BELL VIEW-One of the many privileges of my middle class life is health insurance. As far as I can tell, it’s decent coverage. At least I think it’s decent – I can’t pretend to understand it, but I don’t feel like I’m one accident away from total ruin. In the midst of the current debate over the fate of the American healthcare system, it’s hard to overstate the level of peace of mind having basic coverage provides to a person. And despite the high price I pay for this coverage and the amount of work I have to do to maintain it, I recognize that – in 21st Century America – I’m privileged to have healthcare coverage. 

CORRUPTION WATCH-Starting in 2014, Judge Alan Goodman and Judge James Chalfant warned us that Super Gridlock was being planned for Los Angeles, but we weren’t listening. Perhaps, we missed them sound the alarm. They used polite legalese.  

RANTZ & RAVEZ-First of all, a Big RaveZ for LA City Councilman Bob Blumenfield and the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. The Woodland Hills Recreation Center located at 5858 Shoup Avenue in the West Valley has a sparkling new pool and recreation center after a long four years of meetings, delays and construction-related problems. It was one thing after another that held up construction of the facility, including contaminated soil that had to be removed and heavy rains that hit the community.  

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW--Hiking Runyon Canyon is one of LA’s most popular outdoor workouts – in a city where Angelenos drive to Flywheel or hot yoga. Getting close enough to the Hollywood Sign for that vacation Instagram post is on the to-do lists of many tourists. 

LIVING THE DREAM-When one thinks about the visionaries who made Hollywood what it is today, there are a lot of candidates to consider: Sid Grauman who dreamed up the picture palaces and movie premieres; C.E. Toberman, who built most of the grand buildings on Hollywood Blvd. and made the Hollywood Bowl a reality; the Chandler family and their associates who put the huge Hollywood Sign on Mt. Lee; Johnny Grant, who built the Hollywood Walk of Fame into an international icon. The list could go on and on. 

DEEGAN ON LA-Movie producer Michael Costigan (Brokeback Mountain,” “A Bigger Splash”) and his wife Linda are about to give Los Angeles County $98,241 -- but for what? The County’s Notice of Public Hearing says it’s for 3,275 square feet of mostly unusable, steep mountainside land adjacent to the Costigan’s Outpost Canyon home. The County operates on a $30 billion annual budget and doesn’t really need the money. 

CAPITAL & MAIN--At  6 p.m. on any weekday evening, Interstate 10 from Santa Monica to downtown Los Angeles is the fifth most crowded stretch of road in the United States. A light rail line paralleling the freeway has done little to help, despite exceeding rider estimates. A carpool lane or road expansion would likely fail as well, due to a phenomenon known as “triple convergence”: When you make more room on a roadway, peak-hour drivers who would otherwise have detoured, taken the bus or left earlier, show up to fill it. (This may be the only application of Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s novel interpretation of supply and demand.) 

TRANSPO WATCH--To most of us, building a new highway, a new rail line, or a new bikeway (or any other mobility-oriented project) involves something that combines benefits to our Economy, Environment, and Quality of Life.  Such a project should allow for greater mobility/freedom, and perhaps enhance the ability of ALL of us to financially benefit … hence the need for public funding. 

EDUCATION POLITICS--How do you look parents in the eye and say you’ve taken a 174% pay raise right after you’ve closed the library at their child’s school? 

EASTSIDER-A few weeks ago I wrote an article about the upcoming Special Election to replace Jimmy Gomez in California’s 51st Assembly District. In that column I characterized an internal fight over the process followed to endorse a candidate as a “kerfuffle.”   

15 CANDLES—(Editor’s Note: Have LA’s Neighborhood Councils accomplished what they promised 15 years ago? What have we learned? What would we change? I’m sure you’ve heard myriad answers to these questions. Most often from folks whose claims and participation were marginal. Greg Nelson created LA’s Neighborhood Councils. He was, at the time, Chief of Staff for LA City Councilman Joel Wachs who became the engine for Greg’s idea. For the first time, in this CityWatch retrospective,  the person responsible for Los Angeles’ Neighborhood Councils looks back … and ahead … talks about how it happened and if he had it all to do over again, what he would change.) 

CRIME STATS--Are you interested in exploring an unfamiliar street, but wondering if it's safe? Well, you can always look around for reassuring signs—such as the presence of a medical marijuana dispensary.

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-By now most of us know what ails Los Angeles. To cite some of the city’s most imminent emergencies: 

URBAN PERSPECTIVE-O.J. Simpson won’t go away. I posed the question on my Facebook page “Should O.J. be paroled?” It drew an avalanche of responses. Even while respondents hotly protested they didn’t care, they still debated, raged, and fumed on the page about him. He still touches a sore nerve. 

ANIMAL WATCH-Best Friends' Animal Society, Los Angeles, is offering discounted pets as a 2-for- $10 pair during July. Their posted "Current Special" features two adult dogs. Is the former religious group -- which started as the Church of the Process of the Final Judgment -- -becoming desperate to achieve its (registered) mission to "save them all" and reach a "no kill" metric by the end of 2017? 

GELFAND’S WORLD--This is an exercise in thinking about a political left-center that is coherent enough to act effectively. Today's issue is the loss of health insurance for tens of millions of Americans at the hands of Mitch McConnell. Tomorrow's could be the phase out of Medicare under Speaker Ryan. How do we bring organized power to bear against their actions? 

THE VIEW FROM HERE--Can the One L.A. Organization "make democracy work" again in Los Angeles? Not without addressing a still segregated and purposefully dumbed-down LAUSD that is exclusively run for the benefit of its entrenched bureaucracy and the obscene profits of their corporate vendors' interests that keep them in power. 

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW--Earlier this year, Airbnb host Tami Barker refused to honor Dyne Suh’s reservation, tweeting, “I will not allow this country to be told what to do by foreigners. It’s why we have Trump.”

AFFORDABLE HOUSING BATTLE--The California State Assembly will soon be voting on SB 35, and United Neighborhoods for Los Angeles (UN4LA) urges local representatives to reject it. While it's being sold as a way to cut through red tape and accelerate the creation of housing, this bill is poorly conceived and will do more harm than good. SB 35 would create a streamlined approval process for multi-family projects that include a certain number of affordable units. We need to build more housing, but we can't abandon planning in the process. 

NEW GEOGRAPHY-As its economy bounced back from the Great Recession, California emerged as a progressive role model, with New York Times columnist Paul Krugman arguing that the state’s “success” was proof of the superiority of a high tax, high regulation economy. Some have even embraced the notion that California should secede to form its own more perfect union. 

CORRUPTION WATCH-The benefits of living in Los Angeles are god-given, while the liabilities are man-made. There was a time in the first part of the 1900s, when Angelenos more or less tried to preserve the good. Those days are gone. 

PERSPECTIVE-I am a member of LA Fitness. I most often use the facility at Universal City because it has a hardwood basketball court. 

UNAFFORDABLE HOUSING-Yesterday, the Los Angeles City Planning Commission ignored South LA residents’ concerns about displacement and gentrification, swiftly approving a luxury mixed-use redevelopment of Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.  The City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee (PLUM) will now consider the mega-project.

THE PREVEN REPORT--Here’s what Mayor Eric Garcetti had to say when asked in a recent KPCC radio interview how he manages to balance career planning with fulfilling his current role as Mayor of Los Angeles: 

MY TURN-Full disclosure: I am not an expert in City Planning. Having attended a few Planning Commission meetings and Neighborhood Council rallies "against" new developments, I have seen people display the most discourteous behavior. Sometimes I have mentally checked out when faced with myriad of statistics presented by engineers and architects. 

FIRST TIME AVAILABLE--Monday, TransparentCalifornia.com released 2016 pension payout data from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) — the nation’s largest municipal utility district. 

VOICES--Many Californians have fond memories of landing their first decent-paying job, working long hours to save enough for a down payment, and finally buying a family home. Many of us poured our weekends and hearts into repairing beautiful old houses.

FINANCE POLITICS--Inadequate roads are leaving Californians stuck in traffic. According to a 2016 study by Inrix, a data company that specializes in traffic-related analytics, Los Angeles, California has the worst traffic in the United States. San Francisco takes the number three spot, and San Diego comes in number 14. In all, 17 California cities rank among the 100 most congested cities in America. 

A disturbing new LA Times investigation of Mayor Garcetti's embrace of Black Lung Lofts has laid open a system of buck-passing and internal disarray, with the Mayor defending freeway-adjacent housing as legally untouchable because it's "in the pipeline." 

BELL VIEW--This morning I was running late to work. Screaming at red lights to turn green, cursing other drivers too timid to make left turns when they had the chance, I looked ahead of me and saw a cyclist taking the lane as he trudged up a small hill. I’ve ridden my bike in the streets of LA, so I gave the guy a wide berth as I slowed to a crawl behind him. I couldn’t get around him because I had to turn right and he was in my lane. “Come on, come on, come on …!” I repeated to myself as the ticking clock seemed to mock my predicament. What a nightmare! I thought. 

PARTY DOWN--Whether the issue is the privatization of public education for corporate profit and the further dumbing down of America or the continued suppression of the will of the majority by gerrymandering and/or removing legally registered voters from the voting rolls based on clearly false charges of multiple registration or any one of many other corporate inspired programs to thwart the will of a democratic majority, the response from the Left in this country has been anything but logical, effective or reasonable. 

VOICES--TPS Parking Management, doing business as The Parking Spot (TPS) filed a legal challenge to the Los Angeles World Airport's (LAWA) Environmental Impact Report for the Landside Access Modernization Plan (LAMP), asserting that the report's conclusions would negatively impact thousands of Los Angeles area residents who are members of the company's loyalty program. 

@TheGussReport – Just when you thought City Attorney Mike Feuer’s office made enough poor decisions in the Wayne Spindler (photo above) gun case, his spokesman Rob Wilcox and prosecutor Eugene Hall, Jr. dug deeper and doing so may cost the taxpayers dearly. 

EASTSIDER-For those living under a rock, California Senate Bill 562 is a California Only, Single-Payer Healthcare Bill. After passage by the Senate and moving to the Assembly for a vote, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) pulled the bill from further action this legislative session. He did note that since this is the first of a two year session, the bill can be revisited next year. 

RESISTANCE WATCH--Feeling bad? First take care of yourself, of course. I like this a lot: Ways to Stay Motivated in this Shit-Shellacked Era of Epic Stupid which begins:  

PLATKIN ON PLANNING--What a pleasant, but short-lived surprise to discover that in late June 2017 UCLA’s renowned Luskin School of Public Affairs sponsored a forum entitled, Can LA fix its Broken Planning System?  Needless to say, I read an article about the forum on the Luskin’s School’s website with great enthusiasm, expecting to see a serious professional urban planning analysis of LA’s tottering and shady city planning system.  After all, these issues are presented twice weekly through CityWatch, formerly at Ron Kaye’s LA, and even in an occasional Los Angeles Times, KCRW, and KPCC story. (Photo above: Wedding of Former King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson.) 

BLUE PRINT FOR PAIN-It's 10:00 a.m. on Monday morning, and while most people are filling up their second cup of coffee, Nellie is busy sorting loaves of bread, leafy greens, and egg cartons for a line of eager customers. Next to the I-580 overpass and across the street from a Safeway is the Emeryville Citizens Assistance Program, which she founded 30 years ago with the belief that "food should always be available to everyone." She's been volunteering her time -- eight hours a day, five days a week -- ever since. Asked why she continues to do this work without pay, Nellie says: "We serve almost 300 families every day, and you never know: Tomorrow it could be you who needs the help.” 

FIRST PERSON REPORT--The Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC) did its job Tuesday night, and had the dubious distinction of making it into the LA news, talk radio, and other media sources. Traffic changes were the hot-button subject and new MVCC Chair Sarah Auerswald did a first-rate job of making sure everyone could talk during public comment, despite letting everyone know we had to be out by 10pm from our meeting site. 

NEW GEOGRAPHY-In its race against rapidly aging Europe and East Asia, America’s relatively vibrant nurseries have provided some welcome demographic dynamism. Yet, in recent years, notably since the Great Recession and the weak recovery that followed, America’s birthrate has continued to drop, and is now at a record low. 

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING--The district attorney who put O.J. Simpson behind bars believes the former football star will win parole at his hearing later this month.

David Roger won convictions against Simpson in 2008 for robbery and kidnapping in Clark County, Nevada.

POLICY--Across California, many local governments have raised taxes while cutting services. Local officials desperate for union support have made irresponsible deals with public employee unions, creating staggering employee costs. Taxpayer money meant to provide essential services to the least well-off instead goes directly to higher salaries and benefits. 

GELFAND’S WORLD--We are the west coast -- accent on that word coast. What makes California different from Nebraska and Colorado is that we have an ocean. We have sea cliffs, beaches, and kelp beds you can explore underwater. We even have the remains of a shipwreck that you can walk right up to, at the base of a local cliff. Californians take pride in the fact that the beach and the water belong to all of us. But it's not a done deal in all places. 

NEW GEOGRAPHY-California’s economic revival has sparked widespread notions, shared by Jerry Brown and observers elsewhere, that its economy — and policy agenda — should be adopted by the rest of the country. And, to be sure, the Golden State has made a strong recovery in the last five years, but this may prove to be far more vulnerable than its boosters imagine. 

ANIMAL WATCH-At the June 27 meeting of the Los Angeles Animal Services' Commissioners -- all appointees of Mayor Eric Garcetti -- Commissioner Roger Wolfson, a screenwriter, urged the creation of an LAAS poster on how to handle a dog attack, indicating he had already received support of the idea from GM Brenda Barnette and Commission President Larry Gross. 

@THE GUSS REPORT-In a Van Nuys court room on Friday, the illegal gun possession charge hastily filed by LA City Attorney Mike Feuer’s office against City Hall critic Wayne Spindler (photo above) died a death as curious as its life. 

CORRUPTION WATCH-The hubris that comes with holding public office is usually rational. Public officials so seldom are held accountable for their actions that they never think of possible criminal liability for their behavior. The times, they may be changing. 

BOYARSKY’S LA--Immigration court in Los Angeles is in an undistinguished, rectangular office building in the center of downtown. Every weekday, immigrants make their way there to plead before one of the judges for a chance to remain in the United States. 

DEEGAN ON LA-In less stressful times, the relationships between tenants and landlords were ruled by the market economy of supply and demand. Lately, however, affordable housing has entered a state of crisis, as space is needed to squeeze in more people who want to live here or park their money in real estate investment. A third wheel has been attached to the landlord-tenant equation: developers eager to make their profits in a booming upscale housing market is leaving many renters in the dust. 

PEOPLE POWER—(Editor’s Note: This is one a series of profiles and reports celebrating Resistance Heroes … people like you who have stood up to power and won.)

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA--What’s the fastest way to change California?

EYES ON THE PRIZE--At the LA Press Club’s 59th Annual Awards Ceremony on Sunday, at the Biltmore Millennium Hotel, brothers Eric Preven and Joshua Preven took first prize in the category of online political commentary, for their CityWatch article “It’s Time to End LA’s Secret Meetings: What Do City Council Members and LA’s County Supervisors Have to Hide?” More than five hundred journalists and media executives attended the event.

THE COHEN COLUMN--The Senate Republicans were going to quick-fix their massive tax cut for the rich, pretending to be a health care bill, which the independent Congressional Budget Office slammed worse than the House bill. Then they ducked out of town one day early.

PREVEN REPORT-“I am pleased to share that our Parking, Safety and Athletic (PSA) Improvement Plan will have its first public hearing with the City of LA on on Monday July 24, 2017,” writes Harvard-Westlake President Rick B. Commons in a recent email to “friends and families” of the school referring to Harvard-Westlake's proposed 750-space parking garage and accompanying roof-top athletic field and 163-foot pedestrian bridge over Coldwater Canyon Boulevard. 

RANTZ AND RAVEZ-On July 1, 2017, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and LA City Council members were sworn into office for the next 5 1/2 years. Now that they are officially in position, in power to serve the public, what will they do to improve the quality of life in Los Angeles? What will they do to address transportation gridlock, the high cost of housing, increasing crime and a host of other pressing matters using over $8 billion in taxes? 

RIGGING THE RULES-The public employee unions, especially the teacher union variety, are very jittery over the prospect that the Janus case, if successful in the U.S. Supreme Court next year, could free government workers from paying forced dues to a union as a condition of employment. Enter California’s AB 119, a trailer bill, which was signed into law last week. As R Street Institute’s Steven Greenhut reminds us, a trailer bill is typically intended “for last minute and non-controversial technical fixes to budget matters.” While, AB 119 was certainly last minute, it is anything but non-controversial. 

15 CANDLES-- (Editor’s Note: It has 15 years since Los Angeles certified its first Neighborhood Council … Wilmington Neighborhood Council … in December of 2001. The ’15 Candles’ campaign celebrates the occasion, looks back at the early days and considers the future of LA’s NCs. Bill Christopher Chaired the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners … BONC … beginning in June of 2001 and, working at fever pitch, oversaw the certification of some 60 neighborhood councils in a two year period. Bill takes a look back and considers what he might do differently.)  

CORRUPTION WATCH-Millions of Americans on the Left are being scammed by the call for “Single Payer Health Care.” We have naively allowed ourselves to be so polarized by the endless hogwash from both parties that we will believe anything. The Left is consumed with insane Tweets from a mentally ill President and by the stupendous avarice of the GOP in Congress; a majority of Americans have lost the ability to think. 

EASTSIDER-I rarely write directly about what I do for a living, but as a neutral person with some 25 years experience in California public sector labor relations, I feel compelled to write about the merits of the DWP/IBEW settlement itself, especially after the recent flood of articles casting the contract in unflattering terms. 

TENANT’S RIGHTS--Close to four Million people reside in Los Angeles according to an annual population report by the California Department of Finance dated May 1, 2017 

PERSPECTIVE-Much has been written and discussed about the recently approved contract with DWP’s IBEW Local 18 members...but not enough. 

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA-- Dear America, I suppose I should wish you happy birthday. But I’m just not feeling it.

BUTCHER SHOP--A surprising much has been already written about the DWP deal including this alarmist screed Will outrageous DWP pay hikes ignite anti-union firestorm in California? in which the author hyperventilates in horror that workers who climb 75 feet in the air to fix live electric lines will see increasing wages in the years to come and then vividly imagines the resultant revolt of the masses.

PLATKIN ON PLANNING--While we plebeians dawdle away our lives cooking, cleaning, studying, working, raising families, and helping friends and relatives in need, we can (kind-of) sleep comfortably knowing our local elected officials are hard at work combatting climate change … through press conferences.  Luckily for them, they have Donald Trump as their climate foil, blasting away at him with their sound bites for pulling the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord. 

DEEGAN ON LA—-Arnold Schwarzenegger had Columbia Pictures promote one of his movies by painting the title logo on the main fuselage of an unmanned rocket that was then launched into outer space by NASA. Anything  to get attention: although in the case of his 1993 movie "Last Action Hero” even that stratospheric publicity stunt could not help. 

MY TURN-Immigrant bashing has become the new national sport in some areas of our country, even though some bastions of white conservatism have been revitalized by an influx of immigrants. These groups have given new life to towns once on the verge of extinction. Diversity in all areas of Los Angeles is more evident than ever. We have traveled a long way since Proposition 187. (Photo above: Corinne Ho) 

LABOR WATCH-- I just got out of a special meeting called by SAG-AFTRA union leadership to share a TV/ Theatrical negotiations update with the membership. When I saw the letter on the website to all of us from Executive Director and Chief Negotiator David White and Gabrielle Carteris, SAG-AFTRA President and Chair of the Negotiating Committee, I was surprised to see that it did not say that a reasonable agreement had been reached and we would be called upon to ratify. (Photo above: Jennifer Caldwell.) 

EASTSIDER-Only in Northeast LA. First there was the Special Election to replace Xavier Becerra’s seat in Congress, won by Jimmy Gomez. Now there will be another Special Election to replace Jimmy Gomez’ seat in the 51st Assembly District. What’s an “only in California” moment is that Gomez has not yet resigned his Assembly seat. So, no election for the moment, and we still don’t have a timetable for the Special Election itself. 

SKID ROW- Last week, an article in the LA Weekly titled “Who Killed the Skid Row Neighborhood Council?” shed even more light on the still-unfolding plot to prevent a Skid Row NC from becoming a reality. The plot, involving numerous “players” in Downtown politics, was first discovered when a cheating scandal by the opposition was uncovered and after months of “digging for gold”, now new revealing words found in the LA Weekly article confirm the shenanigans included City Hall, which allowed online voting less that two weeks before the April 6th subdivision election in which Skid Row attempted to break away from the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council to form it’s own neighborhood council. (Photo above: Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar.) 

NICE PAYDAY—The Daily News reports that former audio-visual technician for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power was sentenced today to five years in state prison for embezzling more than $4 million in public funds.  

BELL VIEW-I wish I could draw because I can see a perfect political cartoon in my head. On one side of the frame Trump, Ryan, Mnuchin, and Sessions are feeding poor children into a sausage grinder; on the other an outraged hipster is foaming at the mouth pointing in the direction of a Democratic politician and screaming: “He said LGBT, not LGBTQ!” When Republican voters talk about how political correctness is destroying America, they’re right. Just for the wrong reason. Political correctness is destroying America by distracting otherwise decent Americans from the carnage happening right under their noses. 

AFFORDABLE HOUSING--The folks in Sacramento are in a frenzy right now trying to pass legislation to ease the housing crunch.  They realize that housing costs are becoming an extreme burden for Californians, and there's an avalanche of bills cascading through the state legislature that purport to address the crisis.  While some of these bills are thoughtful, reasonable attempts to create solutions, others are poorly conceived and could end up doing more harm than good.

GETTING THERE FROM HERE-I doubt I'm the only transportation advocate who's wondered where our priorities have gone astray. Of course, most transportation advocates (and transportation engineers) focus on policy, providing more options, and numbers-based/outcomes-based results. Unfortunately, transportation policy has been eclipsed by planners and utopians who suffer from too much wishful thinking. 

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW--The current political climate has brought a clear divide among states on social and environmental issues. While Governor Brown and the state legislature work to pass bills to bypass President Trump’s agenda, Attorney General Xavier Becerra is also lending his chops to signal dissatisfaction with Kentucky and three other states that have passed legislation that would restrict LGBT rights. 

JUSTICE INTERRUPTED!--Last Tuesday, which the United Nations observes as World Refugee Day, a charter bus full of clergy, religious activists and lawyers was barred from visiting inmates at the Adelanto Detention Facility, located in the high desert 85 miles northeast of Los Angeles. The intention had been to speak to asylum seekers, green card holders held for minor legal infractions and undocumented immigrants scooped up in recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids. The nonprofit group CIVIC, which coordinates volunteer visits to 43 of the 211 federal detention centers across the nation, unsuccessfully negotiated for over an hour with prison authorities and ICE for us to get in. (Photo above: Immigrant rights activists en route to Adelanto.)

ANIMAL WATCH-After years of ignoring a burgeoning problem of stray dogs and cats in the streets, aggressive dog attacks and fear of disease have caused China's major cities to replicate the government's reaction to a perceived need for human population control by issuing a one-child rule in 1979. However, since pets can be hidden or just released, enforcement will be challenging -- especially restrictions such as Qingdao's ban on 40 breeds considered "dangerous." 

GELFAND’S WORLD--Saturday was full of irony. The Los Angeles Times published an editorial that raised red flags about the way the city's elected officials are trying to sneak through a large pay raise for employees of the LA Department of Water and Power (LADWP). The Times had previously published a story by David Zahniser and Dakota Smith revealing the sordid details

NEW GEOGRAPHY--Amazon’s stunning acquisition last week of Whole Foods signaled an inflection point in the development of retail, notably the $800 billion supermarket sector. The massive shift of retail to the web is beginning to claw into the last remaining bastions of physical space. In the last year alone, 50,000 positions were lost in the retail sector, and as many as 6 million jobs could be vulnerable nationwide in the long term. Store closings are running at a rate higher than during the Great Recession.

CALBUZZ SPECIAL REPORT--Imagine losing days, weeks, or months of your life rotting in a jail cell even though, in the United States, you’re supposed to be presumed innocent unless proven guilty.

DEEGAN ON LA-The parallels are uncannily similar: two different parts of LA, each beginning with an important, historical movie footprint and evolving into a land use bonanza. Century City, once the very busy 20th Century Fox backlot (and before that a ranch belonging to western silent movie icon Tom Mix), became a real estate behemoth studded with skyscrapers, traffic congestion, and high prices. Central Hollywood, once a folksy, low slung neighborhood, is about to be transformed into its own real estate behemoth with the massive proposed Crossroads of the World project. It, too, will be studded with skyscrapers, traffic congestion, and high prices. 

@THE GUSS REPORT-If you live in the Valley, Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Attorney Mike Feuer and the LA City Council have taken this approach to fighting property crime: Do It Yourself. 

THE CITY--On June 19, the Neighborhood Council Alliance of River Communities (ARC) welcomed Nicholas Maricich, City Director of Planning Policy and Development, and Michelle Garakian, from the Mayor’s Office of Legislative and External Affairs, to discuss details of the proposed Affordable Housing Linkage Fee Ordinance. 

WHAT WAS HE THINKING?--Advocates of the single-payer healthcare proposal which has been steadily advancing through the California legislature were voicing outrage and disappointment on Saturday after Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, a Democrat, announced he was pulling the bill from further consideration this year.

CORRUPTION WATCH-The Hollywood Community Plan has no Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the June 2017 Update. This means that all these super-mega projects being proposed in Hollywood are based on data from the 1960s and the mid-1980s. 

EDUCATION POLITICS--Four days before the end of the school year, Venice High School students, organized by the Black Student Union and the Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan, walked out of class to protest their principal allegedly firing an African American college counselor. 

JUSTICE--The biggest lie about Proposition (“Prop”) 66, California’s poorly drafted new death penalty law – only missing another “6” in numbering to be properly identified as the devil’s spawn – is speed. 

NEW GEOGRAPHY--“We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” —Justice Louis Brandeis

LEANING RIGHT--From all the attention focused on "special elections" in Georgia, South Carolina, Montana, and elsewhere, one would think that we've got nothing better to do than focus on politics in other states, particularly "Red States".  One would also think that our finances and policies are going swimmingly well in California, a "Blue State" which is bleeding its middle class out of existence. 

FROM GUNS, CASH, CARTELS TO REGS AND ECONOMICS--California’s marijuana industry will soon begin its transition from an illicit ecosystem fraught with guns, cash, and cartels into a regulated economic juggernaut.

CREATIVE MINDS MEET GRASSROOTS ACTIVISTS--Following news that legislation aiming to power California solely with renewable energy by 2045 passed the state Senate, bestselling author Naomi Klein joined Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz and community leaders on Wednesday in calling for a "World War II-scale mobilization" to combat climate change and lead the way in developing environmentally safe technology. (Photo above: LA Councilman Paul Koretz.)

DRIP, DRIP, DRIP--LA City Planning this week released a backward-looking, slow-moving and poorly reasoned plan — more than a year in the making — that fails to reduce greed-driven evictions of residents, or to preserve thousands of low-rent units being eyed by land-flippers and speculators.

MCDONALD REPORT--After years of alarming studies and in-depth news coverage, the Los Angeles City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti have yet to address the devastating health impacts to residents who live in freeway-adjacent housing, which LA politicians continue to approve. On Tuesday, at the Planning and Land Use Management Committee meeting, the Coalition to Preserve LA and other community groups urged council members to finally take substantive action. 

MUSING WITH MIRISCH-It is sometimes both sad and shocking how City Halls throughout the state, along with some of our elected officials, can be in such denial of reality, data and math.  

BELL VIEW-When it comes to elections, I obsess over one number: turnout. We have been told, for example, that turnout was through-the-roof for the special election in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District, where Democrat Jon Ossoff narrowly lost to Republican Karen Handel. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution gushed: “In a district with about 526,000 registered voters in all, nearly half of them came out: unofficial turnout stood at about 49 percent in the race.” 

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-Before memory fades completely, this is the time to take stock of the Occupy mass movement of 2011. A few years into the Great Recession, it began with Occupy Wall Street, and then quickly spread to over 1000 encampments, including other countries, such as Canada, the United Kingdom, and Israel. 

RANTZ & RAVEZ-The Westfield “Village” at Victory and Topanga Canyon in the West San Fernando Valley has turned into a place to walk your dog and pay for parking (some validate) to do business with local vendors that remain open for business despite the poor foot traffic and slow sales in the area. More and more of the businesses in the “Village” are experiencing financial difficulties; sales have not been what was expected. 

GELFAND’S WORLD--In the Hollywood Fringe festival as in other parts of life, we wander along, ignoring the mediocre, enjoying the pretty good, and hoping to find that diamond in the rough that is effective and affecting. I think we've got one here. 

CORRUPTION WATCH-What if Angelenos had a City Council that maximized our quality of life instead of aggrandizing the profits of a handful of real estate developers?

DEEGAN ON LA-“Neighborhood Councils were slighted … they were not given a chance to speak at a public hearing,” alleges Robin Greenberg, President of the Bel Air-Beverly Crest Neighborhood Council which advocates for more than 27,000 residents representing hillside communities stretching from Laurel Canyon to Sepulveda Boulevard, and from Sunset Boulevard to Mulholland Drive. It also speaks for 35 residential associations, local schools, businesses, and faith-based institutions. 

ANIMAL WATCH-Before his re-election in March 2017, Mayor Eric Garcetti was accused of being silent on LA’s rising crime.  Opponents claimed Garcetti was hiding and suppressing 2016 crime statistics that showed a 10 percent increase in violent crime in the city and ignoring the need to hire more police officers. The Mayor's political ambitions may have also been the reason he and Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette made no public comments about two tragic Pit Bull attacks in Los Angeles in early 2017. 

THE PREVEN REPORT-For matters requiring urgent attention, the City Council of Los Angeles has the power to convene a Special Meeting, whereby the amount of advanced notice it is required to give the public before taking action is reduced from three days to one. 

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA--If you wish to inspect the frontlines of the conflict between Donald Trump and California, head for San Diego.

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW--On Friday, behemoth retailer Amazon announced a $13.7 Billion-value purchase of Whole Foods, subject to shareholder and regulatory approval. The purchase has sent other grocery stocks tumbling, opening publicly held grocery companies ripe for takeovers, as well. 

TRANSIT WATCH--It's interesting ... and maybe a little sad ... that while the transit advocates behind the Expo Line revolution (who then turned their sights to the LAX/Metro Rail, Wilshire Subway, Downtown Light Rail Connector) have to some degree separated and gone on to other issues, venues, and their own personal lives, some battles still remain, and are just not going away. 

VOICES – (This article was first posted in CityWatch in 2013. Considering the political and social division and voter apathy Los Angeles is experiencing in 2017, it seemed appropriate to post it again.)

EDUCATION POLITICS--Large school districts are often less responsive to the needs of students and the hopes of parents than smaller districts. Public educational behemoths – such as Los Angeles Unified – are more likely to fall under the influence of well-organized interest groups such as teachers’ unions. By breaking up large districts into smaller ones, parents can achieve greater accountability. Although California makes school district secessions difficult, groups in Malibu and Walnut Creek are making impressive strides. 

VOICES--As someone who has been critical of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation over the years for being stuck in the past, I am delighted to see them putting in more bike lanes, even if it means taking lanes out for other traffic. These bike lanes make it safer for the many people who depend on bicycles to get around for their daily needs. They also encourage more to ride for transportation and recreation. This is good for us. 

EASTSIDER-It was supposed to be the equivalent of show and tell with a predetermined outcome. Then hundreds and hundreds of people showed up for the hearing. The Council Chamber quickly filled up, there was another overflow room that overflowed, and ultimately a large crowd wound up outside City Hall on the adjacent lawn. All this before the 2 p.m. start time. I heard estimates of something like 500, give or take, and the PLUM Committee was obviously not ready for the sheer magnitude of their audience. 

PENSION BRINKMANSHIP-Governor Brown’s proposal to fund CalPERS with borrowed money parallels a similar move by Puerto Rico in 2008. Borrowing to meet pension obligations can work under certain circumstances, but it is a risky policy. It backfired in Puerto Rico and can do so here. 

GUEST COMMENTARY-The false testimony given by Kim McGill of the Youth Justice Coalition during recent testimony before the Senate Public Safety Committee is greatly disturbing. As detailed in a blog by Michele Hanisee and Eric Siddall, Ms. McGill gave her testimony before the Senate Public Safety Committee to attempt to "humanize" overturning California law adding mandatory prison time for using a gun in a crime. Several Senators specifically cited her testimony as their reason to support the bill. 

POLITICS--As Trump and the Republicans work to eliminate Obamacare and “replace” it with an economic unicorn that would wipe out health insurance for tens of millions Americans, some politicians in California are pushing for a single-payer healthcare system in the Golden State.

NEW GEOGRAPHY--California is widely celebrated as the fount of technical, cultural and political innovation. Now we seem primed to outdo even ourselves, creating a new kind of socialism that, in the end, more resembles feudalism than social democracy. 

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-When you are hammer, the whole world looks like a nail, or in the case of the City of Los Angeles, when you are totally wedded to real estate speculation, you only have one hammer, up-zoning to fix all urban ills/nails. 

GELFAND’S WORLD--In the movie Invictus (above), Nelson Mandela is hoping to create a bond with South Africa's white population He invites the captain of the country's largely white rugby team to visit him at the presidential palace. 

SENATE SEXISM ALIVE AND WELL--For the second time in as many weeks, Kamala Harris was cut off by her Republican colleagues while posing questions at a Senate intelligence committee hearing. To most, seeing yet another example of a woman silenced by male senators only reinforces the reality that there are different rules for the different genders, but many on the right remain stubbornly unwilling to acknowledge that a male-dominated government led by a pussy-grabbing misogynist would exhibit sexist attitudes toward women.

BILLBOARD WATCH-Public safety, aesthetics, and the will of the people continue to get short shrift at the City Council Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee, as it caves to the powerful billboard lobby. After years of hearings and reports, the committee on May 31 gave instructions to the City Attorney to finally draft a new Citywide Sign Ordinance that will govern billboards, known legally as off-site signs (Council File 11-1705). We should all enjoy the dark night skies while we can, because if this bill becomes a law, digital billboards will be going up in all kinds of new places, flashing messages in our faces every 8 seconds.

MY TURN-My "June Gloom" came early this year, like in April. To those of you who enquired as to why I have been absent from CW, here is my explanation: there was nothing good to write about. We could call it "writers block," but it was more like "Life Block." 

ROAD DIET OVERDOSE, PART 2-The City has been sued – again! This time it is due to its desire to expose children to toxic fumes while they are exercising. See HELP and CCLA v City of Los Angeles, BS 157813. Previously, these groups have prevailed in the Hollywood Community Plan case and in the Target case. Both times the City lost because it refused to follow the law. 

GUEST WORDS--Is this justice or does this mean just us. Politicians are bragging about HHH and what they will do. The question is, what are they doing now. 931 to 937 E. Pico and 1518 S. Paloma St. have been left in the wash in the political bragging. 

TRANSIT WATCH--In the Los Angeles Times June 14, 2017, article in the California section, Mayor Garcetti proposes to run a monorail above the San Diego, 405, Freeway through the Sepulveda Pass. This ignores two issues:  

BELL VIEW--Many years ago, I sat drinking a beer on the steps of an old wooden house in Canaryville – a white working-class neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago – with my friend Tommy, an Irish singer and guitar player who could fill a bar with his voice without the benefit of a microphone. Tommy, who would later be killed by a drunk driver, was one of the great ones: a singer, a fighter, a family man, a decent all-around person. As quick as he could be with his fists, at his core he was gentle and soft-spoken. He ran a thrift shop for the children’s hospital.

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS-- Since the recent April 6th vote to create a Skid Row Neighborhood Council resulted in a lost effort by a mere 60 votes (in which over 1600 total voters participated), from which a “Vote No” cheating scandal was uncovered and a shocking dismissal by the City of Los Angeles’ Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) of 3 valid election challenges by an Election Challenge Review Panel convened by DONE, the number one response far and wide is “Sounds like something the ACLU would take on” or “Have you guys (Skid Row Neighborhood- Formation Committee) contacted the ACLU?”

GUEST COMMENTARY--A cynic will feel welcome in the entertainment media landscape. 

In it, there are no promises of humanity — no assurances of justice — no unbreakable bond of truth. There is but one king: popularity (and more plainly, profit).

ROAD DIET OVERDOSE-Why does Mayor Garcetti think that it is a good idea to expose children to high levels of toxic fumes by constructing Bike Lanes in heavily trafficked thoroughfares?

GELFAND’S WORLD--Dear Mr City Attorney: If the Trump administration were to send federal officials into your office and announce that they were taking control of your department, you would no doubt feel rather put out. After all, you are an elected official acting under the authority of state law and the City Charter. The fact that Donald Trump doesn't like the way you interpret our sanctuary city status does not give him carte blanche to violate your lawful authority. May we therefore ask you to apply the same standards to our neighborhood council system?

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA--A: Test me all night, baby.

No, really. Sign me up to be the subject of A/B testing. I’d even be willing to sign a blanket consent form, right now, so that all of Silicon Valley’s biggest brains can test me for the purpose of improving the human future.

DEEGAN ON LA-In the dark before the dawn, on the grimy streets of Skid Row, a small group of homeless men and women and a Superior Court judge meet in a unique everyone-is-equal-here relationship. No other elected official has gone to the same extreme that Judge Craig Mitchell (photo above, center) has by reaching out to a cohort of down and out homeless men and women, personally investing his time, compassion and hard work on behalf of people who many wish were invisible and often treat that way.

PRISON POLITICS-If you ever wondered what’s wrong with California’s state government, then mull over this simple example: While California cuts its prison population and staff, it’s increasing the amount of money it spends to operate its massive prison system.

SPECIAL CAPITAL AND MAIN REPORT--On June 15, 2003, before Los Angeles had its CicLAvia events, several thousand bikers and pedestrians descended upon the Pasadena Freeway for a bike and walk ride on the freeway. The event, called ArroyoFest, demonstrated the emerging capacity of LA bike groups. It also indicated a strong community presence in Highland Park, where the closing of the freeway for a few hours seemed like a magical moment.

ANIMAL WATCH-On April 10, LA Animal Services' GM Brenda Barnette issued a media release, entitled, "Canine Influenza Notice - Dogs Imported from Asia by Rescue group." 

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-You are me and I am you. And we are one. We are here today to send a message loud and clear…We resist homophobia; we resist poverty, anti-Semitism, and we resist hatred toward Muslims and all religions. – Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles)

THE PREVEN REPORT--After the publication a few weeks ago of an article we wrote about Harvard-Westlake School’s plan to build a massive parking structure in the hillside neighborhood surrounding their campus, we got an email from a Harvard-Westlake parent who opposes the project. She made the following persuasive point

AT LENGTH-It is perhaps far too symbolic that Councilman Joe Buscaino will have his swearing-in ceremony for his second full term representing the 15th Council District at the reopening of Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park and Machado Lake on June 17. It’s going to be a very fun family day with lots of activities and performances. Everyone is welcome, except the homeless. It only cost $130 million in renovations, plus the eviction of Reggie the alligator and some 167 homeless souls, considered “invasive species,” and neither will be welcomed back.

@THE GUSS REPORT-Has paralysis on the part of the LAPD and LA City Councilmember David Ryu concerning a recent spate of San Fernando Valley mail theft burglaries led to a worsening of the situation?

TALKBACK--I’m a Volunteer at the LA’s West Valley Animal Shelter. I think this new policy, allowing finders of stray dogs and cats to keep the animals they find in their homes during the hold period, is a good idea. Since I work with dogs at the Shelter, I’ll direct my comments to dogs, but I think the same applies to cats. (This is in response to Phyllis Daugherty’s CityWatch column “Finders-Keepers: LA Doesn’t Want Your Lost Dogs or Cats in City Shelters.”) 

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-Last week I explained why Los Angeles is so poorly planned, but there is no reason that Angelinos must be tied to the substandard city planning that emanates from City Hall. It is one thing to explain it, as I did in my previous column, but it quite another thing to put up with it. 

CA LEADING THE FREE WORLD, NOT US--Over the weekend, as the acting United States ambassador to China was resigning from his post following the Trump administration's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, California Governor Jerry Brown was over in the Chinese city of Chengdu, hanging out with a rotating cast of Chinese diplomats as part of a weeklong trip aimed at climate collaboration. He also made time to see the pandas at an eco-tourism park in Chengdu.

ALPERN AT LARGE--Asking others, and asking ourselves, to do the right thing is often much, MUCH harder to do in the real world, the adult world, the world that IS, compared to the world that we wished it would be. 

BELL VIEW--When I was a kid growing up in Chicago, Channel 7 News had a weatherman we used to call “Crazy John Coleman.” Compared to actual 21st Century media craziness John Coleman doesn’t really stack up. But he was undeniably a goof. He’s made his way back into the news by denying that manmade climate change is real.  

