I going with this wordy introduction? Let me offer one example from personal experience. We were interested in the effects of a toxic chemical on cellular function. In particular, we wondered if we could see any changes in the expression of any of the genes. (You know, that process where DNA is copied into something called RNA, a mechanism called transcription.) 

In living memory -- at least the memory of some people still living -- this was impossible to do. The tools did not exist. Then it became possible to analyze the effects on a few genes. You had to know which genes you were looking for, and the whole process could take as much as a month, but you could find things out. 

More recently, it became possible to send the RNA collected from cultured cells to a testing lab and within a week or two, receive back an email listing the effects on every single known gene. By doing this, we found that out of the approximately 25,000 genes available to the human cell, there were a few dozen that were particularly affected by this one known chemical. 

We were not alone in doing this kind of research. Other researchers developed methods for rapid DNA sequencing that allowed clinicians to look for mutations particular to a particular condition or disease. To do this kind of work, you need to have samples from lots of people (some having the disease and others without it). Then you get DNA sequence data from all of those people and look for differences that fit one group but not the other. 

Think about what I just said. At one point, some audacious people suggested that we sequence the entire human genome. It was a daunting prospect for those who chose to engage, but through advancing technology, the project was finished within a few years. Now, it is possible to sequence many samples in parallel and compare them against each other. 

This is one of the most promising areas for current research, because it provides the possibility of defining some diseases at the ultimate causative level. There are certain genetic disorders such as sickle cell anemia where the genetic defect has been known for a long time. Other diseases such as cancer can be the result of many genes interacting in a complex way. Over the past 20 years or so, many of the defects and changes that lead to cancer have been discovered. There is still lots of work to be done, because there are complex interactions among these factors, but the understanding of how the disease begins and progresses is building. 

Science is making progress. Let's consider a couple of snapshots in time. Running a Pubmed search on the category cancer yields a few citations from the early 1800s. Apparently the curators have been photographing articles from very old journals and making them available right along with modern studies. One of the earliest is from a journal called Medico-Chirurgical Transactions and is from December 23, 1828. The article has a rather unusual title by modern standards: Two cases of fracture of the thigh-bone taking place without any violence, in which a diseased state of the bones appears to have been the predisposing cause of fracture, and concurring with cancer in the breasts in both patients. 

The author, Thomas Salter, ESQ, F.L.S., explains that each of the two women suffered a spontaneous broken bone, high in the thigh, in the absence of a major violent event. Both are also described as having had breast cancer, although there is no additional detail. We can surmise that in an era without X-ray and where little was actually known about the cause of disease, the spread of cancer to the bone several years after the initial onset was not something that doctors were trained to look for. And if they were to look, there would have been little or nothing they could do about it. 

The other snapshot is today's edition of Pubmed in which the search using the term cancer yielded three and a half million citations. Taking only the most recent citations, we can find an article titled (don't panic when you read this. It's not on the test) Association of single nucleotide polymorphism re6983267 with ulcerative colitis and colorectal cancer. Without going into detail, this is a study which locates a single mutation in a single spot in the genome, and shows that the mutation correlates to a certain type of cancer and a certain medical condition. This understanding comes from being able to sequence samples from numerous people quickly and inexpensively. 

This is the beginning of a new era in which researchers will look for specific cures for specific genetic mutations. At the least, the information will guide the development of targeted treatments. 

As I mentioned above, these are two citations out of nearly four million. Most of the citations are from recent decades and taken as a whole, represent huge progress in medical science. Compared to modern knowledge and methods, that surgeon of 1829 might as well have been doing archeology on old bones in terms of developing insight into disease causation. 

So here is the good news: In spite of the anti-science prejudices of some of our politicians led by all too many corporate lobbyists, we are making progress in science. Even if American science is stultified by Republican committee chairmen in congress, the rest of the world will continue. In addition, medical science will probably face less congressional wrath than climate science, so even in America, we will continue. 

By the way, Pubmed searches for heart disease yield more than a million citations, and searches for terms such as arthritis yield their own hundreds of thousands of hits. Mankind is making progress, and luckily it has little to do with the political winds, other than that politicians can provide funding or cut funding. 

Molecular biology, which has come so far, has led to attempts at molecular medicine, and out of molecular medicine has come all those new drugs with names ending in mab. The mab is short for monoclonal antibody, and is this generation's approach to targeting specific molecules on the surfaces of specific cell types. For some things, monoclonal antibodies really work. They didn't even exist when many current scientists were getting started. 

But the current generation of treatments is just the beginning. New research into something called microRNAs (miRs for short) may lead to the next generation's approach to therapy, maybe even paired with carefully chosen stem cells. But that's a subject for another year.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net

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SKID ROW-In the Court of Public Opinion, LA City Councilmember Jose Huizar was released early from a six-month probation period due to a sentence reduction based on “time off for good behavior,” which was to end January 31, 2017. (Photo above: Councilman Huizar with author General Jeff.) 

This “punishment” stems from Huizar’s initial support for a proposed microloft project in Skid Row which would’ve converted buildings (through adaptive reuse zoning designations) previously owned by Salvation Army and used for well over 60 years to provide housing and social services to countless homeless people who reside in this area, commonly-known as “the homeless capitol of America.” 

In a Zoning Administration hearing at City Hall in June of this year, Huizar’s staff representative publicly conveyed the councilmember’s support for the project even though there was strong and contentious opposing testimony from the Skid Row community. The current owner, architects and land-use consultants of the proposed microloft project were all in attendance. 

With an extensive delay in the ZA’s decision, mostly due to the need to research a long-standing Wiggin’s settlement clause, no decision was reached that day. 

About a month later, members of the Court of Public Opinion convened and Huizar testified that he “thought everyone was in support of the project” and “this is the first I’m hearing of any opposition.” After a brief deliberation, Huizar was immediately sentenced: his “People’s Champ” title was immediately vacated with no resistance by the defendant. 

It was first rumored in September that a decision on the microloft project had been reached, but nothing could be confirmed. Finally, in October, the Court of Public Opinion learned there was “official movement” on the project. The owner and his representatives “formally withdrew” their application and requested that “no further action be taken” on file number ZA-2015-2843-ZAD. 

Ding-dong the Wicked Witch is dead! 

With other local matters affecting homelessness, such as Proposition HHH and other tax-based ballot initiatives in the air during that time, the temperature between Huizar and the Skid Row community went ice cold. It was rumored that polar bears in Alaska were jealous of the “daily, below-zero-type freezing temperatures.” 

Members of the Skid Row community went to City Hall themselves and researched the “microloft file” and were able to confirm and clarify the status of the project. Soon, the Court of Public Opinion was contacted regarding a new hearing of determination on Huizar. 

Without delay, the Councilmember’s good standing in Skid Row resumed without further comments from either side. He was immediately released from probation and his “People’s Champ” status returned and reinstated. (Wow, who’s this guy’s lawyer?) 

Now that the $1.2 billion dollar HHH homeless housing initiative has passed and LAHSA’s next “Homeless Count” is fast-approaching (next month), a more cohesive level of communication between Councilmember Huizar and his constituents in Skid Row will be critical if significant strides in “reducing homelessness” across Los Angeles is to happen anytime soon. 

With the pending formation of a Skid Row Neighborhood Council and the final determination as to whether LA will land the 2024 Summer Olympics both happening in 2017, Skid Row will need the “People’s Champ” to rise to the occasion. These matters and more will greatly impact homelessness across the entire City of Los Angeles moving forward. 

If Huizar gets all of this right, he could be the next Mayor of Los Angeles in 2021.

 

(General Jeff is a homelessness activist and leader in Downtown Los Angeles. Jeff’s views are his own.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

STATES FIRST LANGUAGE IN DECLINE--How are Californians going to save Spanish?

Yes, I know that a call to preserve the Spanish language might seem ludicrous in a state whose very name comes from a Spanish romance novel. Nearly half of us are either from the Spanish-speaking world, or trace our heritage there. We constantly hear Spanish—in our neighborhoods, our workplaces, and in our media; an estimated 38 percent of Californians speak Spanish (the second highest percentage after New Mexico). In the U.S. more than 37 million people now speak Spanish, up from 11 million in 1980.

And yes, my question about saving Spanish may seem daft now, as America’s deranged politics pit Trumpian xenophobia, with its fear of being overrun by foreigners and their languages, against liberal triumphalism about growing diversity.

But—and I speak to that small, hardy tribe of Americans who still prefer to be ruled by facts and not fears—the realities of immigration, education, and language acquisition put the lie to the notion that Spanish has nowhere to go but up. To the contrary, there are clear signs that the Spanish language has already begun its decline. Which is why Californians, who have long benefited from our state’s bilingualism, should think now about how we are going to preserve it.

Spanish is confronting what might be called the “Three Generation Death” law of non-English languages here. German, Italian, and Polish all but disappeared after three generations—a first, immigrant generation that learned some English, a second, U.S.-born bilingual generation that lost its proficiency in the non-English language over time, and a third generation that grew up speaking English only, and knew the old language only by studying it.

It’s possible that Spanish in 21st century California may prove to be a little more durable, given the undeniable cultural power of the language and the geographic (and now digital) proximity of the Spanish-speaking world. But it’s far more likely that Spanish will simply become the latest and largest tombstone in the language graveyard that is America.

At root, this is less the story of the decline of Spanish than it is the familiar tale of immigrants and their descendants integrating enthusiastically into American life.

Census statistics and Pew Research Center analysis tell the tale. While nearly 80 percent of all people who identify as Hispanic (and are age 5 and older) spoke Spanish in the previous decade, that number is expected to fall to about two-thirds by 2020. While 25 percent of Hispanics spoke only English at home in 2010, that figure is estimated to reach 34 percent in 2020. Here in California, the trend is most evident in our schools, where the numbers of English-language learners who speak Spanish has fallen to 1.1 million, from nearly 1.4 million a decade ago.

Spanish’s decline is likely to accelerate even as the percentage of people who trace their heritage to the Spanish-language world accelerates. To a great extent, this reflects the law of the three generations. While 61 percent of first-generation Latino arrivals to this country are Spanish-dominant and 33 percent are bilingual, some 69 percent of third-generation Latinos are English-dominant, and 29 percent are bilingual.

Other trends also will hurt Spanish. Even before the U.S. elected a Mexican-slurring bigot threatening a border wall, immigration to the U.S. from Mexico was at or below net zero, and immigration from Latin America was in deep decline. That’s unlikely to change, given growing middle-class prosperity, lower birth rates and higher education levels across much of Latin America. In this country, the U.S.-born constitute a rapidly increasing percentage of people of Spanish-speaking heritage. Greater integration of families is another factor; more than a quarter of Latino babies have a non-Latino parent.

The Spanish-language media are already grappling with the pressures of this change. Univision helped create Fusion, an English-language network, to woo the rising generations of English-speaking Latinos. (More recently, the network has repositioned itself to focus on millennials of all backgrounds). But there is likely to be considerable carnage among U.S.-based Spanish-language broadcasters and newspapers, which have been losing audiences as more Latino adults consume their news in English. Also troubling for such media: Surveys suggest that the percentage of Latino adults who get their news in both languages is also declining.

At root, this is less the story of the decline of Spanish than it is the familiar tale of immigrants and their descendants integrating enthusiastically into American life. Another branch of the story involves the unrivaled and growing power of English as our planet’s dominant tongue. English proficiency is on the rise in every corner of the earth—as the language of global commerce, culture, and technology. It’s also a wonderfully democratic language, without the divisive gender or class distinctions of Romance and other languages, without the tricky tones of Asian languages, and without the complex grammatical constructions that make German and Russian such slogs.

Californians should welcome the trend. Our more homegrown, more English-speaking population should be more cohesive, and thus have a greater chance of better governing itself. But English’s rise also poses important questions for California, because of our state’s special interest in the Spanish language. It would be good for the Golden State if we found ways to stop the decline, and preserve Spanish in our state.

It would be good for the Golden State if we found ways to stop the decline, and preserve Spanish in our state … Spanish is at the heart of the history of California.

The reasons for such preservation go far beyond the desire to honor the heritage of those Californians of Spanish-speaking ancestry. Spanish is at the heart of the history of California. It’s not merely that we were a Spanish colony founded by Spanish missionaries. Our state itself was founded in Spanish, as you’ll see if you look up the records of California’s original 1849 constitutional convention in Monterey and realize that was a bilingual event, with translation by W.E.P. Hartnell. (Fittingly, one of California’s greatest community colleges, a Salinas school that’s good at educating native Spanish speakers, today bears his name). For the first 30 years of our state, the constitution required that all laws be published in Spanish and English. (The San Francisco anti-immigrant forces that wrote the openly racist 1879 constitution changed that).

Preserving Spanish would serve the present and the future as well. There’s big money to be made if we can increase trade with a Spanish-speaking world on the rise. And it would be a huge step-up for our education system to make Spanish a core requirement. Right now, you can graduate from a California high school without taking even one course in a foreign language. And the UC and Cal State systems require only two years of foreign language for admission. That borders on the criminally negligent, given all we know about the good that learning another language does for our brains.

In November, California voters approved Prop 58, but that modest measure merely removed some bureaucratic barriers to teaching California students in languages other than English. Spanish needs much more, including state requirements and investment so that instruction is available to all. Your columnist is very grateful to have attended Pasadena private schools that made Spanish a full academic subject, with the same number of class hours as math and science and English, from grades six to 12. California would be much better off if that was the standard statewide.

If we preserve Spanish, we’ll have a comparative advantage over the rest of the country, where the language doesn’t have the same history and is more likely to die out. Indeed, if we do this right, Spanish could become a special force in California, distinguishing us and binding us together.

And with that happy thought, I wish you Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año Nuevo.

(Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010).

-cw

RANTZ & RAVEZ--As we approach the Christmas and Hanukkah season we gather with family and friends to celebrate the many blessings and opportunities we all have to share in the Great Land of America. Family gatherings with plenty of beverage and food and conversations and those thoughtful and sometimes unique and unusual gifts. Like the traditional Fruit Cake we receive from Aunt Mary. 

This year is another of those infrequent times in the calendar when Hanukkah and Christmas come together as the eve of Christmas is the beginning when we light the first candle for Hanukkah. Interesting how the calendar brings us together at this very special time of the year. 

While we should all enjoy the happiness and love of this special season, our state elected officials will really enjoy the salary increases they have received courtesy of the California taxpayers. Those hard working people who go to work and bring home the money to live in a residence and provide for their families. 

No matter your economic situation, we are all feeling the pinch on our income. There is rent or a mortgage and utilities and taxes and car payments and insurance and school clothing and all the rest of the expenses for a family living in the Southern California region. With condo and apartment rents running well over $3,000 and home expenses in the thousands of dollars, who is helping you and your family? The simple answer is no one.+++++++

When you pay your monthly living expenses, think about the 4% salary increase our state elected officials recently received courtesy of the Citizens Compensation Commission. Our state elected officials were and continue to be the highest paid state representatives in the nation. Governor Brown’s salary has increased from $182,789 to $190,100. State legislators increase from $100,111 to $104,115 and the Assembly speaker and Senate president pro temp will receive a salary of $119.734. The newly appointed attorney general Xavier Becerra will leave the $174,000 base salary as a Congressman and earn $165,126 as the California Attorney General. We all wish a very Merry Christmas to all of our State Elected Officials.

+++++++

The City of Los Angeles can always find unique ways to spend your hard-earned tax dollars.

Reports show that there is an estimated 1 to 3 million feral cats roaming the streets and alleys of Los Angeles on a daily basis. How the city came up with this number is interesting. What formula did they use to justify this number? With this in mind, the city wants to spend $800,000 to try and figure out what to do about the situation of roaming cats in Los Angeles. While I love animals, I find it interesting that the city can justify spending $800,000 to examine the Feral Cat Population in LA. The director of Animal Services Brenda Barnett reported that her department does not have a report at this time. I guess they will have a report once they spend the $800,000.

+++++++

If you think that $800,000 is an amazing amount of tax dollars to spend on an analysis of the feral cat population in Los Angeles, you will love the next idea of the LA City Council when it comes to spending or may I say squandering your tax dollars. This time the council wants to use taxpayer’s money to start savings accounts for kindergartners! 

A council committee is exploring the options of establishing a children’s savings account program for the approximately 72,000 kindergartners who enroll in the LA Unified School District each year. City Councilman David Ryu is supporting the program and encouraging his colleagues to support it. Between $50 and $100 will be given to each of the 72,000 kindergartners to start the savings account. Is it the responsibility of the taxpayers or parents to start savings accounts for boys and girls who start kindergarten?

+++++++

If you need money for the holidays and want to put your motorcycle up for collateral, there is a new game in town. 

Traders Loan and Jewelry is now loaning money on motorcycles. This is a new and interesting way to obtain holiday money. If you are in need of holiday money and want to put your motorcycle up for the loan, contact Traders Loan and Jewelry. They are located at 18505 Sherman Way in Reseda.

+++++++

Traffic Citation Amnesty is available from now thru March 31, 2017 

If you have an unpaid traffic ticket that was due by January 1, 2013, or if your driver’s license is suspended and you are making payments on a ticket, you may qualify for traffic amnesty from October 1, 2015 until March 31, 2017 and get your license restored. Go to www.courts.ca.gov/trafficamnesty for additional information.

+++++++

Thank you Betty Breneman for your kind comments on my recent article on the holidays and family memories. I am glad you enjoyed the walk down memory lane. 

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to each of you and your families. May this Holiday Season bring you and your families and friends great happiness and the best of times in 2017.

(Dennis P. Zine is a 33-year member of the Los Angeles Police Department and former Vice-Chairman of the Elected Los Angeles City Charter Reform Commission, a 12-year member of the Los Angeles City Council and a current LAPD Reserve Officer who serves as a member of the Fugitive Warrant Detail assigned out of Gang and Narcotics Division. Disclosure: Zine was a candidate for City Controller last city election. He writes RantZ & RaveZ for CityWatch. You can contact him at Zman8910@aol.com. Mr. Zine’s views are his own and do not reflect the views of CityWatch.)

-cw 

YOUR BUDGET VOICE--The Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates (NCBA) are your voice at the City Budget table and are continually pushing for balance with the City’s budget. The Budget Advocates are currently at work on the 2017 NCBA Budget White Paper to be released next Spring … and, need your help! 

The 2016 White Paper (“Building Trust In City Hall”) focused on six key topics, infrastructure, homelessness, education, transportation, sustainability/resilience and transparency with every city department. 

These topics were chosen because so many city residents responded to the Budget Survey and questioned liability exposure and large settlements, inefficient personnel procedures and practices, lack of stakeholders input, failure to incorporate up‐to‐date technology and system consolidations in various city departments, as well as the dearth of interdepartmental communication and cooperation. 

Over the past year, the focus of the community has shifted completely. With a new national administration coming into office, the citizens of Los Angeles are concerned with its influence on LA’s budget and possible funding cuts. 

Los Angeles and California receive billions of dollars in Federal funding and with President-Elect Trump’s threat to cut funding, there are a lot of city departments at a standstill waiting to see how this plays out once he takes active office. 

But, possible federal influence on the City’s budget is just one of the issues facing the 2017-2018 plan and influencing the Budget Advocates Charter-called-for advice to Mayor Garcetti. We need you to tell us how you think the City should spend your money. What your priorities are. How you think the City should handle the looming Federal threat. 

Watch for the 2017 Budget Survey and a guide to how you can make your voice heard … coming soon at CityWatchLA.com … and to a neighborhood council near you. 

 

(Adrienne Nicole Edwards is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. She can be reached at: A.Edwards@NCBALA.com.) 

-cw

TRUMPWORLD--A few weeks after I arrived in Lebanon to volunteer with Syrian refugees, I learned that my plan to offer an English class for both Lebanese and Syrian youth in the small town of Bqarzla was so sensitive as to require an audience with the village priest. 

After Sunday mass in the village church, a fellow volunteer, Samer—Syrian, Orthodox Christian—and I were escorted to the high-ceilinged sitting room of the priest’s spacious quarters next door. A group of men wearing suits and smoking cigarettes—village notables and friends of the priest—had been invited to join us. They greeted us amiably and invited us to sit.

The priest, or Abuna—an honorific meaning “Our Father” in Arabic—eventually emerged from an interior room, also in a suit, and bearing a pot of strong coffee, and commenced to smoke a cigarette. After we had dispensed the usual pleasantries, he asked me the “American” question that, prior to the election, I heard frequently. “Inti ma Trump walla Clinton?” (“Are you with Trump or Clinton?”) “Akeed mu ma Trump,” I said. “Huwweh majnoon.” (“Of course not with Trump. He is crazy.”) 

Abuna did not visibly react to my remark, but he and his friends launched into a spirited discussion in Arabic, which I only partially followed. Afterward, Samer told me that they had been opining that immigration was ruining America and that Trump would set things straight. 

The conversation echoed others I had been privy to, focused on tensions around immigration in Akkar, a remote district in northeastern Lebanon on the Syrian border. A common complaint here is that the Syrians are taking jobs and hogging resources provided by the government and international aid organizations. Some Lebanese Christians I spoke with also told me they view the primarily Sunni Muslim refugees as a demographic threat. Lebanon has refused to hold a census since 1932 lest the findings upset the precarious balance in its political system, which parcels out its top leadership posts based on religion. 

Clearly Abuna and his friends saw in Trump someone they believed would be sympathetic to their plight. Fortunately, our political differences did not prevent Abuna from granting my English class his seal of approval. 

Bqarlza is tucked away in the hills of Akkar. The occasional army helicopters overhead are a reminder of the war next door, but the village itself is sleepy, surrounded by the olive groves that drive much of its economy. If you changed its language and the architecture, the Maronite Christian enclave could easily pass for a small Texas town. The streets outside of Bqarzla are littered with shell casings and sometimes bird carcasses left by the local men who go out shooting every morning before dawn. Young people hang out at a couple of pool halls and a pizza shop. The neighbors take note of whether you went to church on Sunday. 

