OSCAR POLITICS--If Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s legendary co-founder Louis B. Mayer (Photo above, with actress Helen Hayes) were alive today, he would likely applaud the boycott of the Oscars, but not necessarily in protest of the lack of racial diversity at Hollywood’s preeminent awards ceremony. It would be to rail against the presence of all the card-carrying members of the Teamsters, the Screen Actors Guild and numerous other unions of the film industry’s highly organized workforce.

As a fascinating 2014 Vanity Fair article reported, the Academy Awards were birthed in 1927 by Mayer and his fellow studio bosses in large part to head off labor disputes and discourage actors, directors and writers from demanding health benefits, pensions and residuals. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would do the dirty work of keeping costs down, while throwing an annual bash to celebrate Hollywood’s biggest and brightest stars.

The Oscars eventually became a global sensation, but the union-bashing part of the plan didn’t go as well. By the 1930s, screenwriters, directors and actors had organized, parlaying their considerable clout into real economic power. Over the next several decades, tens of thousands of below-the-line industry workers -- everyone from grips and electricians to make-up artists and stylists to projectionists and sound technicians -- followed suit.

By the 1940s, Hollywood was a union town. Today, there are nearly half a million unionized workers in the U.S. entertainment industry -- a stark contrast to the decline of organized labor in most sectors of the economy.

With the gap between the haves and have-nots widening and the economic disparity separating the country’s top income earners and the rest of America a main tenet of this year’s presidential election, it’s important to recognize the overwhelming success of the organized entertainment industry. It is a prime example of an industry doing right by its workers - mostly middle-class earners just looking to make a living - while also enjoying huge financial success.

A large percentage of these workers are in Los Angeles, forming one of the cornerstones of the city’s middle class. As the Southern California economy was buffeted by the loss of good jobs in aerospace, manufacturing and other sectors in the 1990s, the film industry was a pillar of stability. While the phenomenon of runaway production has taken a toll, nearly 200,000 California workers are still employed in the film and TV industries, and those numbers may grow now that the state is taking aggressive action to keep productions here. 

How important are good union jobs to LA’s economy? Consider this: Between 2011 and 2013, L.A. County had the highest poverty rate in California, with a quarter of all residents falling into the ranks of the poor. In the City of Los Angeles, a much larger number, in excess of 45 percent, struggle to make ends meet with wages of less than $15 an hour while technically not qualifying as poor. L.A.’s minimum wage hike will help, but by the time workers benefiting from the law passed earlier this year are earning a $15 wage in 2020, the middle class will still be out of reach.

By contrast, the majority of below-the-line workers in Hollywood, while far from affluent, make enough money to support their families. Camera operators average $58,000 a year, animators and multimedia artists earn $60,000, electricians and lighting workers make $71,000. Less-skilled workers earn lower pay, but still make considerably more than they would doing comparable jobs in non-union industries.

Hollywood salaries would look a lot different if MGM’s Mayer and his fellow studio heads had prevailed back in the 1920s. Los Angeles, and the country, are far better off because they didn’t. 

(Cherri Senders is founder and publisher of Labor 411, a consumer guide to companies that treat their workers fairly. She can be contacted at cherri@sendersgroup.com.) 

-cw

VOX POP--A recent debate on the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative between Jill Stewart, Campaign Director for the initiative, and Larry Kaplan, Co-Chair of Communities United for Jobs and Housing, revealed the central dilemma opponents of the initiative confront in making their argument against the proposed ballot measure: they must defend the indefensible – Los Angeles’ broken planning system. 

The centerpiece of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative is a two year moratorium on spot zoning to allow for community plans to be updated. The current practice of routinely granting exemptions from zoning rules on a parcel-by-parcel basis for new development has incurred the wrath of residents and neighborhoods throughout LA – and the disapproval of judges who have found the city in violation of their own rules. The ballot measure would force the city to play by the existing rules until such time that they are revised via an open and public process. 

Opponents of the initiative, many of whom come from the environmental and affordable housing realm, are placed in the awkward position of defending the status quo while, at the same time, conceding that spot zoning is an irrational way to do urban planning. 