PET POLITICS--Earlier this week, Phyllis Daugherty published an analysis of some of the failures of the 2012 Los Angeles ban on cat, dog, and rabbit sales. Her piece is worth reading in full as the Senate considers a misguided bill, Assembly Bill 485, to ban these pet sales statewide. As a fellow animal advocate who also opposed the 2012 ban, I join Ms. Daugherty in shining a spotlight on what the state Assembly risked by passing AB 485 last week. 

EDUCATION POLITICS--Three of the nation’s five most expensive schools are in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Each ranks among the lowest performing schools in California.

GUEST WORDS-What should not be lost in the wake of our article exposing the lies used to manipulate the elimination of mandatory sentences for gun crimes is the cavalier dismissal of victims of gun crime.    

RANTZ AND RAVEZ-I begin with a reply to Dr. Dana Sherman, a professor I have known for a number of years, who I respect for his work at a local university and the volunteer time he spends at a local boy’s home. The doctor and I share mutual interests in volunteering for charitable organizations and in bicycle riding. He replied to my last article on the city’s plan to spend $24 million on Vision Zero, a program to end all fatal collisions in Los Angeles by the year 2025. 

EASTSIDER-Three recently reported events by my fellow CityWatch contributors, convinced me to take a look at the further neutering of the Neighborhood Councils, which never had much power in the first place. The three events were (1) the suppression of due process in denying Skid Row a fair election, (2) the use of “exhaustive efforts” by DONE to take over the San Pedro Neighborhood Council, and (3) Jay Handal’s report on BONC excluding regular stakeholders from being able to participate in some NC Committees.

CAP & MAIN REPORT--Our grandchildren moved to San Clemente earlier this year. They’re a stone’s throw over the county line from San Diego County. More important, they can walk to their favorite surf spot – “Trestles.” Disturbingly, they now live about three miles from the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. It no longer produces electricity, but a pile of radioactive waste sits there waiting to be moved somewhere.

CORRUPTION WATCH-What is the impact on the overall LA economy when Angelenos have to pay thousands extra per month for mortgages or rent? 

RESISTANCE WATCH--Inspired by the Pixar film “UP,” artist Anne Hars placed balloon bouquets at noon, June 4, on two apartment complexes slated for demolition by luxury housing developer Michael Cohanzad of The Wiseman Group. 

THE BUTCHER SHOP … NO BONES ABOUT IT--A small, influential group of celebrities and animal activists have reinvigorated their failed 2009 campaign to move Billy the elephant out of the LA Zoo. On April 19, Councilmember Paul Koretz introduced a motion to “immediately cancel any current or future elephant breeding activities” and to move Billy to a “sanctuary environment.” 

TRANSIT WATCH--Money is best spent well, and to its credit, LA Metro has overall earned the bragging rights to money well spent, and to not taking the taxpayers' money for granted.  But we've seen lots of interesting data, and we've not always had the best partners in Sacramento and Washington...so how do we best proceed? 

DEEGAN ON LA-"Who's on first?", the comedy routine made famous by Abbott and Costello, came to mind listening to representatives of official Los Angeles explaining how the city’s little understood housing “vacancy rate” is established. But comedy turns to tragedy as we look at the consequences brought on when this controversial, almost secret “rate” is implemented to allow developers to convert affordable rent-stabilized housing into condos.

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-California’s State Senate and Assembly have been busy writing and voting on legislation that would stall Trump’s agenda – or at least, protect Californians from fallout. 

GELFAND’S WORLD--So there I was, sitting in the front row of a little theater on Santa Monica Blvd when a rolled-up pair of socks came flying through the air and hit me in the back of the head. I wasn't alone, since the actor on stage was himself getting bombarded with socks. Within a few minutes, the stage was covered with socks. Thus begins my account of this year's Hollywood Fringe festival. 

RESISTANCE WATCH--A bill that would create the first state-level single payer healthcare system in the United States passed the California Senate on Thursday, generating applause as a major step forward in creating a necessary proving ground for a national 'Medicare for All' program.

The state of California is working to reduce urban per capita water use by 20 percent by the end of 2020. One major concern to reaching this goal is the car washing industry.  

TRUMP WATCH--Donald Trump’s favorite local TV chain is about to get a lot bigger thanks to — wait for it — Donald Trump.

EDUCATION POLITICS-When New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg spent half a million dollars to kick Steve Zimmer off the LA School Board, Zimmer (photo above) picked up the phone. In a departure from his self-described “conflict averse” nature, he wanted to pitch his version of collaborative school reform to the “education mayor.” 

ANIMAL WATCH-After much media fanfare on October 24, 2012, regarding passage of a ban on pet shops selling "mill-bred" puppies, kittens and rabbits, Mayor Eric Garcetti, Councilman Paul Koretz and LA Animal Services' General Manager Brenda Barnette have been notably silent on its success. 

CORRUPTION WATCH-The recent user poll from METRO is pure propaganda based on absurd claims designed to benefit only the super-duper rich. 

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-Among City Hall’s elected and appointed officials it easy to round up a quorum of Clinton Democrats, with non-presidential candidate Mayor Eric Garcetti at the head of the table. If you look hard you can also find a momentary Berniecrat, recently re-elected Councilmember Gil Cedillo, and a plain vanilla Republican who lost his bid to become an LA County Supervisor, Councilmember Mitchell Englander. 

EASTSIDER-Last week, in the run up to the June 6 Special Election runoff for Congressional District 34, replacing Xavier Becerra, we saw what may be the only pre-election public forum for choosing between favorite Jimmy Gomez and challenger Robert Lee Ahn. 

GUEST WORDS--I had the privilege of attending the release and presentation of the 2017 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count. And I can tell you that I am not surprised by the 23% increase in homelessness in Los Angeles County. Homelessness is visible now more than ever and in places that one would not envision. 

PLANNING--The gradual decimation of local voice in planning has become accepted policy in Sacramento. The State Senate is now considering two dangerous bills, SB 35 and SB 167, that together severely curtail democratic control of housing.

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA--Riddle: When is a miracle also bound to be a disappointment?

Answer: When the miracle is a project of the state of California.

GUEST WORDS-What if I told you there’s a customer who has a goal to buy $1 billion worth of goods and services from small businesses? This customer buys everything from office supplies and computers, consultant services, clothing, hygiene products, food, bedding, cookware, furniture, and more. 

This customer is Los Angeles County. 

SKID ROW-Little Tokyo (north side) and Skid Row (south side) are neighbors on opposite sides of 3rd Street in Downtown Los Angeles. The recent election to decide on the creation of a Skid Row Neighborhood Council (SRNC) is mostly known as a battle between Skid Row and the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council. What is not well known is that Little Tokyo was the deciding factor in that election. Over 1600 people voted in this extremely close election, yet it was decided only by a 60 vote margin – it was the Little Tokyo votes that made the difference. Hundreds of LT voters went to pop-up polls or voted online. If Little Tokyo had supported Skid Row, the outcome of the election would have been completely different. 

POLICING THE POLICE-News reports last week suggest the city of Oakland may be ready to settle a civil lawsuit filed by the teenage woman at the heart of a sex-abuse scandal that rocked Oakland’s and other nearby police departments since 2015. 

All things considered, the city is fortunate. The reported settlement is just under $1 million, far below the $66 million she had originally sought. 

EDUCATION POLITICS-I spent the Memorial Day weekend with an old teacher friend who lives and works in an upscale bedroom community out on Long Island, NY and was unexpectedly enlightened by yet another lesson on the state of public education in this nation. Our failing, predominantly poor minority-filled inner city public education system bears no resemblance to the still excellent public education system that remains the rule in the affluent suburbs, where the middle class live and can still exert their substantial financial influence.

CAPITAL & MAIN SPECIAL REPORT--Last August, on a scorching afternoon that saw temperatures reach 115 degrees, a small but noisy group of protesters gathered in front of an ARCO gas station in Mecca, an impoverished, unincorporated community 40 miles southeast of Palm Springs. It was an unusual setting for a demonstration: Miles from the nearest city and along a desolate stretch of highway, where the only crowds are typically farm workers and Border Patrol agents gathered during the morning rush at a nearby Starbucks. (Photo above: Elon Musk, center) 

ALPERN AT LARGE--There's a new word in our city that merits an opening in our ever-growing English lexicon: Garcettiville.  Do you live near homeless encampments ... you know:  Garcettivilles.

@TheGussReport – The injuries that 15-year old Van Nuys skateboarder Anthony Hernandez suffered from a fallen tree branch last week were severe; reported to be fractured ribs and a lower back. That raises the question of whether a city which has shown no will, ability – or money - to cure its arbor and other infrastructure dangers is prepared for an Olympics and all of the expense and risk that come to town with it.

WHEN EDUCATION HITS THE RIGHT NOTES--The number of kids across the state taking advanced placement exams is on the rise it was revealed in February. 28.5% of the state’s graduates achieved 3 out of 5 or better on their AP exams making California the 5th best state in the nation. This has also seen a 8% rise in results since 2006 according to Tom Torlakson, the Superintendent. What are the reasons for improved scores?  

ANIMAL WATCH--If your dog or cat goes missing in the city of Los Angeles, Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette has a plan to keep it out of her shelters, but you may not be happy with this alternative. 

PENSION MANIPULATION?--Retired LA schools chief Ramon Cortines received pension benefits totaling a remarkable $238,383.67 last year, possibly through a controversial pension-spiking practice known as “air time” – the purchase of credit for time not worked. 

On her way home recently, Sonia Fernandez drove past a West Covina billboard that surprised her. “Happy Memorial Day, honoring all those who served.” She says the sign reflects the confusion many have about the significance of May’s annual tribute. 

The Box DONE Come--Less than 24 hours before the most recent special meeting of the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council on May 16, the Los Angeles Department of Neighborhood Empowerment disempowered this council by issuing a letter announcing “exhaustive efforts” and taking control over the published agenda. (See report.

COMMENTARY--The City of LA’s elected officials do not like State Senator Tony Mendoza’s efforts to bring much-needed reform to the governance structure of LACMTA (the LA County Metropolitan Transit Authority). Not only do LA’s elected officials reject Mendoza’s latest bill SB 268, they do it with a vehemence which suggests they doth protest too much.  

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--Last week at the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners meeting, a startling new policy was allowed in the new Hermon Neighborhood Council Bylaws. 

TRUMP, KUSHNER AND LA’S VERY OWN CIM---The Watchtower in Brooklyn Heights is one of the most noticeable edifices in New York. It’s a complex of buildings on a bluff above the East River, with a sign on top that flashes the time and temperature. It used to be the world headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

MEMORIAL DAY MOMENT--We just had another epic effort by an army of Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Sea Scouts, Cub Scouts, Brownies, Daisies, and a host of other youth groups () to commemorate and honor those who served and even gave their lives so that we could debate, argue, work for and give it our all for Freedom and the American Dream. 

GELFAND’S WORLD--Los Angeles has a new, 97th neighborhood council by the name of Hermon. Hermon is the name of a small area (one-half square mile according to my trusted source Wikipedia) in northeast Los Angeles. The new council asked to secede from the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council, and has now been granted full certification by the City of Los Angeles. This creates one problem which ought ultimately to provoke a crisis within the city's neighborhood council system. 

NATIONAL PARK POLITICS--I’m writing this from Yellowstone National Park (photo above). Established in 1872, this was our first National Park. The world’s first, in fact.

In an interesting window into how politics worked then (and now, arguably), Congress agreed to preserve this land only after being assured that it was entirely “worthless.” 

EDUCATION POLITICS--Supporters of charter schools, homeschooling and other forms of school “choice” are so used to fighting in the trenches against the state’s muscular teachers’ unions that they often forget how much progress they’ve made in the last decade or so. Recent events have shown the degree of progress, even if they still face an uphill – and increasingly costly – battle. 

PERSPECTIVE--If your financial adviser suggested that you invest in an arbitrage arrangement but offered no information concerning the risks, would you?

EASTSIDER-Ever since Anne Stausboll suddenly announced her retirement effective August 2016, I have wondered what’s going on with CalPERS. She was seemingly at the peak of her powers running the pension giant, and there was no particular event that precipitated her leaving. Now we have a new CEO, Marcie Frost, as of October 2016, fresh from Washington State’s Department of Retirement Systems (DRS.) 

CORRUPTION WATCH-The appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate the Russian meddling in our elections shows that American institutions are on life-support. 

PREVEN REPORT--“Our kids have to perform in front of audiences,” said then Harvard-Westlake School VP John Amato in 2013, referring to that school’s proposed multistory, 750-space parking garage and accompanying roof-top athletic field and 163-foot pedestrian bridge over Coldwater Canyon Boulevard, "so we have to have parking for visitors, and we want to have all our parking in one location.” 

RANTZ & RAVEZ--After nearly three weeks of budget meetings with Department Heads, Councilmembers, the Budget and Finance Committee, various city staff, the City Administrative Officer, the Chief Legislative Analyst, and a host of other city hall personnel and members of the public, the final city budget for next fiscal year has been approved and presented to the people of Los Angeles. What can we expect to see as we move into the next fiscal year starting July 1 with this $9.2 Billion Budget? Just think what you could do with $9.2 billion if you ran the City of Los Angeles.

GUEST COMMENTARY--What would you think if you were repeatedly rejected for promotion in favor of a less qualified and less experienced candidate? What conclusion might you arrive at if these "nationwide" searches always seemed to result in locals with ties to the current leadership being selected? How would you react if you saw a deterioration of morale of your fellow employees and how the unprepared outside hires were jeopardizing the mission?

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-Yes, traffic congestion in Los Angeles is bad and getting worse. In fact, Los Angeles has the worst traffic congestion of any US city. A recent study from the Washington State based Inryx institute concluded that Angelinos are, on average, stuck in traffic 104 hours per year, and that Los Angeles has the planet’s worst traffic congestion. 

So, LA’s power brokers can boast that at least in one category Los Angeles is now a true global city. Of course, I don’t doubt there are those perpetual cynics who want to rain on this wonderful parade, and argue that Los Angeles – despite Beijing and Mexico City -- should instead claim world recognition for its poor air quality. They do have a case, too, since the only US cities with worse air than Los Angeles are Bakersfield and Fresno. 

Given LA’s notorious traffic congestion and poor air quality, we should not be surprised at the long list of fake solutions to the city’s gridlock. While these phony fixes allow contractors to build freeways and investors to pursue lucrative but short-sighted real estate deals, we get nothing but hems and haws about what could truly reduce traffic congestion: spending serious money, such as Measure M and much more, on alternative transportation modes, especially transit, biking, and walking. 

The major fake solutions? 

Freeway widening: The $1.6 billion spent on widening the still gridlocked I-405 could have been devoted to re-engineering many miles of local boulevards to lure drivers and passengers out of their cars and into alternative transportation modes. What is now happening through the My Figueroa project between downtown Los Angeles and USC could have appeared throughout much of Los Angeles. At $5,000,000 per mile, 320 miles of major Los Angeles area arteries could have had a new, well maintained tree canopy, grade separated bike lanes, enhanced street lighting, legal ADA curb cuts, and repaired and widened sidewalks. If combined with improved bus service built on rider comfort, lower fares, and more frequent service, this array of carrots would have achieved far more than resuscitating a dinosaur, adding two more lanes to the still busiest freeway in the entire United States. 

Encourage high-density residential buildings in neighborhoods “near” mass transit hubs, stations, and corridors. 

This approach to link transportation and land use planning is usually called Transit Oriented Districts, although both Los Angele City Planning and METRO defer to the alternative term Transit Oriented Communities. In theory, these areas should be substantially improved through My Figueroa-type public improvements for walking, bicycling, and access to public transit. 

But, as made clear by both agencies, their joint version of Transit Oriented Communities is really Transit Oriented Development. Their actual program is not major local public improvements for alternative transportation modes, but broad incentives to private investors for the construction of new market rate apartment buildings. In an amazing developer-friendly approach City Planning’s proposed guidelines have some startling features: 

1) The incentive areas will radiate out in a half-mile radius from major bus stops, Bus Rapid Transit stops, Metrolink Rail stops, and Metro Rail stops. As a result, except for the San Fernando Valley, most of Los Angeles will become a vast TOC incentive area.

2) In these incentive areas, residential projects with more than five units can increase the number of rental units between 50 to 80 percent, while the building’s mass (FAR) can reach a ratio between 2.5 to 4.0.

3) Other incentives include reductions in required parking, yards and setbacks, open space, lot coverage, lot width, density, height, and transitional height. 

In effect, this ordinance will completely undercut the existing zoning code’s residential requirements in much of Los Angeles, as well as some of re:code LA. It will also sidestep the City’s current efforts to update LA’s General Plan in several dangerous ways: 

1) There is no monitoring program to assess the effectiveness of these incentivized residential projects. Are the new affordable units actually there? Are they reducing homelessness and overcrowding? Were their occupants subjects to an income verification review? Do any of the residents in these new buildings regularly use transit? We have no way to answer these basic questions because there will be no monitoring to determine the TOC ordinance’s effectiveness, and there will be no on-site inspections of the supposed affordable units. None of this is new, of course, since the lack of monitoring or on-site affordable housing inspections is already standard practice in LA. The only difference is that will now be much more speculative real estate to sweep under the carpet. 

2) If these new residential projects actually increase local populations, there is no concern over the additional public services and infrastructure required to service these residents, even though this approach should be the essence of Transit Oriented Districts. Improved bicycle infrastructure and sidewalks? Tree canopies? Undergrounding utility wires? Park ‘n ride and Kiss ‘n Ride for mass transit stations? Street and parking capacity? Electricity, water, and telecommunications? Schools, parks, and libraries? Emergency services, especially to deal with special events, floods, fires, and earthquakes? Their status will continue to be, to quote Donald Rumsfeld, unknown unknowns. 

Stop high-density buildings so Los Angeles will not become another New York City. 

The grass roots campaigns against bad planning in Los Angeles are clearly moving in the right direction. But in some cases they have seen a few trees, but missed the forest with anti-density slogans like Not Yet New York and Manhattanwood. These well-intention community activists see the high-rise buildings of New York City, especially Manhattan, but forget that its high density is far more than high-rise buildings. New York City also has one of the planet’s best mass transit systems, as well as a dense network of public amenities. These include wide, well-maintained sidewalks, with ADA curb cuts and a tree canopy. It includes a vast network of small neighborhood parks and playgrounds, as well as local schools, libraries, and fire stations. Furthermore, in NYC, there are hardly any overhead utility lines or the visual pollution of super-graphics and billboards, except in Times Square. 

In other words, in NYC density refers to both private and public spheres, while LA’s density hawks, as well some as their opponents, only imagine that density refers to private real estate projects, not the entire built environment. 

Reduce the amount of required parking, while increasing its cost. 

This is a great bargain for real estate developers because it reduces their construction costs, without paying for any public improvements to make non-car alternatives more appealing. This stick only forces habituated car drivers to spend more time driving in circles looking for a place to park. The real solution is the carrot of changing the built environment – most of which is public space – to make alternatives to driving cars appealing in their own right. 

As for the real solutions, they are either ignored or left poorly funded so they cannot be put to the test. 

There is no evidence that building more market rate apartments within a half-mile of bus stops and mass transit stations increases ridership or reduces homelessness. So far, it is just an empty claim that also turns the relationship between mass transit and land use on its head. The purpose of housing should be put a roof over people’s heads, not fill up busses and subway cars. This is why the Los Angeles proponents of “Transit Oriented Communities” never bother to verify their claims that affluent tenants will switch to transit if it is “close” to their condo or apartment. As a result neither of their twin goals will be met: reducing traffic congestion and reducing homelessness and overcrowding. 

The real purpose of most of these fake solutions to traffic congestion is to put a fig leaf over real estate speculation, and this is why it is not the serious planning that could result from a systematic update of LA’s legally required General Plan. If City Hall really wanted an authentic connection between housing and transit, they would only build affordable housing near transit, and they would extensively upgrade neighborhoods on transit corridors to make alternatives to cars more appealing. As written above, this means wider, smoother sidewalks, ADA curb cuts, pedestrian safety improved streetlights, tree canopies, undergrounding utility lines, playgrounds, safe bike lanes. Certainly not cheap, but at least not a waste of money, like freeway widening. 

The idea of making the entire built environment supportive of transit, walking, and bicycling is hardly a new insight. What would be new, however, is forcing our elected official to look at the TOC folly they are about to unleash. While it might result in more market rate apartments, it will not reduce traffic congestion and freeway gridlock in Los Angeles. 

Remember you read it here. This fake solution will make LA’s traffic situation worse, not better.

 

(Dick Platkin is a former Los Angeles 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.

-cw

ROOS BLUES--It never was very clear why someone who attended private primary, secondary, and post-secondary schools, and then attended law school on a scholarship intended for the disadvantaged – it never made a lot of sense why he would ally forces with an advocate for a school system that is independent of the district on whose board he ran for a seat – none of this made a lot of sense until reading that all along he considers this entity of which he is an incipient board member, to be “an abstract concept”. 

ALPERN AT LARGE--We just had one of the most important elections that no one paid much attention to, and which moved the LAUSD towards reform...and moved Angeleno parents and their children towards self-sufficiency. So here's a Nota Bene for you Millennials and post-Millennials (and even pre-Millennials!):  learn to take care of yourselves!

BELL VIEW--Yesterday morning LAPD took a homeless man from the front seat of my neighbor's car. My neighbor noticed him as he loaded his kid's into their car seats. The man was asleep, oblivious, he did not stir. My neighbor waited for LAPD on his front lawn, with a baseball bat in his hand. Just in case. 

RIDERS HAVE RIGHTS TOO-Ridership on Metro Buses is declining rapidly and in large percentages. Metro is in a tailspin. To reverse this decline, the mindset of Metro and the cities the buses pass through must change. Some of the changes must be directed to the routes, how often the buses run, how early and how late. Thinking must also shift to what occurs outside the bus when riders are approaching or leaving a bus stop, how well placed the stop is, how comfortable the stop is for the rider, and the experiences riders have when boarding and exiting a bus.  

POLITICS--California Democrats on Friday kicked off their three-day convention with a "raucous start" in Sacramento, where a wave of single-payer advocates demanded the party work towards a system that makes healthcare a human right. 

The gathering comes amid growing momentum nationwide for a single-payer, or Medicare-for-All, healthcare system, and as the Republican's widely scorned American Healthcare Act (AHCA) is days away from receiving its potentially problematic Congressional Budget Office (CBO) assessment.

In a evening rally and march that went from the capitol to the Sacramento Convention Center, a crowd of nurses and other healthcare activists urged support for SB562—the advancing Healthy California Act—which would create a universal health system for Californians, and could "send a message" and "be a catalyst for the nation."

Here’s the CalBuzz version of what happened. 

Of the fight for single payer, RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association, which organized the action, thinks California Democrats "cannot be in denial anymore that this is a movement that can primary them."

DeMoro, who is also executive director of National Nurses United (NNU), took to Twitter to capture speeches at the rally and images of the sign-carrying marchers:

Their message, however, was not warmly received by California Democratic Party chairman John Burton.

In fact, he "had nothing but F-bombs and sarcasm for the protesters who disrupted the welcome reception of the California Democratic Convention Friday, calling for universal healthcare and chanting 'Hey hey, ho ho, corporate Dems have got to go,'" Bay Area News Group reported.

Video captured and posted to Twitter by Politico reporter David Siders shows Burton telling them to "shut the fuck up or go outside."

"Parade all you want, but unless we put it on the ballot or elect new Democrats you can walk up and down the street and people still aren't going to have decent healthcare. So let's get with it," the LA Times reports Burton as also saying.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez, who this year beat the NNU-backed Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) for the post, also spoke at the podium. He tried to inject some levity into the situation, comparing it to Thanksgiving dinner with extended family. He appealed to party members to seek unity, saying: "Donald Trump has to go. And that is why we must work together as Democrats."

The Sacramento Bee writes that "the throng advocating for a statewide publicly funded, universal health care system snaked down a staircase behind Perez, shouting down his calls for unity."

As for the outcome of the convention, Politico reports that it will "reverberate" nationwide:

With President Donald Trump in a tailspin and the Republican House majority appearing increasingly vulnerable, what happens here at the California Democratic Party state convention this weekend will reverberate across the map.

Featuring as many as seven vulnerable GOP-controlled House seats, this solidly blue state is key to flipping the House in 2018. But when more than 3,000 activists in the nation's largest Democratic Party gather this weekend in Sacramento to forge opposition strategy and choose new party leadership, the state party's internal squabbles will also be closely watched.

Iowans were also hoping to underscore the importance of a universal healthcare system over the weekend, with rallies in seven cities.

"It just shows how important it is for us to be putting out an alternate vision for what our future should be rather than just saying no all the time," said Chris Schwartz, a community organizer with Americans for Democratic Action Iowa.

(Andrea Germanos writes for Common Dreams … where this report was first posted.)

-cw

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA--We have reached the high holy days of California’s budget season, as our governor and legislative leaders decide which programs will gain new life, and which will be sacrificed. And so our state government’s ministers have begun their ritual sermons on the dangers of overspending. (Photo: California’s Oroville Dam, the nation’s tallest.)

They are preaching nonsense. California’s real problem is underspending.

Go ahead and dismiss my claim as blasphemy. After so many years of budget crises and big deficits, Californians have adopted a budget theology grounded in self-flagellation, even though our recent budgets contain small surpluses. You can probably recite the catechism yourself: We’re still sinners who spend too much on state services! Far more than we take in! So save us, Non-Denominational Higher Power, from our profligate selves! Punish us with budget cuts or spending limits or a rainy day fund!

I’m sorry, but what our spending religion really needs is reformation.

And that requires genuine revelation. Our state’s tendency to produce big deficits is not caused by big spending. We have had big deficits because our state budget is based on volatile formulas that tend to expand deficits in unpredictable ways. In fact, California has long been on par with other states in expenditures per capita and in spending as a percentage of state GDP. Still, we cling to our budget religion and, fearing overspending, we take the cheaper path—which often costs the state more money in the long run.

The problems of underspending are most obvious when it comes to pension obligations. California governments and employees have long spent too little money on contributions to pension funds, which are underfunded. So, to try to catch up to our pension obligations, California taxpayers are having to make much bigger contributions now. And those catch-up contributions are leading to even more underspending on critical services, as money that should go to schools or health care or infrastructure is used to cover pensions.

The costliness of underspending is also the story behind rising public higher education costs in California. Over generations, the state has cut back its relative contribution to the University of California and California State University systems. This underspending has been made up for in part with ever-higher tuition fees for students. And, despite what you may read, the latest UC scandal is also about underspending; a state audit’s central allegation is that UC’s office of the president accumulated more than $100 million in funds that it wasn’t spending.

That scandal reveals a hypocrisy in our budget religion; overspending may be the stated enemy, but underspending gets you into far more trouble. The state parks department kept a secret reserve of unspent funds that became a major scandal in 2012. In California’s prisons, underspending led to an intervention by the federal courts, which ordered the state to spend more on its unconstitutionally overcrowded prisons and reduce its prison population.

Our state’s leaders understand the problem with underspending, but they haven’t been successful at explaining the problem, credibly, to the public. It also hasn’t helped that when state officials do need to spend big, they haven’t been very good at it.

Underspending also explains problems with our basic services. Studies have found that the state spends tens of billions less on schools than would be necessary to provide all Californians with an adequate education. And that underspending has real costs: California is not producing enough college graduates and skilled workers.

The state has made bold promises on child care and early childhood education that it hasn’t adequately funded, leaving citizens to pay for the rest. Child care now costs more than college tuition here. And housing costs more than just about anything, in part because we’ve spent so little on housing that we have a massive shortage, which forces Californians to pay housing prices more than twice the national average.

That the state has failed for generations to spend enough to build and maintain infrastructure is obvious in the degraded condition of roads, bridges, and waterways. The state’s failure to create strong enough spillways at Oroville Dam is forcing California to make hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of repairs and upgrades before the next rainy season.

Our state’s leaders understand the problem with underspending, but they haven’t been successful at explaining the problem, credibly, to the public. It also hasn’t helped that when state officials do need to spend big, they haven’t been very good at it. Examples include the new Bay Bridge, with its delays, cost overruns, and questions about the integrity of its steel rods, and the high-speed rail project, where spending and construction has been so slow that many people think the project will die.

In recent budgets, Gov. Jerry Brown and the legislature have sought to counter the state’s tendency to underspend now and pay later. They’ve made a great show of efforts to pay down debt. In his current budget proposal, Brown suggests making a large advance contribution to pensions now, in order to reduce liabilities later.

But that payment, unfortunately, is achieved in a questionable manner: by borrowing billions from a state special fund. As Stanford lecturer and former Schwarzenegger advisor David Crane wrote recently, since pension contributions get invested, that payment amounts to a “leveraged bet” on a stock market that Governor Brown himself has warned is overdue for a correction.

Brown has grown popular as a proselytizer of the credo that California can be managed on the cheap. That’s appealing dogma for a state whose people struggle with a very high cost of living.

But the realities of our state should remind us that successfully running California on the cheap is a fantasy that has curdled into a costly article of faith. And we parishioners are being stuck with the tab.

(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

SKID ROW POLITICS- In a stunning turn of events the City of Los Angeles’ Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) issued a shocking “final determination” in the highly controversial Skid Row Neighborhood Council subdivision election which led to three election challenges that were each upheld by an Election Challenge Review Panel convened by DONE itself.

(Photo above: General Jeff Page.) 

DONE completely threw out each of the Review Panel’s recommendations, which included initiating a 60-day investigation (to possibly uncover more evidence) followed by the possibility of an entirely new election, and instead decided to certify the election results as they stood on election day, with Skid Row’s hopes of creating a much-needed neighborhood council crushed by a mere 60 votes, 826-766. 

The election challenges arose from evidence of illegal online campaign propaganda which connected to the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council (DLANC) which, if found in violation, could have resulted in an overturned election. 

How did DONE come to this seemingly out-of-nowhere decision? Let’s examine the facts. 

On April 6, the Skid Row subdivision election took place. Any challenges had to be filed within 5 days. Skid Row representatives filed 5 official election challenges, of which two were dismissed in DONE’s initial review, leaving three valid challenges. 

On April 14, a letter was issued to Skid Row NC- Formation Committee leaders and in paragraph 7 it states “The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment reviewed the election challenges, and will be convening an Election Challenge Review Panel to resolve the pending challenges”. 

Just as two of the other challenges were dismissed rather quickly by DONE, if there wasn’t sufficient evidence in the remaining three challenges, why didn’t DONE dismiss those challenges also? 

In DONE’s “final determination” letter it states, “Per Section XII of the Subdivision Election Manual, the supporting documentation for election challenges MUST prove that the alleged challenges are not only valid, but would also have made a difference in the election results for the Election Challenge Panel to have the factual basis to uphold the challenges”. 

What DONE failed to include is the very next sentence- “Challenges without such supporting documentation will AUTOMATICALLY be rejected.” 

So, again, if DONE (who in their own words) stated they reviewed each of Skid Row’s challenges, why didn’t they AUTOMATICALLY dismiss all 5 Skid Row challenges from the beginning? Instead they wasted everyone’s time, money and energy only to ultimately toss out both the Review Panel’s recommendations and subsequently Skid Row’s challenges, then at the end of the process point to reasons that were already in their control when they first reviewed the documentation but also completely contradict DONE’s logic in their final determination. Were they hoping a “negative to Skid Row” Review Panel decision would’ve been to blame so DONE wouldn’t look like the bad guys? ...Oops! 

Further, during Skid Row’s presentation before the Review Panel on May 3rd, their Formation Committee Chair revealed that DONE’s metrics used to reach an “inconclusive” determination in their initial report to the Review Panel was flawed, thus causing an incorrect determination which DONE again mistakenly referred to in it’s “final determination” letter. 

To be specific, DONE compared a “Unite DTLA” e-mail to what they wrongfully claimed was a “second” Unite DTLA e-mail. But, in fact, the second e-mail was from “DTLA United”, which thereby automatically created different outcomes in DONE’s in-house investigation. 

Their inconclusive determination was strongly based on inaccurate metrics. And instead of getting it right the second time (for their “final determination”), they, again, somehow drew the very same conclusion based on the very same metrics. 

This suggests that either DONE didn’t bother to correct it’s previous mistakes or was simply too lazy to perform the necessary due diligence. This, then, suggests severe negligence and/or dereliction of duty. 

Even further, in DONE’s “final determination” letter, in the Inappropriate Remedy section, they stated the Review Panel’s “remedy of redoing the election is not appropriate for these challenges even if they were deemed to be valid”. 

The problem with this is DONE was at the hearing (General Manager and other high-ranking staff) as was the City Attorney’s office (highest-ranking neighborhood council division staff member), yet no City officials with extensive knowledge of this process stepped in to make sure that the Review Panel, who publicly deliberated right in front of the entire audience, reached at least one qualifying remedy for each of the three upheld challenges. 

This is even more evidence of negligence and/or dereliction of duty. Either said City officials simply stood by quietly (already knowing the preferred outcome they desired and anticipating it’s arrival soon thereafter) or were stunned “like deer caught in the headlights” at what the Review Panel was in the process of concluding as a result of their determined commitment to get this right to the best of their abilities. 

Throughout all of this, it should be noted that the Review Panel, selected individually by DONE, stayed focused and engaged for the entire 5-hour hearing, including listening to public comments from over 60 “concerned citizens”, the majority of which were pro-Skid Row NC- including members of other NC’s, Skid Row residents and volunteer supporters with professional expertise. 

While there are still “tons” more reasons to marvel at DONE’s position, this article closes with this- In DONE’s Subdivision Election Manual in the Challenge Remedy section, the first sentence states “If a challenge is found to be valid, remedies will be narrowly interpreted to affect ONLY the voters, candidates or seats affected.”

 

Not only did Skid Row have “a challenge which was found to be valid”, they had THREE of them! Then, DONE’s own language implies that there is a NARROW INTERPRETATION of the wideness of the scope and range for any and all remedies which are thereby limited to affect only the voters, candidates or seats affected. 

… And DONE went away from it’s own rules, regulations and procedures and hid behind their flawed findings and improper determinations. 

No surprise that the Skid Row Neighborhood Council Formation Committee is now seeking legal representation.

 

(General Jeff … Jeff Page … is a homelessness activist and leader in Downtown Los Angeles. Jeff’s views are his own.)

ANIMAL WATCH-Captain Jeff Perry of The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department announced on May 16, that they had confiscated 7,000 birds in the largest-ever seizure of fowl used for illegal cockfighting. 

The raid was a joint effort by major agencies that included the Sheriff’s Department, LA County Animal Care and Control, LA County District Attorney, Bureau of Investigation; Humane Society of the U.S., and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles (spcaLA.) 

On Monday, the Sheriff’s Department served a search warrant on an 80-acre property in the 29000 block of Jackson Street in Val Verde, a rural, unincorporated area of the Santa Clarita Valley. Approximately 100 personnel from the sheriff's office, along with over 50 officers and veterinary staff from animal control were involved. 

Mobile fighting rings, gaffs (curved knives which are attached to the roosters’ feet for fighting,) medications, syringes, steroids and other items were found and confiscated at the site -- all indicative of illegal cockfighting.   

The sheriff's video of the raid takes us through the scene, from arrival to the discovery of dead roosters thrown in a garbage bag. Numerous dogs are seen running loose and in kennels, and hens are caged with numerous chicks. Officials said many of the birds were sick. 

Eric Sakach, Senior Law Enforcement Specialist for The Humane Society of the United States, described how cockfighting often "goes hand-in-hand" with such other crimes as gambling, drug-dealing, illegal gun sales and murder. 

While this site has pits for fighting, Sakach said it appears to be primarily used for breeding and selling the birds, which can be "extremely lucrative." 

Officials estimated that the sales price of these animals would range from $50 to $1,500 each, meaning this seizure could result in a total loss to the bird owners (aka "cockers") of $350,000 to $10,500,000. 

Sakach said this location had been raided in 2007, when approximately 2,700 birds were seized, but it apparently started up again and expanded. 

Marcia Mayeda, Director of LA County Animal Care and Control, emphasized in a written statement: 

Cockfighting is a serious crime. Not only is it an abusive practice in which animals suffer greatly, but cockfighting birds have been found to carry diseases that pose a threat to public health and the poultry industry. Many other serious crimes occur at cockfighting operations, including the presence of illegal drugs and weapons, child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, and physical assaults. We urge residents to report any cockfighting activities, or locations where large numbers of roosters are housed, to their local animal law-enforcement agency. 

She confirmed that approximately 36 bird owners had relinquished their animals. All the dogs on the property were also relinquished and are receiving veterinary care and evaluation prior to being made available for adoption. 

Captain Perry said approximately ten people were initially detained, and the property owner has been identified and is the primary suspect in the case. The investigation is ongoing and the sheriff's department anticipates making more arrests. 

California law for cockfighting is multi-faceted -- addressing animal cruelty, training animals for the purpose of fighting, possession of implements, and being a spectator at an event. There is also an important prohibition against bringing a minor to a cockfight. 

Even if only convicted of misdemeanors, the financial penalties levied against the owner of a site for the cost of the investigation, seizure and care of the animals can be enormous and can become a lien against the property. 

Captain Perry urged anyone with information about any type of animal blood-sport activity to call their local law enforcement agency.  

Anyone with information about this current investigation, is asked to contact the Sheriff's Department Community Partnerships Bureau at 323-981-5300. Any illegal animal fighting can also be reported to "Crime Stoppers" at (800) 222-TIPS (8477) or any County law-enforcement agency. 

A SECOND COCKFIGHT BUST IN LOS ANGELES THIS WEEK 

The investigation of a location in the 13000 block of Telfair Ave. in Sylmar, prompted by complaints from neighbors of noise and offensive odors, caused members of the Los Angeles City Animal Cruelty Task Force (ACTF) to obtain a search warrant. This week they discovered 454 gamefowl in what appeared to be a training site for fighting cocks, an official confirmed.  

Most of the roosters discovered were mature and had been "altered" (a procedure called, "dubbing," which involves removing the comb, wattles and sometimes earlobes of roosters.) Only about 20 of the birds were hens, and there did not appear to be a breeding operation at this location, according to the report.  

The ACTF was formed in 2005 and is made up of LAPD officers and detectives, LA Animal Services Officers, and Deputy City Attorneys. 

A petition filed on the LAPD website indicated a hearing under Penal Code Section 599aa was set for Monday, May 15. The LA Superior Court also authorized the disposition of the gamefowl, which was carried out on Friday, May 19. It is illegal to own or maintain gamefowl within the city limits of Los Angeles, an ACTF representative advised.  

The owner of the property is reportedly facing numerous misdemeanor charges, including training animals for fighting, cockfighting, and owning/maintaining gamefowl within the City limits. 

LA CITY'S ONE-ROOSTER LIMIT    

The City of Los Angeles has a one-rooster limit, with other specific allowances, introduced by then-Councilmember Janice Hahn and adopted in 2008, (Sec. 53.71 LAMC). At that time 31 surrounding municipalities had completely banned roosters or placed severe restrictions on owning them, including requiring health inspections and special permits which could be revoked upon complaint. 

Prior to its passage, City Council offices and Animal Services reported receiving hundreds of calls per month about crowing roosters all over LA. 

Officers say the LA limit has dramatically decreased the number of complaints about crowing, sanitation and odor issues related to neighbors keeping numerous (often free-roaming) roosters, as well as curtailed the incidents of cockfighting. 

The ACTF advised that they investigate all reports of more than one rooster on a property or of suspected cockfighting, and "one-by-one is assuring that no such operation exists within the city limits." 

Another restriction that discourages keeping even one rooster is that most Angelenos living in residential or commercial zones cannot meet the distance requirements (LAMC Code Sec. 40.03), which requires a rooster or any fowl capable of crowing or making "like" noises to be cooped or otherwise humanely confined 100 feet from neighboring dwelling. This distance includes attached garages and means zero free roaming.  

IS LOS ANGELES WINNING THE BATTLE AGAINST COCKFIGHTING? 

Similar to dog-fighting, cockfighting is difficult for law enforcement to effectively address unless there is an event in progress when they arrive. Neighbors are afraid to report known or suspected cockfighters because of the violent nature of the sport and its aficionados. 

Cockfighting is not a cultural or ethnic issue. It is animal cruelty in a disturbing, perverse, public display of brutality. Participation for generations does not make it an acceptable or excusable tradition. These events commonly include drugs, guns and prostitution and are often linked to human trafficking and international crime rings. 

When cockfights are held in backyards or vacant lots, the worst members of society converge upon neighborhoods where children and innocent adults also become victims of noise, violence and exposure to criminals who would not otherwise be in the community. 

Cockfighting is now illegal in all 50 states, and California has strong, comprehensive laws to address it (see below.) Law-enforcement agencies in LA city and county have committed to winning this fight -- but they will need our help. 

If you suspect cockfighting (or other cruelty to animals) in the City of Los Angeles, call the Animal Cruelty Task Force at (213) 486-0450 or provide as much information as possible -- anonymously if necessary -- to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (1-800-222-8477.) 

CA Fighting-Animal Provisions Related to Cockfighting: 

                                                           

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

-cw

 

DEATH WATCH--Before Ronald Bert Smith’s corpse grew cold – following his patently botched execution by lethal injection on December 8, 2016 – authorities in Alabama launched a campaign of obfuscation and misinformation about what happened to him. 