The backdrop of many conversations I’ve had is a contentious history between Lebanon and Syria that dates back at least as far as 1976, the beginning of Syria’s three-decade occupation of Lebanon, shortly after the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war. There remains a complicated and sometimes fluid map of loyalties for and against the Syrian regime in the Lebanese political system and society. 

Perhaps because I am an American, perhaps because there is a sense of recognition across complicated political landscapes, these conversations frequently come back around to the U.S. election. Local Lebanese acquaintances in Akkar told me before the election that they liked Trump because he is a zelameh (real man) or that they didn’t like either Trump or Clinton, but at least Trump would be something different. I might have heard the same things in any number of small towns back home. 

Local Lebanese acquaintances in Akkar told me before the election that they liked Trump because he is a zelameh (real man) or that they didn’t like either Trump or Clinton, but at least Trump would be something different. 

A week before the U.S. presidential election, the Lebanese parliament settled on their own new president after a two-year standoff, and the battery of celebratory gunshots turned the streets of Akkar into a mock war zone. As supporters of Lebanese president-elect Michel Aoun commenced their jarring festivities, I was driving home from teaching a remedial French class to Syrian kids. 

In the olive groves and empty lots in and around Bqarzla, Syrians live in scattered clusters of tents provided by the UNHCR, known in English as the United Nations’ Refugee Agency. Many of them, although registered as refugees, are not legally authorized to be in the country, leaving them in a tenuous position and largely restricted from traveling and working. For a couple of months in the fall most of them work the olive harvest, a brief bright spot before winter comes, the work dries up, and the rainy season tests the soundness of the plywood and plastic sheets reinforcing their makeshift homes. 

From UNHCR, they get basic assistance with food and shelter. From the Lebanese government, they get the right to send their children to the local public school, which is largely abandoned by the Lebanese who send their children to private schools if they can scrape together the funds. NGOs like the one I volunteer with fill in some of the gaps, including supplemental classes to help children who are struggling in Lebanese schools. 

In an English class I was teaching at one of the informal refugee camps the week before the election, we practiced saying what we did and didn’t like. Several of my Syrian students listed Trump among their dislikes, along with flies and traffic. 

Mohammed, a quiet teenager from Aleppo with an easy smile, echoed my assessment of then-candidate Trump: “Huwweh majnoon.” (“He is crazy”). 

The night before the U.S. presidential election, Samer and I dropped by one of the refugee camps in the olive groves outside of Bqarzla. We sat on the floor and drank black tea and mate with a group of young refugees from Hama. 

It was cold and windy outside, but inside the tent, the family had set up their sobia, a wood burning stove, and the small room was soon warm enough that I took off my jacket. We didn’t talk about the election or the war in Syria. The next morning, I stared at the television in a stupor as Trump made his acceptance speech, interrupted briefly by one of Lebanon’s frequent power outages. I suddenly felt very far from home. 

During the next day’s adult English class with the refugees, I joked that I needed to look for a husband from Canada. 

“Why not Syria?” they joked back. “There are no problems there.”

 

(Abby Sewell is a freelance journalist based in Lebanon. She previously reported for the Los Angeles Times before relocating to Lebanon to volunteer with the NGO Relief & Reconciliation for Syria. This piece first appeared in Zocalo Public Square.  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

15 CANDLES, 96 POINTS OF LIGHT- (Editor’s Note: This month marks the 15th anniversary of the certification of Los Angeles’ first Neighborhood Council. CityWatch is celebrating with a multi-month celebration of introspective articles and view points on how LA’s Neighborhood Councils came about, how they’re doing and how their future looks. This perspective by Anastasia Mann is such an effort.)   

When I first read about the concept of Neighborhood Councils in the Los Angeles Times some 15 years ago, my first thought was "finally.”  

In my heart I knew that this idea was likely a direct result of the fervor for secession by the movements in Hollywood, The Valley and San Pedro. I was a secessionist.  

The reason these attempts at secession were defeated is because the entire voting populous of the city was able to vote. Had only the actual communities in question been voting separately, as in elections for city council representatives, etc., it's more likely the splits would have prevailed.  

(The passion for secession was born because the "city fathers" were only focused on Downtown. That still remains as issue for some today.) 

So the NCs were born to give the “stakeholders" in each geographical area more input into local government. More "say so.”  

I first served as Area 5 (Outpost) chair to Hollywood Hills West NC. The following year I was elected president, taking the reins from founder and first president, Dan Bernstein. Dan did the hard work. He had it rough. A bit of an unruly board in a system governed by a new city department barely getting its feet wet: The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, aka: DONE.  

Our board has 23 elected representatives, which includes nine area chairs and ten issue committees, and five officers on the executive committee. We are the largest geographical NC among the 96 in the Greater LA Area.  

The get-go was slow -- not for lack of interest, but due to lack of training, direction and publicity via the city. And of course the continuous creation and application of rules that made no sense. A bit like kindergarten. An NC member across the opposite end of the city gets his hand in the "funding" cookie jar, then all us kids have to face the wall. Very frustrating. Trying to fund projects is like jumping through hoops on fire with the lion.  

But the good news is that we have indeed come a long way. The system is still riddled with red tape and an excessive number of rules which can be baffling, but today we are actually getting things done. Very good things. HHWNC has one of the finest boards that I have had the pleasure of overseeing in my entire 12 year experience. The resumes of our board members threaten any Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton could muster.  

From at one time having zero stakeholders attending our monthly meetings, we now have numbers ranging from 25+ into the hundreds. Yes. Hundreds.  

We've been blessed to have the cooperation and support over all these years from CD4, under both Tom LaBonge and David Ryu. Also from the deputies for CD13 and previously CD5. Moreover, we now have active participation from our State Assembly members for AD 46 and 50.  

We work closely with LAPD, LAFD and even DWP. We help to get streets repaired, city services improved, support schools, LAPD and Fire Department programs, our library, theatre arts projects.....and play a major role in planning and land use issues, particularly when it comes to density and major developments within our congested boundaries. We've had to battle controversies that include protecting Runyon Canyon from commercialization to controlling the out-of-control situation with the Mini Tour bus issues. We listen to developers as well as those opposed to them. 

We ask questions, request Improvements, meet over and over again until we can find consensus. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. But our rate of cooperation is very high. In certain limited cases we cannot beat City Hall, but that's another story. We try to protect historical heritage sites as well.  

Current issues facing and frustrating all our communities include homelessness, traffic, more traffic, party houses, the impacts from Hollywood Blvd on the adjacent residential units, crime (of course,) and more tour bus problems...on and on.  

But we are planting trees in Runyon Canyon, protecting the off leash dog privileges by keeping it a wilderness area and not a sports venue, getting pot holes and street lighting fixed, advising our city council reps on the quality of life issues facing our stakeholders. Every day there seems to be a new issue.  

Our board members each hold their own meetings to bring every imaginable issue to the full board table. That's four to 20 meetings per month! There are hundreds of hours being devoted to our communities every month. Most of the time, these volunteers go unnoticed and under-appreciated. The entire NC system and existence is still a mystery to most Angelenos. This must change.  

Unless the media gets behind what we do and gets the word out, the system may be doomed. The public must demand that we keep these volunteer voices active, loud and clear. Many members of the media have stepped up to the plate, like CityWatch; and KNBC with the Tour Bus Coverage; the LA Times with the 8150 Sunset "Gehry" project and Runyon Canyon; and the Beverly Press. They all have an interest in what we do. 

But our own story about what we do -- how and why -- still needs to be told. We should have everyone -- resident, business owner and employee, property owner or renter, club member and worshipper signed up as stakeholders within every single one of the 96 NC's. Numbers talk.  

We hear rumors that some city officials would love to eliminate the NC system. DONE (now Empower LA) is understaffed and overwhelmed. HHWNC is fortunate to have support from our Council District. But many NCs do not enjoy this sentiment; rather, they are faced with the opposite.  

The more everyone gets involved the better future for us all. Because, frankly, we are all in this together.

 

(Anastasia Mann is president of the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

ALPERN AT LARGE--At this time, there appears to be two choices for those of us living in the City of the Angels:  Enjoy the Show, and just get used to being lied to while your neighbors either don't vote and/or complain about things while doing nothing ... or leave.  Because telling the truth and spending the taxpayers' money well?  That's just in the movies. 

Much of the problem is that "representative democracy" and "civics" and the like is too often relegated and dismissed as "nerd-talk", and much of the problem is that we're all so exhausted with our jobs, families and personal crises that, well, who has the time to keep up with all the corruption and chicanery of local and state government?  

So let's go over two big lies, shall we?  And not just, "That's life in the big city" but real whoppers that will really affect the lives of many Angelenos: 

1) The LAUSD Board, flush with last November's financial surge, just gave the middle finger to LAUSD students and their families. 

That big change in the school year to move the end of the summer break closer to Labor Day? The nice compromise that saves energy bills and the quality of life for the school district, students and parents?  The reasonable preservation of the school year that starts the week before Labor Day and allows most of August (and its high air-conditioning bills) to be part of "summer"? 

Gone. 

In the dead of night, the LAUSD Board showed they lied to us when they said they would listen and that they cared about the needs of parents and students. 

Yep, we all now know that the LAUSD Board, who clearly did NOT promote this vote, did a nice whipsaw and punked the daylights out of their paying constituents ... and didja notice this unannounced change in schedule occurred AFTER the November elections, and AFTER they got their money from the trusting voters? 

But perhaps this is what happens when you give those with a history of lying and misspending our money a blank check ... they realize they can punk you, hurt you, slap you, kick you in the crotch, punch you in the nose ... and yet they know you'll come back for more. 

And for those who, like the lying and treacherous LAUSD Board member Scott Schmerelson, changed their minds because they were "concerned" that kids would be pulled out of district-run schools and enrolled in charter schools that started earlier, lemme give you a hint (and my kids go to charter schools): 

This move will only encourage a GREATER exodus of parents who truly LOVE their kids to go to charter schools, because charter schools want to give parents a choice--and these parents will do what it takes to both have a summer with their families and make them study hard during the summer to be prepared for their AP and honors classes. 

It's creeps like the LAUSD Board that truly, sincerely, brazenly, makes us all wonder if a new Trump-led federal Department of Education is just the thing we need to slap down these insulated miscreants who would take our money and then slam us with this treasonous move.   

School choice has just made a great leap forward, because this can and should be "Exhibit A" as to why more money, and more centralized power, is the last thing that families and societies should do for their school boards. 

2) The Pension Crisis--it ain't going away! 

Oh, how those of us who don't read CityWatch, or listen to the radio, or read a newspaper, or go online to find out what's really happening in local and state politics, really wish we would just SHUT UP and GO AWAY about this whole "pension issue". 

I mean...just LOOK!  The sun is still rising and setting, the roads are usually working OK, and things are still all fine in the big picture, so what is this doom and gloom about "pensions". 

Well, maybe if enough middle-class families have their utility bills go up enough, they'll start ignoring this pension issue as mere "blah, blah, blah" and realize that maybe there's some relevance to this issue, after all.  

As fellow CityWatch contributor Jack Humphreville recently noted the LADWP retirement plans are both expensive to maintain and underfunded. 

So we should all just FORGET about funding of old/unrepaired infrastructure unless we pay even higher utility bills. Because those bills are going to folks who stand to enjoy virtually the same amount of retirement income that they got while they were working. 

Nice deal--those retire earlier than the rest of us, and will live life richer and happier than the rest of us.  Fair, right? 

And this pension thing is hardly limited to the LADWP. All over this City and State, we're seeing this problem at the city, county, and statewide levels.   

Occasionally, we see cities going bankrupt.  Occasionally, we see projects and first-responder funding get halted. And sometimes, we see exposes in other states (like in Dallas, TX) when the police/fire pension plans achieve critical mass. 

Perhaps we'll see massive walkouts of public sector employees.  Perhaps we'll see elections won or lost based on these issues. 

But so long as we keep feeding the fire with our tax/ratepayer dollars, and so long as we keep re-electing the insulated leaders who know that--in the end--we'll just continue to "take it" then these lies will just keep happening. 

So maybe we shouldn't worry so much, or scream about so much, Trump the anti-Christ and last November's election results. 

Because the real horror story is that last month we threw away all evidence that Californians, and particularly Angelenos, have any fiscal sense whatsoever. 

And the politicians and public sector union leaders all know it...and will act accordingly.

 

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties.  He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  alpern@marvista.org. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)

-cw 

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-It should not be so hard, really, to finally stop the mansionization of Los Angeles neighborhoods. On paper it should be a snap for the four precedents I describe below. Yet, time after time, whenever City Hall decision makers close the front door to mansionization through motions and ordinances, they open up the backdoor through bonuses and exemptions. These lethal loopholes have so undermined every anti-mansionization ordinance that they end up allowing the very McMansions that they purport to stop. 

Four anti-mansionization precedents. 

First, the Los Angeles City Planning Commission approved a set of guidelines called Do Real Planning. One of its principles is explicitly anti-McMansion. 

NEUTRALIZE MANSIONIZATION: Neighborhoods zoned single-family deserve our protection. The most pervasive threat they face is the replacement of existing homes with residences whose bulk and mass is significantly larger than the street’s current character -- sacrificing greenery, breathing room, light, and air. Let’s be the champions of a citywide solution to prevent out-of-scale residences. 

Second, the Los Angeles City Council has legally adopted many official planning policies that protect residential neighborhoods from mansionization. For example, Objective 3.5 of the General Plan Framework Element states: “Ensure that the character and scale of stable single-family residential neighborhood is maintained, allowing for infill development provided that it is compatible with and maintains the scale and character of existing development.” 

Third, when City Council offices have conducted constituent surveys or when they tally communications from the public regarding mansionization, a whopping majority of these comments consistently call for stronger regulations to stop McMansions. Furthermore, at City Planning Commission and City Council public hearings on ordinances to restrict mansionization, most of those who offer testimony call for stronger ordinances, especially to count garages as part of a house’s overall square footage. 

Fourth, a May 2014 City Council motion directed the Department of City Planning to cleanup the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance by removing the bonuses and exemptions that allowed mansionization to continue. The intent of this Council motion could not have been clearer: 

“The by-right FAR for the smaller lots should be reduced to .45 to ensure that all R-1 lots are covered by the same zoning regulations… Exemptions for attached garages appear to result in out of scale and out of character development. They should, therefore, be removed from the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance.” 

Despite all of these precedents, the City Council has one again opened up the backdoor to mansionization by re-inserting the exact loopholes that their own Council motion instructed them to remove. Despite compelling testimony from community advocates -- who easily outnumbered boosters of loopholes three to one -- the Chair of the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee, Jose Huizar, reinstated two important loopholes. 

Without any debate or discussion, he simply announced that attached garages would again be excluded from floor area calculations and that houses on lots smaller than 7,000 square feet could be built out to 50 percent of lot area, not 45 percent. In one barely audible sentence he added back 700 feet to the size of houses that the Department of City Planning had removed in response to many community meetings and endless emails, phone calls, and letters. 

But, this Councilmember’s action then triggered a citywide push by anti-mansionization groups from many Los Angeles neighborhoods, as well as the Conservancy. Their last minute lobbying did pay off, and the full City Council again removed the loopholes. Nevertheless, no one knows the final action of the City Council when the amended Baseline Mansionization Ordinance and Hillside Baseline Ordinance have their second reading in January 2017. Will the mansionization lobbyists again prevail through their backdoor deals? Or, will the community groups and the Conservancy maintain sufficient pressure to prevent the City Council from, once again, backsliding by opening up the back door? 

Trappings of democracy.

The outcome apparently depends on intense counter-lobbying from those who support the guidelines of the City Planning Commission, the legally adopted planning policies of the City Council, the motions of the City Council, and the super-majority of Los Angeles residents who have supported anti-mansionization legislation.

While we certainly have the appearance of democracy in Los Angeles, as long as some elected officials reject their own adopted motions, guidelines, and policies to help a small group of real estate speculators, support for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will grow. If voters adopt this legislation in March 2017, it can foil these repeated corrupt backroom deals that undermine local democracy. These shady deals not only turn this country into a dollarocracy, but they cement the very collusion between the public sector and private commercial interests that now seamlessly stretches from City Hall to the White House

 

(Dick Platkin is a former Los Angele city planner who reports on local planning issues for City Watch. Please send any comments or corrections to rhplatkin@gmail.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

EASTSIDER-If you are a residential customer of the City of Los Angeles, you are familiar with the Black, Blue and Green trash containers that we use on a weekly basis. God bless the Department of Sanitation, which charges us a pretty penny on our DWP Bill for their services. Yes, that’s right, our DWP bill -- even though the DWP has nothing to do with the Department of Sanitation. 

Anyhow, if you are a commercial entity or large apartment complex, you are exempt from these charges. They can hire whoever they want to pick up their trash and dispose of it. I hesitate to mention that this is essentially a rare “free-market” solution in our City of Angels. 

Well, full disclosure, there was one little hiccup where the Department of Sanitation got caught charging apartment dwellers the fee even though they didn’t receive Sanitation Department services. But what the hey, right? 

Well, that’s about to change. Huizar and the Sanitation folks are in cahoots over commercial and apartment building waste removal. 

Hello, Jose Huizar. 

Only in the City of “the Angles” do the politicians simultaneously pick our pockets and praise themselves for the act. Recently, I have been giving our very own “God’s Gift to the East side,” Jose Huizar, a break. I don’t know why, maybe I am just numb from the number of humongous land use projects he’s slammed through his PLUM Committee. 

However, last week, in his weekly email blast, there was a whopper that even I couldn’t let go. Here’s the quote from the Councilmember’s very own “dual” Newsletter: 

“Today the L.A. City Council unanimously approved our game-changing Zero Waste L.A. program, which will implement a complete overhaul of commercial and multi-family waste collection and dramatically increase recycling throughout the city. 

The program, which Councilmembers Paul Koretz and José Huizar introduced as a motion in 2010 and worked on during Huizar’s time as Chair of the Energy & Environment committee, will also ensure fair pricing, improve service and working conditions and help us meet our zero waste goals for Los Angeles. Councilmember Nury Martinez helped usher this long-working policy as an advocate and the recently appointed chair of the E&E committee. 

While 70% of L.A.'s waste comes from commercial and apartment buildings, this new program aims to reduce landfill disposal by 1 million tons per year by 2025 and reduce waste by 65% in all 11 of the City’s new service zones! 

The program will also decrease food waste and provide all Angelenos with Blue Bin access, no matter where they live or work. The City of Los Angeles has the number one curbside single-family home recycling program in the nation, and now our commercial and multifamily recycling program is well on its way to becoming its equal. Thank you, Don’t Waste LA and all our partners!” 

Holy moly, what a crock! 

A Solution in Search of a Problem. 

This issue goes all the way back to the days of Tony V colluding with the Department of Sanitation in an attempt to extort tax money from us under the guise of being “green.” In one of those PR flack’s poster dreams, the Sanitation Department printed up a Fact Sheet, with pretty green colors and a logo about “Green Love is In the Air.” Of course, buried in the pretty paper was an admission that the City had already met its mandate for solid waste diversion -- in 2002! 

The issue really got going when our very own PLUM Committee, Jose Huizar and that master of persiflage, Paul Koretz, made their motion in 2010 (CF 10-1797 and a bunch of sub-motions.) This would be the motion Huizar proudly declaims in his recent newsletter, the one that got me all revved up. 

Depending on who you believe, the impetus of all this was the Bureau of Sanitation making a power grab to bring in money, or a benign City Council trying to regulate the “wild west” of those nasty free enterprise waste hauling companies. You choose. 

The Sanitation Bureau Proposal. 

Sanitation’s proposal had two basic concepts -- first, dividing the City into 11 collection areas, and second, setting up one exclusive waste hauler per collection area by way of franchises. To make the idea attractive for bidders , these franchises would be for 10 years with two additional five-year extension options, for a total of 20 years of exclusivity. 

In case you didn’t think it was all about the money, the Sanitation proposal included two elements: 

1) “Establishment of a Franchise Administrative Fee (in addition to or supplementing the existing AB 939 Compliance fee) to provide full funding for the administration and operation of the new system, including development of a Franchise Section in Sanitation” 

2) “Potential for an ongoing franchise fee and one-time payments as General Fund revenues.” 

Of course the City can’t simply be that honest, so their stated reason for all of these major changes was “combining multi-family and commercial waste collection with the goal of maximizing diversion, routing efficiencies and improved air quality.” Note that nowhere in here is any mention of law changes or other external mandates to change the way trash hauling for commercial and large apartment complexes had always worked. 

The CAO Fights Back. 

In an unheard of bit of pushback, the City’s CAO argued against this power grab for money. Instead, he proposed a “non-exclusive Franchise” method of regulating the commercial and multi-family refuse collection market. 

Their main objection to Sanitation’s proposal was that “it significantly reduces the City’s leverage over the waste handling market, negatively impacts haulers and customers as expressed by various stakeholders, and is not timely in generating much needed revenue for the City.” 

Digging into the weeds, in a couple of amazingly honest reports by CAO Miguel Santana, there was a detailed analysis done of the legal hurdles and practical alternatives to regulation. His first report, an 80 page document, is a great read. 

OMG, Huizar and Koretz freaked out -- how can you extract big bucks if there’s no exclusivity? After a pretty good food fight, there was even a minority report that went along with the CAO’s recommendation. 

While everyone had a good time arguing, the CAO issued a second report, this time a succinct 17 pages. He didn’t back down at all, and still recommended a non-exclusive system.

So Why Did It Take So Long for this ‘Victory’? 

You will note that the date of the CAO’s second report was November 2012. That’s right, four years ago! Just as Miguel Santana noted, the City had to go through a five year notice period to implement their exclusive franchise system. That’s right, five years that the City was deprived of money which could have helped offset the general fund deficits and/or helped to pay for unfunded pension plan liabilities. 

