EDITOR’S PICK--“Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges.I don’t have to show you any stinking badges”— Mexican bandits to Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of Sierra Madre 

For long, dreary months CNN, MSNBC and most other news channels have violated me by refusing to report anything other than what’s easy, boring and accessible, the lunatic primary races.  Aside from the Flint water poisoning scandal and snow storms outside their offices, that’s it.

So, because I need sometimes to get a whiff of the real world’s oxygen I step outside my door into the sweaty, chattering, roach coach world of Durango, Chiapas, Jalisco, Michoacan and Zacatecas – home states of the immigrant workmen and women– gardeners, tree trimmers and dry wallers, nannies and housekeepers – who way outnumber Anglos any weekday in my neighborhood.   They work fiercely hard and depart at sundown in their pickups.  We don’t know their names except they work cheaper than the original, now-aging Japanese American gardeners whose own kids prefer white collars to leaf blowers.

In any real sense Los Angeles is a Mexican town – sorry, Donald! – with an added mix of Central Americans looking for jobs or dodging MS13-style murder or both.  In LA alone there are tens of thousands of Mexican gardeners; on building sites round my corner “American” is a foreign language.  Without them southern California would implode.

Their home country is two-and-a-half hours down the I-5 South of San Diego to Tijuana, Baja California and deep into Cartelia.   But as far as most of my mainstream news outlets are concerned Mexico might be located in Tibet or at the bottom of the Bermuda Triangle.   I know more about Mosul in Iraq or Kiev in the Ukraine than I do about anything south of my border.

What I do know is that  Mexico is North America’s ISIS, a raging war with itself.

And that the drug cartels are effectively Mexico’s shadow government, exerting control at every level from village to Presidential palace.  98% of murders go unsolved, few people report crime to the police who themselves may be the criminals.

All I have to do is flip over to a Spanish-only TV channel and even without knowing the language it’s perfectly clear who actually runs the country.  Images tell the story.  Multiple beheaded corpses and bodies hanging from bridges, thousands of youngsters “disappeared” (43 in one small town Iguala alone), uncountable mass graves, 100 local mayors assassinated in the past decade.

We shrug.  “Oh, Mexico – what can you expect? corruption is as old as the country itself,” and ignore the inescapable fact that the Sinaloa, Zeta, Los Rojos and Knights Templar drug rings are moving on from shaking down government to boldly taking over the apparatus.  Their own mayors, their own governors and police chiefs.

Forget the Hollywoodized “capture” of El Chapo.  Some triumph! Every time our DEA and Mexico’s “elite Marines” nab or kill a “kingpin”, it gets worse because his underlings splinter into even more predatory gangs.  That’s how we spend our $300 million a year in “drug war aid” to the fabulously corrupt Mexican federal government which turns over much of the money to municipalities which are forced to hand it over to the criminals.  Thus, our epidemic craving for cocaine, heroin and Mexican weed, and our “war on drugs” tax money, feeds the head-choppers and torturers.

Although star TV anchors like Rachel Maddow and Anderson Cooper have abandoned their posts by ignoring the al-Queda-like war in our nearest southern neighbor, no blame to the Mexican media whose reporters, editors and photographers daily risk their lives just by going to the office.

If you work as a Mexican journalist you accommodate to the sicarios, the hired (often teenage) killers, or pay a terrible price not only yourself but your family.  So you check with the gangsters first who brazenly have their own media directors.  Some drug bosses love publicity, and some will burn you alive for it. 

In the past ten years four journalists have been killed at El Manana,one of the leading papers along the US-Mexican border that must print different editions for different places depending the good or bad will of cartel psychopaths like El Chapo.  Grenade and fire bombings are routine; likewise kidnappings.  

Self censorship is like a Kevlar vest, as necessary to a reporter as armor is to a battlefield soldier.  At least 88 journalists have been murdered since 2000, and more to come.

Come on, Rachel and Anderson, get off your duffs and do some leg work on the Syria so near to us, so far from God.

(Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Hemingway Lives.  This piece was posted first at CounterPunch.org.) 