It began when Prison Commissioner Jeff Dunn, himself a witness to Smith’s execution, protested: “Early in the execution, Smith, with eyes closed, did cough but at no time during the execution was there observational evidence that he suffered.” 

Dunn not only doth protest too much, Dunn lied.  

Because if you credit the macabre and unambiguous accounts of the unbiased media witnesses in attendance – not only is there a great deal of “observational evidence” Smith suffered – the publicly available information suggests he suffered a painfully slow, torturous death. 

Kent Faulk, a reporter for Alabama’s largest media outlet (al.com) and a witness to previous state executions, appeared eerily pale and shaken as he questioned Dunn on camera immediately following Smith’s death. The next day, Faulk posted a piece titled, “Alabama Death Row inmate Ronald Bert Smith heaved, coughed for 13 minutes during execution”; it includes several chilling hallmarks of an execution gone wrong: 

During 13 minutes of the execution, from about 10:34 to 10:47, Smith appeared to be struggling for breath and heaved and coughed and clenched his left fist after apparently being administered the first drug in the three-drug combination. At times his left eye also appeared to be slightly open. A Department of Corrections captain performed two consciousness checks before they proceeded with administering the next two drugs to stop his breathing and heart. The consciousness tests consist of the corrections officer calling out Smith’s name, brushing his eyebrows back, and pinching him under his left arm. Smith continued to heave, gasp, and cough after the first test was performed at 10:37 p.m. and again at 10:47 p.m. After the second one, Smith’s right arm and hand moved. 

In “Witnessing death: AP reporters describe problem executions,” Kim Chandler, also a witness to Smith’s execution, described observing the exact same “observational evidence” as Faulk. Indeed, Chandler’s description of Smith’s execution only amplifies the constitutional concern it violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment; Chandler observed that while Smith’s chest was heaving, “he had regular loud coughing,” strong evidence he was not unconscious (and not insensate) when the excruciatingly painful lethal injection drugs were administered. 

In a sharply worded op-ed for the Washington Post on May 11, David Waisel, an associate professor of anesthesia at Harvard Medical School wrote, “[t]he drugs we use for executions can cause immense pain and suffering.” Specifically, Waisel opined that “[m]ounting evidence suggests that midazolam does not anesthetize inmates during executions, as shown by movement and difficulty breathing (each a sign that someone isn’t anesthetized) long after injection[.]” 

While Waisel’s column focused on Arkansas’ assembly line executions in April – in particular, the problematic execution of Kenneth Williams – his opinion is just as trenchant and ultimately damning for the future of constitutionally kosher executions in Alabama.  

Waisel concluded: (1) “When midazolam is used, executions predictably go awry;” (2) “[V]iolent and painful executions will continue as long as we attempt to use midazolam as an aesthetic; and (3) perhaps of greatest salience as Alabama charts its next course on capital punishment: “The state’s self-serving statements that [an] execution was flawless and proceeded according to plan do not make it so, especially when numerous eyewitnesses contradict the version of events the state is promoting.”     

At the end of October of last year, I wrote that Alabama’s Department of Corrections (ADOC) and Commissioner Dunn had duped me into believing that Alabama’s second-to-last execution – the lethal injection of Christopher Brooks on January 21, 2016 – had also gone “smoothly” and according to plan. (See “Alabama’s last execution may have burned a man alive”.) Using court filings by Brooks’ federal defenders that were buttressed by affidavits from expert medical witnesses, I accused Alabama, through the false representations of Commissioner Dunn, of “painting Mr. Brooks’ execution as a peaceful passing – like he just curled up in a comfy hammock and dozed off – never to wake again.”  

Outrageously, despite mountainous waves of “observational evidence” indicating Ronald Bert Smith’s execution was botched just as Brooks’ may have been, ADOC and Commissioner Dunn are in denial-and-hide-the-ball-mode again. 

As we careen closer to the nation’s and Alabama’s next execution – that of Tommy Arthur scheduled on May 25 – Dunn and ADOC are still pigheadedly denying the objective evidence observed by the seasoned, unbiased reporters that saw Smith die -- “observational evidence” Professor Waisel has since given undeniable and absolutely odious meaning to. 

Alabama courts are complicit in the cover-up. As reported by the Associated Press on May 16, Montgomery, Alabama Circuit Judge J.R. Gaines has ruled: “Alabama can keep secret its records from recent lethal injections, including documents about [the executions of Ronald Bert Smith and Christopher Brooks].” Arthur’s lawyers had argued for the release of ADOC logs and other records indicating Smith and Brooks may have been tortured noting, “[t]he people of Alabama have a right to know what their government is doing in their name, especially when it involves taking a life.” 

Rejecting this commonsense plea for knowledge and for decency, Judge Gaines wrote: “Any release of the execution logs would be detrimental to the best interests of the public.” 

Recently I urged “conscientious, justice-loving Alabamians” to demand that Alabama’s newly appointed Attorney General Steven Marshall “investigate and publicly address the circumstances of both [Ronald Bert] Smith and [Christopher] Brooks’ deaths.” I’m making that same plea again. But this time, instead of only Alabamians, I’m inviting all conscientious, justice-loving Americans and citizens of the world to join too.  

Demand that authorities in Alabama be honest and transparent about executions. Demand that death row inmates receive effective counsel and that they be treated fairly and humanely. Demand that torture be prohibited. And, until that can be assured, if it can ever be assured, demand that Governor Kay Ivey issue a moratorium on all executions going forward. Demand that Alabama comply with the state and federal constitutions.  

Don't ask for these things. Demand them.

 

(Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas … including CityWatch. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills. Follow him on Twitter @SteveCooperEsq.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-The post-inaugural Women’s March in Los Angeles brought over 750,000 participants, many of whom were women. The policies of the Trump administration, coupled with a renewed sense of “can-do” has led to an increase in grassroots activism throughout Los Angeles and beyond. The Women’s March LA Foundation committed to the national organization’s 10 Actions in 100 Days. One of those actions was the formation of Huddles, groups of neighbors, friends, or colleagues gathered for postcard, e-mail, and texting campaigns, to attend town hall meetings and marches, as well as other initiatives to make their voices heard. 

We might have suspected that, despite the disappointment many women felt when Trump took office that this organization and commitment to change would bring a new breed of Year of the Woman; but at some level, the progress of women in government, both in Los Angeles and on the national stage, has not followed suit. 

In California, we do have two female senators, following Kamala Harris’s election to the Boxer seat. However, despite Los Angeles’s status as a fairly progressive city, when Monica Rodriguez (photo above-center) edged Karo Torossian for the Council District 7 seat, capturing 52,9 percent of the vote, she became ONLY the second female member of Los Angeles City Council, joining Nury Martinez who represents the East Valley. Women and girls make up 51 percent of the city’s population but are underrepresented in the City Council. 

The underrepresentation of women office holders often results in policy repercussions. Certainly, male candidates may support legislation supporting women and families -- and characterizing such issues as “women’s issues” does us no favors. We are all impacted by policies that do not support families or women’s health issues. However, female office holders may present an additional focus on these issues. For example, Nury Martinez has committed herself to fighting human trafficking, establishing, along with LAPD Operations-Valley Bureau Deputy Chief Bob Green, the bureau’s Human Trafficking Task Force, for which she secured $1 million to fund through this year. 

The current status of female representation on the Los Angeles City Council is mirrored at the federal level where women were noticeably absent from Trump appointments, with the exception of Elaine Chao (Department of Transportation) and Betsy DeVos (Department of Education.) Women were also noticeably absent from the Senate Committee on Healthcare. The GOP’s initial healthcare package excluded many services for women, including pregnancy coverage as an “essential benefit.”

The path to increase representation at the city, state, and national levels must include support for female candidates, both in outreach and in campaign financing/fundraising. 

Groups such as She Should Run, a non-partisan project created in 2008 that has grown into a movement to inspire women to run for public office, and Emily’s List connect potential candidates with resources and organizations to forward their runs. 

By supporting these organizations, we can support a more gender-balanced government at every level, which is sound policy for all of us.

 

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

GUEST WORDS--It's hard not being near the top of the political food chain. It's tough being white, proud, and so easily threatened by this:

As has been increasingly obvious, “Racial attitudes made a bigger difference in electing Trump than authoritarianism.” Part of that is the sense that growing ethnic and racial diversity is a threat to white supremacy and status. Not necessarily in the Klan sense, but in the societal privilege sense. “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression”: 

All this anger we see from people screaming “All Lives Matter”  in response to black protesters at rallies. All this anger we see from people insisting that their “religious freedom” is being infringed because a gay couple wants to get married. All these people angry about immigrants, angry about Muslims, angry about “Happy Holidays,” angry about not being able to say bigoted things without being called a bigot... 

A poll last week indicates nationwide attitudes are definitely shifting, just ever so slowly. Like when they threw the wheel on the Titanic hard over and she kept heading straight for the iceberg for what seemed like minutes before beginning to turn.

Pew Research reported last week:  

In 2015, 17% of all U.S. newlyweds had a spouse of a different race or ethnicity, marking more than a fivefold increase since 1967, when 3% of newlyweds were intermarried, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. In that year, the U.S. Supreme Court in the Loving v. Virginia case ruled that marriage across racial lines was legal throughout the country. Until this ruling, interracial marriages were forbidden in many states.

More broadly, one-in-ten married people in 2015 – not just those who recently married – had a spouse of a different race or ethnicity. This translates into 11 million people who were intermarried. The growth in intermarriage has coincided with shifting societal norms as Americans have become more accepting of marriages involving spouses of different races and ethnicities, even within their own families.

The most dramatic increases in intermarriage have occurred among black newlyweds. Since 1980, the share who married someone of a different race or ethnicity has more than tripled from 5% to 18%. White newlyweds, too, have experienced a rapid increase in intermarriage, with rates rising from 4% to 11%. However, despite this increase, they remain the least likely of all major racial or ethnic groups to marry someone of a different race or ethnicity. 

Furthermore (pg. 7): 

The decline in opposition to intermarriage in the longer term has been even more dramatic, a new Pew Research Center analysis of data from the General Social Survey has found. In 1990, 63% of nonblack adults surveyed said they would be very or somewhat opposed to a close relative marrying a black person; today the figure stands at 14%. Opposition to a close relative entering into an intermarriage with a spouse who is Hispanic or Asian has also declined markedly since 2000, when data regarding those groups first became available. The share of nonwhites saying they would oppose having a family member marry a white person has edged downward as well. 

Stormfront commenters were less sanguine about what that meant. One wrote,"... it just seems America is officially over. This WILL be a complete third world nation within thirty years. Absolutely finished." Strange, because when Obama became president and the T-party rose up, Ann Coulter declared "we don't have racism in America any more" like it was a good thing. Despite Pat Buchanan lamenting “The End of White America,” in Shelby v. Holder, Chief Justice John Roberts declared. “Our country has changed."

Ask black voters in North Carolina how much.

After calling for President Trump's impeachment, U.S. Rep. Al Green of Texas received racially tinged threats. He played a few voice mails for a town hall meeting Saturday: The seven-term Democrat told the crowd of about 100 people that he won't be deterred.

"We are not going to be intimidated," Green said Saturday. "We are not going to allow this to cause us to deviate from what we believe to be the right thing to do and that is to proceed with the impeachment of President Trump."

One male caller used a racial insult and threatened Green with "hanging from a tree" if he pursues impeachment. Another man left a message saying Green would be the one impeached after "a short trial" and then he would be hanged, according to the recording.

Green took to the House floor on Wednesday to say he believes Trump committed obstruction of justice and no one's above the law. 

The good news is their numbers are shrinking, but as Jesus said, bigots you have with you always. Or something.

(Tom Sullivan is a North Carolina-based writer who posts at Hullabaloo and Scrutiny Hooligans. A former columnist for the Asheville Citizen-Times, his posts have appeared at Crooks and Liars, Campaign for America's Future, Truthout.org, AlterNet, and TomPaine.org.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

JUDICIAL CORRUPTION WATCH-As Ricky used to say to Lucy, “you’ve got a lot of splain’ to do.” So too does the California Commission on Judicial Performance. 

For the years 2009 through 2015, only one judge has been removed despite nearly 11,000 complaints. As regular readers know, in 2015, the federal court’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals complained that due to the behavior of California judges and justices, California courts have experienced an “epidemic of misconduct.” With an increasing number of complaints, averaging about 1,200 per year, the idea that over 10,000 people could be so far off mark that only one judge’s behavior was bad enough to merit removal is hard to accept. More investigation is required. 

Let’s Look at the Behavior of Some Judges over the Years. 

In 2010, the attorney for a Child Custody Evaluator appeared in Family Court to obtain an order compelling the father to cooperate in the evaluation in light of the evaluator’s suspicions that the father may have questionable conduct with his teenage daughter. The judge said that he would take the matter under submission and told the evaluator’s attorney that he could leave as the court discussed other issues not concerning the child custody evaluator with the attorneys for the divorcing parents. 

After the evaluator’s attorney had left, the judge spontaneously re-opened the issue raised by him and proceeded to fire him saying, it was not the evaluator’s business to delve into such matters and that he, the judge, would handle it the “old fashioned way,” i.e. the teenage girl would come to court and explain the situation to the judge. 

The judge then directed lawyers not to give any notice of ruling but that he would provide notice. Thus, the child custody evaluator did not know that he had been fired by the court and the judge prevented him from following up on the father’s conduct. Months later someone sent the child custody evaluator’s attorney a copy of the hearing transcript. While the evaluator’s attorney had been complaining that he had not received any order from the court, the presiding judge in the family court sent a hostile and intimidating letter. Subsequently it was clear that the presiding judge knew about the deception which was being perpetrated upon the child custody evaluation and the judge had stopped the investigation into the father’s behavior. 

Two years later, in 2012, the CJP wrote the evaluator’s attorney a letter saying, “The commission has considered the matter and taken an appropriate corrective action as to certain but not all of your allegations. Please be advised that this is the extent of the notice and disclosure allowed by rule 102(e) of the Rules of the Commission on Judicial Performance.” When the Private Admonitions for the year 2012 were consulted for this article, there is no fact pattern which fits the complaint. Thus, there had been no private reprimand. 

Since the CJP letter came in 2012, there was certainly plenty of time for the CJP to have included it in its description of 2012 cases. From the CJP files themselves, the logical conclusion is that the CJP lied to the complainant and in reality no private reprimand had been given for the judge’s re-opening the hearing and firing the child custody evaluator in order to protect the father from investigation. 

The CJP CYAs Itself by Adding the Following to its Website: 

“In order to maintain confidentiality, certain details of the cases have been omitted or obscured, making the summaries less informative than they otherwise might be, but because these summaries are intended in part to educate judges and the public and to assist judges in avoiding inappropriate conduct, the commission believes it is better to describe the conduct in abbreviated form than to omit the summaries altogether.” 

In other words, the CJP’s description of the basis of the wrongful behavior may be so vague and abbreviated, that the complainer cannot recognize his own complaint.  

CJP Allows Judges to Obstruct Justice by witness Intimidation. 

In another case dating back to 1995, the judge in a criminal case submitted a false but secret complaint to the state bar about an attorney who happened to be a witness in her court. Two weeks earlier, the District Attorney had threatened the attorney-witness that unless the witness committed perjury and testified exactly as the DA wanted some judge would get him. After it was discovered that it was the judge who had made the secret complaint (which had been worded to appear it had been made by the defendant) the CJP said that the judge had done nothing wrong in filing the false, secret complaint against the witness. The judge refused to recuse herself. 

This judge was the infamous Judge Jacqueline Connor who five years later in 2000 presided over the first trial of the Ramparts Officers and who reversed the jury convictions and acquitted them. She had previous involvement with one of the main witnesses, Officer Rafael Perez, and had reason to be angry with him. The public has no way to assess the reality behind the appearance. 

Serious Misconduct which the CJP Conceals. 

Based upon information from the data on the CJP website, there are a number of far more serious violations of both judicial ethics and law which the CJP Website ignores. 

Why do appellate court justices get to overrule trial court decisions when no one has appealed the trial court ruling? 

Why do judges and justices have the right to keep secret their ex parte communications from opposing counsel? 

Why do judges and justices get to change the facts in a case? 

Why do judges and justices get to manufacture evidence in a case? 

Why do judges and justices get to exclude attorneys from sidebars and hearings because the judges dislike the attorney for “refusing Jesus Christ?” 

Why do judges and justices get to make adverse rulings against parties because a given party’s attorney has been blacklisted for complaining about judicial misconduct? 

Why do judges and justices get to frame people for things which they did not do and then lock them up in jail for civil confinement? This practice is more widespread than previously believed and seems to be one of the prime methods the courts use to silence their critics. 

Why do judges get to ignore the fact that Prosecutors present falsified evidence? 

Why do judges get to ignore the fact that attorneys have presented perjured declarations? 

Why do appellate court justices get to communicate to trial court judges the decisions which they should make in cases? Does the use of the attorney for the superior court make the communication between the justices and the judges proper? 

Sources outside the CJP have no trouble finding these unacceptable behaviors, but the CJP seems to be blind. Or, could it be that the CJP and the judges retaliate against attorneys who make complaints. Only 3% of complaints come from attorneys, yet they are in the best position to recognize unethical conduct as opposed to an adverse decision. 

The CJP Encourages Misconduct. 

The more one looks into the Commission of Judicial Performance and the behavior of judges, one sees that the Ninth Circuit Judges understated the situation by saying that California judges and justices “turn a blind eye” to attorney misconduct. Not only do they condone and thereby encourage extreme attorney misconduct, but they themselves actively engage in outrageous behavior with impunity. 

While the various state court judges and justices can thank Justice Paul Turner for launching these series of articles, they should rest assured (or rest very uneasily) that so much additional credible information has already flowed in and the roster of miscreants has ballooned far beyond any expectation with information ranging from the San Francisco Bay Area down to San Diego. In the Internet days, reformers spread their data around the world with a few emails, forever placing the incriminating data beyond the power of the “bad boys” to retrieve and destroy. 

As the songwriters Gilman and Scott wrote (© Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC):     

“Bad boys, bad boys

Whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do

When they come for you?”

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney and a CityWatch contributor. 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.

-cw

EDUCATION POLITICS-Recently there was a piece on local NPR affiliate KPCC about how the homeless population, which disproportionately suffers from untreated mentally illnesses, has exploded in recent years. This story was told without ever mentioning that the State of California emptied out most of the state’s mental institutions during the 1960s and 1970s, releasing those who knew their names and what day of the week it was, irrespective of whether they were profoundly mentally ill and in dire need of treatment. 

This was done to save money in the short-term so the State would not have to hospitalize the mentally ill and address their needs in a timely manner. This segment of the population did and does not have the political power to advocate on its own behalf. 

At the time, State courts, having an undisclosed conflict of interest, determined that profoundly mentally ill people had the "civil right" to be free...and homeless. The fact that the State of California saved a short-term fortune back then is coming back to haunt everybody a half century later with an even more massive homeless population. And often, the term “mentally ill” is not even mentioned in the context of today's news about the homeless problem. 

In brief, "news" regarding the homeless situation in the state is consistently presented without relevant historic facts and context. This is not an accident, but rather the conscious manipulation of the public to limit our options so that those in government and their corporate supporters -- who financially profit from this perverse system -- are never held accountable for prior improper actions, actions that could have been avoided if the democratic process had not been mismanaged. 

But it is not necessary to go back half a century to find other illustrations of how the public is manipulated by not being presented with all options before deciding how to take action on a given issue. In the recent LAUSD Board elections for the 4th District, the only two candidates with financial support were either from the for-profit charter industry (Melvoin) or the corrupt UTLA union leadership (Zimmer.) Neither candidate ever addressed the important issues facing public education. And neither offered any ideas on how to fix what has purposefully been allowed to go wrong in public education. 

Maybe this is why only 8% of the eligible voters bothered to vote in the LAUSD Board run-off elections. What's the purpose of voting when neither one of the candidates offers any hope for real change or ways to address the needs of the majority? 

What do you think would happen in this country, if there was a third option on the ballot every election day: the chance to choose “none of the above?”

 

(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.

-cw

ROOS RUMINATIONS--Shame on you Los Angeles

The international movement admiring “strongmen” leaders which sanctions rhetorical, and sometimes even physical violence, has seen its latest expression in Los Angeles’ battle for public schools.

EASTSIDER-Thank God May 16 is behind us and the CD 1 runoff is over. Everyone has written about this race ad nauseam, so I won’t say much more, other than the fact that I endorsed Gil Cedillo (you can read it here,) and that in the later phase of the campaign, this race got about as ugly as I’ve ever seen in LA City politics, and that’s ugly indeed. Notwithstanding the huge win for Gil Cedillo (about 70/30) it’s going to take a lot of healing to make this District work together going forward. 

About that Congressional District 34 Race 

I was going to wait for the EAPD’s Endorsement meeting on May 23 to write about the Congressional District runoff, but someone decided to send out the mail-in ballots for this race during the week of May 8. Thus this article, even as people fill out their mail-in ballots. That seems very early to me, and actually overlapped the runoff elections on May 16. 

It also means we will not get to see both Jimmy Gomez and Robert Lee Ahn face-to-face before most of the mailed ballots are in, and I think that sucks. I’m not a political consultant, but I’m sure that Parke Skelton/SG&A has models as to how many mail-in ballots will already be turned in before there is any real forum or opportunity to see both candidates on May 23. This will be a detriment to being able to see both candidates in a robust campaign. 

At least in the CD 1 race, we had a number of face-to-face debates which both galvanized voters and told us a lot about our choices. Here we have a much bigger deal, an opening for a House of Representatives seat, with no term limits, in the midst of a crazy time in D.C., and it’s almost like this runoff is under the radar. 

A note to self: this campaign season has made me decide to stop using the words “progressive” and “Bernie democrat.” Everyone is running as a progressive this year, whatever their real political colors. Both Gil Cedillo and Joe Bray-Ali ran as progressives, and by now the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is trying to pretend that they are progressive. Heck, if he was still in office, Dennis Zine would probably try to pass himself off as progressive. 

Same for who is the true successor to Bernie Sanders. In the wake of the Dems getting creamed by none other than Donald Trump, suddenly the California Democratic Party is all in for Bernie. Happy faces and “The Burton legacy -- Empower the Grassroots, Build for the Future.” Grassroots? Funny how I didn’t see that from the CDP and the Clintonistas last November. And after the post-election Our Revolution staff changes, I’m not too sure who they are anymore and have stopped giving them money. Individual campaigns only. 

About Jimmy Gomez and Robert Lee Ahn 

Jimmy Gomez should need no introduction to California Democrats. Born in Fullerton, he followed the traditional Democratic establishment path to politics. From AFSCME to the obligatory east coast stint at Harvard and then on to Hilda Solis’ staff, he became the Political Director for the Nurses in California (UNAC) as he positioned himself for office. Not bad creds. 

He was elected to the Assembly in 2012, and reelected in 2014, as well as last November 2016. If you have any doubt that he is the establishment candidate in this race, a recent mailer shows Xavier Becerra endorsing Jimmy on one side; the other side reads like a who’s who of every Democratic California official, from federal to state to local. I was going to list them, but then this column would be way too long and no one would read all the names anyway. 

Mr. Gomez is handled by Parke Skelton/SG&A Campaigns, our local powerhouse political fixer lobbyist gang. Of course. Glory be to them, and if Jimmy is successful in this race, I’m sure they will handle the (yes another) Special Election that will have to be run to replace him in the legislature. 

To his credit, Jimmy is a bright, very engaged and articulate politician who has been extremely successful in the California Legislature, and was rumored to be the likely replacement for Kevin de Leon in the Senate. 

On the other side, in this season of uncouth and slimy politics, Robert Lee Ahn is the outsider who allegedly had no chance in a Congressional District carved out for a Latino. Yes, the same 800 pound gorilla as we saw in the CD 1 race.

Yet he beat 21 other candidates to win a seat at the runoff table, and even I was embarrassed to admit that I had never heard of him until the votes were counted in the primary. He is clearly running as the younger, activist, bottom-up small “d” democratic candidate who could shake up the Democratic Party Establishment. 

As far as I know, there are no public debates planned between Jimmy Gomez and Robert Lee Ahn, other than the endorsement meeting of the East Area Progressive Democrats on May 23. I think that this indicates a deliberate strategy by Parke Skelton and his gang to avoid any face-to-face debates between the two candidates. Bury the challenger in targeted mailers casting aspersions on his character, and rely on the big bucks and establishment endorsers to bring home the bacon. 

Witness a mailer I received last week, basically accusing Ahn of being a “closet Republican” trying to secretly galvanize republicans to vote for him, while Jimmy Gomez is the paragon of being “a champion for progressive democratic values.” This is silly -- there aren’t more than a handful of republicans in the district, and you can see from these mailers why I won’t use the “progressive” tag anymore. Everyone Parke Skelton represents is evidently progressively poorer from paying SG&A their fees, I suspect. 

Meet Robert Lee Ahn 

After my article pushing back against an LA Times piece with the spiffy title of LA voters “didn’t just turn their backs on Berniecrat progressivism, they went positively Clintonesque,” some of my fellow Dems let me know that Robert Lee Ahn might not be as big a Bernie progressive as I had been led to believe. Another reason I am trying to avoid the use of “progressive” and “Bernie dem.” 

So I recently went to a local meet and greet in Highland Park for Ahn. He directly took on the rap about being a Republican. His answer was that a lot of immigrants from his parents’ generation who had small businesses became republicans because that’s what business people did, and at that time, politics was not the kind of a life or death game that it has recently turned into. So he went along with his parents, like a lot of other people. 

At the same time, his father founded a non-profit group called PAVA (Pacific American Volunteer Association) which got involved in the LA River, Friends of the LA River, and even actual homeless people with the LA Mission. Mr. Ahn became seriously involved in these efforts, ultimately leading him to become a democrat as his activism increased. Hardly the picture of a conservative republican who simply registered as a democrat in 2012 to run for office. 

I believe this is a credible response. Over the years, I’ve talked to a lot of folks from Lincoln Heights, Boyle Heights, El Soreno, and Highland Park whose parents were Latino (or other) immigrants, had small businesses, and were republicans. Ahn shouldn’t be tarred with the same brush as Joe Bray-Ali has been in the CD 1 donnybrook. And as the candidate quipped, “Elizabeth Warren was once a republican too, and look at her now.” 

As a native Angeleno from the District, Ahn keys on the fact that CD 34 is of one of the poorest Districts in California, and something needs to be done about it. After the meeting I did a fact check, and he’s right. Outside of the San Joaquin Valley, CD 34 is right in there at the economic bottom, with over 25% of our residents living in poverty.  

To me, that’s the kind of thing that a native Angeleno raised locally would know, whereas other professional politicians might not really be aware of it -- or would choose to downplay this reality. Remember, aside from all the newspaper headlines about Washington, congressional members get paid to represent the troops in their district. 

The Takeaway 

Lest you think that I’m simply gushing over Robert Lee Ahn, let me assure you that I’m not. I’m not endorsing anyone. What I am saying is that if you can, delay sending in that mail-in ballot until you find out more about both candidates as legitimate contenders for the job. I just think we deserve a competitive race instead of a coronation. 

Ignore the hit pieces and check out both candidates before you cast your ballot. Obviously I recommend the East Area Progressive Dems meeting on May 23 at the Goodwill Center on San Fernando Road. I am assured that there will be at least a 15-minute or so debate between the candidates before the endorsement vote. Also, Maria Elena Durazo will be making an appearance in her run for California Senate. 

If you can, attend an event for each, or both, candidates. This is likely to be a super low turnout election, and yet it will have a serious impact on the House of Representatives and California for decades to come. We owe it to ourselves to check out our candidates rather than relying on the same old same old system that produced republican majorities in both the House and Senate. 

Your vote is important. The May 16 election had something like an 8 1/2% turnout citywide, which is pitiful, and shame on us. It also means that each and every vote counts big time. With over 61% of the ballots being cast by mail, it is all too easy to fill out a ballot without paying much attention to the candidates. You are important! Check out the candidates and the issues, and pretty please, VOTE! 

(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.

-cw

THE PREVEN REPORT--Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell's behavior as of late calls to mind that old joke about the Devil and the lawyer. "All the riches and fame in the world will be yours," says the Devil to the lawyer, "but in return you must give me your soul for all eternity." The lawyer pauses briefly and then asks, "What's the catch?" 

O'Farrell's new spin on that old chestnut is that instead of selling his soul for all the riches in the world he's doing it for $3,000. And it wasn't Mephistopheles who offered the cash, it was a relatively small time player named Leeor Maciborski, who was found guilty by the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission of using a series of LLCs to give Mr. O'Farrell campaign contributions in excess of the legal limit. The ruling was over a month ago, and the number of times Councilmember O'Farrell has been asked by two particular members of the public to unhand the illicit contributions is too many to remember. 

Has there ever been a more blaring case of "penny wise and pound foolish" in the history of humankind? 

"Not so fast," Councilmember O'Farrell may retort. "I didn't know those funds were being given illicitly, so why should I be punished?" 

Let's be generous in responding to that line of reasoning and take at face value Mr. O'Farrell's pleading guilty by ignorance. That generosity won't come easy, because when a person makes excess contributions to a political candidate, the whole point is to get credit for pitching in, not to make some grand gesture of anonymous magnanimity. In other words, candidates know who gave them money, because the donors "make" them know.    

But, again, we are taking the high road right now and swallowing with considerable difficulty Mr. O'Farrell's claim of exculpatory ignorance.   

Being let off the hook in this regard, however, does not make it okay for Mr. O'Farrell to keep that $3,000 of illicit contributions, and the public deserves immediate confirmation from him that he will return the money.  

The tougher question is to whom should the money be given? One could dream up various convoluted schemes -- give the money to the public matching fund program, for example -- but the only option that really makes sense is to give the money back to the genius who donated the money in the first place.  

Won't that encourage others to commit the same crime? No, because the illicit donor is being fined $17,000 by the Ethics Commission.  In other words he still comes out behind. 

Alternatively, if Councilmember O'Farrell is planning to double-down on his refusal to loosen his grip on the three grand, why not put that money to good use? Mr. O'Farrell's campaign pledge to banish unaccompanied men from city playgrounds seems to have lost some steam since the election. How about three thousand dollars worth of creepy mailers? 

Give back the money, O'Farrell!

 

(Eric Preven and Joshua Preven are public advocates for better transparency in local government. Eric is a Studio City based writer-producer and Joshua is a teacher.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

THE ALPERN ADVISOR--As I addressed in a recent CityWatch piece, we just had an UGLY election between two good men on the Westside for the LAUSD Board seat:  both two-term incumbent Steve Zimmer and challenger Nick Melvoin were two good men, but that election was not easy on just about anyone ... and the low-voter turnout was in part a result of that. 

There were a variety of other reasons, of course--the amount of money involved, the recent elections burning people out on more voting, and the propaganda flying back and forth makes many a potential voter throw up their hands and scream "Whatever!  I'll sit THIS one out!" 

And then there are those of us who do not have children, and who do not think this election means much to them...while those of us who have children are both PRO-education but ANTI-LAUSD.

This election, so very expensive and favoring challenger Melvoin, was heavily funded by the pro-charter lobbies.  

And the final vote tally was higher for Melvoin than for the other elected newcomer in the San Fernando Valley, Kelly Gonez (who replaced outgoing LAUSD Boardmember Monica Ratliff).

So did the voters give the charter school lobbies a blank check?  Did the teachers' union (United Teachers Los Angeles) learn their lesson? 

Probably NO to both counts--but both the charter schools and teachers' unions need to know that reform is needed, and that the parents need to be listened to...while their children need to be prioritized by focusing on the students, and spending our ever-growing education tax dollars well: 

1) Acknowledge you screwed over the parents and students by doing the bait and switch by voting to return to the awful, terrible "start in mid-August" school year.  We had a deal.  You got the voter money in November.  And then you reneged.  You lied.  So...goodbye! 

2) Acknowledge that there is a rea$on or three why so many--the majority, even--of parents in the LAU$D send their children to charter schools.  Parents who really love their children often decide to work harder, spend more of their own money, and drive their kids long distances every day to go to their charter school of choice. 

3) Acknowledge that UTLA is really a horrible, horrible union that is as regressive a caricature of out-of-touch, self-serving public-sector unions that we've ever seen.  Hence the flight of so many otherwise-progressive parents and their children to charter schools.  Really, UTLA...you really are one the biggest reasons it's so darned tough to raise kids in Los Angeles. 

4) You can hate Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos all you want, but can we please do better than Common Core?  Standards are awesome, and standardized tests are vital...but the ivory tower wizards who dominate Common Core are the worst--and our children have been hurt because of those evil wizards (who probably think they're doing the Lord's work). 

5) When DO we stop talking and start building bridges between colleges, vocational schools, and other pathways that leads to jobs, financial literacy, and economic self-sufficiency for children? 

6) When DO we start spending our money better and build more colleges (even if that means ripping away 5-10% of state K-12 funding to do it)? 

7) The elections are over--we want parental input and control, and we want front-line teacher input and control.  Probably the principals/administrators are the ones who need reforming (and perhaps some firing) first, but the teacher/parent/student relationship is more vital than ever to consolidate, and those who did vote made it clear that was their #1 goal.   

Who knows if bridges can ever be built by the newcomers to the supporters of those who lost in the LAUSD elections---and arguably, unless UTLA leaders (and members) have a "come to Jesus" moment that the UTLA really is the "Darth Vader" of local education in Los Angeles, will they ever come on board? 

It's up to these relatively low-paid LAUSD Board members with their extremely well-funded election coffers to restore the trust of the voters, taxpayers, parents and other adults who made a tough decision just now. 

But more importantly, it's up to the LAUSD Board to start really, REALLY focusing on the students...because while our educational gurus SAY they're focusing on the children, it's pretty clear that the adults need to admit to their own lack of education, and their own lack of ability, in meeting the needs of the children they are supposed to be serving.

 

(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 was co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chaired 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

LOOMING PENSION PAIN--The Jerry Brown administration last week released its revised May budget and, lo and behold, it has finally decided to (kind of, sort of) tackle the state’s massive and growing level of unfunded liabilities – i.e., the hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer-backed debt to fund retirement promises made to the state’s government employees. 

It’s best to curb our enthusiasm, however. The governor didn’t have much of a choice. This was the first state budget that is compliant with new accounting standards established by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board that requires states to more properly account for retiree medical and benefits beyond pensions. 

Because of those new standards and low investment returns, the state’s unfunded liabilities (including the University of California retirement system) soared by an astounding 22 percent since last year. But even this new estimate of $279 billion in liabilities is on the optimistic side. Some credible estimates pin California state and local governments’ pension liabilities at nearly $1 trillion, based on more realistic rate-of-return predictions. 

The pension system invites eyes-glazing-over debates about the size of the liability. That’s because debts are calculated on guesswork about future investment earnings. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) recently voted to lower its predicted rates from 7.5 percent a year to 7 percent. The lower the predicted rate, the higher the liabilities, which is why CalPERS and the state’s unions are so bullish on Wall Street. 

CalPERS’ latest investment returns were below 1 percent, but the agency insists there’s nothing to worry about and no need to do the unthinkable (reduce future benefit accruals for current employees.) That’s the same CalPERS, of course, that in 1999 assured the Legislature that a 50-percent retroactive pension increase wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime.  I suppose CalPERS was right. It didn’t cost a dime, although it did cost many billions of dollars. Their returns were then yielding 13.5 percent a year, and CalPERS figured the heyday would go on forever. 

The other reason to be skeptical of the Brown administration’s commitment to solving the problem can be found in the May revise itself. The budget “includes a one‑time $6 billion supplemental payment” to CalPERS, according to the Finance Department. “This action effectively doubles the state’s annual payment and will mitigate the impact of increasing pension contributions due to the state’s large unfunded liabilities.” 

Where is the extra $6 billion coming from in a budget that supposedly is so pinched that the governor recently signed a law raising annual transportation taxes by $5.2 billion? 

Simple. The state is borrowing the money to pre-pay some of its debt. “The additional $6 billion pension payment will be funded through a loan from the Surplus Money Investment Fund,” according to the budget summary. “Although the loan will incur interest costs (approximately $1 billion over the life of the loan,) actuarial calculations indicate that the additional pension payment will yield net savings of $11 billion over the next 20 years.” 

In other words, the state will be borrowing the money at fairly low interest rates and then investing the money and earning, it hopes, higher rates. The difference will help pay down some of those retirement debts. Even the well-known pension reformer, Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, lauded the administration for embracing that idea. 

But it’s something of a shell game. It should work out well, provided the markets do as well as the state expects. In doing this, however, the state is taking out new debt that will need to be repaid. There’s no free money here. A number of localities have embraced a similar strategy with pension-obligation bonds, which are a form of arbitrage, in which the government is borrowing money and betting on future market returns. 

This gimmick is similar to the one people will embrace in their personal lives. Are those credit-card debts crushing the family budget? Then borrow money from the home-equity line of credit at 5 percent and use it to pay down the 10-percent credit card loans. It makes sense, but it doesn’t deal with the real problem of excessive consumer spending. 

“This is the Band-Aid,” said Dan Pellissier, a former aide to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and well-known state pension reformer. “The surgery everyone is trying to avoid is on the California Rule – changing the benefits public employees receive in the future.” 

When it comes to pensions, everything comes back to that “rule,” which isn’t a rule but a series of court precedents going back to the 1950s. In the private sector, companies may reduce pension benefits for their employees in the future. An employee can be told that, starting tomorrow, she will accrue pension benefits at a lower rate. The California Rule mandates that public employees, by contrast, can never have their benefit levels reduced. 

That limits options for reform. In 2012, Gov. Brown signed into a law the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act (PEPRA), which promised to address the pension-debt problem by primarily reducing benefits for newly hired employees. A reform that affects new hires will reduce contribution rates but won’t make an enormous difference until they start retiring. 

“Gov. Jerry Brown’s attempt at pension reform has failed,” opined Dan Borenstein, in a recent East Bay Times column. The reason: the rapidly growing pension debt. “The shortfall for California’s three statewide retirement systems has increased about 36 percent. Add in local pension systems and the total debt has reached at least $374 billion. That works out to about $29,000 per household.” 

CalPERS rebutted Borenstein by arguing that he “greatly oversimplifies and needlessly discounts the real impact that Governor Brown’s pension reform has had since it took effect in January 2013.” The pension fund insists, “PEPRA already is bending the pension cost curve – and will keep doing so with greater impact every year going forward.” 

Yet the growing liabilities and the administration’s latest budget plan suggest that whatever minimal cost savings PEPRA is achieving aren’t nearly enough. Of course, union-controlled CalPERS’ goal isn’t protecting taxpayers or the state general fund – it is to enhance the benefits of the state workers whose pensions it manages. 

As Calpensions explained, that $6 billion of borrowed money doubles the amount of general-fund dollars that the state is paying to deal with pension obligations. Meanwhile, as the state borrows money to pay that tab, it raises taxes to fund transportation. If Brown and the Legislature had trimmed pension costs, it would not have needed to raise gas taxes and the vehicle license fee. And the problem reverberates for local governments, too. 

The May revise also showcased the same old issue with the administration’s priorities. Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton noted that “Brown’s entertaining rhetoric itself made him sound, as usual, like a skinflint, a penny-pinching scold. But the introductory document could have been written by Bernie Sanders, if not Depression-era Socialist Upton Sinclair, the losing 1934 Democratic candidate for governor who ran on the slogan ‘End Poverty in California.’” 

The budget championed myriad big-spending programs, including higher pay for public employees. So the state has been spending like crazy, but can’t manage to deal with its pension problem – at least not without borrowing money to temporarily paper over its growing debt. 

All these games are about avoiding dealing with the obvious fact that California’s public-employee pensions are absurdly generous, filled with costly and anger-inducing features (spiking, double-dipping, liberal disability retirements, etc.) and unsustainable. 

In 2011, the state’s official watchdog agency, the Little Hoover Commission, argued to the governor that “Public agencies must have the flexibility and authority to freeze accrued pension benefits for current workers, and make changes to pension formulas going forward to protect state and local public employees and the public good.” Six years later, the governor is still just chipping away at the edges by embracing gimmicks.

 

(Steven Greenhut is a contributing editor to the California Policy Center, on whose website this piece originally appeared. He is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--In the four plus decades I have lived in Los Angeles, I’ve seen the huge impacts on our community -- both positive and negative – of liquor stores, markets, and other retail alcohol establishments. We have many responsible and conscientious business owners that sell alcohol. But not all sellers are in that group. 

Being able to manage how these businesses sell and serve alcohol is crucial, particularly considering the endless influx of more alcohol-related businesses into our crowded neighborhoods. 

There are currently over 900 applications for new alcohol licenses in the City of Los Angeles. The challenge here is that the city and the state rarely if ever deny alcohol license applications. The state cannot provide any real monitoring of problems stemming from these establishments and the city has recently shut the door on public input concerning the acceptable practices of these licensees.

Most of us in LA have felt alcohol’s impact in one way or another. 