That’s why I am saying that Huizar’s declaration of victory is nonsense -- notwithstanding the fact that the LA Times was too kind in their coverage of the City Council’s adoption of the plan. 

So we’re left with higher costs, more regulation, bigger fees, and a whole new bureaucracy for Sanitation. Way to go, Jose!

 

(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.

WHAT LA CAN LEARN FROM PORTLAND--If you thought Wells Fargo’s fake account scandal was bad, get a load of this. Wells Fargo is one of six banks keeping the private prison industry in business. 

We know a lot about the private prison industry. We’ve found that private prisons increase the chances of people returning to prison and encourage mass incarceration. But we’ve always wanted to follow the money—so that’s what we did.  

Our new report, The Banks That Finance Private Prison Companies, uncovers the banks that provide financing to the two largest private prison companies, GEO Group and CoreCivic (formerly CCA). The companies rely on Wells Fargo and other Wall Street banks for money to build new prisons, get huge tax breaks and expand their control of the criminal justice system. All the while, the banks profit from charging interest and fees. 

Private prison companies are licking their lips after Donald Trump’s victory. So are investors. Fortune magazine called CoreCivic “the biggest winner of the election,” since the company’s stock shot up more than 40 percent the next day. 

Now we know who else would profit from Trump’s “law and order” policies and plans to deport millions of immigrants. 

By providing loans, credit and bonds to private prison companies, Wells Fargo and banks like JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America have been complicit in mass incarceration and the criminalization of immigration, and they stand to profit even more. 

But we’re fighting back. 

The Portland City Council is currently considering a plan to stop borrowing money from banks like Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase that do business with private prison companies. Nationally, the #ForgoWells campaign is urging cities to cut ties with Wells Fargo because of the recent scandal and the bank’s involvement in the private prison industry and the Dakota Access Pipeline. 

Support these campaigns and push your city to divest from the banks that keep the private prison industry in business. We need to be innovative in the Trump era, but even more importantly, we need to work together.

 

(Donald Cohen is the founder and executive director of In the Public Interest, a national resource and policy center focusing on privatization and responsible contracting. This piece was posted first at Capital and Main.) 

-cw

YOUR BUDGET VOICE--The Budget Advocates (NCBA) are a committee of concerned citizens that represent the voice of LA’s citizens. Co-chaired by Jay Handal and Liz Amsden, the main goal of the NCBA is to amplify stake holder concerns by bringing them to the attention of the City Council, Committees and Departments to encourage approaches that will both balance the City’s budget and improve communication between City departments and the best interests of the people of Los Angeles. 

As a taxpayer and upstanding resident of our City, your input is vital and we want to hear from you. 

Please take our Surveys and sign up for our mailing list at www.NCBALA.com;  ‘Like’ us on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/LABudgetAdvocates; and Follow us on Twitter at @BudgetAdvocates

We need your active participation because you … every one of you … are the heartbeat of the City and we are your voice. 

If there is a Budget Issue you would like us to look into, please send your question and/or suggestion to Adrienne Nicole Edwards at A.Edwards@ncbala.com or Jacqueline Kennedy at J.Kennedy@ncbala.com.  

Participate in our weekly surveys and checkout our blog 'Money Mondays' and "Budget Thursdays" starting this January right here on www.CityWatchLa.com

 

(This article was provided by the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates. For questions or comments … or, for more info: A.Edwards@ncbala.com or J.Kennedy@ncbala.com.)

-cw

LA COUNTY WATCH--So crammed with hypocrisy is the motion by LA County Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis to create a five-year Countywide Initiative on Women and Girls (“WGI”) that it will be a miracle if a lightning bolt doesn’t shoot down from the Heavens upon the motion’s passing. (Photo: Diana Zuniga above left.) 

For months, literally thousands of women and girls have been grieving openly about the proposed Women’s Detention Center in Mira Loma, which is opposed by more than seventy organizations, including NOW and the Women’s International League for Peace; CHIRLA and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center; the ACLU and National Lawyers’ League, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and on and on.  

Concerned citizens have been working day and night to stop a prison which, apart from being so far away that it will break apart families, will also endanger the lives of girls and women and other vulnerable populations because of its location in a region with a high incidence of valley fever.   

When the director of Californians for a Responsible Budget, (CURB), who in her capacity represents seventy organizations opposed to the proposed detention center, tried to be heard on the topic of Mira Loma, Supervisors Kuehl and Solis couldn’t be bothered to listen. (Photo left: Diana Zuniga addressing County Supervisors Sept, 2015) 

“Board of Supervisors?" the CURB director said 90-seconds into her testimony.  “All of you all that are talking to each other right now instead of listening to our call to action. Supervisor Solis, Supervisor Kuehl, can we listen just for one second. Thank you.”   

A few sentences later she had to call out Supervisors Kuehl and Solis again for carrying on a side conversation. (Lest that kind of conversation be considered an anomaly, watch this clip).  

“The Mira Loma jail will be a four-hour one-way trip for a family that lives in Lynwood,” Supervisor Solis said, in a posting on her website on September 4, 2015. “It is hard to see how these women will have sufficient access to visitors, programs and medical care.” 

Unless the first action of the Countywide Initiative on Women and Girls is to kill Mira Loma, it will exist as a monument to hypocrisy.

 

(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.)

-cw

DEEGAN ON LA-A few days ago at a County Board of Supervisors hearing where the supervisors unanimously voted on two motions designed to provide support to the homeless, Mitchell Katz, head of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, declared, “I can actually cure homelessness -- the cure is a house.” But neither motion included a house. 

Realistically, the top priority in approaching the issue of homelessness is to diligently and relentlessly address the plight of the mentally ill homeless. Housing will not be their cure. Nor will knowing that a “state of emergency” has been declared. Those are exterior remedies. An internal restructuring is the only way to fix the suffering of the mentally ill homeless. Their “home” is what goes on inside their heads and their “cure” must be medical attention that opens the door to helping them achieve some balance. 

This is something the County Department of Health Services attempts to do in programs like HOME which addresses the needs of the homeless mentally ill using teams of professionals that go out searching for the mentally ill homeless. 

Would the Supervisors like to make a motion to triple the number of deliverables from the HOME program? Clients can be found on any street in the city, sheltering in place beneath a tent or in the open, visibly ignored. Who knows how many of them are mentally ill? 

For the broader population of homeless, newly elected Supervisors Janice Hahn and Kathryn Barger joined Hilda Solis, Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas in a unanimous vote, declareing homelessness a “state of emergency.”   

They also unanimously moved to put a quarter-cent sales tax on the March ballot to support homeless social services that would raise about $355 million annually over a decade. The Supervisors’ expectation is that this tax will fund rental assistance, subsidized health care, mental health and substance abuse treatments, and other services to help people get off and stay off the streets. It would complement the $1.2-billion general obligation bond measure approved by Los Angeles city voters last month. Two-thirds of voters must approve the new county sales tax in March. 

These two moves, the Prop HHH housing bond measure, approved by 77% of LA City voters in November, and the County Supervisors’ Approved Strategies to Combat Homelessness could make 2016 a landmark year, a turning point for helping the homeless in Los Angeles. 

Finally, we have a plan with funding and a future. In 2016, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas fought all year, failing in his attempts to get Governor Brown and legislators in Sacramento to help. Instead there was a defeat of the “Robin Hood tax” requiring millionaires to provide funding for homeless programs, no unlocking of the state’s Rainy Day Fund to provide program financing, and a gubernatorial veto of a request for declaring a statewide “state of emergency” to provide emergency relief for the homeless. However, Ridley-Thomas did have some success advocating for the city’s homeless housing bond measure, the countywide declaration of a state of emergency on the homeless, as well as the placement of the March 2017 ballot of a 1/4 per-cent sales tax to help pay for social services.

All around us, we find human beings living in utter squalor a shocking number of them families with children,Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. With this historic vote, we are taking a bold step towards ending this humanitarian crisis, the defining civic issue of our time. 

Los Angeles will continue to be a mecca for the homeless, attracted by the climate and easy lifestyle that is the envy of most of the world. We will never have the capacity to house all of those who come. However, these new measures passed by the City and County of Los Angeles may provide some important help to at least stabilize the homeless issue. 

The first priority must be to bring the mentally ill homeless into a state of stability. It is the weakest link in a whole chain of actions needed to provide essential help for the homeless that surround us. It must happen now if we want to claim any real success or call what we have done a “cure.” 

 

(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at timdeegan2015@gmail.com.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

EDUCATION POLITICS--At Tuesday’s LAUSD board meeting, the school board will take on public school destroyer Betsy DeVos (Photo above: Betsy DeVos with Donald Trump), Trump’s nominee for US Education Secretary.

Board President Steve Zimmer will introduce a resolution, which reads in part:
 
“…the Board of Education calls on the President-elect and his Nominee for Secretary of Education to re-affirm the role of public schools to serve every student that comes to the school house door, acknowledge that our public school[s] are an essential foundation [of] our democracy and indicate that they will support policies, initiatives and investments that serve all students and not some students and that they will support and invest in policies and initiatives that support equity, achievement and excellence while stabilizing instead of destabilizing our public school systems…”
It's sure to be popular in blue, blue California. And it will keep board members, including those running for re-election, in the news.
 
But at some point, the press conferences will be over and we will begin to navigate our new reality in real situations.
 
Turns out “at some point” is already upon us.
 
On the very same agenda, Board President Steve Zimmer is proposing a school that contradicts this lofty resolution. The $10 million (to start) Playa Vista Middle School, which didn’t even face a quorum to be vetted at the Bond Oversight Committee, is on the Board’s consent calendar. So, no discussion necessary. (Although, we’ve discussed it in the blogosphere.)   
 
The Playa Vista Middle School that caters to certain Westside families cannot be described as a policy, initiative and investment that serves *all students*. It specifically serves *some students*. It does not *support equity*, but gives greater resources to a more affluent and less diverse population than at any of the surrounding schools. It specifically *destabilizes our public school system* because the district is doing nothing to enhance the existing middle schools in the area as it creates the shiny new school for a select few.
 
So when the rhetorical flourishes fade away, are LAUSD’s board members committed to implementing policies that reject the new Trumpian reality they keep declaring is so objectionable? Or are they caving to the worst parts of ourselves that his campaign revealed to be more prevalent than any of us dreamed?
 
We’ll find out on Tuesday.

To be the public in public education

Last week, the LA School Board held a Committee of the Whole meeting at a special location. The address was not announced on the school district’s website, but it was revealed if you drilled down into the supporting documents, or if you were in the know.
 
I showed up at the District board room, the usual venue, after paying $8 to park. A security officer told me the meeting must be somewhere else because his boss was off campus.
 
Once I drilled down on the web, I got the new address and drove to the special location. No street parking was available in the bustling downtown Los Angeles location. I re-parked in the garage of the building, and found the meeting room on a plaza shared by a few popular restaurants.
 
The meeting was in full swing with board members and Superintendent Michelle King discussing the revised Strategic Plan, which was not posted with the board materials for the public. Some people in the room had printed copies, but I didn’t see a stack of them anywhere. So I listened and figured I’d get a copy later, off the web.
 
An hour and a half later, I left to pick up my daughter from school. The parking attendant told me I had chalked up a $38 parking tab!
 
That's a Betsy DeVos price tag! And it wasn't even for valet! Joking aside, that hefty price would be impossible for the many Title I moms whose children attend LAUSD schools.
 
As I fumed on the way home about the $38, I got to thinking about how hard it is to be the public in the 2nd largest school district in the country.
 
I already wrote about the Bond Oversight Committee voting to lighten its load, public disclosure be damned. That was just one example of the public being less and less a part of our public school district. 
 
There are other challenges. We, the public, see the board agendas three days in advance. We have 72 hours to sift through upwards of 400 pages of documents to see if there is something of particular relevance. Important expenditures are stuffed into voluminous reports, so much goes unnoticed. Policy changes are sometimes disguised as innocuous actions. In three days, we are usually only able to react rather than thoughtfully participate in the issues of the district. Hence, the bug eyed looks and breathless comments sometimes seen and heard at those meetings.
 
Even if we were prepared to provide input on various agenda items, we would not be permitted to.
 
California has a good public meetings law and a strong FOIA-type public records act. But different agencies handle the public differently. While the Los Angeles City Council and the State Coastal Commission, for example, encourage public input by providing time for comment on each agenda item, parents attending five- or ten-hour long school board meetings with upwards of 50 items on the agenda are only permitted to make one comment during the entire meeting. That, of course, is absurd for a public school district. 

To add insult to injury, labor union representatives, on the other hand, may comment on every single agenda item they wish to. When the unions don’t bother to comment, that’s sometimes a sure sign that they’ve had internal meetings with District and Board staff to hash out concerns before the Board votes—and before the public weighs in.
 
It isn’t that employees should be prevented from participating in District business, of course. But public school parents shouldn’t be kept out either.

Some parents are accommodated, such as parents whose kids attend charters. Charter petitions are now heard at their own separate meetings with a “time certain”.  According to an article in the LA School Report, Steve Zimmer, Monica Ratliff and Monica Garcia worked to ensure charter parents do not sit for hours waiting to make their case for a charter renewal amidst 50 other agenda items.
 
So, old school, public school parents, it seems all we need is a labor leader, a lobbyist or a lawyer to lead us so that we might be accommodated once in a while, too.
 
This is more than an exercise in alliteration.

It might be more efficient to run a public school district without the public. But before we start advocating for that, let’s remember that it’s precisely what Betsy DeVos has largely achieved in her state of Michigan. It’s what we are sure to see more of coming out of Washington, DC soon.

Will LAUSD resist that? 

  • NEED TO KNOW 

E-mail, call or write your school board member:


Scott.Schmerelson@lausd.net  213-241-8333
Monica.Garcia@lausd.net  213-241-6180
Ref.Rodriguez@lausd.net  213-241-5555
George.McKenna@lausd.net  213-241-6382
Monica.Ratliff@lausd.net  213-241-6388
Richard.Vladovic@lausd.net  213-241-6385
Steve.Zimmer@lausd.net  213-241-6387

And the Superintendent:
superintendent@lausd.net 
213-241-7000

Find your state legislator:
http://bit.ly/dqFdq2 

Mayor Eric Garcetti  
mayor@lacity.org 
213.978.0600

Governor Jerry Brown:
213-897-0322 
http://www.govmail.ca.gov/

Write a letter to the LA Times editor.
http://lat.ms/2bynXZy

 

(Karen Wolfe is a public school parent, the Executive Director of PS Connect and an occasional contributor to CityWatch.)

-cw 

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-December 2 would have been a typical Friday for West Hills high school student Jordan Peisner. The 14-year old had gone to the local Wendy’s, a popular spot for students at El Camino High School in Woodland Hills. 

As Peisner exited the fast food restaurant, a teenager he had never before met approached him from behind and punched him as the assailant’s friend captured the attack on her phone to post on SnapChat. The punch fractured Jordan’s skull, ruptured his eardrum, and caused both swelling and bleeding in his brain. The teen spent days at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and is now recovering at home. 

“Last Friday at 4:30 pm, my life was shattered,” shares Jordan’s father, Ed Peisner. “I was a broken man. And although we have a long road ahead of us, the invisible injury, I know I will have the strength and courage to help my son navigate the changes that lie ahead.”

The random attack of violence unleashed support from both friends and strangers, locals and those far away who had heard of the incident on the local news and through social media, the very same tool the assailant and his friend allegedly aimed to use for their “fifteen minutes” of exposure. A Go Fund Me account to help with Jordan’s medical bills has surpassed the $20,000 goal. 

When we hear of bullying, senseless violence, and a disrespect for others, it’s easy to lose faith in both people and in social media. It’s hard to accept that a teenager would choose to harm another person and that his friend would video the incident on her phone as casually as one might take a selfie. At the same time, social media creates a world that is so much smaller, as indicated by the number of people from across the country who have been supporting Jordan in his recovery. 

Each challenge can be a learning experience if we choose. “I once thought that you find your path in life but now I know my path has been placed in front of me,” says Ed Peisner. “Parents need to be involved in their children’s lives. And that includes their social media lives. I am not blaming any parents or passing judgement. I am a single father with three kids. I have made plenty of mistakes and I will make a few more but I am involved. I ask questions. I go to their school. I volunteer. I engage. I hear people saying that is helicopter parenting and ‘when they were kids…’ But times are different now. The world is a much smaller place because of the internet. Bullying happens on the airways. All I want to do is make a difference in the life of a child… not just mine – as any as I can.” 

Parents, teachers, anyone involved in the lives of children should take this as a learning experience to model empathy, to set limits and to further the discussion about bullying, whether hidden behind a computer screen or in real life. 

Thankfully, Jordan is recovering from his brain injury. Recovery is a long process. He has the support of his family, friends, and the greater community. 

Social media, like many tools, can be used for evil as well as good. Let’s work to ensure the latter. 

To donate to Jordan Peisner’s Go Fund Me Account, visit https://www.gofundme.com/pray-for-jordan.

 

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

@THE GUSS REPORT-Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Herb Wesson-led LA City Council exist in a delusional bubble of courtesy claps and trite aphorisms that face existential challenges in 2017 when the federal government and state legislatures across the U.S. turn even more Republican red now that this weekend’s Senatorial runoff in Louisiana is over.

How Los Angeles fares in this new world depends a lot on whether these city officials (accompanied by the supportively delusional City Controller Ron Galperin, City Attorney Mike Feuer, and the forces influencing them all) see LA’s challenges with clear, fresh eyes. But if last week and this week at LA City Hall are any indication, they won’t. 

On Tuesday, the day after the FBI warned of an overseas terror threat to LA’s subway system, Garcetti told the assembled media (protected by an abundance of militarized police nearby) that he is riding the subway to “let people know I'm not asking them to do anything that I wouldn't do myself." 

Garcetti was also accompanied by a contingent of (hardly) undercover LAPD, each identifiable by their untucked golf shirts with the outline of a gun underneath. Only when the Mayor by himself rides the train system, at night, from say MacArthur Park station, or on the Blue Line, will he experience subway dangers as does the public. As PBS’s David Nazar shows in this recent video, the MTA (where Garcetti is First Vice Chair) has an appalling lack of security that can’t even stop turnstile cheats. 

Despite the media circus, which garnered national television coverage, the LA City Council had nothing to say about the threat in its meetings which, on Wednesday, instead squandered 41 minutes of its 3-hour meeting kissing the ring of firefighter union rep Frank Lima, as he left his dual-salaried LAFD and union gig for a role with the national firefighter’s union. The city officials have all along been silent on Lima’s role in removing LAFD fraud whistleblower John Vidovich (as first exposed in my CityWatch articles and subsequently by LA Weekly and on KCBS) but each expressed profound love for Lima, who facilitated $350,000 in precisely timed campaign donations to Garcetti and themselves. Most ironic in the presentation was Jose Huizar, City Council’s unofficial in-house playboy, saying at the 1:05 minute mark of the meeting how he is going to miss “hanging out…and joking around” with Lima, and about…wait for it…character building. Even Vin Scully didn’t get this degree of love in City Hall. 

A day earlier at the LAFD Commission meeting, statistics regarding the backlog of thousands of fire inspections (a critical subject just days after the deadly Oakland inferno) were provided verbally, but not in writing. Department spokesperson Jeremy Oberstein said that it was done this way “at the request of a city official,” but could not explain which official requested it, why and when they will be available in writing. 

Robert Cherno, a land use expert who has long-followed the subject, wrote to Sue Stengel, the Garcetti-appointed LAFD Inspector General, according to her LinkedIn page: 

“Your failure to provide me with (updated fire inspection statistics)…leaves me wondering if said documents indicate that a large majority of inspections are still not being performed by your Department as required? The lack of any mention of said inspections during the presentation by staff yesterday at the Fire Commission public hearing has me very concerned, especially after the fire in Oakland the other day, which killed quite a few people.  No doubt that tragedy could have been prevented had inspections been done prior to the fire.” 

Then there was the City Council’s Wednesday discussion on Councilmembers Paul Koretz’s and David Ryu’s years-in-the-making mansionization cessation effort. It’s likely to ultimately fail because it has many of the same flaws as the City Council’s recent moratorium on these oversized houses on lots previously occupied by smaller mid-century homes. Here are just two of the many recently started “McMansions” in my own neighborhood. Paging Council District 5 candidate and Koretz opponent, Jesse Creed! 

And that’s just the damage City Hall did by mid-week. This coming week will be no different. 

On Sunday, San Pedro’s Councilmember Joe Buscaino called into The KFI Sunday Morning News with Elizabeth Espinosa on KFI AM-640 to talk about this week’s effort to decriminalize street vending, comparing entrepreneurial selling of unregulated street food and bootleg DVDs to LA’s high tech Silicon Beach. Nice try. Perhaps City Hall figures that since it hasn’t been able to stop the rampant illegal driver’s license and passport industry in places like MacArthur Park, they might find it easier to deal with the conundrum of homemade empanadas and socks. The problem, as is often the case in LA, is that it is a feel-good effort that makes for happy headlines without genuine public input – or the resources – to do it right. 

And therein is LA’s problem. It is almost always pits the feel good against doing things wisely and with proportionality the things that need to be done the most. 

Whether and how much longer that delusional bubble survives is anyone’s guess.

 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a contributor to CityWatchLA, KFI AM-640 and Huffington Post. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

CORRUPTION WATCH-In by-gone eras, people would come from miles around to stand in the hot sun to listen to long political debates. The seven Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858 were held in each of Illinois’ Congressional districts. People came from hundreds of miles to listen to the two men set forth their political philosophies concerning the role of slavery and the nature of the federal union. 

Today, we would get a tweet. “Crooked Lincoln has a family of mice living in his beard.” 

It’s not that current day Americans in general and Angelenos in particular are dumb -- hmm, wait, a minute. That is the problem! The public is grossly ignorant of virtually everything. Let’s be real, it is much more fun to see what the Mad-Tweeter-in-Chief has tweeted about SNL than it is learn the principles of macro-economics. 

The Government’s Responsibility for Macro-economics. 