In a video of the debate, hosted by the Stonewall Democratic Club on February 22, Larry Kaplan’s discomfort is sometimes evident. He remarked in his opening statement: “I think we all agree, first of all – let’s get it out there – LA’s planning process is not pretty.”  

“I’m not defending the current system, okay? We know it’s broken. Okay? So let’s try to fix it. This [initiative] might kill the patient,” Kaplan stated in the course of the debate. And this seems to be the crux of the opponents’ argument against the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, that it is a killer cure for what both sides of the issue acknowledge is a dysfunctional planning process. 

“I am not defending the current structure, it’s flawed.” Kaplan emphasized again later in the debate. “Like I said, somebody’s got a scratch on their arm you don’t chop the arm off.” 

Kaplan reiterated that sentiment at the end of his closing statement: “I’m not defending the system. It needs to be fixed. But, again, the cure here is much worse than the disease.” However, Kaplan and other opponents provide no suggestions or solutions on how they think the system could or should be fixed. All Kaplan offered was: “Let’s rock the boat, but not sink it.” 

Given the extraordinary amount of development taking place across Los Angeles – and the irritable mood of the electorate – the prevailing sentiment of many residents is that the boat Kaplan refers to has sailed into an iceberg and the only lifeboat available is the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. 

The Miracle Mile Residential Association videotaped the debate as part of our digital outreach to the residents of the Miracle Mile and the city at large. We encourage everyone to watch the debate and fully consider the pros and cons of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. The future of Los Angeles is at stake.

 

(Ken Hixon is a Vice President of the Miracle Mile Residential Association and the editor of the MMRA newsletter.)

-cw

EASTSIDER-Not that long ago, I wrote an article for CityWatch after the Audit Report was released on the DWP with the DWP recommendations for rate increases over the next five years. I suggested that the only place to stop the DWP Rate Increase avalanche headed our way was with the City’s Energy and Environment Committee. 

My theory was (and is) that all five of these committee members are up for re-election next year and they might be subject to pressure to back off of the transfer fees and utility tax that DWP gives to the City. Silly me. 

The Fuentes Cabal 

Shortly after my article appeared (and no, I am not so egotistical as to believe it had anything to do with his decision) the Chair of the Energy and Environment Committee, Filipe Fuentes, announced he would not be running for re-election in Council District 7. Of course, the real reason that Mr. Fuentes announced his intention had a whole lot to do with the fact that most of his political allies and cronies in the Northeast San Fernando Valley are under investigation by the FBI and Grand Jury. This includes Congressman Tony Cardenas and his staffer Gabriela Marquez, as well as Fuentes staff member Tania Soto, CD 6 Councilmember Nury Martinez and her staffer Jim Dantona -- and last, but not least, Fuentes’ aunt and staffer Yolanda Fuentes Miranda. 

In spite of a nod back in 2010 from the LAWeekly as “The Worst Legislator In California,” the LA Times got it wrong as usual and endorsed Fuentes in 2013, fatuously claiming that he had “valuable background and experience in getting things done in the North Valley.” 

Right. I guess they meant “experience” like having almost half the bills he introduced in the legislature ghostwritten by those who bought him the seat. By the way, one of those was ghostwritten by the City Community Redevelopment Agency (remember them?) to expand the definition of ‘blight’ so the CRA could disenfranchise more poor people of color in the City.   

In defense of the LA Times, this was during the heyday of the Chicago Tribune ownership of the paper…so what else could we have expected? 

Anyway, Fuentes suddenly announced last month that he wouldn’t be running for re-election -- at age 44…during his first term…and with no explanation. What a guy. Well at least this should make the Sunland/Tujunga Neighborhood Council feel better after he kicked them out of their City offices. 

The Fuentes Governance Hijack 

There is a lot of good information in the Navigant IEA 2015 DWP Survey, particularly the some 51 pages of Volume 4, “Governance,” the result of a lot of time and money spent analyzing the Department. Even though it’s unlikely that anyone will read it, it contains a good analysis of a range of alternative governance structures including the pros and cons of each alternative. 