No one enjoys having to step over someone who is passed-out on the sidewalk while en route to their morning coffee or their children’s afternoon theater performance. Nor do people like having their late night sleep ruined by loud music with folks screaming outside their window or seeing bunches of after-party red cups strewn throughout the neighborhood on a morning walk. 

For years, committed community members, including LAPD and neighborhood councils, have worked with new business operators, sometimes for months, to reach mutually agreed upon operating standards for alcohol sales, known as “alcohol-specific conditions.” This created a platform for dialogue between alcohol retailers and the community and a means of insuring a neighborhood’s quality of life. 

These conditions -- which for decades, through a public hearing process, were placed on alcohol permits to curtail problems such as late night nuisances and noise, loitering, or the sale of youth-attractive alcohol products -- are routine in cities throughout the state. 

Unfortunately, the City of Los Angeles has recently taken the position that alcohol-specific conditions are no longer permissible, which ultimately silences community input into how alcohol is sold and served locally. In addition to refusing these standards for new businesses, alcohol-related conditions already in place for established businesses are deemed “unenforceable” -- the city is essentially stripping them out.

This is nothing short of outrageous and completely unacceptable. It flies in the face of our democratic process and our rights as residents, business owners, and property owners. 

South Los Angeles residents have long protested the proliferation of liquor stores as well as the absence of healthful food and quality markets.

Downtown and Hollywood have some of the highest concentrations of bars, clubs, and other on-premise alcohol establishments along with the noise, nuisances, fighting, and crime that accompany it. The sale of single-serve containers to serial inebriates helps fuel the homelessness challenges in many parts of the city. 

Westside communities suffer from high concentrations of crowded bars and restaurants that send noisy, drunk patrons out to litter, urinate, and worse in the yards of nearby residents. 

Twelve of 15 Los Angeles City Council districts -- 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14 and 15 -- rank in the top tier for their incidence of three or more different alcohol-related harms -- violent crimes, vehicle crashes, deaths, emergency department visits, and hospitalizations, according to a recent County study. 

And alcohol-related problems pose hardships across LA. In fact, each year alcohol-related problems take approximately 2,800 lives in the county, accounting for approximately 80,000 years of potential life lost, and costing the county an estimated $10.3 billion a year. That’s $1,000 every year for every child and adult in the county! 

LA is one of the only cities in California that prohibits local conditions and this is extremely disempowering for our communities.

These conditions are in many cases our only protection from alcohol-related problems since we absolutely cannot rely on the state to manage those problems for us. 

To rectify the situation and restore our community voice in these important decisions, a “conditions motion” is circulating and gaining momentum across the city. The motion asks City Council to return to its former practice of allowing alcohol-specific conditions, and to cease stripping existing conditions. 

Conditions are good for businesses. Allowing the community to come to a consensus with a new business operator around key practices helps speed the “path to yes.” Getting critical community buy-in facilitates the successful establishment of new alcohol businesses. And when businesses negotiate conditions at the local level, they don’t have to renegotiate at the state level, which saves them time and money, and ultimately encourages more growth and development.

Recently the South Los Angeles Alliance of Neighborhood Councils (SLAANC) voted in favor of this motion. It also has the support of the Zapata-King Neighborhood Council, along with 15 other neighborhood and area councils, including the Westside Regional Alliance of Councils (WRAC), and nearly 20 public health agencies including Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, and alcohol industry watchdog, Alcohol Justice. This motion is critical to ensure that our community’s longstanding efforts to address alcohol problems are not dissolved. 

The Valley Alliance of Neighborhood Councils and other alliances will soon have an opportunity to support this motion. This way we can get the city to again start honoring these standards.  

I urge the VANC board and others to join with SLAANC and WRAC and all the other neighborhoods in standing up for our communities and businesses by supporting this motion. 

We deserve to have our voices heard again.

 

(Jean Frost is a long time resident of West Adams and chair of the Policy Committee for NANDC, the West Adams neighborhood council organization.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

PERSPECTIVE--In a recent news release, State Treasurer John Chiang said:  “…the Governor and I are partnering on a fiscally prudent plan to buy down our pension debt using what Albert Einstein once called ‘the eighth wonder of the world,’ compound interest. ” 

It’s not Albert Einstein he should be crediting, but Bernie Madoff.

HIGHJACKING DEMOCRACY IN LA-Once Nick Melvoin joins the Los Angeles Unified School District board, he’s going to require all high school civics teachers to add a new lesson plan to their curriculum: “How To Buy An Election.” 

That’s what happened on Tuesday. Melvoin and his billionaire backers dramatically outspent school board president Steve Zimmer’s campaign, making the District 4 race the most expensive in LAUSD history. 

Political pundits will spend the next few days and weeks analyzing the Los Angeles school board election, examining exit polls, spilling lots of ink over how different demographic groups -- income, race, religious, union membership, gender, party affiliation, and others -- voted on Tuesday. 

But the real winner in the race was not Nick Melvoin, but Big Money. And the real loser was not Steve Zimmer, but democracy – and LA’s children. 

Melvoin’s backers -- particularly billionaires and multi-millionaires who donated directly to his campaign and to several front groups, especially the California Charter School Association (CCSA) -- outspent Zimmer’s campaign by $6.6 million to $2.7 million. Melvoin got 30,696 votes to Zimmer’s 22,766. In other words, Melvoin spent 71% of the money to get 57% of the vote. 

Here’s another way of looking at the election results: Melvoin spent $215 for each vote he received, while Zimmer spent only $121 per vote. 

There’s no doubt that if the Zimmer campaign had the same war-chest that Melvoin had, he would have been able to mount an even more formidable grassroots get-out-the-vote campaign and put more money into the TV and radio air war. Under those circumstances, it is likely that Zimmer would have prevailed. 

Billionaires, many of whom live far from Los Angeles, bought this election for Melvoin. Their money paid for non-stop TV and radio ads, as well as phone calls, mailers and newspaper ads (including a huge wrap-around ad on the front of Sunday’s LA Times.) Melvoin’s billionaire backers paid for 44 mailers and at least $1 million on negative TV ads against Zimmer.  

The so-called “Independent” campaign for Melvoin was funded by big oil, big tobacco, Walmart, Enron, and other out-of-town corporations and billionaires. They paid for Melvoin’s ugly, deceptive, and false attack ads against Zimmer, a former teacher and current school board president. Melvoin is so devoted to the corporate agenda for our schools that during the campaign he said that the school district needed a “hostile takeover.” 

Among the big donors behind Melvoin and the CCSA were members of the Walton family (Alice Walton, Jim Walton, and Carrie Walton Penner) ― heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune from Arkansas. Alice Walton (net worth: $36.9 billion), who lives in Texas, was one of the biggest funders behind Melvoin’s campaign. Other Melvoin and CCSA backers included Michael Bloomberg (net worth: $48.5 billion), the former New York City mayor; Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix (net worth: $1.9 billion), who lives in Santa Cruz;  Doris Fisher (net worth: $2.7 billion), co-founder of The Gap, who lives in San Francisco; Texas resident John Arnold (net worth: $2.9 billion), who made a fortune at Enron before the company collapsed, leaving its employees and stockholders in the lurch, then made another fortune as a hedge fund manager; Jeff Yass, who lives in the Philadelphia suburbs, and runs the Susquehanna group, a hedge fund; and Frank Baxter, former CEO of the global investment bank Jefferies and Company that specialized in “junk” bonds. 

What do the corporate moguls and billionaires want? And what did Steve Zimmer do to make them so upset? 

They want is to turn public schools into educational Wal-Marts run on the same corporate model. They want to expand charter schools that compete with each other and with public schools in an educational “market place.” (LA already has more charter schools than any other district in the country.) 

They want to evaluate teachers and students like they evaluate new products -- in this case, using the bottom-line of standardized test scores. Most teachers will tell you that over-emphasis on standardized testing turns the classroom into an assembly line, where teachers are pressured to “teach to the test,” and students are taught, robot-like, to define success as answering multiple-choice questions on tests. 

Not surprisingly, the billionaires want school employees -- teachers -- to do what they’re told, without having much of a voice in how their workplace functions or what is taught in the classroom. Rather than treat teachers like professionals, they view them as the out-sourced hired help. 

The corporate big-wigs are part of an effort that they and the media misleadingly call “school reform.” What they’re really after is not “reform” (improving our schools for the sake of students) but “privatization” (business control of public education.) They think public schools should be run like corporations, with teachers as compliant workers, students as products, and the school budget as a source of profitable contracts and subsidies for textbook companies, consultants, and others engaged in the big business of education. 

Like most reasonable educators and education analysts, Zimmer has questioned the efficacy of charter schools as a panacea. When the billionaires unveiled their secret plan to put half of LAUSD students into charter schools within eight years, Zimmer led the opposition. In contrast, Melvoin is a big backer of charter schools and a big critic of the teachers union.  

Now the billionaires and their charter school operators will have a majority on the school board. LA will become the epicenter of a major experiment in expanding charter schools – with the school children as the guinea pigs. 

Pundits will have a field day pontificating about the LAUSD election, but in the end it’s about how Big Money hijacked democracy in LA.

 

(Peter Dreier is professor of politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College and an occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

PERSPECTIVE--Governor Brown is making an appeal to the Trump administration to transfer oversight of environmental reviews of the high-speed rail project from the federal government to the state. 

If this strategy sounds familiar, it is.  The City of Los Angeles allows developers to arrange their own EIRs.

Brown has a vested personal interest in pushing HSR.  It’s his vanity project.  It will probably put the state in a position where it will have to subsidize the system, in direct violation of Proposition 1A, as approved by the voters in 2008.

He and his colleagues, along with other politically connected interest groups who stand to benefit from the most expensive folly in history, are hell-bent to complete the project, regardless of the cost and the diversion of funds from far more critical needs.  Do not think for one moment that the state will take an unbiased approach in evaluating the results of an EIR under its control.

There is no private investor interest in the project.  That is unlikely to change even if an initial segment, constructed over the easiest terrain and serving markets with the least possible need, were to be completed. The risks of tunneling through faults in the San Gabriel Mountains, essential for fulfilling the promise of service between San Francisco and Los Angeles, will be too risky to attract sensible investors unless the state were to offer substantial guarantees and establish reserve funds.  Such a move would put California on the hook for losses. Like a subsidy, that would contradict taxpayer protections in 1A.

CAHSR will collapse under its own weight and from voter frustration with pouring more money in what will be a system which grossly underdelivers for the costs.

There is no scenario where it can be built and operated within the limits of Prop 1A.  The sooner the governor and legislature put aside their personal ambition and admit it will be a fiscal failure, the more likely the state will be able to afford far more pressing capital improvements.

There is much work to do; we do not have endless sources of affordable debt and tax revenue. Choices have to be made, and HSR is near the bottom.

(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

 

 

EDUCATION P0LITICS-- A runoff election Tuesday in Los Angeles will determine the fate of public education in one of the nation's largest school districts, in a first major test of the influence of the Trump-era charter school industry.

Voters will head to the polls on May 16 to choose between charter school ally Nick Melvoin and current LA school board president Steve Zimmer in a race for District 4, and between charter school teacher Kelly Fitzpatrick-Gonez against public school advocate Imelda Padilla for a seat in District 6.

If the industry-supported candidates win, they will be able to "squash democratic control of public schools," wrote education historian Diane Ravitch on Sunday. That includes diverting public funds to corporate charter chains and entrepreneurs, widening the reach and power of an industry that has no system of public accountability and has been plagued by theft and fraud scandals.

The Los Angeles Times explained Saturday: 

If the charter-backed candidates prevail, charter advocates will win their first governing majority on the seven-member body. If the election goes entirely the other way, unions will strengthen their influence on a board that leans pro-labor. In that scenario, the board would be more likely to limit the growth of charters in the nation's second-largest school system, which has more charters and more charter students than any other school district.

"Think of this as the great Charter War of 2017," said Dan Schnur, former director of the Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. "The stakes are unusually high, substantively but even more symbolically. The outcome of these races will determine control of the largest school district in the western United States."

The election will also serve as a microcosm of the Trump administration's vision for public schools nationwide, with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos having expressed her support for privatization throughout her confirmation hearings and previously compared the controversial issue of school choice to ride-sharing apps. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has also referred to public schools as a "product." 

"Unregulated charter schools and vouchers allow private groups to control taxpayer dollars and—in the worst cases—profit from them," Donald Cohen of the watchdog group In the Public Interest wrote at the Huffington Post last week. "But they also help fulfill a vision of society in which government is run like a business and people—and corporations—are customers."

Billionaire Eli Broad and other wealthy supporters—including Walmart heiress Alice Walton, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings—have poured millions into Melvoin's campaign. Zimmer has been endorsed by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, teacher and labor unions in LA, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), and other city officials. But although he received 47.5 of the vote in the primary to Melvoin's 31.2 percent, Zimmer faces a well-funded opposition, and Melvoin has picked up endorsements from major players in the corporate education industry, including former Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

"Why do they want to control it? None of them has a child in the system. They despise public schools and they want to turn Los Angeles into a charter school demonstration district. It is all about power and money," Ravitch, who also endorsed Zimmer, wrote in another recent blog post. "No matter how many scandals [there] are in charter schools in Los Angeles or in California, or how many charter leaders are arrested, or how much money is stolen or misappropriated, the charter school advocates won't give up. They refuse to devote their energy and money to rebuilding the Los Angeles public school system."

(Nadia Prupis writes for Common Dreams … where this report originated.)

-cw

ANIMAL WATCH-"Mexico has made dog fighting a felony with some of the strictest penalties in the world," the Yucatan News announced on May 1, 2017. "All dog fighting in Mexico is now illegal and anyone associated with it will face lengthy imprisonment and huge fines…Until now, most states in Mexico prohibited dog fighting, but now the laws are nationwide and have some big teeth." 

A petition to Ban Dog Fighting in Mexico was initiated by Humane Society International in June 2016, declaring, “There is no place for dog fighting in Mexico.”It also asked for clear enforcement and penalties.  

Over 200,000 people from all over the world signed that petition in support of the nationwide ban, demonstrating agreement with the premise that, "Dog fighting still takes place because no federal law explicitly prohibits it. Federal legislation banning and criminalizing dog fighting would eliminate the loopholes in these state laws and establish strong penalties for anyone associated with this blood competition." 

According to a leading polling agency, 99% of Mexicans condemn dog fights and 85% believe dog fighters should be penalized, the petition states.

In an illustration of the changing attitudes of the new generation and the awareness of animals as sentient beings, David Marcial Pérez, writer for El País, described on November 24, 2016 how over 200 charitable and civil organizations, including coalitions to end human trafficking, presented two initiatives to the Mexican Congress to extend a federal prohibition on dog fighting and include breeding and/or sale of any animal used for the purpose of training dogs for fighting. They also supported changes in penal code sections to include penalties for being a spectator at an event. 

Although dog fighting has been widely considered a cultural tradition, Pérez confirmed that, “a recent study shows that only 1% of people are in favor of these events, while 80% would like to see a ban.”  

Many Mexican states are also looking at imposing severe penalties, activists state. Cruel dog fighting bouts continue unabated in clandestine underground locations, but they also openly take place during municipal celebrations around the country.  

According to activists, an Annual international dog fighting even is held in Aguascalientes in the spring where as many as a dozen dog fighting matches involving pit bulls are on the bill. 

“The dogs can be worth thousands of dollars,” Antón Aguilar, executive director of the Humane Society International in Mexico, told the Mexican News Daily, "and betting at such events can be high. The breed of choice is the pit bull.” He added that the organizers of the fights usually kill dogs that lose. Even those who win the fight often die as a result of injuries or infections they sustained. 

On November 26, 2016, a Mexico News Daily headline read, "Senate approves bill to ban dog fighting," announcing, The Mexican Senate has passed a dog-fighting bill that would prohibit the organization and staging of dog fighting events at the national level and assure all dogs are treated with dignity.” 

The report explains that the bill also amends the General Law of Ecological Balance and Environmental Protection and “…stipulates basic principles regarding the care of dogs, such as the provision of adequate food and water and providing medical attention when needed.” 

Martha Carrasco, a Mexican veterinarian who lives in Los Angeles, is the local representative for APRODA (Association for animal rights and the environment,) based in Guadalajara Jal Mexico, which actively supported and is still involved in this project. 

She explained that the law was approved with 71 votes in favor, three against and three abstentions. It provides a modification to the Federal Penal Code to impose a penalty of up five years in jail and a fine of $15,000 for violation. The law will go into effect as soon as it is published in the federal register, Diario Oficial de la Federación.  

OTHER COUNTRIES THAT RECENTLY BANNED DOG FIGHTING AND OTHER ANIMAL CRUELTY 

Adding to the celebration of Mexico's legislative success is that this reflects a change in ethical thinking about how animals are viewed and treated in society in Latin America. Demands are being made on those in political office to honor the will of the people. 

Guatemala 

"On March 7, 2017, Guatemala took a huge step forward in the battle against animal cruelty," writes Susan Bird, an environmental attorney and freelance writer on animal causes. "The Congress of Guatemala passed first-of-its-kind legislation in February 2017. Now, protection is firmly in place for wildlife, animals used in research and companion animals."

The new law also bans animal testing for cosmetics, using animals in circuses, and dog fighting. "Humans who are spectators at any of these events can be criminally charged under the law as well," she adds. 

Honduras

On November 12, 2015, in Honduras Bans Use Of Animals In Circuses And Dog Fighting, Animalequality.net declared, "Honduras joins countries like Canada, Sweden, Greece, Peru, Paraguay and Costa Rica (among others) in banning the use of all animals in circuses. The Honduran National Congress approved the Animal Welfare Act that regulates use of animals in various types of industries and shows." 

The law also bans dog fighting. It credits passage to several organizations, including the Animal Rights Society of Honduras (Sociedad Animalista de Honduras.)  Penalties of three to six years in prison can be imposed and also high fines for abuse or neglect of animals. 

And a strong message was broadcast to those in other countries who want to bring about change for animals, "We hope that other countries [will] join Honduras…It is vital that protection of animals is included in the political agendas of all governments." 

The challenge will, of course, be enforcement, but that is true in every country. The fact that federal law is being written in multiple countries to change actions -- not just acknowledge theory -- will affect the atmosphere in which children are raised and, thus, the mindset of future generations about how animals must be treated.

 

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

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THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-Since Trump was elected back in November, and even during campaign season, protests and resist actions have become pretty commonplace. In fact, some have said that marches are the new “brunch.” 

Around 9 a.m. Saturday, a group of about 200 activists who refer to themselves as “Indivisible San Pedro” gathered in a public park within Trump National Golf Club in Rancho Palos Verdes. Trump National Golf Club is a public course owned by The Trump Organization. In a well-executed, creative protest, a flash mob formed the word “RESIST!” on the coastal property to call for a special prosecutor to investigate Russian interference in the election, as well as Trump’s administration and for the release of his tax returns. 

In what took about fifteen minutes, the group, dressed in white, created 30-foot tall letters while singing “God Bless America.” Organizers had investigated during the planning and found out they would not need a permit. The space is overseen by the California Coastal Commission, which deals with public access to the ocean and protects the park from encroachment. 

Indivisible San Pedro was organized post-Inauguration to voice concerns about the administration by contacting legislators, attending town halls, and participating in protest marches.

Trump National Golf Club officials and sheriff’s deputies observed from a clubhouse balcony but did not intervene.

Saturday’s flash mob attracted national media coverage and was a peaceful, creative display of resistance. With hope, the continued displays of resistance will result in policy changes and investigations. If there is an upside to the Trump Administration, it’s the increased awareness and participation on the grassroots level that has occurred, whether it be by communicating with legislators via text, phone or emails, marching, or organizing creative displays like this flash mob.

 

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

@THE GUSS REPORT-The LAPD punted last week when it received a complaint about burglars caught on video breaking into a Sherman Oaks condominium’s mailboxes, refusing to even take a report, explaining that mail theft is a federal crime and should be handled by the U.S. Postal Service. But in doing so, the LAPD ignored the burglary committed to get to the mailboxes and likely identity theft or financial crimes done with the haul that is supposed to be handled at the local level. That enabled three more break-ins, for a total of four, by the same crew at the same location in less than a week. 

The burglaries took place on May 3, 5, 6 and 8 at the upscale condo located across from the Van Nuys-Sherman Oaks Memorial Park.

Detective Meghan Aguilar of the LAPD’s Media Relations division said that while only one such complaint was made to the station, she understood that their lack of response to it dissuaded the victims from reporting the subsequent break-ins by the same crew. 

The May 3 burglary took place at 2:33am, with a Dodger-cap wearing ringleader and a taller male accomplice.

On May 5 at 3:46 a.m. the ringleader returned alone with his face exposed but not captured on camera. 

Then on May 6 at 5:13 a.m. he returned with a waifish female accomplice. (See photo top of page.) 

And on May 8h at 9:48 p.m., he returned by himself again, without a bag for the loot, but this time with his face exposed as he first read the building directory, after which he opened only two of the four mailbox panels and took only targeted contents. 

“This is neither our policy, nor the way the LAPD is supposed to fight crime,” Aguilar said of their poor response, assuring that a detective would be in touch with the condo “in a day or two.” But nearly a week since that promise was made, the LAPD has failed to contact the property management company or condo board of directors. 

“If the LAPD ever does show up to take a report,” an unnamed condo resident said, “we also have bare-faced photos of other prowlers checking for open car doors in our garage.”

There is an unconfirmed report that U.S. postal inspectors may have nabbed the crew’s ringleader but they did not return a request for an interview in time for this article. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office could not be reached for comment.

 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a member of the Los Angeles Press Club, and has contributed to CityWatch, KFI AM-640, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Magazine, Movieline Magazine, Emmy Magazine, Los Angeles Business Journal and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport.  Verifiable tips and story ideas can be sent to him at TheGussReport@gmail.com. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

EDUCATION POLITICS-Really. It’s true. You may have heard differently, but if so, what you’ve heard is not correct. Here’s what LAUSD did do: they raised the course distribution requirement for graduation, and decided to retain the same grade requirements. In the end, the net effect was that graduation requirements increased

The confusion arises because the current system is less punishing than a change that would have affected both course and grade requirements. But this whole narrative has been alternatively spun because “lower” graduation requirements were never implemented. 

Simple, right? 

A fuller explanation requires gazing back a dozen years or more, and thinking about ideas like the meaning of Education. It’s a simple concept wrapped in surprising complexity. 

A dozen years ago, folks were merrily chugging along in high school, where a mix of vocational and academic courses were offered to interest kids of varying backgrounds and aspirations. 

Meanwhile qualitative letter grades were awarded, as per usual, but not according to any standard. The history of grading is as disparate as anything across time, place or countries. You may have grown up with some system or other and think that what you know is what must be…but it’s not so. There have always been myriad ways to assign grades, between classes and even within a school. 

And it turns out that what’s considered a passing grade often increases with age. So older, specialized graduate students are expected to demonstrate higher grades to be considered “passing”, because their specialty is presumed of particular interest, and therefore better grades are expected than for a generalized mish-mash of everything. This practice rolls back continuously through the types of schools; passing in college is harder than in high school, grade school frequently doesn’t even consider “passing” a sensible concept. 

But this imposes a problem at the transition between high school and college in California, which has a strong state college system with well-defined requirements. Admissions to CSU and UC colleges requires a “C” grade in a set of prerequisite courses. Meanwhile, to graduate from high school “D” has long been considered passing and adequate to earn a high school diploma. However, there is a disconnect between graduation and admissions. 

There is another prerequisite to higher education in California: a set of fifteen courses known collectively as “A-G.” These are typically “academic” classes and not “vocational” -- e.g. Math and English, not auto-mechanics. And accordingly they are sometimes considered more “rigorous” in the sense that there is a core body of knowledge to be mastered in order to demonstrate “proficiency.” 

Now demonstrating these quantitative measures of proficiency is a hallmark of our modern computer society. Because we can measure it among millions of people relatively easily nowadays, there are powerful forces urging us to believe that we must. 

Therefore several factors coincided resulting in a different landscape for the courses offered at LAUSD. 

While kids were focusing on a vocational-track of courses, they progressed through LAUSD’s graduation requirements successfully, even sometimes receiving a diploma before understanding that their course load failed to satisfy the “A-G” requirements to be considered for admissions to a California state college. 

This disconnect between graduation requirements and subsequent ability to proceed to the next educational level upset many. It came to light that some schools, typically composed of poorer children, did not even offer their students those courses necessary to become eligible for higher education. This was understood – rightfully – to be terribly inequitable. 

To make the A-G courses available to all students at all high schools was expensive in terms of money and also kids’ schedules. It required rearranging curricular priorities and graduation requirements; course schedules became filled with academic classes that squeezed out the vocational. Consequently many vocational classes were closed in favor of providing sufficient “A-G” classes to enroll the entire student body. 

So now that these more academic courses were available to one and all, the district faced a new problem: encouraging former vocational students to sign on to the new, more rigorous course of instruction. A stick approach was adopted whereby all students were required to take “A-G” courses in order to graduate from LAUSD. Thus the curriculum became more rigorous for one and all. 

Meanwhile, the grading discontinuity remained; while a “D” was adequate for passing high school and receiving a diploma, this still resulted in a certain subset of students who, even though they took and passed “A-G” classes, were still not eligible for college with its higher level of “passing.” 

To bridge this gap and align graduation requirements from LAUSD with CSU/UC eligibility requirements, on May 23, 2012 the board passed a resolution to take effect only with the class of 2017, raising LAUSD graduation requirements in “A-G” classes from a “D” grade to a “C.” If you graduated from LAUSD, you would then be eligible for admissions to a CSU or UC school. 

However this imposed a double-whammy of increased rigor on our high schoolers, harder courses coupled with the higher designation of “passing.” Suddenly a whole subpopulation of students was ineligible for graduation and disenfranchised; they met the challenge of enrolling in the more rigorous “A-G” courses, but having received what once was considered a passing grade, they were now denied a diploma. They had risen to the challenge and followed the rules but did not receive reciprocal academic recognition. 

And so the prospective rule-change was understood to be inequitable; it clearly impacted disadvantaged students disproportionately. 

Accordingly in a subsequent board resolution on June 9, 2015, “To Recommit to A-G for all”, the grade requirement for graduation was dropped, restoring the old grade requirement for graduation in all classes. 

Thus graduation requirements were never lowered, but they were restored to their traditional level. And the reason for doing so was a joint initiative by board members Garcia, Zimmer and McKenna, acknowledging the injustice of disenfranchising students who had met graduation requirements. 

Already, LAUSD students had been returning and staying in school at ever-growing rates, even under the more rigorous “A-G“ program requirements. The percentage of graduates eligible for CSU/UC admissions was increasing strongly. To rebrand a whole subset of diligent students as “failures” was inappropriate and improper as it denied them their diplomas, earned under expected conditions. 

So why is it necessary to draw out this explanation in such gory detail? 

Because the CCSA’s candidate for board district four has exploited this slightly complicated and obscure history by misleading parents into fearing some great social injustice is being maliciously foisted on our students. His supporters have absorbed a narrative of outrage surrounding a spurious injustice that never was, buttressed by fake statistics that are not real. 

Writing in the DeVos Foundation-supported LA School Report, a parent suggests that “…school board members voted to lower the student requirements for A-G college prep coursework from a C grade to a D. As a result, more than half of LAUSD’s 2016 graduates were not eligible for CSU or UC universities. Our own elected officials failed our children….” 

None of these confused tangle of claims is true. There was no vote to lower student graduation requirements. More than half our graduates are not ineligible to continue in the California college state system (see chart above) the school board’s vote did not affect anyone’s eligibility, but the imminent and unfair ineligibility of dozens was stopped. Our elected officials did not “fail” our children: far from it. They acted to increase equitability and prevent cruel and unfair disenfranchisement from K-12 schooling. 

Melvoin’s message assuages educational jingoism by offering outrage for a grand social injustice that simply didn’t happen. This is not a tale of quality downgraded or standards diminished. There is no story of fiddled with statistics. There is no yarn here of a vulnerable population done wrong. 

In reality, LAUSD met the mandate of providing more rigorous schooling for one and all, and it has met the challenge of engaging its greater access equitably – and even with a dramatically increasing rate of graduates. 

It can be argued that this has come at a cost to important vocational and even science training, as well as widespread, fully activated arts programming. The budget for public schools is insufficient, but if only Melvoin’s corporate supporters would redirect their seemingly infinite resources into district schools rather than swamping a private campaign coffer, the equations governing our kids could change overnight.

 

(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) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

DEEGAN ON CALIFORNIA-The board of the Metropolitan Water District, the mammoth agency that brings water from the Colorado River to lots of Southern California, has announced a $10 million dollar capital campaign as a solution to what had been described as awful living conditions being suffered by their workers -- highlighted by a March 8 petition to MWD Chair Randy Record from three dozen workers asking him to step in about a sewage leak at the Gene camp, one of the desert housing centers. All MWD camps now are slated for major infrastructure improvements in the plan the MWD board just approved. 

“We were notified in late February 2017 about leaking waste water pipes under five desert houses, and the problem was addressed immediately,” Jim Green, the manager of MWD’s Water System Operations Group (WSO) told CityWatch.

Green added, “The recent sewage leak validated the approach we were taking upgrading desert housing as part of a comprehensive capital campaign that was unanimously approved by the MWD board last week. We consider desert housing at the same level of importance as the pumps and pipes that transport the water.” 

Who knew the MWD was a landlord housing workers in several remote desert camps, built many decades ago and badly in need of the upgrade that is now in the works? The board directors did, and so did the management. Now, they are doing something about it. 

And, why are those workers so important in keeping MWD running smoothly? It sounds archaic and reminiscent of “company towns” where workers were forced to endure whatever conditions the employer placed them in, but there’s a reason these workers are located in harsh-conditioned, isolated desert camps. 

According to MWD Director Stephen Faessel, to help understand why the housing infrastructure devolved into what some would call “slum-like” conditions, you must take a trip back in time to eighty-six years ago when William Mulholland was assigned to create an aqueduct to carry water from the Colorado River to the Southern California region.

In 1913, Mulholland had already tapped the Owens Valley for water, but the population explosion in Southern California demanded yet more water. The Colorado River Compact gives California a large share of that river’s water and that is what Mulholland went after. 

Construction of the 242 mile Colorado River Aqueduct began in 1931 and took eight years and 10,000 men to complete. It has been described by historians as the biggest Depression era public works project in Southern California. It’s a massive engineering feat that is recognized by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) as one of the "Seven Engineering Wonders of American Engineering.” 

The aqueduct pumps more than one billion gallons of water each day through pipes 10 feet in diameter that bring the Colorado River water to Southern California, from Lake Havasu/Parker Dam, the main holding reservoir for the Colorado River Aqueduct, to six counties in Southern California, providing water to more than 19 million people throughout the region (the Los Angeles DWP got 70% of its water from the MWD last year.) It accomplishes this by moving the water through a system of 90 miles of tunnels, nearly 55 miles of cut-and-cover conduit, almost 30 miles of siphons, and five pumping stations. The Gene pumping station, located near Parker Dam, one of the five that lift water up over the mountains, is where the sewage problem was. 

The danger of pumping such massive quantities of water is that there may be a harmful “back flow” if the pressure suddenly drops and water is flushed backwards through the system, wreaking havoc on, and potentially destroying, the pumping machinery. The most effective safety valve for this contingency is to have MWD workers live no more than 15 minutes away from the five sets of pumps that service pipes that stretch across the desert from the river to the sea, so they can immediately intervene. Hence, when the pumps and pipes were built, MWD built worker housing to be sure their workers were within the 15 minute call-zone. It’s those tenants, who pay rent to the MWD to live in company housing, that have been living in bad conditions. 

Speaking about the $10 million dollar capital campaign that will pay for a major overhaul to upgrade the desert housing conditions at the five pumping plants, MWD’s Green said, “It’s just phase one of our major capital improvement plan.” It could, like MWD Director Brett Barbre said, “make it a paradise so people strive to live there….and say Metropolitan takes care of its people.” Some board members were shocked when they saw pictures of the living conditions and said they did not know about the sewage problem. One MWD board member, Sylvia Ballin, told CityWatch, “I’m really upset about this and distraught.” 

 

 

(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.

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CONNECTING CALIFORNIA--All the debate about how to address California’s massive housing shortage is obscuring the big picture: a state takeover of local housing policy has begun.

That’s the real import of the more than 100 bills that have been introduced in the legislature to change housing policy in various ways. None of the current proposals is up to the task of getting the state to build sufficient housing. But the varied legislative activity—proposals to cover production incentives for builders, rental assistance, streamlining regulations, new regional planning initiatives, increased enforcement of state housing laws, and even taxation of second homes—clearly signals the state’s intention to take a leading role in how California houses itself.

The prospect of a Sacramento intervention is usually worrisome. But this one should be welcomed. The threat of the state seizing power may be one of the few levers that could prompt the biggest obstacles to new housing—local governments—to get out of the way.

One can hardly blame state government for aggressive meddling in housing. California has a nasty history of destabilizing calamities: from the run-up in housing prices in the 1970s that produced the Prop 13 backlash; to the debt-fueled mid-2000s increases that led to the housing crash and the Great Recession.

Today, California’s crisis is rising prices resulting from a profound failure to create enough units to meet the population’s needs. While the state needs an estimated 180,000 new units a year, it has been getting less than half of that. By one estimate, the resulting shortage is a $140 billion annual drag on the state economy. Companies and individuals leaving the state most often cite housing costs as their top reason. Home ownership is at the lowest rate in California since the 1940s.

The crisis also represents a public health issue. Millions of Californians pay so much for housing that they have less to spend on health care, food, education, and transportation. Housing costs force Californians into long commutes that damage our health, infrastructure, and environment. And housing prices are one big reason why California suffers from the greatest homelessness and the highest poverty rate of any state.

Adding to the difficulty is the bewildering mix of federal, state, and local policies that affect housing. Federal and state programs support people who seek housing and those who wish to provide moderately priced housing. But such programs are tiny compared to the need for subsidies in expensive California; the Legislative Analyst’s Office found that most low-income households receive no assistance with housing, and that nearly twice as many households are on waiting lists for housing vouchers as there are available vouchers.

Local governments add to the shortage by passing and enforcing limits on housing development, density, and sometimes rents themselves. This local hostility to new housing is fueled by NIMBYism, environmentalism, and a state fiscal system that encourages local governments to pursue retail development (which produces sales tax for local coffers) instead of housing.

The state’s goal should be straightforward: more housing. That should mean more assistance to those seeking housing, more incentives to produce more housing, and fewer regulations that limit housing.

The state has a great deal to do, but its goal should be straightforward: more housing. That should mean more assistance to those seeking housing, more incentives to produce more housing, and fewer regulations that limit housing. But the politics are wickedly complicated, even by California standards.

The debate is already dividing key interests that must come together to pass ambitious laws. Labor is split on housing, as building trades unions oppose reforms to lower housing costs, a change that would benefit working-class members of service sector unions. There also are divides among environmentalists (between those who embrace denser development and hardliners who oppose any growth at all), advocates for the poor (between those who want to revive poorer communities with new housing and those who fear new housing will merely displace poor people), and even among Republicans (between those who want to protect older people and their housing values and those who want more housing for the young families in their inland communities).

“I’m not super optimistic about the state being a positive force in housing yet,” says Chris Hoene, executive director of the California Budget & Policy Center. “The number and range of proposals suggests that there isn’t consensus yet among state leaders and housing advocates about what levers to pull.”

Some of the more than 100 housing bills could make things worse, by adding to the costs of housing, or creating disincentives for local governments to approve housing. It’s also difficult to make even small gains in encouraging more housing for poor and working-class people.

State Senator Toni Atkins of San Diego, for example, has built a formidable coalition behind a bill to provide a dedicated funding stream to support below-market housing. Politically, such funding would be a major breakthrough. But the legislation would produce just $250 million a year, a fraction of the tens of billions in affordable housing needs statewide.

And subsidized housing reflects only a fraction of the California housing market. The Legislative Analyst’s Office has called for a focus on encouraging additional private housing construction in high-demand coastal areas. Shortages there, the legislative analyst said, have rippled across the state, sending people further inland in search of cheaper housing, and driving up housing costs for everyone in the process.

The crisis is urgent and has been years in the making, and the state’s legislative efforts to gain power over the problem could take many years, with hiccups and mistakes. Is there any way to go faster? Perhaps, but it would require the politically difficult step of empowering developers.

One model, with roots in Massachusetts, gives private developers, nonprofit organizations, and local authorities great powers to challenge land-use regulations that prevent housing development. The developers get an especially free hand in localities that fail to meet state requirements on housing. The Massachusetts model thus puts local governments on the defensive. They can no longer say no to housing projects; they either must make plans for housing, or watch as developers do as they please.

Such pressure from the state may sound extreme. But so are the consequences of our housing shortage.

(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)

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EDUCATION POLITICS--(Steve Zimmer, who is running for re-election for the Los Angeles Unified School District school board, wrote this unusual article, “The Case Against Myself.” The election is Tuesday. Decide for yourself whether he persuaded you.)

I want to present four legitimate arguments against me. These are good and fair reasons to vote against me on May 16th.

I know this is unusual, but because my opponent has lied so much about my record, I thought I would just go ahead and do this myself. I hope you will share this with your friends and family and explain to them that everything they are reading about me is a lie whether it is on the television, on the radio, or wrapped around their Sunday newspaper. Give them the real reasons to vote against me. Here they are:

  1. I believe independent charter schools need to be regulated to ensure that they serve every student that comes to their school house door. I believe independent, privately operated charter schools must be accountable for all public funds they receive. I believe charter schools should operate in the district that authorizes them. If you believe independent charter schools should be completely de-regulated, you should vote against me.
  2. I have moved resources to meet the needs of district students living in the highest concentrations of poverty, including thousands in my own district. In real and understandable ways, this has been difficult for certain schools in my district. But I believe it is the only moral way to do this job when 83% of students in the LAUSD live below the poverty line. Some voters may be concerned about these decisions and choose to support my opponent who has only focused his campaign in the more affluent areas of the district.
  3. I have been endorsed by the teachers and school employees of our district. I work with our teachers and I work with their union. I vote against their recommendations when I think they are wrong. But it is a priority for me to build trust with the people who deliver education to our students, to be allies in our struggle for equity, to make significant improvement in LAUSD schools. If you don’t believe I should engage our teachers and their unions then I understand why you would vote against me.
  4. I oppose the ranking of teachers, students, and schools. I oppose high stakes standardized testing. I believe that the things that are the most beautiful and wondrous about children can never be measured by a standardized test. If you believe we should be constantly testing and ranking students, teachers and schools then I understand why you wouldn’t support me.ur workday the right

Bottom of Form

This is what I have done. I understand some people can’t vote for someone who has done this.

But Nick Melvoin hasn’t used any of these reasons. Instead he has lied and he has distorted. I can’t stop someone from lying, but I can certainly tell you that this is not how you should win an election. Here are some of the lies he tells about me:

Nick’s Lie #1: The iPads were my program

The Actual Truth #1: The iPad program was started by Melvoin supporter John Deasy. I voted to end the program once it became clear that Deasy had lied to the school board and lied to the public.

Nick’s Lie #2: I created a $1.4 billion deficit.

The Actual Truth #2: The Board has balanced our budget every year. With the Governor’s latest announcement , we will have our budget balanced for 10 years straight.

Nick’s Lie #3:: I lowered graduation standards

The Actual Truth #3: We raised the rigor for all students by ensuring that all students be enrolled in college preparatory courses. While we increased rigor, we have raised graduation rates to record levels, from 56% to over 75%

Nick’s Lie #4: I laid off teachers

The Actual Truth #4: I anchored the difficult negotiations that allowed us to save our schools and save thousands of jobs

Nick’s Lie #5: I cut arts education

The Actual Truth #5: I stopped the cuts to arts education and have added over 18 million dollars to the arts budget each year.

I respect the democratic process and I value debate about the important issues facing our public schools. But that’s not what’s happened in this election. I am not perfect and I try to be a better board member every day. If Nick and the California Charter Schools Association waged an honest campaign, I would not be writing this argument against myself. It terrifies me that such an important election could be determined solely on lies and distortions. It should scare us all.

There is much more than even the control of our public schools that is on the line this Tuesday.

Our democratic values and the value of truth itself seem to have worked their way into this moment. I am proud to stand for honesty and service. I hope we can set a better example for our kids.

(Steve Zimmer represents District 4 — which stretches from the Westside to the West San Fernando Valley — on the LAUSD school board. Peter Dreier is professor of politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College and an occasional contributor to CityWatch.)

-cw

CORRUPTION WATCH-When the courts jettison facts and law, all of society suffers. The resulting corruption is so systemic that people often cannot recognize where things went wrong. As we previously showed, but for the corrupt California judiciary, we would not have had the 1992 Insurrection in South Central. Not only did judges hideously abuse Blacks but the courts maneuvered moving the Rodney King Trial to Simi Valley in order to secure a victory for the police officers on trial. The corrupt nature of the California courts is not limited to victimization of minorities: rather, abusive “corruptionism” is its essential character. 

How did California end up with such a corrupt system? 