-cw

 

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THIS MUCH I KNOW--The California coastline has inspired artists, poets, rock lyricists, and any of us who have taken a drive up Highway 1, the spectacular panorama of mountains peering above crashing waves. The Coastal Commission has an over 40-year legacy of protecting the coastline, despite the attempts of developers and their lobbyists to encroach by weakening or even eliminating the commission. 

But the protection of our unspoiled coastline may be at a turning point as pro-development interests attempt to oust Dr. Charles Lester, the Executive Director of the Commission. Dr. Lester has refused to resign quietly, calling for a public hearing, which will be held February 10 in Morro Bay. 

The reasons for the attempted coup are vague. As one commissioner stated off the record, there’s a “growing sense that there are management issues.” Lester, however, has helmed the Commission during an impressive list of accomplishments, including increased transparency and recently received permission to levy penalties against individuals who violate the Coastal Act’s access provisions to the tune of $11,500 per violation per day. 

Lester has a solid report card from fifty environmental and social justice groups for his interpretation and enforcement of the Coastal Act. A coalition of representatives from the NRDC, Heal the Bay, and dozens of other groups made their feelings known in a letter they sent to commission chair Steve Kinsey and state leaders. 

The Coastal Commission serves as the zoning board for the 840 miles of coastline. Established by voter initiative in 1972 and made permanent by the legislature through the adoption of the California Coastal Act of 1976, the 12-member board is appointed by the Governor, Speaker of the Assembly, and the Senate Pro Tem. 

Just what’s at stake? A proposal to build 1,100 houses in the coastal zone in Southern California is before the commission right now. At $1.5 million per ocean view house, there’s nearly $2 billion at play. Developers regularly challenge coastall staff rulings, empty their wallets to candidates, and hire teams of lobbyists to encourage commissioners to make exceptions to give their projects the go-ahead. 

The Coastal Commission decides on proposals for residential properties, hotels, energy production facilities and other projects that are worth billions of dollars, all without much transparency in the process. Hotel developers, for example, hire lobbyists who are classified as agents under law and don’t have to report how much they are paid, often donating to the campaigns of commissioners who run for local office. 

There are rules in place to protect against conflict of interest but there is potential for abuse, which makes attempts by the commissioners to take control of the agency from the staff even more troubling. 

Since taking the job in 2011, Lester and his staff’s expert opinion to deny coastal projects hasn’t pleased commissioners. In 2006, the commissioners denied 26 projects. During Lester’s tenure, the commission has turned down 24 projects over the entire four year period. 

Ironically, the group of commissioners attempting to oust Lester are Brown appointees and it was Governor Brown who signed the Coastal Act into law forty years ago. These appointees serve at-will appointments, unlike the eight commissioners who serve a fixed four-year term. The governor can replace them if he’s unhappy with them but has so far not stepped up to defend the commission’s independence under Lester. 

The California Coastline must not be up for grabs to the highest bidder. Governor Brown should not leave that as his legacy.

 

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles-based writer and CityWatch contributor.)

-cw

 

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ENERGY POLITICS--News came earlier this week that the horrific natural gas leak spewing methane at Porter Ranch, just outside Los Angeles, will be capped and contained by the end of February.  Of course, it’s a promise that has come far too late. 

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ANIMAL WATCH-Although dog poop was not mentioned as a possible offender in his post, “A Disgusting Day to Breathe-in-L.A.,” in February 2015, EarthJustice Attorney Adrian Martinez warned that large areas of central Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, and southern LA communities are breathing levels of particulate pollution that the SCAQMD classifies as “unhealthy,” after years of fighting for clean air. 

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REMEMBERING LOUIE (1961-2016)-On January 17, after a long fight with diabetes and its devastation, Luis (“Louie”) Manuel Moreno suffered a fatal heart attack, leaving family and friends throughout Boyle Heights and the communities of East Los Angeles and the family of LA city workers with a hole the size of Louie’s heart. 

Councilmember José Huizar responded on Instagram: “I am lost for words in hearing of the passing of Louie Moreno. He was a dear friend to all and never backed away from the opportunity to help others, especially our youth. His passion for empowering our youth through sports and education helped motivate many people in Boyle Heights and on the Eastside, including myself. You will be forever missed. Rest in peace, brother… #BoyleHeights” 

Louie loved his daughter, Teresa Michelle Moreno, and she loved him. “Can't sleep. I just miss you so much daddy when I used to cry for you when you left for work or when I hid in the car and said I'm going to work with you. Daddy, you are and always will be my everything always and forever,” said Teresa, sharing the news of Louie’s passing on social media. 