We know that Macro-Economics is the government’s duty because that is what Macro-Economics means -- the realm of economics where the government provides the sound parameters for the economy to function. 

There are two basic areas where the government’s parameters are indispensable: (1) The Price System and (2) The Business Cycle. Macro-Economics actually dates back to 1776 when Adam Smith wrote Wealth of Nations, which ended the Mercantile Era of economics – a fact unknown to Donald Trump because he has not read it on Twitter. 

Local Government’s Responsibility for The Price System. 

All governments are responsible for the Price System because at all levels of the economy everyone needs accurate information. The purpose of Supply and Demand is to set the proper value of everything. Unless buyers and sellers have accurate information, there is no way to know how much to pay for anything. Since the American public is a grand consumer of Fake News, it loves fake news about prices. 

LA City Attorney Mike Feuer Attempts to Save the Price System from the Xmas Grinch. 

Los Angeles City Attorney Michael Feuer is the spoilsport of our mass obsession to have false information fed to us about everything all the time. The City Attorney has sued four national retail chains for lying to the public. The City Attorney exposed that a gaggle of Grinches in the form of JC Penney, Sears, Kohl’s and Macy’s have been shoveling false advertising down our throats.

Retailers have known for years that people love a bargain. Thus, it’s a proven sales strategy to tell the public that some necklace used to sell for an exorbitant price but now they can get a great bargain at 75% off. Since most people cannot tell fake news or fake advertisements from real ones, the deceit operates wonderfully.   

The Macro-economic Role of the City Government. 

City Attorney Feuer realizes that he has not only a political and legal duty but also a moral duty to use his office to protect the Price System. I guess the voters didn’t realize when they elected the former executive director of Bet Tzedek Legal Services to be the City Attorney that he would care about human beings and justice rather than the profits of billionaires. 

As members of the public, however, we need to grasp the true significance of Michael Feuer’s lawsuit against deceptive advertising. Mike Feuer’s lawsuit goes to the essence of a government’s legitimacy to govern. In America, the power to govern derives from the consent of the governed. When an elite seizes control of the government and abuses that power to deceive and mislead everyone else, the government destroys its legitimacy. The government was formed to “promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and Posterity.” [Preamble US Constitution] 

The well-being of every Angeleno rests upon the soundness of the economy, and the economy’s health rests upon a Price System which accurately transmits to everyone all the time true and correct information. Mike Feuer’s lawsuit is not only to prevent a few people from being ripped off by over-paying for a washing machine or a diamond necklace. Competitors who did not lie lost customers, and the longer the government allows the crooks and thieves to make greater profits, the harder it is for the honest businessman to stay in business. After a while, the honest are driven out of business by the crooked so that no one knows how much of a product’s “value” is real or how much is based on a pack of lies. In a city, state or nation where Fake News and fraudulent advertising rule the roost, the decent person suffers. 

That is why Attorney Mike Feuer was performing a Constitutional and moral duty when he stepped forward to bring honesty and justice to the Price System as the Xmas shopping season begins. Mike Feuer’s seasonal gift to us is not just a few honest prices, but it’s defending the integrity of the Price System itself. 

LA City Attorney Feuer is the Exception. 

City Attorney Michael Feuer is the exception for Los Angeles. The Price System for housing has been riddled with fraud, deception and manipulation for years with devastating impacts on the city. The bad news is that there is no prospect that the trend will be reversed. The good news is…well, there is no good news -- unless you’re a home builder in Texas or outside Nashville. Those are two of the places where new homes for Angeleno Millennials are being built. The destruction of the LA Price System for housing has driven employers away from Los Angeles. No one should be surprised that Family Millennials looking for decent jobs, a detached home which they can afford and quality education for the children are leaving LA. 

Distortion and Manipulation in the Value of LA Housing. 

The manipulation of the housing market in Los Angeles over the last 15 years has created a crisis. The two most visible features are homelessness and terrible traffic. Both are a reflection of the housing patterns which have been imposed on Angelenos through years of lies and misinformation. 

Because the housing market has many segments, discussion of housing prices is complex. For example, Garcetti’s policy to eradicate rent-controlled housing results in higher rents. With over 22,000 rent controlled houses destroyed, the lowest end of the housing market, except for card board boxes next to the freeways, is significantly reduced. Whenever the lowest prices are removed, the average price increases. This should be obvious to a 3rd grader. The average of 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 (avg. 7) will be lower than the average of 6,7,8,9 (avg. 7.5). Thus, the mere destruction of rent-controlled houses raises the mathematical average. 

Since all the evicted people do not end up on the street, those who do search for housing tend to increase the cost of housing just above the rent control level so that data becomes 7,7,8,9 (avg. 7.75). 

Then if we construct 150% more high-end apartments than we need, those putative rents are added to the averages so that the average rental increases. 7,7,8,9,9 (avg 8). However, with a 12% vacancy rate for the higher end apartments, we know that inflated rental prices are being added to the statistics. [source: HCIDLA 11-17-2015 report] 

These simple calculations show how just the destruction of rent controlled apartments and the construction of a glut of higher end apartments can result in a mathematical 15% increase in housing costs. The problem is that people pay what they believe is the correct price. That’s why it has been vital for years for the City to have been publishing accurate data about housing. Instead, the public has been receiving a constant stream of false information. 

Other polices have been pushing residential houses prices upwards based on speculation and not based on the value of a home for “living space.” The Spot Zoning, which a developer can purchase from his councilmember, means that residential properties are worth far more to a developer than to someone who wants to start a family. Likewise, Granny Flats increase the commercial value of an R-1 home, thereby escalating the prices of detached homes beyond their value as living space for a family. If the City had never allowed Spot Zoning, TODs, InFill projects, or encouraged Granny Flats, LA residential properties would be significantly lower, but Garcetti’s developer buddies would be less wealthy. 

The illicit distortion of housing values in Los Angeles has been both more complicated and more drastic than can be explained in a CityWatch article, but the underlying problem has been the manipulation of housing prices and a serious mis-allocation of housing resources to the extent that Los Angeles has made itself one of the least attractive urban areas in the entire nation for the emerging middle class. The professional and business service sector of the middle class rank Los Angeles as #60 on their list of desirable places to live. 

Due to the sustained attack on the detached single family home and the squandering of literally billions of construction dollars on Transit Oriented Districts (TODs like Bunker Hill and Century City) along with mixed-use projects, Los Angeles has foolishly made itself extraordinarily undesirable for the new middle class. The City has a net exodus of people over those who come here. Yet, LA continues to manufacture the myth that Los Angeles is still a Destination City. While Hollywood will lure thousands of youngsters to the Walk of Fame, the middle class is being driven out. 

Perhaps the most egregious attack on the Price System for housing came from Eric Garcetti when he ran for LA mayor by falsely claiming that he had “revitalized Hollywood.” As readers of CityWatch should already know, in January 2014, Judge Alan Goodman found that Garcetti’s claims for Hollywood were based on Lies and Myths, i.e., “fatally flawed data” and “wishful thinking.” 

If Los Angeles had a daily newspaper devoted to journalism, Los Angeles never would have deteriorated to this condition where it ranks at the top of the lists of bad urban areas and at the bottom of the lists of good urban areas. Instead, the LA Times’s objectives have been the promotion and protection of the elite, and everyone else be damned. In that environment, it has been relatively easy to destroy the Price System for LA housing.

 

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney. He can be reached at: Rickleeabrams@Gmail.com. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

 

A FIRST PERSON REPORT--As some of you know, I have filed papers to run for the Los Angeles City Council in the 15th District. Those who know me best have asked, “What took you so long?” (Photo above: this article’s author, James Preston Allen.) 

Quite simply, I’ve been busy serving as an interested observer of this political circus for the past 35 years. 

In that role, I kept a sharp eye out for those with enough fire-in-the-belly or enough patience for the nonsense to pursue careers at City Hall. 

My frustrations with the current occupant of the 15th District council seat comes down to a laundry list of complaints that I share with many community members with whom I have spoken over the past few weeks while gathering nominating signatures. I will share that list once my nominating petition is qualified and I’m placed on the ballot. 

In the meantime, I’ll share some of the impediments that are set up to discourage any actual participation in the exercise of participatory governance. 

First is the remote and obscure location of the Elections Division of the Los Angeles City Clerk’s office, which is not at Los Angeles City Hall. 

The Election Division is in a nondescript industrial building off the 101 freeway east of downtown hidden behind Union Station on Ramirez Street at space # 300. Without MapQuest, you might not ever find it! 

It is beyond my comprehension why there isn’t a City Clerk’s office in every district of the city. But this is just one of many hurdles to actually running for public office. 

Another hurdle is the ethics commission’s myriad of conflict of interest forms -- forms that once completed makes you feel naked and completely circumspect about running for public office.

When you are done with the forms, they hand you 100 blank nominating petition forms with instructions in 12 languages on three sheets that must be kept stapled together. You have less than 30 days (depending on when you filed) to gather a minimum of 500 signatures. At the time, I thought, “What could be simpler?” 

After getting the nominating petition forms, I raced back to the Los Angeles Harbor to round up everyone I know to sign my petition only to find that a good half of the people in our district who could be registered to vote are not. 

Around 40 percent of property and business owners here are registered to vote someplace else like Palos Verdes, Carson or Long Beach -- not in of Los Angeles. 

It begins to sink in that a lot of those who have financial interests in the city are not of the city, but have great influence over it. 

The hunt for qualified registered voters is less daunting than Diogenes looking for an honest man in Athens. But it’s still a bit like searching for Waldo. The other option is using verified voter registration lists and going door-to-door like a Fuller Brush man. 

Still, as the petition sheets are filled up and the confusion of who is and who is not a Los Angeles registered voter is sorted out, one of my canvassers informed me that the librarian at the local library stopped him from collecting signatures on that property. 

Then, he hands me the Los Angeles Public Library’s “Rules of Conduct.” There are 15 rules in all. Number 12 on the list prohibits “petitioning…without the express permission of the City Librarian.”

I was appalled by the Library Commission’s edict as it totally flies in the face of common sense. So, I called the local librarian and complained. I was then told that only “the top dog City Librarian” can grant me dispensation, like the Pope, to petition outside a city library for the privilege of running for a city office. 

“Are you kidding me? What part of the First Amendment don’t you understand?” I asked incredulously. 

This is the very public institution that is dedicated to support free speech, free press and that inherently supports the right to petition our government and yet they have a policy prohibiting it.

I made five phone calls -- one to the head librarian, one to the city clerk’s office, another to the city attorney’s office, and lastly to the ethic commission. 

Ultimately, I got special permission from the main library to gather petitions outside a city owned public library. But it was only after I made a very impassioned plea for some sanity to the Los Angeles Public Library that was I granted permission to canvas for nominating signatures on public property. 

I will once again state my case. This was a First Amendment matter with free political speech, the right to petition our government and the free expression of these rights in the public domain at stake.

This matter is not just about my personal campaign. It’s about how the city itself stands in the way of public participation in our most cherished tradition of self-governance. That I, as an individual, have to “ask permission” from some distant bureaucrat to exercise our right of suffrage on public property is a fundamental abridgment of this right. 

The real hypocrisy is that this is being done by an institution whose very mandate is the conveyance of free speech through literary offerings. Consider this a formal protest that must be addressed immediately. 

These, my fellow citizens, are just some of the many issues that keep one from running for public office instead of sitting on the fence and watching the circus go by.

 

(James Preston Allen is the Publisher of Random Lengths News, the Los Angeles Harbor Area's only independent newspaper. He is also a guest columnist for the California Courts Monitor and is the author of "Silence Is Not Democracy - Don't listen to that man with the white cap - he might say something that you agree with!" He has been engaged in the civic affairs of CD 15 for more than 35 years. More of Allen…and other views and news at: randomlengthsnews.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

LATINO PERSPECTIVE--Latinos who are born in this country are hardworking folks, and perhaps those who come here without papers take work as a family duty to them and their families. Work for Latinos is no joke, It’s how they survive, thrive and prosper. 

It’s also true that Latinos three times as likely as the general population to start their own business. In an interesting article in thehill.com Mike Lillis and Rafael Bernal confirmed this assessment. However, there is a report by the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative (SLEI) that found that cultural and economic factors have hampered the growth of Latino-owned businesses at a cost of trillions of dollars. 

The lost growth amounted to a $1.38 trillion “opportunity gap” in 2012 alone. “Latinos tend to open businesses with “personal motivations” rather than as a result of identifying market opportunities.” And that because of this, Latinos are less likely to pursue capitalization opportunities that put full ownership at risk, limiting their prospects for growth, the SLEI found. 

The Hill reported that Hispanic business leaders say the lack of access to capital was accentuated by President Obama's regulatory measures in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. 

“Hispanic businesses have it twice as bad. Under the Obama administration, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was so draconian that they over-regulated the financial services industry,” said Javier Palomarez, president of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC). 

Republicans in Congress have vowed to repeal the majority of Obama's economically significant regulations once President-elect Donald Trump takes office.  

Despite their limitations, Latino-owned businesses are still the fastest-growing segment of small businesses in the country, generating around $400 billion in annual revenue, according to the Congressional Hispanic Conference. What is also interesting is that Latina-owned businesses have led the charge. 

The number of businesses owned by Hispanic women grew 206 percent between 1997 and 2014, compared to 68 percent growth of women-owned businesses in general, according to a report by American Express. 

This all makes sense because many Latinos open businesses based on personal needs not business trends, that is why I say that for Latinos business is very personal. 

President-elect Trump has promised that he will create an environment in which those who want to open or grow a business will be able to do so, and those who want a job will be able to find it. Last week he said that Japanese tech billionaire Masayoshi Son will invest $50 billion in new start-ups in the United States. 

The businessman has pledged to create 50,000 new jobs in the Unites States over an unspecified period of time. Son, who is the founder and chief executive of SoftBank, one of Japan’s largest tech companies, owns the US the mobile carrier Sprint. 

Maybe what Mr. Trump can also do is to find a Latin American billionaire and convince him or her to do the same but focusing on Latino businesses. Or perhaps, deregulating the financial industry as Republicans have promised to do will do the trick. – Only time will tell.

 

(Fred Mariscal writes Latino Perspective for CityWatch. He came to Los Angeles from Mexico City in 1992 to study at the University of Southern California and has been in LA ever since. He can be reached at fred.gwnc@gmail.com.)

-cw

IMMIGRATION POLITICS--"If cities have to make a stand for basic human decency, then we're going to make that stand," wrote Somerville, Mass. Mayor Joseph Curtatone.

With Donald Trump's inauguration just over a month away, it will soon become clear whether he intends on using beginning days in the White House to try to follow through on his promise to end federal funding for sanctuary cities. Scores of such cities, however, are standing resolute, with officials from over three dozen of them publicly reaffirming their commitment to "basic human decency."

Sanctuary cities, like Los Angeles, sometimes called Fourth Amendment cities, as The Atlantic's CityLab has described, offer some protection to undocumented immigrants because they "keep local policing and federal immigration enforcement separate by asking local police to decline 'detainers'—non-binding requests from ICE asking for extended detention of inmates they suspect are deportable." 

In contrast to claims made by proponents of harsh immigrant crackdowns, research has shown that "designating a city as a sanctuary has no statistically significant effect on crime." In fact, it is harsh immigration policing that can negatively impact the whole community.

According to a new tally by Politico, out of a total of 47 sanctuary cities, "officials in at least 37 cities (listed below) have doubled down since Trump's election, reaffirming their current policies or practices in public statements, despite the threat of pushback from the incoming administration, and at least four cities have newly declared themselves sanctuary cities since Trump's win."

"There is no definitive list of U.S. sanctuary cities because of the term's flexible definition," the publication notes, and that itself may make it more problematic for Trump to ban the federal funds.

As Kica Matos, director of immigrant rights and racial justice at the Center for Community Change, explained to Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting last month, "sanctuary cities are understood as places that protect the undocumented immigrant and provide a haven for them and provide the opportunity for immigrants, irrespective of their status, to be welcomed, to be productive citizens in their respective communities, and to engage in the civic life of the cities."

So if you look at some of the anti-immigrant organizations, Center for Immigrant Studies has a broader definition of sanctuary city, where they define sanctuary cities as any city that is friendly towards immigrants. So where I live, for example, New Haven, Connecticut, it's considered a sanctuary city under their definition, because the city implemented a program to offer city identification cards to any resident of the city, irrespective of their status.

So if you go by that broader definition, there are hundreds of sanctuary cities in the United States, and many of them are already engaged in acts of defiance, publicly letting the federal government know that they will do absolutely everything they can to protect immigrants in their communities.

That broader definition seems to apply to Boulder, Colo., where city leaders are hoping to pass an ordinance before inauguration day to make it a sanctuary city—though whether or not the term 'sanctuary' actually ends up in the ordinance is unclear at this point.

Santa Ana, Calif., as Politico writes, is like the Vermont cities of Burlington, Montpelier, and Winooski in that it declared itself a sanctuary city post-election.

"The day after Donald Trump got elected, our kids were falling apart emotionally. They thought their parents would be deported," the Los Angeles Times quotes said Sal Tinajero, a Santa Ana City Council member and local high school teacher, as saying. 

"The reason you're seeing this push now is that us leaders ... want to tell them they are going to be protected. If they are going to come for them, they have to come through us first," Tinajero said.

Somerville, Mass., meanwhile, is among the cities on Politico's tally that have reaffirmed their commitments. In an open letter published last month, Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone wrote, "We will not turn our back on our neighbors. Our diversity is our strength. Since we became a sanctuary city [in 1987], our crime rate has dropped more than 50%."

So "for anyone who claims that cracking down on sanctuary cities has something to do with high crime or a stagnant economy, Somerville stands as a flashing, neon billboard for how wrong that thinking is," he continued.

"If cities have to make a stand for basic human decency, then we're going to make that stand. We saw a presidential campaign based on fear and a desire to ostracize anyone who could be categorized as different. That may have swung an election, but it provides us with no roadmap forward. Tearing communities apart only serves to tear them down. We're going to keep bringing people together, making sure we remain a sanctuary for all. We are one community. We've got values that work. We know what makes America great," Curtatone concludes.

Also among Trump's anti-immigrant promises is a pledge to deport "more than two million criminal illegal immigrants from the country"—which he clarified to mean people who haven't actually been convicted of a crime.

Politico's list of 37 cities that have reaffirmed their commitments to being sanctuaries is below:

Appleton, Wisconsin
Ashland, Oregon
Aurora, Chicago
Aurora, Colorado
Austin, Texas
Berkeley, California
Boston, Massachusetts
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Chicago, Illinois
Denver, Colorado
Detroit, Michigan
Evanston, Illinois
Hartford, Connecticut
Jersey City, New Jersey
Los Angeles, California
Madison, Wisconsin
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Nashville, Tennessee
New Haven, Connecticut
New York, New York
Newark, New Jersey
Newton, Massachusetts
Oakland, California
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Phoenix, Arizona
Portland, Oregon
Providence, Rhode Island
Richmond, California
San Francisco, California
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Seattle, Washington
Somerville, Massachusetts
St. Paul, Minnesota
Syracuse, New York
Takoma Park, Maryland
Tucson, Arizona
Washington, D.C.

(Andrea Germanos writes for Common Dreams … where this piece was first posted.)

-cw

PERSPECTIVE--Accounting topics usually do not show up on the radar, especially in times when other news topics are red hot. There is, however, a conceptual transition worth noting with wide ramifications.

Good accounting is not just desirable; it is vital. Business and the general public require the best possible financial information in order to transact and invest in confidence.

Regardless, it makes sense for the cost of accounting changes to favorably correlate with the benefits.  For example, spending a fortune to analyze or report on an obscure, immaterial activity is hardly a sound course of action.  A cost vs. benefits standard should be applied when a widespread accounting change is entertained.

The largest accounting change in the last 10 years (perhaps one of the largest ever) is underway. It’s ASC 606. ASC stands for Accounting Standards Codification and is the source for what is commonly known as Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).  666 might be a more appropriate code number.

The key objective of 606 is to create consistency for reporting revenue across all industries for customer contracts. Current GAAP is more industry specific. This amounts to a transition to  a one-size-fits-all approach from one which recognizes unique business practices.

There is much to say about the benefits of consistency, but plain vanilla does not necessarily deliver the disclosure the public needs in an increasingly complex world.

If anything, ASC 606 increases the complexity of evaluating customer contracts by requiring revenue determination at various points in time. Basically, the economic substance of the affected contracts remains the same, so it is mainly a matter of timing of when the revenue hits the books.

OK, not so bad, but the current method has been working well for a long time. (A side note: the Enron-type disasters of the past were due to lax compliance with internal controls.  No change in revenue recognition principles will prevent a recurrence. The objectives of ASC 606, as well as any other accounting change, are not intended to address fraud, abuse or lack of due diligence).

Is 606 worth it? The benefits are arguable. And for all the talk about consistency, some industries are exempt from the scope! Eventually, it is likely other exemptions will be made.  After all, industries and products are not static.

Companies have and will incur significant costs to implement it.  The sad part is no one really knows how much. There is no national tracking tool in place.

My guesstimate of the price tag is based on the ratio of accounting, IT and auditing costs to revenue, roughly 5%.  The aggregate revenue for S&P 1500 companies is $13 Trillion, so it works out to around $65 Billion, or about $43 Million per company, if you figure that major conversion efforts require an equivalent of around 10% of the  5%.  The cost will be disproportionately worse for smaller companies, and probably even worse for nonpublic firms.

Companies can make substantial improvements to reporting and control systems for that kind of money, improvements which can provide greater protection and quality of information to the shareholders and stakeholders than playing with the timeline for revenue recognition.

The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) purports to consider the cost to the private sector of its decisions, but it missed the boat here. One author even suggested that ASC 606 was pushed forward to justify FASB’s efforts in the wake of its failed attempt to converge US GAAP with International Financial Reporting Standards – an objective that grew out of the Norwalk Agreement of 2002, the inspiration for 606. 