Starting with the judicial elections of 1986, the California judicial system has been devolving into a primitive institution that threatens society itself. Without taking the effort to consider the type of people who would be put in charge of the state court system, Californians ousted three judges because they were not killing enough people. That allowed Governor Deukmejian to appoint his law partner, Malcolm Lucas, as Chief Justice; and he appointed three new “hangin’ judges” to the Supreme Court. 

Myths blind Californians to the court’s danger to society. 

Californians allow myths and taboos to control their minds and this perpetuates a system in which personal loyalty enables cronyism to trump the rule of law. Why do people think that judges are above reproach? Why in the world would society protect corrupt judges by penalizing lawyers who criticize them? Why do we allow those judges to operate in secret, along with the faux oversight of the Commission on Judicial Performance whose hallmark is also secrecy? 

The high and mighty set forth the shibboleth that we lowly citizens need to have respect for judges or else they cannot do their jobs. Really? They’ve got bailiffs with guns to shoot people in their courtrooms. When they rule, they can order the police to take writs of execution and empty people’s bank accounts. If people knew how judges act in the court system, they would have no respect for it. 

The corruptionism that infects the California court system is more complex than, for instance, just the act of someone handing a judge an envelope of money in exchange for a favorable ruling. Rather, it revolves around judges’ believing they are above the law. They can alter facts, conceal evidence, manufacture evidence, intimidate witnesses, and all the while be assured that no one will be able to do anything about it. When a judge writes an opinion that changes the evidence, the appellate court overlooks that falsity and pretends it is true. For example, if a judge changes the undisputed evidence that a Mrs. Jones ran the red light to a Mr. Smith ran the red light, everyone in the system will look the other way. And because of that, the public never learns that Mrs. Jones’ lawyer and the judge are fishing buddies. As the federal court said in January 2015, everyone in the state court system “turns a blind eye.” 

Commission of Judicial Performance’s passion for secrecy. 

Some naive people believe that the California Commission of Judicial Whitewashing, er, I mean, Performance, is there to protect the public from wayward judges. 

The Commission’s behavior shows that its actual mission is to protect judges rather than the public. Let’s look at the type of charges the Commission made public in 2016. Out of more than 1,200 complaints, charges were publicized against two judges and one commissioner: 

Clarke, Edmund (LA County judge) publicly rude to prospective jurors. 

Culver, Taylor (Alameda Co Commissioner) rudeness to defendants in court. 

Kreep, Gary (San Diego Co judge), public misstatements during election campaign and ten other counts. 

While everyone should consult the Commission’s webpage to make their own determination, the Commission’s primary concern seems to arise when a judge’s behavior makes the courts look bad in the public eye. Due to the Commission’s passion for secrecy, no one can gather statistics about the allegations of serious misconduct. Instead the public has to rely on the Commission’s categorization of the complaints in its annual reports. The Commission will not even divulge the number of complaints made by county.

Commission presents its scant data in deceptive manner. 

On its website, the Commission tells us that in 2016, it received 454 complaints about persons who were not California judges, but it is silent about the 1,234 complaints it received about California judges. Why highlight the number of complaints that were misdirected to the Commission and remain quiet about the real complaints? 

One has to dig into the 2016 Annual Report to find out that there were 1,234 complaints. Going through the number of complaints per year, 1,200 is about average. In 2015, there were 1,245; in 2014, there were 1,212; in 2013, there were 1,209; in 2012, there were 1,143. 

The Commission’s web page reports eleven judge removals, but when looking at the dates, it appears that those eleven comprise the total number of removals over twenty-one years -- which amounts to about half a judge per year. Reporting removals in 21-year batches conceals that fact that in the years 2009 through 2015, only one judge was removed from office. That means that with almost 11,000 complaints in the last seven years, only one judge was removed! That case involved fixing traffic tickets for family and friends (Judge Richard Stanley, Orange County January 11, 2012.) 

Types of complaints cataloged by public advocates. 

One out-of-state activist compiled a list of illicit judicial behaviors, and the list seems in line with the complaints which reform activists are compiling for California. The range of alleged misconduct is extensive, and the types of charges are similar to ones we are hearing about in California. 

Without naming any judges, the list of charges includes: (1) Ignore the Law, (2) Cite Invalid Law, (3) Ignore the Facts, (4) Ignore Issues, (5) Conceal Evidence, (6) Say Nothing in Orders (The Ninth Circuit has made this complaint about the California supreme Court in habeas corpus cases,) (6) Block Filing of Motions and Evidence, (7) Tamper with Evidence, (8) Deny Constitutional Rights, (9) Violate and Ignore the Rules of Civil Procedure, (9) Automatically Rule against Certain Classes of People, (10) Order Monetary Sanctions against Parties they want to Damage, (11) Refuse to Disqualify Themselves, (12) Violate their Oath of Office and the Code of Judicial Conduct, (13) Conspire with Fellow Judges and Judicial Employees, (14) Allow Perjury, (15) Deny Hearings, (16) Dismiss Cases or Grant Summary Judgments, (17) Deny Jury Trials, (18) Don't Publish the Improper Orders. (Complied by Bill Windsor of Lawless America) 

Reform activists are complaining about substantial abuses of the law, but the Whitewash Commission never sees any of it. The reformists, however, concur with the (federal) Ninth Circuit’s January 2015 accusations, as cited in the LA Times, about the epidemic of judicially inspired misconduct.  

With a court system that tramples upon Truth, Justice and the American way with impunity, corruptionism flourishes throughout the State. The only thing these types of judges seek is a piece of the action. As we will see in future articles, judges retaliate against people who disclose their nefarious dealings by throwing them in jail under the pretext of civil contempt.   

Let’s remember that even a foolish President cannot subvert the rule of law the way a corrupt judiciary can.

 

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney and a CityWatch contributor. 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.

@THE GUSS REPORT-The election cycle ended for most people back on November 8 when the president and a full slate of national, state and local votes were cast.

In LA’s spring primary when other key races and issues were decided, turnout was, as California political strategist Michael Madrid pointed out in the LA Times, abysmal regardless: “People here seem more political than in the past — they go to a lot of protests and town halls, and they fill their social media accounts with anti-GOP screeds. But less than 12% of eligible voters showed up.” 

On Tuesday, we reach the actual end of the voting cycle, which includes two LA City Council runoffs representing 13% of City Council’s voting power; Measure C, which addresses how LAPD officers may be disciplined (the LA Times’ Editorial Board opposes it); and two LA School Board seats.

Despite the likelihood of an even smaller sliver of voters showing up on Tuesday, at least one panicked person claiming to be a polling place volunteer says they will be woefully understaffed: 

“I have [only one other volunteer] with me for this election, to cover four precinct table jobs, voter roster clerk, street index clerk, ballot clerk and voting machine clerk. [And we have] three precincts instead of the usual two….The city saves $100 per clerk and $40-50 on a polling place. This is abuse by the city of me and my poll worker by under-manning the precinct this way and will cause a delayed and poorly supported voting experience for LA voters.” 

While we were not given time to confirm whether these claims are accurate, these are fair points if true. In 2014, LA City Council president Herb Wesson was so mortified by local turnout that he turned to cash prizes to boost the numbers and enhance the experience. 

Still, LA School Report’s Mike Szymanski wrote last week to not worry, “…if history is any indicator, the poll workers … will have plenty of down time.”

 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a member of the Los Angeles Press Club, and has contributed to CityWatch, KFI AM-640, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Magazine, Movieline Magazine, Emmy Magazine, Los Angeles Business Journal and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport.  Verifiable tips and story ideas can be sent to him at TheGussReport@gmail.com. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

EDUCATION POLITICS--Some of America’s most powerful corporate plutocrats want to take over the Los Angeles school system but Steve Zimmer (photo above, center), a former teacher and feisty school board member, is in their way. So they’ve hired Nick Melvoin to get rid of him. No, he’s not a hired assassin like the kind on “The Sopranos.” He’s a lawyer who the billionaires picked to defeat Zimmer.

The so-called “Independent” campaign for Melvoin — funded by big oil, big tobacco, Walmart, Enron, and other out-of-town corporations and billionaires — has included astonishingly ugly, deceptive, and false attack ads against Zimmer.

This morning (Friday) the Los Angeles Times reported that “Outside spending for Melvoin (and against Zimmer) has surpassed $4.65 million.” Why? Because he doesn’t agree with the corporatization of our public schools. Some of their donations have gone directly to Melvoin’s campaign, but much of it has been funneled through a corporate front group called the California Charter School Association.

To try to hoodwink voters, the billionaires invented another front group with the same initials as the well-respected Parent Teacher Association, but they are very different organizations. They called it the “Parent Teacher Alliance.” Pretty clever, huh? But this is not the real PTA, which does not get involved with elections. In fact, the real PTA has demanded that this special interest PAC change their name and called the billionaires’ campaign Zimmer “misleading,” “deceptive practices,” and “false advertising.”

These out-of-town billionaire-funded groups can pay for everything from phone-banks, to mailers, to television ads. Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez described the billionaires’ campaign to defeat Zimmer, which includes sending mails filled with outrageous lies about Zimmer, as “gutter politics.”

As a result, the race for the District 4 seat — which stretches from the Westside to the West San Fernando Valley — is ground zero in the battle over the corporate take-over of public education. The outcome of next Tuesday’s (May 16) election has national implications in terms of the billionaires’ battle to reconstruct public education in the corporate mold.

The contest between Melvoin and Zimmer is simple. Who should run our schools? Who knows what’s best for students? Out-of-town billionaires or parents, teachers, and community residents?

Before examining just who these corporate carpetbaggers are, let’s look at who Steve Zimmer is, what he’s accomplished, and what he stands for.

Zimmer grew up in a working class community and attended public schools. His father was a printer and his mother was a school teacher. After college, he became a teacher, beginning with Teach for America in 1992.

He spent 17 years as a teacher and counselor at Marshall High School. When he taught English as a second language, he used an experiential approach that related to his students’ daily lives. He created Marshall’s Public Service Program to make public service intrinsic to the student experience. He founded Marshall’s Multilingual Teacher Career Academy, which was an early model for LAUSD’s Career Ladder Teacher Academy.

To help address the concerns of at-risk youth, he founded the Comprehensive Student Support Center to provide health care services for students and their families. He helped create the Elysian Valley Community Services Center, a community owned-and-operated agency that provides after-school, recreational and enrichment programs, a library, and free Internet access.

He was elected to the school board in 2009 and re-elected in 2013 despite the onslaught of billionaire bucks against him.

What are some of Zimmer’s most important accomplishments on the school board?

  • Improving student success. Zimmer’s leadership helped increase local graduation rates into their highest level ever. LAUSD schools achieved across-the-board improvements in state testing and all measurable forms of student achievement.
  • Balanced budgets. As school board president, Zimmer helped bring LAUSD’s budget into balance while simultaneously increasing funding to the classrooms. Zimmer helped lead the fight to get Congress to pass the Education Jobs Bill passed, which provided LAUSD with $300 million. He has fought for increased federal Special Education funding. He championed Proposition 30 and its extension, Proposition 55, which added more school funding for LAUSD. His stewardship has paid off. LAUSD has been awarded the highest credit rating of AAA.
  • More schools, more opportunities.As a result of Zimmer’s leadership and in response to parent interest, LAUSD has added many more magnet schools, STEM programs and dual immersion language programs.
  • Restoring arts education. Zimmer worked to restore arts programs not just in some schools but in all schools. He believes access to arts education needs to be a right for all students in every community. It is an essential component to a well-rounded education. Since he’s been in office, arts funding has increased by $18 million dollars and the Arts Equity Index that he championed, now ensures resources where they are needed the most.
  • Protecting vulnerable students.As a school board member, Zimmer has been the leading advocate for vulnerable students. He authored the school board resolution in support of the Dream Act, federal legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented students who do well in school and attend college. He authored the resolution ensuring schools are safe zones where students and families faced immigration enforcement actions can find safety and seek assistance and information. He helped create Student Recovery Day, a twice-yearly event that takes scores of district staff into students’ homes to support students who have dropped out. Hundreds of students have returned to class after being sought out and connected with the support services they need. He has ensured that the school district supports the needs of students living in poverty, students facing trauma, special education students, undocumented students, LGBT students, English Learners, standard English learners and foster children.
  • Healthy food. Zimmer’s commitment to making sure students eat healthy meals is unparalleled. His Good Food Purchasing resolution has been a model around the country for making sure student lunches have met the highest nutritional, environmental and animal welfare standards.

As a member of the Board, and his last two years as President, Zimmer led the school district through difficult times, weathering a recession, dealing with tragedies, and transitions in leadership. He used his skills to resolve challenges by working collaboratively.

Zimmer has received numerous awards for his work with children and families, including the LA’s Commission of Children, Youth and their Families “Angel Over Los Angeles” award, El Centro Del Pueblo’s “Carino” award and the LACER Foundation’s “Jackie Goldberg Public Service Award.”

Nick Melvoin is the candidate completely sponsored by the 1 percent. His extreme lack of experience clearly doesn’t bother them. Melvoin is so devoted to the corporate agenda for our schools that he claims a “hostile takeover” is needed.

Who are some of the billionaires and corporate lobby groups that want to defeat Steve Zimmer and elect Nick Melvoin?

  • Members of the Walton family(Alice Walton (photo left), Jim Walton, and Carrie Walton Penner) ― heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune from Arkansas ― have contributed $2.2 million to the PAC attacking Zimmer in the last two years. Alice Walton (net worth: $36.9 billion) lives in Texas and is one of the biggest funders behind Melvoin’s campaign. She and other members of her family also donated to the Super PAC that worked to elect Donald Trump, donated to Mike Pence, Jeff Sessions, and to the Alliance for School Choice, an organization that Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos helped to lead.
  • Oil and Enron executives from Texas and Oklahoma have contributed more than $1 million to the same committee.
  • JOBSPAC — a PAC “largely funded by oil and tobacco companies,” according to the Los Angeles Times– contributed $35,000 to the same committee funding the attacks on Zimmer.
  • Doris Fisher, co-founder of The Gap who has a net worth of $2.7 billion, has given $4.1 million to the California Charter School Association’s political action committee in 2015 and 2016. She lives in San Francisco.
  • John Arnoldmade a fortune at Enron before the company collapsed, leaving its employees and stockholders in the lurch. Then he made another fortune as a hedge fund manager. His net worth is $2.9 billion. He and his wife Laura donated $1 million last year to CCSA’s political committee and $4400 directly to Melvoin. They live in Houston, Texas.
  • Jeff Yass,who lives in the Philadelphia suburbs, has given the maximum allowed contribution to Melvoin. He runs the Susquahanna group, a hedge fund. He has close ties to Betsy DeVos’ efforts to privatize public school. Yass donated $2.3 million to a Super PAC supporting Rand Paul’s presidential candidacy.
  • Frank Baxterand his wife Kathrine donated $100,000 to CCSA’s political committee in the past two years and $3,300 directly to Melvoin. Frank Baxter is former CEO of the global investment bank Jefferies and Company that specialized in “junk” bonds. He is a major Republican fundraiser and was appointed ambassador to Uruguay by George W. Bush. He is one of at least five donors to Melvoin’s campaign who sit on the board of charter schools. He is also a big financial backer of Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Cong. Devin Nunes of California, and Cong. Steve King of Iowa (a Tea Party favorite).

What do these corporate moguls and billionaires want and what has Zimmer done to make them so upset?

They want to turn public schools into educational Wal-marts run on the same corporate model. They want to expand charter schools that compete with each other and with public schools in an educational “market place.” (LA already has more charter schools than any other district in the country). They want to evaluate teachers and students like they evaluate new products — in this case, using the bottom-line of standardized test scores. Most teachers will tell you that over-emphasis on standardized testing turns the classroom into an assembly line, where teachers are pressured to “teach to the test,” and students are taught, robot-like, to define success as answering multiple-choice tests.

Not surprisingly, the billionaires want school employees — teachers — to do what they’re told, without having much of a voice in how their workplace functions or what is taught in the classroom. Rather than treat teachers like professionals, they view them as the out-sourced hired help.

Congresswoman Karen Bass, LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, and Senator Bernie Sanders are among the many elected officials who have endorsed Steve Zimmer

The corporate big-wigs are part of an effort that they and the media misleadingly call “school reform.” What they’re really after is not “reform” (improving our schools for the sake of students) but “privatization” (business control of public education). They think public schools should be run like corporations, with teachers as compliant workers, students as products, and the school budget as a source of profitable contracts and subsidies for textbook companies, consultants, and others engaged in the big business of education.

Like most reasonable educators and education analysts, Zimmer has questioned the efficacy of charter schools as a panacea. When the billionaires unveiled their secret plan to put half of LAUSD students into charter schools within eight years, Zimmer led the opposition. Zimmer isn’t against all charter schools but he doesn’t want the board to rubber-stamp every charter proposal. He wants LAUSD to carefully review each charter proposal to see if its backers have a track record of success and inclusion. And he wants LAUSD to hold charters accountable. This kind of reasonable approach doesn’t sit well with the billionaires behind their front group, the California Charter School Association.

Zimmer has also questioned the over-reliance on high-stakes standardized testing as the primary tool for assessing student and teacher performance. Testing has its place but it can also become an excuse to avoid more useful and holistic ways to evaluate students and teachers — and to avoid the “teach to the test” obsession that hampers learning and creative teaching. Zimmer has called for — and helped negotiate the deal for — some portion of teacher evaluations to include test scores. But that’s not what the billionaires want.

As a former LAUSD teacher with 17 years in the classroom, Zimmer respects teachers as professionals. He understands the jobs and frustrations of teaching. He wants LAUSD to create schools that are truly partnerships between teachers, parents, students and the district. He is often allied with United Teachers Los Angeles, but he is nobody’s lapdog. He has always been an independent voice and has disagreed with UTLA on some significant matters.

In fact, four years ago, Times’ columnist Lopez wrote that Zimmer “... has tried to bridge differences among the warring parties, winning supporters and making enemies on both sides in the process.”

But the billionaires don’t want a bridge-builder. They want a compliant rubber stamp, and that’s what they’ve found in Nick Melvoin, the advocate for a “hostile takeover.”

Zimmer is endorsed by many LAUSD parents and community activists as well as Mayor Eric Garcetti, Senator Bernie Sanders, Congressmembers Karen Bass, Judy Chu and Maxine Waters, City Attorney Mike Feuer and the Councilmembers serving the neighborhoods in his 4th School Board District. At the state level, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson, Secretary of State Alex Padilla, State Controller Betty Yee, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon, and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon have all endorsed Zimmer. At the County level, he’s backed by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl along with former Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

In his endorsement of Zimmer, Mayor Garcetti said: “The campaign against Steve has turned vicious, and I feel compelled to reach out on behalf of a champion for all our kids. I’ve worked closely with Steve Zimmer for more than 15 years. I’ve watched him make change in the lives of kids and in the fabric of our communities. Under Steve’s leadership, Los Angeles Unified schools have shown impressive progress. Steve’s collaborative, ‘all kids, all families’ approach is what we need on the School Board.”

The Los Angeles Unified School District is the second largest school system in the country with over 700,000 students. So gaining control of its board — and its budget — is a good “investment” for the billionaires who want to reshape education in this country.

Melvoin’s campaign and backers have outspent Zimmer by a huge margin. Their battle has turned into a remarkable David vs. Goliath contest. But let’s recall who won that Biblical battle. Goliath had the big weapons but the feisty David had the slingshot. That’s how Zimmer beat another hand-picked billionaire-backed candidate four years ago, with a grassroots campaign that relied on parents, teachers, and neighborhood residents, and he’s hoping to do it again next Tuesday.

(Peter Dreier is professor of politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College and an occasional contributor to CityWatch.)

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BELL’S VIEW--The other day a video posted on Facebook drew my attention. In it, a motorcycle moves in slow motion toward the middle of an intersection and a certain crash with a left-turning car. I could see where this was heading, but I couldn’t look away. I have no real desire to watch a motorcyclist pinwheel through the air and crash to the pavement (he survived, thanks to his helmet), but I watched anyway.

So many events I have seen I wish I hadn’t. I’ll never get the video of the Tamir Rice shooting out of my head. And I don’t suppose I should. Maybe this destruction of our illusions – the illusion that we can prolong our innocence through looking away – is the price we have to pay to bring any real change to the world. We live in in-between times, where one person’s truth is another’s lie. How can that be possible? I’ve never completely bought the old chestnut that there are two sides to every story. Tamir Rice was a thirteen-year-old boy playing in the park. I don’t care what the grand jury said. 

Another slow-motion wreck sucking my attention these days is the continuing saga of the Joe Bray-Ali (photo above) campaign to unseat incumbent City Councilman Gil Cedillo – the 70’s B-movie villain currently ignoring his constituents in Council District 1. As anyone following the story knows, Bray-Ali either had his character assassinated or his true identity revealed last week when LAist broke the story of Bray-Ali’s former career as an Internet troll. The story prompted Bray-Ali to publicly attempt to recreate John Hurt’s chestbuster scene from the first Alien movie. He apologized, but he didn’t do it. He’s only human, but he’s not that guy. He made mistakes, but he was only trying to do the right thing.

Flailing, he revealed a few other juicy indiscretions (tax evasion, marital infidelity, and tagging, in that order) and promised to explain it all later as he blithely reassumed his campaign persona. Meanwhile, the old Joe came out swinging on a few Facebook threads, where he just couldn’t seem to help himself. In one, he trotted out a list of some of the crazy misdeeds (bigamy anyone?) of our current City Councilmembers, including Mike Bonin’s long-past meth habit.  How, one commenter asked, is Bonin’s triumph over addiction comparable to your Mr. Hyde impression on Voat?  

How indeed? One truth has emerged: Bray-Ali’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington shtick is not exactly the real thing. He’s brash, he’s bold, he’s – either – racist, sexist, and transphobic, or some kind of satirical anthropologist employing the awesome power of the n-word to move us all toward positive social change. 

The question remains whether Bray-Ali’s move-along, nothing-to-see-here approach can sweep him into the Council chambers on May 16th. A few prominent Bray-Ali supporters have jumped ship, while others have either drunk the kool-aide or just admitted they don’t care. I sympathize fully with the impulse to support the lesser of two evils. City Hall needs a shakeup. The question District1 voters have to ask themselves is: how much is too much?

Bray-Ali’s explanations have been satisfying only to the rubberneckers and the kool-aide drinkers. The pen, they say, is mightier than the sword, but, at this point, Bray-Ali needs to get hold of something sharp and cut out t he rotten bits. Words just aren’t going to do it this time. As a proponent of the power of language, I’ve never felt so adrift. Debate has evolved away from a means of challenging ideas and into a method of silencing our opponents. Shame, humiliation, degradation, and name-calling – all dressed up as free speech – work only to drive speech into hiding, oblivion, or meaninglessness. Joe Bray-Ali has seen this process from both sides – from give and take – and now he’s in the fight of his life with the beast we’ve all been feeding since the turn of the millennium.

On May 16th, the voters in District 1 have a choice – but the choice is all Joe’s at this point. He needs to find a way to the other side of the wall he’s built for himself. And he needs to do it fast.

 

(David Bell is a writer, attorney, former president of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council and writes for CityWatch.)

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CAPITAL & MAIN REPORT--If you’re bidding to build the border wall, the City of Los Angeles may soon want to know about it. In the latest effort by blue cities to resist President Trump’s anti-immigrant policies, a Los Angeles City Council member announced Thursday that he will introduce a motion requiring city contractors to disclose whether they’re bidding or working on Donald Trump’s border wall – or risk stiff fines and penalties. The motion is the first of its kind, but follows a trend of major cities exercising their authority to oppose the wall.

Los Angeles is home to more than 1.5 million immigrants. Voters in the county voted more than three to one for Hillary Clinton; the president’s policies remain unpopular here, and the school district and City Council have already taken other measures against the administration.

“City residents deserve to know how the City’s public funds are being spent, and whether they are supporting individuals or entities involved in the construction or operation of the Border Wall,” reads a draft of the motion, which Councilmember Gil Cedillo’s office says will be introduced Friday.

The move is being supported by a broad coalition of religious and immigrant-rights groups as well as unions, whose members include construction workers. “Every construction worker I know takes great pride in showing their children the things they built,” says Rusty Hicks, who leads the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. “None of them want to point with pride to something as horrible as a wall between two countries.”

If firms are forced to disclose any bids on the wall, advocates will then have an opportunity to put pressure on these companies — something that many businesses might rather avoid.

The city’s approach is novel, and it’s informed by the work of the Partnership for Working Families (PWF), a national network of advocacy organizations that develop city-based policy campaigns. In March, PWF sent a letter to major contractors urging them not to bid on the border wall; few companies responded. PWF has also been working with officials in individual cities to figure out how to identify contractors that are planning to bid on the wall and have existing city contracts. In Los Angeles, it’s been working closely with the LA Alliance for a New Economy, or LAANE, to get a motion off the ground.

New York City’s public advocate unveiled a plan to block border wall contractors from getting city contracts. Berkeley’s city council voted unanimously to approve a resolution that both denounces the wall and seeks to divest from any companies that are working on the project. It was the first to do so.

But Berkeley’s plan may face a legal challenge. John Yoo, a former Bush administration official who now teaches at the University of California, Berkeley Law School, told Fox Business that the resolution “may violate the Dormant Commerce Clause, which prevents cities from discriminating against outside companies, and there’s no legal exception for political disagreements.” Any ordinance that blocks corporations working on the border wall from operating in certain cities may also violate federal preemption statutes, which stipulate that when local and federal laws are in conflict, the federal standard applies.

The proposed Los Angeles ordinance seeks to circumvent these restrictions by requiring city contractors to disclose their participation in the wall rather than penalizing them. That doesn’t mean corporations bidding to work on the border wall wouldn’t file suit or otherwise protest should L.A. move forward with the ordinance. Tom Janssen, who directs external affairs for Nebraska-based Kiewit, a corporation that’s registered as an interested party to build the border wall, says the company doesn’t publicly discuss its projects. He withheld further comment pending release of the motion’s full language.

Enforcing the ordinance may also present a challenge. A wide spectrum of contractors do business with the City of Los Angeles, and keeping track of their involvement with the border wall could prove challenging. When the city council passed an anti-apartheid ordinance 30 years ago restricting contracts with companies that did business in South Africa, more than 900 ordinance exemptions were racked up in just three years. But PWF’s Jackie Cornejo, who has been coordinating efforts for various border wall ban and disclosure proposals, is confident the city’s Bureau of Contract Administration will ensure accountability. “It’s worked to keep policies like the city’s living wage in place,” she says.

Councilmember Cedillo has high hopes that the proposed ordinance will soon become law. “We will work with the City Attorney’s office to make it a reality,” says Cedillo, “and start talking with colleagues on the City Council to build consensus.”

(Aura Bogado posts at Capital and Main … where this report originated.)

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DODGER BLUES-When Los Angeles Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley opened Dodger Stadium on April 10, 1962, his ticket price structure was simple, straightforward, and inexpensive: $3.50 for box seats, $2.50 for reserved seats, and $1.50 for general admission and the outfield pavilions. That was for every home game, regardless of opponent -- whether it was the hated San Francisco Giants, with whom the Dodgers were engaged in an epic pennant race that year, or the hapless expansion Houston Colt .45s. 

These prices remained the same until 1976. As late as 1997, the last full year Walter’s son Peter O’Malley owned the team before selling it to Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Group, a box seat cost $12, and you could sit in the pavilions for $6. 

In case you’re wondering, $3.50 in 1962 is the equivalent of $28 today. Good luck trying to buy a box seat at Dodger Stadium in 2017 for 28 bucks. If you want to see the Dodgers play the Giants this season from that seat location, you could be paying as much as $600 for the privilege. Present-day Dodger Stadium’s slogan might well be: “Welcome, fans. Bring money.” 

But it was not always this way. The O’Malleys’ low ticket price strategy was part of a larger business plan, centered on getting as many repeat customers into their ballpark as possible. Like Disneyland, the theme park showplace that Dodgers executives visited and studied, Dodger Stadium would feature affordable prices that would attract families, and especially women and children. Once they were through the turnstiles and “in the building,” these families would spend money on concessions --lots and lots of Dodger Dogs -- as well as all manner of Dodger logo branded souvenirs to be worn, waved, and displayed. 

Most important of all was the atmosphere inside the stadium. Beautiful views of downtown and the mountains. Organ music. Friendly and efficient park employees. Cleanliness. Safety. Fan greetings on the scoreboards. Promotions. Autograph and picture days. Not to mention Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Maury Wills, Steve Garvey, Fernando Valenzuela, Orel Hershiser, and eight National League pennants in the stadium’s first quarter century of operation. 

Dodger Stadium was privately owned, which meant the O’Malleys bore all risks but reaped all rewards -- which also let them play the long game. If say, a six-year-old could visit the stadium with his family and have an experience that would make him want to come back again, the seeds would be planted for a lifetime of patronage and profit. “Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man,” runs the famous Jesuit aphorism, and under O’Malley ownership from 1962 to 1997, the Dodger Stadium experience epitomized it. 

This business model also served to make the stadium one of Los Angeles’ most inclusive and diverse public venues, since its affordable ticket prices drew fans from across racial, ethnic, and class lines. Club box and dugout level seating, which were class-exclusionary, represented only 3 to 4 percent of available ticketing options at Dodger Stadium in the 1960s. So if any institution in Los Angeles could be termed “democratic,” in the sense of offering the greatest good for the greatest number, it was Dodger Stadium during that time. 

No one would call Dodger Stadium democratic today. It is not designed for repeat visitors, unless they are hedge fund managers or employees fortunate enough to get their hands on the company season tickets. The team, owned by Guggenheim, a financial services consortium, has gone upscale. It has spent more on players and stadium renovations, while also charging fans much more for tickets and parking. If you’re planning to come as a family, make sure your monthly rent or mortgage payment is covered first. Even a family of four that bought the cheapest tickets in the ballpark, along with four hot dogs and four drinks, would spend $134. The same family would spend approximately $120 for the same combination at a movie theater, where parking is often free. 

The Dodger Stadium that tied a transient, race-and-class stratified city together is gone. Now, the chances that the fan in the seat next to you will be from the same social class and racial background are higher than ever. 

In a 21st-century Los Angeles rife with income stagnation, racial separation, and social alienation, we need Dodger Stadium to return to its roots. The emphasis, as it was when the O’Malleys owned the team, needs to be on families and on children. Let kids under 14 in for half price. And give families a special discount. The money lost on the front end would be a fraction of what lifelong Dodger fans would spend over the years at their favorite stadium. A democratized Dodger Stadium would not solve all of the city’s problems, but every small, good thing counts in a time like this. 

(Jerald Podair is a professor of history at Lawrence University and author of the recently published, City of Dreams: Dodger Stadium and the Birth of Modern Los Angeles (Princeton University Press). This piece originally appeared at Zocalo Public Square.

Primary Editor: Joe Mathews. Secondary Editor: Sarah Rothbard.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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PILGRIMS’ PROGRESS?-The Hollywood sign has taken on significant cultural, economic (tourism) and even mythical properties. People from around the world want their selfies with the sign in the background. I find this quite curious. In my sixty years as a Los Angeles native the sign has always been there, and it was not a big deal. It was there like the mountains, and the ocean, and palm trees. The sign was there, but it didn’t hold the mystique it does today.

As a young man exploring the Los Angeles region and taking trip to Hollywood, friends and I never thought of hiking up a canyon to get close to the sign. We would hike canyons like Topanga, Malibu, Corral Peak or Tuna. But hike to the Hollywood sign?

The sign was always there in the background. In the 1960s through the 1980s it was too many times hidden behind a blanket of smog, lessening its significance even more.

The sign did and does hold social connotations. In my youth Hollywood was going through transformations from the so-called Golden Age to a more cynical age of excess that included drink, drugs and sex parties. It was not a magnet of attraction.

Over the years the sign went into disrepair, symbolizing the disrepair and sloughing of the Hollywood image. Its most famous moments came when letters began to crumble and its name was changed by vandals. This act was a further blurring of the essence of the sign.

But now the sign is made anew and pilgrims worldwide, along with some locals, hike to the sign. Maybe some of these locals are new transplants who find a uniqueness to the sign which for us natives is just another part of growing up and living in Los Angeles, similar to the Coliseum, Dodger Stadium, freeways and Pink’s Hotdogs. They are there, it is part of the city. Yes, I see the sign, so what?

Now, with its newfound mystique, the arrival of these pilgrims overwhelmed the area. Locals living near the sign were invaded by throngs who left trash, blocked the streets with their cars, defecated and what not. That is not neighborly behavior, so they objected, understandably.

A horse stable was losing business because the pilgrims were restricting traffic.

Due to the crush of too many visitors, their disturbances and the waste and litter they left behind, the main trail for pilgrims to the sign is now gated close. They’ve been moved further away and the sign is no longer being venerated as it was. The city fathers need to find a solution to allow the pilgrims back to the sign.

The solution could be a gondola. Why a gondola?

A gondola could be shut down for safety during heavy winds, which seem to be more prevalent these days. Part of the scientific predictions concerning the consequences of global warming is more wind, so we can expect more wind storms of greater intensity.

High above the bone-dry brush, how far would ashes from a cigarette or vapor pipe fly from inside a gondola car? And once they fall to the ground how quickly would they set the land ablaze?

I’ve been to Disneyland when its gondola has broken down leaving cars stranded between stations. But Disneyland is flat, with a predictable landscape and a reliable service team always on standby.

These canyon areas do not have predictable terrain. Good luck trying to get a large ladder truck up a canyon to rescue stranded gondoliers if they are within a few feet of the road. If the stranded gondola is over open terrain away from a road, perhaps over a ravine or the cliff side of the canyon, how would they be reached? How tall would a ladder need to be to get to a gondola from the bottom of a ravine? And how quickly could rescue and repair teams get to the passengers?

Perhaps the less glamorous choice of a bus or rail would work. Why is there not now a daily service of multiple buses to take visitors up to the sign? They could start from the flatlands of Hollywood and this would save the sign’s neighbors from the crush of parked cars along the canyon. There could be a bus station with restrooms to help the keep the hillside clean. This might drive traffic to local restaurants and shops, increasing business.

These buses could be smaller in size like the DASH buses to save space on the narrow roads. There could be an environmentally sensitive, architecturally respectful bus station at the top to further aid the pilgrims.

Charging a nice fee would partially offset the costs of the buses. Have them run on clean burning natural gas, or go electric and then use these buses as prototypes to jump start a conversion of city buses to electric. 

Or go with a train. Griffith Park has the wonderfully idiosyncratic Travel Town which is an outdoor museum of sorts featuring old train locomotives, cars, and a fantastic small gauge open car train. The tracks are narrow, and they carry joyous kids and adults in a loop around the trains. Use natural gas engines or battery electric motors since electric tracks and overhead power lines could pose a danger.

The steepness of the grade of the ascent may be too great for a train, and rail beds may have to be built away from the existing road to make sure there is enough room for emergency vehicles. But it would be fun to ride a slow ascent on a little train up the canyon through the chaparral, taking in the sights and views on the way to the sign.
       
The train would be so much fun that I, a native Los Angeleno who is able to walk from my house and down the block about fifty yards to glimpse the Hollywood sign, would venture a train ride to take the pilgrimage up to see the sign myself.

 

(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.

-cw

EASTSIDER-Long before there was a Measure HHH, there was a lot of discussion at LANCC and other community meetings about what kind of shelter we could provide to our homeless population -- something to tide them over until supportive services could kick in and find longer term solutions for their complex issues. 

At the time, here was a lot of talk about sub-$30,000 “tiny homes.” Of course, almost all discussion about this concept disappeared the day after Measure HHH -- the $1.2 billion bond measure -- passed last year. 

We’ll get back to what went wrong with Measure HHH later, but for now let’s take a look at serious, inexpensive housing. Notice I did not say “affordable.” There are at least three, and probably many more, actual examples of these tiny inexpensive, quickly built and installed homes. 

From right around here in Los Angeles, a group of USC students came up with a $25,000 stackable housing pod of about 92 sq. ft. They are big enough to provide a bed, bathroom, desk and storage, and to give shelter from the elements. You can read more about the project here

From San Francisco, an outfit called Panoramic Interests, has come up with a business model involving larger, 160 sq. ft. “micro-apartments.” These modular housing units are also stackable, like the USC project. Currently built and shipped from China, they are designed to be leased for about $1000/year per unit. This is a whole lot cheaper than most alternatives, and there is some talk of building the units locally. For more, about their vision, look here.  

These are only two examples of numerous kinds of groovy ideas for this type of inexpensive shelters, as you can see from this article on a popular travel blog. 

So Why is the City Unable to Perform? 

All pretty words aside, the truth is there’s no money to be made (or spent) when it comes to cheap housing. No sir. Money comes from controlling what and where something is going to be built; and to pad the profit, it should be “affordable housing,” not just a place to provide shelter from the elements for the homeless. 

So one of the first things the Council did when they got the bond money was to take Controller Ron Galperin’s database of about 9000 city owned properties and trim it down into twelve parcels. 

As I wrote in an earlier CityWatch article, as soon as the bond passed, City Hall did a bait and switch to now provide “affordable housing:” 

“If you contrast the bond measure rhetoric with what the City has actually done so far, the disconnect looms like the Grand Canyon. Affordable housing is not permanent-supportive housing; it’s simply another opportunity for real estate developers to make money building more housing.” 

Even worse, as fellow CityWatch columnists Eric & Joshua Preven noted, the first meeting of the 7 member Citizens Oversight Committee (all appointed by the Mayor), was in fact a secret meeting which had a “technical glitch” and the audio recording of the meeting didn’t work. Great start to the openness and transparency promised when they begged for $1.2 billion in bonds.

In their follow-up article, they showed that the City has no intention of telling us what they are going to do with the money. 

Then we had a devastating piece by Patrick Range McDonald, showing how the Mayor and Council made nice until they were able to defeat Measure S. Then came the real deal that they had hidden: 

The City Administrative Officer recommended, and the City Council approved, an AHOS program that now offered ‘affordable multifamily housing,’ ‘mixed-income housing,’ ‘affordable homeownership,’ ‘innovative methods of housing,’ and, finally, “permanent supportive housing” for the homeless.”  

And on May Day (May 1), the Prevens gave us a column with the heading Red Flag Warning, a nice summary of the bait and switch. The answer to the question of how many actual new units of housing for the homeless have been built is around zero. With some 9 projects in the pipeline (mostly refurbishments) for some $10 million.

Finally, in a pathetic attempt to redirect our limited attention, the City Council proudly urged that the City declare a year-round shelter crisis. The motion was made by none other than Jose Huizar (CD 14), who can’t even get anything done in Boyle Heights, and that master of saying one thing and doing something else, Mike Bonin (CD 11). 

The Takeaway 

Let’s go back to what we were told in the run up to passage of Proposition HHH. The advertised promise was for some 10,000 units of affordable permanent-supportive housing over 10 years, to the tune of $1.2 billion in bonds. 

What we’ve got is a new bureaucracy called HCID, run by a new general manager (Ray Cervantes), looking for staff and talking about $75 million in bonds to fund something like 440 units of supporting housing, with a total of 615 units. Maybe. And with no timeline. 

HCID, for the acronym challenged, stands for “Housing & Community Investment Department.” That very description should make us shudder, as we add another bureaucracy to the City that can’t balance a budget. On the other hand, they have a really spiffy website.  

This is a far cry from the promised 10,000 units of housing for the homeless and support services, and the Prevens indicate that the real number to date is around zero. If the City took a look at the pod/tiny houses mentioned at the beginning of this article, the process now would be very different. For about $30 million ($30,000 per unit) you could build 1000 units of homeless housing. And under the USC model, it could all be built here, providing jobs for local folks. 

Furthermore, at the moment the City is only looking at nine projects, using their tortured system, and there has been huge community pushback on many of their proposed sites. If you broadened the parameters and looked at all the 9000 parcels identified by Controller Galperin, I refuse to believe that the City couldn’t find places to put these mini-homes. 

Not only that, just look at the amount of money the City has blown in court battles over the police department seizing homeless people’s belongings and the costs of storing their stuff. I’m guessing millions, as referenced in a recent Curbed Los Angeles piece. With the pods, storage is already there. 

All I can say is, thank god for CityWatch and its intrepid band of investigative columnists! 

And the next time City Hall wants us to pay for a special purpose tax, listen to Jack Humphreville. Vote NO.

 

(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.

-cw

EDUCATION POLITICS-Why do we let Nick Melvoin’s words bounce off him and stick to LAUSD’s world? Negative Ads Undermine Democracy. Mostly, the fourth district school board race has been one of incessant negativity and lies. Why do we permit this uncivilized behavior? 

I can tell you that, walking my neighborhood, I am met with deep weariness, wariness and hostility. This is the legacy of democracy abused. This race has been nothing if not about Big Lies and electoral abuse, and that’s a lesson being bought – and paid for – dearly. 

Independent Committee expenditures (IECs, the new normal for “PAC”s) in favor of both candidates have been about the same, averaging $1.8 million dollars at the moment. Each. You read that right. Think of the children. (Think of the printers.) 