Louie was proud to be a city worker and he took his city service very seriously. It defined him and drove him to do more. 

I knew Louie Moreno. Every day, for so many years, Louie’d greet me with his friendly smile. And if Louie had a union question, it meant 100 other city workers had a question. It was never about him. It was only about “we.” 

Louie showed up after every earthquake. And on 9/11. Like thousands and thousands of public workers – government workers – Louie showed up and served and smiled. 

Eddie Santillan must be the head of all City Hall parking by now. He met Louie in 1985 when he started working for the City. “Dad knew him from a summer youth program back when Art Snyder was the Councilman,” Eddie recalls. “Louie was a good man, a good friend, my best friend. He never stopped, even when his health fell apart, he was always out, working to do good, with the kids, his gig at Steven’s, his sports show, whatever good he could do. He wanted to show the kids that there’s so much out there, so many opportunities. Nothing could stop Louie.” Eddie added sadly, “He never asked for help.” 

Eddie and Louie worked together throughout the years, at security, special events, Council District 14 activities, whatever needed to be done – in City Hall and in the community -- always for the kids. 

A 1980 graduate of Roosevelt High School, Louie Moreno loved giving back to all of the communities of East Los Angeles and to his beloved Boyle Heights. Rough Rider Forever.    

Mayor Sam’s Scott Johnson sums it up with the voice of a compadre: “For decades, Louie's endeavors in promoting the positive, mentoring values in sports, saw him give selflessly of his time in supporting the … Boyle Heights Wolfpack Pop Warner Program, the El Sereno Stallions, the annual East LA Classic between Roosevelt and Garfield…while himself teaching those same values on the field of play to community youth, including someone who would become Boyle Height's current City Councilperson.” 

For years, Louie hosted a public access “Sports Rap Up” program and Channel 35 local sports program, aimed primarily at LA kids. He emceed and DJ’d countless community events, helped organize an annual toy giveaway supporting hundreds of Ramona Gardens children, Movie Day at the old Edwards Theater in Alhambra, Council Office activities, and union gatherings.

Louie is mourned and missed by the LA32 Neighborhood Council, the Community Police Advisory Board (CPAB) of Hollenbeck, city officials and city workers, visitors to LA City Hall…so many.

Like Eddie said, “Louie never stopped.” 

From the Los Angeles City Council draft adjourning motion (CD14) honoring the life of Louie Moreno:

“More than anything, Louie loved his community. Louie’s goal for this year was to become Honorary Mayor of Boyle Heights. I think many of us always saw him that way anyway. No title necessary. 

“He was truly a community ambassador and by far one of the most faithful servants Boyle Heights and the eastside has ever seen. 

“Louie Moreno was a loving son, father, nephew, and friend who taught us all, no matter how rough things get, life is beautiful. Even as Louie’s health declined, his spirits remained positive. On the day before his passing, he reminded us all to smile.” 

Funeral services are set for Saturday, February 6 at 11:00 a.m. at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 407 S. Chicago St., LA 90033 followed by a reception at Steven’s Steak House, 5332 Stevens Pl., Commerce 90040. 

Louie’s friends and family have set up a GoFundMe page to help honor Louie with a funeral and send-off befitting his life of service and love. Here’s the link: https://www.gofundme.com/mckqjj2k. Please do what you can! 

(Julie Butcher is a retired union leader, enjoying Riverside and her first grandchild.)

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PERSPECTIVE-The year 2016 will offer some local drama to Los Angeles, complementing the spectacle of the national elections. In what may be the most far-reaching ballot measure of this century, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will affect how the city does business with developers. The backers have targeted the November ballot. 

I sat down with Jill Stewart last Saturday to get some insight and clarity on the measure.  She is the campaign manager for the initiative who believed that its objectives were important enough for the good of the city that she resigned as managing editor of the LA Weekly to lead the effort. 

It is an understatement to say that anything to do with land use is a very technical subject; therefore, this article is only a start in understanding the complexities. I hope to discuss it further with Stewart and others. 