There is also a perfectly reasonable proposal in an LA Times article by two of the lead members of the LA2020 Commission, Mickey Kantor and Austin Beutner. Remember the 2020 Commission and Report -- the one Herb Wesson and the Council blessed with faint praise and then buried in a grave deeper than they dig at Forest Lawn? This is the Commission that recommended an independent Board to run DWP. 

The Commission suggested four steps: (1) cap the total amount of money that goes to the City; (2) use a portion of rate increases to help low-income customers; (3) separate the DWP hiring process from the LA City Civil Service System; and (4) establish an independently elected Commission, with subject matter expertise, that would appoint the General Manager and have complete control over rates and employee union contracts. 

But, oh no. Mr. Fuentes, that exemplar of self-serving politics, had just come up with his very own (four page) Motion for DWP Reform -- even as the matter was going in front of him as Chair of the Energy and Environment Committee (see Council File 16-0093 for the Motion.) Not only that, but that motion is also backed by another professional political operative, Council President Herb Wesson, and a fellow Committee member, Mitch O’Farrell.

The Fuentes-Wesson-O’Farrell motion essentially directs the City Attorney and CAO to come up with a November ballot measure based on their four page document. 

Are we to believe that this all comes along just as the E&E Committee is set to vote on the five-year DWP rate increases? C’mon, folks, give us a little credit for recognizing a political hijack when we see one -- in fact, that’s the title of a recent article by our own Jack Humphreville. 

So here we have the City Hall insiders once again diverting attention from the work they are bound to do -- voting on the DWP Rate Increase Plan in front of them – and employing a bait and switch operation to forestall any meaningful discussion by all of us on how to best change the governance of the Department of Water and Power. 

I shudder to think what’s in all of this for Mr. Fuentes personally, and what will come to light when it’s too late for us to do anything about it. 

I believe the timing of this sudden Motion is no coincidence, given that all five members of the Energy and Environment Committee are up for re-election next year -- well, except Fuentes. City Hall is usually incapable of moving with this kind of speed to run a Ballot Measure unless something really naughty is being contemplated by the pols. 

Is all this a cute way to take the heat off and have a 15-0 vote by the Council for a Ballot Measure so the Committee can say that they’re not the ones that did anything wrong? Will hearings be real and open discussions? Or will they be another giant kabuki dance with the usual guaranteed outcome? 

Remember this: No matter what smoke screens they put up, four of these five Committee Members are up for re-election next year. You should remind them that there are consequences for their actions. Call them on the details of the rate Increases, the transfer fees and the utility taxes -- not to mention pet projects. 

Demand openness and transparency, and (gasp) maybe even honesty in the Committee’s recommendation to the full Council. 

The Committee members are Fuentes (CD7), Cedillo (CD1), Blumenfeld (CD3), Koretz (CD5), and O’Farrell (CD13).

 

(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.

BIKERVIEW--As you may know, the City of Burbank recently knuckled under to one-percenter pressure and banned bicycles from the Mariposa Bridge over the LA River. You now can’t even dismount and push them across: bicycles are not allowed in any way, shape, or form on this bridge. The reason: fear that they will “spook” the horses ridden by the ultimate in self-entitled privilege junkies, the Equestrian-(un)American community infesting Riverside Drive. 

Yes, from up on their skittish beasts, they literally look down on everyone else. So, no bikes on the bridge. Even though, according to a 1938 Burbank Daily Review article quoted in an LA Times report, this bridge “would be for ‘only equestrians, cyclists and hikers.'”

None of that mattered to the present-day pseudo-centaurs growling out bike hate: their horses are just too nervous to be anywhere near a bicycle. Somehow, though, horses have been trained to go calmly into war for millennia. Yes, they can put up with flying bullets, arrows, and spears, flashing swords and bayonets, roaring cannons, and screams of rage and agony all around -- but they can’t see a bicycle without suffering a heart attack. Maybe modern-day equestrians are just too lazy to train their beasts? 