What is not similar is IC expenditures in opposition to their candidate. Melvoin’s IC devotes half an order of magnitude more in slandering Steve Zimmer than Zimmer’s IC spends to oppose Melvoin. 

Thus, quite apart from the overall total spent (which is obscene), a dramatic distinction between candidates is evident from what’s being spent to smear the other guy. Zimmer’s adherents spent less than 25% of that average in denigrating their opposition ($441K). Melvoin’s buddies sunk 140% of that average spent in support of their candidate ($2.4 million) on negative ads

In fact, the amount Zimmer’s IEC devoted to negative campaigning is so comparatively trivial, the negligible difference between both campaign’s positive expenditures, which is just 6% – this sum ($114K) is 25% of what Zimmer’s camp spent in negativity altogether. His challenger spent five and a half times as much as the incumbent in stuffing our mailboxes with scurrilous lies. 

So the current overall total of IECs is $6.4 million, and the electorate has responded with a resounding, “Beat It.” 

The blowback to our electoral democracy is fierce. When I try to speak with my own neighbors with whom I have worked side-by-side for over twenty years improving their neighborhood, my neighborhood, everyone’s lives, their doors stay shut. They make clear they are fortressed against hearing anything “political.” 

What they have absorbed are buzz words: “bad,” “failing,” “violent,” “drop-out,” “waste,” “fraud,” “scandal” – and on and on and on. 

What they have forgotten is that their littlest neighbors, my children, are part of that system being smeared. And I volunteer within that system improving it just like I work to improve our neighborhoods. 

My children are NOT bad, failures, violent, drop-outs, wasteful, fraudulent or scandalous. My children actually reflect wonderfully on those self-same neighbors, and likewise upon the school system, the schools and the teachers who taught them. One attends the most selective school in the country, the other strives to follow in those footsteps. We are all working tirelessly to bring our community up and forward its betterment. LAUSD has supported my children even as our family contributes to improve it. This is what democracy looks like and its integrity needs safeguarding from lassitude and confusion. 

Because that is the outcome when candidates shred their opposition and tear down community. They wound us all with their messages of negativity and hopelessness: it sticks. What’s conveyed is deep and unsettling: don’t try to pretend things are good here, that you can better your lot, that you can effect it or counter us. Reality and facts are immaterial. If you dare to counter the message, you will be buried in an avalanche of Big Lies, marginalized, and transformed into a puddle of electoral glue coated in an onslaught of slander we the people are too traumatized to withstand through reason or thought. 

This is what is Trumpian about the might of the California Charter Schools Association’s money and power in this battle for the school board. Intimidation, slander and ultimate electoral paralysis. They strive to overwhelm us with false equivalence such that even the stark consequence of ideological differences so riven as represented by these candidates, is obscured. 

Please do not let all this money win your single democratic voice. You must turn out to the polls in order to use it. This is the one and only way to assert Resistance. Then, give Steve Zimmer your vote.

 

(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) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

15 CANDLES---(Editor’s Note: It has 15 years since Los Angeles certified its first Neighborhood Council … Wilmington Neighborhood Council … in December of 2001. The ’15 Candles’ campaign celebrates the occasion, looks back at the early days and considers the future of LA’s NCs. Jerry Gaines served on the Appointed Reform Commission and remembers how it all began.) 

The City of Los Angeles experienced a renaissance in its governance structure during the last half of the 20th Century, brought on in part by events related to the desire by parts of the 461 Square Mile city to secede from Los Angeles. Economic, social, cultural, and political forces interacted to kick start action to “break up” the entrenched power of the city’s existing government structure. 

The general belief was that the downtown government power drew economic benefits from areas such as the San Fernando Valley and the Harbor without returning desired economic growth and support in those parts of the city. The progressive history of Los Angeles led to a weak Mayor, and defused power among the City’s 15 Council Members, the City’s Controller, and the various city department heads and commissions. 

To respond to this frustration, then Mayor Richard Riordan led efforts to place an initiative to the voters via an elected 15 member Charter Reform Commission to draft and seek approval of a new City Charter aimed at addressing contentious elements of the existing city government. The then City Council responded by appointing its own 21 member Charter Reform Commission, to in effect try to blunt the impacts that could come from the Mayor’s Elected Charter Reform Commission. This author served on the Appointed Charter Reform Commission. 

The result after months of public hearings and debates held by the two dueling commissions led the respective Chairs to seek a unified Charter to present to the voters, realizing there was little chance separate work products could get majority support from the voters. This effort was successful as the voters approved the Unified Charter by over 60%. In effect the Elected Charter Reform Commission (like the House of Representatives) and the Appointed Charter Reform Commission (like the Senate) came together to craft the new Charter. 

Aside from the defining the power of the Mayor and Controller as well as oversight of the city’s department heads and commissions, efforts were made to address the grass roots frustrations between the various communities and the central government. Seven Area Planning Commissions and a Neighborhood Council System were part of the restructuring of the city governance program to craft improved interaction between the central government and the diverse communities throughout the 461 square miles of the city. 

In regard to crafting the neighborhood council system, I and other interested parties such as Greg Nelson (later a former department head of DONE), and Dr. Raphael Soneshein (Appointed Commission Executive Director) traveled to other cities to study adopted neighborhood council systems. St. Paul, Minnesota and Portland Oregon had experience with such systems. Work was then done to draft a section of the Unified Charter (Sec. 900) to build a framework for such a system. After voter approval, this led the City Council to adopt an ordinance on May 25, 2001 to set in motion the system of establishing neighborhood councils. 

Over the past fifteen years efforts have been made to evaluate and modify various elements of the neighborhood system. The intent for those of us framing the program was for local neighborhood councils to in effect simulate in concept a New England style of town hall council with a goal of each of them representing some 20,000 to 40,000 residents. They were defined as advisory (not quasi judicial, etc.) so that membership could include stakeholders from those living, working, owning property or other defined interests with a nexus to the local community. 

There have been challenges for sure, focused on relationships between the formal government oversight (DONE) and local autonomy of neighborhood councils to address diverse community interests. The framers intent was to facilitate a grass root line of communications to the formal city policy makers (elected and appointed). We included an early warning system requirement (Sec. 907) to help here. Also budget input was required (Sec. 909). And DONE was to be stand alone (Sec. 913). 

Observations on my part indicate that there has been optimism from many observers engaged with the neighborhood council system, notwithstanding challenges in city finances, specific local political polarized issues, and the learning curve for new members volunteering civic service to this aspect of LA City governance. The more recent establishment of the Leadership Academy led by the Cal State Los Angeles Pat Brown Institute (headed by Dr. Raphael Sonenshein ) is a sign of a broader effort to bring interested stakeholders into an opportunity to contribute to the betterment of local communities. The annual gathering of delegates coming together has demonstrated engaged interest in taking ownership of seeking solutions to specific community issues and learning from each other. Collaboration with trust is a way to solving civic issues, whether it is within a city block, a defined neighborhood, or the city of some four million in population.

 

(Jerry Gaines served on the Los Angeles City Appointed Charter Reform Commission, one of two commissions responsible for creating neighborhood councils. This is one in a series of stories and videos on Los Angeles Neighborhood Councils 15th birthday.) Edited by Doug Epperhart.

-cw

THE COHEN COLUMN--Oh, say can you can “C” by the deception that we fight.  What so naively we hoped at the City’s last elections. Whose broad promise we bought though the methods unclear gave proof that our trust was sadly mistaken.  (With apologies to F.S. Key.) 

Julie Butcher in CityWatch gave the overall lay of the land with Charter Amendment C.  It is must reading for a fuller analysis of the issue.  

Simply put Measure C (on the LA City ballot Tuesday, May 16th) would allow an LAPD officer, whom the Chief of Police has recommend termination, demotion or suspension, to choose whether the disciplinary hearing is to be before a Board of Rights composed of three people, two police officers (Captains or higher rank) and one civilian or, before a board of just three civilians. 

The key take-a-way is that the police officer has the choice, it is not imposed.  Which would you pick? Frankly who wouldn’t pick the board that might give a more lenient verdict? 

Julie explained: During the period from 2011 to November 2016, civilians were consistently more lenient than their sworn officer counterparts. 

In fact what we have is a wolf in civilian oversight's clothing. The LA City Legislative Analyst's study found that when the board of rights found an officer not guilty of misconduct, the civilian member always voted to acquit. 

So what’s your pick? – The civilian board, duh. 

How is Charter Amendment C present by its supporters? They insist it gives more civilian oversight even though it is at least possible that the all civilian board may never hear disciplinary case – if the [allegedly] misbehaving police officers so choose. That could happen if the board of rights was actually composed of members of the community at large and they held LAPD officers to a high standard of conduct.  

The civilians now sitting on the board come from a very restricted group, they are “…attorneys who sit on the panels for 10 and 20 years in a row.” 

Attorneys I suspect that would have a professional interest in playing good guy to LAPD cops. Just a thought. 

Why is the Los Angeles Police Protective League behind this change? Well first of all it is called the Police PROTECTIVE League not the Police ACOUNTABILITY League. It is a lobbyist for its members. 

 “The mission of the Los Angeles Police Protective League is to vigilantly protect, promote, and improve the working conditions, legal rights, compensation and benefits of Los Angeles Police Officers.” Check it out.  

OK, we can discount its bias. That is its job paid for by some 10,000 officers serving and retired. 

When wanting favorable outcome politicians seem to catch the alt-reality flu. Facts shmacks spin it and tell ‘em just what we want them to know. 

The Mayor and City Council caught it. Herb Wesson, LA City Council President claims “Amendment C increases civilian oversight … by increasing an alternative all civilian board to review police disciplinary matters.” 

We have seen that the alternative civilian board is alternative in name only. It essentially serves at the request of the accused officer. 

Where did Amendment C come from? It was birthed by the L.A. Police Protective League and nurtured by the City’s elected. 

Read Craig Lally’s, President of the LAPPL, own words. 

Why is the Mayor supporting it? Some say that “ … it’s really about a mayor who has ambitions to seek higher office doing a favor for the police union."   

More: 

 “Under heavy lobbying from the union that represents rank and file LAPD officers, the Los Angeles City Council Wednesday took the first step toward creating civilian panels that would review discipline involving cops accused of misconduct. 

The change could tip the balance in favor of officers — studies show civilians are actually more lenient with cops involved in wrongdoing than command officers.” 

What the City of Angles really need is something like what The City of Las Vegas has [believe it or not] a real citizen’s review board. L.V.M.P.D. Citizen Review Board

The genesis for the citizens review board as stated on their web site is: 

“In response to the 1997 fatal shooting of Daniel Mendoza by off duty Metro police officers, minority communities from the city joined in efforts to establish an independent citizen police review board with subpoena power and the authority to recommend sanctions for officer misconduct. 

The mission of the L.V.M.P.D. Citizen Review Board is to serve as an independent civilian oversight agency to review complaints of misconduct against Metro peace officers and to review internal investigations done by the L.V.M.P.D. 

The Board is composed entirely of civilian volunteers whose purpose is to make objective determinations on the merits of every case and respect the rights of both officers and complainants. 

CRB members may recommend disciplinary action, if findings show that misconduct occurred, or may recommend additional training or changes in existing policy where warranted. “ 

Las Vegas even makes it easy to apply for a seat  on the board, unlike LA

See their application.   

Clamor loudly for real civilian oversight. Vote NO on C Tuesday May 16th

 

(Michael N. Cohen is a former board member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, founding member of the LADWP Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, founding member of LA Clean Sweep and occasional contributor to CityWatch.)

-cw

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-I recently saw the new documentary about Jane Jacobs, called Citizen Jane: Battle for the City. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times praised it to the heavens, but my take is more muted. 

The film’s history of New York City in the immediate post-WW II era clearly offers some valuable lessons for LA’s endless city planning disputes. In New York the vision of Robert Moses, the City’s construction czar, prevailed through the 1960s. It was based on the top-down rebuilding of New York City inspired by the modernist vision of Swiss architect, Le Corbusier.  As applied to New York and other major cities, including Los Angeles, this approach lead to widespread urban renewal projects based on three planning principles: automobiles, freeways, and high rise buildings. In New York the new high-rise buildings took the form of public housing complexes built through well-intentioned slum clearance projects. 

This top down planning model eventually collided with the bottoms-up vision of professional writer and neighborhood activist, Jane Jacobs. Through her many articles, widely read books, and community organizing, she lead grass roots campaigns in the 1950s and 1960s that stopped several of Moses’ later rebuilding projects, most notably the Lower Manhattan Expressway. Her successes then inspired similar efforts to block new urban freeway projects and high-rise housing projects in many other U.S. and Canadian cities. 

Useful Lessons from this documentary: 

Lesson 1) Public and private projects should serve the needs of local residents and organic communities. Meeting broad public goals by destroying local communities through top-down redevelopment and transportation projects seldom works and must be opposed. 

Lesson 2) Despite the extraordinary power of elected officials and developers, the public can successfully organize to block truly awful top-down projects and replace them with their own bottoms-up vision. It is not easy, but even in Los Angeles there have been notable successes, such as the long-forgotten Beverly Hills Freeway. If built, it would have would have replaced Santa Monica Boulevard and Melrose Avenue with a new freeway linking the I-405 to the 101. First proposed in the early 1940s, official maps finally erased this freeway in 1975 after several decades of well-organized west-side opposition. 

But, despite these useful lessons, this documentary also needs some serious updating. This Jane Jacobs story stopped in the early 1970s, when most freeway and public housing construction ground to a halt. But, coincidence is not cause, and those private economic interests that supported and handsomely benefited from Robert Moses’ massive projects never threw in the towel. They quickly adapted their business models to new urban realities. Decades later, they still harbor top-down grandiose visions for rebuilding American cities, like Los Angeles, through an alliance of their companies with local officials. 

To begin, the Vietnam War, just as much as local political opposition inspired by Jane Jacobs, led to the demise of large public housing buildings and most new freeway projects. In the 1960s President Lyndon Johnson (LBJ) claimed he could fight the Vietnam War without domestic cutting backs. He called his approach, “Guns and Butter.” But, LBJ was wrong. The guns won, the butter lost; and the subsequent Nixon administration unleashed public housing cutbacks that continue nearly 50 years later. 

Instead of replacing large, high-rise super-blocks of public housing with low-rise townhouses, Congress and the White House simply eliminated most public housing programs. This is why we are now left with such weak affordable housing band-aids as density bonuses, inclusionary housing, and a corrupt Federal affordable housing tax credit program.  Now in its fifth decade, the elimination of these public housing programs spawned more backroom deals, relocation to distant suburbs, inner city overcrowding, and mass homelessness. These are hardly victories that Jane Jacobs would have celebrated. 

As for freeway construction, budget constraints also killed most new projects, and now most states, like California, are struggling to maintain an Interstate Highway System begun in 1956 to defend the United States from the Russkies. No kidding! 

While a few over-priced freeway projects still squeak through, like the $1.4 billion project to widen the still gridlocked I-405 between the Santa Monica and Ventura Freeways, that big-ticket era is now over. And, at this point it will take far more than another Cold War, even with cheerleading by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow,  to reignite a second freeway building frenzy. 

But, real estate developers and their ever-faithful City Hall and State House enablers have fully reinvented themselves since the 1970s. Of course, they still hope to make piles of quick profits, but instead of government contracts to build freeways, they clamor for public works projects to build light and heavy rail. Plus, instead of “donations” to elected officials for contracts to build public housing, they have turned their attention to pay-to-play spot-zones and plan amendments for high-rise luxury housing and shopping centers. Sometimes, for good PR or an extra discretionary approval, the developers will add a few affordable apartments into the mix. But, since the pols then make sure there will never be on-site inspections of these affordable units, the developers are free to increase their rents to market rates. 

As a result, developers can still demolish old buildings and then displace local residents to make way for new tenants. The difference from the Jane Jacobs era is that their business model no longer depends on urban renewal projects, freeways, and high-rise public housing projects. They can get to the same place through piece-meal, pay-to-play soft corruption to build private, market rate developments. It is more labor intensive, but they almost always finish the race, especially when they claim (without a shred of evidence) that their real estate projects are transit-oriented. But, just like the mega-projects of the Moses-Jacobs era, the new mega-projects are still automobile-oriented despite the endless hype about transit. Whether new luxury apartments, office buildings, or shopping centers, nearly all employees, residents, and shoppers drive to these destinations, even when they happen to be near mass transit. 

Why was such important information excluded from this film? 

The documentary’s opening credits identify the film’s underwriters: The Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Both foundations have a long, well-documented history of urban projects that selectively support handpicked activists. If they focus on community and then steer their activism away from exposes of collusion and corruption between large real estate investors and public officials, local groups apparently pass the threshold for major foundation funding. 

How did the Robert Moses approach, vilified in the documentary, appear in Los Angeles? 

Los Angeles had two famous slum clearance projects, and one actually resulted in some new, high-rise replacement housing. 

Bunker Hill, which can still be seen in many classic film noir movies set in Los Angeles, was on the western edge of the downtown. Through the Bunker Hill urban renewal project, the original Victorian houses, their residents, and some hills were removed, replaced by the Harbor Freeway and the high-rise, pedestrian-free, car-oriented hotels and banks on Flower and Figueroa Streets. But, at least the Angelus Plaza high-rise public housing complex for seniors was folded into this urban renewal project. Unlike the Moses style high-rise public housing projects that were total failures, the public housing on Bunker Hill is doing just fine after 37 years of continuous operation. Nevertheless, to avoid street level pedestrian activity, the CRA proposed an underground and elevated People Mover transit system to the tune of about $300 million. Killed by the Reagan Administration in 1981, in current dollars it would have cost over $1 billion. 

Chavez Ravine is the most infamous LA slum clearance project. Under the leadership of Frank Wilkinson, Special Assistant to the Director of the Los Angeles Housing Authority, this old Mexican-American community was supposed to make way for well-designed new public housing through a slum clearance project. Called Elysian Park Heights, the famous Austrian-American architect Richard Neutra completed detailed designs. His online renderings reveal that it would have included many two-story buildings, mid-rise residential towers, and substantial landscaping. In fact, it would have resembled another Le Corbusier-inspired residential project in Los Angeles, Park LaBrea

The first step met with substantial local resistance, but eventually the Los Angeles Housing Authority moved out all local residents. But, the next step, Neutra-designed public housing, never appeared. Instead, Wilkinson and other Housing Authority officials were fired because of their presumed Communist Party affiliations. Once pushed out of the way, the Los Angeles City Council quickly handed over the emptied Chavez Ravine to Walter O’Malley so he could build a stadium for the recently relocated Brooklyn Dodgers. 

Today’s reality. By 2017, slum clearance projects and new freeways have become a thing of the past in Los Angeles. Instead, the private market, in cahoots with public officials, gradually forces out low and middle income residents through a variety of gentrifying programs. These include mansionization, cash-for-key evictions, Ellis Act evictions, Small Lot Subdivisons, and deliberate negligence that makes apartments so unlivable that tenants leave on their own.

But, no matter how residents are legally or illegally evicted, the next step is similar. In-fill replacement housing caters to the well-off, while nearly all of the evicted double up, live in cars and the streets, head off to much cheaper cities, or reluctantly move to distant suburbs. If they luck out, they find affordable apartments, but they still must tolerate long commutes, strangers in lieu of neighbors, and a low-amenity environment. 

(Dick Platkin is a former Los Angeles City Planner who reports on local planning issues for CityWatcLA. Please send any comments or corrections to rhplatkin@gmail.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

ON THE BUTCHER BLOCK-Charter Amendment C on LA’s citywide May 16 ballot is exactly the kind of measure that makes people cynical. This ”[n]oxious sleight of hand” was snuck onto the ballot by a quiet, unanimous vote of the City Council this past January. No deep public engagement, no hearings at the Police Commission. 

For most people, at first blush, it sounds good. How many people already voted yes just ‘cause the Mayor and the Police Union signed the ballot argument in favor of it? Smart people, engaged citizens? Duped and cynical. 

Thankfully we’ve got a good local newspaper.

From the LA Times first editorial against Measure C, Measure C pretends to be about police reform. Instead, it's a noxious sleight of hand. Vote no!  

The charter amendment would leave the selection of civilians — who is eligible, how the pool is chosen — to the City Council. Will the pool be stocked with retired police officers? We don’t know. Will it be filled by police reformers or critics from Black Lives Matter? We don’t know — although the police union seems confident that the council will craft the selection process to its satisfaction. 

That’s why, despite assertions in campaign brochures that Charter Amendment C would create a “civilian review board,” implying that it would operate like those in other cities and which reform advocates here have long sought, it would do no such thing. That’s why most reform advocates strongly oppose the measure. They see it for what it is: a sleight of hand that gives the appearance of civilian oversight while actually giving the union just what it wants. 

But the sneakiest part of the measure is the May 16 ballot itself. There are runoffs in two council districts and two school board districts, but otherwise Charter Amendment C is the only thing on the ballot, so few voters — other than those rallied by the Police Protective League and city politicians that crave the union’s support — are expected to bother. Voters can, and should, resist that cynical tactic and the ill-considered change in police discipline by voting “No.” 

And from its second editorial against the measure, Don't be fooled — Measure C is a union ploy to go soft on police misconduct:  

Over two decades, there have been many thoughtful, independent analysts who agreed with the union that the current Board of Rights system should be replaced — but who rejected all-civilian panels. The Rampart Independent Review Panel, for example, urged the city to limit the Board of Rights to fact-finding — did the officer truly commit misconduct? — and leave actual punishment decisions to the chief, who would have to follow guidelines adopted by the Police Commission. 

Other proposals have included making the Police Commission itself a true civilian review board by allowing it to make discipline decisions. These and other suggested reforms are well considered and should be among the options presented to voters or the council. 

They are not on the May 16 ballot, because Charter Amendment C is not one of those thoughtful proposals that an independent panel arrived at following a process of interviews, testimony and study. It is the result of private talks between top city officials and the Police Protective League. Union leaders surely see the advantage to their members of being able to choose among differently formatted Boards of Rights. If some future council changes the criteria for selecting civilian members to make them tougher on accused officers, those officers would still be able to select a board without a civilian majority. 

It’s not as though the Boards of Rights are inordinately tough on officers. They reject more than half of the chief’s requests for discipline. 

Police officers have a constitutional right not to be fired or otherwise punished on a whim or out of personal animus or political pressure. They are entitled to an appeals system that offers due process, and they ought to have a system they perceive to be fair. What they will get, if Charter Amendment C passes, is an unwarranted choice of arbiters and a chance to further undermine the chief’s ability to run his department, as well as the public’s ability to hold him accountable. Voters should say no to Charter Amendment C. 

How did this happen? Politicians snuck it on the ballot in the last off-year election LA will see? Oh my, cynical me! But look! There are still investigative reporters at the LA Times, A 'backroom deal'? Groups that pushd crackdown on police misconduct were left out of talks between Garcetti and the LAPD union (I love The Palms! Do they still have those amazing pickled tomatoes?): 

…those groups — and the larger public — were effectively locked out as Garcetti and the LAPD’s rank-and-file officers union worked on an overhaul of the department’s disciplinary system, interviews and city records obtained by The Times show. Those talks, launched roughly two years ago, led to the creation of Charter Amendment C, which would introduce one of the most significant changes to the LAPD’s disciplinary process in decades. 

Those same groups are now campaigning against the May 16 ballot measure, which would allow police disciplinary panels, also known as Boards of Rights, to be composed entirely of civilians. Foes warn the measure will make the panels more lenient toward officers, pointing to a city report that concluded civilians have been voting for less severe punishment. 

At this late date, our local press is paying attention. Decent analysis, for instance, from Los Angeles Magazine, May 8: If You Care About Police Oversight, You Need to Vote on May 16:

Believe it or not, May 16 marks yet another local election. With so few items on the ballot, it’s tempting to sit this one out—especially if you’re not in a district with a city council run-off, or if you’re not up on the latest school board elections. For many Angelenos there’s only one thing to even vote on—a little-discussed Charter Amendment that, at first glance, seems like a good thing. (Civilian oversight! Police being held accountable for misconduct! Who could argue with that?) But here’s why you should still show up on May 16—and why you should vote “No” on C. 

And KPCC’s Frank Stoltze offers an excellent summary and analysis of the measure (as usual!) LA's Measure C upends politics around police discipline:  

Concerned that all-civilian panels would be too soft on misbehaving cops, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, civil rights attorney Connie Rice and Black Lives Matter leader Melina Abdullah have all lined up against Measure C. 

"Charter Amendment C is the wolf in civilian oversight's clothing," said Abdullah. "I think it’ s really about a mayor who has ambitions to seek higher office doing a favor for the police union." 

Jason McGahan writes on the measure for the LA Weekly: Will Measure C Make It Easier for Misbehaving Cops to Go Unpunished?  

LAist summarizes the opposition organizing against Measure C: Why The L.A. Times, The ACLU, And Black Lives Matter Oppose Measure C.  

Rabbi Aryeh Cohen in the April 28 Jewish Journal, Oppose Charter Amendment C—and strengthen democracy, explains why the process of getting Measure C to the ballot is as bad as the substance of the ill-conceived change:

“Beyond the fact that this amendment is bad for the residents of the city, the process is bad for democracy. In order for there to be a robust democratic conversation about the issues that impact our city, the residents of the city need to be convinced that the conversation matters, that things can change for the better. If instead of this, the ballot process is used in an underhanded and disingenuous way people—who in any event are working really hard to support themselves and their families, and do not have an abundance of leisure time—will be dissuaded from taking part in the process. Turnout for special elections is already low. We need to defeat this spurious measure so that special elections are no longer used to pass measures that otherwise would be debated and defeated.” 

Rosemary Jenkins opposes the measure in Dick & Sharon's LA Progressive:  

“I urge a No vote when you go to the polls this May. All officers must be held accountable for their actions–for all their actions–the good, the bad, the ugly, and the unforgiveable–but let us make certain that the procedures are objective and fair to all and are not tilted toward one or the other side of the scales of justice. We must never be guilty of being party to a low-voter turn-out. Each vote does count, and we must make ours not only count but be cast as an enlightened act. In the end, it is better to vote on what you know than guess about something about which you have little understanding. It is, therefore, incumbent upon us to be part of an informed electorate.” 

And from the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN)

The Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) and over 75 other local organizations from across LA urge all voters to vote NO on Charter Amendment C on May 16. 

If passed, Charter Amendment C would actually give LAPD officers already found guilty of misconduct a way to avoid discipline and punishment. It is a intentionally misleading ballot measure that was created and is being funded by the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the LAPD police union. Why would the LAPD union want more “accountability” and “civilian oversight”? Simple: They don’t. 

This measure is NOT about accountability. It will actually make LA more unsafe by giving officers ALREADY FOUND GUILTY OF MISCONDUCT more options to avoid punishment – putting these guilty officers back on our streets and in our communities. 

Charter Amendment C is NO about “civilian” oversight. According to the measure, a “civilian” must have years of mediation and arbitration experience. Also, there are only 38 of these “civilians” currently allowed to serve on the Board of Rights panel – and the majority of them have been in this group for over 9 years. Does these people sound like your neighbors, family members, or friends? 

Charter Amendment C is NOT about accountability or oversight. It is about guilty cops getting out of discipline. Vote #NoOnC on May 16!

 

(Julie Butcher writes for CityWatch and is a retired union leader 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.

-cw

RANTZ AND RAVEZ-The Homeless situation in Los Angeles is getting worse each and every day. More and more people are living on the streets of LA and local government officials are doing little other than talk and raise taxes and fees to address the situation. 

In the areas surrounding LA City Hall, all over downtown, along the Orange Line in the San Fernando Valley and on the streets of Hollywood, Central LA, and in the West and South LA areas, the situation continues to worsen. Many people, including young students, are forced to walk to school stumbling over the homeless with their collection of various items lying on sidewalks. They are sleeping on bus benches and generally flopping anywhere and everywhere they choose to plant themselves on private and public property.

It is not that I am heartless and don’t care about my fellow human beings. For whatever reason -- be it drugs or mental illness or a number of other factors -- homelessness has become a lifestyle for many people living on the streets. It is totally out of control and not reducing in numbers. 

Throwing money at the problem has not worked; the newly established bond measure to build 10,000 residential units -- supported by an increase in the property tax -- is not going to improve things. No community wants the homeless in its neighborhood. Additionally, the ¼ cent sales tax to assist the homeless, voted into law in the County of Los Angeles, is not going to do much to rectify the situation either. How can it have any impact when a select group of 50 people are attempting to find ways to spend the money that will be generated by the new tax? Imagine how 50 people working together are going to establish any solution as to how to spend the money. Just look at our City Council and you can see how elected officials find ways to spend money yet not improve the quality of life in our city.      

I have been a board member of the rescue shelter Hope of the Valley for the past number of years. This organization deals with the homeless in the greater San Fernando Valley by providing a number of services and locations with beds for those left out in the streets. From hospital dumping of patients on the streets to those down on their luck, Hope of the Valley is constantly struggling to find the funds to keep operating in the San Fernando Valley. 

There is also the LA Mission, the Union Rescue Mission, the Fred Jordan mission and a number of other organizations designed to provide food, clothing and shelter to the homeless in and around Los Angeles. Some even help families and children. Unlike years ago when there were mostly homeless men confined to the Skid Row area in downtown LA, the situation has changed with growing numbers of women with children living homeless on the streets and various communities throughout LA.

Missions and existing shelters are all in need of funds to continue to operate and provide services to those in need. I have a novel idea. Why don’t the bureaucrats handling the additional tax revenues provide sufficient funds to the established facilities that are struggling for dollars? This will help them continue providing the valuable services to the homeless. Now, is that such a novel approach to begin and address the growing homeless population in Los Angeles? 

Gordon Murley should be remembered for all the passion and dedication he displayed for the South West San Fernando Valley and, in particular, Woodland Hills.  

With the death of Gordon Murley a few months ago, there are those in the Woodland Hills community who want to remember all the good work he did for the community for many years. From community meetings to development to being a protector of neighborhoods, Gordon was there year after year speaking, arguing and supporting community pride and success in any and all developments. When Gordon did not like a project, he would gather his posse together and fight to make sure it became a benefit for the community and not just another building occupying space. 

Love, commitment and dedication to the community are what Gordon was all about. There are those in the community who want to name a monument or facility in Gordon’s memory. Johnny Walker, a friend, local resident and community organizer is gaining support from various organizations in Woodland Hills to name the currently under construction Shoup Park in honor of Gordon. 

I will be the first to admit that naming a city facility in particular a park in honor of Gordon is most appropriate. The tribute is an honor and I am sure Gordon’s family and friends will appreciate it. While I appropriated the funds to renovate the park when I was the councilman for the district, the current councilman, Councilman Bob Blumenfield will have to approve naming the park in honor of Gordon. I know that he and his staff worked with Gordon during the past years on various developments in the council district. 

Gordon was the president of the Woodland Hills Homeowners Organization, Founder of the Woodland Hills-Warner Center Neighborhood Council, South Valley Planning Commissioner and a proud Military Veteran. A man of distinction, commitment and honor deserves a community facility or a monument in his name. 

Happy Mother’s Day to all Moms 

I would like to wish all Mothers a Happy Mother’s Day. While my Mom passed several years ago, I remember the good times we shared with my Mom, Alice, and the family over the years. Show love and appreciation to your Mom, Grandmother and Godmother on Mother’s Day and every day. As we age, we come to appreciate more and more what our Moms do and have done to frame, encourage and strengthen our lives. As I remember and pray for my Mom, I urge you to demonstrate your love and appreciation for the Moms in your family. Will it be roses or candy or jewelry for her? 

Whatever it is make sure it is delivered with lots of love and appreciation.     

I welcome your thoughts and comments at Zman8910@aol.com.

 

(Dennis P. Zine is a retired LAPD Sergeant, Former Elected Charter Reform Commissioner, Retired Los Angeles City Councilman; and the current Honorary Mayor of Woodland Hills and General Manager of Bell Canyon’s Community Services District in Ventura County.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

ALPERN AT LARGE--As the proud parent of two wonderful LAUSD students, and as someone who has pushed for numerous spending motions on local students within the boundaries of the Mar Vista Community Council, and as a proud Boy Scout dad (and former Eagle Scout), I am joining the ranks of so many Angelenos who are fed up by an out of touch LAUSD Board and administration. 

You guys at the top really are the worst--and the more we (the taxpayers) feed you, the more out of touch and self-absorbed you become. 

Lots of money in these school board races, right? 

It is very difficult to proclaim that the charter school champions (Funded by billionaires, I tell you! BILLIONAIRES!) are awful candidates when the education unions fund THEIR champions. 

Frankly, why the devil would anyone trust either group, when it appears to be all about the money? 

Seriously, what would happen if the "for profit" charter systems and the "for profit" education unions were put on a results-only, strict diet that had their operations "graded" by the parents and recent graduates of our public school system? 

But I live in the real world--charter schools may be where I lean--no, I don't think Eli Broad is a bad guy, and the parents voting with their feet to flood the charter schools can't keep being ignored by the disgusting UTLA--but the stories of charter school abuse can't be ignored, either. 

And the money train isn't going away, either... at least for the time being. 

In the Westside, I think there is a tough decision between two overall fine candidates:  both Nick Melvoin and Steve Zimmer are two honorable men who would do well by their constituents. 

So long as the constituents that get top billing are the students and their parents. 

And in this world of diversion--as in let's talk non-stop about how much we hate Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos while we locally slam one stiletto after another between the ribs of the taxpayers and helpless students--there are so many issues to be addressed: 

1) Common Core is hated by liberals and conservatives alike. 

2) The bait-and-switch of extending and then contracting the 2017 summer break on the part of the LAUSD school board is hated by liberals and conservatives alike. 

3) The lack of vocational training for students who should be taught a vital and necessary skill is hated by liberals and conservatives alike. 

4) The misappropriation of K-12 funds, and the lack of budgetary control and new UC/Cal State university construction, is hated by liberals and conservatives alike. 

5) The out of control need to take Advanced Placement courses aplenty while not allowing students to test out of high school at an early age, and proceed to local junior colleges, is hated by liberals and conservatives alike. 

And so it goes.  Trump and DeVos are worthy of all sorts of criticism, but that has nothing to do with the fact that there are armies of miserable and victimized students and their parents, as well as sincere and underpaid teachers, who are held down by the figurative and collective boot of California education lobbies--a boot that will not stop stepping on their victims' figurative and collective neck. 

My patients (and I see them virtually every day, now!) who are leaving this state to achieve not only a more affordable cost of living but a chance to achieve an affordable college education for their children, can't all be crazy. 

The majority of high school-aged students' families pursuing public school education that is affordable, but also independent of UTLA and many LAUSD constraints, can't all be crazy. 

And those liberal and conservative education reformers can't all be crazy, either. 

Really, you "education gurus".  You, really, REALLY are the worst.

 

(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 was co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chaired 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

TRANSIT WATCH--Enough of the agendas! We're already hearing talk of Measure M local funds to the City of Los Angeles being diverted away from potholes, and the new voter-approved homeless funds are potentially up for grabs to be spent in non-transparent, concerning directions.  At the city, county and state levels, we're seeing taxpayer funds treated like private/political funds. 

Overall, Metro's "agenda" is smart and balanced...but the staff can only be directed by its political boardmembers, who've perhaps gotten the wrong idea about what the passage of Measure M meant. 

The Metro Board needs to know they did NOT get a blank check, nor an excuse to close their ears and eyes to those too busy working and taking care of their families to attend meetings.  

And while there are very good things Metro is working on, the choice of a bikeway to connect regions of South L.A. to the L.A. River is about as "smart" as the decision to create an Orange Line Busway instead of holding out for a light rail line. 

Because a do-over is much worse, and much more expensive, than doing it right the first time.

And just as the San Fernando Valley (and Metro will pay big bucks for not spending smart on their publicly-owned rail rights of way to create an Orange Line light rail to connect Warner Center with the Gold Line in Pasadena, the greater part of the L.A. County will suffer if we do a feel-good bikeway instead of a light rail line on the Harbor Subdivision Right of Way: 

1) The Eastside will lose a direct rail path connecting the jobs-rich LAX region with their communities. 

2) The opportunity of a regional rail network to serve the Arts District, the southeast portion of the Downtown region, southeastern L.A. County and the San Gabriel Valley will have a long and circuitous route to access LAX. 

3) Opportunities to revitalize South L.A. and create a flurry of middle-class, affordable housing, and an associated network of parks and bikeways will be greatly harmed. 

4) Commuters from LAX accessing Downtown will discover they're being "taken on a ride" up Crenshaw Blvd., with a forced change of trains at Crenshaw/Exposition, thereby harming our developing global economy and our growing tourism economy. 

5) We will lose out on a vital chance to focus on a "Second Downtown Light Rail Connector" to tie the Green, Crenshaw, Blue, and Gold Lines together on a publicly-owned right of way that's as vital as was the Expo Line right of way.   

And this will all come crashing down on the short-sighted, agenda-driven Metro Board between now and 2022, when all the good work to connect LAX and Metro Rail will suffer a horrible public relations black eye because Downtown and LAX weren't directly connected. 

The Crenshaw/LAX light rail line reaches its truest, fullest potential when it is extended northwards to the Wilshire Purple Line Subway and beyond (with a projected ridership of over 100,000 per day of commuters between LAX and the Wilshire Blvd. commercial corridor ...

... but that should NOT preclude a direct LAX-Downtown commute for rail commuters and with an adjacent bikeway and parkway, to boot. 

Like it or not, the Expo Bikeway, which I fiercely fought for and still am infuriated to not see completed through Cheviot Hills, did have to take a "backseat" to the Expo Light Rail Line. 

So the "suggestion" or "promise" that the Bikeway will not preclude a future light rail line won't hold water. 

And if no widened right of way is purchased right NOW, there will be a growing call before and during 2022, when the Metro Rail/LAX connection should be completed, with the following message: 

What the hell were we thinking when we failed to build a direct LAX to Southeastern and Eastern LA and Union Station when we had the chance?

 

(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 was co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chaired 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

SKID ROW- Last week, an Election Challenge Review Panel agreed with all three election challenges officially filed by the Skid Row Neighborhood Council- Formation Committee. The challenges were filed as the result of a cheating scandal connected to a front organization that attempted to thwart Skid Row’s efforts to create it’s own neighborhood council. 

In the first-ever subdivision election in the history of the City of Los Angeles, Skid Row’s efforts to break away from the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council (DLANC) fell short by only a mere 60 votes (nearly 1600 people participated in the election). However, an anonymous source uncovered a plot to deceive potential voters through e-mail blasts that went out as much as four times a day with the DLANC logo and a message of “Vote NO on Skid Row separation”. 

City regulations deem these acts illegal if issued by a neighborhood council. Skid Row NC leaders claimed they had proof (including video) which show the e-mail URL’s and contact info such as mailing addresses connecting back to DLANC. While DLANC denied any involvement, the video and other evidence was presented before a three-member review panel made up of NC leaders from various communities across Los Angeles. 

The 5-hour hearing ended with the review panel siding with Skid Row over Downtown LA NC. 

The panel recommended the City’s Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) immediately initiated an investigation to conclude in 60 days and if it could be determined that DLANC played even more of a role than they denied, Skid Row should automatically get it’s NC. If not, a new election without online voting should happen 30 days after the conclusion of said investigation. 

The reality is, though, that the review panel’s recommendations are only that- recommendations. The final determination is up to DONE. They have not given any clues as to what their decision might be. 

On their website, it says there are 5 penalty options; 1) A Letter of Reprimand (which seems too thin to be appropriate in this matter), 2) Disqualification of Candidate (in this case, that would be DLANC and would also automatically give Skid Row it’s NC), 3) Disqualification of Votes (with such a small margin of only 60 votes, even a 5% vote reduction of No votes would give Skid Row the victory, due to the need to multiply by 3 [amount of challenges]), 4) Funding penalties (more than likely not applicable) and 5) Referral to City Attorney’s office for Criminal Prosecution (definitely a possibility depending on the outcome of the City’s investigation over the next 60 days) 

Most importantly, the website clearly states that “Redoing the entire NC election IS NOT a remedy” and goes on to say “unless the challenge affected every seat on the ballot”. 

The Skid Row Neighborhood Council- Formation Committee contends that all of it’s challenges only apply to the “No votes” and therefore eliminate any possibilities of a new election. 

So the Review Panel recommended a new election without online voting and Skid Row says a new election is not a valid option. 

“What will DONE say?” is the biggest question of 2017 in Downtown LA. 

The legal teams are already being assembled on both sides. The bylaws, boundaries and board seats aren’t even a concern at the moment. 

Even Tupac says “All eyes are on DONE”. I think I even heard Edgar Allen Poe say “All eyes are upon DONE”. No matter what your verbal vernacular, DONE is on the hot seat. 

Either the right side of history will embrace the inclusion of Skid Row’s remarkable efforts to create a neighborhood council from which the necessary solutions can be created to greatly improve the area, or the wrong side of history will embrace the uber-rich developers who continue to conspire to keep things just the way they are so that they can buy up all the land at as low a price possible, only to significantly increase rents, and thus their profits, once Skid Row is no longer able to provide the limited protection of rent control to Downtowners. 

