NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--The failure of Measure S, which would have put a two-year moratorium on development projects in Los Angeles, is a victory in the fight for affordable housing for UCLA students. But there’s still a long way to go.

It’s no secret Westwood has one of the highest rents in Los Angeles with an average of $4,200 per month for a two-bedroom apartment – well above the average city rent of $2,650 per month. Because UCLA does not guarantee housing for fourth-year students, most UCLA students live off campus at some point during their college career. Although living off campus is cheaper than living on the Hill, off-campus housing prices are still unaffordable for most students, especially when rents are increasing.

But the trend of rising rent doesn’t have to continue if the Westwood Neighborhood Council gets involved. WWNC, which makes recommendations to the Los Angeles City Council about development projects in Westwood, has often opposed high-density housing, advising the council against approving development plans that would increase the amount of people who could live in Westwood. However, such high-density housing could lower rent prices in Westwood by increasing the availability of housing options and improve business in the Village.

Considering how expensive it is to live in Westwood and the number of students seeking affordable housing here, WWNC must take the cue from last week’s election that residents want to shift toward high-density development and help approve more high-density housing projects. They can do so by urging City Councilmember Paul Koretz, who represents the neighborhood in the city council, to approve more affordable housing projects in Westwood. Doing so would not only give cash-strapped students much-needed relief from high rents but could also help businesses in the Village thrive by bringing in more people to patronize them.

The council’s opposition to high-density projects is not new. The Land Use and Planning Committee often uses the excuse that these projects have higher bedroom counts than apartments and therefore will not fit the local aesthetic, but this an arbitrary distinction. They often also cite overcrowding of the community and lower home values as reasons to disapprove of these projects.

Most recently, they advised the city council against granting a developer a Land Conditional Use Permit to build a fraternity house at 611 S. Gayley Ave., considering it a “boarding house” since it had too many rooms. But this “boarding house” could have housed many Bruins.

And it’s not just inconvenient – the lack of affordable housing in Westwood has undermined students’ well-being. Students wholive off campus struggle to secure reasonably priced housing. Additionally, the high cost of living off campus has led to problems such as greater food insecurity, since students have less money to spend on nutritious food and do not have the security of a meal plan.

 Expensive housing in Westwood has also hurt the broader Westwood community. Rising housing prices push low- and middle-income people out of the neighborhood since they cannot afford rent. Having fewer people in the village will further stagnate Westwood’s economy – one that should be vibrant but instead is sluggish. If Westwood becomes more of a destination to visit than a place to live, there will be fewer people walking around the village, and thus, less foot traffic for the businesses in Westwood.

In response to the damaging effects of unaffordable housing in the village, the WWNC needs to urge Koretz to fight for more affordable housing projects in Westwood.

He’ll listen. In fact, he often takes the neighborhood council’s advice on development projects, said Lisa Chapman, president of the WWNC. For example, in 2011 the neighborhood council convinced Koretz to not let the city auction off parking garages in Westwood to private bidders since Westwood residents wanted to maintain free parking in the Village. The WWNC should take similar action and represent its constituents who voted against Measure S by pressuring Koretz to approve high-density housing.

Of course, some WWNC members and homeowners in Westwood think higher-density housing will make the Village too crowded and undesirable. However, that belief is out of tune with what city residents think. The fact that Measure S failed indicates that most people who voted in Los Angeles think that fighting development projects is the wrong solution to housing problems.

Certainly,high-density housing will make Westwood more crowded, but current development with many low-level apartments and single-family homes shows that Westwood is not near capacity –meaning it could fit a lot more people with efficient development.

The choice is clear: Either Westwood can collect dust as an aging LA neighborhood or it can revitalize itself by opening its doors to more affordable housing. LA voters made their choice. It’s time for WWNC to follow suit.

(Emily Merz’ perspectives appear regularly in the Daily Bruin … where this viewpoint was first posted.)

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BUDGET ADVOCATES--The Budget Advocates of Los Angeles have been in existence for 13 years … a group of citizens dedicated to the people of Los Angeles and watchdogging the city's budget. 

The Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates know the City Budget is the one issue that touches every person, company, and life in Los Angeles and affects such things as tree trimming, pot hole filling, sidewalk repair, police and fire protection, parks and arts, and all other services provided by the City. 

Among this group are two legendary budget advocates, Jay Handal and Jack Humphreville.They are also the two longest serving Budget Advocates. Both have been BAs for 6 years. Jay is currently the Co-Chair of the Budget Advocates Committee. Jack is currently the Budget Advocate for Region 5 …Central Los Angeles. 

Here’s a quick Q and A with Jay Handal and Jack Humphreville: 

Q: What made you want to get involved with NC Budget Advocates? 

Jay Handal: As someone interested in budgets, it was apparent to me that the City was not being good stewards of our money. I wanted to be able to dig in and change the direction of the existing Budget Advocates so that we were not just reporting on how to spend each portion of a dollar, by department, but rather to looking at efficiencies, waste, fraud, abuse and long term forecasting. 

Jack Humphreville: City’s finances were a mess.  City Hall was misleading us.  Concern about policies that neglect our streets and infrastructure.  Diverting funds to the personnel.  Inefficient operations. Felt that I could make a difference. 

Q: What are some of the changes the budget advocates have influenced? 

Jay Handal: By far the biggest change was the formation and hiring of the Revenue Inspector General. In his first year he found more than $43 million due the city. Our second biggest accomplishment was getting the City Council to recognize our work and  to formally give us a seat at the table to present and have our recommendations analyzed. 

Jack Humphreville: Ask Jay.  He has a better handle on it. But the major change is that City Hall knows we are there and they have become more open and transparent, in large part because of Miguel Santana. 

Q: What can people in the community do to get more involved and be more supportive of the budget advocates?  

Jay Handal: Stakeholders should read our report and comment to us. Stakeholders will see how money is actually being spent and how very limited dollars may be reapportioned in order to bring more services to them. Stakeholders should contact their council members and demand that recommendations for change be accepted and enacted. 

Jack Humphreville: People need to tell their representatives that the City’s finances are unacceptable.

 

(Adrienne Nicole Edwards is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. She can be reached at: A.Edwards@NCBALA.com.) 

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NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--A year of record boardings on the San Gabriel Valley’s Gold Line train is suppressing bus ridership, causing a local independent operator to propose substantial reductions to lines that offer similar service.

As a response to a passenger shift from buses to the light-rail foothill extension running from Pasadena to the Azusa/Glendora border for a year, West Covina-based Foothill Transit is proposing to slash bus lines, including Line 187, one of the most popular east-west bus routes that runs from Montclair to Pasadena, across the foothill cities of the San Gabriel Valley.

Foothill Transit will de-emphasize the connection between Azusa and Pasadena by splitting the line into two: an eastern and a western segment.

“With regards to Line 187 as it relates to the Gold Line, the Azusa to Pasadena ridership has really fallen off,” said Kevin McDonald, deputy executive director of Foothill Transit. “We are keeping the eastern portion, which will go to the Los Angeles County Arboretum and the Santa Anita Mall in Arcadia.”

Under the proposed restructuring plan voted for public consideration by the governing board on Friday, the agency will cut Line 187 in half, which will continue to run from Pasadena to Azusa. The split will also create Line 188, which will from Azusa to Montclair. (Read the rest.) 

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NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--The city’s plan to put the unfinished Target project in Hollywood back on track moved ahead on Wednesday after the city council approved a plan in which Target will pay a $1.2 million in-lieu fee for employee child care.

The issue regarding how Target would satisfy the city’s requirement to provide childcare was one of the final steps for the project to receive approval to resume construction. However, the project still must clear a remaining hurdle in court before construction can begin again on the partially completed store at Sunset Boulevard and Western Avenue.

The Los Angeles Superior Court must rule on a lawsuit filed by the La Mirada Avenue Neighborhood Association, which contends the city violated zoning laws in approving the project because it exceeded allowable height limits. A court hearing on the matter is expected to occur soon.

The Los Angeles Superior Court previously ruled in favor of the neighborhood association and construction was stopped in 2014. Target appealed the ruling to an appellate court, and the city altered zoning regulations at the site to allow for a taller building. The La Mirada Avenue Neighborhood Association filed a second lawsuit against the revised zoning plan last year, and the appellate court sent the matter back to the superior court for consideration. (Read the rest.) 