Fourteen years of futility comes at a pretty high price…and difficult to explain when you have little to show for it!  Reminds me of DWP’s decision to implement its new billing system rather than man up to the public and admit it would be a disaster.

The conversion, which for the largest companies started ramping up in earnest a couple of years ago, will run through 2017.  The implementation date is in 2018 (2019 for nonpublic companies).

Afterwards, addressing post-implementation glitches will undoubtedly cost a bundle. As cousin Eddy told Clark Griswald in Christmas Vacation about the Jelly-of-the-Month Club, “Clark, it’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year through.”

In this case, years to come … and as useful a gift as fruit cake.

(Paul Hatfield is a CPA and serves as President of the Valley Village Homeowners Association. He blogs at Village to Village and contributes to CityWatch. The views presented are those of Mr. Hatfield and his alone and do not represent the opinions of Valley Village Homeowners Association or CityWatch. He can be reached at: phinnoho@aol.com.)

-cw

CORRUPTION WATCH-A grand assemblage of knaves, fools and moral Lilliputians rule the city Los Angeles. Do not expect that to change. 

Recently, a few Americans have shown concern for Fake News. They realize that Fake News has real consequences as when a fool shows up at a pizza shop with an automatic weapon to “self-investigate” Hillary Clinton’s role in a child abuse ring in Washington D.C. 

In Los Angeles, Judge Alan Goodman warned the public about our own form of Fake News: Information from the City of Los Angeles. In January 2014, Judge Goodman ruled that Eric Garcetti’s update to the Hollywood Community Plan was based on lies and myths, which Judge Goodman described in polite legalese, saying that the city’s planning was based on “fatally flawed data” and “wishful thinking.” 

When the City published stories about how Hollywood has been revitalized and that its population is growing at a robust rate, when in fact is was deteriorating and rapidly shrinking, this was Fake News. Based on the continuing Fake News that Hollywood is still the center of the universe and hordes of people are descending up the town, one huge mega-project after another is being unanimously approved the LA City Council. And the approvals are justified by the endless Fake News emanating from City Hall. 

Hollywood’s “official” population fluctuates as frequently as Donald Trump tweets. Just as no one can find the millions of illegal votes that were cast for Hillary Clinton to disguise the “fact” that Trump won the popular vote, no one can find the real Hollywood population. In its April 2006 Notice of Preparation for its latest Update to the Hollywood Community Plan, the Garcetti Administration claimed that the population was 206,000 people, citing “SCAG’s 2016 RTP” (that is, the 2016 Southern California Association of Government’s Regional Transportation Plan.) Fake News. The SCAG 2016 RTP has no data at all for Hollywood. The only “Hollywood” which the RTP mentioned is West Hollywood. 

Upon investigation, we discovered that SCAG had done some other demographic analysis for Hollywood’s population, but never found that Hollywood’s population was as high as 206,000 people. The highest number that can be extrapolated from the SCAG data was 204,700. When this Fake News was shared with the City, the Garcetti Administration chose to stick with the fake numbers. We know the reason. This Fake News supports the false need to construct all the mega-projects. 

Then in November 2016, mirabile dictu, the Garcetti Administration announced that Hollywood’s 2015 population was 210,511 people. Does that mean that the April 2016 NOP had missed 4,500 people or that between December 2015 and April 2016, Hollywood’s population had declined by 4,500? Don’t bother asking…it’s all Fake News! 

People are accustomed to Fake News. In fact, people prefer it. Megyn Kelley hit the nail on the head in 2012, when she doubted Karl Rove’s insistence that Mitt Romney was winning the presidential election by asking, "Is this just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better, or is this real?" 

Megyn Kelley’s diagnosis was correct – people invent the news that makes them feel better, or in the case of Los Angeles, justifies the perpetuation of a criminal enterprise which we call the Los Angeles City Council. Oh, that LA had Megyn Kelly instead of the LA Times, whose motto is “All the news that the elite wants you to believe.” 

Poor Edgar Maddison Welch from Salisbury, North Carolina, who drove all the way to Washington to self-investigate the pizza parlor. At least Mr. Welch’s “self-investigation” placed him far ahead of the Angelenos who merely accept whatever Fake News gushes forth from City Hall. 

Fake News Has Real Consequences. 

While the false story about child-molesting at the pizza parlor was an extreme aggravation for its owner, the Fake News from LA City Hall has had a devastating impact on all of Los Angeles. In a report the Garcetti Administration never thought the public would find, the City admitted in November 2015, that in 2013, the last year for which it had data (why the 2 year lag?), it had constructed “150% [of the] units needed by above moderate income earners,” adding to the 12% vacancy rate of such apartments constructed in the last decade. The City said that a 5% vacancy rate was equilibrium. Generally, when the vacancy is 2.5 times equilibrium, one does not push ahead with plans to construct even more vacant housing. 

Why is LA City Hall so committed to Fake News? The main reason is that the City is run as a criminal enterprise whose function is to siphon off public money to make a few landowners very wealthy while everyone else suffers. 

This phenomenon is not new. Over 100 years ago in its 1915 Study of Street Traffic Conditions in the City of Los Angeles, civil engineers warned that a few land owners would want to restrict office and industrial usage to the core of the city in order to make themselves wealthy. But the engineers explained, with sound mathematics related to Los Angeles geography, that the city had to allow all segments of the community, offices, homes, industry, community and civic center to expand outwards in unison. In other words, decentralization was essential. 

Restricting the distribution of all segments of the community, however, resulted in massive projects to be built in areas like Bunker Hill, Century City, and Westwood while at the same time turning the Valleys into bedroom communities. Separating those dense office areas from the residential communities would then require expensive transportation projects to convey so many people from the 5,000 square mile county to a few tenths of square miles of the Bunker Hills, Century, City, Westwood, and now to DTLA and Hollywood. 

Like the serfs of the 1400s, Angelenos have come to accept this arrangement as the natural order of life. Should it be brought to the attention of Angelenos that their city leads in all the negative indicators and lags in all the positive indicators for quality of urban life, we have endless Fake News from City Hall to falsely assure us that we’re still the premier destination city. 

Will Angelenos Act Before it is too late? 

No. It already is too late. Besides, the criminal enterprise is firmly established and everyone wants it to continue. Look at the people throwing their hats in the ring to run of City Council in March 2017. How many are willing to give up the chance to become the Lord of their Council Fiefdom? None. 

Is there any City Council candidate who will relinquish the power to have each and every item he or she places on the City Council agenda unanimously passed? If so, please step forward. 

Nor is there any danger that the criminal enterprise where every developer gets unanimous approval for projects will go away soon. Judge David Fruin has declared that the City is above the law. 

According to this learned jurist, Penal Code 86, which criminalized the vote trading agreement that is the glue that holds the LA City Council together, is Non-Justiciable – beyond the power of the courts. It does not matter what laws the California State Legislature passes; the Los Angeles City Council does not have to follow any law unless it voluntarily chooses to do so. 

The Law May be Pernicious, but it is not Fake. 

The problem with placing the City Council above the law is more serious than a lone self-investigator showing up with an automatic rifle. Our infrastructure has crumbled, the homeless rate has escalated, the crime rate is out of control no matter how much Garcetti tries to have the LAPD fudge the data, the Family Millennials and the high-end employers are fleeing the city for places like the Texas Triangle. 

Alea jacta est.  The die has been cast for our future tax base which, for a generation going forward, will have lower skilled wage earners and a higher percent of children and elderly retired. Just as Julius Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon sealed the fate of the Roman Republic, Judge Fruin is sealing LA’s fate of being ruled by a criminal enterprise.

 

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney. He can be reached at: Rickleeabrams@Gmail.com. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GUEST WORDS--Under Lee Baca’s leadership people were racially profiled, women were molested, immigrants were deported, and there were many walls built to keep specific people away. Sound like a certain President-Elect? He also married someone who emigrated from Asia, had a self-proclaimed law-and-order reputation, gave celebrities special treatment, served with a second-in-command who was just as corrupt, and condoned a historically violent, racist organization without specifically admitting to personal acts of violence or racism. This organization was not the Ku Klux Klan, but the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. 

So how did Los Angeles topple the oppressive power of former Sheriff Lee Baca after electing him to hold it? And how were we able to simultaneously form a Civilian Oversight Commission to put power in the hands of the people? Leaders emerged. 

On December 6, 2016, exactly 151 years to the day the 13th Amendment was ratified, former Sheriff Lee Baca is scheduled to face a federal judge and the prospect of 20 years in prison for obstruction of justice. Organizations like Dignity and Power Now are largely responsible for this, due to their uplifting the dialogue of formerly incarcerated people and building social and political pressure. 

Five years ago, a year before I put a hashtag in front of Black Lives Matter and sparked a global movement, I began leading a movement in Los Angeles. My brother had suffered a concussion after being severely beaten by deputies in the county jail, so I developed a performance art piece that sparked a coalition that shaped an organization, called Dignity and Power Now (DPN.) We would stand for hours outside the county jails and talk to people, a majority of them Black and Brown. Their stories of abuse were not being reported on the news, so we held press conferences. Solutions were not on the politicians’ agendas, so we showed up until they were. People wanted to end sheriff violence and implement accountability, so we demanded civilian oversight of the sheriff’s department. 

The first time the county supervisors voted on implementing a civilian oversight commission we showed up with 300 formerly incarcerated people who shared their stories of oppression and resilience. The supervisors voted 3-2 against it. We didn’t stop. We continued organizing, holding events, and meeting with supervisors and candidates. Four months later, on December 9, 2014, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted in favor of civilian oversight. 

The commission will be functional by January, and although it’s a huge step in the right direction, it is not perfect. They still need the power to subpoena the sheriff’s department and other agencies involved in custody operations. That would require a change to the county charter and a public vote.

The fact that there is former law enforcement, including a former LA County sheriff’s lieutenant, appointed to the commission raises serious concerns about whether it will protect incarcerated Black and Brown people, which is what the community and I have urgently fought for. And while we succeeded in electing a new sheriff, last year use of force in the jails went up 40%. We just elected Janice Hahn and Kathryn Barger to the LA County Board of Supervisors, giving it its first female majority and democratic supermajority, but just before that the board approved a new women’s jail and a new mental health jail, ignoring the research that has proven that jails can never be effective sites of care. 

There is more ground to cover that could have grave impacts for those criminalized and incarcerated under a law-and-order presidency. Every day the choices that Donald Trump makes stirs the country’s attention, but the leadership worth looking to isn’t that of high-ranking political figures -- it’s that of the people on the ground. If you look to Los Angeles you will find leaders creating law enforcement accountability and fighting for Black lives. If you look to Oakland, Minneapolis, Chicago, St. Louis, Baltimore, and Toronto you will find the same. 

This year people can associate December 6 as the day Lee Baca will go to trial, or the anniversary of the 13th Amendment, or as another day closer to when we will be subjected to a Trump presidency. Or, collectively, as a movement, we can choose to see it as another day that we will show up in our communities and we will lead.

 

(Patrisse Cullors is a Los Angeles-based artist, organizer, and freedom fighter. She is also the co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter. This piece first appeared at HuffingtonPost.com. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

ANIMAL WATCH--A marauding California mountain lion has clawed his way back from almost certain execution thanks to a kind-hearted alpaca owner. (See CityWatch story: ‘America’s Favorite Cat’.) [[

Los Angeles wildlife authorities suspect that the big cat, known as P-45, killed 11 alpacas and injured others in an attack near Mulholland Highway in Malibu in November. The beast ate only one of the animals.

“It seems to enjoy killing things,” noted alpaca owner Victoria Vaughn-Perling.

Neighbors believe P-45 may be responsible for the death of up to 65 pets and other domesticated animals in the area over the past year.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the National Park Service had granted her permission to kill the 5-year-old mountain lion. 

But word of the permit angered environmentalists and triggered heartfelt appeals from animal lovers across the nation.

“Eliminating P-45 does not solve the problem, especially given there are at least four mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains that have killed livestock over the past year,” said Kate Kuykendall, acting deputy superintendent for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. “Nor is P-45’s behavior abnormal or aberrant in any way. If animals are stuck in an unsecured pen, a mountain lion’s natural response can be to prey upon all available animals.”

Vaughn-Perling has now changed her mind about killing P-45 and agreed to let wildlife officials capture the male animal. They will decide whether to relocate the cat to a more remote location in the Santa Monica mountains or place him in captivity, her attorney told the Los Angeles Times.

Relocation may not be successful, however, because P-45 could seek out his old territory especially now that he “knows where the restaurant is,” said one of Vaughn-Perling’s neighbors.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl issued a statement thanking Vaughn-Perling for her decision to “spare the life of one of the precious few mountain lions left in our Santa Monica Mountains.”

But the clash between area residents and the cats won’t likely disappear any time soon.

Up to 15 mountain lions live in the Santa Monica Mountains between Highway 101 and the Pacific Ocean, according to a federal study.

The state Wildlife Commission approved a $7.1 million expenditure last month to purchase land in the area to provide a safe habitat for the animals. Some environmental activists are also hoping to raise funds for a bridge that wildlife could use to travel safely over the highway.

 

(Mary Papenfuss writes for Huffington Post … where this piece originated.)

-cw

GUEST WORDS--When the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power made its case to its 1.4 million customers for its latest rate proposal, staff made more than 80 presentations to many customers in Los Angeles. In these discussions, LADWP emphasized its commitment to providing clean and reliable water and power to all customers while maintaining competitive rates. LADWP leaders and staff explained – with transparency – the Department’s goals and its need for funding to accelerate the replacement of rapidly aging infrastructure, meet mandates to green our grid and expand local water supplies, and improve customer service. In the process, LADWP also received useful and important feedback from ratepayers of all customer sectors. Ultimately, the rate proposal was approved in March 2016, strongly supported by many elected officials and customers. 

But the work only began there. Approval of the rate proposal comes with several expectations, including meeting specific milestones and benchmarks that clearly define LADWP’s organizational goals and objectives. These key performance indicators will increase LADWP’s efficiency and goals of transparency with the ratepayers. While reporting on benchmarks and achievements is common among many public agencies and utilities, LADWP is going a step further by establishing the Equity Metrics Data Initiative (EMDI) -- a first for any utility in the nation. 

The EMDI is consistent with the Mayor’s various executive directives on gender equity, workforce and affordable housing as well as the City Council’s recently-adopted instructions on LADWP reform related to low income seniors, equitable clean energy solutions and low income customer response. The initiative will also enable the Department to weave Equity throughout the enterprise, and embed it as a cornerstone of LADWP management and Board best practices. 

“Equity,” which is defined as “fairness, impartiality and justice,” is essential in all of LADWP’s operations. As a core component of this principle, the Department adopted data-driven metrics that track, measure and report on how LADWP’s programs and services are provided to all of its customers. As the largest municipal utility in the nation, LADWP has made a firm commitment to ensure that LADWP’s services and operations reach all customers fairly and to vastly enhance customer engagement and service. 

The Board of Water and Commissioners, where I serve as Vice President, adopted this initiative in August 2016, following many discussions with stakeholders and a preliminary community meeting in July. In October, staff hosted another meeting with a broad range of community stakeholders to fine-tune the metrics. In November the DWP Advocacy group, which consists of Neighborhood Council leaders, was briefed. Further Neighborhood Council briefings are expected. At the December 6 Board meeting, the Board adopted the four major categories of the Equity Metrics, covering 15 key specific metrics that will be benchmarked and monitored. LADWP derived these 15 equity metrics from a menu of 50 equity metrics, the balance of which may be addressed in the next several years by the Commission. 

  1. Water and Power Infrastructure Investment. LADWP already collects considerable data on service reliability. However, to assure every customer and community in Los Angeles that LADWP is providing them with a safe, consistent supply of water and power, geographic data must be collected about water and power reliability, infrastructure improvement projects, and maintenance services. This category of metrics will track: the Power System Reliability Program, which details the replacement of critical power infrastructure like power poles, transformers and cables; the Water System and the replacement of mainlines, trunk lines and other water infrastructure; the likelihood of power failure and the duration of outages that occur, which will ensure that LADWP remains among the most reliable; and feedback about the quality of drinking water. 
  2. Customer Incentive Programs and Services. LADWP offers many programs to customers to help them save on their bills. The Equity Metrics Data Initiative will collect data and evaluate the equity of impacts of the following programs in geographic regions of the city, among socioeconomic subgroups and among multi family, affordable and single family housing ratepayers: Commercial Direct Install Program, Low Income and Lifeline Programs, Electric Vehicle infrastructure, Refrigerator Exchange Program, Home Energy Improvement Program, Turf Removal Rebates, Tree Canopy Program, and the Rain Barrel, Cistern and Water Tank Rebates. 
  3. LADWP will expand its existing data collection process for contracts and contractors to include more granular data that will provide information about the equity of contract allocation according to several metrics including: the number and dollar value of contracts awarded to women-owned, minority-owned, disabled veteran-owned and LGBT-owned businesses; business locations; industry category, etc. Equity in procurement can increase LADWP’s efficiency by encouraging increased competition among vendors.
  4. LADWP will expand its existing data collection framework to include information that will evaluate the equity of training and hiring practices according to the following metrics: gender, ethnic background, disabled veteran status, date of hire, residential location, educational level, etc.

When dynamics are observed that disproportionately or adversely affect particular communities or groups of ratepayers, LADWP will be able to make adjustments that improve fairness and equity throughout its service area for everyone they serve.

LADWP will report on the first set of EMDI findings in February 2017. The Department will continue to fine-tune the metrics and later add more to be monitored, to help ensure equitable service delivery and access to its programs and services. We should all stay engaged and supportive of LADWP’s commitment to transparency and accountability as it advances equity for all of its customers and communities. This is a vital and transformative initiative that will be achieved amidst LADWP’s consistent success in keeping our water running and our lights on, safely and reliably, for all of us.

 

(William Funderburk is Vice President of the Los Angeles Board of Water & Power Commissioners.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

SNAPSHOT ANALYSIS—(Here’s what David Zahniser reported in the LA Times on Thursday: ‘Spurred by years of complaints from neighborhood groups, the Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to seek new restrictions on “mansionization” — the practice of constructing houses that are far larger than those nearby. On a 13-0 vote, lawmakers asked City Atty. Mike Feuer to rewrite sections of two city ordinances that regulate the size of new homes in single-family neighborhoods and in hillside areas.’ We asked our ‘mansionization’ expert, Shelly Wagers, to make sense of what happened and answer the question: Is the McMansion Crisis now over? Here’s how she capsulized it:

Big picture, the Council took quick and decisive action yesterday to get amendments to the mansionization ordinances back on track.  Councilmember Koretz has shown consistent leadership on the issue, Councilmember Ryu continued to deliver on his campaign promises, and Council President Wesson, who had kept his powder dry on this one, stepped up big-time to sponsor the Motion the Council voted on yesterday. 

As they now stand, the amendments go a long way towards addressing the failures of the existing ordinances. The ratio used to set basic size limits is far more sensible, many self-defeating bonuses have been eliminated, and most hillside-specific issues like grading and hauling have been resolved. 

Only one issue remains troubling:  Front-facing attached garages.  Because they are uniquely damaging and because counting space within the walls is an eminently reasonable way to calculate the size of the structure, we would have liked to see all the square footage of front-facing garages count floor space.  Instead, 200 sq feet will remain uncounted.  The concern is not the 200 sq ft per se, it is rather that this “freebie” continues to incentivize (or at least reward) a singularly unfortunate design feature.  (For reference, I’m attaching the text of my comments on this point at yesterday’s hearing.)  It’s not clear at this time whether or not we will have an opportunity to tighten this loophole. 

BIG thanks to CityWatch, by the way, for providing the most consistent coverage of this issue of any media outlet in the region. The Council would never have taken action without strong pushback from homeowners and residents all over the city.  Activists deserve tremendous credit for forcing the issue.

+++++++ 

Here are Shelley’s comments from Council Meeting:

I’m Shelley Wagers from Council District 5, and I thank you for making mansionization a priority.  

The original Motion this Council adopted to amend the BMO identified attached garages as a uniquely damaging loophole.  Here’s why:

Attached garages add 400 square feet of bloat to a house.  

They eliminate the buffer that a driveway provides.

They use wide curb cuts that reduce street parking and destroy mature street trees.

They disrupt the look and feel of many LA neighborhoods.

Excluding attached garages is like weighing yourself with one foot off the scale.

CPC President David Ambroz put it this way:  “Square footage is square footage …”

No one is asking you to prohibit attached garages.  But they must count as floor space.

(Shelley Wagers lives in the Beverly Grove neighborhood and has been involved in anti-mansionization campaigns in Los Angeles for over a decade.)

-cw

NIX THE AUTO VU SYSTEM-On October 1st, at the direction of Mayor Garcetti, three Genetec AutoVu™ patrol vehicles were released into the flow of LA traffic like Trident submarines into the North Atlantic. 

Mounted on the vehicles were multiple SharpX automated license plate recognition cameras -- each capable of reading and capturing “thousands of license plates per shift” -- day or night -- then checking the plates against a database in real time, with vehicle occupancy counts also being an option as well as “silent” notifications of law enforcement when warrants are detected. 

The purpose of all this? Anti-terrorism? Preparations for a drug-trafficking sting? 

No. The purpose is parking enforcement. The AutoVu™ system is a tool for collecting unpaid parking fines, with a particular emphasis on tracking down vehicles eligible for impounding.  

The contractor who runs the program, Xerox State and Local Solutions (which lobbies the city aggressively through Englander, Knabe, and Allen,) gets paid a 2.5% commission by the City for all fees and penalties incurred by the individual late on his or her parking fines. Xerox gets $27 per citation on Special Collections. 

The gold standard of penalties is impoundment, by far the most lucrative infraction to impose upon Angelenos, as it costs the owner hundreds of dollars. 

By creating a program that incentivizes the contractor to get cars impounded, the Mayor has, in effect, put a bounty on the head of every vehicle owner in Los Angeles -- and by extension on the loved ones of that owner. 