Of course, there are other factors in play as well, but that’s another article. 

The laws, regulations, guidelines, evidence videos, official statements on video and even DONE’s website all point to Skid Row getting it’s neighborhood council. 

But, it is DONE who has the final say.

What say you, DONE?

 

GELFAND’S WORLD--Bernie Sanders says we need a revolution in American politics. He made a strong case for this argument as he slammed the opposition Republican Party in a speech he gave to approximately 2000 people on Sunday. 

The curious viewer might ask some of the following questions: What does it mean to have a revolution in American politics? What aspects of the current system should we be revolting against, and what should we replace them with? 

We do have a start on recognizing the problem. Most of us feel that there is something seriously wrong with the system and that changes need to be made, but we are not entirely sure of the diagnosis. Lacking agreement over the diagnosis, we are at somewhat of a loss to prescribe the proper remedy. 

Bernie Sanders thinks he has the diagnosis and speaks with assurance. 

On Sunday, he spoke to a near-capacity crowd at the Saban Theater on Wilshire in an event sponsored by Writers Bloc.  He raised several themes, the most important being the descent of the American political system into oligarchy. A few wealthy, powerful families control a large part of the nation's wealth. As Sanders remarked, "You now have billionaire control over our political system." 

As Sanders explained, the oligarchy has been pushed by billionaires investing money in the political system, gaining even more power through the disastrous Citizens United case. He also mentioned the actions of governors -- Sanders referred to them as "cowards" -- who have gone along with voter suppression efforts. 

The result of this control is the series of terrible bills and bad votes that we have been seeing in the Republican controlled congress. The targets range from health care funding to every other imaginable social welfare program, whether it be school lunches, meals on wheels, or Medicaid. There isn't much room for such luxuries if government revenue is to be cut dramatically. And obscene spending cuts are what become necessary if you plan to cut taxes on the wealthy as dramatically as has been proposed. 

It's not just income taxes, either. 

Sanders warned that the Republican plan to abolish estate taxes would benefit the top 0.2% of the people to the tune of $353 billion. He pointed out that the family that owns Walmart would benefit by $50 billion, the Koch brothers' family by $30 billion, and even the Trump family by $4 billion. 

He spoke of the Republican's health care bill as not really a healthcare bill so much as it is a bill that cuts taxes on the richest Americans. He called it "one of the most disgusting pieces of legislation," a remark that drew prolonged applause. 

In a related remark, Sanders pointed out, "One of the unique problems we have with the Trump presidency is that he lies every day." It's hard to carry on an intelligent, honest debate when only one side is being honest. 

Still, Sanders was not entirely unsympathetic to Trump voters. He asked the audience to recognize that as much as we opposed those votes, we should also understand that there is a lot of hurt and pain among the American people. The middle class is shrinking, and people find themselves working for much lower wages than they expected. What then should we do about all these problems? 

In answering this question, he was not kind to his closest colleagues, the leaders of the Democratic Party. He blames them for a lot of the electoral failure that we just endured. 

What are the problems with the Democratic Party that need fixing? This raises the central question: What do we want the Democratic Party to be? 

Sanders spoke of the model of the Democratic Party being broken. Briefly, it's too top-down and not enough grass roots. The party needs to be opened up and transformed so that it will gain voters it should have kept. "You can't do that unless you have an agenda that means something to ordinary Americans." 

I would guess that a large fraction of the audience were Democrats, but the message was received without a murmur of dissatisfaction from the crowd. Indeed, there were a few who obviously agreed strongly, including one who shouted, "Bernie, the DNC rigged the election." Most of the audience did not appear to be willing to go that far, but there did seem to be strong agreement that the Democratic Party needs to be fixed. We might take note of the fact that Sanders supporters have created their own reform movement among the California Democratic Party, suggesting a real (and demonstrably grass roots) movement among lower level activists. 

(As an aside, I would tend to agree based on personal experience as a one-time party volunteer and activist. At that time, I noticed that the higher-ups didn't exactly care what I thought or said. Rather, the organization had a very top-down feel to it. Leaders would appear at the local club and announce that the key words that year would be vote by mail or some such. We were supposed to be loyal to the leadership rather than reformist thinkers. The system worked for insider organizations because they knew what they wanted, but political reform was not a priority for those who already had a great deal of power within the system. It's hard to be a loyal activist within an organization that expects you to swear undying fealty to Paul Carpenter.) 

Sanders seconded the standard Democratic Party message that global warming is real and is already doing harm. He spoke about the need to fight the fossil fuel industry and convert our energy production to sustainable methods such as solar, wind, and geothermal. He wasn't big on the details, but the crowd loved it. Despite his earlier demands for guts and courage in taking on vested interests, he failed to take on the vested interest within the left of opposing nuclear power. If you really accept the fact that global warming is our biggest current challenge (as I do) then you ought to look at the plusses as well as the minuses of a legitimate alternative to coal. He also failed to mention the human population explosion, in spite of the fact that the discussion was on everyone's lips when he was young. Bernie, the problem hasn't gotten better

Sanders seconded standard Democratic Party themes including support for immigration reform including a path to citizenship: "Our diversity makes us strong." 

He got a standing ovation for his promise to introduce a bill to create Medicare for All: "Every other country guarantees healthcare to their people as a right." You might say that this issue defines the gulf between the Democratic left and the conservative right wing. On a personal note, might I suggest that the idea of healthcare as a right should be one of those big truths I wrote about in a previous column. 

He also spoke about legislation to raise the minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour. Curiously, he waited until fifty minutes into his speech to mention unions. But when he did, he reminded the audience that unions have been the driving force behind many of the improvements that we now enjoy. He failed to explain how we can resurrect union power, considering that much of the loss of union influence and membership goes back to bad legislation passed by the congress in the 1940s. Why not add repeal of union-busting legislation to your wish list? 

Sanders spoke to the feelings of fear and anger that many of us feel. Taking a page from Tim Snyder and others, he said, "Despair is not an option." It's a difficult message to accept, but perhaps it's the most important one that we heard on Sunday. 

Bernie Sanders is on tour for his new book Our Revolution. This was not intended as a book report because it's just out, but we may speak of it in the future. We may also take up Sanders themes such as the need for full public financing of elections, a position that has been supported by at least some of our local neighborhood councils for more than a decade.

 

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

-cw

WHERE YOUR MONEY GOES--Three Los Angeles city firefighters earned a combined $1.36 million last year — $974,779 of which came from overtime pay alone, according to just-released 2016 salary data from TransparentCalifornia.com.

The trio was able to boost their earnings so dramatically as a result of having received the three largest overtime payouts of the more than 550,000 workers surveyed statewide: 

  1. Fire captain Charles Ferrari received $334,655 in OT, with total earnings of $469,198.
  2. Fire captain James Vlach received $332,583 in OT, with total earnings of $469,158.
  3. Firefighter Donn Thompson received $307,542 in OT, with total earnings of $424,913.

Remarkably, this is the trio’s 2nd year in a row as the state’s top overtime earners, having also topped the of the more than 2.4 million government workers surveyed in 2015.

Thompson earns $1.23M over 3 years

Thompson’s overtime pay was at least the 3rd highest of the more than 2 million public workers surveyed in each of the past three years, boosting his total earnings to $1,229,504

Six-figure OT payouts at the LAFD up 760%

Over the past five years, the number of Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) workers who earned at least $100,000 in overtime pay increased by 760 percent, rising from 51 in 2012 to an all-time high of 439 last year.

By comparison, there was only one fire employee in the entire state of Nevada who earned over $100,000 in overtime pay last year, according to TransparentNevada.com

LAFD’s OT at national-high levels

At $197 million, overtime pay accounted for 31 percent of LAFD’s total budget for the 2016 fiscal year. This dwarfs the rate of other major fire departments like New York (19%), Orange County (12%), San Diego (12%), Houston (5%) and Phoenix (3%).

In response, Transparent California research director Robert Fellner stated:

“The issue is not a lack of solutions. Those have been forthcoming from a coalition of experts, including those from LAFD’s own ranks, for decades. The issue is lack of a political will for the precise reasons an official outlined nearly two decades ago: fear of political retaliation.”

Transparent California’s full report on overtime pay at the LAFD can be found here. 

Port Pilots earn over $500k

The three highest-compensated Los Angeles city employees were:

  1. Chief port pilot II Michael Rubino, who earned: $582,734.
  2. Port pilot II John Betz, who earned: $501,907.
  3. Chief port pilot II John Dwyer, who earned: $488,607.

To view a more detailed version of this release, please click here.

(Transparent California is California’s largest and most comprehensive database of public sector compensation and is a project of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. Learn more at TransparentCalifornia.com.) 

-cw

ANIMAL WATCH-On May 3, the Los Angeles City Council reaffirmed its intention to make Los Angeles a “no kill” city, meaning 90% of all adoptable animals would leave the shelter alive. Where they go after that is not of particular concern, as evidenced by the lack of monitoring of rescues nationwide and the inability to follow the destination of animals that are transported freely across the country and to Canada, and often relocated numerous times. 

While responsible rescues are vital to Los Angeles, we wonder if local politicians watched the revealing investigative report, Some So-Called Nonprofit Pet Rescues May Not Really Be Charities, by David Goldstein of CBS News. Goldstein attempted to interview the owner of Saving Spot Rescue, an alleged 501(c)3 dog rescue in Los Angeles, which claims to be non-profit but was found to not be in good standing either with the IRS or the CA Attorney General. 

CITY COUNCIL CLUELESS ABOUT LA'S 'ALMOST' SUCCESS 

Los Angeles Councilman Paul Koretz’ representative discussed the City's "no kill" achievement with KABC, stating, “We enacted several policies that will get us there. It’s not going to happen overnight but we increased funding to spay and neuter, that was a big part of it.” 

What he didn’t say, or may not have known, was that as of March 31, 2016, LA Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette had an unspent balance of $5,004,395.66 in the Animal Services Pet Sterilization Trust Fund and had to be instructed by the Commission to increase her spay/neuter efforts. Barnette admitted that an additional 2016-2017 annual contribution by the Council was canceled because of her high reserve. 

“We try to make it as reasonable as possible for people to adopt,” Councilman Paul Koretz (who claims he had 19 cats as a child) told KPCC. He did not admit that an ASPCA grant funded "free" cat adoptions, and discounted LA Animal Services' dog and cat adoption fees to $20.17 from December 27 through December 31, 2016. And he ignored that Best Friends is adopting out kittens, cats and dogs for the Cinco de Mayo weekend for $5 each. 

While “cheap” or “free” adoptions may empty shelters and lower euthanasia stats, what happens if that animal needs expensive veterinary care, special food, or training and the adopter merely wanted a freebie or bargain-basement special? Isn't it also the duty of a shelter to assure the adoption of a helpless animal is considered a serious investment and long-term responsibility--not just a trial run? 

The issue of owner responsibility, along with their failure to insure law enforcement as one of the obvious causes of stray and homeless animal problems, seems to allude Los Angeles officials.

WHAT IS THE OFFICIAL ‘NO-KILL’ RATE? 

For more than five years we have heard that LA Animal Services was quickly climbing to the coveted 90% live-save rate called, "no kill." However, under the Best Friends' Policy and Statements, it seems it is not quite that simple. 

After stating that a benchmark is important, Best Friends affirms, "Generally, the no-kill threshold for a community is considered to be 90 percent." 

But, the next paragraph states: "It is important to note that a 90 percent save rate is not necessarily defined as no-kill. This is because a community with a 90 percent save rate could still be killing animals who are not cases of true euthanasia. It is also possible that…a given community may achieve no-kill even if the save rate isn’t 90 percent." 

So, perhaps the formula explained in a March 13, 2017 Best Friends' media release will help us better understand the method of computation:

LA Animal Services reported an 86.6 percent live release rate from July through December 2016 (the fiscal year to date.) This is a formula that calculates the percentage of animals that leave shelter facilities alive through adoption, return to owner, or transfer and is calculated on total animals entering the shelter system. As a national organization, Best Friends uses the save rate benchmark, which reflects intake minus euthanasia outcomes divided by intake, for all its program cities. Save rate reflects only the percentage of animals not euthanized and does not account for the number of animals still held in the shelter or in foster care

DO RESCUES AND TRANSPORTS ASSURE A ‘FOREVER’ HOME? 

There are no audits of Best Friends' by the City Controller; however, at the September 8, 2015, LA Animal Commission meeting, Marc Peralta,  Director for Best Friends at the Mission Hills shelter stated that, under its No Kill Los Angeles program, Best Friends pays each NKLA rescue $150 for each animal it “pulls” for adoption over the number taken the year before, and that it has more than 110 participating organizations in the NKLA coalition.  

On November 1, 2013, Best Friends posted, Pup My Ride transports 10,000th pup, which describes that an LA city shelter dog, named Bart "...rolled away on the Pup My Ride van to Greenhill Humane Society in Eugene, Oregon, making him the 10,000th pet transported by Best Friends Animal Society-Los Angeles to an adoption rescue partner across the country. 

Once an animal is transported, there is no guarantee of its fate. PETA provides an ongoing list of "rescues" that have gone awry at ‘No-Kill’ Label Slowly Killing Animals. Here are a few of these media reports for the past two months: 

NJ Pet Rescue Owner Charged in Second Animal Cruelty Case, April 26, 2017 -- FLEMINGTON, NJ -- For the second time in less than 18 months, the owner and operator of the Catnip Friends Rescue has been charged with animal cruelty by the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Frank Rizzo, chief of the Law Enforcement Division of the NJSPCA, said in a statement. In February 2016, Wilferth plead guilty to one $500 civil count of animal cruelty based on charges filed against in December 2015 regarding the death of a dog. 

Woman Charged With Animal Neglect…50 Cats Found in Cages at Store, April 20, 2017 - RIVERSIDE, Mo. -- An animal neglect charge was recently handed down against the owner of Street Cats Rescue in Riverside after police discovered awful odors and 50 cats inside cages, some of which suffered from poor health, KSHB reports. The court documents describe strong odors of feces and urine coming from the business, and cats being found in such poor health that they had to be euthanized. 

24 dogs, 10 cats seized from Phoenix rescue group in "devastating" condition, March 15, 2017 -- PHOENIX, AZ -- ABC15.com reported that authorities had seized 24 dogs and 10 cats from a self-professed animal “rescue” doing business as Wiggle Butts Dog Rescue…animals were found covered with ticks, suffering from hair loss and untreated injuries, and “extremely malnourished.” Many animals were covered with feces, and their paws were stained, evidently from standing in their own waste. 

Washington County Woman Charged with Animal Neglect, March 11, 2017 – WASHINGTON COUNTY, OR -- KATU reported that a woman who had allegedly been operating a “cat shelter” at her home had been charged with first-degree animal neglect after a dead cat was found near the residence. Authorities investigated after receiving complaints alleging that the woman had moved out of state and left cats without care, including some inside the house…at least one of the cats found in the abandoned residence had a serious bacterial infection and another had ringworm. Some also had severe upper respiratory infections and could be heard wheezing loudly before they were even seen hiding throughout the house. 

Fayetteville Woman Facing Animal Cruelty Charges After Nearly 30 Dogs, 3 Dead, Found In Her Home,  March 8, 2017 -- FAYETVILLE, AR -- 5NewsOnline.com reported that authorities had seized 26 live animals and three dead dogs from a woman who told them that she worked with self-professed animal “rescue” groups. The animals were found inside small cages with accumulated feces inches deep, their coats were saturated with urine and feces, and several were “abnormally thin or weak.” In some areas of the home, accumulations of feces were 3 feet deep. A veterinarian who examined the three dead dogs determined that one of them had been dead for months. The woman had reportedly adopted 10 dogs since 2015 from a self-professed “no-kill” group in Texas doing business as San Antonio Pets Alive and had adopted another dog from a shelter in Fort Smith, Arkansas. 

Dozens of Animals Seized from Florence Animal Shelter, March 22, 2017 -- FLORENCE, TX -- Authorities had seized 89 cats and a dog from a self-professed “no-kill” shelter [[[ http://5newsonline.com/2017/03/08/fayetteville-woman-facing-animal-cruelty-charges-after-nearly-30-dogs-3-dead-found-in-her-home/ ]]] doing business as R.U.G. Activity Center Animal Shelter after a state health inspector found cats housed in cages “with not enough room to move about,” overflowing litterboxes that contained days’ worth of feces and urine, and sick cats housed with healthy ones, FOX7 reported. 

Greyhound Adoption Shelter Accused of Mistreating Animals, March 2, 2017 -- Hopkinton, MA -- FOX25 Boston reported that a self-professed “no-kill” “rescue” doing business as Greyhound Friends, Inc., had been issued a cease and desist order by state authorities. A former board member said that state officials had told the “rescue” that cages were too small for the size of the dogs being held there. Two former board members who were interviewed said that they were alarmed to learn that many dogs had been kept in cages at the “rescue” for years. 

WHAT HAS BEST FRIENDS GAINED FROM LOS ANGELES? 

When a new Los Angeles city animal shelter and clinic broke ground in 2008, it promised to provide the Northeast Valley with badly needed animal control services. In fact, the plea to pass Prop. F bond funds in the amount of $154,000,000 was based upon studies which showed it was essential for animal welfare and public safety to provide an additional shelter in that area. 

However, upon completion of the Mission Hills (NE Valley shelter) in 2011, the City decided it couldn’t afford to staff it. It was the perfect opportunity for Best Friends, which leases the $19 million facility for $1 per year, plus the City pays $200,000/year for maintenance. 

A December 7, 2016 report by the City Administrative Officer states, "Since January 2012, BFAS has invested over $3.5 million annually in the operation of the NEV facility." 

In the five-year period ending in 2015, Best Friends "took in $313,676,006 in total support -- tens of millions of dollars more than when it came to LA in 2011," according to the Guss Report on January 9, 2017. 

OTHER LARGE CITIES CLAIM ‘NO-KILL’ 

AUSTIN, TX -- "This coming February, Austin will celebrate its five-year anniversary of being America’s largest no kill city, saving more than 90 percent of its homeless animals since 2011," writes Kristen Auerbach for the Huffington Post.  

But, there's another side of the story: As City Reaches No-kill, Free-roaming Dogs Still Trouble Neighborhoods  April 27, 2016 -- At about the same time as one of the most brutal dog attacks in recent San Antonio history — a South Side man had his scalp and ear ripped off by a pack of dogs in December, before a police officer arrived and shot three of the animals — the city's Animal Care Services department announced it had reached a long-elusive goal. As 2015 closed, more than 9 out of every 10 dogs were being released from ACS care alive. 

NEW YORK CITY, NY 

ANIMAL CARE CENTERS OF NYC (ACC) RELEASES Q1 2017 DATA -- 94.3% Placement Rate Highest in Nation -- April 18, 2017 -- Animal Care Centers of NYC (ACC), the only open-admissions animal shelter serving all five boroughs, announced today…the overall placement rate for cats and dogs reached 94.3% with 95.5% of cats and 92.6% of dogs finding placement, either through direct adoptions or through its New Hope adoption partner program. Risa Weinstock, ACC’s Executive Director, attributes this accomplishment to the ASPCA, 200 active New Hope Partners; however, she also notes that “intake has decreased by 35% over last year..." 

LA BREEDERS' LICENSES INCREASE WHILE IMPOUNDS GO DOWN 

Efforts to ban easy retail access to purebred dogs can merely make them more desirable and/or drive purchasers to a nearby city or to the Internet, which is rife with easy access to every breed. This can be a desire to replicate a childhood pet, preference for certain genetic characteristics, or a loss of confidence in the transparency of shelter information and fear of potential temperament liability caused by the desperation to "save" every animal. 

This could provide an insight into why the number of breeders' licenses sold by LA Animal Services increased by 44% -- from 466 to 669, according to Brenda Barnette's Woofstat report for February 2017, and was up 71% from the same period last year. 

Also, LAAS statistics have shown a decrease in impounds. If this were due to intense low-income community spay/neuter efforts, then it is admirable. However, it is clouded by the fact that City residents claim they can't reach LA shelters by phone to get stray and aggressive animals picked up in their communities; and Los Angeles has the highest number of bites to postal carriers in the U.S. in 2016. 

DECLARING A SHELTER ‘NO KILL’ DOES NOT DESCRIBE THE ENTIRE CITY 

In discussing the laudable efforts to increase the live-save rate in Austin, John Bachman, co-executive director of Voice for Animals, makes a point that should also be heeded by Los Angeles: "By being obsessed with...no-kill and then say 'Oh we've reached it,' they give a false impression to the whole city that 'Oh we don't have to worry anymore, we're no-kill.’" 

In Los Angeles, we must share the concerns that announcements of a city reaching "no kill" can cause politicians and communities where stray animals are not a constant threat to safety to tune out other serious animal-related issues. We already see it in the failure to hire badly needed Animal Control Officers and replace dangerous vehicles in service for over 15 years. 

NOT ALL PROBLEMS ARE SOLVED BY ‘SAVING’ ANIMALS 

The emotionally charged, enigmatic buzzwords “No Kill” is right at the top of on-going controversies over semantics and statistics and can be strategically interjected into any discussion regarding animal shelters in order to elicit passionate response by the public -- i.e., donors -- where tugging on heartstrings usually opens pocketbooks.  

But are we really getting the truth about the plight of unwanted animals and a clear concept of what is meant by reaching “no kill?” Or are statistics and reports regarding euthanasia manipulated to show progress or failure depending on who stands to benefit philosophically and/or financially? 

Factors that are missing in the mandate to just "save" animals at all costs is the need to create and enforce owner responsibility and to solve the "birth problem" to avoid overpopulation, strays, and the need for euthanasia. John Bachman said it is pure mathematics: "Adoption is like treatment. You're treating the problem, but you're not solving the epidemic."

 

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

-cw

CORRUPTION WATCH-Should California judges put personal self-interest and loyalty to other judges ahead of their duty to support the Constitution? 

In ancient days, loyalty to one’s own family or tribe predated concepts of justice. Early societies realized social cohesion could not exist without people knowing that power was not the controlling factor in all matters. From the start of civilization, all societies have had some institution to apply the laws. 

Hammurabi’s famous code found perjury highly offensive (3,745 to 3,703 years ago.) We all know about the commandment “not to bear false witness against one’s neighbor.” Because one’s own may be guilty, there is an inherent conflict between loyalty to one’s own and telling the truth. 

After the Fall it was pretty much downhill as far as truth-telling is concerned. However, as mankind settled into an agricultural mode, populations expanded, and people became more interdependent, mankind at least had the sense to recognize that falsehood was a serious problem. As Sissela Bok puts it in her study of lying, "trust in some degree of veracity functions as a foundation of relations among human beings; when this trust shatters or wears away, institutions collapse." An ethic of loyalty to kith and kin may be enough for an extremely primitive sort of existence. [“False Witness,” 1993, by Richard H. Underwood, Univ. of Kentucky)

The civilized world’s legal codes have realized that society’s survival depends upon trust in institutions and that trust requires honesty. The point which most people miss about the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah is that, according to the rabbis, the extreme offenders were the judges themselves, who were named Liar, Habitual Liar, Deceiver, and Perverter of the Law. While everyone can grasp the troubles that came for regular people who lied in individual cases, it was when the judges themselves are the culprits that the existence of society itself became imperiled.

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney and a CityWatch contributor. 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.

 

@THE GUSS REPORT-Did a rogue Los Angeles deputy city attorney criminally misuse his authority to dupe a Los Angeles Times reporter into publishing an untrue article about a criminal charge he said he filed, but did not – one that he never intended to prosecute? 

That prosecutor, Eugene Hall, Jr, appears to have done this to intimidate and coerce with negative publicity a prospective defendant so that he would drop his civil rights lawsuits against Hall’s employer, the City of Los Angeles, and several of its officials. That practice is strictly prohibited by the California Bar Association, which tightened such rules on May 1; it may be criminal as well. 

Here’s how it went down…. 

Wednesday March 29 – 4:35 p.m.: Los Angeles Times reporter Emily Alpert Reyes sent notorious City Hall gadfly/Encino immigration attorney Wayne Spindler, the following text message: 

“Hi Wayne, this is Emily Alpert Reyes with the LA Times. The City Attorney’s office informed me they are filing criminal charges against you for illegally possessing an assault weapon. I’d like to get any comment you can provide. I’m available at this number. Thanks!” 

(Note: Spindler turned in the gun for destruction back on May 20, 2016 as part of a court order that he is appealing. What transpired between then and the allegation leveled against him this spring is that he has since filed civil rights lawsuits against the city and several of its officials. His purchase receipt for the gun is dated January 25, 1989, predating the 1991 ban which at most calls for a $500 citation, though a recent state program with a faulty website allowed gun owners to register without ramification.)

Before Spindler reached Reyes, her article was published on the Times’ website at 6:10 p.m., and read, “Spindler was charged with a misdemeanor and is scheduled to be arraigned in April,” citing Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for City Attorney Mike Feuer

But Reyes failed to confirm whether that was truthful, because no such charge, or any other charge, was listed against Spindler on the court’s website (which is the official record) on March 29 or any of the subsequent six days. 

An email from CityWatch contributor Eric Preven to Spindler, which is now part of the court record, alleges that reporter Reyes told Preven that she did not get her information from Wilcox, whose press release was not distributed until later the next day: 

“How did Emily hear about it? She says she didn't get the City Attorney press release... and referred me to the company spokeswoman when I asked her.” 

Spindler says that later in the evening of March 29, after Reyes’ article was published online, he told her he was unaware of the charge, but she would not tell him how she heard about it.

The only person other than Wilcox who would likely have had access to the case information was Deputy City Attorney Eugene Hall, Jr. who, along with Reyes, Wilcox, and Feuer, has refused to answer questions for this article. 

Thursday March 30 – 2:11 p.m.: With Reyes’ article about Spindler now in the print edition of the Times without any corrections, I contacted her to determine whether she had any unconventional or inappropriate contact with prosecutor Hall. Both Reyes and the LA Times spokesperson to whom she referred me, Hillary Manning, refused to answer, citing: 

“We do not have a comment on this, as it relates to the details of our newsgathering. If you have a question about the information as reported in the published story, please let me know.” 

That is precisely what I did, but Reyes and Manning offered only circular replies.

Monday April 3rd – 9pm: With still no charge against Spindler in the court system, CityWatch published my article about the false information in Reyes’ LA Times piece.

Tuesday April 4 – 8:04 a.m.: Reyes sent Spindler the following text: 

“Hi Wayne, this is Emily with the LA Times. Did you ever get a notice to appear for the weapons charge? I’m driving in to work right now but will be available in about an hour.” 

Having had no contact with Spindler since March 29, Reyes would only have asked that question as a result of reading the accusations in my article.

Instead of replying to Reyes, Spindler says he watched the next several hours unfold as follows. He believes that Reyes may have been confronted with my article by LA Times brass and/or she made a panicked call to prosecutor Hall to find out why there was still no case on the court’s website a full six days after she wrote that the case was filed and is scheduled for arraignment. Spindler plausibly explains that Hall – fearing possible disbarment, criminal charges and civil liability as a result of my article – then had to file the charge, which is precisely what Hall did on the 4th. 

The likely reason why Hall didn’t actually file the charge prior to April 4 is because he knew that if it was filed, it would permanently remain on Spindler’s record even if he didn’t prosecute the case; he would have no bargaining chip in such a scenario. But by just appearing to have filed the case, but not actually doing so, Hall could assure Spindler that the charge would never appear on his record, and use it as a bargaining chip to coerce Spindler to drop his civil suits. 

It was Hall’s sloppy paper trail that unraveled his ruse. 

The court’s website shows that Hall did not file the case until April 4, but the case file contains a paper copy of the complaint, stamped and dated by the court clerk as “Filed March 30, 2017.” 

If Hall’s March 30 paper complaint had been filed as its stamp indicates, which it was not, it would have immediately shown up on the court’s website. Even to this date, it has not. He somehow got a deputy court clerk named Elawna Brown to stamp his Spindler complaint as “filed,” perhaps during a window visit in which clerks often stamp dozens of documents for attorneys, and pulled back that particular one without having it actually processed into the court system. In other words, Hall got his complaint stamped as filed, without the actual filing of the complaint that the stamp reflects was done. 

Hall appears to have used his fraudulently stamped document to get Reyes to write her article, before Wilcox’s press release (which she allegedly said she never received) was distributed. There is seemingly no other way Reyes could have learned about the case other than through Hall’s fraudulently stamped complaint. 

And Hall, who is based in the City Attorney’s office in Van Nuys, signed the fraudulently stamped Spindler complaint not in Van Nuys on March 29, but in Los Angeles, meaning downtown LA, which is where reporter Emily Alpert Reyes is based and published her article on March 29 with no other logical source for the false information. 

As Barry Scheck, a defense attorney in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, legendarily barked, “there…..there, how about that Mr. Fung?” 

Public records support that Hall had no intention to file the charge, but was forced to cover his tracks by filing it on April 4, immediately after my April 3 article was published.

But things are much worse than that for prosecutor Eugene Hall Jr. 

On March 29, when Hall signed his complaint against Spindler (the one later fraudulently stamped as “filed” on March 30) it triggered three letters from his boss, Supervising Deputy City Attorney Richard A. Schmidt, that were sent to each of Spindler’s residences, which falsely stated: 

“Please be advised that a criminal complaint has been filed charging you with a violation of Section P30605a, commonly known as possession of assault weapon.” 

Since there was no such complaint at that time, and for the subsequent six days, each mailed letter might constitute a misuse of prosecutorial power and mail fraud. 

Reyes, as late as last Friday, continues to refuse to state where she got her faulty story information. When Spindler texted her again to ask, she replied: 

“Because Dan has been making an issue of this, I don’t want to say anything beyond what we’ve put in the newspaper. But I think the story is clear about who provided the information.” 

So much for the Times’ policy about not explaining its newsgathering practices…. 

The judge in the case, the amiable, semi-retired Bernard J. Kamins, who earned the nickname “Judge Bear” for giving teddy bears to children involved in his cases, and for his successful drug rehabilitation programs, may be particularly receptive to claims of prosecutorial misconduct; he is a former public defender. 

If proven, that spells immense and costly trouble ahead for Hall, Schmidt, Feuer, Brown, Reyes and their respective employers.

 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a member of the Los Angeles Press Club, and has contributed to CityWatch, KFI AM-640, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Magazine, Movieline Magazine, Emmy Magazine, Los Angeles Business Journal and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport.  Verifiable tips and story ideas can be sent to him at TheGussReport@gmail.com. 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--In a 10-0 vote Friday, the city council passed a resolution authored by Councilmember Bob Blumenfield  appealing to Congress to investigate whether Trump has violated the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause. The resolution also calls for investigations into high crimes and misdemeanors that could lead to impeachment against the president. Blumenfield represents Council District 3, the northwest San Fernando Valley, including Canoga Park, Reseda, Tarzana, Winnetka and Woodland Hills. Absent from Friday’s vote were Councilman Mitch Englander, the sole Republican on the Council, as well as Council Members Jose Huizar, Paul Koretz and Joe Buscaino.

Since the election, many are familiar with the Emoluments Clause, also known as the Title of Nobility Clause, which is a provision in Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution.

No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.

Trump’s extensive business and real estate dealings have brought concerns, particularly with respect to foreign government agencies that may fall within the clause’s scope. For example, back in March, China granted 38 provisional “Trump” trademarks scheduled to become permanent within 90 days.

Blumenfield worked on the resolution with We st Valley Resistance, which supports investigating Trump for possible impeachable offenses; similar resolutions have passed in other cities and towns across the country, including Richmond, Alameda and Berkeley, as well as Cambridge, Massachusetts.

While Trump has issued statements that the Trump Organization would be donating any profits derived from foreign government guests at his DC hotel to the Treasury and that his organization would not enter into any deals with foreign governments during his term, the Trump Organization is opening a 57-story Trump Tower in Manila and a spokesman for Blumenfield says the president’s relationship with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte should be investigated. Duterte has been criticized for alleged human rights violations against suspected drug dealers in his country.

While the council resolution is only symbolic, the Trump presidency is certainly a game changer. We’ve yet to see a president and an administration with so many questionable actions and conflicts. Whatever messages we can send to Washington, whether involving Emoluments Clause violations or high crimes and misdemeanors seem to be fair game.

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

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PERSPECTIVE--Illegal sources of income are subject to federal and state income tax; so, why would I object to the City of Los Angeles collecting Transitory Occupancy Tax (TOT) revenue from illegal short-term rentals, such as Air BnB?

In the former case, taxation does not exempt scofflaws from prosecution.  If anything, tax compliance requirements are useful tools to bring criminals to justice or enhance their sentences . If Al Capone were alive, he would agree.

The latter is different – it creates an impediment to enforcing zoning laws.  A cash-strapped city like Los Angeles will not want to bite the hands that feed it.  It is the equivalent of bribery.  Pay to play, and the city will not pursue enforcement of residential zoning codes. The City Council and mayor will drag their feet, if not completely overlook, the protection of honest residents’ right to enjoy their neighborhoods without the adverse effects associated with revolving door occupancy.

In his annual budget letter to the mayor and City Council, City Controller Ron Galperin weighed in.  He said the city must be “vigilant to consider the potential TOT revenue impacts to the general fund.”

As I read between the lines of his statement, that’s not really an endorsement of the policy. If anything, it is a carefully nuanced assessment.  Ron is the controller and he is required to advise the city on any financial matter – good or bad.

But zoning violations should not be ignored just because the cash generated by the TOT partially mitigates the effects of the city’s reckless approach in managing its budget. Please note that Galperin also emphasized the importance of a prudent and well-balanced budget. Ignoring laws does not meet the definition of prudent.

It’s a good thing that a city-sanctioned, short-term rental scheme did not exist when Scarface Al was around. No telling how much more power he would have wielded in Chicago.

We now face an army of non violent mini-Als, no baseball bats or Chicago pianos, but armed with industry lawyers and plenty of money. 

(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.)

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MEDIA POLITICS--Hollywood's primary writer’s union has come to the defense of member Stephen Colbert after Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai said he was investigating an anti-President Donald Trump monologue the comedian delivered on his Late Show last week. 

In a radio interview last Friday, Pai said that his agency was looking into a Late Show monologue delivered on May 1st that criticized Trump for abruptly aborting an interview with CBS News' John Dickerson. Pai said the agency had received complaints—some online critics have labeled Colbert's monologue homophobic—and promised it would "apply the law" set out by the courts.

In a joint statement this morning, Writers Guild of America East and West presidents Michael Winship and Howard Rodman wrote that they were "appalled" by Pai's remarks. "Pai's remarks are just the latest in a series of statements by the current administration indicating a willful disregard of the First Amendment," they wrote. "What is obscene is not what Colbert said but any attempt by the government to stifle dissent and creativity."

The FCC reviews complaints of broadcast content and typically issues fines when it concludes flagged content is obscene or indecent. A fine on Colbert seems unlikely, however, owing in part to the higher tolerance for explicit content in late-night time programming. 

(Katie Kilkenny is an associate editor at Pacific Standard  … where this piece was first posted. She covers culture both online and in print.)

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GUEST WORDS--(Editor’s note: As is often the case in development arguments, things are seldom black and white. This is the Hollywood Chamber’s perspective where jobs and community convenience have priority. Richard Lee Abrams, has other thoughts not the least of which is that the General Plan … the voice of the community … deserves to be upheld. Check them both out. Let us know what you think.) 

By now, most people have heard the disappointing news that Superior Court Judge Richard L. Fruin, Jr. has once again sided with a very small group of plaintiffs to prevent Hollywood's new Target from being completed. I thought it might be appropriate to offer of few of my own observations on this sad state of affairs. 

Let me first offer a little background. It has now been nine years since Target first filed to build a store in Hollywood. When it was initially approved by the City and threatened with a lawsuit, Target decided to do a complete Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to strengthen its case against lawsuits. However, that later proved to be of little value. 

At issue was a quirk in the Station Neighborhood Area Plan (SNAP) that governs development in that area. The SNAP ordinance allows projects that are strictly retail to only be 35 feet in height, but allows mixed-use projects to be up to 75 feet. The City Council and Planning Commission felt that the Target would be a benefit to the neighborhood and granted a variance to allow the project to be built at the 75-foot height. 

The La Mirada Neighborhood Association, which is reputed to have only two or three members, sued. Judge Fruin ruled that the EIR was fine, but that the city erred in granting a variance and should have changed the zoning. 

The City, in order to comply with the judge's order, created a new Subarea F zoning category for big box retail centers. Once again, the La Mirada Neighborhood Association sued, saying that the City should have performed a new EIR to justify the new zoning designation. And once again, the judge agreed with the plaintiffs. It serves no purpose to rebut the judge's rationale for his decision, but I would like to share my thoughts on what a loss this means for Hollywood. 

Between 250 and 300 permanent jobs have been lost to the community now for several years because of these lawsuits. These are jobs that could have been filled by many of the low-income residents in the neighborhood close to the Target site. In addition, the Target would have provided expanded shopping opportunities for our entire Hollywood community, and would have been within walking distance for many low-income neighborhoods. It is only two blocks from the Hollywood/Western subway station and so is easily reachable from all areas of Hollywood. We haven't had a department store since Sears closed its Hollywood store in 2008, so this would have been a wonderful addition to the community. 

I get more questions about the status of the Target from both residents and businesses than any other subject. There is overwhelming support in Hollywood for this store. So the question is "What are the specific reasons why these few people are opposing the Target so vehemently?" 

Robert Silverstein, the plaintiff's attorney, usually responds that the plaintiffs aren't against a Target -- they just want them to follow the city's rules. My objection to that answer is that rules set by a city are not cast in stone. 

Historically, cities have always had broad discretionary powers to determine land use within their bounds. The SNAP ordinance is not the U.S. Constitution. The City should have the right to make changes as circumstances warrant. 

We live in an urban area. What value is achieved by limiting a retail center to one story? When we have attended past hearings on the Target, the main justification of the opponents for their position is that they want housing built in the neighborhood, not just retail centers. If developers want added height, they have to provide housing as well, they say. They also have voiced concerns over views being blocked or a building built out-of-scale with the neighborhood. 

I could understand these arguments eight years ago, but circumstances have changed dramatically since that time and the rationale for those positions no longer applies. In the interim, three projects have been announced and are in the entitlement phase across the street from the Target that will provide 1,293 housing units. These projects will all be as high, or higher, than the Target. So what purpose is to be achieved by forcing the Target to be torn down and rebuilt at one story? My answer would be, "absolutely none." 

The opponents can bask in their latest court victory, but in my view, they should be asking themselves if they are really serving the greater good for Hollywood? If Target pulls out because they are tired of fighting this small group of naysayers, have the interests of Hollywood really been served? Does the loss of these needed jobs and shopping opportunities mean anything to the opponents? 

Being with the Chamber of Commerce, I am an eternal optimist. We have been through some difficult times in Hollywood, and despite setbacks, the community's revitalization continues to move forward. I remain hopeful that a solution can be found so that the Target can be completed. Meanwhile, I would urge everyone who is supportive of having the Target finished to not be silent. Let the La Mirada Neighborhood Association know how you feel.


(Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 24 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

CORRUPTION WATCH--(Editor’s note: As is often the case in development arguments, things are seldom black and white. See the Hollywood Chamber’s perspective where jobs and community convenience have priority. This is Richard Lee Abrams perspective. He has other thoughts not the least of which is that the General Plan … the voice of the community … deserves to be upheld. Check them both out. Let us know what you think.) 

In the April 27, 2017 issue of CityWatch, Dave Bell wrote an article, Why Can’t We Have Nice Things?   Judge Richard Fruin has answered that question in his seventeen page explanation again rejecting the Hollywood Target Store. The reason that partially-finished monster is still looming over Sunset-Western can be summed up in one word -- Garcetti. Since Judge Fruin must use “legalese,” he cannot come out and act like a Biblical prophet pointing at King David proclaiming, “Thou art the man!” 

By the way, Petitioners did not sue after the store was partially built. Target started building after the case was already in court, knowing that a 74-foot store was illegal. It was a cynical ploy to tell Judge Fruin that it would be an economic waste not to allow the Target Store to continue constructing the illegal store. And Judge Fruin was not favorably impressed. 

Judge Fruin’s legal reasoning in again rejecting the Target Store made it clear that the problem rests with the City and not with the Petitioners. And when the judge refers to the City, he clearly means Garcetti. Garcetti was then the councilman who insisted that Target violate the law back in 2008-2009. After the court rejected the first Target Store, Garcetti insisted on appealing. The case has been all the way to the California Supreme Court and back down, but the City, i.e. Garcetti, does not listen. 

The City Persists in Violating the Law 

In 2016 the City tried to do another end-run around Judge Fruin and the law, the same way Garcetti and his love-child project at 5929 Sunset had tried to do by demolishing the facade of the Spaghetti Factory. As a result of those Garcetti machinations, that huge residential project sits vacant. Nonetheless Garcetti had the City give his buddies at CIM Group $17.4 Million

Then in 2015, the courts rejected The Millennium (Earthquake) Towers in Hollywood as a violation of the law. These last two cases were before Judge James Chalfant. 