In another extralegal assumption of privilege, horse folks actually made up their own official-looking signs “banning” bikes from the bridge long before Burbank’s city council (which had originally approved a cyclists-dismount provision) finally gave into their relentless kvetching. No surprise: I’ve actually had horse people tell me that hiking was prohibited on Sierra trails for the same reason. You know, just plain walking. This was untrue, by the way. 

The equestrians’ main argument is that bikes are prohibited on the dirt trails of Griffith Park, to which the bridge leads. This is true. But, a few feet from the park end of the bridge is a paved trail (AKA, a “road”) where bikes are permitted, and could be walked to. And, of course, the LA River bike path will soon be extended past the bridge. 

However, as CiclaValley reports, the very same Burbank City Council just met to consider accepting Metro funds to build a bicyclist- and pedestrian-only bridge about half a mile west of Mariposa, connecting Bob Hope Drive to the park side of the river. This is in anticipation of the bike path extension. 

No word yet on the results of this august body’s deliberations. Maybe they’ll quit horsin’ around and allow all the city’s denizens free access to the river and Griffith Park. Or maybe they’ll cower in fear of the stirrup set again and let the opportunity pass them by. 

We’ll just have to wait and see.

 

(Richard Risemberg is a writer. His current professional activities are focused on sustainable development and lifestyle. This column was posted first at Flying Pigeon.Photo: LA Times. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams

 

ANIMAL RIGHTS-It’s another LA City Council meeting with breathless declarations shining sunny sentiment on cloudy realities. This was spread on especially thick during Tuesday’s predictably dubious presentation for World Spay Day. 

Councilmembers jostled for camera time to praise puppies cuddled in towels by shelter volunteers.   But the pups’ mere existence was evidence of the city’s failed spay/neuter policy, non-existent outreach to poor communities and lackluster enforcement. 

“Please adopt a dog rather than buy one,” Councilmembers Mitch O’Farrell and Bob Blumenfield echoed for their colleagues to the public. The pointless birth of animals, they correctly pointed out, results in immeasurable suffering. 

But here’s the reality: 

On a small side street in Van Nuys, a filthy tire repair business was sold breeder permits by LA Animal Services for pit bulls and Chihuahuas -- the two types of animals LA kills more often than any others, except for young and newborn kittens. For just the few hundred dollars paid to the city by such backyard breeders, the Councilmembers’ sweet sentiment disappears.

Councilmember Nury Martinez has known about this and similar situations since her first days in office but has taken no known corrective action. 

So-called “legitimate” dog breeders get a break in LA, too. Two years ago this month, Councilmember Mitch Englander honored a championship beagle breeder at a City Council meeting. But LA Animal Services has refused multiple public records requests for that breeder’s complete permit history.

At Venice Beach, you can still buy pit bull puppies from either the homeless or, as was the case not too long ago, at a breeder show which, when people finally complained loudly enough, was shrugged off by LAAS as having been permitted not by itself, but by Parks & Recreation. 

Recently, new Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson commendably asked LAAS for information about, among other things, the innumerable and infamous packs of homeless dogs that roam his impoverished District 8. But his closed-door policy toward rescuers who live the problem every day, and have for many years, limits his ability to effectively deal with the problem. Limit your information, and you limit your options. 

That’s because LA, like many other governments, uses cute and vague statistics like Woof Stat and Noses-In, Noses-Out that shield the real problems and their causes.

For example, until I recently exposed it, LAAS counted as “adoptions” the moving of 8,807 shelter animals from cages in one city-owned building to cages in the city-owned building occupied for free by the wealthy Best Friends organization. The city does not track (as it does with all other rescue organizations) what happens to animals who are sent there without traceable city microchips. It doesn’t want to know -- and doesn’t want you to know either -- what ultimately became of them.

LA appears afraid to confront its humane challenges. No politician wants to be the one on whose watch long-standing and misleading claims about animal life and death issues are exposed. 

City Controller Ron Galperin is well-informed of the troubling claims, none of which were touched on in his recent “limited scope” audit, which turned out to be as pointless as the one conducted by his predecessor, Wendy Greuel. 