The AutoVu™ system is a dragnet.  

Impoundment is not always caused by people not paying their parking tickets. It is a punishment often meted out unjustly to individuals who, for example, leave their car on the street for greater than 72 hours -- a rule not well-known to the public and never posted on street signs, as the City learned not too long ago in a lawsuit. 

The AutoVu™ system should be shut down. 

Data derived from a dragnet of license plates can be used for blackmail and extortion. Similarly, there is no downside for AutoVu “hunters” to make false enforcement claims -- especially on residents for whom English is not their first language. Inevitably, some percentage of those victims, not sure how to contest the impounding, will pay the fine.  

Life is hard enough without government sponsored profit seekers marauding around prying into the business of everyday residents. 

But from an economic view, it’s not hard to see the temptation for Mayor Garcetti in choosing to implement the program.  AutoVu™ is lucrative. As the brochure boasts, it took Fort Lauderdale just two months to recoup its investment.  

The “number of cars booted” was up 1400%” in that city -- 600 cars booted in just eight months, leading to a bounty of over $200,000. The revenue boost for Monroe Community College, another AutoVu™ client, was 750%. 

Mayor Garcetti needs the money, because he squandered millions of dollars defending against a lawsuit that asked for nothing more than that the City stop allowing Xerox to be the adjudicator of parking ticket appeals, given that Xerox is a private company that loses money whenever those appeals succeed. 

The Mayor lost the lawsuit on August 6, 2016 and so was required to hire City employees to replace the Xerox adjudicators. “Additional costs are anticipated,” the LADOT Director wrote.  

“Tickets should be used to manage parking, not as a revenue source, and that is what I am going to look to do,” Mayor Garcetti wrote, according to the Daily News during a chat session on the website Reddit shortly after being elected. 

So call off the dragnet, Mr. Mayor. Please.

 

(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.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

15 CANDLES, 96 POINTS OF LIGHT--(Editor’s Note: This month marks the 15th anniversary of the certification of Los Angeles’ first Neighborhood Council. CityWatch is celebrating with a multi-month celebration of introspective articles and view points on how LA’s Neighborhood Councils came about, how they’re doing and how their future looks. This perspective by Tony Butka is just such an effort.)  

The December LANCC meeting was a free-wheeling event, going over past successes and generally talking about Neighborhood Councils and what they’ve become -- and shrunk into. One of the good things discussed was the fact that there are a lot of new faces in our neighborhood councils after the last election. 

Of course the flip side of these changes is the loss of institutional knowledge about the Neighborhood Council System. This reality, coupled with the observation that some of the “old timers” view of “how things should be” is not particularly useful to new Board members, prompted this piece. 

For context, back in August 2014, I wrote in CityWatch about the systematic marginalization of the City’s Neighborhood Councils. 

Here is a more succinct comparison of how the NC System started out vs. what it has become in 2016. 

Then and Now. 

Back then, DONE, the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, had over 60 employees to help the Neighborhood Councils live up to their mandate; now there are around 20 on the staff, and it’s been as low as a dozen. 

Then, DONE staff helped the NCs do their own thing and learned together with the Neighborhood Councils; now the current staff has high turnover, don’t really know what they are doing, and keep reversing their “advice” after they go back and check with the Mothership DONE. 

Then the General Managers job was to provide support for the Neighborhood Councils, including providing them with meeting space and ongoing help; now the General Manager is simply a cheerleader for the Mayor, bouncing around doing his bidding. Just check out one of the recent email blasts.  

Then, the Neighborhood Councils could go their own way in establishing bylaws and Standing Rules; now the Neighborhood Councils are told what to do by the bureaucratically-bound BONC. (Bureau of Neighborhood Commissioners.) BONC just had a “Special Meeting” to spend our money on telling us what to do by setting up their own newsletter.  

Then, BONC recognized their role as helping the NCs in establishing boundaries and helping with elections; now, BONC acts as an alien Mothership, telling the NCs what they can and cannot do. 

Then, the NCs got $45,000 a year and the City processed their bills with a minimum of paperwork and delay; now, the Neighborhood Councils get $35,000 and can’t even get most of their paperwork processed within a year, since DONE has all of two or three accounting people to handle the increased paperwork of some 96 Neighborhood Councils. 

Then, the City Attorney rarely offered legal advice, and when they did, it was in writing with file numbers on it; now, the City Attorney doesn’t even bother to give advice in public, instead hiding behind a bogus ‘attorney-client privilege’ theory to cover up the fact that their so-called legal advice will not stand up to the light of day. Check out this one

My Friends, It is Time to Reinvent the Neighborhood Council System. 

By way of feedback from newer Board members, there seem to be at least two areas that drive them nuts. First, is all that Ralph M. Brown Act stuff and what they have to do to comply with it that takes forever. Second, was all of the time it takes to handle items that involve spending money. Between these two issues and the DONE staff telling them what they can and can’t do, Neighborhood Councils are hard pressed to get any real Neighborhood Council things done in the space of a meeting. 

Fair enough. So here are some practical suggestions. 

The Brown Act. 

Regarding the Brown Act, the only really big deal here is that you do have to post agendas at least 72 hours in advance of the meeting. These days that usually mean: (1) electronic posting and (2) physical posting. While the DONE requirement of canceling the meeting is not technically correct, don’t bother to fight City Hall on this one. Hint - make the posting place very handy for most of the Executive Committee. 

Regarding DONE’s other Brown Act “advice” on what you can and can’t do regarding a specific agenda item, you can do your thing and ignore DONE. Truth is, before anyone can do anything to a NC on these kinds of alleged violation, it can be fixed -- if indeed it really needs to be addressed at all. Here’s what the First Amendment Coalition has to say on the matter: 

“Sending a cure and correct demand letter is only appropriate when an action has actually been taken that needs to be corrected. In other words, if the Brown Act is violated yet no action was taken, then a cure and correct demand letter would not be sent. Rather, a person would turn to the courts for an order preventing future violations or would ask the district attorney to do so.” 

As far as I know, nobody has ever taken a Neighborhood Council to court. So, if DONE or a rep says you can’t or shouldn’t have done something, first tell them to give it to you in writing. They will have to go back to the Mothership and figure it out before deciding if they were actually right. Furthermore, unless it’s something of the magnitude that would require a cure and correct letter, who cares what they think? 

Along those lines, if you do something that excites DONE enough to have the City Attorney send you a “confidential attorney client” email, read it out loud in public at your next meeting. The City will tell you that if you waive the privilege and do this, you could be personally liable for litigation. Don’t believe a word they say. First, Neighborhood Councils are advisory only by statute, and hence there’s not much they can do that would expose anyone to litigation. Second, in the entire history of the Neighborhood Council System, I am unaware of any Board or Board member having ever been sued by anyone, except for one guy back in the day that stole money. The current City Attorney advice is just unethical intimidation. 

So much for the Brown Act and wasting a bunch of time catering to DONE instead of doing what you were elected to do -- outreach and keeping the politicians honest. Another suggestion that came out of the LANCC meeting that I like, was to use a Town Hall format for anything other than the minimum legally required Board meetings and simply avoid the Brown Act totally. 

The Money Stuff. 

Most Neighborhood Councils get tied up in knots over trying to expend the money that they get. Our own Glassell Park Neighborhood Council spent almost a whole year with their funds blocked because of a screw up by DONE itself. So, here’s some hard won wisdom. 

First, make sure everyone has taken the Funding Training that DONE requires, and then quickly have everyone except the Treasurer forget all about it. People get caught up over what the NC can and cannot do. It’s a sucker’s game. Do your thing and unless the Treasurer says you can’t, just do it. 

If DONE doesn’t like something, they won’t pay it for it anyway; and if they deny payment, demand that they put their reasons in writing so that your Board can discuss it. If they don’t respond at all (a DONE favorite), have the full Board send them a letter demanding an explanation. Their job is to help you, not hoard your money so that they can “sweep it” into the general fund or back into DONE’s budget. 

If you have ongoing payments for what the City should, by law, be paying for you -- like for a website, utilities, meeting space, etc. Set it up so that DONE has to pay those recurring bills and you don’t have to be bothered. It’s their job and if they don’t have enough staff to do it they need to hire more people, not thwart you from doing your job. 

As another suggestion, you could decide to only deal with financial matters every other Board meeting and use the rest of the time to do the people’s business. 

Final Thoughts. 

Since the issues of handling both the Brown Act and Money seem to be the primary complaints from new NC Board members, (who are simply trying to represent their community and act as a check and balance on the City Hall Monster,) this column seemed like a good beginning. Most folks do not get involved in a Neighborhood Council to become Brown Act attorneys, parliamentarians or accountants. In fact, if they have to do that, they will leave. 

See if these tips help make your NC lives easier and let you do the stuff your NC wants done. To be really bold, you might check out my recipe for radicals -- a five step plan to Take Back Our Neighborhood Councils.  

Anyone who has an idea or suggestion as to how to make the Neighborhood Council System work better for the troops instead of for the City Establishment, you can contact me at tony.butka@gmail.com 

(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. 

TRADE WINDS-Last week I asked Mexico’s Secretary of the Economy, Ildefonso Guajardo, whether he fears that a Trump presidency will revive the anti-Americanism that was once a staple of Mexican life but receded to negligible levels over the past two decades.

Surprisingly, his answer was all about a Monday Night Football game played less than two weeks after the election. Namely, the first-ever regular season Monday night game played outside the United States, in Mexico City’s iconic Estadio Azteca. The Oakland Raiders beat the Houston Texans before a sellout crowd of nearly 80,000 fans, but what Guajardo found most telling was the moment before the game when the anthems of both countries were played.

Guajardo explained that the NFL hesitated before playing the U.S. anthem in the Azteca for fear of how the crowd might respond, live on ESPN, but at the end of the day the league went ahead. And with the exception of a few scattered boos, the Mexican crowd’s response was gracious and respectful. Guajardo said this was a hopeful moment—that positive attitudes toward people on the other side of the border, often acquired through first-hand experience, can transcend political differences or efforts by demagogues to distort the essential truth of our mutually beneficial North American partnership.

One can only hope. The stark reality is that Donald Trump won the presidency by running against Mexico. For a candidate with a short attention span and malleable policy stances, his views on Mexico throughout the long presidential campaign were remarkably consistent and sustained. Mexican immigrants are rapists who must be deported; the North American Free Trade Agreement is a disaster that must be torn up; U.S. companies opening plants in that country are treasonous; indeed, Mexico is so dodgy, we need to build a massive wall along the 2,000-mile border. And guess who’s going to pay for it?

He’s so glad you asked.

Forgive Mexicans if they end up taking it all a bit personally. Mexico has become a far more accommodating and friendlier neighbor —more of the middle class, democratic, open-to-the-world country Washington always wanted—in the two decades since NAFTA went into effect. But you hardly ever see this acknowledged in the U.S. media, or politics. Instead, in the Trump campaign narrative, Mexico was portrayed as the leading villain standing in the way of making America great again.

One big question is whether Trump really believes his own anti-Mexico vitriol and is determined to act upon it, or whether he simply peddled it as part of a convincing “enraged populist on campaign trail” TV performance. On the other side of the border, a related big question is whether the damage has already been done, whether the mere act of electing such an anti-Mexican president will tarnish the United States in Mexican eyes for a generation to come. Keep in mind there are plenty of populist Mexicans politicians eager to match Trump’s xenophobic nationalism for their own gain, especially as Mexico gears up for its 2018 presidential election.

One big question is whether Trump really believes his own anti-Mexico vitriol and is determined to act upon it, or whether he simply peddled it as part of a convincing “enraged populist on campaign trail” TV performance.

In the meantime, I take heart at the outbreak of sports diplomacy like the Monday Night Football game.

On the Friday night of election week, the U.S. and Mexican national soccer teams met in Columbus, Ohio for a World Cup qualifying match. This has become one of the most heated regional rivalries in the world’s leading sport, and a World Cup qualifier doesn’t require a seismic political event to ratchet up the level of intensity.

Still, on this occasion it was for the American sportsmen to worry that politics (and Trumpian-style invective about our southern neighbor) might rear their ugly head in a U.S.-Mexico showdown coming three days after the election. Michael Bradley, the U.S. captain, eloquently said before the game: “I would hope our fans do what they always do, which is support our team in the best, most passionate way possible. I would hope they give every person in that stadium the respect they deserve, whether they are American, Mexican, neutral, men, women, children. I hope every person that comes to the stadium comes ready to enjoy what we all want to be a beautiful game between two sporting rivals that have a lot of respect for each other, and hope that it’s a special night in every way.”

It ended up being a more special night for Mexico, which won 2-1. Politics was a subtext of the match (I know of Mexican-Americans who usually root for the U.S. who couldn’t help but root for Mexico in post-electoral solidarity), but there were no chants about building a wall or mass deportations.

In January, the Phoenix Suns are playing regular-season NBA games against the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs in Mexico City. Much like the NFL, with its estimated 20 million avid fans in Mexico and talk of a possible franchise there, the NBA doesn’t see America’s neighbor to the south as the poor, conniving disaster of a country depicted in the recent election. Instead, American pro basketball is treating Mexico as a venue for future growth: a dynamic market with an expanding middle class and an appetite for American goods, culture, and entertainment. As do the U.S. cities these NBA teams represent, all of whom are organizing events alongside the games to try to attract more Mexican investment, trade, and tourism.

Mexico is the second largest buyer of U.S. goods in the world, a market whose importance to most Fortune 500 companies cannot be overstated. These companies increasingly see North America as one integrated manufacturing platform too, a manufacturer that is more competitive with other parts of the world as a cohesive unit. Politicians bash companies like Ford for opening plants in Mexico, but 40 percent of the components of the goods imported from these plants are produced in the U.S., demonstrating how porous the border has become as an economic matter, and just how seamless the back-and-forth is within North American supply chains.

One underappreciated danger for both American and Mexican workers is that companies will be spooked by populist protectionism and take more of their global manufacturing out of North America altogether.

Back in the realm of sports diplomacy, one way for North Americans to transcend the ugliness of politics and assert a shared identity would be by hosting a World Cup together. The 2026 World Cup is the next one to be awarded, and the North American region is a strong contender, given the tournament’s traditional rotation among continents. Both Mexico and the U.S. are expected to submit compelling bids.

There has also been talk throughout the year of a potential joint U.S.-Mexico bid; World Cups are typically played in eight host cities, and there’s the precedent of Japan and South Korea sharing the 2002 Cup. But that talk was followed by speculation that Trump’s election makes a joint bid less likely.

It would be a shame to abandon the idea on account of politics. Quite the contrary: A shared North American World Cup (can we include Toronto too?) is needed, now more than ever.

(Andrés Martinez is the executive editor of Zócalo Public Square  … where this perspective was first posted.)

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CALIFORNIA POLITICS--Gov. Jerry Brown’s nomination of Democratic U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles to become the state’s first Latino Attorney General, replacing Senator-elect Kamala Harris, is a shrewd and surprising political move and a superb pick.

It not only instantly positions one of California’s most talented politicians as a national leader of anti-Trump progressive forces, but also prepares the state for looming bitter legal battles against the president-elect’s reactionary policies on immigration, health care and climate change.

Becerra is keenly aware of the challenges.

“Right now, when California continues to lean forward on so many issues: environment, clean energy, immigration, criminal justice and consumer protection, we’re going to need a chief law enforcement office to advance those positions and protect them,” he told the Sacramento Bee.

All in all, it’s the first bit of good news we’ve had since election night. (even though we were poised to endorse furniture breaker and populist legal bruiser Joe Cotchett for the job).

Political gamers impressed. Becerra, 58, is the son of Mexican immigrants who grew up in Sacramento, earned his undergraduate and law degrees at Stanford and has served as a leader of the House Democratic and Congressional Hispanic Caucuses. He also has served in the California Assembly and as deputy attorney general under John Van de Kamp.

“Once again, Brown surprises,” said Democratic consultant Garry South, noting that Becerra’s name was not on anyone’s speculation list of potential appointments to fill the last two years of Harris’s term.

“This is not a Rose Bird kind of appointment,” South added, referring to the controversial former chief justice of the California Supreme Court whom Brown appointed in 1977. “He has the experience, character and background to be a credible attorney general.”

“It’s a shrewd pick,” drawled graybeard California Democratic consultant Bill Carrick, describing Becerra as “really smart, politically savvy and somebody who can manage that office.”

The political implications of Becerra’s nomination – his confirmation by the Democratically controlled California Assembly and Senate is all but assured – are myriad.

No sooner was the ink dry on Brown announcement of Becerra’s nomination when former Assembly Speaker John Perez declared he would run to fill Becerra’s seat in Congress, which is liable to be hotly contested. Speculation about other political impacts came fast and furious. Asked Thursday by NBC’s Chuck Todd whether he would rule out running for governor or U.S. Senate in 2018, Becerra artfully sidestepped and said only he will be grateful to be confirmed as attorney general.

Which leaves speculation running rampant about:

– Attorney General: Democratic Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones – who has tangled with Gov. Brown over regulation of insurance rates in the past — had already announced his intention to seek the AG’s job in 2018; with Becerra holding the office with the ability to seek two full terms, the likelihood of an internal party contest for the post arose immediately. As the first Latino AG with a wide national network, however, Becerra would be in a prohibitively strong position to seek election to the post. Jerry serves his revenge cold.

– Governor: Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Treasurer John Chiang all have announced bids for governor in 2018, as has Delaine Eastin, former Superintendent of Public Instruction. Other possible contenders include billionaire climate change activist Tom Steyer, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and former State Controller Steve Westly, to name a few.

While Becerra would make another top-tier potential candidate for governor, Calbuzz insiders on Thursday suggested he is unlikely to jump into the 2018 race for governor. In part, it’s expected that during Legislative confirmation hearings he’ll have to say he intends to serve as attorney general, and in order to run for governor he would have to pivot almost immediately to planning a campaign or 2018. The timing and optics would be ugly. (Prince Gavin and Tony V especially can likely breathe a sigh of relief.)

– U.S. Senate: What remains less clear is what would happen in 2018 if, at the last minute – her preferred timeline – 83-year-old U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (who will then be 85) decides to retire and the Democrats are scrambling for a first-rate replacement who could step into the job seamlessly. Although California Secretary of State Alex Padilla is said to be eager to seek Feinstein’s job, Becerra might look to many Democrats as a stronger choice. (Difi, showing no signs of slowing down, has staked out a high-profile position to scrap with Trump in Washington, as the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee and close ally of Democratic Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York).

In the meantime, Becerra has an opportunity to play a crucial role as the chief law enforcement officer of the largest state – one where Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by more than four million (!) votes – which is also a leader on climate change, immigration, health care, civil rights, women’s rights and so much more.

Bottom line: We’ve met with and interviewed Becerra several times and came away extremely impressed. Jerry Brown has made an inspired choice and allied himself with a forceful, intelligent Latino politician who we expect to carry the banner against Trumpism and all its despicable effects, while competently carrying out the duties of California’s Attorney General.

Nice work, Gandalf.

(Jerry Roberts is a California journalist who writes, blogs and hosts a TV talk show about politics, policy and media. Phil Trounstine is the former political editor of the San Jose Mercury News, former communications director for California Gov. Gray Davis and was the founder and director of the Survey and Policy Research Institute at San Jose State University. This piece appeared first in CalBuzz.)

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On June 15, 2012, President Obama created a new policy calling for deferred action for certain undocumented young people mainly Latino who came to the U.S. as children. Applications under the program which is called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) began on August 15, 2012. 

This policy allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children … through no fault of their own … to come out of the shadows and receive a temporary work authorization and protection from deportation. 

According to the Immigration Equality website, deferred action is a discretionary, limited immigration benefit by DHS. It can be granted to individuals who are in removal proceedings, who have final orders of removal, or who have never been in removal proceedings. Individuals who have deferred action status can apply for employment authorization and are in the U.S. under color of law. 

There is no direct path from deferred action to lawful permanent residence or to citizenship.  And, it can be revoked at any time. 

President-elect Trump said on the campaign trail that he plans to reverse Obama’s executive actions and orders, which would include DACA. If the Trump administration decides to end DACA, it would be at the discretion of DHS secretary to determine priorities and whether protected status is removed together with work permits. 

President Obama has asked Trump and the incoming administration “to think long and hard before they are endangering that status of what for all practical purposes are American kids.” Roughly 750,000 people were issued temporary protected status and, separately, work authorization. 

“These are kids who were brought here by their parents. They did nothing wrong. They’ve gone to school. They have pledged allegiance to the flag. Some of them have joined the military. They’ve enrolled in school. By definition, if they’re part of this program, they are solid, wonderful young people of good character,” Obama said during a press conference last month after the election. 

“And it is my strong belief that the majority of the American people would not want to see those kids have to start hiding again. And that’s something that I will encourage the president-elect to look at.” 

This is really basic common human decency and compassion. This group of ‘Americans’ may not have a paper that says it but they are in every sense of the word Americans. They don’t know any other country. Some don’t even speak Spanish. They are law abiding and productive members of our communities. Let’s not wreck their lives for no reason. 

I’m very hopeful that our new President will do the right thing.

 

(Fred Mariscal writes Latino Perspective for CityWatch. He came to Los Angeles from Mexico City in 1992 to study at the University of Southern California and has been in LA ever since. He can be reached at fred.gwnc@gmail.com.)

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POLITICS--When newly-elected Donald Trump took his family to a restaurant for dinner without telling the public recently, the press flipped out. A chorus of complaints swelled across the land and apoplexy ensued among the news media.

“He didn’t tell us!”
“He’d supposed to let us know!”
“That’s not how it’s done!”
“We should have come along and sat outside while he ate steak!”

Journalists and editorial writers pilloried Mr. Trump for leaving home and traveling five blocks to a restaurant. Those same reporters, along with editors and news executives, issued thoughtful pleas about the importance of documenting a chief executive-to-be’s movements.