Garcetti also subverted the law with his 2012 Update to the Hollywood Community Plan. In January 2014, Judge Allan Goodman rejected the Hollywood Community Plan Update as based on “fatally flawed data and wishful thinking that subverted the law (CEQA).” 

These legal loses are not the fault of the City Attorney’s Office which has to follow the directions of its client, the City. That means when the City Attorney tells Eric Garcetti that a project is illegal and he should follow the law, the City Attorney still has to show up in court and put on the best face possible. If Garcetti would heed the wise advice of the City Attorney’s Office, the City could operate more smoothly and would not be spending millions on attorney fees to lose cases. There was also the $1.3 billion sidewalk case that came with $15 million in attorney fees. 

The Issue in Target II 

The fundamental issue in this recent Target case is whether the City could make a major change in the zoning law, i.e. the Specific Plan “SNAP,” without conducting an Environmental Impact Statement (EIR). Think of an EIR as like a final exam: if you skip the final, you fail the course. Duh! Maybe, trust fund babies who went to Harvard-Westlake are allowed to buy their way out of final exams. Who knows? 

Thus, Garcetti decided that there was no need to have the final exam for the recent change in SNAP. Garcetti has yet to learn that just because he says something, does not make it so. He may be able to fool the voters, but he cannot fool the professionals. If he had listened to the City Attorney back in 2009, Hollywood would have probably had a Target by 2010. If he had listened to the legal professionals in early 2016, he would not have insisted on adding a Subarea F to SNAP without conducting an EIR. 

A Brief History of SNAP 

The citizens and professionals who drafted SNAP took years to classify every single parcel of property within its area as belonging to one of five Subareas A through E. SNAP rejected the idea of a Subarea F as it did not want mega-stores. SNAP is a new zoning law that became effective in March 2001. When Garcetti decided to ignore it in 2008, SNAP was less than a decade old – not some ancient zoning code which had become out dated. 

Adding a New Subarea F Was a Huge Change in SNAP 

Adding a Subarea F which would allow mega big box stores in Hollywood was a significant change to SNAP. It required the City to conduct a new EIR to assess the impacts on Hollywood if the streets were filled with these warehouse type mega-stores. 

Starting back in 2008, Garcetti could have cooperated and allowed Target to build a legal store with its parking underground. If then-Councilmember Garcetti had permitted Target to construct the type of facility the law allowed, the store could have been operating by 2010. Instead, there has been close to a decade of lawsuits; we may very well face another decade of them. 

The decision is up to Garcetti. Does he want to guarantee that Hollywood has no Target Store while he spends millions on attorneys to take the same matter to the appellate court, then on to the Supreme Court, only to be told, “You cannot graduate from high school without taking the final exam?” 

In the end, what are Hollywoodians going to get? Endless Garcetti litigation? Or will Mayor Garcetti allow Target to construct a legal store? Don’t expect a resolution to this fight or construction on the Target store … any time soon.

 

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney and a CityWatch contributor. 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--Dig deep enough into any of California’s biggest problems, and you’ll eventually hit upon a common villain: our court system.

California’s housing shortage, its poverty, its poor business climate, and its failing infrastructure all are explained in no small part by the failure of our underfunded, delay-prone courts to provide anything resembling timely justice. But in public narratives of what’s wrong with the state, we have mostly let the courts dodge responsibility for their many crimes against California’s future.

This is, in part, because, our courts have been broken for so long that we’ve stopped expecting them ever to work. In the meantime, we have become lazily addicted to blaming our favorite perpetrators—our regulators, our politicians, our media, our unions, our businesses, and, more recently, President Trump—for our collective failure to build a state that meets its population’s needs.

But the biggest reason why we’ve allowed the courts to skate responsibility involves a public lack of understanding of the courts, and a resulting underestimation of their importance. State government has been treating the courts, which account for less than 3 percent of state spending, as a small problem, distinct from the state’s other maladies. But the courts’ impact is far larger than their budget imprint, making them a dangerously faulty foundation for our state’s economy and government.

If you want to block a project in California, your best bet is to get it into the courts, where you can delay for years until the project’s supporters can no longer afford to go forward. This happens regularly in California’s housing battles. But rather than blaming the courts, real estate types routinely blame a law—CEQA, the abbreviation for the California Environmental Quality Act—for the state’s struggles to build sufficient housing and infrastructure.

At a recent conference at Chapman University in Orange County, Emile Haddad, the chairman and CEO of FivePoint, the largest developer of mixed-use communities in coastal California (from the Great Park Neighborhoods in Irvine to Candlestick Point in San Francisco), pointed to the courts instead.

“I’m one of those probably odd developers who say they love CEQA,” he said, praising environmental laws that protect communities and add to quality of life and the value of housing.

The real problem, he said, is “the entire legal system.” He recounted a project that got local government approval in 2003, but still hasn’t happened, as his company is now litigating the project’s 30th lawsuit.

With each challenge or problem with permits, he loses even more years, Haddad said, because “I have to go through the same courts that have approved me already … because I cannot go directly back to the Supreme Court or the appellate court and tell them that I’ve done what they needed me to do.”

Such legal delays bear a heavy responsibility for our historic housing shortage and add to housing costs that are more than twice the national average. In turn, costlier housing is a huge factor in California’s highest-in-the-nation poverty rate and its high incidence of homelessness.

Poverty is now highest in coastal areas with the most development restrictions, which produce more litigation and costlier housing. And the clogged courts make it harder for poor people to challenge evictions from housing, or mistreatment by people and financial institutions that prey on the poor.

Such legal delays bear a heavy responsibility for our historic housing shortage and add to housing costs that are more than twice the national average. In turn, costlier housing is a huge factor in California’s highest-in-the-nation poverty rate and its high rate of homelessness.

The same court-related delays and resulting costs also plague any number of transportation and water projects, and of countless attempts to launch new businesses. The most high-profile example is the state high-speed rail project. While the state authority in charge of the project has drawn withering coverage for its mistakes—construction remains at an early stage, nearly nine years after voters approved the bonds for it—most of the delays involve the courts.

The state itself has a long history of using the courts to delay meeting even its meager funding obligations to schools and health programs. The state courts so utterly failed to resolve California’s prison overcrowding problems that federal receivers and the U.S. Supreme Court had to step in.

Meanwhile, the courts are being asked to do more with less. Newer reforms on criminal justice resources (Governor Brown’s realignment), sentencing (Propositions 47 and 57), and recreational marijuana (Proposition 64) have created new questions and petitions that boost court workloads.

At the same time, the Great Recession and budget crises were particularly tough on the courts. Thousands of court staffers have lost their jobs in the last decade, and more than 50 courthouses and 200 courtrooms have been shuttered. Delays have more than doubled; it now can take more than five years to have your civil complaint heard by a judge or jury. (One prominent lawsuit, by California local governments against lead paint manufacturers, is now 17 years old.)

Flat pay and a heavy workload have led to walkouts by court workers, and sparked bitter infighting among state judges. Court officers in 49 of 58 counties warned in a February letter to Gov. Brown that without more money in this year’s budget, they’ll need to cut existing levels of service.

The pressure on the courts would be even worse if the total number of court filings hadn’t declined by 25 percent over the last decade. But that may be bad news. Almost all the decline has been in small claims, challenges to infractions, and minor civil cases. Regular Californians have simply given up on seeking justice in our courts.

“Inadequate funding and chronic underfunding of the courts is just one way a justice system can become unjust,” warned California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye in a recent speech, noting that since 2011 the state has added 6,408 laws while the judiciary budget lags.

I recently walked three blocks from my office to the Stanley Mosk Courthouse, the state civil courthouse in downtown Los Angeles. Like other central courthouses in California’s increasingly glittery city centers, the court building stands out as an eyesore, its exterior scars clashing with the new park and federal courthouse next to it.

Inside, nothing—from bathrooms to Wi-Fi—works particularly well. Lawyers receive trial dates that are usually more than two years in the future, court reporters are scarce, and overworked clerks scramble to keep things from breaking down. A lawyer acquaintance who took me around quoted Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, a 19th-century novel about the delays and injustice of England’s Court of Chancery.

Broken courts, Dickens wrote, promote a crippling fatalism through a society, “a loose belief that if the world go wrong, it was, in some off-hand manner, never meant to go right.”

It’s way past time for California to pull itself out of this Dickensian muck. Yes, fixing our court system—making it the fastest and most efficient in the country—would be challenging politically. But it also would be relatively cheap, just a couple billion more dollars a year in a state with a $150 billion budget and a $2.5 trillion economy.

Justice delayed is justice denied. This budget season, let’s return timely justice to the courts, and stop this crime against California’s future.

(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)

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PERSPECTIVE--Mayor Eric Garcetti caught some flak in a recent LA Times article for failing to mention the $1.1B the city must pay to fund employee pensions. 

But let’s be fair: the Chair of the Budget and Finance Committee deserves an equal share of the criticism:

“Despite recent funding shortfalls, over long periods the performance of the pension system’s investments has met or surpassed expectations.” Council Member Paul Krekorian (photo above), as quoted in the LA Times, November 18, 2016.

This is an example of the naiveté of our elected officials. Mr. Krekorian forgets, or chooses to ignore, that past performance is no indication of future returns; the further back in time, the less relevant are the results. The 15-year return for LACERS is 6.5%; the 10-year is 5.9%. The world economy has undergone major structural changes over the 30 year period, for which the average return was 8.4%.  Projecting investment performance based on data from over 20 years ago is as useful as comparing Barry Bonds’ stats to Hank Aaron’s.

Or maybe it’s an acknowledgement that city officials do not represent the public as a whole, only the city employees and retirees, many of whom reside outside of the city. According to the results of a 2014 study reported by the Times, about two-thirds of city employees live elsewhere. So much for a multiplier effect. While those employees cannot vote in city elections, the unions representing them are powerful political forces. 

The mayor and City Council hope to make a dent in the problem by taxing short-term, Airbnb style rentals, effectively trashing zoning in residential neighborhoods.  Certainly, a share of the new gas tax will flow to the city, along with some “legalized” pot-related revenue (it remains to be seen how the Justice Department deals with the conflict between federal and state laws).  However, the city could lose some, or all, of the surplus transfer from the DWP.

The fact remains, 20% of the general fund goes to cover the city’s pension contribution, a rate that has increased from 5% in 2002. It’s been fairly flat at around 20% for a couple of years. In 2012 it was 15%, the same for 2008, during the height of the subprime mortgage meltdown. Overall, city revenue has increased by $1.2B since Garcetti took office. With that much of an increase, one would expect the city’s contribution rate to drop.  It’s an inconsistency any CEO would have to explain to a board in the form of a simple variance analysis.

It is the result of the deteriorating pension position.  While explaining what an unfunded liability means would put any general audience to sleep, it is far easier – and more understandable – to present an analysis of the contribution rate over a period of several years.  It would make the growing unsustainability of pension promises apparent in terms the public could appreciate.

I will propose to the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) to make such information a required disclosure in the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR).

Who knows – maybe Paul Krekorian would be enlightened.

(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.)

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THIS IS WHAT I KNOW--Earlier this year, I covered Caney Arnold’s Council District 15 run. The progressive grassroots candidate had hoped to parlay his background in Air Force acquisition and program management, as well as a graduate degree in Public Policy and Administration, to create change at the council level but his campaign was truncated by the March primary. 

Arnold is still on course to create change. “Now that the City Council races are over, I’ve moved on to other projects,” he shares. I sat down with Arnold to discuss his role as Our Voice LA Leader and the national Our Voice Initiative.  

Started by Sam Ronan, the young Air Force Reserve who ran for DNC Chair, Our Voice Initiative is a national nonpartisan grassroots organization to bring “movements and groups together...and provide a common toolbox of strategy, policy, and organizing/funding resources to new candidates who want to take on the establishment.” -- Our Voice Initiative.  The group will focus on providing information on propositions, laws, and regulations proposed at all levels of government; vetting candidates; and organizing protests, rallies, town hall meetings, marches, inquiries, and hearings. 

Arnold says he was inspired by Ronen’s drive to help create a political and campaign system that belongs to the people. “Our Voice Initiative will act as a political consultant to help those interested in participating more in the process -- to help them understand how to do that.” The former candidate’s own campaign experience led him to appreciate the need for an information conduit. “A lot is getting info to the people in a way they can digest without having to spend their entire lives trying to access that information. People just don’t have the time to collect information. CityWatch is doing a great service, similar to what Our Voices is trying to do,” he says. “We want to bring information to the people about what is going on with the government behind closed doors and to encourage them to participate in the process themselves, whether it’s as simple as participating in campaign finance and advocacy or running for office.” 

While Our Voice is a national organization with state chapters, Arnold says he approached the group about organizing at the city level in Los Angeles. “I think ours is the first at the city level -- not an official chapter -- but they’re supporting us and are thrilled that we’re working in LA,” he adds. 

“What we’re trying to do is to create a more nonpartisan umbrella group and to extend to the local level while other groups are stuck at the state congressional or federal level,” Arnold says. “In order to develop grassroots candidates, we have to start with city council and school board races -- and build from there. That’s what I am interested in going in LA and it’s the purpose of Our Voice, as well.” 

Arnold says he “learned a lot from his run for City Council. “There’s an unfairness built into the campaign system and the election process. We face voter apathy and those are things I want to get more involved in -- to just help make people more aware. During the council race, a couple of motions were offered up by city councilmember on campaign finance, involving a lower hurdle for matching funds, for example. I think they brought up some motions that never went anywhere. They just died in committee. It seems like a disingenuous photo opp to try to convince voters that they’re interested. I’d be interested in resurrecting this or improving upon it to help create a fair campaign process in Los Angeles.” 

Arnold sees the Resist Movement as a catapult to change. “The main thing is there’s lots of commonality as far as grassroots concerns go on the left and the right. Everyone agrees that there’s too much corruption in government. Plenty of people will march, which is great to raise awareness but they don’t want to go the distance, to do voter registration or Get Out the Vote, to donate $25, phone bank, or canvas. It isn’t as sexy. But we’re all in this together. We can do both. We need to raise awareness and to move forward. That’s what Our Voice will do -- to pull people together.” 

For more information on Our Voice Initiative, visit the site

Donate to Our Voice Initiative through Indiegogo

 

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

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EDUCATION POLITICS-This is the third post in a series. We’ve been deep diving into a Unified Enrollment scheme, a top priority of the charter lobby, that’s being pushed on LAUSD officials without a discussion of policy implications and almost no public input. 

In the first post, we laid out some of the scholarly research that finds Unified Enrollment systems exacerbate inequitable access to schools. They’ve been funded by the pro-charter Walton Family Foundation in New Orleans and Denver. 

In the second post, we revealed a process that looks a lot like the iPad scandal, complete with secret meetings to lobby board members and slick, pseudo-public presentations. Policy implications are not on the agenda. 

In this post, as promised, we’ll introduce the privatizers who have infiltrated the school district to advance the interests of the charter lobby. 

Conspiracy theory? Hardly. This just looks like the new business model. Since the iPad scandal, privatizers have had to find new ways to move their agenda. The scandal made direct corporate lobbying behind the scenes too risky. But there’s no need, if you have managed to plant your sales force inside the school system itself.  

The District personnel pitching the Unified Enrollment scheme are not just any LAUSD employees. They are Broad and Walton acolytes, trained and placed in the school system to move the corporate reform agenda forward from the inside. 

Ani Bagdasarian Packard started working at LAUSD while corporate reform poster boy John Deasy was Superintendent. For two years, she worked in LAUSD as a Broad fellow, just as Broad’s education empire shifted its focus. Previously a training academy for Superintendents, it would now focus on lower level staff “to make it easier for superintendents to define policy agendas, influence public opinion, coalesce political forces, and advance bold reforms on the ground,” according to a Washington Post article from that time. 

Bagdasarian Packard is now “advancing bold reforms on the ground” as Program Policy Development Advisor for LAUSD. 

In her presentation to LAUSD’s Early Education and Parent Engagement Committee on February 28, 2017, Bagdasarian Packard explained that after the technology scandals that led to John Deasy’s ouster from LAUSD, “…my colleague and I decided to move forward with this, and we worked with IT to go with solution B, Plan B.” 

Her colleague? 

Maybe she was talking about Jodie Newbery, who presented with her at that meeting as well as at last week’s Bond Oversight Committee (BOC) to try to get the secret project funded with $24 million in school construction bonds. 

Newbery was also hired when Deasy was Superintendent, in October 2011. 

Where did she come from? Her three previous positions were in charter school promotion, according to her LinkedIn profile. First for the New York City Center for Charter School Excellence and then for the California Charter Schools Association. Her most recent job was as "Senior Manager, Walton Family Foundation Grant and Los Angeles School Development." Then she made the jump to LAUSD as Program and Policy Advisor, Portfolio Management. That doesn't require a conspiracy theory. How much more explicit could you get? 

So a couple of low level co-workers inside LAUSD are behind a major policy shift for the District? 

That is bold. And could be great, if it meant that LAUSD was truly becoming receptive to bottom-up innovation. But the dynamic seems to be about something other than welcoming diverse input. 

At the BOC, District administrative staff balked when BOC member Rachel Greene asked what Board policy the project was advancing before approving its funding. The answers were vague at best. District staffer Diane Pappas said the policy was Board approved in the Superintendent’s Strategic Plan. She neglected to mention that the Board has refused to vote on the Strategic Plan. Anyway, she said, they'd been meeting privately with individual board members to get buy-in. 

I have found no evidence that a policy decision about Unified Enrollment has even occurred. 

The BOC agenda materials claim that the Unified Enrollment System falls under the catch-all “School Upgrade Program” which is for “upgrading, building and repairing school facilities to improve student health, safety and educational quality.” Seems like a stretch in this case, as it did when Deasy used the same rationale to use bond funds to pay for the iPad Common Core Technology Project. 

Just as with the iPad scandal, District staff is pushing hard. When BOC member Stuart Magruder, largely credited with first putting the brakes on the iPad boondoggle, asked if they were sure the District could meet the short timeline for Common Enrollment, Pappas answered, “We’re ready.”

Bagdasarian seemed more than ready. “These are just some snapshots of what it will look like” – she stopped herself -- “What it ‘may’ look like,” she said in the February presentation. 

And what multi-million dollar “reform” would be complete without a PR campaign? 

Reports of a new coalition to advocate for the inclusion of charters.  

Cue PEAPS-LA, a coalition of nonprofit education reformers to champion Unified Enrollment. The Partnership for Equitable Access to Public Schools Los Angeles includes Parent Revolution (of Steve Barr and Ben Austin acclaim) and Partnership for Los Angeles Schools (of Antonio Villaraigosa and Marshall Tuck acclaim), among others. 

So once again, all the pieces are in place, and the public only gets a seat to watch the result. With the iPads, the scandal surrounded alleged private lobbying efforts by corporate execs at Pearson. This time, the lobbying is hidden in plain sight, by LAUSD staff themselves. All they need now is the School Board's green light. No discussion necessary.

 

(Karen Wolfe is a public school parent, the Executive Director of PS Connect and an occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

CORRUPTION WATCH-In the April 27, 2017 issue of CityWatch, Dave Bell wrote an article, Why Can’t We Have Nice Things?  Judge Richard Fruin has answered that question in his seventeen page explanation again rejecting the Hollywood Target Store. The reason that partially-finished monster is still looming over Sunset-Western can be summed up in one word -- Garcetti. Since Judge Fruin must use “legalese,” he cannot come out and act like a Biblical prophet pointing at King David proclaiming, “Thou art the man!” 

By the way, Petitioners did not sue after the store was partially built. Target started building after the case was already in court, knowing that a 74-foot store was illegal. It was a cynical ploy to tell Judge Fruin that it would be an economic waste not to allow the Target Store to continue constructing the illegal store. And Judge Fruin was not favorably impressed. 

Judge Fruin’s legal reasoning in again rejecting the Target Store made it clear that the problem rests with the City and not with the Petitioners. And when the judge refers to the City, he clearly means Garcetti. Garcetti was then the councilman who insisted that Target violate the law back in 2008-2009. After the court rejected the first Target Store, Garcetti insisted on appealing. The case has been all the way to the California Supreme Court and back down, but the City, i.e. Garcetti, does not listen. 

The City Persists in Violating the Law 

In 2016 the City tried to do another end-run around Judge Fruin and the law, the same way Garcetti and his love-child project at 5929 Sunset had tried to do by demolishing the facade of the Spaghetti Factory. As a result of those Garcetti machinations, that huge residential project sits vacant. Nonetheless Garcetti had the City give his buddies at CIM Group $17.4 Million

Then in 2015, the courts rejected The Millennium (Earthquake) Towers in Hollywood as a violation of the law. These last two cases were before Judge James Chalfant. 

Garcetti also subverted the law with his 2012 Update to the Hollywood Community Plan. In January 2014, Judge Allan Goodman rejected the Hollywood Community Plan Update as based on “fatally flawed data and wishful thinking that subverted the law (CEQA).” 

These legal loses are not the fault of the City Attorney’s Office which has to follow the directions of its client, the City. That means when the City Attorney tells Eric Garcetti that a project is illegal and he should follow the law, the City Attorney still has to show up in court and put on the best face possible. If Garcetti would heed the wise advice of the City Attorney’s Office, the City could operate more smoothly and would not be spending millions on attorney fees to lose cases. There was also the $1.3 billion sidewalk case that came with $15 million in attorney fees. 

The Issue in Target II 

The fundamental issue in this recent Target case is whether the City could make a major change in the zoning law, i.e. the Specific Plan “SNAP,” without conducting an Environmental Impact Statement (EIR). Think of an EIR as like a final exam: if you skip the final, you fail the course. Duh! Maybe, trust fund babies who went to Harvard-Westlake are allowed to buy their way out of final exams. Who knows? 

Thus, Garcetti decided that there was no need to have the final exam for the recent change in SNAP. Garcetti has yet to learn that just because he says something, does not make it so. He may be able to fool the voters, but he cannot fool the professionals. If he had listened to the City Attorney back in 2009, Hollywood would have probably had a Target by 2010. If he had listened to the legal professionals in early 2016, he would not have insisted on adding a Subarea F to SNAP without conducting an EIR. 

A Brief History of SNAP 

The citizens and professionals who drafted SNAP took years to classify every single parcel of property within its area as belonging to one of five Subareas A through E. SNAP rejected the idea of a Subarea F as it did not want mega-stores. SNAP is a new zoning law that became effective in March 2001. When Garcetti decided to ignore it in 2008, SNAP was less than a decade old – not some ancient zoning code which had become out dated. 

Adding a New Subarea F Was a Huge Change in SNAP 

Adding a Subarea F which would allow mega big box stores in Hollywood was a significant change to SNAP. It required the City to conduct a new EIR to assess the impacts on Hollywood if the streets were filled with these warehouse type mega-stores. 

Starting back in 2008, Garcetti could have cooperated and allowed Target to build a legal store with its parking underground. If then-Councilmember Garcetti had permitted Target to construct the type of facility the law allowed, the store could have been operating by 2010. Instead, there has been close to a decade of lawsuits; we may very well face another decade of them. 

The decision is up to Garcetti. Does he want to guarantee that Hollywood has no Target Store while he spends millions on attorneys to take the same matter to the appellate court, then on to the Supreme Court, only to be told, “You cannot graduate from high school without taking the final exam?” 

In the end, what are Hollywoodians going to get? Endless Garcetti litigation? Or will Mayor Garcetti allow Target to construct a legal store? Don’t expect a resolution to this fight or construction on the Target store … any time soon.

 

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney and a CityWatch contributor. 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.

THE BUTCHER SHOP-Measure C? Charter reform of the police disciplinary system? On the May 16 runoff ballot? Seriously? Wonder why people are so cynical?

Right now, the improvements made by the LAPD in the 25 years since those scary nights of the LA riots are hailed as the way forward for big city police departments. Communities across America look to Los Angeles for a way out of Ferguson and Cleveland and Florida – and the bad old days of the LAPD. 

Instead, Measure C represents a step backwards for police reform and accountability at a time the LAPD and the LAPPL should shine and lead. 

As the recommendations of the Christopher Commission were implemented in and after 1992, the composition of Police Review Boards (BOR) changed from all sworn to three-member panels that include one civilian along with two LAPD officers at the level of Captain or above. At the time, the police union opposed the change. 

During the charter reform years, both panels debated changes to police discipline, seeking to be fair to the workers and to the community they serve.

There’s not a lot that’s as reliable in the City of Los Angeles as a report from the City Legislative Analyst (CLA). Here are their numbers: 

ANALYSIS OF OUTCOMES

According to the LAPD, the Department concluded 287 BOR hearings from 2011 to November 2016. In 229 cases, the Chief directed an officer to a BOR hearing with the recommendation that the officer he terminated. The remaining hearings were cases in which an officer opted to have a hearing on a demotion or suspension.

According to LAPD, BORs returned a guilty verdict in 190 cases, but only recommended removal of the officer in 112 cases. Less than half of the officers directed to a BOR by the Chief with a recommendation that they be removed from employment were actually terminated after the hearings. Similarly, in the 58 Opted Boards for demotion or suspension cases over the last six years, BORs have acquitted 15 officers and have concurred with the Chiefs recommended disciplinary measures in only 12 cases. 

Civilian Voting Patterns

When evaluating the merits of an all-civilian or majority-civilian BOR panel over a panel made up of sworn officers and a civilian, the Council may wish to consider the voting history of civilian Hearing Examiners. During the period from 2011 to November 2016, civilian Hearing Examiners were consistently more lenient than their sworn officer counterparts. In the 39 Directed BOR cases where the Chief recommended termination but a BOR acquitted accused officers, the civilian member voted for acquittal in every case. During this period, 16 of the remaining 190 termination cases heard by BORs were decided by 2-1 margins. In each case, the Hearing Examiner voted for the more lenient option. 

Civilian BOR members have also voted for reduced penalties in every case where a BOR found an officer guilty of misconduct, and have also consistently voted for lesser punishments or acquittals in Opted Boards dealing with demotions or suspensions. As in Directed Boards, civilian BOR members did not vote in the minority in demotion or suspension cases, and have been reliable votes for either lesser penalties for misconduct or for acquittal. During this period, there were 4 demotion or suspension cases decided by a 2 to 1 margin. In all cases, the civilian voted for the more lenient outcome. 

On the other side of the building, a May 2 report from the Inspector General to the Police Commission delineates 25 specific recommendations for action. From the LA Times’ Police panel calls for more LAPD reforms to address racial bias, discipline and community policing: “Los Angeles police commissioners approved a wide-ranging set of recommendations on Tuesday that called on the LAPD to improve how it guards against possible racial bias by officers, strengthen community policing and evaluate the department’s discipline system.” 

The 54-page report, Review of National Best Practices, pulls extensively from the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, 2015 “Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing”: One of the Task Force’s overarching recommendations is that law enforcement culture embrace a “guardian mindset” to build public trust and legitimacy, and that agencies adopt the concept of procedural justice as the guiding principle for their policies and practices, both external and internal. As part of this process, the Task Force recommended that agencies “acknowledge the role of policing in past and present injustice and discrimination” and the difficulty this poses in building community trust. 

“We need to keep looking for ways to continue to make this department the best it can be,” said Matt Johnson, the panel’s president, in response to the report. “We need to continue engaging meaningfully with questions about community trust, race and use of force. I believe that these reports and recommendations provide a path forward to doing just that.” 

Council President Herb Wesson told the LA Times on January 24 City Council approves ballot measure that could put more civilians on LAPD discipline panels that, as far as he is concerned, this is just a start: “I believe that once we open this door, it will be easier for us to open it again and again if we want to make additional changes,” he said. “Is this perfect? No. Is it flawed? Yes. But I do believe that it’s a step in the right direction.” 

In its strong endorsement against the measure, the LA Times’ Measure C pretends to be about police reform. Instead, it's a noxious sleight of hand. Vote no begins: “Seldom has an effort to alter Los Angeles’ governing blueprint been as clever and underhanded as Charter Amendment C, a little-noticed measure on the little-noticed May 16 city ballot that would change how police officers are disciplined for misconduct. Seldom have city officials been so sly in their effort to slip something so noxious past L.A. voters.” 

Here's what the League of Women Voters Los Angeles say Measure C would do:

Measure C would amend the City Charter to give the City Council the authority to allow a police officer accused of misconduct to choose to have the case heard by a Police Department Board of Rights panel composed either of: a) two police officers with the rank of captain or above, and one civilian chosen from a list of carefully screened professional mediators, as is currently the case, or b) three civilians. Measure C does not define the criteria for who would serve on this 3-member civilian panel. Police officers could choose whether to have their case heard by the traditional Board of Rights or the civilian Board of Rights. 

On Larry Mantle’s Air Talk, April 27, We debate Measure C: Should all-civilian boards review police disciplinary matters? PPL President Craig Lally argued that it’s a matter of fairness, that there’s an inherent conflict because everyone reports to the same Chief and that they’re always worried about the impact “bucking a decision” might have on future promotions or assignments. “There are four captains suing right now,” he noted, after rendering not guilty determinations. “They’ve experienced reduction in rank, didn’t get promotions they should’ve received.” 

Peter Bibring responded on behalf of the Southern California ACLU and a growing coalition opposing the measure: “Given that civilian examiners are more lenient than sworn examiners in every instance of dispute and more than half of the cases referred from BOR’s are overturned, this would make it dramatically harder to hold the police accountable; this is not a measure to increase transparency or accountability.” 

WHO’S ORGANIZING AGAINST MEASURE C? 

From Bike the Vote:

Measure C – the lone item on the May 16 general election ballot for most voters in the City of Los Angeles. The Measure, which is backed by the L.A. Police Protective League, purports to increase civilian oversight of the L.A. Police Department, but is in actuality a deceptive ploy to reduce accountability. Bike The Vote L.A. joins organizations concerned with civil rights, social justice, and police reform – including ACLU of Southern California, Black Lives Matter L.A., Community Coalition, L.A. Community Action Network, and Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, among others – in opposing this harmful measure. 

Organizing opposition is starting to show up to call out this cynical, hypocritical move by LA’s pols:

Share this powerful video message from LA-CAN: Los Angeles: Vote NO on Charter Amendment C on May 16!  

Rabbi Jonathan Klein of CLUE (Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice) says of his organization’s opposition to the measure: “A transparency measure suddenly appearing on an off-cycle ballot, that sneaked up on us and which lacks a published communal rebuttal argument?  If the appearance of this ballot measure feels so unexpected, is supported by the very agencies that community groups believe need more oversight, why should anyone trust that this is what it says it is?  Sure enough, the ACLU and others have the data that lead us to believe that this might actually DIMINISH true civilian oversight. Both CLUE and our Black-Jewish Justice Alliance (in partnership with the SCLC) oppose Measure C.” 

Get the facts! Share the facts! Time for voting! Sign the pledge to vote no on C here and share this information with all your LA-voting friends! Yes on Los Angeles moving forward – No on C! No on cynicism! 

(Julie Butcher writes for CityWatch and is a retired union leader 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.

MCDONALD REPORT-From neighborhood activists to city planners, everyone knows that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council love transit-oriented development. What many people don’t know, and what LA politicians would rather not discuss, is that it’s fueling gentrification in the nation’s second largest city.

UCLA researchers dropped that fact bomb about transit-oriented development in LA last August. 

Teaming up with the Urban Displacement Project at UC-Berkeley, they released a study with several alarming findings. In their own words, they wrote: 

  1. Areas around transit stations are changing and many of the changes are in the direction of neighborhood upscaling and gentrification; 
  1. Examining changes relative to areas not near light-rail or subway projects from 2000 to 2013, neighborhoods near those forms of transit are more associated with increases in white, college-educated, higher-income households and greater increases in the cost of rents. Conversely, neighborhoods near rail development are associated with greater losses in disadvantaged populations, including individuals with less than a high school diploma and lower-income households (read that again… it’s the very definition of gentrification); 
  1. The impacts vary across locations, but the biggest impacts seem to be around the downtown areas where transit-oriented developments interact with other interventions aiming to physically revitalize those neighborhoods. 

UCLA provides a map and data to back up those hard facts. If Garcetti and the City Council haven’t done so already, they should take a long, hard look. 

In fact, Paul Ong, director of UCLA Luskin’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, says California politicians should use the report to ensure that “progress” through development is “fair and just.”  

Unfortunately, LA elected officials hate public dialogues about the Big Picture definitions of “progress,” and they spend little time considering what’s “fair and just” development for the masses. 

Instead, Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council talk about creating a more “environmentally sustainable” city by cutting down on car usage. Hence, the need for more apartment complexes and mixed-use buildings near bus or rail stops — known as transit-oriented development. 

Developers and politicians, though, regularly greenwash controversial developments for political cover. What’s worse, serious plans for a more “economically sustainable” city for the working- and middle-class — teachers, garment workers, senior citizens, struggling artists, among others — are nearly non-existent at LA City Hall. 

Unsurprisingly, UCLA and UC-Berkeley researchers also found that “Bay Area municipalities have in their books many more anti-displacement policies than municipalities in LA County.” In the city of Los Angeles, Garcetti and the City Council have implemented few substantive and specific anti-displacement policies. 

It’s one big reason why, as the Los Angeles Times reported last year, more than 22,000 rent-controlled apartments have been taken off the market since 2001. An LA Times graph shows that disturbing trend dramatically up-ticked during Garcetti’s time as mayor. 

All in all, as stewards of the nation’s second largest city, LA politicians have shown that they are not interested in addressing the impacts of gentrification-inducing transit-oriented development. So what are they interested in? 

Maintaining power. Or, put another way, keeping their jobs and possibly landing better ones. Politicians do that by raising lots of money, which helps them fend off challengers on Election Day. Enter the deep-pocketed developer. 

For years, developers have been key benefactors for LA politicians. They contribute enormous sums of campaign cash and other political money — such as giving to a politician’s favorite cause or “officeholder” account, a kind of slush fund that elected officials use for dining and travel expenses.

Garcetti, in fact, established a non-profit called the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles. It has attracted big bucks from developers and various companies  — in its first year, Garcetti collected a whopping $14.6 million.  

The Coalition to Preserve LA, which sponsored the development reform initiative known as Measure S, found that developers and other bigwigs in the real estate industry (also known as LA’s “real estate industrial complex”) forked over at least $6 million in campaign contributions to city politicians since 2000.  

That’s a conservative number. It’s probably much higher. 

In the past year, for example, the LA Times reported that billionaire developer Rick Caruso shelled out hundreds of thousands to L.A. politicians and their causes while seeking City Hall approvals for a luxury housing tower for the super wealthy. One beneficiary was Garcetti’s non-profit, which accepted $125,000 from Caruso. 

The billionaire developer, by the way, greenwashed the controversial mega-project, a gigantic high-rise plopped down at a gridlocked intersection. To the aggravation of neighborhood activists, Caruso promoted it as a transit-oriented development. 

The LA Times also uncovered the shocking “Sea Breeze Scandal.” Perhaps illegally, developer Samuel Leung, who also needed City Hall to green light a luxury housing mega-project, funneled more than $600,000 to Mayor Eric Garcetti and other LA politicians. 

In the end, Caruso and Leung got what they wanted. 

As one can see, political money is also part of the gentrification equation. Developers shell out beaucoup bucks to L.A. politicians, and Garcetti and the City Council return the favor by approving transit-oriented and luxury developments. Developers then make tens of millions in profits, politicians have fatter campaign chests, and residents get hit by a wave of gentrification.  

Adding insult to injury, Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council are selling out the working- and middle-class for what amounts to chump change. One’s life, home, and family are worth much more than $125,000.

 

(Patrick Range McDonald, an award-winning journalist, was senior researcher and website editor for the Coalition to Preserve LA.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

BELL’S VIEW--The other day a video posted on Facebook drew my attention. In it, a motorcycle moves in slow motion toward the middle of an intersection and a certain crash with a left-turning car. I could see where this was heading, but I couldn’t look away. I have no real desire to watch a motorcyclist pinwheel through the air and crash to the pavement (he survived, thanks to his helmet), but I watched anyway.

So many events I have seen I wish I hadn’t. I’ll never get the video of the Tamir Rice shooting out of my head. And I don’t suppose I should. Maybe this destruction of our illusions – the illusion that we can prolong our innocence through looking away – is the price we have to pay to bring any real change to the world. We live in in-between times, where one person’s truth is another’s lie. How can that be possible? I’ve never completely bought the old chestnut that there are two sides to every story. Tamir Rice was a thirteen-year-old boy playing in the park. I don’t care what the grand jury said. 

Another slow-motion wreck sucking my attention these days is the continuing saga of the Joe Bray-Ali (photo above) campaign to unseat incumbent City Councilman Gil Cedillo – the 70’s B-movie villain currently ignoring his constituents in Council District 1. As anyone following the story knows, Bray-Ali either had his character assassinated or his true identity revealed last week when LAist broke the story of Bray-Ali’s former career as an Internet troll. The story prompted Bray-Ali to publicly attempt to recreate John Hurt’s chestbuster scene from the first Alien movie. He apologized, but he didn’t do it. He’s only human, but he’s not that guy. He made mistakes, but he was only trying to do the right thing. 

Flailing, he revealed a few other juicy indiscretions (tax evasion, marital infidelity, and tagging, in that order) and promised to explain it all later as he blithely reassumed his campaign persona. Meanwhile, the old Joe came out swinging on a few Facebook threads, where he just couldn’t seem to help himself. In one, he trotted out a list of some of the crazy misdeeds (bigamy anyone?) of our current City Councilmembers, including Mike Bonin’s long-past meth habit. How, one commenter asked, is Bonin’s triumph over addiction comparable to your Mr. Hyde impression on Voat

How indeed? One truth has emerged: Bray-Ali’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington shtick is not exactly the real thing. He’s brash, he’s bold, he’s – either – racist, sexist, and transphobic, or some kind of satirical anthropologist employing the awesome power of the n-word to move us all toward positive social change. 

The question remains whether Bray-Ali’s move-along, nothing-to-see-here approach can sweep him into the Council chambers on May 16th. A few prominent Bray-Ali supporters have jumped ship, while others have either drunk the kool-aide or just admitted they don’t care. I sympathize fully with the impulse to support the lesser of two evils. City Hall needs a shakeup. The question District1 voters have to ask themselves is: how much is too much?

Bray-Ali’s explanations have been satisfying only to the rubberneckers and the kool-aide drinkers. The pen, they say, is mightier than the sword, but, at this point, Bray-Ali needs to get hold of something sharp and cut out the rotten bits. Words just aren’t going to do it this time. As a proponent of the power of language, I’ve never felt so adrift. Debate has evolved away from a means of challenging ideas and into a method of silencing our opponents. Shame, humiliation, degradation, and name-calling – all dressed up as free speech – work only to drive speech into hiding, oblivion, or meaninglessness. Joe Bray-Ali has seen this process from both sides – from give and take – and now he’s in the fight of his life with the beast we’ve all been feeding since the turn of the millennium.

On May 16th, the voters in District 1 have a choice – but the choice is all Joe’s at this point. He needs to find a way to the other side of the wall he’s built for himself. And he needs to do it fast.

 

(David Bell is a writer, attorney, former president of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council and writes for CityWatch.)

-cw

EASTSIDER-Mendacity is generally defined as “an act of not telling the truth.” It also has a bunch of helpful synonyms, like deceit, deception, falsification, fraud and lying. I think it is a great word, and according to the Cambridge Dictionary, “Politicians are often accused of mendacity.” 

After a great deal of searching, I believe that I have found the poster child for mendacity in the form of California Senator Steven Bardford, who recently introduced SB 163, which makes it easy for political candidates to live outside the district they want to represent. 

Obviously a great mind at work. The reason that we have residency requirements is that we have a new political class, the lifer elected officials who go wherever there are safe races after being termed out in their current gigs. The idea is that, at a minimum, an elected official should live and work in the district that elected him or her. You know, like the pre-term-limits days, when politicians actually had roots in the communities they represented. 

Well, no mas, and if Senator Bradford has his way, no penalty for living far away from the community you seek to represent. 

I am obliged to mention a few examples of elected officials who got in trouble over this. Yvonne Burke, of course, but she got a pass by declining to run again for office. Our very own Richard Alarcon (and his wife) who got convicted of perjury and voter fraud, but later got it tossed out by an appeals court on the grounds that the judge gave “improper jury instructions.” 

On the state level, Senator Roderick Wright got popped for the same thing, lying about where he actually lived. In this case, I guess the jury instructions were ok, because the appeals court upheld the conviction last year. 

While Alarcon and Wright are the poster children for this kind of behavior, they are far from the only ones. As the Sacramento Bee reported back in 2014, there’s a whole list of them.  

Most go unprosecuted, partly because of the fact these are not slam dunk cases, and I suspect most also get a pass because the District Attorneys who should prosecute these cases are elected officials themselves. Take a look at some of these unindicted conspirators in the Bee article. 

What’s even scarier is that the Federal Government, a fountain of legerdemain, simply finesses the whole idea that you should live with the folks you represent. Under their rules, you only have to live in the state where you are running for office. Logical for senators, but for gerrymandered congressional districts? C’mon. 

Under that rubric, Darrell lssa could run to replace Xavier Becerra in the 34th Congressional District special e