In her view, spot general plan amendments are creating congestion and reducing affordable housing.

Today, such amendments are granted on a piecemeal (spot) basis. They have led to spurious, disjointed development. 

She explained that this approach favored the financial return to a developer over the needs of the residents. Contiguous areas generally lose their character as a hodgepodge of architectural styles and transformation of demographics replace the harmonious nature of established neighborhoods, which is what happens current residents and businesses are banished. The high-density nature of these one-off projects almost assures congestion. Even when situated close to a major transit route, the occupants are unlikely to give up their cars in numbers sufficient to reduce traffic. If anything, there will be more cars as the neighborhood population increases. 

In addition, the number of affordable units are low in relation to the total. 

From my own experience, I have witnessed the displacement of middle-class residents as a result of projects with density bonuses granted under SB1818. The bonus is in return for the developer setting aside a few units as “affordable.” Unfortunately, the buildings which were replaced contained far more affordable units. For the record, the affordable units that were destroyed in my community were not substandard. They lacked the bells and whistles of newer units, but they were very livable and within reach of most budgets. Recently passed AB2222 closed the gap somewhat, but projects built under spot amendments are another matter. 

Stewart emphasized the importance of “significant areas” in determining how and if a General Plan amendment could be approved. Amendments must encompass an area which, as defined in the measure, has significant social, economic or physical identity. That translates to an entire community, district plan or specific plan area, an entire neighborhood council, or an area not less than 15 acres. 

She believes this allows ample leverage to address blighted areas. Carefully planned amendments could offer a coordinated revitalization process over wide swaths (as opposed to disparate projects.)

One controversial action, if the measure is approved, involves an up to two-year moratorium on amendments (unless required by the Department of Building and Safety.) A staff person for a Councilmember expressed concern if this should happen. He told me it would probably kill a major deal that’s in the early stages. 

According to Stewart, the moratorium is designed to allow a systematic review the General Plan (this review will be performed periodically as a requirement under Section 5 of the proposal.) It appears to me that this would amount to an undertaking which would likely attract the attention of every conceivable interest group with a stake in the city. The review could be as important as passing the measure itself. 

She indicated that the city’s current approach to development has pushed the working class farther out, created a boom-or-bust construction economy and replaced industrial zones with gentrified communities. 

Developers or their agents will not be allowed to prepare Environmental Impact Reports (EIR) under the measure’s rules. This will eliminate a blatant conflict of interest. Only the public’s lead agency can prepare the report, recovering the cost from the applicant. 

As I see it, the current system invites widespread corruption. There are simply insufficient checks and balances. Spot amendments can serve as the liquid currency of municipal political quid pro quo and create temptation some officials find irresistible. This is one reason why former mayor Richard Riordan is supporting the initiative.  

Councilmembers trade amendments for contributions. According to Stewart (and consistent with Riordan’s observations,) the net result of these deals are higher rents. So-called affordable units are priced starting at $3,000 per month. 

Stewart plans to develop a web of supporters representing a diverse cross-section of residents and interest groups to educate the public, collect signatures and otherwise promote the initiative. Her background as a journalist for a widely-read publication seems well-suited for reaching out to the many component groups of Los Angeles. She anticipates the full-court challenge the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will face from elected officials and their allies. 

So much needs to be shared with the public. Case studies providing clear examples of what to expect would be most helpful. 

There will be much more to come on this subject, from any number of sources. Reform is needed; the initiative could be a catalyst to that end. It deserves our attention.

 

(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.) Photo: Talbot Troy/Flickr. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

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AT LENGTH--Recently, I attended the 24th Annual Empowerment Congress Summit at USC sponsored by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas of the Second District.

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PERSPECTIVE--The Ratepayer Advocate is supposed to be in the vanguard of DWP reform efforts. Fred Pickel (photo) can’t even find the rear. To make matters worse, a proposal for substantial reforms is coming from an unlikely source – Felipe Fuentes, a councilmember whose motive to eschew reelection is the subject of speculation. 