If LA truly wants to drive home the reality of pet population growth, they should show -- or allow others to record and show -- video of the shelters’ “bump rooms” after the latest slaughter, complete with lifeless bodies splayed on the floor. Then they should share it across social media.  

Such a graphic approach would not be unprecedented. 

In front of a packed 2013 City Council meeting, Councilmember Paul Koretz held onto an elephant torture device while playing a hideous recording of baby elephants tortured by circus handlers. The point was effectively made then, but not today because, while it seems okay to display animal abuse when it’s done by someone else, it’s not okay if it involves killing done by the city. 

And then there’s the phrase “no kill.” 

To the uninitiated, it actually means killing a substantial number of happy, healthy and highly adoptable animals. It is a righteous sounding thing promoted by well-intended people. But it is pointless unless you know what’s going on in your own shelters and streets. It devalues the meaning of killing by not counting killing as killing. 

Mayor Eric Garcetti has dangled the idea of a comprehensive external audit of LA Animal Services, but has taken no known measure to make it a reality. So far, it has been used only to discourage humane protestors from standing in front of his Hancock Park home, something that was done as recently as this weekend….which is now Garcetti’s excuse for not doing it at all. He refuses to embrace the truth.

 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, blogs on humane issues at http://ericgarcetti.blogspot.com/)

HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD--With all of the recent attacks on developers by NIMBYs (not-in-my-backyard) who don't want to see growth, I thought I would provide a case study on the positive aspects of new development. Columbia Square (photo above) is a perfect example. This $450-million, 700,000-sq.ft., mixed-use project by Kilroy Realty will have an "outsized" positive impact on Hollywood. 

One of the most historic buildings on Sunset Blvd., Columbia Square was the West Coast home of CBS for many years. (Photo right.) Built in 1938, it originated such shows as Jack Benny's Lucky Strike Program, the Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, and The Swan Show starring George Burns and Gracie Allen. When CBS moved their studios out of Hollywood in 2007, its future was in question.

Now, thanks to the work and investment of Kilroy Realty Corp., Columbia Square is shining once more. The historic buildings have been restored and renovated as the LA hub for Neuehouse, a New York-based creative workspace collaborative. Acclaimed New York architect David Rockwell, who also designed the interior of the Dolby Theatre, designed the space. Architectural Digest gave the facility glowing reviews in January. 

Writer Mayer Rus said of the space, "If you'd like a window into the leading edge of creative work (and play) spaces in 2016, you need look no further than the recently completed NeueHouse Hollywood, the West Coast counterpart to the original Manhattan office hub for the so-called creative class. ...the LA complex boasts a few attributes its Gotham forebear cannot claim: a building with an impeccable modernist pedigree; a site with a long and compelling history in the production of popular American culture; and the kinds of amenities one can enjoy only in a heavenly Mediterranean climate."

Rus continued in the Architectural Digest article that "there are a number of restaurant and lounge experiences, including alfresco dining on the roof terraces - in facilitating discourse and comfort in the workplace."

Not only has the historic building been preserved, which benefits the community enormously, but it is a place that visitors and residents can patronize and enjoy. Several restaurants have or are in the process of opening, including Rubies + Diamonds, Sugarfish, Sweetgreen and Paley.

Also preparing to move into Columbia Square is Viacom. CEO Philippe Dauman recently discussed the pending move into 180,000-sq.ft. of space with the LA Times. He noted that this will become the headquarters for their West Coast media networks and home base for about 700 employees from MTV, Comedy Central, VH1, BET, Spike, TV Land and Logo. It will provide them with new production stages, a lot of shooting space and a rooftop area for shoots with views of the Hollywood Sign. He noted that the Hollywood facility will be the largest mobile content studio in the industry. 

Besides Viacom, Kilroy has announced that Fender Guitar has leased 40,000-sq.ft. and will be moving their headquarters from Scottdale, Arizona, to Hollywood. These will be new, high quality jobs for Southern California and Hollywood.