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UPDATE--Answering the call to be a Neighborhood Budget Advocate is not for the faint hearted. Recently the budget advocates met with Mayor Garcetti to discuss the White Paper, (research, recommendations for fiscal responsibility of city departments and offer alternative options for revenue generation), and of that group attendance more than 10 are new to budget advocacy. Who would be attracted to what some call a complicated game of find the money molly? 

We asked Amy Foell – Los Feliz Neighborhood Council, Ivette Ale – Voices of 37 Neighborhood Council and Brigette Kidd – Zapata-King Neighborhood Council three new budget advocates the following questions; 

What interested you in the role of the neighborhood council budget advocate? 

Amy Foell: I decided to educate and empower myself and my community through public service. It’s important to understand how our tax dollars are being utilized. Many Los Angelenos are not aware of how City Hall is spending our money collected from taxes. 

Ivette Ale: As the Treasurer and new member of my neighborhood council, I was seeking opportunities to learn more about the City budget and ways I can better serve. I attended Budget Day and I learned that Budget Advocates was a body that had a "seat at the table" in city government and to amplify the voices of stakeholders in my district

Brigette Kidd: My initial goal for running for a seat on the Zapata-King Neighborhood Council was to find out how I could get trees trimmed in the area that overshadowed light poles and stop signs which was safety issue; and also made some locations easy for tagging. I knew it wasn’t where you lived, but how you lived that could make a difference. 

Budget advocates play an important role by providing recommendations to how the City can run more efficiently, what was your role in the White Paper that was presented to the Mayor on March 8, 2017? What did you learn? 

Amy Foell: I researched assigned departments, interviewed department heads and co-wrote sections of the White Paper. I covered the Economic & Workforce Development Department as well as the Department on Disability. Each department has their own personality and level of openness towards BA’s objectives. I believe our City can bring in much more revenue by harnessing solar power and other sustainable practices. 

Ivette Ale: As the chair of the Cultural Affairs Committee, I organized a discussion with department leadership and drafted the subsequent recommendations for the Cultural Affairs Department. I learned that there are issues that span across several departments. For instance, access to the City's internet backbone and standardizing technology is a consistent problem across the board, for example the Cultural Affairs Department lack of tech support prevents the department from capturing revenue and maximizing use of facilities. 

Brigette Kidd: I chaired the Information Technology Committee. As Ivette mentioned technology is a major problem. The ITA is making some strides with the creation of the 311 app, but inefficiencies are from lack of communication from one department to another and that each department has different technology goals. The major road block is unifying departmental goals to create an intuitive, reliable and easy to update technology system that protects critical assets (water, utilities, sewage), and communicate across all departments while providing transparency and clear costs to tax payers. 

Why is it beneficial for others to get involved as a budget advocate or budget representative for their NC/area? 

Amy Foell: It would be great if every citizen had to take a turn as a budget advocate for LA. I would wager the positives would offset the negatives. Folks would gain a greater understanding of the various departments, monies allocated and spent. Amazing ideas and solutions would develop and voter turn-out would dramatically increase. This utopian vision may be a stretch goal, but a woman can dream. Just over a year ago today I was completely unaware of neighborhood councils and budget advocates. Today I’m a District B representative for Los Feliz neighborhood Council, co-chair of the environmental affairs committee, and a budget advocate. The learning curve is steep but anyone can do this because we all care about our home

Ivette Ale: Looking around the room at a budget advocate's meeting, it is evident that there are gaps in community representation. Becoming actively involved in budget advocates provides an avenue to legitimize, vocalize and amplify the concerns of our areas. But regardless of political background and identity, at the heart of budget advocates is a desire for transparency and accountability. It is an underutilized body with the potential to be transformative with increased, diversity and participation.  

Brigette Kidd: Learning how to challenge effectively. As a budget advocate you can challenge budget issues with research and facts. Get involved because you are either adding, subtracting multiplying or dividing. 

If you are interested in getting involved in your local neighborhood council or becoming a budget advocate check out Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate Responsibilities.  