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JUST THE FACTS-I began my employment with the City of Los Angeles in December 1967. While attending college, I became as a student worker with the Los Angeles Police Department. Following that, I moved onto the Police Academy in August 1968 and continued working with the LAPD for 33 years. That’s thirty-three years on the streets of L A, working a variety of assignments including Patrol, Detectives, Traffic under cover assignments, being a Protective League Director and beyond. How do my experiences compare to the current employment situation within the City? 

First of all, both salary and hard to find pension and health benefits have significantly improved over the years. Replacing comp time is cash paid for overtime. The rotary phone and typewriter were replaced by the push button phone, cellphones and computers. Instead of Liquid Whiteout, we have the backspace bar on the computer keyboard. Replacing carbon paper is a printer that will print multiple copies of a document in a variety of colors. Cars that used to lack air conditioning are now adequately equipped with dependable air conditioning. 

As society has changed and advanced, so has the role of local government and the jobs and benefits that local government provides. But when is it too much? It appears that the limits have not yet been reached for LA City employees. The most recent benefit being tossed around City Hall by two councilmembers (one under an inquiry by the FBI and the other an anti-gun advocate,) is the four weeks of paid time off for maternity leave. Employees can currently use their vacation and other accumulated time to bond with their child – one month off with full pay. 

As the father of two grown sons, I know the challenges of parenthood and the financial impact on the family. While it’s a nice benefit to have four weeks of full pay for those bringing that bundle of joy into the world, should the taxpayers be saddled with this added cost … a whole month of full salary? It’s something to think about when the City that just raised your water and power rates and is working on increasing the local sales tax to help provide the basic services we’ve all been paying for over the years. 

Homeless count 

I have been writing about the homeless population in Los Angeles for a number of months. Calling attention to this situation and the negative impact it has on our neighborhoods is a matter that has not seen significant improvement at City Hall. We hear about millions of dollars being directed to remedy the situation, but little, if anything, has been done. The same homeless population while empty promises to improve the situation continue to be made. In order to get a first-hand view of the matter, I will be participating in the Homeless Count on January 27 and will report my findings in a future article.

 

(Dennis P.  Zine is a 33 year member of the Los Angeles Police Department and former Vice-Chairman of the Elected Los Angeles City Charter Reform Commission, 12 year member of the Los Angeles City Council and current LAPD Reserve Officer. He writes Just the Facts for CityWatch. You can contact him at Zman8910@aol.com) Photo: Huffington Post. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

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EDITOR’S PICK--More than 30 boxes from former Los Angeles City Councilmember Tom LaBonge’s office, marked for destruction, have been recovered by the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office, according to a city attorney spokesperson. However, it is believed more than another 150 boxes may either be unaccounted for or destroyed. 

According to Rob Wilcox, a spokesperson for City Attorney Mike Feuer, 35 boxes pertaining to Council District 4 (CD4) have been in the City Attorney’s possession “for several months” since it was discovered the boxes were at Piper Technical Center, a city facility, east of downtown, that houses varies city offices, including its records management and elections divisions. 

It is not clear who alerted the City Attorney’s office that boxes from CD4 were at the facility. 

According to Wilcox, representatives from the City’s Attorneys office were seeking legal documents relative to a least one lawsuit, a land use issue in Los Feliz, when “management” learned documents related to that litigation and other CD4 documents were at Piper. Wilcox said, the City Attorney’s office then had the Los Angeles Dept. of General Services transport the 35 boxes to the City Attorney’s office. 

According to Wilcox, it is not known how long the boxes were at Piper facility. Additionally, Wilcox said he was still seeking information about who alerted the City Attorney’s office of the boxes.

Additionally, Michael Miller, a former city attorney who lives in Los Feliz, said in an interview today, that another 100 or more boxes may have already been destroyed. (Read the rest.) 

-cw

 

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GOVERNMENT FOR THE PEOPLE--Those of us who happened to have been scouring the cluttered bulletin board in the corridor near the John Ferraro Chambers at City Hall this week, may have been surprised to come across, wedged behind a FilmLA permit, a document entitled, “Notice Of Intention To Amend The Conflict of Interests Code of The City of Los Angeles Ethics Commission.”  

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LATINO PERSPECTIVE--According to a new report by Pew Research Center, the Latino electorate is bigger and better educated than ever before. Many of these voters are here in the Los Angeles. 

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