I’m not here to defend the president-elect’s behavior or suggest that his unwillingness to play by traditional rules of engagement with the press is not a big deal. I’m a newspaper reporter, after all. And as the City Hall reporter for the only newspaper in McComb, Mississippi, I hardly find it remarkable when the mayor travels the three blocks from his office to the Dinner Bell restaurant without first notifying me.

I am here instead to suggest—from deep and unusual personal experience—that the news media and everyone else might do well to prepare for a lot more breaking of protocol.

I was the personal aide, AKA “Body Man,” to a governor of California who at the time of his election was one of the five or six most famous people on earth. Like Donald Trump, Arnold Schwarzenegger proclaimed himself an outsider, a non-politician. His first campaign, like Trump’s, was a circus, with the sheer force of his persona flattening most criticisms and every opponent.

“I’m rich so I’m not beholden to special interests,” he said. “I’ll fix a broken system,” he said. Trump’s “drain the swamp” sounds a lot like Schwarzenegger’s “blow up the boxes.”

There is of course a vast difference of scale between a president and a governor, even a superhuman governor like Arnold Schwarzenegger. A governor isn’t responsible for national defense and doesn’t negotiate treaties with other countries. A governor doesn’t tend to travel in a 50-vehicle motorcade with an ambulance in it. A governor doesn’t have access to nuclear codes.

But I believe there are lessons to be learned from Schwarzenegger’s behavior as governor that will help us understand Trump’s as president, at least based on how he has conducted himself in the first weeks since his election.

Early in the Schwarzenegger era—like Trump, even before he took office—calls of “It’s always been done this way” began to be tossed about.

“You’ll have to be in the Capitol every day to meet staff and legislators. You’ll have to be here to sign bills. That’s how it’s done.”

It took a while, but Arnold chipped away at “It’s always been done this way” until the Sacramento apparatchiks got it through their heads that the governor could do business sitting by his swimming pool 400 miles from the Capitol if he wanted to.

One thing people didn’t press the governor to do was move his family from Los Angeles to Sacramento. California was at the time one of just a handful of states with no governor’s residence. That and Arnold’s four school-age kids gave him a pass on the relocation bit.

Instead he took up part-time residence in a two-bedroom hotel suite across the street from the State Capitol. Several nights a week, he slept in one bedroom, I in the other. Between the manly-man Republican action hero and the 40-something gay Democrat, we were an odd couple if ever there was one.

“What must people think … the two of us living here like this?” he said one night as he switched off the lamp in our living room before heading to his bedroom. But I don’t believe he fretted much about what people thought, about his living arrangements or anything else.

It took a while, but Arnold chipped away at “It’s always been done this way” until the Sacramento apparatchiks got it through their heads that the governor could do business sitting by his swimming pool 400 miles from the Capitol if he wanted to. Staff could fly to Los Angeles, their rolling suitcases, jammed with legislation, in tow. The mountain, it turned out, could indeed come to Mohammad.

In August 2004, less than a year after Arnold took office, he agreed to speak at a high-ticket Bush-Cheney fundraiser in Santa Monica. Our advance people and the California Highway Patrol team warned, “Governor, the Secret Service say you have to be there 30 minutes ahead of the president or they won’t let you in. They’ll shut down access.”

“Relax,” Arnold said, just as I heard him say several times a day for the seven years he held office. “Let’s go to Starbucks.” There were few things Arnold Schwarzenegger liked less than sitting and waiting. “No hanging” was a mantra.

“But Governor, the Secret Service …”

“Starbucks. Do you really think they’ll keep me out?” And he was right. He knew the power of his celebrity. Starbucks was a frequent tool for the killing of time, and the California Highway Patrol protective detail learned quickly to research Starbucks locations when plotting routes between events.

There is shorthand for a politician’s unplanned events or stops on a tour. An OTR, or Off The Record, is an unscheduled stop. There was the OTR at an H&M store in Philadelphia, where Arnold had seen interesting scarves in the window when driving past.

“What are you doing here?” the lady behind him in the checkout line asked.

“Buying scarves.”

“Makes sense,” she said.

OTRs are easier when you have your own airplane that won’t take off without you, as the governor did.

“Do you really think they’ll keep me out?” And he was right. He knew the power of his celebrity.

Then there was the jet ski OTR in Miami Beach. We were there for a conference on climate change but, as at most conferences, Arnold didn’t attend every panel, plenary, and roundtable.

“Let’s get some jet skis.”

“Uh, you’re supposed to be in the reception at 3.”

“Relax.”

Several staff members had to make quick trips to the hotel gift shop for swim trunks; others of us knew enough to have packed apparel for every Florida eventuality. It had to be an odd picture, Schwarzenegger and his posse traipsing across the sand to the surf, flanked by a team of plainclothes highway patrolmen in dark suits. It happened that we were crossing a topless beach but if the rest of the posse was titillated, I was not.

More times than I can count, the governor visited construction sites or industrial facilities where hardhats were required.

“Not gonna happen,” he would say, not breaking stride, to the man waving a hardhat in front of him.

“But it’s required!” By then it was too late.

He acquiesced only once in the headwear department, though it wasn’t with a hardhat. At Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance center in Jerusalem, a yarmulke is required when you enter the Hall of Remembrance to view the Eternal Flame. That time, the governor knew better than to quarrel.

Arnold’s reluctance to commit to schedules or events until the last minute sometimes meant squads of CHP officers sitting and waiting to cover every possible scenario. Teams gamely stationed themselves everywhere he was scheduled to go, or where he might go when he made up his mind. And if he decided not to go, the team drove or flew home, depending on how far away they were.

I made a wasted trip once myself. I had been dispatched to Idaho to set up a retreat for the governor’s senior staff in his vacation home. But as soon as I landed in Boise I received an email telling me to come back to California. The retreat was off. I hustled across the airport and made it onto a plane leaving just a few minutes later, but that was a $700 ticket on the state’s dime.

Despite Donald Trump’s thumb-your-nose approach to the traditional ways of doing things, I don’t think we’ll see him in H&M buying five-dollar scarves. But he could if he wanted to. And like the H&M visit, I don’t expect to see President Trump sea-doo-ing anytime soon. But one never knows.

One thing we can expect from President Trump is that “it’s always been done that way” won’t get us very far. We won’t like everything he does but we shouldn’t be surprised when he defies protocol. After all, breaking the rules of presidential campaigns is what got him elected.

(Clay Russell is a reporter for the McComb (Miss.) Enterprise-Journal and prides himself on his non-linear life path. A former professional chef, he lives with his husband and two cats in America’s Deep South. This piece was posted first at Zocalo Public Square.)

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@THE GUSS REPORT-This weekend’s deadly inferno in an Oakland warehouse that was used as, but not permitted as, a living space and concert venue is a warning shot for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, the LA City Council and especially its first-term District 4 representative David Ryu. The message it delivers to them is this: if you ignore repeated community warnings about dangerous conditions, someone, perhaps many people, may die on your watch. (As of Monday afternoon, the Oakland death toll stands at 36 and is expected to go higher.) 

In the communities surrounding LA’s world famous Hollywood sign, a major tourist attraction, members of its surrounding homeowners’ associations are furious with Ryu for what they say are broken campaign promises, and his becoming unreachable, regarding the ever worsening, dangerous conditions created by City Hall giving riskier and illegal access to the sign through extremely narrow and winding hillside streets. 

Locals primarily blame the conditions on two things. One is Ryu’s predecessor, Tom Labonge, the seemingly attention deficit challenged, termed-out City Hall lifer who ignored common sense. Locals say California’s environmental CEQA rules were ignored by Labonge in 2011 when he illegally used his own office staff to clear a perilous cliffside vista for tourists to view the sign, rather than going through city departments that have engineers, public safety and park experts. The other cause, they say, is technology like Google Maps, Yelp and ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft that allow tourists to share with one another closer, riskier access points to the sign. 

In the Spring 2015 primary for Labonge’s City Council seat, Ryu defeated outsider activists, as well as crusty City Hall heir-apparents, to face off against Labonge’s Chief of Staff, Carolyn Ramsay. In doing so, he sought and received help from Tony Fisch, a Hollywood Hills consultant and 12 other activists who met with Ryu to discuss well-documented dangers ranging from huge brushfires believed to be caused by tourists’ cigarettes, tourists driving off cliffs, and tourists seeking selfies -- sometimes with children in strollers – inches away from 200-foot plunges. 

According to Fisch, “Thirteen of us activists sat with (Ryu) in my living room at the beginning of the runoff. He said he’d assure our public safety and we were specific about the Vista.  After the election he asked us for residential consensus to close the Vista along with other safeguards. (We) hand-delivered 75% of residential signatures to him in his office. He said he would get back to us with a timeline, but we never heard from him again.” But now that Ryu is nearing the half-way point of his first term, Fisch says of Ryu, “He is a corrupt liar.” 

At Friday’s City Council meeting, when asked to comment on the subject, Ryu declined to answer “due to a lengthy Council meeting today.” But the meeting had only an eight-item agenda, much of which was ceremonial, and took only half as much time as Wednesday’s marathon four-hour meeting. He referred me instead to his Communications Director who talked about their conducting 50+ meetings about the subject, but could not provide any specific plans for dealing with the problems or meeting with Fisch and his activist neighbors again. 

On Saturday morning, I ventured high into Beachwood Canyon to speak with locals and to see first-hand what was going on. 

What I saw was nothing short of a cavalcade of chaos. I met Guy, a local house restorer who has lived in the area for four years. He estimated that, at the top of his extremely narrow road, which ends in a cul-de-sac, there are upward of 1200 to 1500 daily vehicle “turnarounds.” 

I witnessed tourist vehicles and Uber and Lyft drivers parking their cars in (and in front of) driveways and in the middle of the street. This is not only a back-breaking nuisance for residents, but a tremendous danger should first responders need to access the gated, dirt access road at the top of the street in the event of another brushfire. Sometimes, the ride share drivers drop off their fares and drive away, only to come back minutes later, doubling the traffic nuisance. 

Local parking enforcement officials expressed frustration that they have to patrol a large area, but that when they respond to calls for illegal driveway and street blocking, the tourists and ride share drivers jump back in their cars and drive away. 

Residents, it should be noted, welcome hikers and cyclists enjoying the scenery, although they say the city has done nothing to enforce limited hours of access to those trails, leading to drug and alcohol consumption, used condom disposal on their streets and late night bike riders. 

Bad as the conditions I witnessed were, this pales in comparison to something else I discovered…..coming soon.

 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a contributor to CityWatchLA, KFI AM-640 and Huffington Post. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.)

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-Remember this past July when we were sure Trump’s run for presidency would be toppled by the leaked Access Hollywood Bus Tapes? Months later, we’re trying to avert our eyes from early morning tweets, the Apprentice-scale Cabinet competition and buddy to buddy calls with foreign dignitaries. 

Back in 2013, two years after Anthony Weiner had resigned from Congress over a sexting scandal, the politician had risen from the ashes as a reformed family man and hero of the middle class but his NYC mayoral campaign came to a halt mid-primary season after another online relationship was revealed. Weiner revealed two days after dropping out of the Democratic primary that he had engaged in online sexually charged relationships with between six and ten women after leaving Congress. 

It would seem personal scandals can either stick like Velcro or bounce off a candidate’s back, depending upon the scenario or perhaps, depending upon the candidate. Closer to home, we wonder if LA Councilmember Jose Huizar’s “illustrious” past will place an obstacle before his possible Congressional run to fill the 34th Congressional District seat expected to be vacated by Rep. Xavier Becerra’s appointment to fill the final two years of Kamala Harris’s State Attorney General post. 

According to Huizar’s campaign aide, Rick Coca, the Chair of the Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee has been reported to be considering an election bid to represent the central and northeast areas of Los Angeles. Despite a past that includes a settled sexual harassment suit, an extramarital relationship, and a city-settled lawsuit over a fender-bender, he managed to get reelected to his third and final full council term last year. 

Just a year earlier, in 2014, Huizar was in the center of not one but two lawsuits. In March, the LA City Council voted unanimously to approve a $185,000 settlement to David Ceja, a former Huntington Park police officer. Ceja’s 2002 Saturn was hit by Huizar’s city-owned SUV in October 2011. Ceja’s attorney had filed an initial claim against the city for over $500,000 in December, questioning whether the council member had received special treatment from LAPD since, according to the attorney, the investigators had waited 2 ½ hours to administer a breathalyzer test, which came out clean. A few weeks prior to the settlement, Ceja’s attorney stated he had no concerns about the police treatment. 

Just months later, Huizar agreed to settle a 2013 sexual harassment case brought by his former deputy chief of staff, Francine Godoy (photo left), who did not obtain a payout from the city, though the city did have to pony up tax dollars for Huizar’s legal fees. In April, the council had voted to approve up to $200,000 to the firm representing Huizar, though it was unclear whether the limit had been reached. 

Godoy alleged in her suit that her former boss had retaliated against her for refusing to submit to his request for sexual favors, a charge Huizar denied, although he did admit to an extramarital relationship with Godoy, who had worked for Huizar from 2006-2013. During her employment, her salary had grown from about $47,000 to over $132,000, according to personnel department officials. Godoy alleged that Huizar denied her promotions, forced her transfer and pressured her to quit her job. She also alleged he had sabotaged her attempted run for Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees in 2012. 

A panel that investigated her complaints concluded a lack of evidence to support her allegations of discrimination and retaliation but did find that she had received pay raises multiple times at a “faster rate” than other staffers in Huizar’s office. 

As reported in City Watch, last week, the LA City Planning Commission (and Huizar) gave a billionaire developer a green light for special spot-zoning for his 20-story luxe high-rise known as “333 La Cienega,” proposed for the intersection of La Cienega and San Vicente, “opening the door to more tall development in the area.” CityWatch reported that Rick Caruso and his associates at Caruso Affiliated Holdings had contributed over $120,000 in campaign contributions to 42 candidates in LA. Caruso has contributed $65,750 to elected officials, including $2,200 to Huizar. 

Do you think Huizar’s past will catch up with him if he decides to run for Becerra’s congressional seat? We’ll have to wait to see.

 

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GUEST COMMENTARY--The Coalition for Economic Survival (CES) has expressed deep concern and outrage at President-Elect Donald Trump's announcement today of the selection of Ben Carson to be the new Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). CES does not believe Carson has the knowledge, experience, ability, compassion or commitment to the goals of HUD to lead the nation's housing agency. 

Over the last 4 decades, CES has been the leading organization in the Los Angeles area that has provided outreach, education and organizing assistance to tenants living in HUD subsidized housing in an effort to preserve this important and significant number of affordable housing units. 

HUD oversees federal rental assistance programs that serve over 5 million of the country's lowest income households, as well as administers tens of billions of dollars in community development, disaster recovery, and homeless assistance funding, enforces fair housing laws and acts as one of the largest mortgage insurers in the world. HUD plays a critical role in alleviating poverty, stabilizing and revitalizing communities, increasing the educational attainment and incomes of low-income families, and providing safe, affordable homes to deeply poor elderly or disabled families. 

But by his own admission, Carson has stated that he "feels he has no government experience, he's never run a federal agency. The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency," when his name was suggest to head the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Carson's aide, Armstrong Williams, has stated recently, "He's never run an agency and it's a lot to ask. He's a neophyte and that's not his strength," 

Carson has been deeply critical of social welfare programs. He has characterized the country's safety net of cash assistance, housing allowances and social services as a failure that perpetuates dependence on government. 

He is known for offering provocative commentary on a wide range of issues, including comparing the modern American government to Nazi Germany in a March 2014 interview with Breitbart, and saying at the Voter Values Summit in 2013 that Obamacare is "the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery." 

In a 2015 opinion for The Washington Times, Carson compared an Obama administration's "Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing" regulation to "the failure of school busing" because it would place affordable housing "primarily in wealthier neighborhoods with few current minority residents." 

The regulation is designed to end decades-old segregation by offering affluent areas incentives to build affordable housing. Critics, including Carson, called it government overreach. 

Ben Carson is totally unqualified to be HUD Secretary. HUD is among the most important federal agencies tasked with ensuring compliance with the Fair Housing Act, and creating affordable, preventing housing discrimination and ensuring inclusive communities. Ben Carson has shown a complete disregard and open hostility to government efforts to confront racist and discriminatory practices in the housing industry. 

The appointment of Ben Carson indicates that Donald Trump and his admiration has a complete disregard for tenants' rights and an absolute lack of commitment to ensuring America's poor will have a roof over their heads that is decent and that is one they can afford. This clearly is not a holiday present low-income HUD tenants wanted."\

 

(Larry Gross is the Executive Director of the Coalition for Economic Survival and an occasional CityWatch contributor.)

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LAPD WATCH--We’re not against the police. We’re not against the police department, but we are against police who commit misconduct (and those who help cover it up.) 

A Los Angeles Police Department internal email shows that the department has misclassified up to 80% of aggravated assaults as simple assaults. That’s important because if they can label a crime as belonging to the Part II family of crimes it doesn’t get counted in the overall violence crime statistics reported publicly -- the only numbers that really matter to the LAPD and City Hall. 

A November 3, 2016 email from the Commanding Officer of COMPSTAT Division John Neuman, shows that between January 1, 2015 and October 29, 2016 an inspection of simple assault crimes that included a dangerous weapon were classified by the department as a less serious Part II crime when they should have been classified as a more serious Part I crime like an aggravated assault or robbery. 

According to Neuman’s email: 

“The inspection is looking at a total of 1,792 Simple Assaults Citywide from the past 22 months. A very quick sampling of such showed that up to 80% of these were misclassified.” 

Neuman’s email also indicated that the department was taking steps internally to fix the numbers but made no mention of alerting the public. If the department doesn’t fix and release the adjusted actual and real violent crime statistics for 2015 they’ll never be able to get an accurate account of the increase or decrease in crime from 2014. The same goes for 2015 and 2016. 

Neuman’s emails seems to indicate that this was a random sampling so I am sure the number is much higher. 

This isn’t the first time the LAPD has been caught cooking the books, though. 

In 2015, the Los Angeles Times reported that 14,000 serious assaults had been misclassified as minor offenses during an eight-year period, thus lowering the city’s crime levels. An internal audit by the department’s inspector general said that number was 25,000. The Times reported that, “More than a quarter of the errors were due to the LAPD failing to count cases in which suspects brandished weapons as aggravated assaults.” 

At the time, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said they were taking steps to correct the problem. We’re now headed into 2017 and apparently the problem still isn’t fixed. 

Here’s the email from John Neuman: 

 

It looks like not only will the department have to adjust its numbers but also so will Chief Beck. If these numbers are off, then his weekly report of crime statistics is off too.

 

And finally, while we don’t blame the LAPD for the increase or decrease in crime–quite frankly that’s all on the public they police–we do expect Chief Beck and co. to be forthcoming and honest about what the numbers really are.

 

(Jasmyne A. Cannick lives in Los Angeles and is a frequent commentator on local and national politics, social and race issues. Cannick is an occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for City Watch by Linda Abrams.

‘NO ONE SHOULD DIE THIS WAY’-The deadly warehouse fire in Oakland, California that claimed the lives of at least 36 people at a Friday night dance party was a symptom of the Bay Area's massive housing crisis, artists and advocates are saying. 

The Fruitvale-area warehouse, known as Ghost Ship, was a live-work space that supported underground artists and provided makeshift residences for people priced out of rapidly gentrifying Bay Area cities. It lacked basic fire safety mechanisms, which came into play on Friday as the blaze broke out at the electronic music party and engulfed the building, blocking the main escape path—a rickety staircase—and quickly becoming what may be the deadliest structural fire in Oakland's history.

As cadaver searches continue on the property, tenants' rights activists and Bay Area residents say the tragedy happened because of a lack of access to affordable housing fueled in large part by the technology boom that has transformed San Francisco into one of the most expensive cities in the world. They say housing policies have continually failed to protect marginalized communities and force low-income people to take up increasingly unsafe residences.

Ghost Ship housed some two dozen people who lived together as an artist collective. According to officials, the death toll is expected to rise. Local PBS affiliate KQED compiled a list of ways people can support relief efforts. 

"No one should die this way. No one should have to live without proper fire safety measures in their home just to try to make ends meet, just to try to make art, just to be in the city," the Oakland-based tenants' rights organization Causa Justa (Just Cause) wrote on Facebook on Saturday. "Black and Latino working class Oaklanders are pushing for habitability and affordability solutions for our city, for this very reason." 

"If you can't afford to buy a million-dollar home, then you can't afford to live in this city unless you're willing to risk your safety. And that's unconscionable," Causa Justa director María Poblet told the Guardian.

Gabe Meline, online arts editor for KQED, wrote in an op-ed on Sunday titled "It Could Have Been Any One of Us" that the warehouse spaces sought out by these communities "are what have kept us alive." 

"For the tormented queer, the bullied punk, the beaten trans, the spat-upon white trash, the disenfranchised immigrants, and young people of color, these spaces are a haven of understanding in a world that doesn't understand—or can't, or doesn't seem to want to try," he wrote, continuing:

They don't understand why we don't just live in a $3,000/mo. apartment where everything is safe and sterile and clean; why we live in a warehouse, or a garage, or an attic or shed or laundry room; why there is a mattress on the floor with a space heater where there normally would be a Queen size bed with a duvet and a nightstand and central heating.

[....] They don't understand that we do not fit into the boxes the world tries to sell us. That their world is unacceptable, and that even for all the ragged edges, we need our own world on our own terms.

Nihar Bhatt, a DJ and record label owner who survived the fire, told the Guardian, "Warehouse parties have been a central part of Oakland for decades. There's a movement in Oakland of experimental black and brown and queer people who don't necessarily want to be in a bar or a club."

Many of the underground venues that provide space for these communities operate without license in buildings that are not up to code. Yet when tenants do raise concerns about unsafe conditions, they may find themselves simply being evicted by city managers who deem the buildings too dangerous to live in, as happened earlier this year with another Oakland warehouse.