After the loss of dozens of entertainment firms over the past 20 years, the announcements by Viacom and Fender Guitar send a great message that Hollywood is back. However, of even greater import is bringing more than 700 quality jobs to the community. Hollywood has an opportunity to show that with smart growth, it is possible to grow a community with balanced jobs and housing. We are building both. We currently have 1,800 housing units under construction and more in the pipeline. In addition, there are several hundred thousand square feet of office space in development as well as several hotels.    

This balance of different uses is what makes the revitalization of Hollywood so exciting. Locating jobs and housing in close proximity with nearby entertainment options and shopping are especially attractive to the Millennials who are locating here. When you consider the compact nature of Hollywood which makes it walkable, as well as its transit connectivity, one begins to see how growth can and should occur to make a community livable.

Due to this single project, we will see the preservation of a historic landmark, hundreds of construction jobs, hundreds more permanent jobs, new opportunities for dining as well as outstanding architecture. It is a win-win for the community. And it would not have been possible without the vision and investment of a developer. 

Let's keep this in mind when next you hear the negative attacks against development.


(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.

EXPOSED--Vegas odds are against an Oscar win this Sunday for indie favorite Spotlight (photo above)—which tells the true story of journalists in Boston who under the leadership of editor Marty Baron expose the Catholic Church’s systemic concealment of sexual abuse by priests. A loss for Spotlight would be good news for “soft-hitting” newspaper publishers but bad news for the public’s right to know. 

Let’s hope that Spotlight inspires LA’s fifth estate to stop turning a blind eye to this city’s growing scourge of “pay to play.”’ 

A good place to start is in Coldwater Canyon, where Harvard-Westlake, having just released a revised DEIR, is moving full steam ahead with its plans to build a widely opposed three-story parking garage, complete with flood-lit sports field on top and private pedestrian skybridge over the public thoroughfare of Coldwater Canyon Boulevard, with the purpose being, in Havard-Westlake Vice President John Amato’s words: “Our kids have to perform in front of audiences so we have to have parking for visitors, and we want to have all our parking in one location.” 

As reported in these pages over two months ago, the public official who wields near absolute power over the fate of the parking project—District 2 Councilmember Paul Krekorian—has accepted donations from eighteen Harvard-WestlakeTrustees, with all but two giving the maximum $700 contribution and none disclosing their relationship to the school on the donation form.  

All but a few of the contributions were made on the same day—a feat which tops the virtually simultaneous contributions made to Mr. Krekorian by the same trustees and administrators on February 18, 2011, also with not a single trustee identifying his or her connection to the school. This activity resulted in a windfall for Mr. Krekorian's campaign committee from the school's trustees alone.  

Incredibly, Mr. Krekorian did not return the $20,950 he garnered from the recent contributions. On the contrary, he used the money to obtain public matching funds from the City, so that each Harvard-Westlake contribution was in effect supplemented by $500 of taxpayer funds. In other words, literally the very same people who are having their quality of home life intruded on by the school's plan were made to match the Harvard-Westlake influence-peddling donations. 

LA residents may disagree as to whether Councilmember Krekorian, given his power over the fate of the parking garage project, should return the eighteen contributions he received from Harvard-Westlake Trustees, togthether with all of the matching funds he obtained through use of the Harvard-Westlake money—if only to remove any appearance of partiality.  

Whatever one’s opinion, it would seem obvious that Mr. Krekorian should have been asked about it … by a media that has been strangely silent. Not a single reporter has said a word to Mr. Krekorian. It’s been seventy days since the facts were known. What is the press waiting for? How is their silence not an abnegation of their duty to serve the public’s right to know?

We can only hope that Oscar Sunday will inspire someone to step up to the plate. If not, hopefully editor Marty Baron will help out.

 

(Eric Preven is a CityWatch contributor and a Studio City based writer-producer and public advocate for better transparency in local government.  He was a candidate in the 2015 election for Los Angeles City Council, 2nd District. Joshua Preven is a teacher who lives in Los Angeles. Views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch. )

-cw

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