 

(Adrienne Edwards and Brigette Kidd are Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates. More info at ncbala.com.) 

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HAWTHORNE--In a move that stunned local residents, the Hawthorne City Council voted to extend their own terms by an additional year in the March 14th, 2017 meeting.

Under the guise of compliance with Senate Bill 415, city leaders swiftly made a motion to bring Hawthorne Ordinance 2136 from the table and called for an immediate vote. Ordinance 2136 serves to alter the election cycle of the City of Hawthorne by extending current terms by one year to accommodate the switch to even-year elections.

Two weeks prior, Councilmember Haidar Awad called for the ordinance to be tabled indefinitely due to public outcry, leading many residents to believe the ordinance would not be voted on.

Councilmember Nilo Michelin quickly objected to the motion on March 14th to bring the ordinance off the table and called for discussion. He was censured by Mayor Vargas because he was out of his seat during the motion. After a second objection by Michelin, Mayor Vargas called the vote again but allowed discussion on the Ordinance 2136 after.

“There are other ways to do this,” cited Councilman Nilo Michelin. “The state said that the elections need to be on even years by 2022. There’s nothing about extending terms. It could start in 2017 or 2019. It could be shorter terms.”

Councilmember Awad quipped that the residents in opposition were running for political office themselves, and only serving self-interests. After allowing Michelin and Awad time to speak, the Mayor again called for a vote on the ordinance which passed 4-1.

Up for re-election in November 2017 were Councilwomen Olivia Valentine and Angie English-Reyes. Valentine was appointed to council in a special appointment process after losing her seat by election to incumbent Nilo Michelin and newly elected Haidar Awad. Both Valentine and English-Reyes remained silent during the discussion, but ultimately voted to give themselves an additional year to fundraise and campaign.

BECOME INVOLVED

Several residents are gathering outside of City Hall on Tuesday, March 28th, 2017, prior to the City Council Meeting to speak out against sitting elected officials canceling a scheduled election and extending their own terms. Advocates for voting rights are encouraged to come and participate. The address to Hawthorne City Hall is 4455 W. 126th Street, Hawthorne CA 90250.

(Amie Shepard is an activist and a one-time candidate for Hawthorne City Council.)

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NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--Thank you for your support Thank you for standing up for your property rights.  Thank you for being someone who wants to allow Los Angeles to flourish. If it were not for you, we would have never brought light to this abuse of the planning system.  We have received calls from other neighborhoods in which HPOZs are in process inquiring how to stop theirs.  The answer is to organize and stand up early enough in the process, not be afraid to speak out.  We did that. Without us taking a stand together, we could not have achieved what we did: a significantly liberalized Preservation Plan. Your energy gave us a voice. 

Yesterday’s Planning Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee was a stark reminder that even when it appears you have a chance, the cards may be stacked against you. It was a stark reminder of the inequalities of politics.  It was a stark reminder that we live in a great city which can make great errors in judgement. Government is a machine oiled with backroom promises and lack of discussion. Yesterday was a reminder of that.   PLUM’s decision to push the Miracle Mile HPOZ to City Council is an indication of everything that is wrong with our City government. 

What have we accomplished?  We prevented a horrible Preservation Plan from being adopted and instead we will have the most lenient in the City.  We made sure you can paint your house any color you like.  We made sure an arborist report will not be required if a property owner decides to remove mature trees.  We made sure that solar panels are permitted as per state law (and if they try to prevent drought tolerant, just let us know).  We replaced the language that would mandate transparent gates with allowances for solid.  Many additions that were prohibited under the old rules will now be allowed, including many second stories. And for those who don’t want to imitate ‘20s architecture, we forced the City to allow contemporary. To be sure, the language is still a mess, but it’s not what it was. 

What did we learn?  We learned that had we been involved and organized earlier, this abuse would likely never have happened. We learned that we could make a difference. And we learned that the people who were drawn to our group saw the future not as something frightening or repugnant, but to be embraced. That is why we are setting up Miracle Mile Forward. We look forward to seeing you all at future meetings - more information to come.

 

(Say No HPOZ is a citizen group formed to fight a proposed Miracle Mile HPOZ. They can be reached at saynohpoz@gmail.com.) 

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