Such an eviction often allows real estate developers to buy up the property and transform it into luxury housing or other profitable venue.

As Oakland musician Tarik Kazaleh told the Guardian, "That's a slumlord landlord's best-case scenario. They'll just get a tech firm and get more money."

Jonah Strauss, a record engineer, added, "Lack of affordable living spaces is the single greatest threat to Oakland arts and music."

Musician Kimya Dawson wrote on Facebook, "It's hard to find words. I have played in so many spaces with precarious floors and beams and stairs and not enough exits and certainly no sprinklers. Warehouses, squats, basements, rooftops, barns. Playing music saves my life. People tell me listening to music saves their lives. People telling me that my music saved their life saves my life even more. And we take the risks. Playing and listening in unsafe spaces. Because when we feel like we are dying anyway the risks don't seem as risky as the risks we already face every day."

Oakland District Attorney Nancy O'Malley on Sunday announced she had opened a criminal probe into the fire. As always seems to be the case, it comes too late to matter to 30-plus lives.

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

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Fix the City, a neighborhood watchdog group, has sued the city of Los Angeles over its dubious handling of the 8150 Sunset mega-project, a highly controversial development proposed by Townscape Partners and designed by famed architect Frank Gehry. 

Activists and residents have long decried that 8150 Sunset, a giant mixed-use development located at Sunset and Crescent Heights boulevards, is too big for the surrounding area, will ruin neighborhood character and close down a public street and will cause more traffic nightmares at a gridlocked intersection.

While LA City Council member David Ryu of District 4 gained some concessions from Townscape Partners, residents still believed 8150 Sunset was mightily flawed — and Fix the City has now filed a lawsuit. The City Council approved the oversized development in November.

In the lawsuit, Fix the City states that City Hall violated the City Charter and several state laws, including the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The suit also charges that the city’s Planning Department “acted as spin doctors for [Townscape Partners] by concealing information from decision makers and the public about the issues [Fix the City] identified in its appeals that presented serious legal problems underlying the project’s approvals. These are critical safety concerns. Closing a street in a fire district within an earthquake zone shows a callous disregard for public safety.”

And the lawsuit drops the bombshell that only “after the project’s approval was final were internal emails released that City staff had concerns about many of the issues raised in Fix the City’s appeals…including the improper vacation of a city street, improper use of a city parcel of land, failure to satisfy earthquake safety requirements and required implementation of CEQA mitigation measures to ensure adequate emergency response and traffic capacity. Planning staff ignored the concerns from other departments that the project could not be approved as presented without other discretionary approvals.”

Neighborhood activists have long contended that the city’s planning department works only on the behalf of developers, regularly ignoring residents’ concerns. Now, apparently, the planning department also ignores other city agencies.

It’s just one of many reasons that Angelenos believe LA’s planning and land-use system is rigged, unfair and broken — and why a growing, citywide grassroots movement is now focused on reforming that system through the ballot measure known as the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.

(Patrick Range McDonald writes for 2PreserveLA.  Check it out. See if you don’t agree it will help end buying favors at City Hall.)

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POLITICS--On the mourning [sic] after I was brought up short by this common lawn sign. 

It seemed to me then that few really comprehended the tragedy our children were experiencing.

Parents got it, at least the “attached” ones; I had been sympathizing all day with multiple, numerous parents who had all been wide awake at four am rocking and comforting, holding children – even teenagers – who simply could not sleep. Inconsolable they trembled, they cried, they were just so fearful that sleep would never come. They seemed not to have developed the coping mechanism of maturity that enables sticking one’s head in the sand or underneath the covers and simply willing oblivion in the form of sleep.

I was always enamored of the parenting philosophy that exhorted not lying to children with false platitudes about “everything being OK” when reality dictates that no one knows what will be, OK or otherwise, and moreover, our children never were so dumb as to not know this. The prudent course, the philosophy urges, is to assert no untruths, just be there, rock in solidarity and sympathy, hold and touch and breath together.

By now I think it is clear to many the urgency and fear our children reflexively expressed that night. So many of us adults thought to count to ten, wait, give patience and forbearance a chance. Our children felt otherwise.

Time belies the wisdom of “maturity”, sometimes. The rogue’s gallery of advisers and actors is a searing signal of the pain to come, the nail in the coffin of America’s lower 99%, and all quite independent of the bogus claims of the orange scalawag.

It’s not new, any of this. People have been warning against the aspirational lure of two-birds-in-the-bush trumping one-in-hand since time immemorial. People abdicating their best interests in favor of a pipe-dream is one of mankind’s older stories, as is the corollary pain of choosing the lesser of two evils: Ecclesiastes IX – A living dog is better than a dead lion

Day after day the Golden Rule remains unassailable, if reworked for Californian car-culture: Drive Like Your Kids Live Here. They’re watching you, they’re learning from you, your job is to secure their future. In their future lies your best interest.

But with this election we have repudiated our children alongside the parable. We have sanctioned separation and segregation, different rules for different folks; a Wall.

This is a time of crisis, to decide whether the fear is substantive or metaphoric, whether this is the second for action or watchful waiting.

I approve the advice from one child’s teacher: “Brush Your Teeth and Do Your Homework”.

But I wish I knew how to steer clear of our children’s fears.

(Sara Roos is a politically active resident of Mar Vista, a biostatistician, the parent of two teenaged LAUSD students and a CityWatch contributor, who blogs at redqueeninla.com)

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GELFAND’S WORLD--Here is a curious story that follows on the Seabreeze scandal.  You may recall that the Seabreeze developers put a little more than half a million dollars into the accounts of local politicians. They got their way on the development, in spite of local protests. The LA Times story mentioned that Council District 15's councilman Joe Buscaino (photo above) was the recipient of $90,000 of that money. Buscaino is quoted in a news story (and telling a radio interviewer) that the way the money was allegedly collected, if true, is illegal. That's the word he used. 

So the next time we had a local neighborhood council meeting, I asked the councilman's representative about that money. I asked, "Has he made any decision about giving it back?" 

It seems like an obvious question. It also seems like a question that the councilman would love to answer if he is really on the up and up. So what answer did I get? 

Like I said, the story is curious because the answer was curious. I was told that I would have to ask the campaign, because this is a campaign matter. 

I can sympathize with the councilman's representative, because he was in the position that Tom Wolfe referred to as a "flak catcher." The rep is there to take flak for an elected official who isn't going to come to the meeting. There's no easy way out for a question like this. If he says that the money will be donated to charity, that is something of an admission that the councilman accepted a bad campaign contribution. If he doesn't say so, then the public is left to think that the councilman is holding onto $90,000 worth of tainted money. Still, there is every reason for the politician to answer the question immediately because otherwise, it will keep coming up and thereby do much more political damage than if it were answered promptly. 

But instead we got this gobbledygook of a non-answer. 

Sorry, but the question goes well beyond campaign finance by itself. It is relevant because it bears on the performance of the office and on the public's evaluation of the job being carried out by the councilman. Crooked or straight? Straightforward or evasive? 

It's a stretch to try to convince people that the staffers are avoiding answering the question out of ethical considerations. Yes, it's important to keep the staffers from taking on electoral jobs while they are being paid by the city for city work. But this question wasn't inviting the staffer to hand out campaign literature or sing the official campaign song. It was an invitation to inform the public that the office is not compromised by dirty money. The evasion by councilman Buscaino's representative seemed fishy. 

Having $90,000 of illegal money in your bank account ought to be embarrassing. It's hard to imagine the councilman not having a prepared answer. Its equally hard to imagine the councilman's staff not being coached in how to give that answer. 

But no. As of now, the people of San Pedro represented by the neighborhood council haven't had their question answered. The question goes right to the issue of ethics in campaigning. 

Thanks to Tony and Dan for taking up the stakeholder definition argument 

I have been singularly honored this year by having my City Watch column on neighborhood council stakeholder status be answered by two (count 'em) columns which call me by name and disagree with my views. Tony Butka and Dr Dan Wiseman have added to a debate which began before there were neighborhood councils, continued with the Neighborhood Council Review Commission, and survives to the present day. I'd like to offer a couple of recent thoughts on the matter. But first, I'd like to mention a definitive piece on the origins, political and philosophical, of the system. 

I would love to be able to say that I wrote that piece, but the honor goes to Robert Greene's article "Not in my neighborhood council,"  published in the August 26, 2004 edition of LA Weekly. It's been 12 years since that article came out, and a lot has changed, but the overview of how the councils were formed out of a mass of confusion and self-contradictory rules was true back then and continues to define us even now. Here's just one example. The legal requirement was that each neighborhood council be diverse, but the law didn't explain how to reconcile that rule with the reality of voters who select non-diverse governing boards. In practice, the city government has figured out that allowing the voters to select their own representatives, no matter how non-diverse they may be, is the way to go. 

An issue that Greene pointed out was the tension between competing ideals: the neighborhood council as the people's lobbyist vs. the neighborhood council as just another of the city's governmental go-alongs. (As an example of this tension, imagine how a council operating as the people's lobbyist would have handled the Seabreeze scandal. The question should at least have appeared on the agenda!) 

I suspect that it is these built in contradictions that continue to drive the discussion of what a neighborhood council should be, and in particular, how we should define who gets to vote in a neighborhood council's election. I've presented an argument that limiting voting rights to residents of the neighborhood council district makes a lot of sense for a number of reasons. Still, I would be the first to admit that my proposal limits the scope of participation at the electoral level. 

My argument was that limiting electoral participation strengthened the effectiveness of each council by defining it as the true spokesman for a particular group of residents. Specifically, your City Council representative understands that you represent his constituency when he hears from you. To the extent that he sees you as a statistical sample of his entire voting constituency, he will take your views seriously. 

The alternative -- wider participation by geographic outsiders -- certainly broadens the scope of who can play in any one council. Whether it ultimately improves city government or lessens the effectiveness of the councils by making them look less representative to the members of the City Council is one key question. The other key question is whether the current definition is so broad that it seriously harms our ability to do business. I think Dr Wiseman has sketched out his vision of a broader system for stakeholder status quite nicely. I suspect that ultimately, our disagreement on this point is a value judgment. I can't prove that he is wrong because his argument is logical. My argument is equally logical, but based on a different vision of what the councils are for. 

One thought that keeps occurring to me is that our neighborhood councils are way too large, particularly when you think about a neighborhood unit that is designed to prepare for a large disaster. A population much larger than about 4000 is getting to be too big. A group of 4-5000 people is optimum for citizen participation; at least some studies have suggested this. Instead, we have neighborhood councils that range from about 20,000 up to four and five times this number. Lots of smaller councils with proportionately smaller budgets would be better for disaster preparedness and, I suspect, for citizen participation. How such a system would work with regard to City Council relationships is a harder question, to be left for another day. 

The idea here is not to pound on theoretical niceties, but to consider the practicalities. If our city had a thousand small groups instead of about a hundred large groups, the smaller groups would be getting lots more done in the aggregate. Yes, we would have to develop better regional and citywide alliances, but at least we would have a chance to do great things. It doesn't take a lot of thought to realize that smaller councils would be more likely to represent the immediate concerns of residents rather than trying to be all things to all people. 

One other thought. I notice that a lot of neighborhood councils, including those in my own region, take a lot of time and resources to communicate to their stakeholders. Unfortunately, they seem to be spending the most effort just in communicating their own existence. It's not a bad idea to use your communications resources to build up the number of participants, but this is just the first part of what should be the goal. The next part is to become the go-to organization for your constituents to voice their concerns. But you're still not done. The real goal is to turn the information you've received from your constituents into political power being used on behalf of their views. 

Communications is not the game. It's just one tool. Political power used on behalf of your constituents is the goal.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net) 

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LABOR ON IMMIGRATION-Maria Elena Durazo knows about immigrant workers, labor and civil rights. She has been the hospitality union UNITE HERE’s General Vice President for Immigration, Civil Rights and Diversity since 2014. Before that she was the first woman executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which represents 600,000 workers, many of whom are immigrants and Latinos. She became a force for labor and living standards in the nation’s second-largest city -- and a thought-leader for the rest of the nation. 

When she was growing up, Durazo’s farm-worker family picked crops up and down the West Coast. Recalling that time, she told film maker Jesús Treviño, “As migrant farm workers, my dad would load us up on a flatbed truck and we would go from town to town and pick whatever crop was coming up. I think of my dad when he had to negotiate with contratistas [contractors]. I knew we worked so hard and the contratistas were chiseling us down to pennies. What was pennies to them meant food on the table for us.” 

Durazo spoke with Capital & Main about the threats to working people and immigrants from a new Trump administration -- and how to fight back. 

Capital & Main: Let’s begin with the Big Question. What do you see as the next battle fronts for labor and immigration -- what needs defending? 

Maria Elena Durazo: There is a great degree of worry about Trump giving permission to do harm in our communities, to immigrant families and immigrant neighborhoods–permission for people to attack, to harass kids, adults. 

Our job in the labor movement is to create safe-work places. Here in Los Angeles, and in a number of cities, officials are standing up and saying we’re not going to allow our local police to cooperate with ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.] Our schools are saying we’re not going to allow ICE to come in. 

Families have an earthquake plan. Who do you call? How do you react? How do we protect ourselves? That’s the very first level, and we have to give confidence to our communities. We know how to be safe. Let’s remember that and do that stuff right away. 

C&M: The president-elect has said he intends to cut federal funds to cities that don’t collaborate with federal authorities on immigration policies. Local municipalities are saying no—Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has staked out his position–but what happens? Los Angeles could lose $500 million this fiscal year. 

MED: Remember the threats around apartheid? There were threats that pension funds in cities that divested from South Africa would be breaking the law…threats of lawsuits. Then divestment happened across the board. But it took a few to start it, to have the courage to say we’re not going to be threatened that way. 

C&M: Some people called President Obama the “deporter-in-chief”—news reports cite 2.4 million “removals” during his administration. Is that title fair? 

MED: He certainly dramatically increased the number of border patrol agents. We in the labor and immigrant rights movement had big clashes with President Obama. He did try to do a version of [having] local law enforcement cooperate with ICE. We fought that. 

At first he didn’t agree with giving deferred action to young people. ( DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals  -- the Dreamers.) We pushed back, and he eventually agreed with it. He tried very hard to get a complete overhaul of the immigration laws and immigration system. He tried in his way. We certainly pushed in our way. We got as far as bipartisan Senate approval of a piece of legislation.

Other Republicans were adamant about blocking him at every single step. He only got as far as the enforcement part of it, which is why he was given the title. But other than DACA, he was never able to get the other pieces of legislative immigration reform. 

C&M: What lies ahead for the DACA students? There are some 750,000 young people completing their educations and working under a temporary protected status -- it seems that makes them a very vulnerable population for deportation. 

MED: Unless we fight back harder they present an opportunity for Trump to be able to say, “See? I’m doing things. I told you I was going to do something.” 

C&M: How real is President-elect Trump’s immigration rhetoric –“round them all up”? Should people be as afraid as they feel? 

MED: We should be worried about that. Not just worried, we should be acting on what he pledged to do, and what he continues to say he’s going to do. 

The people that he’s considering for these different [government] positions are very serious. It’s not a threat. It’s a very explicit promise. 

The other danger is to use the term “criminals” as a pretext to deport millions. [Trump] never said the majority of immigrants are hard-working men and women. There are at maximum a few hundred thousand immigrants [and] some that have had a run-in with law enforcement. That’s the pretext for going after millions. That’s the scary part because he knows people in this country could fall for that.

How many civil rights laws in our history have been violated–as recently as George W. Bush, as far back as what was done to Japanese Americans? In the 1950s we had the deportations of Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants. It wasn’t in the millions, but it certainly was at least in the hundreds of thousands. We’ve been through this. Are we in a position to fight back and refuse? 

C&M: How do we refuse? 

MED: There’s no doubt in my mind we have all the makings across this country to push back and show him. We won marriage equality, we’ve pushed and we’ve won a number of things on the environmental front. 

A million people march in the streets. We’ll disobey and we’ll have solidarity. We’re showing that in Los Angeles. We’re showing that in other cities. We have police chiefs saying they will not cooperate. That’s a very powerful thing that we have on our side. Community-based organizations saying we’re going to set up family safety procedures. The school districts saying, “We’re not going to allow that.” 

I spoke with Reverend James Lawson, the other day -- when I talked to him he said, “We know how to win. We’ve got these victories. Feel proud and great about them. This guy, there’s no way we’re going to let him destroy our country.” 

C&M: Major industries in this country benefit from the immigration system being broken. Are they going to go along with mass deportations– an enormous disruption in the economic system? 

MED: It’s a new opportunity to exploit immigrant workers even more. Wage theft will just go through the roof because there will be such a dramatic increase in this atmosphere of fear. There are sectors of our economy where employers will love it because they’ll be more in control. They know that 12 million people are not going to be deported overnight. But they’re going to take advantage of that fear. 

C&M: A chicken-processing plant in a Southern right-to-work state wouldn’t be happy if all its undocumented workers were deported. 

MED: No, they wouldn’t be happy, but let’s say Trump says, “You’re not going to like that. But how about if I give you unfettered guest workers?” They’ll be provided an alternative on that level. That’s one way that they could look at it. 

Look at these high-tech industry leaders that pretend to be so liberal. What do they want? Guest worker status for “highly skilled” workers -- to be able to have them here, to work them. They don’t care about them being permanently allowed to live in this country. 

There are industries like hospitality, where I expect those employers to defend their work force. In the past they’ve shown courage by publicly being on the side of [immigration] legislation. But they haven’t really taken much risk. Now it’s going to take more risk to defend their work force. Courage.

Leadership. They’re going to have to do more than just sign off on legislation. 

 

(Bobbi Murray has reported on politics, economics, police reform and health-care issues for Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and The Nation. This piece first appeared in Capital & Main.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

GUEST COMMENTARY--Think of a typical college town: bars and dispensaries galore, miles of bike lanes and stores that appeal to students. Now think of Westwood: two bars, virtually no bike lanes and full of niche stores like Sur La Table and Paper Source with almost no use for students.

The blame falls on the Westwood Neighborhood Council, which has favored high-end retailers instead of ones serving student interests. The council has a distinct lack of student representation, a problem made worse by the fact that it extended its member term length from two to four years. 

Supply and demand principles should govern Westwood stores instead of the outlandish desire to see expensive, Beverly Hills-type retailers in a part of Los Angeles dominated by university students.

And the problem isn’t just with business. Last year, the neighborhood council opposed creating a bike lane on Westwood Boulevard. A bike lane would benefit students commuting from south of Wilshire Boulevard as well as people traveling to Westwood. Instead, the council somehow devised the logic that a bike lane would actually make the road more dangerous for cyclists. This is like saying, “Let’s not build lanes for cars; it’ll make the road more dangerous for them.” When pressed for explanation, Councilwoman Lisa Chapman did not respond for comment. Contact Chapman or Councilman Paul Koretz if you agree with this logic and give them a hearty congratulations for concocting something so bizarre.

Despite the recent statewide legalization of recreational marijuana, Westwood Neighborhood Council Vice President Sandy Brown opposes the opening of marijuana dispensaries in Westwood. She fears they would harm its retail scene. When pressed on the issue, Brown became defensive and said, “(Students) can’t own the town. The town needs to represent the people who pay the taxes.”

Except students are far from owning the town. If Brown doesn’t want to address students’ desires, she would be more fit to preside over the neighboring Century City where the median age is 46, not the vibrant, young Westwood with a median age of 27. Brown, along with the rest of the neighborhood council, needs to acknowledge Westwood’s plurality of students, better represent them and in turn, attract more students and their money to Westwood.

The neighborhood council should support a recreational marijuana dispensary in Westwood and stop foolishly dismissing an opportunity to raise money for the city, the county and the state, especially considering most marijuana users fall within Westwood’s college-dominated age range. Yet Brown believes she knows best for Westwood, all while disregarding the thousands of students who indirectly pay property taxes through apartment rent, sales tax on purchases and income tax on revenues.

The neighborhood council isn’t the only association trying to keep Westwood from becoming the college town it’s meant to be. Steve Sann, chairman of the Westwood Community Council constantly reminds the community of the two organizations’ differences, but neither of the two councils seem to have students’ interests at heart.

Sann thinks that retail environments thrive with complementary uses to each other and thus, that a marijuana dispensary would offset expensive stores like Sur La Table. He consistently mentions The Grove while providing examples of how Westwood’s retail scene should operate. Once again, a council member neglects Westwood’s college-age demographics and their needs in contrast to those of high-class shoppers.

Westwood has the potential to be a unique place in the west side of LA. In a region full of expensive boutique shops and irritated drivers displeased with bikers and pedestrians, Westwood could have expansive bike lanes and stores and bars that attract students. Westwood could be an alluring college town nestled in a hectic city, but only with the support of the Westwood Neighborhood and Community Councils.

(This Jonathan Friedland perspective was posted originally at The Daily Bruin.) 

Graphic credit: Gwen Hollingsworth/Daily Bruin.

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CAN THEY CO-EXIST?--California is now the capital of liberal America. Along with its neighbors Oregon and Washington, it will be a nation within the nation starting in January when the federal government goes dark. In sharp contrast to much of the rest of the nation, Californians preferred Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by a 2-to-1 margin. They also voted to extend a state tax surcharge on the wealthy, and adopt local housing and transportation measures along with a slew of local tax increases and bond proposals. 

In other words, California is the opposite of Trumpland. 

The differences go even deeper. For years, conservatives have been saying that a healthy economy depends on low taxes, few regulations and low wages. 

Are conservatives right? At the one end of the scale are Kansas and Texas, with among the nation’s lowest taxes, least regulations and lowest wages. 

At the other end is California, with among the nation’s highest taxes, especially on the wealthy; toughest regulations, particularly when it comes to the environment; most ambitious healthcare system, that insures more than 12 million poor Californians, in partnership with Medicaid; and high wages. 

So according to conservative doctrine, Kansas and Texas ought to be booming, and California ought to be in the pits. 

Ac